As a general rule I’m not a fan of trailering the rig, but there are times when it’s the safer option. Several years ago I trailered the sidecar to Nebraska then rode from there to the Billings, Montana rally as Barley had just completed chemo and I was concerned that the arduous transit might be too much for him. This year we trailered to Colorado partly as a huge cicada brood was expected to erupt in our path (it never materialized), and partly out of concern that recently relaxed Covid travel restrictions might be put back into effect should the pandemic surge with new variants.
We left home on the first of June, Glenlivet and me in the Nissan Xterra optimized for survival during a zombie apocalypse, the rig secured to an aluminum trailer behind us. Over Lake Champlain and around the Adirondacks, then west to Rochester, New York to visit my old friends, Tim and Karen. Alternating chores with various forms of alcohol, we talked far into the night as is their custom. They are not, however, morning people and looked only half alive for our 6am departure the following morning.
We angled in a generally southwest direction and eventually came upon a small Nebraska town on US-136 where we started looking for a place to eat. Both sides of Main Street were lined with the usual chains. The GPS showed a few eateries on side streets so we headed that way, settling on one the locals seemed to favor. The pandemic had been tough on most businesses, but especially hard hit were the small independents. Because of that I was determined to spend my dollars at Mom n Pops. It was often a challenge. Though I didn’t eat in a chain till Week 5 of this trip, so many small diners had gone under I often found myself eating several hours after the first hunger pangs. Those situated along busier highways seemed to have a higher survival rate, especially if they were tied to another business like a gas station that provided an alternative source of revenue, but along the state and county roads I found a depressing number of shuttered little guys flanked by the ubiquitous pus colored dollar stores.
Over years of motorcycle travel I’ve plotted the location of town and city parks best suited for play and rest stops along the old US Highway system. Most of them are east of the Rockies and include such amenities as mature shade trees, acres of grass for playing fetch, covered pavilions for rainy days, clean restrooms and in some cases even showers. Late one morning we pulled into one such oasis surrounded by farmland, parking on the side opposite a playground full of kids having a good time. I noticed one young girl intently watching us play fetch, and called Glenlivet to my side as she approached. “I’m Claribel,” she informed me. “Can I pet your dog?”
I appreciate when people ask permission. Some service animals are proactive – needing to remain absolutely focused on their humans; an example would be a diabetic alert dog. Glenlivet is reactive, and as such some social interaction is fine – but on my terms. As this little chatterbox gently pet my dog she poured out random tidbits of her life including how her mother had recently been badly scratched on the face by their cat, Sophie, who was hugely pregnant and didn’t like to be picked up. “I tried to tell her to leave Sophie alone,” she lamented. “She’s gonna lay kittens any day now.”
The truck and trailer were left at the home of our online friend Jim, a fellow motorcyclist with a nice spread just shy of the Front Range of the Rockies. Recovering from back surgery, Jim was grounded for a bit but we swapped stories of our adventures before Glenlivet and I mounted up and set out for the three-wheeled portion of our travels. Up into the Front Range and south to Conifer, we spent the night with my friend Valerie, her husband, and their two golden retrievers: Astro and Rumble. I had met Valerie a few years before during a visit to the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study offices in Denver. She had been quite taken with Tulliver, and now with Glenlivet.
Colorado’s Poudre Canyon was an exhilarating ride following a wild river flanked by often vertical cliffs. It was a pass-through ride for us as, unfortunately, the few small pullouts and drivers distracted by the scenery made it unsafe for Glenlivet to exit his sidecar. Nearing the top, however, real drama unfolded in the form of mile after mile of blackened pines sticking up like giant toothpicks in a scorched mountainside. Now and then we’d pass a small intact home surrounded by a tiny oasis of green. Beyond those few wilted aspen trees was clear evidence of hard-fought battle, pines dropped by chainsaws with heavy branches and sections of trunk physically dragged away from the perimeter. Firebreaks created by brave men and women determined to save someone’s home. I tried to imagine the courage it took for those Forest Service firefighters to stand their ground in the face of a wall of flame consuming all in its path. My imagination fell short…
Atop Cameron Pass a delighted Glenlivet discovered a large patch of snow and declared play time. Resistance was futile. There are times when your navigator is having such a good time one must simply ignore the schedule and relax. This was one of those times. Eventually he tired out and we continued, leaving the forest behind but discovering an unanticipated problem. Eastern roads are sprinkled with spacious pullouts or rest areas where a dog can play or pee. In the Midwest and Great Plains it seemed every town was graced with established parks where two or four-legged visitors are welcome. But the West, being cattle country, had roads flanked by miles of barbed wire fencing. Pullouts were typically just over a car-width with barbed wire on one side and speeding cars on the other. I found myself urging Glenlivet to hold it just a little longer as I searched for side roads, schools or churches where he could safely do his thing.
Out west there is a lot of BLM land where dispersed camping is allowed. We found a nice spot just a quarter mile from the highway and settled in for some R&R. A short time later – just as I filled a packet of freeze-dried camp glop with steaming water from my JetBoil stove – a truck pulled into a nearby clearing. It was an enormous Chevy crew cab, lifted several inches, bearing Texas plates. Sliding to a stop in a cloud of dust, three stunningly beautiful women of college age emerged as Glenlivet uttered a soft warning growl.
Clad in very short cutoffs, calf-high boots of reptilian origin, enormous Stetsons, and skimpy tops struggling to corral impressive cleavage, they waved a greeting and began setting up camp. Camp consisted of one large mesh tent, a charcoal grill, a gigantic cooler, and several firearms. The mouth-watering scent of grilled steak soon wafted our way as I stirred my rehydrated glop.
Some time later they approached. “Can we say Hah to your dawg?” Delivered in an East Texas drawl. They’d shed their Stetsons and swapped their boots for sandals. Glenlivet noted their long fingernails and whined in anticipation of a good butt scratch. I gave him the release command and he happily introduced himself. The blonde member of the trio handed me an ice-cold Belgian quad, 9.5% Sanctimonium, brewed in Tyler, Texas — a powerful icebreaker. In the middle of nowhere I drank cold beer in the company of goddesses. As the sun set they retreated to their campsite and I turned to my latest Kindle book. Glenlivet curled up atop my boots.
I was just about to turn in for the night when my dog’s wagging tail alerted me to an approaching visitor. It was the more outgoing of the two brunettes, she of the teasingly flirtatious manner and straining bodice. “Honey,” she said, leaning forward in a supreme test of my ability to maintain eye contact, “You look like you could use some ass.” Words escaped me! Had this beautiful woman young enough to be my granddaughter just proposed we do the Wild Thang? Even accounting for regional differences it was an oddly intimate form of getting acquainted. I held up my left hand, my wedding ring glistening in the starlight. She held up a bag of ice.
I can still hear her laughter…
As my feet soaked in the cool water of the Green River at Split Mountain, just outside Vernal, Utah, I watched my dog happily splashing in the shallows. Crosswinds – a steady 35mph from the south with gusts up to 55mph – had taken their toll on both of us. The crosswinds first found us in central Colorado, but it wasn’t until we emerged from the protection of mountains that it became an unrelenting struggle to track a straight line. On two wheels one can lean into a steady wind – always remaining alert to the threat of gusts – but on a sidecar rig with the wind coming from the left once my camber control has been maxed out it is nothing short of a physical battle. Crossing the flatness of the high desert had been brutal under those conditions, and we found ourselves cherishing the temporary relief afforded by every rocky outcropping. Glenlivet was dripping wet as we left Split Mountain, but had dried completely by the time we reached US-40 just six miles away.
Hearing protection for my dog has long been a concern with this one. Years ago I had placed a decibel meter in the tub and learned that except during hard acceleration noise levels were acceptably low, at least by OSHA standards. Since both Barley and Tulliver had remained inside the tub on our trips it hadn’t been a concern. But Glenlivet insists on riding with his head in the slipstream right next to my leg subject to both wind and engine noise. While I cherish having that furry head in my peripheral vision – ears and jowls flapping in the wind – I worry about long term hearing loss. In years past I’d subjected Glenlivet to doo-rags, ear muffs, and even a homemade contraption based on a training bra from Victoria’s Secret. All failed for various reasons. On this trip we gave EarPros a try. Made by RexSpecs, the same company that made his goggles, they consist of a pair of ear cups inside a pullover neck gaiter. Glenlivet had tolerated them on training rides, but on this desert crossing I discovered a few shortcomings. First of all, touch is important to us. With noise of sidecar travel making verbal communication impossible, I use hand signals for commands and touch to reassure. The therapeutic ear rubs calm him instantly, but with the EarPro in place his ears were covered and we lost that calming option. Another concern was that golden retrievers, like all floppy-eared breeds, are prone to fungal ear infections. Fungi thrive in warm, damp conditions. I worried that having his ear flaps pressed against his head for prolonged periods during hot transits might lead to trouble. To counter that I instilled a few drops of dilute vinegar in each ear canal at the end of the day, as yeast and fungi don’t do well in acidic environments. (In the Marine Corps we used drops of whiskey after long days wearing earplugs; I’m not sure that would be tolerated by dogs.) But the one disadvantage of EarPros I couldn’t counter is that they covered Glenlivet’s throat. While I can sweat, my dog can’t. I got around that on hot transits by periodically soaking his neck and throat in water so he could enjoy an evaporative cooling effect as we ride. With EarPros in place we lost that option. Reluctantly I set them aside for use only in cooler conditions.
As we passed through the outskirts of Spanish Fork UT, stuck in the traffic of a construction zone, I heard a horn honking repeatedly. Looking around I saw nothing past the cars idling around us. Suddenly I felt a pounding on my spine pad. An extremely animated UPS driver was practically dancing with excitement. “Are you Pete and Glenlivet?” he asked, pulling out his iPhone. “My three little girls follow you on Facebook! Can I get a selfie with you both? It would make me the best Dad in the world!”
After studying a map in the shade of a large tree at a visitor information center in central Utah I decided to change course. Our original plan had been to cross Nevada on the Extraterrestrial Highway, but the lack of windbreaks – and fear of being probed – convinced me to take US-50 instead. That stretch is called The Loneliest Road in America, but compared to the unending flatness we experienced from western Colorado through Utah I found it quite enjoyable. The salt flats were broken up by low mountains, so each twenty minutes of crosswinds were interrupted by twisty mountainous terrain that blocked the wind and gave us a chance to recover. It was a good decision.
At one summit about sixty miles from the nearest town we came across two exhausted women on bicycles. I pulled over and offered to call for help when I had cell coverage, but they declined as finishing the ride was a matter of pride. They gratefully accepted half my ice water before pedaling on. Glenlivet and I continued west enjoying the scenery, stopping for lunch at an ancient sun-baked bar in Middlegate Station. The owner, upon hearing my dog’s name, welcomed us enthusiastically.
The wind finally died as we reached the mountains near the home of our online friends Eve and David overlooking Lake Tahoe. Like me, they are avid supporters of research into the causes of cancer in golden retrievers, which is how we met. Five days earlier while we were still in Colorado Eve had texted me asking what time I expected to arrive. Tongue in cheek, I had texted back 2:28pm. As we pulled into their driveway I glanced at the time and laughed. We were only four minutes off!
My new friends and I were chatting on the shore of Lake Tahoe early on a Saturday morning, Glenlivet and their two goldens swimming after ducks in crystal clear water, when I suddenly felt the need to call my wife. She answered in tears at our vet’s office. Tulliver, my devoted gift of love, was dying. We had known he had multiple myeloma, a form of cancer rare in dogs. It typically progresses slowly in the form of repeated infections, usually pneumonia, coupled with osteoporosis that eventually results in fractures. So I knew his days were numbered but given its slow progression I had felt he had enough wag left to make life enjoyable for several months to come. Unfortunately it turned out he also had hemangiosarcoma on his spleen, a much more aggressive form of cancer. The tumor had ruptured and he was bleeding internally. Tamara held her phone to his ear as I poured out tearful words of love which would be the last he heard before crossing over…
Our plan had been to ride completely around Lake Tahoe, but as waves of grief washed over me I realized my mind was not on the road. Riding unfocused is not my style, so we went just a few miles north to Reno where my friend and former co-worker, Cate, and her husband Mark, took us in and helped me cope with loss. Dog people themselves, they gently helped me process my emotions as did hundreds of well wishers who had been following us on social media. To my surprise by evening I found myself laughing at memories of life with that big red dog. Tulliver would have wagged at the sound of my laughter…and approved of Glenlivet’s rapt attentiveness to my emotions.
Halfway across California we entered Lassen Volcanic National Park, a fascinating landscape of pines, snow, and steam vents. Glenlivet completely ignored the scenery and headed straight for the snow! Continuing west we passed through the bone-dry Shasta-Trinity National Forest; a few weeks later much of it would be reduced to ash by wildfires. We reached the Pacific but turned north without stopping, determined to pass through major construction on Highway 101 before it was closed for several hours.
Our next stop was the coastline where Glenlivet met the Pacific Ocean at low tide in the seaside town of Trinidad. His busy nose worked a variety of new smells as he played tag with small waves, pried a crab from his whiskers, and discovered that when stepped upon, sea anemones squirt on offenders. Insulted, he lifted his leg and returned the favor.
Years ago, enroute to the Salem Rally, my first sidecar dog, Barley, and I had looped through northern California, Oregon and southern Washington. That spirited dog had been unimpressed by redwoods but did enjoy swimming in a small river in Jedediah Smith State Park that meandered through those massive trees. He had also loved exploring the tide pools at Bandon, Oregon so it was in those places that Glenlivet and I began scattering his ashes. We would go on to leave the ashes of that remarkable dog at several of his favorite locations: Lolo Pass, Beartooth Pass, Needles Highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota, as well as the Badlands. Glenlivet, sensing my emotion, would burrow into my arms at each stop and cover my face with kisses…
Aside from a brief bit of sunlight at Bandon our time along the Oregon coast was miserably wet. Time after time we’d pull into a scenic overlook where interpretive signs would point out what we were missing. The weather simply refused to cooperate and we didn’t see a single lighthouse on this trip. Rain is a game changer when traveling with a dog. Glenlivet doesn’t mind being wet, but because the sidecar tub contains camping essentials the ragtop is zipped shut in inclement weather. That he does not like! Over our years of traveling together we had agreed that he would be allowed out for stretch breaks at every stop, no matter how brief. And so he demanded to be let out in the pouring rain of the Oregon coast long enough to be thoroughly soaked, then insisted on shaking himself only after he was back inside the shelter of the sidecar.
Soaked, we gave up on the coast and turned inland north of Florence, heading east till the rain stopped near Corvallis. After drying off in a tiny motel we met up with my niece, Kate, and her husband Dan, then headed off to a restaurant to join my MOA online friend, Dustin, his wife Robin and daughter Victoria. I hadn’t seen Kate and Dan since their wedding four years previously, and of course it’s always nice to put faces to folks you’ve only known online!
The following morning Glenlivet and I crossed eastern Oregon on US-26, a much more scenic and enjoyable ride than US-20 had been the last time I was in the area. We stopped for breakfast in Sisters, passed through the delightful towns of John Day and Baker City, then turned left at Oxbow to find we had the entire Hells Canyon Reservoir to ourselves. Glenlivet played in the lake for hours, his wake sending ripples through the reflection of the arid landscape on the water’s surface.
Barley and I had ridden Lolo Pass in 2013, but haltingly, as the entire pass had been a stop and go construction zone. Eventually we had given up, parking in a pullout and playing in the Lochsa River till the workers called it quits for the day. On this day I recognized that pullout from long ago and found a nearby campground with one unreserved site, which Glenlivet and I quickly claimed as our own. We scattered more ashes in the river before settling into our evening routine, Glenlivet curled up on my feet and a shot of his namesake single malt close at hand.
I thought, once retired, that my sleeping habits would adopt a more relaxed state, but that hasn’t proven to be the case. At least not yet. And so I lay in our tent in the pre-dawn of the following morning, Glenlivet’s furry head nestled in the hollow of my shoulder, and listened to the murmur of the nearby river. While it will take several trips to revisit all the favorite spots in Barley’s 55,000 miles of sidecar adventure, time and the act of sharing a bit of him with those places he found so enjoyable was beginning to morph my sense of loss into one of warm memories. The love of a good dog leaves paw prints on the soul that never fade. I’m lucky to have had him in my life, and that the lessons he taught me have transferred so seamlessly to first Tulliver, and now Glenlivet.
Glenlivet had been wrinkling his nose in disgust at my clothing for some time, so in Missoula I opted for a hotel with a hot shower and laundry facilities. At dawn the following morning I strapped the toppers to my side and top cases, the rig parked directly in front of the counter at the Super 8 in Missoula. The motel didn’t have a luggage cart, so I walked back to the room to retrieve the last load of our belongings. In the scant minutes it took me to retrieve the gear staged in our room a thief claimed a topper containing my trauma kit, Glenlivet’s spare vest, hearing protection, several dog toys, and my iPhone (with many photos that had not yet been uploaded to the cloud). All had been snatched from the rig parked directly in front of the motel lobby. The staff saw nothing.
We met Ron and his dog, Isabel, another long-time online friend and fellow sidecarist team, at the Lake Five Resort in West Glacier, Montana. Ron had lost his first sidecar dog about the same time I lost Barley to cancer. Over the years we found we had much in common aside from our love of dogs, and meeting face-to-face at last was an absolute pleasure! The relaxed pace of the resort, coupled with his guided rides in the surrounding countryside, erased the bitterness I carried forward from Missoula. Two days later we said our goodbyes as Glenlivet and I hooked around Glacier National Park to check out Gibson Reservoir on the Front Range.
The incredibly jagged Front Range stretched ahead of us as the sidecar rig slewed side to side on a bed of deep gravel. I considered turning around, but the view ahead held too much promise. Glenlivet watched me, his big brown eyes full of confidence in my abilities. Before long the fresh gravel ended in a hard-packed dirt road. Past a few massive cattle ranches we went, eventually following a river that wound its way between incredible spikes of metamorphic rock tossed up at crazy angles. Leaving the river we climbed a series of steep switchbacks, round a sharp curve, and found ourselves crossing a tall dam. We’d reached the Gibson Reservoir. Off the beaten path and rarely visited by tourists, it was perfect for us! We took a dip in the refreshing water, then shared a packed lunch as we aired dry. Adventure travel at its finest!
A strand of fur inside my helmet was driving me nuts! Fur is a fact of life when traveling with a dog. It’s simply impossible to avoid, and occasionally I resort to using a dental pick to pluck some out of every bit of Velcro I own. But this particular strand was attached to the inside of my chin guard in such a way that it tickled my nose. I tried blowing it out, opening my visor to sweep my fingers inside, and even raising the chin guard in the hope that wind would get rid of the offending fiber. No joy. I pulled over, removed my helmet and reached for my reading glasses to locate the offending fiber. Glenlivet wagged expectantly. We’d pulled over; that meant play time!
Warm memories of sitting at the rally, surrounded by old friends I’d not seen in too long. Glenlivet, curled up at my side, would get up occasionally to see if the grillmaster had clumsily dropped yet another piece of meat. We’d checked out the vendors, attended a few seminars and given one (which Glenlivet slept through), and enjoyed several samples at the Brewfest in the company of happy people. The following morning we’d scatter like the wind, but for that moment we enjoyed the company of family and talked about the next gathering.
Glenlivet waded toward a basketball sized rock protruding from the shallows of the Yellowstone River. One of his many quirks is his habit of pooping on top of objects; this often made picking up after him a challenge. He’d been on probiotics since a month before our departure, so his healthy gut generated Round Hard Turds (RHT) which are easier to deal with than Soft Soggy Turds (SST), but still the mess had to be dealt with. So far on this adventure I had cleaned up several bushes, a small barrel cactus, and one outraged tortoise. Sure enough, he balanced precariously atop the boulder and relieved himself several yards from dry land. I sighed resignedly and grabbed a poop bag. My dog. My mess.
Beartooth, a special place which each of my sidecar dogs had visited, is always a powerful draw. Access to a couple of my favorite stops was blocked by construction this time, but we lingered at the summit while Glenlivet happily rolled in more snow. An enthusiastic attendee at our seminar back in Great Falls tried to engage me in conversation as I spread more of Barley’s ashes. I hope the man didn’t think me rude or dismissive, but I was distracted, feeling the presence of that beloved dog. We pressed on over Chief Joseph Pass, found no shaded sites at the Bighorn Reservoir campground, so followed ALT 14 into the Bighorns where we found a nice spot alongside a clear stream.
Post-rally we rode Shell Canyon, checked out Ten Sleep Brewery, marveled at Devils Tower, camped in the delightful city park in Spearfish, meandered through the Black Hills, and rushed through Badlands National Park when the heat rose to uncomfortable levels.
Being rather smelly after a few days I settled into a motel in Custer and washed off several days of sweat and road grime. Later, Glenlivet and I were walking down the main street in search of dinner. As we passed a store with an outdoor display of coyote pelts, Glenlivet dropped to the sidewalk and cowered. Something about those pelts had elicited an overwhelming fear response! I immediately sat with him on the sidewalk, talking calmly and reassuringly, not sure if his reaction was to the scent of a predator or the smell of chemicals used in the tanning process. Whichever, it was something he needed to overcome. More patient reassurance. More gentle caresses. And eventually Glenlivet stood up to nervously walk at my side till we passed the gauntlet of pelts. Once clear, he was fine. But after dinner I made sure we took a different route back to our room.
We reached the summit of the Needles Highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota so early we had the place to ourselves. I savored the solitude knowing it would develop a circus flair once the crowds arrived. Parking the rig, we explored at leisure. As cars started to arrive I led Glenlivet into a familiar small clearing amid rocky spires. Years ago Barley had been surrounded by adoring children in that cathedral-like location, soaking up all the attention they had to offer. It was the perfect spot to scatter the last of his ashes, and as they settled to the ground six small boys rushed in, paused to respectfully ask if they could pet my dog, then showered Glenlivet with affection. In my mind’s eye I saw Barley grinning happily.
It was time to set a course for home…