2011: Lessons Learned

  • The torrential rains of this trip demonstrated that we needed far better weather protection than we set out with. Even zipped shut, the tonneau cover’s hatch allowed significant amounts of water to enter the sidecar.
  • Memory foam is extremely comfortable, but it is also a very efficient sponge…and very slow to surrender water it has absorbed. Waterproof covers tend to be coarse and slick. A good compromise was removing the cover, using construction grade garbage bags to wrap the foam, then slipping the protected foam back into the cover.
  • A two-person tent is too small for a dog and a human. In his dreams, Barley would claw my back hard enough to draw blood. After this trip we upgraded to a Nemo Losi 3 person tent. Nemo offered paw pads, a durable floor liner that keeps claws from damaging the fabric.
  • There are times when camping that you will be forced to put up with uncomfortably hot conditions that last all night. A human can sweat; a dog cannot. I invested in battery-operated fan to keep air flowing over Barley in his sleep.
  • Shade is not always available when camping. A tent exposed to direct sunlight – especially with the rain fly in place – absorbs a lot of heat. We added a large Noah’s Tarp and a couple of sturdy poles to our equipment. The poles are tall enough that I can erect the canopy first, then erect the tent underneath it safe from exposure to sun or rain.
  • It is easier for a solo motorcyclist to strike up conversations with locals than it is for a group of motorcyclists. As for a solo motorcyclist with a dog in the sidecar, well, it’s simply not possible to remain an introvert! Give it up, have fun, and meet new friends!



Glenlivet: Refresher Training

The winter had been long and brutal. It ended – concurrently with my finishing the sidecar rebuild – just a few weeks before we were scheduled to ride to Tennessee for the 2019 BMW Motorcycle Owners of America Rally. I was torn between the need to get Glenlivet up to speed quickly…and an awareness that pushing him too hard might sour him on the idea of adventure travel.

Every training ride featured play time. On weekends we found school grounds good places to romp. On weekdays churches filled the need.
Glenlivet likes the water so much I had to switch to a waterproof dog bed!
We completely disrupted the orientation for new students at Sterling College
Many treats were offered
And many ponds were explored

And finally, though I had skipped checking the lean and toe-in, I declared the trip a go and started working on proper weight distribution for the trip.

The last few training rides were taken with a full load of gear so I could evenly distribute the weight, a critical factor in sidecar operation.

My dog was ready. I was ready. But because our training rides were all conducted at low speeds on rural roads, the sidecar was not yet properly dialed in. I would not discover how bad it actually was till we reached Pennsylvania. Stubbornness would carry me to West Virginia before I reached out for help.

But that’s part of the 2019 Rally story.



Glenlivet: Training a Rookie

Trust is essential in a dog that I hope will travel thousands of miles with me. Today I put that trust to the test by encouraging him to try something he wasn’t entirely comfortable with: his first solo ride in the sidecar. We took it slow and kept that first trip very short, using the lessons Barley had taught me. I started by taking Tulliver for a ride, letting Glenlivet notice how special an occasion it was, how Tully had my complete focus as we set out together. When we returned I knelt down and praised Tully for his bravery, his companionship, while Glenlivet and Kazoo had to wait on the sidelines.

Then it was Gilly’s turn. He has grown so rapidly that Tulliver’s vest fit almost perfectly. I tapped the sidecar and gave the command to jump up, which he readily did. I tethered the vest to the rig, then closed and latched the clamshell lid, all the while keeping up a running commentary of praise and love, my right hand constantly caressing his head.

Engine start, running at idle. A bit of worry mixed with curiosity

Tamara took the other two dogs inside, so Glenlivet could see he had my full attention. I fired up the engine, careful to keep it at low idle. He showed a bit of anxiety but was also curious about the sounds coming out of the big BMW boxer engine. I set the throttle lock just over idle speed, nicked it into first gear, and feathering the clutch started the rig moving down the driveway, my right hand constantly touching the pup and my words of encouragement filling his ears.

The look of trust

For the past eight months I’d been working on building a relationship of love and trust with my pup, and as we idled slowly past the garage the look he gave me assured me I had it, but it was not so solid just yet that I could push it too hard. As the rig accelerated a bit down the slope I noticed his anxiety level rise, and just a few seconds later the expected escape attempt happened. I had never stopped my reassuring words, but brought the rig to a gentle stop, leaned down and had a nose to nose discussion. I told him everything was okay, that he was being particularly brave that morning, and promised this first ride would be very short. The anxiety in his expression faded, replaced by trust, and we continued to the one paved road in our little town.

His escape attempt was anticipated and resolved with TLC. Had he not calmed down I would have ended the ride and praised him for making it that far.
Anxiety fades and trust returns.

The sleepy little town of Craftsbury is an ideal place for drivers ed. There is a level of courtesy here that you just don’t find in many places. I know, if one of my neighbors comes up behind us, there will be no blaring horn or other sign of impatience, that they will figure if I’m going half the speed limit there must be a good reason for it. But we encounter no other vehicles on our half mile ride up to the Common and back. Glenlivet does just fine observing the world beyond the boundaries of our own land, sometimes peering around the windshield but more often sitting backwards watching where we’ve been. He’ll eventually develop his own riding style, but for now it’s not important. It’s enough that he is at ease, that this first experience is a good one.

We stop at the Craftsbury Academy for a checkin and to tell him how well he is doing
Sunshine Golden’s Shot o’ Glenlivet letting his fur down and enjoying his first sidecar ride.

We turned around at the village Common and rode slowly back home. Barley used his sight and sense of smell, but Glenlivet appears to be sight only. That makes sense since on our walks he rarely uses his nose to hunt down critters. I’m hoping that translates into less of a prey drive than what Barley had.

But the ride home goes well. There is no traffic and few distractions. Gilly seems to be soaking up the sights and enjoying himself. I pull into our driveway and for the last 200 hundred yards his ears are filled with words of pride and encouragement. It looks like little Glenlivet is off to a very good start.

I’m grinning ear to ear as we pull into our driveway and head for the garage. 
Glenlivet checking out the sheep mowing our meadow
I did it, Dad! I was so brave!
Gilly telling Mom all about his exciting ride! He doesn’t vocalize like Barley, but is every bit as good at social interactions

 July 2017: One Year Old!

The dogs gather expectantly as I stage what I need for the day on the dining room table, then slump dejectedly as I reach for the black bag instead of the green daypack. The green pack contains dog treats, water bottles and toys for a day of play. The black bag means Dad is going to work.

Tulliver slinks under the table and lays down with a heavy sigh. Kazoo picks a spot in the middle of the floor where he can best obstruct traffic, then settles his ninety pounds down with a thud that rattles the windows. Glenlivet executes a perfect sit in front of me, tail wagging, big brown eyes pleading with me to stay and play. I kneel and he plants his big paws on my shoulders, his teeth gently tugging my earlobes as I run my fingers through his luxurious fur. “Sorry, Little One,” I tell him. “Daddy has to go earn the kibble.”

Glenlivet is the first pup I’ve been focused on from the beginning. In the past the puppy stage belonged to my bride, while I took over once puppyhood was left behind. And so with this one the bond has developed much earlier. Not stronger, as I can’t imagine a bond any stronger than what I shared with Barley, but the foundational work came sooner. I suspect some great event – like just the two of us taking a sidecar trip to a faraway place – will be needed to reach the “We Are One” stage, but we’re off to a great start!

Glenlivet launching himself into a pond
We have liftoff!
Reentry looks good!
Coming in for a landing
We have splashdown!

He loves the water, and has a leaping water entry that is a joy to watch. He hustles on his retrieves, and has an extremely gentle mouth. He is as pushy as Barley when it comes to food and toys, but without the aggressiveness that resulted in Barley being fed behind a closed door. Unless he is fed last Glenlivet will finish his food, then wander over to push first Tulliver, then Kazoo, away from their bowls. If each dog has a toy or ball, Gilly will collect all three and hoard them. If Tulliver or Kazoo are getting attention, Glenlivet wants that as well.

But he respects my admonition, “No, this is Tulliver time!”

One day after his first birthday I’ll be leaving him for three weeks as Tulliver and I sidecar to the BMW Rally in Salt Lake City UT, another a week later in Paonia CO, and a sidecar rally in Corning NY the week after that. I’ll miss the little guy!

December 2017

Glenlivet is now seventeen months old. An absolute delight, he has his own set of personality quirks that brighten my days. Chief among them is his habit of sitting on me. Almost every dog I’ve shared my life with has been a leaner. Many have draped a paw across my legs or used by feet as pillows while they slept. But never before have I had one who wandered over and sat on me. It’s not a dominance thing; he simply feels so comfortable around me that he wants to maintain contact in his own special way. He’s learned not to sit on my head – I am not a fan of furry testicles in my ear – but the rest of my body is fair game.

Supervising me doing outside chores
Glenlivet often helps pre-wash the dishes

He spends a lot of time with me upside down, another indicator of the love and trust building between us. If I lay on the living room carpet he squirms his way beneath me then inverts to nibble on my beard. On my way to work each morning I kneel so he can wrap his paws around my neck and give my ears a quick lick of affection. When I come home at the end of the day he must be let out immediately lest his enthusiastic tail wagging clear objects on nearby furniture. And when I gather him into my arms at night he sleeps with the utter abandon of a small child.

Glenlivet takes his naps seriously!
Settling in for a nap on the couch

We missed two months of training rides this autumn as the sidecar wheel bearing failed for the fourth time in five years. More than a bit miffed, I sent the entire swingarm and wheel hub assembly back to the manufacturer in Kentucky. To their credit Hannigan saw that it had a manufacturing defect which they fixed at no charge despite 85,000 miles of use on the rig. It’s rare these days to find a company that stands behind their product years and tens of thousands of miles later.

With the sidecar partially disassembled, I sandblasted and repainted a few small parts of the subframe, and sanded to bare metal the rust spots on the fixed parts before acid-etching and repainting them. I’m adding a couple of fixed metal rings to the swaybar to give me tie-down points for the tarp I use to cover it while camping. Last but certainly not least, I am replacing the shock absorber. It still functions, but with that many miles on it a new shock will give me peace of mind when far from home.

It should be all back together and ready to go by the end of the holidays, but of course this time of year Vermont is not particularly hospitable to motorcyclists. So I’ll polish the painted surfaces then apply multiple coats of carnauba wax, clean each spoke on all three wheels, inspect every fastener and wire harness, and toss treats inside so Glenlivet continues to think of it as a place where good things happen.

Glenlivet (L) and Tulliver

I’m planning on a shorter summer trip for 2018 and I really hope Glenlivet is up to it. If winter ends early enough that we can have a few months of short fun rides in spring, it might just work. I’ll use all those tricks Barley taught me to make the little guy comfortable. The 2018 BMW MOA rally is in Des Moines IA. The plan is to pass through the Adirondacks and spend the night with friends in Rochester NY, then on to a motel in northwestern OH, up into Michigan and across the lake on one of the ferries. Another night with friends in Janesville WI and a reunion with several of Glenlivet’s littermates just a few days after their second birthday! Then down to the rally where we hope to present a seminar on sidecars and the making of a long distance sidecar dog.

Three days later we’d leave Iowa crossing southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, perhaps dipping south a bit into Kentucky, then on to Seneca Rocks in West Virginia for a couple of days. After that we’d travel north to Wellsboro PA for the BMW Riders Association (BMW RA) Rally, spend a couple more days among friends, then one more long day on the road to home.

If the pup isn’t ready I’ll take Tulliver and skip the Wisconsin reunion…but I’ll do my best to have the little blonde guy fully trained and ready to go!


GILLY GOES! Glenlivet’s Adventures