Shot o’ Glenlivet

Gilly has some huge paws to fill.

I chose to go with a reputable breeder – not a rescue – to get the puppy who would be trained as my next long distance adventure dog. Susan and Steven, of Sunshine Goldens in southern Wisconsin, had met Barley and me several times on our cross-country adventures and had long admired the bond we shared. I, in turn, loved the way their dogs behaved, and how a seemingly endless supply of little girls in the form of their grand-nieces and their little friends managed to socialize each pup. We discussed the personality traits that had made Barley such a phenomenal riding partner: confidence, courage, calmness and a healthy dose of curiosity. As to color, Sunshine had two litters on the way – one red and one blonde. While color was entirely secondary to me, it seems people perceive the blondes as more approachable, more “golden.” Since we will be out together in public, I gave a minor nod to a blonde pup, more of a tie breaker in the case of two pups with identical personalities.

Flame and her pups.
Puppies grow a lot and sleep.. a lot!

Armed with the knowledge of what I was looking for, Susan went to work once the pups were born in early July. She carefully observed their developing personalities, the way they interacted with each other and with people, and within a few weeks began narrowing the field. By the time the pups were six weeks old she was fairly certain she had a match, though the final decision wouldn’t be made till I met the pups. That process of collaborating on the match between well-socialized puppies and prospective buyers is one mark of a good breeder, one in it for the love of the breed and not just for money.

The pups got plenty of stimulation…which was exhausting!
By six weeks the pups were pretty big

I flew to Wisconsin on a Wednesday morning. Susan and Steve picked me up and introduced me to the pups. Folks look at a litter of puppies and think they are all adorable and that’s true. But just like people, dogs are individuals. One needs to consider personality in the light of their lifestyle and expectations. There was the timid male favoring corners, the big female bullying her siblings, and several others between those two extremes. In just a few minutes I could see that Susan’s choice was the right match for me. Blue collared male of moderate size able to stick up for himself and fascinated by everything going on around him.

It’s hard work being a puppy!

Okay, I admit it. I’ve never been a puppy person. Puppies leak, they chew on furniture and favorite boots, torment adult dogs, don’t listen very well, and interfere with REM sleep. My attempts to instill in them some manners have often been undermined by Tamara playing the role of indulgent mother, fussing over them and generally letting them get away with anything short of murder. Somewhere around the age of two, however, they seem to realize that Dad is more fun. He tosses tennis balls and rolls on the floor with them. He cuddles and grooms them and offers praise and treats…but only if they behave in certain ways. After a year of this, a special bond sprouts and soon blossoms. That was the case with Tetley, Tuppence, Tadcaster, Tulliver, Kazoo…and Barley.

Barley’s flame went out far too soon, but his legacy will remain in my heart for the rest of my life. He taught me that patience and love were the main ingredients of that incredible bond we shared, and that if I regifted his love he would not be my last soul dog. He also taught me that life is too short to wait, that I needed to bond to my next dog from the moment I first saw him.

Asleep on my arm at the airport
Napping on the first leg home
Gilly slept through most of the flight home

And so I found myself early one morning sitting in the airport in Madison, Wisconsin, an impossibly small bundle of sleeping fur draped across one forearm. He resembled nothing so much as a fuzzy baked potato with stubby legs. Sunshine Goldens’ Shot o’ Glenlivet, Gilly for short, was mine. I watched him breathe, one tiny paw draped instinctively over my arm in a gesture so like Barley, and I realized that bond in my heart had already been primed.

A visit to the vet is exhausting!
Give me another five minutes and I’ll have the cutting board spotless!
Gilly trying to look as grown up as his big brother, Kazoo
He was baffled by slopes. Wisconsin is so flat compared to Vermont

I had forgotten how difficult it is to pee outside in the presence of a puppy who tries to catch everything! We’ve gone through the leaky phase, and while there are still occasional accidents they are generally when we’ve not paid heed to his signals – and usually in front of the door as if to say, “I tried to tell you!” He sits, comes, and takes treats very gently. He retrieves well, eats off a fork, and at the end of each work day runs to greet me in that comical puppy way where the front and rear legs seem to be racing each other to see who gets there first. In the evening when I lay on the floor, if he’s not engaged in tormenting Tulliver or Kazoo he trots over and flips upside down with his paws waving happily, his tail thumping the floor, reaching up now and then to nibble on my earlobe.

First trip to Eligo Lake: Gilly was at home in the water from the start 
The day after homecoming he waded right into the lake and paddled a few feet!
A good stick to chew on makes the world a better place
At 12 weeks, Gilly was giving Kazoo a run for his money!

I’m always surprised to see confidence in a creature so small. From the start this little guy has been remarkably unflappable, save for two encounters with the electric fencing that keeps our sheep contained. He has no fear of water, and to my surprise began swimming in nearby Eligo Lake the day after he came home. He retreats from the sound of a tractor or chainsaw, but not out of fear. He loves toys and will make his own if none of the store-bought type are readily available, picking up sticks or clumps of grass to flip in the air and catch.

He was not a fan of kayaking, baling out and swimming to shore when we got within twenty feet
He had a short sidecar ride at ten weeks and showed nothing but curiosity 
He excelled at snuggling…for a few seconds at a time
He gets into the digging thing. Remind you of anyone?
Gilly appears to have inherited Barley’s love of digging!

Late October 2016: Gilly will soon be four months old. It’s an adorable stage where the paws are disproportionately large, like Ronald McDonald’s shoes; the ears hang down like drapes cut a tad too long, and while the clumsiness of puppyhood is fading, the grace of adulthood is still elusive. His body is changing to that of a leggy, awkward adolescent dog. His shoulders and hips are getting definition, his chest is broadening, his puppy fluff has converted to fur and his tail is beginning to sprout the feathers that typify his breed. He is teething aggressively and will soon get a full set of permanent teeth even before his face takes on adult lines. He is discovering his voice, telling the world how he feels with puppy grunts and tiny barks, excited snarls and squeaks of surprise. He gets hiccups which cause his entire body to twitch. He makes funny sounds in his dreams, and accepts that he is entitled to half of my pillow. Gilly knows he is loved, and will never know anything else but love.

From an early age he had his father’s good looks!

It’s fascinating to watch his personality develop, to see him recognize that his actions impact those around him, that his behaviors shape, and in turn are shaped by, his interactions. Gentle reprimands, whether from humans or older dogs, earn an immediate and comically contrite sit. He is torn between a desire to be cuddled and a desire to act grown up. He yearns for independence, but when frightened or feeling ill he burrows right into my embrace and reaches up to cover my face with tiny kisses.

It doesn’t take much time at all for that bond of trust to blossom.
Gilly snuggling with dad at 13 weeks.

He has learned to scale the baby gates we use to close off rooms. He humps the cat. He has the makings of an exceptional countersurfer and has learned to hook his paws over the edge of the kitchen sink to pull his entire body up onto the countertop. I’ll most definitely have to make sure the Stay command is ironclad before beginning his sidecar training! On the plus side, he is extremely eager to please and responds very well to praise…and appropriately to correction.

He is, in every respect, off to a good start.

Tossing sticks in the freshly fallen leaves
He’s a big boy now, able to jump onto the furniture without help!
Is it okay for me to go a little further, Dad?
Checking out the scents in the adjacent forest

Soon his training will start in earnest. Not the short and intense Sesame Street sessions of puppyhood, but two years of patient and repetitive drills that will prepare him for life as a long distance sidecar dog with a man counting the days till his retirement and eager to ride to places he has long yearned to visit, but hadn’t the time. The sidecar currently bears Tulliver’s name. Before it changes to Glenlivet the pup will have to earn that right.

Warming up by the woodstove after a busy day of play in the autumn chill

Early November 2016: Glenlivet is coming up on four months. Gone is the puppy fluff. His adult coat is a lovely medium dark gold. He has a few adult teeth. More importantly his personality has moved beyond the egocentrism of puppyhood. He has passed through the “I am” stage and is well into the “You are” phase of his personality development. As we interact and begin to cement that bond I know is coming, the two of us will discover “We are” and all the joy that entails. As he begins to respect boundaries Tulliver has started playing with him. It’s a joy to watch them play!

Tulliver, awakened from an upside down nap, senses a puppy attack!
Tully turns right side up and prepares to defend himself
Tulliver and Glenlivet tussle on the living room carpet
Kazoo defends himself without giving up his favorite piece of furniture

Late November 2016: Gilly is more or less gracefully entering adulthood. Well, physically anyway! Emotionally he’s still a puppy. He still enjoys curling up on my chest, but wonders why he doesn’t fit as comfortably as he used to. And he’s made new friends among our Icelandic sheep! Fiona the ewe and Stump the ram are the most gentle among our small flock. Stump seems fascinated by Gilly, and every time he sticks his head partway through the fencing Gilly is right there to cover him with kisses!

Gilly and Stump have a special relationship.

Mid December 2016: Shot o’ Glenlivet is now five and a half months old. He still gets hiccups and still makes little puppy grunts when being cuddled. But he has outgrown the awkwardness of puppydom (mostly) and while not yet as fast as the grownups he now runs with the fluid grace of a young dog. This past weekend poor Tulliver was clearly outraged when Gilly ran down a ball and snagged it mid-bounce while running at full speed. Me? I’m simply enchanted by this little guy, thrilled at watching him mature and form bonds with those around him. Especially with me…

Torn between wanting to sleep on the Big Dog bed, and wanting to be with me, Gilly falls asleep next to me
Tulliver, Kazoo and Glenlivet leave enough room for me to slide under the covers

Tulliver and Gilly both sleep with me. Kazoo sleeps with Tamara. When I sleep with Tamara all three dogs join us on the double bed…which probably explains why my bride keeps banishing me to the guest room. Generally Tully sleeps with his rump against my hip and his head draped over my ankles. Gilly sleeps with his rump against Tulliver’s and his head at the edge of the bed. But several minutes before the alarm goes off he sits up and watches me in the early light of dawn. The moment I look his way he taps my chest with one paw, then crawls forward to nibble my earlobe and cuddle in close. It’s a great way to start the day!

From left to right: Glenlivet, Kazoo, and Tulliver
Gilly napping on the couch after a morning play session in the snow

Winter appears to have settled in. Given Glenlivet’s love of the woodstove, I was a little concerned that he wouldn’t do well in cold weather. Not to worry. Like all goldens, he counts snow among the best things on earth. And he is discovering that just because he can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s gone; there is this thing called a nose to help him find things hidden from sight.

Watching him emulate Kazoo brings a smile to my face. The first thing Kazoo does every morning when I let him out is to trot to a spot in the front yard, sit down, and calmly survey the lower pasture. Deer or joggers on the distant road get deep voiced warning barks. And behind him a few feet is his Mini Me, Glenlivet, attentively copying those behaviors. Little Gilly has also finally broken through Tulliver’s reserve. The two of them often play together, often cuddle together. The pack, tossed into disarray by Barley’s passing a year ago and then by the arrival of a puppy this summer, has finally coalesced into a trio of brothers.

Gilly launching an attack on Tully
Glenlivet and Tulliver looking guilty
Glenlivet snuggled between Tulliver and a toy stolen from Kazoo

And Barley was right. I would never have another soul dog only if I closed my heart to the possibility…

6 January 2017 –  Six months ago today Sunshine Golden’s Shot o’ Glenlivet was born. I expected our bonding to be a slow and steady process as it had been with previous dogs, but thanks to the things Barley taught me on our cross-country adventures my relationship with Gilly got a huge jump start. From that first private cuddle in the airport waiting for our flight home, I knew this pairing felt right, that it would only grow from that moment.

Gilly, on left, with his brothers Kazoo and Tulliver

Gilly shares many of Barley’s personality quirks, but has put his unique stamp on each. He is, in every respect, his own dog…but one with a furry angel always nearby. Watching him mature both physically and mentally has given me hours of joy. Seeing how quickly he learns and adopts the behaviors he’ll need as a long distance sidecar dog, I know we’ll share many wonderful adventures in the years ahead!

Gilly has perfected the retrieve, and is damned proud of the fact!
At six months, Glenlivet more often than not can hold his own when it comes to playing keepaway

March 2017 – Eight Months Old!

Shot o’ Glenlivet isn’t so little anymore! He has physically matured into a beautiful young dog so full of grace, speed and agility that watching him run takes my breath away! Several dogs have shared my life, but only one, Glenfiddich, was as fluid in motion as this one.  The irony of them both being named after fine Scotch does not escape me…

Gilly doesn’t run so much as he boings

Kazoo, with those long legs, can stretch out and cover ground in a blur, but he’s not particularly nimble. Tulliver is fast, and his reactions are incredibly quick, but he is hesitant when faced with obstructions like downed trees or a stream running across his path. Not so Glenlivet! He makes speed seem effortless, and his leaps across streams and over other obstructions reflect the confidence he has in his physical abilities.

Gilly spots the ball

He is also confident in his dealings with other dogs. As a pup he would twist and turn, desperately trying to maintain possession of the coveted ball as the older dogs chased him. Now he simply growls, lowers his shoulder, and knocks the other dogs out of his way. He is a natural retriever with the gentlest mouth of any dog I’ve had.

And he is glued to me.

If I log into work remotely on my laptop, he lays down atop my foot. If I watch TV he is alongside me, often watching as well. I can’t work on the sidecar without him being in physical contact with me. If I slide under the rig to check something out he is right there with me, his magnificent tail knocking tools and parts all over the shop. He no longer sleeps in bed with me, but in the morning jumps up to stretch full length on top of me, waking me up with enthusiastic kisses.

May 2017: Ten Months Old

I love all my dogs, but it’s a fact that some of them live in the shadow of others. Barley, as great a dog as he turned out to be, lived in the shadow of Tadcaster for four years, and only blossomed when that magnificent red dog passed away. Tulliver was brought up in the shadow of Barley, but given his extreme lack of early socialization he has always been rather timid. Now he finds himself being eclipsed by Glenlivet, a far more assertive and outgoing young dog.

One must, in multiple dog households, share the love. Maybe not in equal doses, but for a breed as sensitive as golden retrievers each must have quality time in which they as individuals are my focus. Glenlivet will cheerfully push the older dogs out of the way for treats, water, dish cleaning…or affection. I find myself reminding him that it’s not his turn. To wait. It comforts them to know that when their turn comes they will be my focus. That there are no favorites.

But this one so tugs at my heart!

Glenlivet is an exceptionally easy dog to love. His is the confidence born of a dog who has always been cherished, and recognizes that he always will be. He accepts love without reservation, and reflects it in a hundred different ways. He hugs and kisses enthusiastically. He nibbles my ear lobes in greeting. He’s a leaner, and rather than sitting next to me, he often sits on me. He uses his paws extensively, turning objects over to study them, or holding something overhead to play with as he rolls belly up. He no longer sleeps with me, preferring for some odd reason the hardwood floor in the hallway where we can trip over him. And he rarely licks the water off my legs anymore as I step out of the shower. Those two quirks I miss a bit, but the incredibly loud THUMP-THUMP of his tail on the hardwood floor at my approach reminds me of another dog who gave me all his love…and insisted I regift it upon his passing.

I delight in the way Glenlivet reflects his inner Barley – the selfless sharing of joy and love – the similarities and the differences that tell me he is of the same caliber…yet at the same time an individual in his own right. The trust he has in me, the trust that lets him do things beyond his comfort level because he knows I’ll never allow harm to touch him. The love he expresses each morning by stretching out full-length on top of me, his tongue covering my face with kisses while his incredible tail hammers out a rapid-fire beat upon my toes. The way he follows me everywhere and rears up to meet my touch.

Gone is the tiny puppy I brought home months ago. He still curls up with me, sometimes on the couch and sometimes on the living room carpet. At ten months of age he is a splendid example of all the breed should be: agile, fast, loving, intelligent and playful. His coat is resplendent and his tail simply stunning! The diminutive, Gilly, no longer seems to fit this young dog with so much grace, so much promise.

He is Glenlivet, my furry diamond in the rough.

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 anxiety 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 our sheep as they mow the meadow
Glenlivet checking out our sheep as they mow the meadow
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!
Glenlivet 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!

BACK TO OUR DOGS

GILLY GOES! Gilly’s Travel Adventures

How to Train Your Dragon : Barley

To say I trained Barley to ride would be a gross exaggeration. He took to it from the start, and tolerated my ignorance of the art of setting up a sidecar in a manner befitting the sort of travel he envisioned for himself. Sort of.

I understood the basics. The Look meant it was time for a break. The Look with a paw on my thigh meant it was REALLY time for a break! The Look coupled with walking in place while barking meant, “If you don’t pull over right this instant I’ll pee on your sleeping bag!”

I also understood from the start that he is a hunter. His prey drive was highly developed even as a puppy. He stalked birds and frogs and mice. At the age of ten weeks he attacked a duck sitting on her nest near the edge of our pond. Two weeks later he went after a full-grown bull moose crossing our meadow; he survived only because the moose was completely unimpressed by the snarls of one so tiny.

So he was initially tethered when he began riding with me at the age of three. It turned out to be a sound idea, as he lunged after small animals several times. Because his lunges affected the balance of the sidecar, I became a very conservative driver. No flying the sidecar, for I was worried that an ill-timed lunge after a squirrel might flip us. That’s not to say I was a sedate sidecarist, just that I made it a point to keep all three tires on the ground.

To give Barley more room for longer trips I removed the sidecar’s seat, replacing it with a thick slab of foam topped by a dog bed. That pleased him no end, but also marked the portion of the hack he considered his turf. Sacrosanct, no less. Anything impinging upon his turf was fair game. I lost a couple of flashlights and a nice camp stove – he just picked them up, gave me the evil eye, and pitched them over the side – before I learned to redistribute the load properly.

Because much of our riding is on gravel roads, poor Barley was often bounced around like the ball in the bottom of a can of spray paint. I eventually replaced the dog bed with a memory foam version from Orvis.com, which was a huge improvement. I also stopped tethering him while we were in motion after he promised to stop lunging after small animals. With no tether to tangle his legs he was able to stretch out and sleep more.

We were traveling in upstate New York late in his first riding season when the large coffee I had that morning required release. I pulled over at a gas station. Like many modern gas stations, however, it was coupled with a convenience store. The restrooms were inside. There was also food inside, which meant dogs were not allowed. Barley at that time had been trained to remain with me, always. There was no leaving him behind as he would struggle to free himself, then come looking for me. Desperate as only a middle aged man can be in that circumstance, I returned to the rig, emptied a large internal frame backpack, stuffed Barley into the main compartment, and wore that seventy-five pound dog into the restroom.

The likelihood of finding myself in a similar situation during a future ride was fairly high, so that biological need drove an urgent training goal.

The sidecar became his crate, his place of safety. Nothing bad ever happened in the tub. He was never scolded or punished in the sidecar. He was fed and watered in or near the rig. There were always a couple of toys inside. The goal was to make it the place he ran to, his haven when frightened or uncertain.

It worked, and I can now relieve myself with dignity.

ON TO OUR ADVENTURES

Choosing a Sidecar

Choosing a Sidecar

I first saw the sidecar that would be mine at the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America rally in Johnson City, Tennessee. It was attached to a 2007 BMW R1200GS, a virtual twin to the bike I already owned. This meant I already had the tools needed to wrench on it, already knew how to perform routine maintenance on the bike. The Hannigan sidecar was a sleek fiberglass affair painted a bright metallic yellow with the bike painted to match. The design included a clamshell lid with a high rim that, to my mind, was more dog safe than the traditional hacks with the step-through tub.

Barley and Tadcaster checking out this strange new crate

I returned to Vermont with sidecars on my mind. I investigated other brands, but while I found them attractive I always came back to the sleek lines of the Hannigan. A year later the gently used rig from Tennessee went up for sale. I put a deposit on it immediately. The dealer asked to use it one last time as a static display at the Americade Rally in Lake George, New York. Bonus for me! Americade was just a few hours away from my home, while the Hannigan factory was located in far away western Kentucky; I quickly agreed to meet Dave and Ruth Ann Hannigan at their motel as the rally was wrapping up.

The plan was to enjoy a leisurely trip in perfect weather, with me taking to the feel of piloting a sidecar as naturally as I’d done with motorcycles four decades before. The reality was a harrowing ride home in driving rain, herding a rig that seemed intent on ignoring my efforts to stay in my lane, leaving me wondering if I could turn around and get my money back! Puddles at the side of the road seemed to pull me toward the drainage ditch, roadway debris was difficult to avoid with an extra wheel to worry about, wind and crowning of the pavement seemed to require an awful lot of strength to compensate for, and steering was about as easy as doing figure eights in an antique truck with flat tires up front.

But after a hundred miles or so the sun came out, the wind dropped off, and I began to sense a very different type of thrill. It wasn’t fast, it didn’t lean, handling was not effortless, but there was a certain coolness to navigating the roads of Vermont in a vehicle so different!

Thus was born the crap-eating grin.

There were no sidecar classes in New England, and the thought of driving my new rig one thousand miles to learn how to drive it properly didn’t sound like a very good plan. I figured by the time I arrived at the class I’d be pretty good. So I bought The Yellow Book, a sidecarist’s bible, studied the lessons and practiced endlessly in the parking lot of our local high school. When I felt fairly proficient I convinced my wife to don her helmet and ride with me, but it didn’t work out.

I found her screams somewhat distracting.

It was time to train the dogs to ride with me. I had four goldens at the time. My hope was that Tadcaster, who had just been diagnosed with an aggressive variant of lymphoma, would take to it like a fish to water and we’d have one adventure together before I lost him. But even though Tadcaster loved riding with me on our ATV, he was terrified of this rig. I tried Tulliver next. While he was comfortable on the dog bed, the moment the clamshell lid was closed he would try to claw his way out. Not good. Next came an abortive attempt to convince 18 month old Kazoo that this was a real treat, but at that age he had zero interest in anything he couldn’t eat or hump. That left Barley, the runt of the pack and my last hope.

“Hey, Barley! Wanna go for a ride?” I asked, kneeling next to the rig holding the lid up. He jumped right in and sat facing forward behind the windshield like a natural. I clipped him in and closed the lid while he smiled happily. I started the engine – no change. I slipped into gear and pulled slowly forward to the edge of the driveway; he looked at me and wagged. I pulled out onto our dirt road intending to check our mailbox at the start of the pavement a quarter mile down the hill. Barley did just fine, peering ahead to look at the world with interest, noting every bird and rodent along the way, so I kept going. We passed the nearby Trapp Family Lodge where tourists pointed and took his picture, introducing him to celebrity.

He did just fine.

Looking a tad worried with the clamshell closed

For the next couple of months we did training rides every day. They were short at first, with frequent stops for treats or play. Rural Vermont is extremely dog friendly, and many merchants keep treats behind the counter. Barley quickly memorized the good spots and gave me the evil eye if I passed any one of them. “There’s bacon in that building you just passed. HELLO!”

The cancer took Tadcaster in early Spring. He took with him a mountain of joy. Barley felt it too, as Tadders had been his constant playmate. We needed to recharge, he and I, so set off on our first multi-day trip, a trial run of sorts to iron out the bugs and find our shared rhythm of the road.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

BARLEY’S SIDECAR ADVENTURES