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!
I met Linda and Dennis on a Golden Retriever forum where we had exchanged advice and
I met Linda and Dennis on a Golden Retriever forum where we had exchanged advice and pleasantries. Barley reminded them of a beloved golden they had lost some time before, and when I asked for information about dog-friendly campgrounds in north-central Pennsylvania, they offered use of their camp a short distance north of scenic Route 6. I was looking for a safe place to pitch our tent, but they wouldn’t hear of it; the camp was mine for the night. I tried to protest, but the thought of a hot shower and a roof over my head in case of rain was just too good an offer to pass. And so it was to that camp we were headed on our home stretch.
We arrived late in the afternoon, having finished an easy crossing of Ohio and Pennsylvania on forested back roads. I unlocked the gate, pulled through, and locked it back in place behind us. Up a curved gravel driveway to a shaded camp with – Barley whined in anticipation – a large pond! No sooner had I let him out than he caught and ate a mouse. I was toying with the idea of sleeping in the carport instead of invading their privacy when a car pulled up to the camp. Inside were the grinning faces of my hosts, a couple I would soon feel I had known for years. Barley bonded to them instantly.
And that is one of the unexpected blessings of the long distance traveler. You meet the most wonderful people on the road, people who share kindness small and large, people you expect to stay in touch with for the rest of your life.
Next stop: online friends in Janesville, Wisconsin, a few miles above the border with Illinois close to Madison. We rolled south-southwest through verdant farmland, crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, rolled through a few small farming towns before our very presence seemed to bother a shirtless, toothless, skinny man driving a huge Cadillac. He paced us for miles, glaring at us from one lane over in a sort of stupefied fury I would learn was typically driven by meth. We crossed the mighty river again. He turned left so I turned right and accelerated sharply to put him behind us.
The Great River Route is fun for about twenty minutes. The scenery doesn’t quite change often enough, the pavement doesn’t have a lot of curves to it, and the majority of businesses have either Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn in the name. I turned west again to run through rolling hills covered in crops. We pulled up at Susan and Stephen’s home on the outskirts of Janesville late in the afternoon to a chorus of barking from home and kennel.
Dog people: this was going to be good.
For a busy woman, Susan has vast reserves of energy. She raises dogs, kennels dogs, trains with dogs, hunts with dogs, manhandles cattle, manages to care for two very young and curious granddaughters. Inside the house was a young bitch named Shine. Shine liked me so much she peed every time I looked at her, puddled every time I touched her. Susan spent much of her time yelling, “Don’t touch the…ah, let me get a paper towel!”
Shine had way too much energy for Barley. He wanted to hunt. She wanted him to love her. She’d flounce in coquettishly and “accidentally” bump into him. He’d give a low warning growl. Mice were more interesting. But she finally overdid it and found herself Alpha rolled in a flash! Barley had had enough. At least he didn’t draw any blood, I told myself, so Shine must have still had a bit of puppy license left in her.
We packed up in the minivan for a trip to an area treasure, the New Glarus Brewery. I love beer and I love clever marketing; this place had both. We took the tour and drank the samples: Cow Tipper Ale, Flying Squirrel, Two Naked Ladies. I bought a case, plus a few bottles of red ale made from cherries for the wife, shipped some clothing home to make room for it, and stowed it securely in the sidecar for transport back home.
With thank you hugs for Susan and Stephen we were back on the road the next day, the Fourth of July. We hooked around a big city below us, taking backroads all the way to El Paso, Illinois, then turned east on US 24 across Illinois and Indiana. It became US 224 somewhere before Ohio, and it was a hotel in Ohio where we stopped for the night. We had seen a lot of corn that day. Acres of corn. Miles of corn. Lots.
We also saw something beautiful and unexpected…
Barley sat up in the sidecar, facing forward, his nose busily working a scent I was completely unaware of. I scanned my surroundings – fields of corn stretched to the horizon in every direction, US 24 a straight line endlessly in front of me. There was a small rise coming up, just high enough that I couldn’t see over it even when standing on the pegs. I rolled off the throttle, having learned to trust my dog. The BMW quivered slightly beneath me as it bled off speed. We topped the rise.
There were four beautiful horses cavorting on the highway, their manes and tails rippling in a breeze of their own making. I slowed to a crawl and hit the flashers, pulled the Nikon out of my tank bag and snapped a quick photo. The horses eventually wandered to the side of the highway and began grazing. We passed slowly, then accelerated back to our plains-crossing pace.
“Good dog! Clever dog!” Barley smiled behind his Doggles, then settled back under the shade of his cockpit cover.
The next day was OMG hot and humid! We felt the humidity even before dawn, and knew it would be a scorcher. Abandoning plans to check out Lake Michigan to our south, we pointed the nose toward Eau Claire, Wisconsin and stuck to highways. By late morning we were both uncomfortable. At a gas stop in Rhinelander a couple of old men in a beat up Chevy truck gave us thumbs up and friendly grins. I asked if there was a park nearby with some shade trees where we could stretch. The driver started giving directions, but stopped after the sixth change of directions. “Just follow us,” he hollered, and led the way to a tidy little park we would never have found on our own. “Ride safe!” he shouted with a wave, then drove away.
It was a perfect place for a pitstop: restrooms, picnic tables, cold water fountains, mature shade trees overhanging large boulders for Barley to climb on. We rested in the shade, soaking up the relative coolness as we rehydrated. Two adults leading a large group of children on bicycles rode past, then spotted us and turned around. It was a fourth grade class from the local elementary school; their interest in Barley and his rig outweighed their interest in the playground. And so we found ourselves surrounded by little kids, fussing over my dog and his story, the teachers pointing out the protective gear I was wearing and how the bright colors were so much easier to see than dark colors. ATGATT: All The Gear, All The Time. Not a concept you expect to hear from a grade school teacher!
Barley and Trey cooling off in the river
We reached the rally site by mid-afternoon. The temperature was pushing one hundred, and the humidity so high it looked like thin fog. We lingered in the air conditioned registration building, then reluctantly went back outside and rode to the fairgrounds, hoping for a spot of shade. No luck – all the trees were surrounded by tents. So we found a grassy spot and set up camp, but Barley was having a lot of trouble with the conditions. There was a cool river a few hundred yards from our tent, so we walked to it and soaked in the coolness for several hours till the sun was low enough to cast shade. Afterwards we returned to the grounds and sought refuge in the Beer Tent. Barley was carded, but being over 21 in human years was allowed to pass. We reconnected with old friends and met some new pals over cold beer, but it was a tough night. I fanned Barley with my hat, and he fanned me with his tail. Not much sleep was had.
We had a great time the next day despite the heat, though much of our time was spent alternating between the river and the big fans in the vendor buildings. We managed to locate some riders we knew only from online forums, checked out some nifty new accessories, studied what other riders had installed on their bikes, and ate a lot of ice cream. But as the sun began to retreat with no relief from the miserable conditions I knew I could not ask my dog to spend another sleepless night with me. I fired up the laptop, found a hotel about twenty miles away, broke camp and retreated to air conditioned comfort.
That night, in the safety of our room, the world erupted in loud sirens. We went outside and looked to the north, north where the rally grounds were. Huge bolts of dazzling lightning streaked across the sky! The sirens added a sinister flair to the display, and I was glad we had not stayed behind. Within a few minute the high winds and torrential rains reached us, and the entire hotel was buffeted by the storm. (I learned later that the campers had been moved into the solid buildings for protection with instructions to bring only what they needed. Parties broke out spontaneously as a large portion of those critically needed items turned out to be alcohol.)
We left our friends at Aerostich and headed east, sticking close to the southern shore of Lake Superior except where we couldn’t find roads. We roared through Porcupine Mountain State Park, continued along magnificent roads to Copper Harbor, then backtracked to a nice municipal campground in a small lakeshore town with a name I can’t remember. Another thing I didn’t remember that day was to stop for photos; the ride was so much fun I simply forgot that I carried a camera, except for a couple of times when we pulled over to stretch!
We came across a delightful roadside café called Coco. I ordered for both of us, then sat outside in an Adirondack chair, Barley at my side, watching the world go by as we shared a panini and a cappuccino. Barley loves the foam!
We pressed on to the south and entered the small town of Gay, Michigan. For the first time ever Captain Bligh lost his bearings, sending us in a continuous loop that had me pulling out the backup paper maps. A man on an ATV noticed us fighting the breeze for possession of the map and pulled over to help. With his directions we were quickly back on track; the GPS regained its senses as we found the Gay Bar.
South again, south to Baraga and our hotel for the night.
Up early and on the road by seven o’clock. We refueled in North Bay, then continued west on Highway 17, the Trans-Canada Highway. It was remarkably flat, with vast expanses of solid granite often stretching for miles on end. Now and then we caught a glimpse of Lake Ontario to our left, but by and large it was granite I remember most about that leg.
We reached Sault Ste Marie on the cusp of rush hour, so refueled and continued north without delay, now with Lake Superior to our left. Several miles up the road we came to the practically empty campground at Agawa Bay, our destination for the night. After checking in with the ranger I pulled into our lakefront site and killed the engine. Barley, who loves playing in our quarter acre pond at home, took one look at the lake with an expression that said, “Look at the size of that freaking pond!” and bolted for the water. It had been a warm day, so I shed my riding gear and ran after him, leaping into the crystal clear waters of the largest of the Great Lakes.
Barley exploring the Superior shore
Holy cow, that water was cold!
Barley hadn’t noticed, and happily paddled up and down the shoreline. At one point he saw something moving under the water in front of him. The prey drive kicked in and he lunged at it, coming up with his own paw! He gave me a dirty look, then moved up to the shore. It was pea gravel, not sand, and he happily rolled in it for several minutes. I gathered up some kindling, got a fire going, and carefully added the poorly seasoned wood I’d bought from the ranger. We had dinner, camp food and kibble, lit off the ThermaCell to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and snuggled by the fire watching the sun go down.
The landmark totems at Wawa, Ontario
Rest stop in one of the coves north of Agawa Bay
The next day we stopped at a couple of small rocky coves to the north, had breakfast in the town of Wawa, then continued to follow the shoreline along the north side of this greatest of lakes under constant threat of rain. We outran the weather, refueled in Marathon, then took a side trip to Quimet Canyon. It was there the rain caught us; it would not let go for the rest of the day. Cutting our canyon visit short, we were stopped by the Provincial Police, who instructed us to pull as far to the side of the road as possible. A very wide load was coming down the road.
It was the single blade of a windmill, a massive, gracefully curved thing of beauty that rested on a tandem set of fifty-three foot long flatbed trailers. You can’t grasp the scale of these wonders till you see one up close and personal!
We had intended to camp at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park near Thunder Bay, but by the time we returned to Highway 17 the rainfall increased to torrents, big, fat drops blown sideways by the wind so it worked its way under my helmet and down my collar, between the zipper teeth of Barley’s sidecar cover and soaking him and everything in the tub. Huge bolts of lightning chased us toward Thunder Bay and the open ground we were traversing offered no shelter whatsoever.
We pressed on to Thunder Bay, pulling into a gas station to take shelter under its well-grounded canopy. I used the Web to find a dog-friendly hotel, making a reservation at the first one that had a vacancy. I keyed the address into Captain Bligh, then followed the instructions to the front door. Just my luck – no canopy! We unloaded in the rain so heavy the water in the street overflowed onto the sidewalk. The hotel staff watched passively from the dryness of the lobby; not one offered any help. I felt no pity when Barley shook all over their immaculate lobby, in fact, I took the bellboy’s cart into my room and used it as a drying rack.
Everything we owned was wet except for the laptop and camera gear that was in waterproof bags. I cranked the room temp up to ninety degrees but even so had to use the hotel’s blow dryer in the morning to finish a few odds and ends.
Eyeing the forecast suspiciously, I noticed that rain was likely to continue north of the border, but the storm was clearing to the south. Reluctantly, we abandoned plans to visit the Sleeping Giant on this trip. I fired up the Beemer and turned south, back to the US.
We crossed back into our homeland in Minnesota, welcomed by the most dour and downright rude government employee on the planet. Every question was an accusation, every look stern and disapproving. But you can’t let people like that ruin your day. We pressed on, stopping first at a gravel beach for Barley to play, then at Betty’s Pies for lunch, and finally at the Aerostich warehouse in Duluth.
Aerostich isn’t much to look at, but they make some of the best riding gear on the planet! They also have a great sense of humor, going so far as to put bogus products in their catalog, items with claims and prices so outrageous that no sane person can fail to see the gag. Yet people order them! One of the small items they offer are rigid plates sewn into stuffed caricatures of dead animals. The plates are used to keep a bike’s kickstand from sinking into soft asphalt or dirt, causing the bike to fall over. But Barley saw only that dead frogs and squirrels dotted the warehouse floor. Being a retriever, and a hunting dog to boot, he tracked down and retrieved every single animal in the building!
Barley “retrieving” a dead frog kickstand plate at Aerostich
Our first serious trip: a two-weeker up and over the Great Lakes hooking back into Minnesota, crossing into Wisconsin and then Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before dropping down to the BMW Riders Association Rally in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. These rallies are like gatherings of family you’ve never met, but with whom you share a common interest.
I pour over Delorme atlases before every trip. I prefer them in the planning phase because they are incredibly detailed, and help me find out of the way gems that don’t even show up on most foldable maps.
After the rally we would drop down into southern Wisconsin to visit online friends in Janesville, then continue south to US 24 before turning east well clear of the chaos that is Chicago. Hwy 224 would nudge us up a bit, leaving us positioned to ride Pennsylvania’s Route 6 from west to east, stopping in Tioga to meet more online friends for the first time.
We said our goodbyes the following morning, heading south at Charles’ urging to check out the Algonquin Provincial Park. We stopped at an auto parts store in Huntsville to replace a blown fuse which I installed while the parts manager gave Barley a tour of the warehouse that included several treats. We set off again, entered the park, and had a great time exploring a series of dirt roads in the backcountry. By noon we were heading for a small brewery on the north shore of Lake Erie. Unfortunately we had to pass through a tourist town along the way, with traffic so bad the bike started overheating. When rain clouds approached I realized the only way to keep Barley dry would have been to snap the solid cover into place, leaving him in complete darkness. Can’t do that to my dog, so we turned around and outran the storm. The plan was to cross back into the US and ride south to the Finger Lakes region of New York.
By the time we reached the Thousand Island border crossing the heat and humidity had reached epic proportions. The line of cars was long, and as we waited our turn in the heat I was worried about Barley. The bike was no problem; I simply turned off the engine and pushed the rig ahead, but the poor dog was in direct sunlight with no airflow. All I could do was offer him water and words of encouragement. As we sat there baking I resolved to visit a sail maker and figure out some way of giving him a bit of shade.
We eventually got through customs and were heading south when Barley gave me the look that told me it was time for a break under a shade tree. We exited the Interstate and pulled into a small town, got lunch at Subway, then drove across the street to a McDonald’s that had a shady park in back. The sidecar made a grinding sound and lurched to one side. Not good!
Not knowing what could have caused this, I called Hannigan Motorsports down in Kentucky. Dave K, one of their designers, helped me troubleshoot over the phone and we quickly concluded that the electric camber control had failed. The ECC allows the rider to adjust the camber, or angle of lean at the tub relative to the bike, to compensate for crowned roads, heavy crosswinds, etc. The rig was rideable, but would be very difficult to control. We turned east and limped toward home at a reduced speed.
As we passed through Fort Drum in the western Adirondacks I realized there was no way we were going to reach home before dark, and I definitely did not want to ride a crippled rig at night. I reached for the cell phone and called Tom and Kelli, a couple living near Saranac Lake with whom we had placed CJ, a rescued golden retriever, years earlier. “You’re both absolutely welcome to stop here,” said Tom. We altered course into the heart of the Adirondacks to visit our old canine friend and to cement a friendship with his humans.
Tom and Kelli opened their lakeside home to us, fed us, put us up in the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, and sent us on our way in the morning with instructions for a shortcut only a local would know about. Their kindness was touching, as was the knowledge that CJ the Rescue had found love in a bit of Paradise.
A planned week long trip not far from home (just in case!) with no goal other than to visit some old friends, see some new places, and figure out what contingencies I had neglected to address.
Vermont to North Bay, Ontario
One of the goals of this trip was to see whether I liked following a carefully researched route that was uploaded into Captain Bligh, my Garmin GPS. The advantage is that using Google Earth and ride reports from other motorcyclists I can program particular roads into my Basecamp routing software, then simply follow the spoken directions Bluetoothed into my helmet speakers. No fumbling with a map, no struggle to read road signs that in Canada are often in French, and packing more fun and scenic variety into a route than I’d be likely to find on my own. The chief disadvantage would be the loss of some spontaneity, though I always had the option of cancelling the route.
We set off in the rain. It became heavier as the ferry docked on the New York side of Lake Champlain, and by the time we reached the town of Malone it was torrential! There was nothing for it but to zip closed the hatch in Barley’s new cockpit cover and press on with him in the dark.
The rain slacked off as we crossed the bridge at Ogdensburg, and by the time we pulled up at the Canadian Customs portal just a few scattered drops were falling. The Canadian agent was a pretty blonde woman with bright blue eyes. She peered at the sidecar as we approached, then broke into a positively radiant smile as she noticed Barley behind the windscreen. We had a great conversation about dogs. She had an elderly golden and was dealing with her decline; I had lost several good dogs in the past few years and the recent loss of Tadcaster, my five year old soul dog, was still very fresh. We chatted for a good ten minutes as the line backed up behind us. Not one driver honked impatiently, as they must have thought we were being put through the wringer. Finally, the young woman asked if I had any weapons then waved us on with her best wishes for a fun trip.
We retraced our route of the previous year as far as Smith Falls, found a hotel and then a dog-friendly restaurant, turned in early and slept all night.
Up early as was our custom, we took a different and very scenic route northwest to the Algonquin Provincial Park, headed west to Huntsville with a couple of breaks along the way, then north to North Bay to visit our friends.
The entire family was happily exhausted. Anouk, their Bernese Mountain Dog, had given birth to a litter of pups that night, finishing up in the wee hours of the morning. The pups were beautiful, hardly as big as their mother’s paw, squirming and squeaking as they jockeyed for a nipple.
Bear and venison sausage was the entrée for the night. Some conversation followed, but my hosts were slurring their words and clearly crying out for bed. I feigned exhaustion and turned in early, freeing them to get much needed sleep.
Being from the country we tend to rise early, so by six in the morning we were on our way again. By back roads we headed north, avoiding the city traffic of Ottawa, then turned west onto the Trans-Canada Highway. It was a fairly straight and largely level route with excellent pavement, fairly decent scenery and an almost total absence of billboards. That’s a plus in my book!
After a few hours my GPS (named Captain Bligh after that exceptional navigator) announced that we should leave the highway in favor of a secondary road, and then a series of dirt roads. These instructions were not anticipated, but I had plenty of time so blindly followed the route transmitted into my helmet speakers via the wonder of Bluetooth. I figured if we got lost it was at least a pleasant place to be; besides, we had camping gear and enough food for a week. But Captain Bligh knew where we were, and expertly guided us to our friends’ rural home without any drama.
We had a fun visit with Charles and Charlotte, their children, dogs, chickens and rabbits. Charles and sons were avid hunters, so dinner that night was goose baked to perfection, with dessert made with raspberries we had picked in forest clearings behind their home. Yum!
Barley got along with their two dogs – Maia, the mother of one of our other goldens; and Anouk, a Bernese Mountain Dog with oodles of personality – but didn’t really interact with them. Instead, he was hunting garter snakes along their stone retaining wall. Hunting is Barley’s form of recreation. While I carry toys for him, he is good for only a couple of retrieves before his nose guides him to a scent trail and the ball is forgotten, the hunt on. Sure enough, within half an hour he had found and killed a snake.
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.
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.
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.