- 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!
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.
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.
But that’s part of the 2019 Rally story.
THE 2019 TENNESSEE RALLY
We left mid-morning on the 4th of July, Glenlivet practically shaking with excitement while Tulliver and Kazoo seemed to sense they were about to get an extended break from the Wild Child’s often physical attention. We stopped twice on the way to the ferry across Lake Champlain, recognizing that this hot and muggy day, while short, would equal the longest ride my young dog had ever been on.
The ferry crossing from Charlotte VT to Essex NY was a non-event; he handled his first boat trip like a pro. Through scenic farmland and past narrow Adirondack lakes, bypassing the tourism chaos of Lake Placid to Green Pond near Saranac Lake, the home of our hosts for the night, Tom and Kelly.
Glenlivet played in the lake, tried to make friends with their young golden, Jackson, who having twice been traumatized by violent encounters with aggressive dogs was a bit reluctant, then made himself at home by passing out on their sofa.
With fond farewells and promises to connect again for more work with Jackson (who by the end of the visit had started warming up to Glenlivet), we hit the road early Thursday morning. Hwy 3 west past Fort Drum – with a brief pause to let a tank cross the road – then dropping south on the Interstate to Hwy 104 which would take us to within a few miles of our next stop in Rochester NY.
Celebrating Retirement with Tim and Karen
Tim is a former co-worker at Keurig, where we were both disappointed at the erosion of the company’s quality culture. Karen, whom I had met only once at an antiques fair, was a delight. She let Tim and me complain about work for an hour, then tossed us all in the car and gave us a tour of the Rochester waterfront. The city had invested heavily trying to attract Canadian tourists from across the lake by ferry; unfortunately the anticipated influx of tourists never materialized. No matter – locals and their watercraft seemed to enjoy the improvements meant for commercial ends.
After dinner at a harborside diner we returned to their home. Tim and I celebrated our respective retirements in fine fashion, talking well into the evening as thunder echoed in the distance.
Through the Alleghenies, across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois
There is a road in Pennsylvania called Hwy 666, the Devil’s Highway. Four times previously I’d gone out of my way to ride it, only to find it closed due to construction or storm damage. True to form, it was closed to traffic this time as well. The previous night’s storm had lashed the area with three inches of rain and sixty mile per hour winds. Ahem. There will be another chance!
Near Oil City PA we came across the scene of a motorcycle versus a large double axle horse trailer crash. The driver had been making a left turn, not entirely in the left turn lane because of the length of his trailer, when the full-dress Harley came up behind him from a curve and found part of the traveled lane blocked. There had been room to go around, but for whatever reason the rider hit just the rear brake, lost control and slid into the back of the trailer at a relatively low speed. The Harley was heavily damaged, with pieces all over the road. The husband and wife were injured, but not severely, and were lucky that two physicians were in the car behind them. The doctors had the situation well in hand, so we moved on.
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains are always a pleasant ride of curvy roads winding through a forest of majestic, mature trees. We lingered in the woods before dropping down to I-80 and making up time with a high speed run to the west, stopping for the night at a Red Roof Inn in Medina OH. The hotel was adjacent to a Harley Davidson dealer which was a firm believer in the loud pipes mantra. Every question about safety, handling, reliability etc was answered by the salesman revving the engine to earsplitting noise levels, as if that is all a customer had to know about motorcycles. But they treated my dog well, and upon seeing the Eagle, Globe & Anchor on my cover gave me a hefty veteran’s discount on my small purchase.
Glenlivet and I moved to the other side of the hotel where there was a Brown Derby restaurant. The food was great, and the service even better. Upon hearing that it was Glenlivet’s second birthday the waiter brought him a little ice cream sundae! It was such a kind gesture that I sent a thank you email to corporate hoping it would be passed along to the server…
Onward the following morning, with breakfast at McDonald’s as it was the only place open at that time of morning. I stood at a high table while eating, and Glenlivet settled at my feet. An elderly woman, elegantly attired and in her eighties, settled in at the next table. She crossed her legs with one bejeweled sandal just inches from Glenlivet’s head. He raised his head for a sniff, then gave her foot a sloppy kiss with his tongue slipping between her perfectly manicured toes. She sat bolt upright with an excited yelp, then laughed, “Oh my! Nobody’s done that to me for decades!”
We put Ohio behind us, then Indiana before turning northwest in Illinois following the Kankakee River, then west along the Illinois River.
A Reunion of Gold
We rolled into Wisconsin mid-afternoon on Sunday, taking a short break at a park just over the state line where we were immediately invited to share a picnic lunch with a large extended family reunion. We passed, but the invitation by complete strangers really felt good! Ten miles up the road we rolled into the town of Evansville, Glenlivet’s birthplace.
Inside was another litter from Glenlivet’s sire and dam, his brothers and sisters from another breeding. They looked exactly like my dog had that day, two years ago, when I first met and flew home with him! Gilly was interested in the little fluff balls until tiny puppy fangs started attacking his feet; for the rest of our stay he would watch them warily…from a safe distance.
The pups were going home with their new families. It was a real treat watching the love that swept each of them up and away. They will all be fantastic dogs, just like their big brother, Glenlivet. In mid-afternoon two of Gilly’s sisters, Ellie and Sophie, arrived for the reunion. Ellie, a therapy dog, was not happy with her brother’s attention and with bared fangs let him know several times; she clearly preferred the company of people. Sophie, on the other hand, greeted her brother with outright delight, and the two were soon playing like they’d never been apart!
On to the Rally!
Back on the road Tuesday morning, we took backroads to the little town of Monticello WI to have breakfast with our old friend Burt and his wife, Laurel. Burt had hoped to ride with us, but his doctor rather insistently nixed that idea. Laurel sided with the doctor. We caught up, wished each other well, then it was back on the road for us.
A short while later, with the sun over my shoulder glaring on the instruments making my speedometer vanish in a ball of fire, we were pulled over by a sheriff. He asked if I knew how fast I was going. I pointed to the glare and admitted that I’d been guessing…and had obviously guessed wrong. He walked over to peer into the sidecar and was greeted with a big, sloppy kiss from Glenlivet! He took a step back, wide-eyed, then burst out laughing. “That’s just the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” We talked about dogs and sidecars a bit, then he shook my hand and urged me to be safe. No ticket, thanks to a well-timed dog kiss.
We had planned on taking scenic back roads to the town of Decorah IA, but the heat built quickly. A check of my iPhone showed that the heat index at our next stop would be over one hundred by the time we arrived. The dog comes first, so I cut one hundred miles off the trip and headed south on a delightful dirt road to beat the heat. We had stumbled on Iowa’s Driftless Area Scenic Byway.
We stopped for the night just outside of Cedar Rapids IA at a Microtel with a prominent sign at the main entrance that let us know weapons were banned in the hotel. Oh Joy! Early the next morning we pressed on to the tiny town of Riverside, future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. The town was delightfully hokey!
From there we passed through Amish Country, then north to the Amana Colonies. Amana was immaculate, but we arrived so early nothing was open. We drove through admiring the scenery, took a break under massive shade trees in a beautiful park in Grinnell, then continued on our way to the town of Pella.
The heat was rapidly building to uncomfortable levels, so I diverted to Red Rock Lake to give Glenlivet a chance to cool off. Unfortunately the water was warm as a bath! Outside the nearby restrooms, however, were showers for people to wash the sand off their feet. That water was refreshingly cool, so I had Glenlivet stand in the shower for a few minutes before we pressed on. Half an hour later we reached the Des Moines Fairgrounds.
The 2018 BMW MOA Rally in Des Moines IA
We checked in to the rally Wednesday afternoon, but because of the heat and humidity immediately went to our hotel to escape in air conditioned comfort. Thursday morning was the official start, and we were there bright and early. Glenlivet immediately began dispensing dog fixes to club members who missed their dogs back home.
The vendor booths opened at nine o’clock, by which time conditions were uncomfortably hot. I felt bad for them all, but especially the Gerbings dealer trying to sell heated jackets with the heat index over 100F!
Inside, however, was bliss! All the seminars and most of the vendors were inside buildings so efficiently air conditioned that people entering stopped momentarily with expressions of relieved delight on their faces.
As in years past, this rally had a smartphone app listing times and locations for vendors, seminars, and other events. Given the size of the fairgrounds it was hugely appreciated by many!
Most riders came from big cities that had well-stocked dealers, but for many of us living in rural areas the rally is our one chance to see – and try on – gear to keep us comfortable and safe. Brite Ears made me another set of custom ear plugs; the first had lasted eight years. I had each made in a different color to make it easy to tell which plug went in which ear: red for portside and green for starboard. I also bought a nice pair of summer gloves, as my well-used pair had started coming apart on this trip.
We stopped by the Hannigan booth where we both were in awe of a luxurious sidecar attached to a K1200LT. Because it could be fitted with air conditioning that would keep my dog comfortable in adverse conditions, I seriously considered buying it and selling our much smaller rig. In the end I had to admit to myself that I really enjoy exploring back roads, many of them dirt, and for that sort of riding our existing rig was better suited.
One of the lessons Barley taught me in our years together was that dogs are not used to being awake and active for hours at a time. They nap throughout the day, and without those naps they become exhausted by mid-afternoon. Glenlivet is given multiple opportunities to nap throughout the day; sometimes I lay down on the concrete floor myself and fake a nap to get him to lay at my side and rest.
Thursday evening BMW hosted a dinner for those who had contributed articles for the BMW Owners’ News magazine the previous year. We attended, as I’d had an article on how I prepared for long trips published in the April issue. I was more than a little in awe of the men and women around me, many of whom I’d been reading for years! Glenlivet was a perfect gentleman, laying down at my side and napping through the entire event.
Late Friday morning we gave a seminar on sidecar travel with dogs entitled Travels With Barley. In it I shared how I trained my dogs, recognized their individual needs and signs, how we developed a shared rhythm when traveling, and lessons learned in nearly 80,000 miles of sidecar travel shared with three wonderful dogs. I was expecting a dozen people, but we packed the room. There was a LOT of interest in the topic!
Friday afternoon we boarded a bus for the Pub Crawl, a visit to four local breweries. It was Glenlivet’s first bus ride and he took to it like a pro. Living in such a remote part of a very rural state like Vermont, there are some things you simply can’t expose your dog to until you visit a big city. While Craftsbury has five libraries, we have only one paved road, no sidewalks, no restaurants, and very little noise. Heck, the nearest traffic light is a half hour drive away! There were many new things to be exposed to on this trip.
One of the chief forms of pleasure in Glenlivet’s life is marking tires. I’m not sure where he picked up the habit, but he finds it fulfilling. Large diameter tires are preferable, and he really enjoyed our pit stops at John Deere dealers in the Midwest. At the rally he marked our own rig so we could more easily find it later. He also marked a pristine Triumph sidecar at Hannigan’s outside booth…right in front of the owner, Dave Hannigan!
One of the stimuli that startled Glenlivet was the Evil Michelin Man. Others included the bang of a soda machine dispensing a can, the clang of hotel ice machines, Jake brakes of a passing big rig, and the whoosh of automatic doors opening. After each startle response I would hunker down with him, my hand on his chest, and together we would face the issue repeatedly till it was no longer felt threatening. By our second week on the road he was pretty much unflappable. If he startled at all he would sit and look at me, receive a reassuring word, and press on.
We met old friends from faraway places, made dozens of new friends, shared ice cream, took naps, and toasted my recent retirement (with a bottle of 18 y/o Glenlivet) with friends over breakfast…as it was too hot later in the day.
By Saturday, the last day of the rally, it was obvious that the weather was not going to cooperate with our planned return route. Dropping to southern Missouri then across the southern portions of Illinois and Indiana as planned would put is directly in the path of severe thunderstorms. (As it turned out, those areas experienced flooding on the days we would have been passing through.) I spent a few hours in a corner of the air conditioned building huddled over maps and my Weather app looking for the driest route home. Glenlivet took advantage of the time to alternately nap and greet folks who had been following our adventure online.
That afternoon Glenlivet was awarded the Long Distance Sidecar Dog award! To me, it was an acknowledgement that all those lessons I had learned with Barley, all the love and patience used to transfer that knowledge to Glenlivet, had paid off. As I hugged that young dog I felt Barley’s wholehearted approval…
I had hoped to attend the closing ceremonies that evening, but by mid-afternoon it was clear little Glenlivet was exhausted. We said our goodbyes to dozens of friends, mounted up, and headed south to our hotel. Along the way we stopped at a Mexican restaurant where Gilly napped in the booth. The owner’s nine year old daughter, Katarina, was completely taken with my dog. She stood next to me and shyly asked questions about him and the way we traveled. I mentioned he was working just then, but she could say hello to him as we left. So she met us outside, this delightful young girl, taking pictures with her iPhone as “My friends will never believe me!”
Then on to the hotel and a good night’s sleep…
We start the long road home
We were up at 5am playing fetch in a grassy lot adjacent to the hotel. Glenlivet, who had guilt-tripped me into sharing human food for the past week, had an epic poop, a five pounder that gave a resounding THUD! when I tossed the poop bag into the empty dumpster. Breakfast, shower, loaded up the rig. I turned in the room key and suited up. Glenlivet mounted up, and we set off through the empty streets of a Sunday morning in Iowa.
Gilman turned out to be a transportation hub for regional farms as well as a convenient truck stop for the adjacent Interstate. Several times each hour, and far into the night, freight trains loaded with crops passed through town with horns blaring. Big rigs pulled into the K&H Truck Stop for fuel and food, then headed back to the Interstate to continue their journey. None of the truckers exiting the restaurant looked unhappy, so Glenlivet and I walked across the street to give it a try. It was outstanding! I had the best chicken and bacon sandwich on the planet, served on a pretzel roll. And wonder of wonder; they had fresh peach pie! Stuffed, I waddled back to the hotel to plan the next steps in our quest to avoid storms while making eastward progress.
We were now on US-24, an east-west corridor Barley and I had taken several times on our adventures. Since his passing I had avoided that highway and the memories it held for me. But Glenlivet’s training had relied heavily on lessons learned with Barley, so much so that when I looked at that young dog I felt Barley’s presence. I found myself calling him Little Bug as I had called Barley in years past. It felt right. And with Glenlivet at my side it felt right to take US-24. We stopped for playtime in the same tidy parks, refueled at the same stations, dined at the same A&W restaurant.
And we were rained on.
The rain caught me by surprise. I saw it well to the north of us, but our path seemed to be taking us clear so I didn’t don rain gear. Then we entered a construction zone…as the highway turned north and entered the darkest of clouds. For sixteen miles there was nowhere to pull over, no chance of breaking out the rain gear. We were both soaked by the time we reached Findlay OH. Lightning – and thunder clearly audible through my new custom ear plugs – convinced me to use the iPhone to find a hotel.
One of the disadvantages of booking a room based on Internet descriptions is the hotels always put their best foot forward. This one was in a slummy area. A sign on the lobby door announced the hotel was a weapons-free zone. The adjacent property was a run down long term rental; its residents often drove through the hotel parking lot as if casing the place. Glenlivet growled menacingly. I did not correct him.
But we had other problems. The GPS had been spontaneously rebooting, and sometimes showing two routes at once. My helmetcam failed so there would be no more spontaneous photos captured on the move. The left hand fork seal on the BMW was leaking badly. And the four high power LED driving lights on the rig were stuck on full miniature sun power; the dimmer had failed and I could no longer ride except in daylight for fear of blinding oncoming drivers. I could do that. If I wanted a photo I would just have to pull over. And I had backup paper maps so the GPS wasn’t critical. But the leaking fork seal was a problem. I mentioned the problem on Facebook and immediately got a response telling me where the nearest BMW dealer was located. I called. They had the part in stock and could get me in first thing in the morning. Bonus!
We packed the rig by headlamp the next morning, as the security lights were turned off at 4am. Breakfast was hideous, so we skipped it. By 6:15 we were underway headed for Mathias BMW in New Philadelphia OH. We reached them at 9am, and they immediately got to work with the repairs. Jeff, the brother-in-law of one of my BMW rally friends, showed up with his golden retriever, Murphy, to offer us a tour of the area as soon as he finished with a client. Unfortunately, the repairs were finished a few hours before he was free, so we texted a heartfelt thank you and pressed on.
Lunch at the Bob Evans in Zanesville OH, then down the highly recommended OH-555. Spoiled by Vermont roads, I found the legendary Triple Nickle a much less technical ride than I’d expected. It was less twisty and more what I would call scenic sweepers, with a few unmarked ninety degree turns tossed in to keep riders on their game. Wanting to enter West Virginia in morning light, I diverted to the Super 8 in nearby Athens OH. The hotel was clean, but the staff was absolutely unwelcoming. Check in felt like a police interrogation. There was no eye contact, nary a smile, and questions were answered with a dismissive, “Read the guest services booklet in your room.” There were also no restaurants in the area; the nearest was a mile and a half down the road. Tired, I opted for Pop Tarts out of the vending machine, and Iowa beer in my cooler.
West Virginia – a mixed bag
At the hotel in Athens OH I realized my original GPS track (the one that would have taken us across southern Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio) passed just a few miles to our west. So we headed west ten miles to the town of Albany OH where the GPS came to life and started giving directions. We followed them to the Ohio River where we stopped at a nice rest area; on the opposite side of the river was a huge coal fired power plant with a dozen enormous barges loaded with coal tied up along the riverbank waiting to be unloaded.
We proceeded north along the shoreline as directed, but came to major road construction with a detour sign that routed us up a narrow paved road into a forested hillside. About a mile later we came to a five way intersection. There were no additional signs telling us which way to go, but only one road was paved, albeit poorly. I chose that road, as did two Harleys behind me who obviously thought I knew where I was going.
The pavement soon ended and the dirt portion continued, narrowing as we got further into the forest. Soon the dirt road became scarred with shallow ruts and occasional gullies from recent heavy rain. The Harleys struggled to keep up with us, not wanting to get lost. We rode over a few small branches that had fallen to the ground, then a long gentle downhill section that dumped us into an enormous gravel pit. After a quarter mile of fairly firm dirt utility roads used by dump trucks to haul loads of gravel we found ourselves back on pavement. I paused long enough to make sure the Harleys could make it, then turned right and followed GPS directions to the bridge that would take us to West Virginia.
We found ourselves in the heart of coal country, or at least what had been coal country before it ran out. What remained appeared to be religion and poverty. Miles and miles of decaying old homes, rusted old cars, and shuttered businesses. The churches were immaculate, perfectly maintained with landscaping just so. Everything else was rotting. A shirtless, skeletal man with an enormously obese dachshund on a leash waved me to the side of the road. Every rib, every bone in his shoulders and arms was prominent. He had the pale blue oatmeal complexion of a terminal COPD patient, and the curve of his fingernails told me he had been suffering with the affliction for years. “Cool…coolest thing…I’ve ever seen!” he gasped, pointing at Glenlivet.
I didn’t take any photos of this part of West Virginia. During my years of service I’ve been to parts of the Third World where hope had long been abandoned, where life had no meaning. Finding that here, in my own country, left me profoundly shaken. I just wanted to be away, and rode without breaks for three hours to put it all behind me. Three hours of ignoring Glenlivet’s requests for breaks.
A young woman flagger in a construction zone snapped me out of my doldrums. Her face blossomed into a huge smile when she saw my dog. Abandoning her stop sign, she pulled out her smart phone and took several pictures. I took one of her in the act, which made her laugh out loud. The joy she felt at the sight of Glenlivet in his sidecar rekindled that cherished feeling of being able to spread pixie dust just by doing something I love. And even the man we encountered earlier dying of black lung disease would cherish that memory in the time he had remaining.
We spent the night in a delightful old hotel in Webster Springs WV, right on the bank of the Elk River. While Glenlivet played in a grassy park I reached for my iPhone. A quick check of my weather app showed the storm clouds were catching up with us, and that once started, the rain and thunder would continue for five straight days. That didn’t sound like fun for either of us, so I made the decision to save the best of West Virginia for another trip. We would turn north in the morning.
We crossed into Maryland, then a few minutes later into Pennsylvania. At this point we had the option of finding a hotel in the next hour, or riding three hours through back roads to the next sizable town. I opted for the nearest as it had already been a long day. The Quality Inn in Breezewood PA was an unexpected treat! The staff were wonderful, and gathered round to fuss over Glenlivet in his rig. The room was spacious with fantastic air conditioning, plentiful outlets, and even some USB charging stations. It was definitely the right decision.
Pennsylvania’s Big Valley
Much of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country is overrun by tourists, but PA-655 running southwest to northeast along the course of what locals call the Big Valley offered a glimpse of Amish and Mennonite life without the crowds. The valley was truly big, a broad expanse of fertile farmland with a mix of the old and the new. The highway had been recently paved and we made excellent time. As the valley ended we made our way over a few forested passes, picked up PA-287 and continued north to Wellsboro PA.
The BMW Riders’ Association Rally was in full swing at the nearby Tioga County Fairgrounds, but by this point Glenlivet and I were both just wanting to get home in front of the rain. A text from a dear friend invited us to lunch at Eddie’s Restaurant in nearby Mansfield, so we motored that way so Linda and her husband Dennis could meet Glenlivet. We had met years ago through our love of golden retrievers; she had fallen in love with Barley, and saw much of him in young Glenlivet.
My intention was to head east on I-88 to just shy of Binghamton NY, then head north on a small highway to avoid the rush hour chaos of that big city. Unfortunately, since I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses, I failed to notice that the small highway was on the far side of Binghamton. With the city behind us I elected to continue on the Interstate to Oneonta NY, but thirty miles shy of that waypoint noticed the small town of Bainbridge, which had a couple small Mom n Pop motels. I like the small independent motels where you can park right in front of your room, so we pulled into the Susquehanna Motel.
One of the advantages of having served with Marine infantry is you gain the ability to sleep anywhere. Our room was as big as last week’s Microtel at a fraction of the cost. The air conditioner was frigid and the bed was surprisingly comfy. The autumn foliage-colored shag carpeting felt great on my bare feet. The textured ceiling was a creation of a hippy in the sixties, stoned no less. There were enough stains and patches on the walls that I had no fear of being accused of vandalism. The owner was a great guy and it had very high speed internet, probably because I was the only guest. I liked this place. So did Glenlivet.
The following morning we were up before dawn, refueled at an adjacent station, then took NY-12 north through very scenic farmland. We crossed over the Thruway, then headed east on NY-8 back into the Adirondacks, up the side of Lake George through the chaos of rampant consumerism, then crossed into Vermont and home.
On his first adventure with me Glenlivet had covered 3,880 miles. He had behaved perfectly, gaining considerable confidence while we found our shared rhythm. He made several new friends, spread smiles and joy across multiple states, and found a special place in my heart. I had wondered, back when I lost Barley to lymphoma, if it was possible to have more than one soul dog in a lifetime.
I found the answer I had been hoping for.
BACK TO OUR DOGS
ON TO THE 2019 RALLY IN TENNESSEE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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…
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!
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.
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 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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.