- 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!
Buggy in the backroads near Tioga PA.
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.
We pressed on.
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.)
Barley generally takes the bed closest to the AC
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
The staff and customers found him delightful!
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.
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