2020: The Trip That Didn’t Happen

We had grand plans for this year, Glenlivet and me. A month before our April departure it became obvious that Covid-19 was not going to be a flash in the pan. With a background in behavioral epidemiology – and travel restrictions cropping up across the nation – we elected to put off our grand adventure for a year. Instead, we did local rides in Vermont’s very rural Northeast Kingdom. Social distancing was easy in a land where you might see three or four cars in an hour.

Meandering along rural roads
Fresh air was easy to find

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. The Honeydew List was epic and being retired I was able to make a serious dent in the chores. Portions of the house were sanded to bare wood and repainted. Three enormous pines behind the house were dropped, chopped, and eventually rendered into ash in a huge burn pile. (This afforded us a very nice view of our upper pasture.) The last of our sheep were sent off to the butcher and the fencing removed. Using large boulders I created a small terrace to level an area behind the house. A new chicken coop was installed along with a dozen new chicks. Damaged or diseased trees were culled from our woods, and a nice trail was carved which ought to be an awesome snowshoe trail come winter.

But we did manage to get the sidecar out at least weekly.

Pit stop at Caspian Lake

This far north we don’t get the crush of tourists that other parts of the state experience. With no hotels and just a few small diners we lack the infrastructure city dwellers prefer, so it really wasn’t difficult to avoid crowds. Quite simply, there weren’t any, and the forms of recreation we enjoy are the type during which you rarely meet another person. Add to that the fact that our governor followed the science, enacted travel restrictions and public health guidelines which were largely followed by Vermonters, so we were largely spared the effects of the pandemic in those early months.

After ten years of traveling with my dogs, I sensed that my wife might be interested in finding a pastime that we could share. Surrounded by small lakes, we started kayaking together. Eligo Lake came first, as it is scenic and sheltered from the wind. Two miles long, by taking a lap we could get in a four mile paddle. Sometimes we would paddle side by side chatting. Other times we would go our separate ways, each angling toward points of personal interest. I liked the steep and rocky eastern shore; she liked the shallow northern section where turtles often sunned on logs.

Tamara trying to sneak up on turtles at Eligo Lake

And of course Glenlivet loves water, so we often stopped for a dip on our sidecar training rides.

Foliage was incredible this year, though early morning fog often interfered with my attempts to capture it in photos. Thirty miles south of us the town of Stowe would be gridlocked by leaf peeping tourists stopping in the middle of roads to take photos of leaves, but here the roads (especially the unpaved roads) would be devoid of traffic…and the foliage spectacular!

Foliage behind Tamara on Eligo Lake
Windmills atop Lowell Mountain

With winter’s arrival our focus switched to other activities like sledding down our hill or snowshoeing in the woods. Getting outside in the fresh air keeps me from developing cabin fever while letting the dogs run off excess energy. Well, mostly Glenlivet as the older dogs no longer have the stamina of youth.

Kazoo and Glenlivet ready for play
Saint Kazoo, pure gold!
The monthly delivery of kibble from Chewy makes the UPS man very popular

Winter is also my time to go over the bikes, making sure they are clean and ready for next year’s adventures. The wheel hub on our sidecar is failing yet again, so it’s back in pieces. At this point I might just have a replacement hub made using tapered bearings. Though it would require more work up front, adjustments could be made at the side of the road with simple tools.

It sounds like the noise is more from my side, Dad
Back in the shop. Again!



A Very Wet Start

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 need to figure out the rain thing…

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.

Pups no larger than their mother’s paw

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.


Tulliver’s Travels

Years ago, bright eyed and athletic, Tulliver came into our lives as a rescue

Tulliver is an exceptionally sweet, well-mannered, and almost timid dog. Denied proper socialization at a critical stage in his early months, he tended to view other dogs and novel situations as threats. He bonded completely to me, and when unsure of himself would glue himself to my side. It made training difficult as he simply refused to let me out of his sight. Even at vet visits, the staff would practically have to drag him away from me to draw blood samples.

Tulliver getting the hang of riding with Dad

He was an extremely effective service dog, completely attuned to my needs, but I always felt a little sorry for him, sorry that he had not come to us as a pup and gotten off to a great start in life. Still, the pledge I make to each dog in my life is to accept the gifts they have to give in the spirit with which they are offered. Tulliver’s gift was absolute devotion, so upon losing Barley to cancer it was Tulliver who stepped up to the plate and rode with me for two years. He never truly enjoyed travel in the sidecar, but clearly he wanted to be with me.

Tulliver, forever at my side

His place was wherever I was…but at seven years old he would soon age out of travel.




Blessings Be Upon Thee, Little One

Cancer returns

Barley came out of remission in early September, just a couple of weeks after we returned from the BMW Rally. We had hoped his symptoms were from something he had eaten, since he eats just about anything he can get his teeth into. But dogs generally don’t beat cancer. So every off day, every abnormal bowel movement, every little symptom no matter how inconsequential in a healthy dog gets my mind to wondering if the end is approaching.

The symptoms didn’t fit the pattern, but the presentation of his lymphoma was atypical to begin with, so the vet ordered a blood panel. She called with the results the next day, and I could tell by the tone of her voice it was not good news. Dr Emily and her staff love Barley, and his excitement at every visit despite the drugs and the needles tells me the love is reciprocated. We discussed options, and in the end opted for a low dose of prednisone to make him comfortable. It is not curative, nothing is, but it would keep the wag going for a while.

His appetite for field mice never wavered, nor did his determination to catch the little rodents

If a root or rock got in his way, he’d use his teeth to get it out of the way

Oddly enough, Barley does not appear to be fighting cancer. It’s something he simply refuses to acknowledge. His focus is on the joyful things in life. Hunting mice. Plucking apples right off the tree. Spending time with me, one paw draped possessively over my arm, his tail thumping loudly against the floor. Barley wags with his entire soul. When he sees me at the end of a workday he gives a little hop before running to greet me, his head and tail wagging in opposite directions as if to counterbalance each other, his white jowls bouncing a bit with every step. He leans into me and sings a song of joy and love.

Blessings Be Upon Thee, Little One

November 3rd, 2015. In the past two weeks the cancer has taken a much more aggressive note. His cervical lymph nodes are so large he has trouble swallowing. His lungs and liver are involved and his serum calcium level is dangerously high. Our fantastic vet says he has another week or so, with his quality of life declining day by day.

I cannot ask such a wonderful companion to endure that for my sake, as much as it pains me. Sometimes the most loving gift of all is finding the courage to let go.

Not feeling so well, Dad. Give me some time to recharge, then we’ll go play some more

I promise each pup that shares my world a life filled with love and adventure. With Tetley and Tadcaster I was able to meet only half of that promise; they passed far too soon. But I take some comfort in the fact that with Barley I was able to fulfill that promise, to give him a life of the sort other dogs could never even dream of. In over 55,000 miles of shared adventure covering 36 states and six Canadian provinces, he has played in the surf of two oceans, swam in all five Great Lakes, hunted along the shores of most of the major American rivers and scores of lesser ones, peed two miles up in the Rockies, chewed on the fibrous bark of a redwood, attended several BMW motorcycle rallies and made hundreds of friends along the way.

He has been, in every respect, a remarkable dog.

Barley running to show me an apple plucked off the tree

Give me five more minutes, Dad. I can almost taste that mouse!

We spent all day together, he and I. We went for a short sidecar ride, his last, and I marveled at how it seemed to brighten his spirits. We said goodbye to old friends, brought smiles to the faces of Sterling College students we passed, and visited shops known to keep treats behind the counter.

Nothing beats a butt scratch from a girl with long nails! (You can see his distended abdomen in this photo.)
Barley about to score an ice cream cone
Always on the prowl. Hunting fish in the Little River is as much fun as hunting mice in the field
People’s United Bank was always good for a treat
We took one last ride together along the dirt roads near our home in Northern Vermont
He always trusted me to do the right thing. As I looked into those big brown eyes I knew it was time to let go.

He hunted mice and managed to kill one more. But mostly we sat together enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on our faces, the warmth of our bodies as we leaned into each other. He shared with me in his usual vocal way how much he enjoyed our years together. He made sure I understood that should I not regift the love he has given me over the years he will be royally pissed at me. He reminded me to be patient with Tulliver, that it took us years to become a sidecar team and that Tulliver is just learning the ropes of Adventure Doghood.

Are you feeling okay, Dad? Your eyes are leaking.

At the veterinary hospital we lay down together on the dog bed. He draped one paw over my arm, possessively, the way he always did. He panted. He licked the tears from my cheek. He shifted uncomfortably from the pressure of his distended abdomen. But still he wagged, still he pressed his muzzle to my throat and made happy sounds.

My Soul Dog, my Adventure Dog, left this world with his wag and his dignity intact.

Barley’s Hopes for Dad

I was not your first soul dog. If you keep your heart open to possibilities I will likely not be your last.

I grew up in the shadow of Tadcaster, a truly great dog. It wasn’t till he passed away that I was able to blossom. You have two good dogs still. Let them both blossom.

Each dog brings gifts to the relationship. Love and respect flower when you accept those gifts in the spirit with which they were offered, never comparing them to the gifts another dog brought into your life. Expecting any dog to compete with a ghost will only disappoint both of you.

Love and joy should be your focus. Expecting bad things will only sour you.

And most of all, I will be royally pissed if you don’t regift the love I’ve shared with you!


If Barley’s story touched you, or you have known the love of a good dog, you should know about the great work of the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Please take the time to visit their Webpage and read up on the cutting edge research they are doing in the hope that no dog will pass without experiencing a long life of health and love. Make a donation if you can…




The 2015 Billings Rally

The Billings Rally and the trip home

I was surprised and more than a little touched by the number of people who had been following Barley’s fight with lymphoma. We hadn’t even rolled to a stop in front of the registration building when people began shouting hellos and well wishes. So many greeted us inside that it was hard to get registered! But eventually we were able to present our membership cards and get our wristbands (collar band for Barley), then motor onto the fairgrounds to find a place to pitch our tent. It had to be around people, as he loves to socialize, but remote enough so we didn’t have to worry about riders going a tad fast on their way past. We selected a grassy patch adjacent to a busy boulevard. Ambien and beer would help me deal with the traffic noise, and the spot had the advantage of being under a tree that provided a bit of shade.

We set up our tent, changed into more comfortable attire (shorts and sandals for me, a loose-fitting vest for Barley), ate dinner together then explored the fairgrounds to get the lay of the land. As is often the case, we ended up in the beer tent just making friends. While there, the wind picked up significantly. A cloud of dirt and grit blew off the nearby bluffs; a few tents were blown across the grounds. When Barley and I returned to our tent we found new neighbors…and the large branch that had been our shade hanging by a thread directly over our tent!

With help from half a dozen fellow campers, we picked up the tent and moved it out of harm’s way, pulled the branch down and moved it to the side, then put the tent back in place, sans shade. It was a novel sort of social mixer, with the group gathered round making introductions and sharing stories of their rides from home. Barley soaked up all the affection the group had to offer.

Thursday was the official opening day of the rally. Barley and I had breakfast with some new friends, then made rounds of the vendors. Unfortunately, I’m the sort of rally goer the vendors really don’t want to see. Having reached the point a couple years ago where I was completely happy with how my bikes were setup, I was driven more by a sense of curiosity than need. We said hello to several of the vendors whose products we use, and whose phenomenal customer support we appreciate, but left empty-handed.

Napping on the cool concrete of the vendor building (Photo by Peter Shaw)

Eric Ristau, producer of the documentary Sit, Stay, Ride: The Story of America’s Sidecar Dogs, was to have presented his film in person, but had been unable to attend. In his stead, Barley and I had been asked to fill in. I was a little nervous as I knew nothing about film making, and was up front about that. My plan was to introduce the film, show it, and offer a Q&A session afterwards. Security helped by opening an overhead door so we could roll our rig inside – the ultimate show and tell. And it went very well. After the showing well over half the audience joined us in the back of the room to examine our sidecar setup and ask questions.

Q: How did you train him? A: Barley took to the sidecar from the start. Over the years we’ve each morphed a bit, with each of us attuned to the needs of the other, but he was a natural.

Q: How much ground can you cover in a day? A: We’ve done 850 miles in a day across the Midwest trying to outrun a storm, but 350-500 is an average transit, with less than that when we shift into explorer mode. As we both age I find we tend to slow down and explore a bit more.

Q: What sort of fuel economy do you get? A: Sidecars are heavy and increase your sail area significantly. On the old US Highways I can get 32mpg if I keep it around 55mph. Doing 85mph into a stiff headwind on I-90 I managed only 18mpg. It’s nice to have speed when you need it, but you pay a huge penalty.

Q: How do you deal with veterinary needs on the road? A: I belong to an online network of golden retriever people. Prior to each trip I ask those along my route which veterinarian they trust with their own dogs. Also, because of my medical background, my local vet ensures that I’m well stocked for trips.

Q: What sort of medical supplies do you carry? A: I carry three bundles. The first contains only life-saving basics in case we come across a crash. I call that my Oh-Shit Kit and it’s kept in plain view in case someone needs it for me. The second contains minor first aid stuff like tweezers, aspirin, bandaids and such. The third is for Barley and contains canine pain killers, antibiotics, steroids, and dog-specific trauma equipment.

Q: Do you ever ride with your wife? A: Occasionally, but she doesn’t enjoy it and to be perfectly honest about it I find her screams somewhat distracting. Barley is good for hundreds of miles, day after day. He has absolute faith in my riding abilities, never criticizes my dietary choices, hangs on my every word as if it’s the most profound thing he’s ever heard, and snuggles better than my wife.

Presenting at the rally was a fantastic experience and we both thank the BMW MOA for the opportunity! We made several new friends, were able to further the dreams of several riders who were searching for a way to bring their cherished dogs with them, and the interaction was absolutely therapeutic in Barley’s fight for life.

That evening we walked to Applebee’s with a handful of new friends, where we enjoyed dinner, drinks and great conversation. We met a woman who actually completed an Iron Butt Ride on a scooter! Barley curled up at my side, diligently watching for sloppy eaters among us. We walked back to the fairgrounds in crazy traffic and said our goodnights. Barley and I meandered around the grounds until we were discovered by the delightfully crazy bunch at Camp Glockenspiel.

Barley is ever hopeful that he will encounter sloppy eaters (Photo by Mary Ellen Bolton)
Barley KNOWS I’m a sloppy eater! (Photo by Mary Ellen Bolton)

The name, if I recall correctly, came from the fact that the sign was left behind at a previous event, and was free. Free is something that appeals to my sense of New England Thriftiness, so I was all in. A cold beer was placed in my hand. Barley was offered grilled ahi, grilled steak, grilled bratwurst, grilled chicken, and cold water. We were both very happy campers! The next evening we returned with a bottle of Scotch and received an even warmer welcome!

Normally well-behaved, his chemo has left Barley ravenous (Photo by Mary Ellen Bolton)
Mmmmm, bratwurst! (Photo by Mary Ellen Bolton)

Long after Barley is gone I will carry with me fond memories of the Billings Rally. Escaping the heat by curling up with him on the cool concrete floor of the vendor building. Giving him commands in a language I thought nobody else would know and having a passerby laugh as he realized I was using Tamarian commands from Star Trek. Barley’s excited barking and play-bowing as he recognized friends from previous years. The way he salivated while watching the ducklings in the pond. Waiting patiently in line at Subway, then having him jump up and plant both paws on the counter as if ready to place his order. But most of all for the kindness shown him by members of the BMW Motorrad family. So many lives have been touched by this dog of mine…

Road construction on the approach to Red Lodge slowed us down a bit
The gateway town of Red Lodge was packed with antique cars!
Because of road salt, we don’t see cars like this back in Vermont

We broke camp early Saturday morning, said our goodbyes, and after a few construction delays passed through Red Lodge by mid-morning. There was some sort of antique car show in town, and we marveled at the old Fords and Chevys of an age that never survived the road salt of the east. We reached Beartooth Pass by late morning. The chill in the air felt fantastic after the heat of Billings, and we made several stops along the way. Half a dozen couples were preparing to mount their shiny Harleys as we reached one pullout. The riders took one look at Barley and immediately decided to prolong their stay. Barley loves motorcyclists and women with squeaky, excited voices. In this group he found both, and happily told them all about his life of adventure! This particular group had ridden together for a while, generally trailering to a central spot then making a series of daytrips from there. Next year they were planning on visiting New England, so I shared contact info and offered to scout out some routes for them. Paved, of course.

Barley safely tucked behind the windscreen

The tall road marker gives an idea of how deep the snow gets up here

This is what it’s all about, Dad!

Barley won’t stay behind the windshield, so the Doggles go on

We’ll camp here on our next trip

We enjoy fresh pavement from the construction that delayed us on the ride in
Back into the tree line

Over Beartooth we rode, then over Chief Joseph and across the arid Big Horn Basin to Ten Sleep. Left at Ten Sleep onto Hwy 16 up and over the southern Big Horns to Buffalo, WY.  I-90 at a high rate of speed past Gillette to Moorcroft, WY, then angling down to Newcastle before crossing into South Dakota at Custer. South through Hot Springs all the way back to our friend, Dan, in Chadron, Nebraska. We loaded up the trailer and headed east toward home.

Barley picks up the scent of animals before I see them. When he alerts I slow down.
The iconic red mountain on Chief Joseph Highway
Barley’s I gotta pee look.
We follow Chief Joseph Highway into dry heat near Graybull

The drive home was fast and boring, with Barley nevertheless insisting on taking it all in to the point of exhaustion. Eventually he fell asleep draped over the storage compartment between the seats, with his head in my lap and his rear in the passenger seat. There were only two moments of excitement. The first came in Iowa in the wee hours of the morning when I realized that US Highway 20 was unlike the Interstate in one respect: there were no open gas stations after midnight. I actually had to pull over at one point and use the emergency gas supply from the sidecar. Finally, just when I thought I should find the nearest gas station and park until it opened with the dawn, we found an all-night station and refueled.

Approaching Ten Sleep Canyon from the west on Hwy 16
His expression changes as we briskly enter some sweeping curves
Barley spots the climbers before I do…
Ten Sleep’s vertical walls are popular with climbers
Near the summit we pull over for a break
We leave the Interstate and angle southeast into western Nebraska and our truck

We retrieved our truck and trailer in Chadron, Nebraska, loaded up the rig and immediately headed east. Barley refuses to rest during the drive. He sits up and studies the world even as his body begins to slump from exhaustion. It’s as if he knows this will be his last adventure and he doesn’t want to miss anything. I pull over to take breaks and let him sleep now and then

Two days later we reached Pennsylvania where we were able to visit our friends, Linda and Dennis. Linda has had a special bond with Barley for years, as he looks remarkably like her own departed golden. With a high likelihood that this would be Barley’s last big adventure, I wanted them to see each other again. Barley leaned into her and told her all about his latest trip.

Setting out for the last leg to home (Photo by Linda Stager)

Eight hours later we were home.



The trip to Montana

Billings here we come!

First time ever trailering the rig, we set out in the early morning hours

We left early on a Friday morning, my dog and I, cutting across the southern Adirondacks to I-90, then continuing west on the Thruway to make the best time possible. We made it past Cleveland, OH before rush hour, then pulled into a rest area to let the traffic subside a bit. I had hoped that packing cargo in front of the passenger seat to enable Barley to stretch out full length on his memory foam bed would let him sleep for much of the trip, but that was not the case. Barley is a very inquisitive traveler. He sat up to see where we were going, even when so exhausted that his little body leaned heavily against me. And he regularly demanded that his window be lowered so he could catch the scents. And there is a LOT of wind noise in a truck rolling down the Interstate with the windows down!

With Barley just off chemo, we trailered as far as Nebraska

Another reason for taking the truck was it would allow us to nap more comfortably in the bed at rest stops, sparing us the expense and lost time associated with staying in hotels. That was also a good idea that didn’t work out. Thanks to recent storms, the heat and humidity of the Midwest was oppressive even at night. Like other motorists, we napped in the cab with the engine and air conditioning running. We had a ninety minute nap just across the Indiana border with Ohio, then another two hours just across the Illinois border. In eastern Iowa we left the Interstate and angled northwest to pick up US 20, then continued west across endless farmland. My GPS, purchased just for this trip, at some point advised me to “Continue 396 miles, then turn right onto unpaved road.” Barley smiled tiredly at me; back home the longest straight section of road was about five miles. We stopped for the night just across the Nebraska state line. Barley, still feeling the lingering effects of his last chemo session, was not getting the sleep I’d hoped he would find in the truck. Truth be told, neither was I. The air conditioned truck was simply not as comfortable a ride as our sidecar rig.

A little tongue action on a muzzle going white

We reached our trailering destination late Sunday morning. My friend, Dan, would watch the truck and trailer while Barley and I continued west on the sidecar rig. Thanks, Dan! Transferring our gear to the rig, we looped north to see the southern edge of Badlands National Park – the part we had missed on our last time in the area. I considered incorporating a loop through the park, but construction near the entrance at Interior, SD, had traffic backed up for miles. We rode instead to Scenic, confirming that there was in fact nothing scenic about Scenic. We stopped briefly at Wounded Knee, a place so lovely it was hard to imagine the violent massacre of so many innocents had once taken place there, then angled back south to a real hotel in Chadron, NE. Barley fell asleep right after his dinner and slept clear through the night.

Our waitress rushed out to get a photo with Barley

We were up before dawn the next day, as is our custom. I fed Barley and took him out to take care of business, then packed as he gnawed on a rubber ball. There were several Harleys in the parking lot, as the 75thSturgis rally was coming up in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to hit the road early. Nothing against Harley-Davidson, but it represents a completely different style of riding – slow and in groups that are difficult to pass – and I wanted to be out of the Black Hills before they filled the roads. We had breakfast at the diner adjacent to the hotel, then paused when our waitress ran out to ask for a photo next to Barley. Seeing the joy he brought to the young woman, and the joy he obviously felt interacting with people he met on the road, reaffirmed my decision to attend this year’s rally with him. Sick he might be, and the odds might be stacked against him, but for now he is alive. For now we ride.

A bit more white, but still up for adventure!

Heading west on US20. Tomorrow we turn north and head for the Black Hills of SD

The Black Hills. Magic. Sacred to the Lakota and to the tribes that preceded them, but stolen when gold was discovered at French Creek.  Barley and I touched just a part of the southern Black Hills this time, a bit of the Wildlife Loop and the sensational Needles Highway. We paused in a meadow to watch a small herd of bison; unlike our 2013 experience, this time Barley had no issue with the giant beasts. Up into the Black Hills we went, turning left onto Needles Highway, stopping now and then so Barley could play in clear running streams. At a couple of stops other BMW riders would recognize Barley and pull over to greet him, to wish him well in his battle with cancer.

Unlike our 2013 trip, this year Barley did not try to pick a fight with the bison

The Black Hills are simply magical!

One of the wider tunnels on the Needles Highway

Needles Highway in Southern Black Hills, South Dakota

Hey Dad, how’s this smile?

We had lingered too long, and by the time we reached the Eye of the Needle traffic was gridlocked. There is a narrow tunnel at the summit, barely wide enough for most cars to get through, and the funnel shape of the approach on both ends makes it challenging for motorists to back up should two cars reach the narrow at the same time. At one end of the tunnel was an elderly couple pulling a popup trailer with several cars behind them. At the other end of the tunnel was a stubborn ‘Murican woman refusing to back up. After several minutes of this standoff, a skinny woman with bright red curls and a vocabulary that would make a drill sergeant blush bullied the ‘Murican woman into backing up. Barley and I slipped through the tunnel, passed several cars on the twisty road, and dropped out of the tourist-clogged Black Hills. We rode through increasingly arid land to I-90, turned west and sped across the state line to Buffalo, WY, where we stopped for dinner at a barbeque place with a nice outdoor patio. The heat of the transit had taken a bit out of both of us. The waitress brought Barley a huge bowl of chilled water and me a cold beer. I don’t drink while riding, but the beer looked inviting so I accepted and found a vacancy at the adjacent Super 8. By morning Barley was back to his old self. He had had two good nights sleep and the lingering effects of the doxorubicin were gone.  We grabbed a quick breakfast then followed Hwy 16 into the southern Big Horns, with a side trip down Crazy Woman Canyon. It was quite pleasant at six thousand feet and the views of the higher peaks to the north of us were spectacular.  At one stop we met a newlywed couple who fussed over Barley, then a retired Marine traveling the Rockies with his grandson in a Miata convertible. Well met, both of them.

We found a small turnout with a spectacular view
Starting our descent into Ten Sleep Canyon

Eastern Wyoming’s geography is one of metamorphic rock, layers of sedimentary deposits forged into stone by immense heat and pressure, then lifted skyward by cataclysmic seismic events. As we dropped out of the Big Horns into Ten Sleep Canyon to the west this was plain to see in the sheer rock faces all around us. It was incredible, a climbers’ paradise on the ochre side of the artist’s palette, but as we dropped into the desert approaching the town of Ten Sleep, the full heat of the summer bore down on us. We stopped at the local brewery to visit an online friend and fellow rider, but the brewery was not yet open. With the heat building I elected to press on to the Bighorn River to the west of us, following the river north to provide Barley a means of cooling down if needed. I shouldn’t have bothered. After traveling through some of the most tortuous arid terrain in the country and turning north at the river, we found the water uncomfortably warm. We rocketed north to Graybull, then east toward Shell Canyon and the more comfortable temperatures of higher elevations.

At last we drop into Ten Sleep to visit Justin at the brewery. Very cool place, but it wasn’t open yet and the heat was rapidly building

Like Ten Sleep Canyon, Shell Canyon was an unexpected and very welcome surprise. The well-maintained pavement wound through sharp curves bordered by steep cliffs and marked by light midweek traffic. We stopped at the falls where Barley soaked up more affection from total strangers, but it was still uncomfortably warm at that point so we soon pressed on.

Escaping the heat of the Big Horn Basin, we can see clouds over the mountains ahead
Entering lower Shell Canyon
Pulling over to give Barley some chilled water. The heat was pretty tough on the little guy.

We hit the crest and cloud cover at the same time. The temp dropped significantly

Just as we crested a large cloud blocked the sun and the temp dropped nearly thirty degrees. It felt delicious! Riding across a series of high elevation meadows, we pulled into the Elk View Inn for lunch. I ordered a buffalo burger which I shared with Barley. It seemed the right thing to do given his encounter with the huge bull two years previously. Barley approved of the choice. We pressed on. Every year a sub-group of BMW rallygoers participate in a fun, skill-building event called the GS Giant. Online friends had informed me that the group was camping for the night just ahead at the Bear Lodge Resort. We were invited! It seemed like a good place to camp, and a good place to meet new and old friends. But as we pulled in it was plain that there was just too much chaos, too much motorized adrenaline, to let Barley safely off lead. West again, we investigated a string of lightly used campgrounds in the northern Bighorns. We checked out Bald Mountain, then Porcupine Mountain, settled on the first but decided to visit the Medicine Wheel just to the west before returning to the campground to set up our tent. Medicine Wheel is about a mile from the parking lot. Barley and I hadn’t made it more than a couple hundred yards when I heard the first clap of thunder. To the east, and coming our way fast, was a string of huge black clouds. Enormous bolts of lightning sprang from them, a couple appearing to have hit the ground near the Bald Mountain Campground.

Storm clouds built surprisingly fast, with ground strike lightning at regular intervals. We fled west into the desert, trading lightning for heat
A view back toward the storm that chased us off the summit

We ran back to the rig, suited up and – with lightning and fat raindrops chasing us – fled downhill into the Bighorn Basin to the west. The basin, of course, was desert. And hot! Decision time. I could make it to the coolness of some of the campgrounds along Chief Joseph Byway or even the base of Beartooth Pass in three hours. But it had been a big day and Barley was tired. I cuddled him for a while. The trusting look in his eyes told me he would be game for whatever I wanted to do. That he knew I would do the right thing. One cannot take advantage of trust like that and still call himself a man. I found a hotel room and fired up the air conditioner after filling his water bowl, unpacked and checked the rig, and finally peeled off my sweaty gear and took a refreshing shower.

Dog, bike, self: the pattern we had followed for five years and over fifty thousand miles.

First glimpse of Beartooth from the Chief Joseph Highway
Barley intent on a rustling sound he heard over the edge

Morning dawned fresh and clear. We shared breakfast, refueled, then headed north up Chief Joseph Highway. I love this road for its twisties, its scenery, and its history. We studied the retreat of the Nez Perce tribe in the Marine Corps. For nearly 1200 miles the Nez Perce fought their way toward asylum in Canada as the US Army relentlessly pursued them. The tactics of Chief Joseph, the skill and endurance of his warriors, were the stuff of legend.   And then we came to Beartooth Highway, a road Barley and I had taken before and vowed to revisit. We stopped at the scenic overlooks, skipped the tourist traps, and explored dirt roads to the north and south. Once more my dog was able to pee two miles up, an act he takes considerable pride in. Once more he stalked fingerlings in mountain streams and drank his fill of the pure water in Beartooth Lake.

Let me out to play in the lake!
One of the few places I’ve been where I immediately thought “I would ride across the continent to visit this place again!”
Barley and me at Beartooth. We both love this place! (A Canadian tourist snapped this shot for us)
Filling up on the best tasting water around
Barley and me heading out to get some photos with the big Nikon
Approaching Barley’s two mile high pee break
We leave the pavement for a bit of exploring
I see water, Dad!

We dropped down the north side of Beartooth Pass, crossing into Montana. Once more the heat built as our altitude dropped. I pulled over in front of a small diner in the town of Red Lodge to shed a layer. Guests seated at the tables outside abandoned their meals to snap photos of Barley. With a wave and a smile, we pressed on. Through construction, across a parched land to the Interstate, then east to Billings and the annual BMW Rally.




2015: Hints of Mortality

The diagnosis came as no surprise, nor did the timing. Golden retrievers are prone to cancer; some studies suggest six out of ten will develop malignancies. I’d lost little Tuppence the Wonderbitch to cancer at the age of ten. Barley came from the same genetics, and males typically live a couple years less than females. Those who have observed me grooming my dogs note that in the process I conduct a cursory physical exam of eyes, ears, nose and mouth; checking for firmness or tenderness of the belly; carefully palpating lymph nodes.

Barley loved rodents. He would dig for days in search of those tender morsels!

In January, right around his eighth birthday, I noticed his gums were pale, his belly firm but not hard. A day later I noticed subtle changes in his demeanor. His affect was flat, his exuberance at meal time diminished. Never one to decline a treat, Barley would cheerfully supplement his diet with anything he could get his teeth on: table scraps, rodents, vegetables right out of the garden, wild blackberries at the edge of our meadow, and unattended meals left on kitchen counters. But now, as we cuddled by the woodstove while a fierce winter storm lashed the house with sub-zero gusts, he turned away from treats. And then the polyuria/polydipsia started: drinking and peeing very often.

I made a vet appointment for the following day.

Years ago we had a phenomenal veterinarian in Steve Woodard, DVM. He had no fancy equipment in his small office, just a vintage x-ray machine and an old microscope, but his skills as a diagnostician were such that on those few times when he referred us to a specialist, his provisional diagnosis was spot on. We lost Steve, ironically, to cancer, and the entire county mourned his passing.

His practice was passed on to Emily Crawford, DVM. Had I known nothing at all about her skills, the fact that Steve chose her to care for his clients would have been enough. But she is an exceptional vet in her own right, with the bonus of a background in oncology and remarkable competence in the “Snap out of it, man! Your dog needs you to be positive!” department.

Barley’s symptoms fit no classic pattern. The pale gums came and went. Some days his belly was firm and others it was soft and supple. There were no enlarged lymph nodes that we could palpate. Heart and lungs normal. His urine was dilute but unremarkable. The only truly abnormal results were his platelet count was low, and his serum calcium was dangerously high. I was thinking cancer. Emily might have been thinking that, but she also wanted to rule out an adrenal mass.

We were sent to see Dr Amy Cordner, an internist at the Burlington Emergency Vet Service clinic in nearby Burlington. A full day of tests, an ultrasound that discovered a single enlarged lymph node deep in his abdomen (too deep to palpate), and a needle biopsy of that node gave us a diagnosis of lymphoma. The only way to determine what type of lymphoma – the aggressive T-cell variant that had taken Tadcaster from me, or the much less aggressive and more treatable B-cell variety – was to perform surgery to remove the entire node and send it out for analysis.

I simply could not do that to Barley. One of the cruelest facts of life is that we and our canine family members have such disparate life expectancies. But a dog has no notion of mortality. A dog is simply here, and loved, or not. If Barley had cancer, he would at least enjoy the time he had left with me. I would not have his last few months filled with the pain associated with abdominal surgery.  So I returned to Dr Emily, had a long talk with her about my philosophy of life. Together we decided to give Barley one full round of chemo. If he tolerated it well we would treat him as if he had the B-cell variant. If his body responded we would know we were right.

Human survivors of chemotherapy will be familiar with the drugs used in the CHOP protocol: vincristine (injectable), cyclophosphamide (oral), doxorubicin (intravenous), and prednisone (oral) administered in turns, with their impact on white blood cell production monitored weekly.  Just as in humans, every patient handles chemo differently. Emily charted Barley’s bloodwork to enable her to see trends that would allow her to adjust the dosage or timing as needed.

On chemo, in full remission

Barley went into full remission very quickly, tolerating the drugs with minimal and very short-lived side effects. Shortly before the new year we had bought a house in a much more rural, scenic part of Vermont. Between the purchase price and the cost of getting it ready to live in, we were stretched very thin. But as my wonderful dog curled up to me each night, his loving personality telling me that life was still very much a good thing, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind.

The fight was on.

We were riding again as soon as the snow melted

Checking out the neighbor’s cattle

Let’s go, Dad. Every day is precious!

15 May 2015: Barley continues to do very well. Full remission, though every little cut or incipient hot spot gives me pause. He has always had an issue with seasonal allergies, and to stay on top of that I’ve been washing his underside from crotch to ruff with a warm washcloth every night. He loves it, and the moment he hears the water running in the tub he appears at my side, standing bowlegged, waiting for his nether regions to be wiped down. The weather was perfect today, so we took a spin around town.

Dad, aren’t those things supposed to come in little packages?

6 June 2015: D-Day Bloodwork came back perfectly normal as we enter the last full round of chemo. I know the drugs have adverse and cumulative effects, but they brought him back to his normal playful self when I thought I was about to lose him. We caught it early and treated it immediately, but I know once the chemo stops my mind is apt to leap to conclusions every time Barley has an off day. I know I will eventually lose him.

But not just yet!

I cherish this dog. My mornings start with the thumping sound of his tail whacking the floor and the underside of the bed the moment he hears me stretch. At first sight he rolls over and reaches out to me with his large paws, vocalizing his joy at waking up with me. We snuggle, one paw thrown over my neck and his muzzle pressed against my cheek while he makes happy grunting sounds.

Not just yet…

A Break from Chemo: Overnighter to Lake Placid

After four months of chemotherapy, with Barley in full remission and tolerating the drugs well, I decided we needed time off for good behavior. A trip was called for. Not a long one, as I didn’t want to be far from home if he ran into medical issues. And I was reluctant to camp for fear of Barley acquiring some loathsome tick-borne disease with his immune system not functioning at peak. As luck would have it, Backroads Magazine was sponsoring a multiple day ride that would spend a night in Lake Placid NY, less than a hundred miles to the west. Equally fortuitous, Tom and Kelly, our friends in Saranac Lake, wanted to see us again and offered to put us up for the night.

Barley soaking up the sights and smells

That much lawn really ought to have some sheep

I took a Friday afternoon off and we set out for the shore of Lake Champlain, catching the ferry from Charlotte VT to Essex NY. I let Barley out of the sidecar the moment all vehicles were parked, and he was immediately surrounded by admirers. It was good to see him catch up on all the socialization he’d missed since his illness began!

Barley relaxing on the ferry ride to New York

An old farm couple from Bridport offered to take a photo of us

Soon after the ferry docked on the New York side we were scooting across verdant farmland toward the humid Adirondacks to the west. It had been several months since we had enjoyed more than a short ride together, and Barley quickly settled in, his nose working the scents, his eyes studying the terrain ahead of us.

Barley in his trademark tucked position as we head west

There was just a short stretch of road construction in Keene NY just past the ADK Cafe (where we simply MUST stop someday!). We passed through the town of Lake Placid, stopping briefly on the far side to share an ice cream, then pressed north on 86, west on 186, and south on 30 to Tom and Kelly’s home on the shore of Green Pond.

Kelly greets Barley. Notice the intense focus on the ball

To a golden retriever, affection is the best medicine!

Tom and Kelly had adopted one of our rescue goldens years ago, and we had remained friends ever since. CJ, their adopted golden retriever, is now twelve and quite healthy for a dog of his age. He was overly curious about Barley, delighted to have a new playmate, but was too aggressive about it for Barley. After ignoring several clear warning signs, CJ tried to mount Barley and received several bites for his efforts. No real harm done, and the lesson was learned. By morning the two dogs would be playing together.

Barley in the foreground; CJ in the background

We caught up on events since our last meeting, and as the evening wore on Barley became increasingly vocal. He vocalizes with people he feels comfortable with, and it was clear that he was extremely comfortable with Kelly. She would fuss over him and he’d talk back with enthusiasm, telling her all about his life of adventures! We went for a brief walk, catching a glimpse of a loon on her nest before hordes of bloodthirsty mosquitoes drove us back inside.

Look closely in the center of the photo to see a loon on her nest

We turned in, my dog and I, falling asleep to the haunting sound of loons on the lake. We awoke at 4am, spending the next hour and a half cuddling quietly lest we disturb our hosts. At half past five CJ was wimpering to be let out for a bio-break, so we rose and went outside. The air was cool and clean…until the mosquitoes found us and drove us all back inside! Barley immediately ran upstairs where I could hear him telling Tom and Kelly all about something he had found particularly exciting! Kelly’s laugh told me she was done sleeping. Showers, more talk over cups of steaming coffee, and then it was time to head back to Lake Placid for breakfast with Brian and Shira, editors of Backroads magazine. We had met briefly years before at the Missouri rally. Shira had been a fan of Barley’s ever since.

At that hour there was plenty of parking in the town of Lake Placid. I found a spot right in front of Generations, the restaurant where most of the Backroads tour riders were having breakfast. We were met by Shira, who led the way back to Brian. Barley lay on the outdoor deck next to my chair and behaved perfectly. I’d thought only Brian and Shira were aware of Barley’s illness, but as several motorcyclists came by to introduce themselves and share quiet moments with my dog, it was clear that most knew of his battle with cancer and wanted to meet my feisty fighter. It was good for him, a gift for both of us, and watching him interact with people it was clear to me that socialization was as much a part of his treatment plan as the chemo agents he takes every week.

Barley and Shira getting reacquainted

As I said my goodbyes and quietly exited the restaurant, I learned that one does not simply  slip away unobtrusively with a dog like Barley. I donned my gear and secured Barley in his sidecar, then turned around and found no fewer than twenty people holding cameras or smart phones to capture images of him! They were the Pupperazzi!

Getting ready to leave (Photo courtesy of Backroads Magazine)
Doggles in place, back to the pupperazzi
Don’t mind them, Dad. You get used to celebrity after a while…

Return to Montana!

Just a few short months ago participating in this year’s BMW rally was the furthest thing from my mind. My dog, my incredible dog, was in the opening round of his fight against lymphoma. Devastated, I opted for a trial round of chemo to see if he could handle it without significant impacts on his quality of life. To my surprise and delight, he handled the drugs with the same fighting spirit with which he faced off against bear and buffalo. He quickly went into remission and returned to his normal, playful, spirited self.

I resolved to keep him safe at home, to limit his exposure to potential harm, to fuss over him so he knew how much he was loved. But he already knew that, and as time went on he began to chafe at the restrictions to his activity. As the snow melted he dug for mice with renewed fury. He bagged the enormous woodchuck that had ruined the Wife’s garden last year. If I was in the shop working on one of the bikes he would jump into the sidecar and stare at me expectantly. The message was clear. He might not have as much time left as we both hoped for, but he was determined to spend that time living.

And so we ride!

Billings, Montana is only 2300 miles away (by a fairly direct route as motorcyclists go). That’s less than half the distance we traveled on our circuitous route to the rally in Salem, Oregon. Well within range, the destination offers two bonuses. 1) It will let us follow a route we are already familiar with. I know the roads, the campgrounds and hotels, where to find good food, and have a list of trusted veterinarians just in case. 2) It will take us past two places I’ve wanted to return to someday: Badlands National Park and Beartooth Pass.

There is also the social aspect of seeing old friends and meeting new. Last month’s overnight trip to Lake Placid showed me how much Barley missed people. He really is a social butterfly, and denying him that important outlet took a toll. I won’t make that mistake again.

Our tentative route:

  • Fairly high speed dash across the Midwest and Great Plains
  • Turn north in western Nebraska into the southern Black Hills
  • Hwy 16 west, then up to Buffalo, then on to Ten Sleep
  • North, then northeast on 14 to ALT 14 in the Big Horns
  • A visit to Medicine Wheel then to Cody before going up and over Beartooth PassDetail of our last two days from northwest Nebraska up thru SD, WY and into MT

17 July 2015: His bloodwork one week after finishing his course of chemo was PERFECT! After a long discussion with Dr Emily I decided to abandon the thought of riding all the way; recent storms have left high humidity and plenty of biting bugs in their wake. Barley will ride in air conditioned comfort as far as Nebraska, and from there we’ll ride. Besides, the ability to travel at night will get us there faster, leaving more time to ride the Black Hills, Big Horns, and Beartooth!

All packed up and ready to go!



Homeward Bound again

The Mad Dash home, with a visit in Wisconsin

The Great River Road is one of those routes you can’t ride without thinking of the history behind it

We left St Paul early on a Sunday morning, following the Mighty Mississippi River south through a wispy fog that brought a chill to the air. In some places heavily eroded limestone bluffs rose high above us, their faces pocked with caves. I’m not sure how far back they went, but I’m sure any boy living in the area had explored each one within reach. Though a fraction of its width further south, the Mississippi was still a massive river by East Coast standards. We caught up with, and slowly passed, a long freight train to our right, while on the left dozens of fishermen dotted the glare-streaked water.

Great weather for riding!
Great weather for riding!
Overtaking a freight train

Bridges took us back and forth across the river, Minnesota to Wisconsin. We passed through Red Wing, then headed southeast at La Crosse through rolling hills where voracious mosquitos waited at every rest stop.

Approaching the ADM plant in Red Wing

Crossing the Mississippi, again

The Trolls of Mt Horeb, WI

On to Mt Horeb and its carved trolls lining the streets; Barley was singularly unimpressed. We stopped at the surprisingly small Duluth Trading Company flagship store in that town and could have spent hours looking at the old tools on display, but settled for a toy to replace one Barley had lost, then pressed on to visit our friends in a small town near Madison.

Shine and her new litter of pups

Keep that blonde dog away from my pups!

The first time we visited Steven and Susan they had an adorable young golden female named Shine. Shine was extremely affectionate and craved my attention. She also wanted Barley to play. Barley had no interest, and had given her plenty of warning growls, which she had chosen to disregard. One afternoon, while Barley was busily hunting mice in their yard, Shine had barreled into him with her puppy exuberance. The result, predictably, was she was immediately put on the ground by Barley with a god-awful roar.

By our second visit Shine had matured into a beautiful girl who kept her distance from Barley but jumped immediately onto my lap, pressed herself into my embrace, and sighed deeply in utter contentment. On this visit, however, she had a litter of pups to defend. One look at Barley and the lips peeled back, the fangs came out, and the look on her face seemed to hint that she was about to beat Barley to death with his own limbs! He wisely retreated to a far corner of the house and avoided her the entire visit.

You gonna eat all that?

He did, however, carefully watch Steven and Susan hoping that they would have dining habits as messy as Dave and Liz at the recent rally. Sure enough, a few bits of breakfast fell to the floor and were quickly gobbled up.

Mount up, Little Bug

Thanks, Steven and Susan!

Evansville is such a nice, sleepy Wisconsin town

Traversing Wisconsin farm country on the way to I-39

Southern Wisconsin farm

We were on the road early, taking I-39 south to reach US 24 quickly.  24 is a route we’ve taken often. It allows us to make decent time while avoiding big cities, and at the same time offers enough small town hospitality to give us a chance to meet new people or take breaks as needed.

Corn. Lots and lots of corn

Another Beemer heading home from the rally

Hardcore cross country bicyclist

At Huntington IN we switched to US 224 and continued east, avoiding the traffic of Ft Wayne. We kept pace with a couple of BMW R1200RTs till they veered off with a friendly wave to a more southerly course. We also passed a few bicyclists doggedly battling a breeze that always seemed to come from dead ahead. By the middle of Ohio the horizon was looking wet and gloomy, so we made a marathon run for I-80 hoping to reach western Pennsylvania before the showers began.

Main Street, Huntington, Indiana

Is that rain ahead?

We holed up in an older chain hotel on the bank of the Susquehanna River in Oil City, PA. With a name like Oil City I was expecting a bleak landscape dotted with oil derricks, but the terrain was quite hilly and heavily forested. Directly behind the hotel was a delightful city park dotted with small bronze sculptures. One was of a small girl holding out one hand  preparing to throw something. Barley walked up and sniffed her outstretched hand to see if she was holding any treats.

Barley thought she was holding a treat!

Barley eyeing the geese with bad intent

You gonna eat all that, Dad?

Barley claiming his bed…and the remote

We shared a dinner of potato skins, then retired to our room just as the rain started. Barley claimed the bed furthest from the window.

We were up early again, not because of the weather but rather because we sensed the closeness of home. There comes a point on every trip when you feel the tug of home, and today the suckage factor was high! We crossed several waterways, skipping the swampy areas but often stopping to play in the clear rivers. Farmers at work in their fields waved to us as we scooted past. In one small town a sheriff pulled us over; I hadn’t broken any laws, he was simply interested in sidecar travel with a canine companion.

Marshy areas make poor rest stops as Barley comes back all muddy

Sometimes I have serious Barn Envy!

Oh gawd, what did I do this time?

We continued in a generally northeast direction, enjoying the sort of scenery you just don’t see on the Interstate. On this trip we were surprised at how few construction delays we encountered. On those few occasions when we were stopped by a flagger the delay was generally less than a minute.

Riding the Alleghenies

You don’t see this on the Interstate!

What’s the holdup, Dad?

Now THAT is an effective way of marking a narrow underpass!

Bones of an old barn. I’m always sad to see them fail.

Where’s the Rustoleum?

At some point we crossed into New York state, dashed north, and entered the Adirondacks with their distinctive style of guardrail. At gas stops I let Barley out to stretch or socialize. Between gas stops we took breaks at the numerous lakes that dot the park.

Getting chilled water to share with Barley

Socializing is good for Barley and teaches kids how to introduce themselves to dogs

The hatch keeps my dog inside and protected

The distinctive Adirondack guardrails tell me we’re close to home

The town of Schroon Lake, NY

Barley telling me he needs a break

And finally we crossed the Champlain Bridge into Vermont. A quintet of Holsteins welcomed us home. Ahead I could see the familiar shape of the Appalachian Gap. Beyond that was home and a reunion with Tamara, Kazoo, and Tulliver.

The Champlain Bridge between New York and Vermont

Some local girls saying hello

The Green Mountains: almost home!

Kazoo rushing to welcome us back while Tamara says, “Back so soon?”



The St Paul Rally

The 2014 BMW MOA International Rally: St Paul, Minnesota

The last rally we attended in this area had been cursed with hot, humid, and at times extremely violent weather. In a fit of just-in-case advance planning I had reserved a hotel room in nearby Stillwater. Suffering from a case of CRS, I had forgotten to cancel the reservations before the charges stuck. No matter; it’s nice having a roof over your head at the end of a long trip. And as luck would have it, we awoke that first morning to the sound of wind-driven rain pounding on the window.

The wind passed fairly quickly though a gentle shower lingered, and we rode the twenty or so miles to the fairgrounds in raingear beating the morning commuter traffic.  As we arrived shortly before seven o’clock I noticed a few tents upside down, a bit of unsecured gear scattered by the wind. I smiled, remembering a time when I had assumed the weather would be static, that I really didn’t need to stake the tent down. Others, it seemed, had just learned the same lesson.

We parked the rig, shed our gear, then grabbed a breakfast sandwich, finding a dry table on a covered patio area. The showers lessened, but gusts of wind still chilled. Barley, ever hopeful, hovered nearby hoping I would drop a few bits of my breakfast. Those big brown eyes caused me to be a rather sloppy eater, and Barley was quick to clean up after me. Shortly after finishing, while waiting for the weather to clear, we were joined by a couple of fellow Vermonters: Dave and Liz. It was great to see them again!

We had camped next to Dave and Liz in Salem, Oregon, and enjoyed their company at monthly breakfasts of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of Vermont, the MOOVers. Liz was a sucker for Barley’s expressive face! Not only did she become an exceptionally sloppy eater, but she encouraged Dave to be sloppy as well. By the time they finished their breakfasts, there was a plate of scrambled eggs left over for my extremely food-motivated golden retriever!

You gonna eat all that?

Tents come in all shapes and sizes

We wandered around that first morning getting the feel of the place. It’s all well and good to know that your first seminar is in Building X, but it really helps be on time if you have an idea of where that building actually is. We also checked out some of the campsites, always looking for ways to make our own camping experiences more comfortable, easier to set up and break down, more efficient means of packing.

Some tents are pure elegance

While others are more…deliverance
And of course people watching is always fun.

There’s a bug in my beer!
Dad with future riding partner

Another big rally attraction for me is the chance to see all the different vendors. We have one BMW dealer in Vermont, but it’s tiny and owned by a man who really ought not to be allowed out in public. A few hours ride south of home are the trio of Max BMW stores, each excellent in every sense of the word, but space constraints limit what they can stock. So coming to the rally lets me examine acres of goods I just can’t put my hands on in my little rural state. And of course many of the vendors look forward to seeing Barley each year.

Everybody loves Barley!

That is one happy vendor!

Barley’s friend at CycleNutz

A typical golden, Barley appears more interested in the contents of her cup than in the hug

But the big attraction is getting to see dear old friends, and to meet new friends that we’ll look forward to seeing again in the future. I get so excited among friends that I invariably forget to take photos of them! Of course traveling with the dog as cute and outgoing as Barley makes it extremely difficult to remain introverted, but we do enjoy some quiet moments together.

Nothing beats a tummy rub! (Photo by Mark Zimmerman)
Moving the rig (Photo by Joe P)

Checking out the grounds (Photo by Lynn Hodges)

Love you, Dad! (Photo by Lynn Hodges)

Love you too, Little Bug (Photo by Lynn Hodges)

Schuberth means outstanding customer service! (Photo by Lynn Hodges)

We again volunteered this year, this time doing the Gunga Din thing refilling drinking water stations with ice and water. It’s a lot of fun, gave us a chance to meet new folks, and, well – volunteers make the rally happen!

Volunteer Water Duty (Photo by Neil Elghannani)

Catching a nap between water deliveries

This volunteering thing is exhausting!



The Upper Peninsula to St Paul

Google Maps came through in the end…

Barley takes a break on the shore of Lake Michigan

Remember how I mentioned that there were only a couple of routes I had planned on following during this year’s ride? Well, this was one of them. I had painstakingly examined satellite photos of the area, using Google Earth to zoom in and find roads off the beaten path. Over the next two days I would discover the hard way that Google Earth does not differentiate between paved roads and goat tracks!

Whitefish Point Lighthouse

Thank you, Google Maps, for finding this excellent backroad!

The day started out innocently enough. We traversed a very flat, very straight section between Lakes Michigan and Superior on pavement, then followed the shoreline past Paradise and up to the lighthouse at Whitefish Point. The museum wasn’t open at that early hour so we played on the sandy beach for a bit, snacked next to a massive old anchor, then saddled up and returned to Paradise before angling west, then leaving the pavement on a wide and well-maintained dirt road.

But that road turned into a smaller road, which became a tiny road, which became a logging road on which we had to maneuver around stumps. At some point it turned into a trail and then what could best be described as a goat path. I didn’t dare roll off the throttle for fear of getting stuck, but the big GS Adventure muscled its way through deep sand, over whoop-de-doos, and through some deep puddles and pretty significant mud that splashed up and covered my helmet cam, rendering it blind. I saw no signs of recent human activity and wondered, if we got stuck out there, if Barley would be good enough to share with me whatever rodents he managed to find.

Are you sure about this road, Google?

Um, are you there, Google?

Barley, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…

The goat path eventually became a trail, then a logging road, then narrow dirt roads on which I could see the tracks of other vehicles. We began seeing four wheel drive trucks nestled next to small ponds, fisherfolk trying their luck in the tannin-stained water.  The road widened some more, still not well-maintained, and we eventually found ourselves at an abandoned gas station. Beyond it was evidence of a not-too-distant fire. Miles and miles of dead, blackened pines reaching to the cloudy sky above.

I have faith in your navigational skills, Dad

Proof that at one point, civilization existed here

Miles and miles of burned trees

The GPS screen had been blank for the past couple of hours, showing nothing more than a motorcycle icon in the midst of a pale green screen, but the directions it sent to my Bluetooth headset proved to be spot on, assuming one had faith in the unit, that is. “Navigate off road. In 300 yards, turn half left and continue navigating offroad,” did not fill me with much hope of finding civilization at first, but time after time I would find a place to turn where instructed. And so we found ourselves raising a huge plume of powder on a smooth dirt road at sixty miles per hour, the GPS assuring us that there was, in fact, a small town ahead.

The sleepy town of Grand Marais nestled upon a sheltered cove

The town was Grand Marais, built along the shore of a small sheltered cove of that greatest of all the Great Lakes, Superior. I pulled over at a cove side picnic area for a stretch break. Barley does not enjoy the often violent ride that offroad entails, so some downtime to let him recover, and to forgive me, was called for. There was a restaurant nearby, so we grabbed lunch and brought it back to the shoreline to share before pressing on.

Resting on the warm pavement

Michigan H-58, following the southern shore of Superior from Grand Marais to Munising, had recently been paved. I wish I’d had the chance to ride it while the route was still dirt, because many simply turn around when the pavement ends. Dirt roads mean solitude. Still, it was a scenic ride; with Barley and I enjoying breaks on several side roads along the way. I took several photos of the magnificent cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, discovering two days later that the SD card in the Nikon was defective. Bummer – but an excuse to revisit the area another year!

We left the shore at Munising, heading overland directly west to Marquette, where I pulled over to don rain gear against the gentle showers that considerately washed the dirt and bugs off our rig. We continued west to L’Anse before turning north toward the very scenic Keweenaw Peninsula. The sun came out, promising fair weather ahead, and I pulled over to remove my rain gear. That turned out to be a very bad decision! Less than ten minutes later, my side visibility limited by tall trees flanking the road, the wind picked up dramatically and the sky suddenly turned a sinister black punctuated by lightning bolts!

Oh crap! A fast moving storm! Better pull over and put on the rain gear!

I pulled over immediately and raised the lid of the sidecar and bid Barley to dismount so I could retrieve the raingear stowed under his mattress.  It wasn’t till I ordered him back into the hack that I realized how seriously screwed I was. In the process of shaping each other into a cohesive, long distance riding team, we had developed a routine. Part of that routine was that once he dismounted, Barley was allowed a minimum of five minutes to pee and stretch before we pressed on. The fact that a wall of torrential rain had caught us in the open made absolutely no impression on him. In seconds everything that was not protected by waterproof bags – including myself – was completely soaked. Nonplussed, Barley dug a pit under a fallen log in search of rodent snacks.

Drat – too late. We’re soaked!
Nothing to do at that point but press on.

Already soaked, I gave up on the rain gear and waited for Barley’s play time to end. With his muzzle mud-rimed, he grinned at me from his soaking wet bed. With a sullen hrumph, I closed the hatch and pressed on. Ten minutes later, as if to rub salt in my wounds, the sun came out though the wind continued unabated. We crossed Houghton Bridge, the world’s heaviest and widest double-decked vertical-lift bridge, and set out on a meandering (and very cold) journey to the tip of the Keweenaw.

Beautiful downtown Houghton

The Hancock-Houghton vertical lift bridge

Plenty of abandoned mining and dredging equipment

Cool old stuff all over the place!

Eagle River – deviating from the main roads can be fun!

Iron Mountain at the northern end of the Keweenaw Peninsula. From this bluff we spotted a Russian freighter heading west

Near the town of Copper Harbor we rode to the top of Brockway Mountain. The trip up was sheltered by treed slopes, and it wasn’t till we reached the summit that the full force of the wind hit us. I parked with the sidecar downwind for stability, and struggled to raise the lid so Barley could get out. A few feet away a full dress Harley was blown off its sidestand and crashed to the ground; I helped the couple right their bike. By way of thanks they snapped a photo of my dog and me. We shouted unintelligibly, then gave up, laughed at the wind, and waved our goodbyes.

Lunch at The Gay Bar

Back down the mountain we rode,  turning south on Highway 41 at Copper Harbor. We were doing 45mph, but the shadows of the clouds overhead passed us at a much higher rate of speed. And in my damp gear it was cold! To get out of the buffeting I turned east on an unmarked dirt road and headed for the town of Gay, which was sheltered by the bulk of the peninsula. Barley and I had an early dinner in The Gay Bar before returning to the town of Houghton, finding a warm, dry hotel, and settling in for the night.

Lake of the Clouds

In the morning we moved south and west as roads permitted, till we reached the coastline again, this time at Ontonagon. We followed the coastline to the Porcupine Mountains, visited Lake of the Clouds where Barley delighted a minibus of pre-teens with Down’s Syndrome. Their joy in finding a dog to hug was heartwarming!

Running across Wisconsin

We soon crossed into rural Wisconsin, making excellent time on a mix of paved and dirt roads, crossed the Mississippi River into Minnesota, and followed an increasing number of other Beemers to the state fairgrounds, site of the 2014 BMW MOA International Rally.

The Mississippi is a lot smaller up here than it was in Tennessee, but still a big river!

Getting close to the rally!

Let’s stop riding for a couple of days, shall we?