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 had twice been traumatized by violent encounters with aggressive dogs, 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 I complain for about 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 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 followed County Road C – a narrow strip of pavement winding through brush and small farms – along the swollen Wisconsin River. Our one brief play break along that river was terminated abruptly when legions of mosquitos discovered us!
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, and in the morning 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 day after the rally ended, Pella would be heavily damaged by tornadoes…
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 Gilly 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 uncomfortable. I felt bad for them all, but especially the Gerbings dealer trying to sell heated gear 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 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 presence…
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.
Within a very short while we encountered fog so thick I couldn’t see fifty feet! I pressed on since the roads were still deserted, but had to rely on the GPS to let me know when curves or side roads lay ahead. By 9am the fog lifted, exposing huge gray clouds building to the east. We passed through the small city of Ottumwa IA just as dozens of hot air balloons were launching, and one hour later passed over the massive Illinois River into the state of Illinois. By noon we had reached Peoria, our goal for the first day, but had made such good time that we pressed on to the small town of Gilman IL. There the heat and humidity convinced me to get a hotel room.
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…and 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 Gilly 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 Gilly 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 Gilly 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 Gilly.
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’m well on the way to finding that the answer to that question is Yes!