We left Tioga early the next morning and rode home to Vermont. Crossing the rebuilt Champlain Bridge from New York state, the temperature immediately dropped fifteen degrees.The landscape was wet from recent rains, and all the streams were full of running water. It felt great!
What I learned during Desert Warfare training in the Marine Corps came in very handy, and worked as well for Barley as it did for me.
While dogs can’t sweat, evaporative cooling works well as long as they are in motion.
Like humans, dogs prefer chilled water. Given a choice between chilled and ambient temperature water, dogs will drink more if it is chilled.
If you and your dog can’t pee at every refueling stop, you’re not drinking enough.
Protection from direct sunlight is a critical health factor for any dog. The tonneau cover worked with the vent wide open only if I avoided the heat of midday and stopped to wet and rehydrate Barley twice an hour. As much as I love the lines of the sidecar, it’s time to invest in a ragtop to keep the sun off him while improving airflow.
ALWAYS have contingency plans! I never imagined the Mississippi River would be so low that the ferries stopped running. Having paper maps and alternative routes pre-selected is just good sense.
Sonic Drive-Ins are great pit stops if you travel with your dog.
Your dog MUST be able to remain in a stay reliably for those times when you need to visit an establishment that is not dog accessible. Whenever we are together, Barley is a social butterfly. When I leave him, either in the sidecar or on a Sit-Stay, he completely ignores all strangers and remains absolutely fixated on the last place he saw me. This has proven to be a very good thing!
No matter how much of a hurry you are in, expect a thirty minute delay at any food or fuel stop where teenaged girls notice your dog. This is known as the Sidecar Delay Factor, compounded by the presence of a dog. If the teenaged girls have smart phones, expect an even longer delay while they rally all their friends. Resistance is futile.
When environmental conditions leave you feeling stressed, know that your dog feels it as well. Be attuned to his emotional as well as his physical needs. A gentle caress now and then tells him that you are in this together, that better times are ahead.
We charged all electronics and packed our bags the night before, shared dinner, were in bed by eight o’clock and – thanks to Ambien – asleep shortly thereafter. When the alarm went off at three the following morning we were well rested and ready to go. I untarped the rig and clicked the last three unsecured bags into place, suited up, helped Barley get settled and set out…
for the McDonald’s across the street. It was one of those 24 hour establishments and, at that hour, about the only place to get a bite. We didn’t linger as the temp even at that hour was in the high nineties, but headed directly north to pick up I-70. I normally avoid the Interstate and in normal conditions would have taken US Highway 50 to the east, but concerns about nocturnal animals on the road and the fact that in the dark there wasn’t much in the way of scenery convinced me to make an exception.
By 4:15 we were on the Interstate heading east across land so flat the more garishly illuminated billboards were visible for miles. We crossed the Missouri River in the dark, and the Mississippi at dawn. We’d ride for ninety minutes and take a fifteen minute break, then another ninety minutes, refuel and take a half hour break. My goal for the day was Indianapolis, but as lunchtime loomed we put that huge city behind us. I pulled into a large rest area where Barley and I took an hour power nap in the shade of a gazebo. It was cooler by then, only the mid-nineties, and looking at the map I decided Columbus, Ohio would make a nice destination. Using my iPhone I found a room at the Best Western.
We pressed on, feeling refreshed.
We reached the Columbus hotel just before rush hour. I considered pressing on, but the number of cars on the road and several incidents of road rage I had witnessed that afternoon convinced me to call it a day. We had come 607 miles from Sedalia, and Barley was demanding pizza and air conditioning. An hour later having showered and shared a pizza in air conditioned comfort I had to admit his plan had been better than mine.
Pouring over my maps that night I decided to continue on the Interstate just a few more miles to Zanesville, switching to secondary roads at that point heading generally northeast. In the morning that’s just what we did. While still on I-70, however, I came up behind a minivan doing the speed limit in the left hand lane. I followed for a couple of miles before signaling and switching to the right hand lane to pass. As I came abreast of the minivan the middle aged woman behind the wheel accelerated to remain in front of me. Amused, I rolled on more throttle. She did likewise. Curious, I raised the stakes again and again she sped up. At ninety I just laughed and reduced speed as she sped on. It was a behavior I had seen multiple times during this trip, but only within the borders of Ohio. But this one left me smiling inside my helmet. As I crested a rise several minutes later I passed the minivan; the driver had been pulled over by a state trooper!
Northeast from Zanesville through some lovely and quite verdant farm country. Gone was the drought. We crossed into Pennsylvania, threading the needle between Youngstown and Pittsburgh, continuing mostly eastward now. On one delightful stretch of sweeping curves a Harley rider tried to match us curve for curve. I live for curves, so picked up the pace and using considerable body English soon left the Harley far behind. We dropped into a shallow valley and pulled over at a charming village green. I removed my helmet and riding suit, watered myself and my dog, and was sitting with him on the cool grass when the Harley pulled up with a mighty roar. The bearded rider stopped right next to our sidecar, the many buttons and pins on his leather vest shining in the sunlight as he spotted us. “Holy #!$&,” he shouted. “You ride the %*&@ out of that thing!” With a nod, he roared off.
We continued east on PA 6, taking a break in Coudersport, then again in Wellsboro. By five o’clock we pulled up once more at the Tioga camp of our friends, Dennis and Linda. Barley jumped into the pond, killed a frog and a mouse before our hosts arrived, then spent most of two hours trying to sink his teeth into a birdhouse that had been hung in a tree frustratingly just out of reach.
Because the heat had forced us to cut some of our intended route, we arrived at the rally a day early. Early arrivals are expected to volunteer for at least one of a variety of duties. I was glad to help, as without volunteers our annual rally wouldn’t happen.
“Your dog looks vicious,” remarked Chuck, one of the rally co-chairs. And so we found ourselves on the security detail. Our job was to make sure only vendors came into the display buildings until the rally opened, as interested shoppers tend to get in the way of setting up. Later, we would report to the Mail Room, protecting incoming parcels from…whatever. It was tough duty.
But the buildings were air conditioned.
We volunteered for shifts on three consecutive days, and security duty represented the majority of our time spent at the rally. We wandered around on our off time, checking out the vendors, the displays, meeting new people, and sharing ice cream. Barley likes all sorts of rally food: bratwurst, corn dogs, pretzels and schnitzel…but he really likes ice cream.
Reaching the ice cream stand required walking across several yards of asphalt so hot it felt squishy under my sandals. I didn’t want Barley to burn his feet, so would lead him to the shade of a big tree, put him on a Sit-Stay, turn my back and walk to the stand. He’d watch me intently, never taking his eyes off me as I waited our turn in line. If someone would hunker down in front of him blocking his view, he’d keep his butt on the ground but lean far to one side to peer around them awaiting my return.
And then we’d share.
Somebody once described the BMW MOA Rally as a gathering of family members you never knew you had. There is a lot of truth to that. We’d wander around looking at each other’s bikes, asking questions about accessories, gear, good roads and hometowns. Shaking hands and sharing suds in the Beer Tent. Every now and then someone would spot Barley and drop to their knees with arms held wide, begging for a dog fix and asking questions about traveling with a canine companion. And each night we’d travel the thirty miles back to our air conditioned hotel.
The outside temp typically dropped below one hundred about ten o’clock at night.
Friday was a time of goodbyes with friends old and new who would not be seen for another year. One last shared ice cream and we returned to the hotel in mid-afternoon in brutal heat under an unmerciful sun. To escape the worst of it we would be getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning, making it past St Louis before residents rose and clogged the roads, and as far east as possible to escape the heat. According to The Weather Channel there would be more reasonable temperatures in mid-Ohio.
We intended to cross on a ferry, but the river was too shallow and the ferry wasn’t running, so we detoured into Tennessee and crossed on pavement
We set off at first light, bound for a ferry crossing of the Mississippi River, but other riders at a gas station informed us that the ferry we intended to take was not running due to record low water levels in the river. There were other ferry crossings, but fearing that they also might be closed sent us south into Tennessee and the certainty of a bridge crossing.
As we entered Arkansas I noticed the terrain was dry, very dry, and the crops were stunted and often brown. There was not a cloud in the sky nor a hint of a breeze as we traveled rural roads along the northern part of the state through farm country that seemed to be producing little but dust. The thermometer on my instrument cluster flirted with the hundred degree mark and Barley looked none too happy. What water we saw was brown and stagnant, often with a greenish scum of algae on top. I made it a practice to pull into every rest area to give Barley a chance to rehydrate, but travel that day was arduous at best.
From a bridge I noticed a clear blue river below, and took the next turn to give my dog some relief from the heat. I found a small shoreline park in a nameless town and pulled over. Barley made a beeline for the river while I shed some gear and followed. The water was startlingly clear and shockingly cold, so I retreated to the bank while my dog splashed around making happy sounds. A youngish couple laughed at his antics and struck up a conversation with me. They explained that the reason the river was so cold and clear was that less than a mile upstream it emerged from a massive subterranean cavern. They noted our direction of travel and remarked that we would soon be entering foothills and the temperature would probably drop to more reasonable levels.
They were right. We began climbing shortly after getting back underway, and the mercury dropped to the high eighties. There were a few reservoirs along our route, and I noticed that the water level in each was way down. We reached Mountain Home, Arkansas late in the afternoon and I decided to make it a short day. The marathon run from the storm the day before had left us both tired. We shared Mexican food, found a hotel, turned on the air conditioner and fell asleep.
Push Mountain, just to the southwest of us, was a ride not to be missed according to locals who frequented an online adventure rider forum. Local advice had in the past unearthed some real treasures, so we set off in the pre-dawn darkness to check it out. We were not disappointed.
We timed it right! Flatness in the dark, curves when the sun comes up
The road up and over Push Mountain must have been engineered by a motorcyclist! The flawless pavement led us on a wonderfully serpentine path illuminated by a nearly full moon and a sky full of brilliant stars. On one switchback I faced a thin strip of cloud bathed from beneath by the salmon-colored tones of the rising sun. It was so beautiful I pulled over so Barley and I could enjoy it. We sat on the ground leaning into each other, surrounded by majestic oaks, sharing a granola bar and feeling the sun’s warmth on our faces.
By ten o’clock we were praying for sunset. The temperature had reached 108°F. Every field we passed was brown and lifeless. The few cattle we saw raised clouds of dust with every step they took. Armadillos joined the ranks of the occasional roadkill. This was very different from Vermont!
There was a small cooler in my topcase in which I kept snacks of nuts and dried fruit. At a general store I moved those snacks and filled the cooler with a five pound bag of ice. For as long as this heat lasted we would stop every thirty minutes to drink cool water. I also dipped a washcloth in the cold water at every stop to wipe down Barley’s belly and paws. He came to enjoy that routine and would immediately go belly up when he saw me reach for the washcloth. At one stop a Harley rider in full leathers noticed the delighted expression on Barley’s face as his crotch was wiped down and remarked wistfully, “I’ve gotta give that a try!”
We had plans to linger in Arkansas’ Oachita Range and camp in Petit Jean State Park, but the heat was so oppressive we turned north instead, hoping for more moderate conditions at the rally site. We played in Bull Shoals Lake for a bit, noting the low water level, then caught a ferry across to the Missouri side. Once again we followed roads tailor made for motorcyclists until the hills flattened out, then continued north on a four lane highway. I spotted a Sonic Drive-In just off the highway in Warsaw, Missouri, so pulled over for a bite to eat. A Sonic far behind us in Kentucky had been so incredibly dog-friendly that we had patronized them a few times on this trip. This one was no exception; unbidden, Barley’s bowl was filled with ice water and he was given a small dish of soft-serve vanilla ice cream.
While we were sitting in the shade of their canopy I weighed our options. Late in the afternoon the temperature was still well over one hundred degrees. There was no breeze. Worried about my dog in conditions like that I opted out of camping at the rally site at Sedalia just thirty miles up the road. Word was that all Sedalia hotels had been filled by rally goers. But across the boulevard from Sonic was a sparkling new hotel with vacancies.
They did not allow pets.
I have found, however, that if you are polite and your dog is both cute and well-mannered, many hotel managers will waive that rule. In many cases it’s probably more of a screening tool than a hard and fast rule. So it was at this hotel. And of course we did our best to remain unobtrusive and considerate of others, never made noise and always scooped the poop.
A smart rider on a properly setup motorcycle can cover a lot of ground in a day, a sidecar rig only slightly less. The problem was that this storm was huge, and moving in my direction of travel. To avoid a repeat of the Deluge at Thunder Bay we would either have to go home…or to move far to the west very quickly. I paused in West Virginia where 219 intersected 50, that historic ribbon of asphalt stretching all the way to California, to check the weather along our original route. It did not look good. After checking my gear and ensuring my camera and electronics were protected from the weather, I reached down to caress Barley’s furry head and pulled his Doggles into place.
“Let’s fly, Little Brother!”
The portion of US 50 in West Virginia’s Appalachians is a lot like the roads crossing the Green Mountains of Vermont, but without the views. Vermont agriculture has converted many of the valleys to pastureland, while the road we were on that day was hemmed in by dense deciduous forest. It was scenic in a different way, but as technically challenging as the roads I was used to back home. It is roads like this where a motorcycle has a clear advantage over a sidecar rig. Unable to lean into curves, I was forced to slow down and use a significant amount of body English to maintain control. Pushing it on roads like that requires a lot of shoulder strength. Strength, and Motrin.
The flora changed dramatically as we crested the westernmost hill in the Appalachians; gone was the lush forest, replaced by something much drier and more windswept. At the base of that hill the highway straightened out and we were able to increase our speed, the storm closing the gap every time we stopped for fuel, food, or to stretch our legs. Across Ohio we ran, skirting Cincinnati and picking up the Interstate to make better time. Through Louisville, Kentucky, where an enormous UPS cargo jet passed just overhead on its landing approach, then continuing southwest, happy that the average speed of the cars around me was faster than my 85mph. Kentuckians travel quickly!
We stopped for the night at a hotel in the town of Murray, Kentucky. There was a family restaurant right next door; I ordered takeout, shared parts of it with Barley, showered, turned on the air conditioner to ward off the unexpected heat, and turned on The Weather Channel. The arc of our run had taken us out of the path of the storm. When we went outside for Barley to do his business I noticed how dry and brittle the grass was.
Vermont is such a lovely, verdant place! We left home, Barley and I, early on a bright and cheery summer morning. The forest was a riot of different shades of green, the streams full of clear, cold water, and the blue sky dotted with puffy clouds rushing off to someplace else. We crossed into New York, then Pennsylvania as the sky grew progressively darker and more menacing. Our goal was a campground in West Virginia, but I began to have second thoughts in southern Pennsylvania when the rain started. By the time we reached Maryland the rainfall was moderate and steady. I abandoned the back roads and picked up Highway 219 to make better time.
I don’t mind riding in the rain during daylight hours, and actually prefer frank rain to annoying sprinkles as the light stuff fogs my visor with a film of oil and other road grime. Camping in the rain is another story. I’ll do it if I have to, but spending the night in a small tent with a wet dog – one who insists on waiting till he’s inside before shaking – is not as much fun as it might seem at first glance. So as the sun began to set I was looking for a motel in which we might manage to stay dry. I found one with vacancies in McHenry, Maryland. It was a Quality Inn, which I remembered fondly from a couple of decades ago.
This was not the Quality Inn of my memories.
The foyer was nice and gave a good first impression, but it went rapidly downhill from there. It started with the broken elevator, which meant we had to schlep our stuff up three flights of stairs. And I mean all our stuff! There is precious little security on a motorcycle; unlike a car you can’t simply lock the doors. Not anticipating having to park so far from our bed, I hadn’t brought any sort of large bag into which I could pitch the many compression bags containing our stuff. So it took a total of nine trips to transfer stuff from rig to room. Then Barley had to poop, so back outside to find a patch of grass. It was only then I noticed how filthy the grounds were! Empty soda and beer bottles and cans littered the grounds, there was so much trash I suspected people living nearby used the hotel’s parking lot as a regional dump, and in the bushes at the lower end of the lot I noticed a discarded condom. Totally gross and there was no way I was going to let my dog off leash!
Barley does not enjoy pooping with an audience, much less on a leash, so there followed a standoff that lasted several miserable minutes. Finally, when neither of us could possibly absorb any more rainfall, he gave in and attended to his needs.
But only when I faced the other direction.
Back in our room I sat in the swivel chair and nearly went over backwards; it was missing one wheel. The heater didn’t work so I got Barley as dry as possible with one of the towels, then used the hotel’s blow dryer to finish the job. I normally use a large microfiber towel that I pack for just that reason, but by this point was so completely disgusted with the hotel that I figured they couldn’t possibly complain about a little fur in the bathroom.
The television worked, but the only channel available with The Weather Channel. Just as well, as it showed a map of the region we were heading into. The map had all sorts of multi-colored blotches on it with banners warning of high winds with downed trees and powerlines. I unfolded a map and sat on the bed to study alternative routes; the mattress took on an immediate list to port.
The bed only had three legs.
Thanks to the hotel’s pillowcases we needed only three trips to get all our stuff back on the bike in the morning. The rain had slacked off considerably overnight, and so I was thinking we would stick to the original route. We refueled, then continued south on 219 into West Virginia.
But then I noticed a convoy of utility trucks from various counties in other states heading south. Plan A rapidly lost its luster.
In 2012 the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (MOA) held their annual rally at the fairgrounds in Sedalia, Missouri. I generally avoid rallies unless they are held near a place I have always wanted to see, or the route there and back would take me through such places. In this case it was both. I had long wanted to check out the Oachita and Ozark ranges in Arkansas and Missouri, and I had also wanted to see more of the Appalachians. I laid out an ambitious route from Vermont south through West Virginia and a tiny corner of Virginia, then west along the Tennessee-Kentucky border.
Things didn’t go according to plan. Not even close. But we had a great time anyway!