The 2016 BMWMOA Rally: Hamburg NY
13 July 2016: Departure Day. I was awake at 4:30am and vertical half an hour later. Barley and I had a system built on shared experience, so with him I wasn’t too concerned about forgetting something; we had always adapted. But this is Tulliver’s first ride of more than 150 miles and I struggled to remember how it was with Barley in the early days of our sidecar adventures. Could Tully handle the distance? What would I do if he refused to continue when we were a few hundred miles from home? Would the same rhythm Barley and I had established – fifteen minute breaks every ninety minutes and half hour breaks every three hours – work with a relatively inexperienced dog?
But a fundamental truth is that you never know until you try. So with a hug for the wife and another for Kazoo, we set out at 7:00am on a partly cloudy day. I took rural roads to avoid the mid-week commuter traffic, giving Tulliver time to settle in without tailgaters and distracted drivers creating anxiety. One young woman in a black Honda Civic rolled through a stop sign while texting on her cell phone, but I noticed her well before she became a hazard to us. Past the Round Church in Richmond, Vermont we rode, past the hayfields and dairy barns near Hinesburg. We reached the ferry landing in Charlotte fifteen minutes before boarding which gave Tully some time to stretch his legs.
Boarding went well, as did the crossing. Several people asked to say hello to Tully, but he remained focused on me and showed minimal interest in socializing with others. OMG, listen to me complain about a dog doing exactly as he has been trained! The bottom line is he has a job to do and thus far has done it well despite being exposed to numerous unfamiliar situations.
The ferry crew let us off first, and with no other vehicles to pass we made excellent time into the Adirondacks, bypassing the traffic of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake by sticking to back roads. We stopped at Green Pond around noon for a brief visit with friends. Tom and Kelly had adopted a golden retriever from us years ago. Now thirteen, CJ has some health issues and has slowed down quite a bit, but he perked right up when we arrived, playing with Tulliver on a limited basis and leaning into me as I fussed over the old boy. As rescues go, CJ was one of our most successful placements; after a rough start he’s enjoyed an idyllic life with a couple who love him dearly.
We continued south, then southwest through the Adirondacks, passing Tupper Lake, then the curiously named First through Eighth Lakes in descending order. We stopped once to share an ice cream cone, a treat I used to entice Tully during our training rides and one he has come to expect on each ride. About half an hour short of our goal for the day we rounded a curve and encountered an absolute deluge! There was just enough time to think “Rain!” before I was soaked to the skin. Tully remained dry as I had earlier installed the sidecar’s ragtop to give him some shade. Instantly soaked, I opted to ride through the torrent. Five minutes later the sun came out and by the time we reached the hotel I was only damp. We stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Utica NY as it was cheap and had fairly decent reviews. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with clean rooms, friendly staff, and an extensive grassy area shaded by large trees. For a dog person it doesn’t get much better! Tulliver was fed and watered, exercised and groomed, all the while being told what a great job he had done that day. Together we inspected the bike and his sidecar, then covered the rig and turned in.
I suspect that one reason I ride solo is because I get up so early. Even without an alarm clock I was up at 4:30am again. Most riding partners aren’t like that. Tulliver never complains, but he does elect to stay in bed till after I’ve showered and started packing. We were on the road by six, navigating by GPS through the city ahead of the commuter traffic. Being from a very rural area and not used to cities, I very much appreciate the turn by turn instructions sent from the GPS to my helmet via the magic of Bluetooth; the voices in my head let me keep my eyes on the road. Once clear of civilization, we angled due west on secondary roads till they linked up with US 20, then continued west over the top of the Finger Lakes. It was pretty farm land with a smattering of small towns nestled atop the lakes. It was also quite windy, and the windmills that dotted the ridgelines turned far faster than the few we have back home in northern Vermont.
It was on this leg that I began to suspect that Tulliver recognized ice cream shops as Keepers of Frozen Treats. I think it was the signs of ice cream cones that got his attention, as he would lean toward each one he spotted the same way Barley used to lean toward the Golden Arches and their beloved fries. Tully lay down much more than Barley, popping up only when I slowed down significantly. And so I found myself speeding past ice cream stands without lowering my speed lest my dog sit up and notice. Still, before it was over this trip would cost me sixteen scoops of vanilla ice cream for the dog!
About thirty miles from the rally strip malls and chains began flanking the highway. As my speed varied with the level of traffic, Tully began sitting up more often and more motorists noticed him. One young mother laughed delightedly when she pulled up next to us at a stoplight, rolling down the windows of her large SUV so her children could see Tully from the back seat. It felt good to be spreading cheer again!
We reached the Hamburg Fairgrounds at 1:00pm, breezed through an exceptionally well-run registration area, and with the help of a friend from a previous rally found a decent spot to pitch our tent. With camp setup and introductions made with the neighbors, Tully and I set out on foot looking for action. If you’re thinking Sturgis, the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (BMWMOA) rallies are quite different. Held in a different location each year, they offer educational seminars, rider improvement courses, hundreds of vendors, and thousands of attendees. Alcohol is served in the Beer Tent or sometimes shared discretely among friends sitting outside small clusters of tents, but riding while intoxicated is simply not done. Though many visit the vendors with credit card in hand, most come for the seminars or to meet old friends and make new ones. It has the feel of an enormous family reunion; this cadre of like-minded individuals who most often ride solo, and very rarely in groups larger than three.
It was windy that afternoon. In fact, the wind seemed to pick up every afternoon during our stay, though never as severe as the night before our arrival when tents, outdoor vendor displays, bikes and even PortaPotties were blown down! I had brought with me a large tarp to shade our site, but fear of high winds kept me from ever erecting it. We met Reece and his lovely wife, Rhonda, online friends up from Alabama, and over the next couple of days enjoyed breakfasts and evening conversations with them. Camp Glockenspiel was found, with Robert and Mary Ellen welcoming Tulliver into the fold with as much love and good humor as they showered on Barley at the Montana Rally. We shared a couple of evenings with that group, swapping stories and laughs in great company!
Through it all Tulliver behaved perfectly. He responded to attention appropriately for a dog with a job to do, never leaving my side and always facing me when he lay down. We ate breakfast each morning at the nearby Pegasus restaurant where the staff adored him. He carried his beloved orange ball with him everywhere, which became his trademark among other rally goers, and was unfailingly polite in his dealings with the public. One tries to train a dog to handle any situation he might be exposed to, but we have no crowds in Vermont so that was, for us, the biggest unknown. I needn’t have worried; Tully was absolutely unflappable! He once dropped his ball and it rolled directly to the feet of an adorable fifteen month old girl. Seeming to recognize that she wasn’t the steadiest of bipeds, he kept his distance until the little girl picked up the ball and held it out for him. Tulliver approached slowly, stretched out that long neck, and took it ever so gently from her grasp. That was the moment I realized I had a real gem at my side!
Saturday morning we were up early again. Breakfast at the Pegasus was finished by 6:00am, early enough that most tourists were still in bed. Since we had already seen all the vendors, and there were no seminars that held my interest on the day’s schedule, we headed north to check out Niagara Falls. I did not have my passport with me, so we would only be able to see the American side, and even though several had told me the best views were on the Canadian side, I figured we were in the area so…
It turned out to be a great decision! When we arrived at 6:45 there were only three tourists and four police officers present. We parked the rig and walked first to the American Falls, but much of the observation area was fenced off for construction. The remains of the old power plant caught my eye so we walked a couple hundred yards for a better look and found ourselves on the US side of Horseshoe Falls. The view may not be as spectacular as from Canada, but it was impressive nevertheless! That is a LOT OF WATER! Tully posed for a few shots as more tourists arrived. I noticed a multi-generational dozen from India, each taking turns snapping photos of the others with the falls in the background. They gratefully accepted my offer to take a shot of all of them together. One called out and several more family members rushed over to get in the shot. There were twenty people gathered when they finally signaled their readiness, all but the English-speaking youngest generation wearing the bright red bindi on their foreheads.
We returned to the rally site, parked next to our tent, then wandered over to the Beer Tent for shade. The big red dog at my side made it easy for old friends to find me, as well as for new friends to introduce themselves. Many of them I knew from various forums, and it was nice to put a face to the name or online handle! Several of us had arranged to meet up in the Beer Tent by looking for the big red dog; that meeting place would come to be known as the Red Dog Saloon. Afterwards there was dinner at Camp Glockenspiel, a chorus of goodbyes, packing of all non-essentials, a dose of Ambien, and we settled in for the night.
Once again we were awake at 4:30 and headed directly to the shower trailer to start the day refreshed. The shower stalls were small, perhaps 30” square with a curtained vestibule of the same size in which to hang a change of clothes, and since Tulliver is much longer than that and refused to let me out of his sight my morning showers required a certain amount of flexibility. With his head in the spray and his gently wagging tail sticking well past the vestibule curtain, his presence earned more than a few chuckles from our fellow campers!
Back at our campsite, the tent’s rainfly and ground cloth were moist, so went into a separate compression bag to keep mildew from stinking up the tent. Everything else went into their respective cubes which were then placed into larger bags, those exposed to weather being waterproof. Tulliver got his breakfast and a vigorous session of ball retrieval before we headed off to the Pegasus restaurant for one last breakfast. By 6:30am we were on US 20 heading east into the rising sun following the ride and rest rhythm established by Barley thousands of miles before. East to Auburn, then north to Oswego on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, then following the coast with occasional side trips for breaks and play at boat ramps and state parks. Just south of Watertown NY we passed a BMW K-bike that had been pulled over by a state trooper. I waved to the dejected looking rider; he shrugged resignedly. Less than a minute later I saw red and blue lights coming up fast behind me but still half a mile away. I pulled over and the trooper sped past me with siren wailing. I hoped the emergency call had come before the trooper had a chance to present my fellow rider an expensive performance award!
Even with frequent play stops we reached our hotel in Watertown early in the afternoon. There was still time to press on and reach home before dark, but Tulliver appeared to be enjoying the pace and I didn’t want him to lose that. So we had an early dinner at Denny’s, then checked into the hotel. The damp ground cloth and rain fly were brought inside and spread out to dry, Tulliver was fed and exercised, then groomed. The bike and sidecar were checked and covered for the night. We watched The Bourne Identity together, then turned in early. The next day’s forecast warned that we would be riding into a strong storm cell, one that would require an early start if we hoped to reach home dry.
Up at 4:00am. Shower, Tulliver fed, peed, and exercised. Breakfast at Denny’s where our server was so afraid of the big red dog at my feet that he took my order and passed my plate from an adjacent booth! Tully hadn’t moved a muscle, but you have to allow for the public’s sometimes traumatic dealings with aggressive dogs in their past. I left a generous tip under a dog treat. Bike loaded with all our belongings, by 5:30 we were entering the Adirondacks making excellent time. Pausing for periodic breaks we sped east, pulling over north of Saranac Lake to install the ragtop since the sky was taking on ominous notes. The wind had picked up considerably in the previous two hours, so much so that I’d had to use a lot of arm and shoulder strength to counter the crosswinds. I would be sore in the morning.
After refueling in Plattsburgh, we arrived at the ferry landing just in time to board the vessel for the crossing to Vermont. The crossing was a wet one, with wind-driven spray coming over the bow to soak the first two rows of cars. Being right up on the bow we got pretty wet, but it felt good in the oppressive humidity. The wind was even stronger as we disembarked on the Vermont side, and as we motored down the causeway separating the islands from the mainland strong crosswinds momentarily lifted the sidecar tire off the ground! It was, as sailors are fond of saying, a Good Blow.
We ducked into the shelter of the Green Mountains, stopping for a burger when it became clear we were going to beat the rain, and reached home in early afternoon. Tulliver had completed his first one thousand mile transit without a single mishap. I am so very, very proud of my boy!