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Traveling with a dog has its difficulties. How to go on?

Aug 29, 2022 | Blog

As mentioned in my last article, I bought a Surly ECR from Colleen in Washington and couldn’t wait until it finally arrived in Arizona.

It’s a great bike and is really fun to ride.

Unfortunately, there were some delivery problems with the racks that I wanted to have so that I could mount everything as I imagined, so the assembly took much longer than expected.

We took advantage of the time and camped in Tucson near the Arizona Trail and met lots of people and some old acquaintances.

There was John, who I discovered by chance in his hideout. He’s been biking across the U.S. for years, and we hit it off immediately. Butch took to him also and loved our morning visits to his camp spot.

With their border collie named Grizz, Jenni and Eric had previous dog packing experience and contacted me via Instagram because they happened to be just a few miles away from us.

The three were fantastic; we had lots of fun together, and their tips were much appreciated. 

In addition, I was able to meet up with M&M for the fourth time. Monica and Magda are the two ladies still on the road in their 80s. The first time we met was in 2016 on Route 66. Great gals, those two, and always great fun with them.

During our 8-day hike on the Arizona Trail, we met Ute from Canada. Born in Germany, she emigrated to Ontario with her family at a young age. Today she lives in her van, and works as a digital nomad. She seems to love her life on the road a lot and is always very happy and positive.

Happily, we also met up with Miriam, a very good friend from home. She was hiking the Arizona Trail end to end. Butch and I surprised her out on the trail and walked with her for a few days. 

Of course, we also spent time with Ronny, my buddy from Arizona. Ronny and his craftsmanship are a lottery win. He constructed every set up for me just the way I wanted it.

Even though it was great to meet so many people, it was also a shame that we wasted all the time I had to spend in the U.S. trying to figure out a way for Butch and me to travel from now on.

Before the racks were finally delivered, I tried a bike trailer. In principle, this would have worked, but unfortunately, the trailer clatter annoyed me. And even worse was when Butch was running next to me; the empty trailer bounced around nonstop on rough terrain. But, again, this would have driven me crazy in the long run. 

With the racks finally on the bike, we created a box for the rear rack in no time (Thanks again to Old Man Mountain for the sponsored racks).

Butch jumped into the box without effort or fear, but it was apparent that he would not sit there for long without sun protection.

We also learned quickly that I had trouble keeping the bike balanced with every movement he made. With Butch at twenty kilos, our center of gravity was just too high. Every rabbit that crossed the road, brought Butch to attention, and nearly landed us in the ditch every time. Not hard to understand how dangerous this could be down the road. 

I also concluded that creating a sunroof over the box would create more problems. But without sun protection, there was no way Butch would participate. Sadly, almost all my gear was forced to the front of the bike, adding to the handling issues. So, the original idea of dog-packing was dead. So, I had to come up with something else.

I tried another trailer but quickly realized this would not work out either. The trailer weighed nine kg, Butch twenty kg. His food, water, and all my stuff amounted to too much weight. Cycling along the Danube would not have been a problem, but I would not have been able to cycle the back roads and trails I love.

I admit that I felt like I had hit a dead end with Butch. I had no idea how to solve the problem.

Out of sheer desperation, I dug out the Benpacker again, and we hiked through some incredible landscape in Nevada, but it didn’t make me happy. Mainly because I still wanted to go to South America, and I would have the same problems there with the street, ranch, and guard dogs I had while hiking in Baja the previous winter.

And now?

Ronny: “Buy a car or a motorcycle with a sidecar.”

Me: “A car – I’m not that old yet. But a sidecar would be a possibility. Maybe I’ll fly to South America right now and buy one there?”

I spent endless hours looking for flights to South America. Unfortunately, most airlines have stopped taking dogs since Covid. There were few airports from which direct flights and taking dogs in the luggage compartment were possible—unfortunately, they were all very far away from Arizona.

No buses or trains allow dogs. Renting a car was too expensive, and with the current gas prices in the U.S., I didn’t want to ask anyone to drive me.

I looked for ride-sharing services, but I had no success there either, especially since I would undoubtedly have had to stay overnight several times. Unfortunately, most hotel prices in the USA are currently $100 upwards.

So, I started searching ads for motorcycles with sidecars. But, of course, this was also a problem because the USA is huge, and most of the offers were thousands of miles away, none in Flagstaff.

Heading in this new direction wasn’t easy for me; I have always been environmentally concise, so the thought of my future being motorized wasn’t easy to comprehend. 

However, I saw no other option, at least not at the moment.

I explored the motorcycle with the sidecar option long and hard, and contacted builders and owners. Researched as many of the pros and cons as possible. A struggle for sure; in the end, I had to leave the idea behind. Just not affordable for me.

With the weight and size of these rigs, fuel consumption is much higher. Transport costs for shipping are also more. Repair costs can also be much more expensive than a motorcycle without a sidecar. And finally, my choice of routes would be limited.

Luckily, we could stay at Ronny’s daughter’s place during all this; I could use the internet there and not try to find what I was looking for sitting in the tent on a cell phone.

At an Overlander Expo, I had the opportunity to ride various motorcycles and then decided on a Royal Enfield Himalayan. I would have preferred a Honda 125 because it is much lighter and easier to handle. However, I did not know where I could put everything I needed on that small of a machine, and it’s doubtful loaded it would handle the Andes.

About two months before my visa expired, I bought a 2021 Himalayan in Tucson for $4000. It had just 150 miles on it. The owner wanted to get rid of it because it was too slow for him. A bargain, although a lot of money for me!

Registration was easy. The nameplate “Heike” brought me a lot of joy. However, the documents seemed to take forever until they were sent to me.

Not knowing if this would work out with the motorcycle, I chose to hang on to the bicycle but was able to sell the trailer with no problem.

The motorcycle was a good start, but I still needed bags and the dog box for Butch. By chance, I met Warren at the Overlander Expo. He lives in Flagstaff and offered to show me a few tricks to keep my machine in good shape on the road. I told him about my plan during the wrenching sessions, and he was immediately enthusiastic.

Warren is a friend of the head of the company Giant Loop in Oregon, miraculously a short time later, I had a new sponsor and am now a Giant Loop ambassador, and have super bags on my Himalayan 😊

The box for Butch I found in a ditch. An old shopping cart, just the size we needed. Ronny cut off the legs and wheels, and the actual basket is now bolted over the passenger seat as a box.

Again, it took forever for the luggage racks to be delivered. Gearing up for this new way of travel wasn’t over; I still needed a helmet, clothes, shoes, etc. Not much was available in Flagstaff, but we were able to round everything up without traveling too far.

One morning Butch was sick. His testicles were severely swollen, and he was barely moving. So, finally, I got an emergency appointment at a veterinary clinic, and realized how much this little guy meant to me, because I was afraid he would not get better.

With antibiotics and painkillers, we were sent home again. Thankfully he was soon on the mend, but I was super pissed at the vet, who charged a whopping $480 for the short treatment.

I said to Ronny’s daughter Suzy, “Butch is the most expensive thing I’ve ever owned. I have never spent as much money on anything else as I have on him. But he is worth it!

She laughed, and I don’t think she believed me, but it’s true.

Also, for the first time in all my years on the road, I began to worry about how I would finance our life in the future.

But I held onto everything positive. Butch and I will travel the Americas together by motorcycle! Decision made. It will work out somehow.

Of course, once again, time ran out. The end of my visa in the USA was coming closer and closer. During all of this, I struggled with which direction I would go, North to the Dempster Highway and the top of Canada or South to South America.

My bank account decided the issue for me, Canada would be even more expensive than the U.S. had been. I also wasn’t at all sure I would be able to cross back into the U.S. when I was finished in Canada; after all, I had spent quite a bit of time in the States recently.

The box was mounted, and now came the exciting moment, would Butch even go along with all my plans?

To the amazement of everyone present, Butch jumped into the box like a pro, and we rode around the neighborhood together for the first time. To my joy, my easygoing guy came through.

By this time, I had been asked often, “What will you do when Butch doesn’t cooperate?” My answer every time was, “Butch goes where I go.”

Sewing the sunroof and side covers for the box took a fair bit of time, but finally, we said goodbye and headed for Mexico with fourteen days left on my visa.

While we drove through the beautiful Wild West, I painfully said goodbye to one of my favorite countries. Although politically a problematic country, the people are amiable and helpful, and the landscapes are magnificent.

I can camp anywhere I like without worrying and have more freedom there than in most other countries.

The USA always makes me happy and content; it almost feels like my home.

Before I reached the border with Mexico, a friend sent me a line.

“Knowing you, you are now riding briskly to Argentina and immediately turning around to return to your beloved Wild West quickly.”

I had to laugh because that was precisely the plan I had already played out in my mind.

The last two nights, we were invited to a cabin by a campground owner in the border town of Presidio, Texas. Thus, America said goodbye to me in a particularly friendly manner, just as I am used to in the USA.

Everywhere super lovely people.

On the very last day of my visa, I rode past the American flag with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

I didn’t want to go to Mexico, I had to.

Tip

At the moment our wallet is empty.

We would be very happy to get a tip from you in appreciation for our efforts to entertain you.

Leave your address to receive a postcard from Mexico.

Thank you very much!

>>>”>This way please>>>>

Thank you very much

to all who have supported us financially for years and made this long journey possible.

You are super!

THANK YOU 🙂

Many THANKS to my sponsors for providing me with high quality equipment:

motorcycle panniers and bags of high quality

quilt for your time in the tent

hiking trailer for the rough trails

racks for the big bikepacking trip around the world

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7 Comments

  1. Could you have tried a sidecar on the bike or a two wheeled trailer?
    My first bike trip was in a sidecar attached to a tandem in 1949, my mother once told me.
    Those Indian Enfields seem very well engineered. The ones I see here do not have the oil leaks of the Redditch, England engineered ones from the 1950’s and ’60’s!
    Enjoy yourselves, both of you.

    Reply
    • Thank you!

      In hindsight I wonder if a cargo bike might have done the job.

      A sidecar is just not handy at all.

      I hope Butch gets calmer one day and we might be able to get back to using a bicycle…

      Best greetings from us

      Reply
  2. Fingers Crossed ! For your new adventure with Butch. Wishing you joy, friendship, safety and all good things!Thank you for being an inspiration to me and so many others over the years to get out and see the world. And to do our best to take care of it as much as possible.

    Reply
    • Glad I was able to inspire you to go out there and explore our beautiful planet.

      Big thank you for your great support!

      Hugs from us 🐕

      Reply
      • Life changes when you have family to take care of. Butch has the best mom teaching him about the world. Looks like a nice setup for you and him.
        You know, Don and I rode together all through Europe and over the alps with no problem on his Honda 100. I’m sure he has some pictures of us on it from 50 years ago if you ask him.
        Next time you are in Oregon we’ll give Butch a bath, clip his toenails, check his ears and get him all cleaned up for you at Pampered paws grooming in Oregon City for free.
        God bless your travels Heike. Stay safe and enjoy.

      • Hi Rick – thanks for the offer and the nice comment!
        All the best for you and family!
        Hugs from us to OR

  3. Good luck to you Heiki! So many issues to deal with, and decisions to make. That couldn’t have been at all easy. Glad it’s sorted out for now. Happy trails to you both!

    Reply

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