How to bike around the world with your dog

Together with their dog Sora, Dave Hoch and Jen Sotolongo are the Long Haul Trekkers. They prove that you can go bike touring and bring your dog with you almost everywhere!

In this interview, Dave and Jen share why they left normal life controlled by jobs, how they travel and how they are able to bring their dog with them.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

We are Dave, Jen, and Sora our Australian Shepherd rescue dog of Portland, Oregon, USA.

We began our adventure in Oslo, Norway in May 2015 and slowly made our way to Athens in December, via the Balkans and Turkey. In January 2016, we flew to Ushuaia, the end of the world, in Argentina, Patagonia, slowly crawling over the Andes toward Colombia. We are currently in Medellin, Colombia and are planning to return stateside for the summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Dave
In 2010, Dave traded in his beloved VW Microbus for a Kona Jake, biking 24 miles roundtrip from home to work. It only took one week for Dave to become hooked on commuting by bike. Feeling unfulfilled with his corporate America job, Dave pursued his MBA in Sustainable Systems from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute at Pinchot, in order to shift his career from helping the system to an entrepreneur devoted to making a difference in this world. Previously, Dave founded The COG Space, a bike based consulting company in Portland, OR.

He finds joy in playing with his dogs, running, volunteer work, the outdoors, and supporting the mighty Portland Timbers Football Club.

Jen
Jen is the Chief Storyteller and Photographer for the Long Haul Trekkers. Born with the travel bug, she has lived in Spain, Chile, and New Zealand. When she’s not galavanting around the world by bicycle, she is running long distances in the woods, exploring her Oregon backyard, or whipping up delicious vegan meals. She is always planning her next adventure.

Sora
Dave adopted Sora from Family Dogs New Life in Portland, OR as a nervous three-year-old project. Originally from Tri-Counties in Washington, she was picked up as a stray, transitioning through several foster homes before Family Dogs New Life took her in as a “second chance.”

Her piercing blue eyes attracted Dave to Sora and he took her home knowing that she had a an obvious history of abuse. The first few months together were tough: Sora was a submissive peer with separation anxiety who was not housebroken.

Originally named Grace, Dave chose to rename his new companion Sora, which means “blue sky” in Japanese. Sora’s sky-colored eyes drew Dave to her in the first place and she uses them to bat her way into extra treats and pets from friends.

With time, training classes, mastering sheep herding, and plenty of love (and treats!), Dave and Sora worked together to overcome her fears and create a loyal companion who lives among our other dog, two cats, and three chickens. She enjoys chasing squirrels, herding sheep and her cat siblings and rolling around in dead things on the beach.

How did you get into bikepacking?

In 2011, we attended a sustainable business school program, where we met, both desperate to find a new way of life beyond the standard nine to five. One year after graduating, Dave found himself in the same job he’d held for the past seven years and Jen discovered that even her dream job proved not so dreamy.

After an unsuccessful attempt at a start up business and a two-week venture in Colombia, we began to question the lives we chose. We had a cute yellow house in a desirable neighborhood in SE Portland, two dogs, two cats, and two chickens, a beautiful garden that provides us with food throughout the summer and fall, and plenty of money to travel and play outside.

Only we couldn’t travel and play outside as we wanted. Our jobs told us where to be and when.

Our Australian Shepherd, Sora saw how work controlled our lives. She wanted to spend more time with us and see the world, so she convinced us to take her on a world bike tour. We thought it sounded like a great idea.

Why did you bring your dog?

Why not travel with a dog? We bring Sora with us as we simply couldn’t imagine doing a trip or journey without her. She’s part of our family and where we go, she goes. Of course, it adds a layer of complexity to our trip, but it’s worth it for us.

Some advantages include that we have an easy conversation starter, we get to promote our social mission (see #11 below), and she provides us a lot of joy and emotional love. Of course things are more complicated, we carry dog food (usually 3kg at a time), we have to deal with border crossings, and more often than not, accommodations can be difficult to find.

For us, the advantages outweigh the negatives and we are very grateful we have a dog that can travel so well and bring so much joy to others.

What’s the biggest bikepacking experience you have had?

The Andes in South America are unreal. You can find single track, gravel, dirt, pavement, and everything in between. For us, the Carretera Austral in Chile was one of the highlights of our trip. There are many cycle tourists on the route, but it’s got big nature, loads of wild camping, and plentiful likeminded souls to meet.

It was especially tough for us with a loaded trailer, but it’s what we like to call retroactive fun, in the sense it was an incredibly challenging while riding, but looking back it was one of the most authentic experiences of our lives.

The worst was Patagonia, simply because of the head winds when heading north. We had days where it was faster for us to walk than ride our bikes. 100k/h winds mean you face is blasted, your mind is bonked, and you’ve covered a minimal distance. We would wake at 4:30AM and try to beat the wind, only to get hammered by 9AM.

It was so mentally defeating and there is nowhere to hide, no shelter, very few signs of civilization, and complete mind bending isolation. Dave also developed knee pain due to the constant low gear grinding, which ended up bothering him for a few months.

What have been the most difficult part of your adventure?

Being Vegan has been easy for us. Jen’s a fantastic cook and recently started her own vegan food blog called MesskitMaven.com. She’s constantly creating new meals with local ingredients while on the road. We can’t imagine having it any other way, our values are important to us.

The difficult part for touring has to do with our heavy gear setup. We each have 4 panniers, handle bar bags, trunk bags, and Dave tow’s a trailer with Sora and her food and gear. We’re both big nature people and it’s difficult to get deep into the wild when you’re towing a trailer and dog.

There are many bikepackers who travel light and get out on a single track and not see a soul for days. That’s impossible for us.

Also, our heavy setup makes climbing some of the epic passes really difficult or nearly impossible. Dave’s had on and off knee pain throughout South America and you can forget doing the big 4000M mountain passes in places like Colombia or Ecuador. Sometimes we just have to hitchhike and be ok with that.

At the end of the day, we know the type of journey we signed up for and we’ve had to accept that we will be slowest cyclists on the road, and that’s ok. Someday we will do another journey with a different setup that gives us options for getting deep into nature.

In terms of cultural disappointments, we’re really saddened by how people don’t respect the planet or their own surroundings. They dump trash, litter, and are downright wasteful.

It was a major shock to us when we entered the Balkans and discovered a town using the local watering hole as the trash dump. The site of large piles of TVs being burnt or sick animals being discarded like their lives are worthless is something we never get used to.

Best places in the world to bikepack?

If bikepacking is your game, then get to South America. There is so much unspoiled nature available and plenty of infrastructure to support tourism. Each country has its own offering of paradise and the costs are generally low. My vote is to enjoy Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia now before hordes of tourists discover South America.

If you have to pick a single country in South America, I think Peru has to be on the list. Massive nature and inexpensive costs. We weren’t able to see or ride the Huayhuash or Huascaran circuits, but we were told by countless cyclists that this was the best riding in South America.

Unfortunately, burn out coupled with needing to be in northern Peru for a volunteering experience left these routes off our list. We will go back someday, maybe with a fat bike with light load to crush the hills and ripio roads.

In the future, we’ve got an itching to ride in Japan, and it’s mainly because of the culture. We have heard nothing but great things about Japan minus the cost. For us, we are life learners and our tours are more about learning, and less about tackling 100k cross eyed and painless days.

What’s the cost of your adventure?

We try not to keep detailed records of our expenses on purpose. It takes away from our experience and we end up worrying more about money than naturally enjoying the moment. By default we are frugal and don’t buy things, so our expenses really come down to food and accommodations.

Our preference is to camp, so we spend many nights in our tent. Plus, being vegan means it’s often easier for us to cook than find food options, thus less expensive.

How do you finance your adventure?

We saved money for nearly a year before traveling and we do some freelance work while traveling. Jen writes for various brands, including our core sponsors, and has produced camp based recipes for a well-known camping brand.

Dave has taken to IT consulting while on the road when time permits and Sora has secured a few sponsors in the dog world.

Your top 5 favorite bikepacking gear?

Our tent is our home and we feel like this is the place to spend the extra money and weight, so it’s probably our favorite product. When you’re spending hundreds of days in it over a year, you want it to be cozy.

We highly recommend thermarest pads after having another pad fail on us each over 6 times. They’re well worth the investment.

Jen believes a sharp knife makes life that much easier when cooking and Dave can’t sleep without his blowup pillow.

What will the future bring?

In the near term, we’re going to take a break from cycling. After nearly 2 years and 23 countries, on 2 continents, we’re ready for another challenge. We plan to do some touring in the Pacific Northwest this summer and get some backpacking trips in. Long term, we have ambitions to cycle tour some more, possibly with a new setup.

We are considering butterfly bars instead of drop down bars, moving to frame bags, and maybe an electric powered trailer. Wouldn’t that be nice? In all seriousness, I think mixing up a setup can keep touring fresh and exciting. It really depends on the terrain, but getting our rigs lighter is a must for future long term touring.

As for 2017 and 2018, we’ve briefly discussed Japan, Korea, and SE Asia and even talked about South Africa. This summer, we plan to recharge the batteries with friends and family before figuring out what is next.

Anything else you want to add?

We have a social mission to our travels of animal rights and adoption.

As we’ve ridden across world we use the opportunity to educate the public about animals, their rights, proper care, and spreading the love and compassion about adoption and rescue. Our inspiration is of course, from our combined four adoptions: two dogs (Sora and Maxwell) and two cats (Ollie and Nima).

Animals in the developing world are often not given the same care and attention in many other parts of the world. From animal trafficking to neglect and abuse, the culture of animal care has room for improvement. In cities, dogs and cats are often abused, abandoned, and treated without the respect they deserve.

The general public does not have the education or understanding of the importance animals play in the social well being of society.

Our goal is to use our travel as a means for social change. Some of our work includes volunteering at Asocicasión Humanitaria San Fransisco de Asis (AHSFA) in Colán, Peru, sharing our Street Tails blog posts that covers animal rescues while traveling, and raising money for designated charities.

As we finish South America, we raised over $1,450, that is over $1 for every kilometer we ride in Colombia. Every single dollar we raise will go directly to Defenzoores, a Medellin, Colombia-based, non-profit organization created in 1996 that promotes respectful coexistence with animals and their environment through awareness and education to the community.


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