Friday, 16 March 2012

Cycling and Camping with Dogs

After a long and depressing winter last year I desperately wanted to get away and relax. Without a car our options for travel with the dogs are a bit limited, but I came up with a genius idea… we’d buy a bicycle trailer, pack a tent and take off down the coast stopping when we got tired, tied to no schedule; completely free. Sounds great, right? The first challenge was finding a trailer that I felt was safe enough. We decided on the Doggyride, which seemed safest both for a higher weight (since we’d have them both in one trailer) and because of the axle, which theoretically will keep the trailer upright even if the bike tips over. Challenge two was getting this lovely trailer to Japan. We achieved this painlessly but not cheaply via Madi’s Remailing Service. The trailer was shipped from the manufacturer in Holland to America then finally to Japan. Yosh! We took the puppies out for a test run and they looked most fine cruising through town, if I say so myself.

Even the grumpiest looking people can’t help but smile when we pass them with the Doggyride. Phase two was to check up on campsites with riding distance. This turned into a bit of a nightmare… although there are dozens of campsites within cycling distance most of them wouldn’t allow us to bring dogs and the ones that would were off dirt roads that we didn’t want to brave with the trailer (it sits low to the ground and doesn’t have much suspension~ apparently in the RnD stage they discovered that dogs get more motion sick the better the suspension). Eventually I found a campsite that seemed perfect. It was inland, not along the coast, but the ride was not too long and on a well surfaced road, and they welcomed dogs. We decided to spend our entire vacation there.
We loaded up our hiking packs with tent, sleeping bags, mats, trangia, dog food, metal spike and long leashes, bicycle repair kit etc. By the time we were done the packs were about 30 kg each. We figured it’d be ok because we were biking, but I actually had trouble picking mine up to get it on. The long suffering Mr, who is much stronger and fitter than I am (admittedly, most people are stronger and fitter than I am) was given the trailer to pull. With both dogs inside it added about another 30 kg. After being cold for months, the good weather hit the day we left. It was hot, and we were sweaty within minutes. The first part of the trip took us through the city, which was difficult cycling (busy streets and narrow footpaths). We decided to take a quick rest stop on the outskirts of town, at the port. As we turned a corner to go into the parking area we went over a slightly uneven patch of road and the trailer tipped over immediately, both dogs falling out through the sunroof. It took a few seconds for the Mr to stop completely (his brakes weren’t really up to the amount of weight the bicycle was carrying, and the dogs were dragged a little way along the road by their harnesses. It was heart stopping. Were they ok? Would they be too scared to get back in the trailer? How damaged was the trailer? They were not only unhurt but completely unphased by the experience. The trailer was a little torn but intact. Us humans were quite shaken however. We considered turning back, but decided to carry on. Our next stretch of road was a lovely new bike trail beside the ocean; wide, smooth riding. Mostly. A section near the end was unfinished. There was only curb and highway. We had another serious talk about giving up and going home, but when things get more difficult I tend to get more stubborn, and I refused to be beaten by a mere lack of anywhere to ride. I balanced on the curb and walked, pushing my bicycle and hoisting it into the air whenever a truck went by. At the other end I left the bike and my pack (only in Japan) and balanced my way back to take the Mr’s while he waited with the dogs. Finally, we carried the trailer between us with the dogs inside and got across alive. As we cycled into the city of Beppu we encountered another problem- the puppies became motion sick and vomited all over the inside of the trailer. Then fought about who was going to eat it. At the time we were feeding Acana Pacifica, which has a strong fishy smell. Coupled with the acidic, metallic smell of vomit this was not pleasant to deal with. 

We stopped in Beppu to clean up and buy some food. It started raining. We got under some shelter and consulted our maps. Then looked at the road ahead. Then looked back at the maps. The route our google earth searches had led us to believe would be reasonable short and on a gradual incline in fact headed right up a mountain range. We looked at the trailer and thought about pulling it up a mountain while the dogs vomited copiously. We decided to walk instead, and stashed the trailer (after running all over town trying to find somewhere with a locker big enough or a left-luggage couter, we ended up nervously parking it in a car park). As we set out on foot, the sun came out again in full force and steam rose up all around us. The packs cut deep into our shoulders. We eventually stopped for a break and I wasn’t sure if I could go on. Just carrying the pack was exhausting me, let alone walking up the ever-steeper road. We sat and talked while the puppies played in a muddy puddle (unlike most shiba inu, who try their best to stay clean, our two love mud). Spying a taxi rank we decided that I’d take both packs and taxi to the campsite while the Mr kept walking with the dogs. After getting the tent up and the packs safe inside I’d walk back to meet them. After I hopped into the taxi alone the driver asked if someone else was going to pick up the others, and after hearing our plan he insisted on driving all of us. Because his taxi was fitted with fresh white lace seat covers (and technically animals aren’t allowed in taxis) he asked me to keep the wet and muddy shiba in the footwell. Sadly, not being able to see what is going on makes Hayate rather upset, and he barked at the top of his lungs the whole way… which turned out to be a twenty minute drive. The poor old driver must have been cursing his generosity! Despite being a small dog, Hayate barks like a rottweiler. As we drove we realised how impossible it would have been to walk up (and cycling even more so). The road was steep and winding, with trucks and heavy traffic on both sides. Worse, there was no shoulder at all; on one side was a sheer cliff face and on the other a drop down into nothingness. 
Our Bit of the Campsite
The campsite was lovely. Perched on a mountain top in the midst of a forest and beside a lake, we had an amazing view over the entire mountain range and plenty of options for exploring. The lake was populated with pleasure boats and white swans*, the first I have seen in Japan. We pitched our tent as far away from everyone else as we could, assuming (correctly) that the dogs would bark and annoy everyone. I wish I had more photos; our packs were already so heavy that I didn’t want to add the weight of the camera, so all my pictures are from my phone.
Harassing birds has been a life-long hobby for Hayate. He started out with sparrows, then began trying to sneak up on pigeons, and even barks at crows through the window (despite the fact that they could easily eat him alive… Japanese crows are huge, probably ravens rather than crows). When he first saw the swans from the safety of our campsite he pricked up his ears and commenced stalking manoeuvres. When he saw one up close on land and realised how massive they are, he was absolutely terrified. He must have thought that the birds had summoned their king to get revenge for his bird-harassing ways. This terror was intensified during the night, when the swans grazed loudly on the grass surrounding our tent. Even I was pretty scared actually, it is an unbelievably loud sound and their looming white shapes in the starlight are more than a little intimidating. Consequently, Hayate spent the night running in and out of the tent barking (we had the dogs tethered to a spike outside but with leashes long enough to allow them to come into the tent to sleep).   
We had a great time. The shiba come alive in natural land scapes in a way we never see in the city. 

Eventually, however, we had to face the depressing reality of getting back down the mountain by foot. The best way we could think of to stay safe was to go before the daily traffic started up. We broke camp in the dark and started heading down in the pearly dawn light. Every time we heard traffic coming we grabbed a dog each and leaped into the drainage ditch. Most of the way down the ditch was about two feet deep and half full of leaves and debris, so we had no way of knowing what nasty things might be hiding underneath. We saw broken glass and snake skins, but the worst we stepped in were spiders and mud. It rained on and off throughout the day, but we got home alive (albeit bedraggled and exhausted). We must have been quite a sight on the way back- muddy sleepy dogs riding a vomit-scented trailer pulled by sweaty red-eyed humans with crazy camping hair.
It was insane, dangerous, exhausting… and I really hope we can do it again some time.

*Swan in Japanese is, literally “white bird”. A black swan, then, is a “black white bird”. This makes me smile.
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  1. Your dogs are adorable. I also love bike camping - I usually go on my folding bike. I've kept it in my tent before too when it's rained hard overnight.

  2. Nice! I've had a jealous eye on a friend's folding bike for a while actually... being able to fold the bike would mean being able to train part of the way and cycle the rest, which would broaden our horizons considerably. Getting the dogs "train ready" would be a whole other story though >.<

  3. Wow, that trip sounded insane. There would be much swearing from my side if I attempted a trip half as harrowing as this. The dogs looked super happy though :)

    1. Hello you! It was pretty epic. I think the only reason we kept going was that by the time we got to Beppu it had already been so horrible that if we didn't make it to the campsite it would all have been for nothing, and I couldn't bare that! Getting a car really makes life different.


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