Below is an article coming in issue #165 of Australian Road Rider… but with the GoRUFFLY Around the World Fundraiser starting we decided to post it early.
Interesting times on tour with a German Shepherd…
The landslide over the Pan-American Highway occurred just moments before we arrived. That meant we were at the front of an unending line of vehicles. Since we were on bikes, we naturally filtered to the front of the roadblock. It was nearing midday when we stopped and now, two long hours later, we were still waiting.
We were forever expectant that the orange-vested worker would wave us through at any moment. In these situations, it’s easy to become gripped in a mania of impatient expectation. We had a plan for the day and it did not include losing two hours at a roadblock. Even though we were determined not to forget the golden rule of motorcycle travel — you’ll get there when you get there! — it’s hard not to get caught up in the frenzied impatience of the commuters all around you.
My ride prep is just a little longer than most riders because my 34kg German Shepherd, Moxie, rides behind me in a motorcycle dog carrier. Getting her saddled up, strapped in and goggles on takes only an extra 30 seconds, but in the delusional frenzy of the roadblock, these are precious seconds not to be wasted.
I sat straddling the saddle of my BMW G 650 GS with only the relief of my modular helmet flipped up and the mesh riding jacket unzipped and hanging off my waist. Behind me, Moxie remained saddled up, strapped in, and comfortably laying in her K9 Moto Cockpit carrier. She panted calmly in the motionless heat of midday, pressing a paw into my lower back as if to suggest: “Why not fire up the engine and let’s go? What, you can’t get past those red cones?”
My husband, Greg, was positioned just a few metres behind us on his F 700 GS. Sweat dripped down his face inside the helmet while an enormous chicken bus loomed behind him. Heads stuck out of every window and mouths were agape like shipwrecked sailors desperate for water. The massive diesel engine of the chicken bus had been idling continuously for more than two hours and the inconvenienced driver spewed intermittent curses, blared the horn, and shouted that the road was clear enough to let us pass.
“When they finally let us go,” I told Greg over the intercom just as the horn blared again, “watch out for the bus behind you,”
“What did you say?” Greg shouted back.
A GREAT BIG SUCK
Waiting at this roadblock under a mocking sun was far from the most exciting experience during the month-long trip. But it delivered the biggest fright amidst several scary moments. On this trip, we had started out from our home in the village of Panajachel at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and then crossed into Mexico to explore the southern part of the country.
The first scare came as we rode along Highway 190 in eastern Oaxaca state near the coast. During most of the year, the winds in this area rush through hot and hard like fumes blasting from the exhaust. The titular centre of this blast furnace region of about 100km is called La Ventosa, which means The Suction in Spanish. The winds rose steadily throughout the day, but it was all fine until suddenly it wasn’t.
I leaned the bike hard to ride straight through the crosswinds. The gusts came suddenly and unexpectedly while oncoming semis produced a shockwave followed by a sudden, sucking vacuum. These were the strongest winds I had experienced with Moxie on the back of the motorcycle. The bike performed as normal, but I was concerned for Moxie’s comfort and safety.
Greg assured me over the intercom that he could see Moxie laying comfortable and calmly in her carrier. Still, I kept glancing backwards and reaching back to stroke my co-pilot and reassure her. Then, suddenly, I found myself veering across the divider and into the opposing lane. It felt like the motorcycle was on a track across the highway and I was being blown like a sail.
In an instant my mind was alert and my eyes were focused — only they focused laser beam-like on the ditch at the far side. Which is to say, I was focused on exactly where I didn’t want to go. It was a lifetime that passed in a long moment of panic before I realised what I was doing and corrected the error. I adjusted my focus to where I actually wanted to go and quickly returned to my proper lane.
I checked the camera footage from that evening and, of course, Moxie was totally calm and relaxed through all the crosswinds, gusts and sucking vacuum.
SHE-WOLF IN HER LAIR
A couple weeks later we were riding into the Cumbres del Ajusco National Park. It’s a highland region of woodland forests that lies about 15 miles from the outskirts of Mexico City. We expected to find a visitor’s centre but as the twilight neared and no official campground materialised, we began searching the forest for a clearing. Finding a perfect secluded spot, we dipped off the highway and disappeared into the woods.
The cold rushed in quickly that evening even before the dim sunlight retreated beyond the tree line. We pitched our tent, put water to boil on the camp stove, and sipped hot chocolate until we couldn’t speak or hear for the chattering of our teeth. Numb and exhausted but with a happy, hot chocolate-filled belly, I fled into the tent where the nettle-covered forest floor felt like a plush mattress under my sleeping bag.
We were just settling in when a flash of headlights pierced through the forest and exploded into the tranquillity of our tent. Accompanying the headlights, we heard the sound of a sedan’s engine approaching and then idle nearby.
“Acampando?” a voice shouted, “Are you camping?”
Bravely and as fierce as a she-wolf, I dove under the covers of my sleeping bag. Greg laughed nervously and then slipped his boots on and unzipped the tent fly. Moxie bolted out and Greg followed right behind her. What happened next occurred entirely within the darkness of my lair. As they approached the four men beside the car, Moxie barked ferociously, Greg yelled at her to Heel! and then turned to the strangers to greet them with every possible kindness. A few minutes later I heard the tent fly zip open and I peeked an eye out from the sleeping bag. Greg explained that they were coming home from work and saw a reflection from our tent. They just wanted to check that we were ok and then continue into town for Friday night drinks.
“I feel dissatisfied,” Greg explained. “I tried to strike up a conversation — you know, killing them with kindness — and all they wanted to do was get away!”
THE ROADBLOCK AND THE CHICKEN BUS
Back at the roadblock now and finally the way was clear. The road worker waved us through with both arms and immediately a mad panic ensued. Despite the heat, Moxie was perked from the excitement. Although she is supposed to lay down in her K9 Moto Cockpit, she had raised herself to a seated position. I had loosened her straps while we waited in the sun and forgot to retighten them in all the excitement.
Also, my motorcycle was positioned just along the shoulder beside the highway where I had manoeuvred in search of a fleeting whisper of shade. As the swarm of bikes revved and began to race off, I blipped the throttle ever so slightly to bump over the lip of tarmac and back onto the highway. I gave too little throttle. I made it just over the lip before I stalled and began to lose my balance.
The bike seemed to fall over in slow motion. Normally, in a crash, Moxie remains laying within the padded interior of her cockpit carrier. Because I forgot to retighten her straps, a paw hung partially outside the carrier. It gave me a scare and it was all I thought about as I ejected from the rider’s seat.
Greg stopped his motorcycle a metre or so behind mine, leaving it to fully obstruct the enormous chicken bus. As he dismounted and came up beside me, the chicken bus driver — he who had spent the past two hours honking and shouting — emerged from the hulking vehicle. Of course, he wasn’t coming to help me lift the motorcycle. He shouted at Greg to move his bike. Greg turned back, erupting with a few of the most colourful Spanish words I’ve ever heard…
A moment later it was over. Moxie was totally fine and unscathed. We lifted the motorcycle, made a cursory glance to check for damage, then rode through the remaining debris from the landslide. Just one among many small scares that turn your motorcycle journey into an adventure!
FOLLOW THE BIG TRIP
Jessica Stone is the founder of RUFFLY ethical outdoor dog gear, which is based in Los Angeles and Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. She and partner Greg designed the RUFFLY K9 Moto Cockpit, a motorcycle dog carrier for medium and large dogs. On March 5, 2022, Jessica, Moxie and Greg begin an 18-month around-the-world adventure in partnership with the non-profit Girl Up to raise $100k for their girls’ empowerment projects. The trip will be documented in their ongoing video series called On 2 Wheels + 4 Paws, which is available at www.goruffly.com and YouTube.