Books, Bikes, & the Big Blue Beyond
PUBLISHED: 11:14 08 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:49 20 February 2013
A Canadian accountant, an Australian gardener & two rescue dogs take to the road
My dream was to ride a bicycle around the world. Not for speed or glory, but to slow down and experience the world at a human pace, rain, hail, or shine.
Like most people I had all the right excuses. Career, debt, commitments, friends, and two furry companions. Jack, a 40 kilogram Husky/Retriever/Grizzly-Bear cross and Paco, a wiry 15 kilogram Portuguese Podengo. Clearly neither dog was approved by the Handbag Dog Association of Los Angeles.
Both Jack and Paco had been saved from a premature end on death row, and had become an inseparable part of my life ever since. With no volunteers for long term dog sitting, my dream wasnt look promising.
But then two things happened. 1) My job turned out to be an unfulfilling tale of white collar slavery. 2) On a soul searching trip to Iceland I met a fellow odd sock named Fin who was ready to set sail for the horizon. Game on.
Paring your possessions down to what fits on the back of a bike is not as easy as you might think. Sure, the appliances and big items go quickly. But then you are left with the odds and ends that sneak into your home like mice through unseen cracks and crevices. STUFF hanging off hooks and screws, STUFF shoved to the backs of draws and dressers, and sentimental STUFF that brings tears to the edge of your eyes.
As the rooms became barer and barer, Jack and Paco become more and more nervous. Am I going to be the next thing taken away when the doorbell rings? their piercing eyes seemed to say. But with the last items donated to charity, we were finally ready. Two loaded bikes, a trailer, two dogs, and a 5kg box of keepsakes. The road was beckoning.
HOME ON THE OPEN ROAD
The dogs quickly settled into the travelling life. Every day presented new sights and smells, while also providing a reassuring routine. The bikes and our tent became home sweet home, a constant thread in a tapestry of travel.
But as the pancake flats of Flemish Belgium turned into the waffled hills of the Ardennes we were faced with a challenge the first major hill of the journey, stretching straight and relentless into the sky. Weighed down with 70 kilograms of furry and nonfurry luggage each (including a waterproof bag filled with dog food and extra water) we attacked the hill with all we had, thrashing away until panting and exhausted we ground to an early stop. We were being defeated by the anthills of Belgium. How were we going to traverse continents and manage snowy mountain passes?
Cue the musicok, why notEye of the Tiger, and begin themontage
The camera sweeps across a quiet village in the French countryside where a group of donkeys are loose on the road. Jack and Paco are running fervently towards them, harnessed and attached to the side of our bikes, yelping and pulling us up to the top of the steep pass. Onwards and upwards the team climbs, into the hiking trails of the Pyrenees, the mountainous frontier between France and Spain. The headwinds are so strong that they resort to pushing their bikes through gritted teeth. Jack must play anchor and sit in his trailer to prevent it from blowing off its wheels.
They quartet take refuge in a cave for the winter in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and spend the dark winter nights scheming up their childrens picture book series, The Dog Detectives.
Spring brings sunshine and the lush, bulbous hills of Tuscany. The camera zooms into the cobblestone streets where big Jack is being surrounded like a movie star. Cameras are being flashed and children are cueing up to pet him and buy him treats. Ciao bello! Ciao bello!!!
Still they push on through tunnels dark and dangerous and over the majestic Italian Dolomites. They do their highest pass yet at 2200 metres altitude, via a series of 29 hairpin turns, and collapse at the summit. They are camping in front of libraries, beside train lines, underneath parked semitrailers to escape the rain, nothing is off limits anymore.
With Autumn comes Arctic Norway, barren tundra and giant herds of reindeer. Paco can only look on in disgust, his hard wired hunting instincts repressed by his namby pamby pseudo vegetarian owners. The montage culminates at sunset at the top of continental Europe where the team stands atop a cliff howling into the Arctic Ocean for dramatic effect.
Fifteen months and 16,000 kilometres of cycling had passed since we departed Belgium and our European adventure was finally starting to wind down. Powered by a desire for warmer pastures we pedaled full tilt through the interior of Sweden as winters white blanket wrapped around us.
Late one afternoon, we arrived to Trodje a tiny town 200 kilometres north of Stockholm. The town consisted of a kiosk, a primary school, around 250 houses, and a pizzeria. We entered the pizzeria in search of Olle, a friendly Swede who had invited us for coffee at his house three days earlier.
Instead we found Yvonne, a grandmother with a raspy voice and a heart of gold. When she found out that the four of us were sleeping in a tent in subzero temperatures, she folded up her crossword and said, Naj! and waved us out of the pizzeria and into her home. Pointing to a double bed she told us, You sleep here. Too cold for tent.
The following morning we were packing up our bikes when Yvonne came out, visibly upset. Today cold, rain, wind. Not go. I will knit for you, she said. Although Yvonne couldnt speak much English and our Swedish was nonexistent, being in each other`s company felt natural and easy, as if she was the long lost auntie youd always longed for. We gratefully accepted her invitation. Our unexpected layover was also the bringer of some unexpected news. A UK publisher, Maverick, had caught wind of our Dog Detectives picture book series and was requesting manuscripts. Equal parts horrified and exhilarated we sent off our stories and waited.
The following day was wall to wall rain. Not leave today. Leave tomorrow, Yvonne told us. She had finished knitting us toques of alpaca wool, perfectly fitted and soft against the skin. She was already half way through making us scarves.
By the time we had come to the conclusion we were the hostages of a mad knitter, our answer arrived. We were the proudest new authors on the planet... and dressed in stylish alpaca arm warmers to boot.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL BOOK TOUR
To celebrate the release of the latest stories in the Dog Detectives series, Lost in London and The Great Grizzly North, we will be commencing a UK book tour with a twist. From July to September we will be pedalling around England in gypsy style spreading our love of books, bikes and the big blue beyond. The heroes of the stories, Jack and Paco, will of course be coming along for the ride. Look forward to sniffing/seeing you there
THE DOG DETECTIVES
The Dog Detectives have a taste for adventure and noses for trouble. Join them on your bike as they travel the world sniffing out mysteries. The Dog Detectives series is cleverly crafted with a mixture of rhyme, alliteration and dialogue and is brought to life by the delightful illustrations of Monika Suska.
LOST IN LONDON
Great Britain is doomed! The guardians of the Tower of London six black ravens have disappeared. Pedal full tilt with the Dog Detectives between Londons amazing landmarks and help answer the riddle of the missing ravens. Lost in London is a charming tale of riddling rats and meddlesome bats that is sure to get kids thinking.
THE GREAT GRIZZLY NORTH
When the Dog Detectives pedal into the wild woods of Canada they find a bully in town. It is up to the Dog Detectives to confront the grizzliest grizzly bear of all and restore peace to the forest. The Great Grizzly North is an ode to friendship and to treating everyone with respect even bullies!