In July 2008, we quit our jobs in Belgium, sold whatever couldn’t fit on the back of our bicycles, and pedaled into the sunset. Along with Jack and Paco, our two doggy co-pilots, we cycled through 18 countries in Europe clocking more than 10,000 miles in the process. Needless to say, our eccentric way of traveling prompted many questions along the way. Read on for a few of our answers….
You are crazy! Why did you travel with your dogs for more than 17,000 kilometers by bicycle?
When we started dreaming of a long-term bicycle adventure, neither family nor friends wanted to become dog sitters for us. We didn’t want to use our dogs as an excuse not to travel, nor did we want to be apart for so long, so we came up with plan B. We wanted to cycle because we love the pace, the freedom, being away from cities, and because it is fueled without pollution.
How do you carry them?
Jack, a 40-kilogram Husky/Retriever/grizzly bear mix, is carried in a dog trailer made by the company Cycletote. Paco, a 15-kilogram Portuguese Podengo, rides in style atop a longtail cargo bike called the Big Dummy, made by Surly.
Where have you been so far?
Starting in Flemish Belgium, we cycled over the Swiss mountains down to Portugal, before looping around Spain and heading east to Slovenia and Hungary. From there we headed north, all the way up to the North Cape, the most northern point in continental Europe. We then raced the snow south through Sweden to the Baltic countries, finishing up in Latvia owing to the freezing temperatures.
How much luggage do you carry?
Our fully loaded bicycles carry between 60 and 70 kg of furry and nonfurry luggage each.
Do the dogs pull you at all like Huskies?
When going uphill, the dogs (harnessed and safely connected) generally keep a steady pace beside the bikes, but sometimes they become overly excited by wildlife and can go on a mad dash. One time they pulled us uphill for several kilometers in rural France in hot pursuit of some stray donkeys.
How many kilometers a day do the dogs run?
This depends on the terrain and the amount of traffic on the road—sometimes as little as 1 km, sometimes up to 10 km on mountain passes where they trot beside the bike. Paco runs more often than our older, slower dog Jack. The dogs are masters at telling us when they are tired. Paco just stops, and Jack jumps in the trailer at any opportunity.
What is it like cycling with them? It must be murder on the hills.
The extra weight is not so noticeable on flat roads, and once you get momentum it is relatively smooth sailing. Uphill and gravel trails are more of a challenge (especially at first), but become easier the more kilometers you clock. People often warn us of the mountains, but we have never changed our route because of the weight and rarely have to resort to pushing the bikes. In fact, we usually prefer mountainous routes because they often have more tranquil roads and stunning scenery.
What challenges did you face at border crossings?
To enter the Schengen zone of Europe (the large part of Europe without systematic border controls), our dogs had to be microchipped, have their rabies vaccinations up to date, and we had to have an international vet certificate from our home vet. After that border crossing, were free of any check-ups. The exception was Sweden and Norway, both of which required a blood test for rabies and that the dogs be dewormed for tapeworm, along with the appropriate documentation.
Is it easy to find accommodation with dogs in Europe?
Ninety-five percent of the time, we chose to camp in the wild because we found commercial campgrounds to be overpriced and less peaceful than being out in the woods. Wild camping also makes traveling very flexible, with little planning required. When the weather was warm enough, the big dog Jack with his thick, warm coat slept outside under a tarp. The little one, Paco, who gets cold very easily and thinks of himself as a prince, sleeps in the tent. A couple of times we splurged on a hotel, and many times we were invited into homes by strangers. As a general rule, Belgium, France, Holland, and Germany are very dog friendly, whereas Spain, Portugal, and Scandinavia are less so.
What about dog food?
We carry around 2 kg of dog food in a waterproof SealLine bag and top it up as we go. The dogs are also lucky enough to receive a few leftovers here and there and tasty treats from strangers.
What kind reaction do you usually receive?
Overall the reaction is very positive. Some think it is cool, crazy, or ridiculous. Some think we are nutbags; most laugh. Young kids and middle-aged French and Italian women are our biggest fans. Many people stop to talk, ask questions, and take photos. It is a great conversation starter.
What have been the highlights of your travels?
• Climbing among the majestic craggy peaks of the Italian Dolomites
• Cycling beside the sublime Soca River in Slovenia
• Meandering through the interior of Portugal with the port vineyards ablaze in autumn splendor
• Island hopping and wildlife spotting in Arctic Norway
• Spending two months in a cave in Gorafe, Spain, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas
Do the dogs enjoy it?
Absolutely! The dogs love taking in new sights and smells (especially reindeer), and they enjoy loads of exercise, company, and attention. What more could a dog want?
Fin and Zoa are currently living in Nova Scotia saving money for more bicycling adventures. Their children’s picture book, The Dog Detectives in an Outback Odyssey, is inspired by their travels and is due to be released in September. For further details, visit MaverickBooks.co.uk.
Highs and Lows of Life on the Road
Furthest North: 71˚, North Cape, Arctic Norway
Heaviest Load: 85 kilograms—a guitar, too much clothing, water and food, plus one dog
Longest Day: 110 km in Denmark
Shortest Day: 3 km, wine festival Belgium
Most Wine Carried: 7.5 liters in France (5 liters was a gift)
Highest Point: 2,236 meters, Passo Giau, Italian Dolomites
Lowest Point: -212 meters, Nordkapp tunnel, Norway
Steepest Pass: 18-percent gradient, Wurzen Pass, Austria
Coldest Camping: -10˚C, Estonia
Wettest Region: Southern Norway
Flat Tires: 25
Craziest Camping Spot: Underneath an abandoned semitrailer in the Italian rain
Most Days Without Showering: 12
Most Tiring Region: Tuscany, Italy
Strangest Gift: A moose leg for our dogs in Sweden
Most Hospitable: France, with five invitations into homes
For More Information:
Dog Bike Leashes:
Warmshowers Hospitality: Warmshowers.org
–Fin and Zoa Gypsy