Thursday, August 10, 2017

Beginnings, Ends, and Close Calls: A Moroccan Tail

  How undignified, I thought to myself as my life flashed before my eyes. Struck by a car. After all I've done, and all I've seen, how ironic that I would nearly be killed in front of the Acoustic Coffeehouse in my hometown of Johnson City, Tennessee. My complacency within such a familiar setting lent misplaced feelings of safety. It just goes to show that you shouldn't take life for granted. As I was rushed to the hospital Israel sat with me stroking my wet fur. I recalled some of our adventures together and I was overcome by a calming sense of satisfaction. Life's been good.
  It's been about two years since I last put claw to keyboard to tell of my snowy motorcycle adventure through Eastern Europe to Istanbul; And, as the people of Turkey know all too well, a lot can happen in that span of time. For better or worse, since then, aside from being run down by a Ford,
I've cycled over the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, been detained by the French Gendarme, ridden camels, blitzed the Mountain Mile on the Isle of Man, visited a large percentage of the U.S. National Parks (including having my van raided by gun pointing rangers in Yellowstone, which gave me a terrible fright), and traveled the length of the ALCAN highway, from Washington State to Alaska, during the dead of winter (Brrrrrrr...). I no doubt missed a thing or two, but as you grow older, and I'm 80+, you tend to forget a
thing or two. It's quite forgivable, especially for a long toothed, road weary, mongrel.
  300,000 miles, that's what I have traveled over the last two years. Perhaps it's not quite natural. Then again, maybe I'm not particularly normal. This isn't to say that I'm all that special. I'm not so different than the other mutts I shared cells with (my twin sister included) when I was a puppy in the Washington County Animal Shelter. It was circumstance that formed my personality, and set the direction in which my furry snout would follow.


  While I was fortunate to have been allowed so much freedom in life, I must admit that occasionally I just want to lounge somewhere soft and warm till it's time to eat. It's a normal desire, I figure. One that has grown stronger with age. However, my partner's plans don't always correspond with my growing laziness. In his defense, he will happily leave me to slumber if I am dreaming of youthful squirrel chases, though I know he likes to have me with him. To be honest, once rested, I quickly grow bored of houses and hotels. They have their place, but they offer no substitute for adventure. And my brush with death has given me new appreciation for extracting every bit of life I can from each new day.


  Though I alluded earlier to a number of worthy tails which have transpired over the last year and a half, I only have patience to delineate the specifics of one. Given that there have been only two which I will classify as adventures, I'll take the advice of a wise king and begin at the beginning.
However, given my relatively minuscule attention span, I shall likely stop before the end, thereby excluding details of a later bone-chilling trip to Alaska. There was no snowy terrain along our path during this trip. Instead, rock, dust, and sand comprised the landscape we explored amidst the narrative I now present.

  Morocco is an hour's ferry ride from the pleasantries of Europe. Though the climate and topography of Northern Morocco are much like those of Southern Spain, its culture is a world apart. The sharp contrast was clearly displayed after departing the Ferry in Tangier. Customs was quite disorganized and there was information funneled in our direction from a variety of sources. Oftentimes crossing borders in less developed countries there will be a group of fellows to choose an emissary from to deal with the variety of hurdles bureaucrats toss at you. Israel calls them fixers. They are typically well worth the investment. However, here things were different. You were intercepted by a group of official looking lads. Some appeared, judging by dress, to be military/police, and others pencil pushers. We were approached by both sorts and given instructions bearing equal levels authority. We were led away to another guy that took us to another fellow and so on. It became clear that we were being played. What wasn't so certain was which ones had the real authority. We spoke to, and followed, no fewer than 10 men, each one of them getting something. As we finished our needlessly complex trip through customs a couple of the guys we were handled by could be seen exchanging money with other men who's acquaintance we hadn't the pleasure of making. Everybody got a cut! We'd been taken! Oh well, live and learn. Next time things will be different. We found a quiet spot on the edge of Tangier to set our course for Fez.


  Founded in the first century, Fez is home to the world's oldest continually attended school and a massive number of opportunistic inhabitants. Though not terribly aggressive, endless soliciting for sight seeing tours, rides, and plain old handouts quickly grew tiresome. Generally a pushover, Israel became testy with a couple of assertive townsfolk as we searched for our hotel. Just a few steps within the wall of the old city we reached the doorway and scurried up rock steps, which had been sloped and rounded by centuries of use, leading to our accommodations. It was also where we would rendezvous with our friend, Hilary.


  Of the half dozen or so girls that I've been forced to share Israel's affections with, Hilary has been the longest standing. Much of the last half of my life I've spent in the company of Hilary. Israel met her while we were living in a small camper van in a parking lot, which adjoined two cemeteries, serving the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. It's a rather complex story involving a salsa dancing engagement put on by the foreign language department, where free food was provided. I was hoping he would return with something other than the hotdogs which seemed so readily available at the school functions. Imagine my surprise when he returned with a Spanish professor. I was a somewhat dismayed that there were no tacos, but it was nice to have someone visit the van aside from the campus police (Go to the Hobo Village? I don't think so coppers. He's a student with a parking pass!). She seemed genuinely impressed by our vagabond encampment. Israel would set up a little grill in the gateway between the parking lot and Mizpah Jewish Cemetery for dinner dates and we'd all walk along the paths passing through the headstones. Hilary has an adventurous spirit and treated me better than most anyone I can think of. I was happy to see her after the long day's journey from Europe. She had saved a portion of her dinner for me. What a pal! It was going to be nice to have her leg to rest my chin upon as we traversed Morocco.
.

  The following morning we wandered around Fez searching out supplies for our trip over the Atlas Mountains. According to Israel the first order of business was to procure a map. Oh boy, I pondered, this could be dangerous. Israel is always willing to engage in risky behavior, but maps detailing undeveloped areas embolden his, already stern, impracticality. In all but the most dire of circumstances, attempting to express concern to him is an exercise in futility, so neither Hilary or I bothered. When the last order of business was to find a fuel can, I knew we were in for it.






 Our range extended to almost 400 miles, we left the pavement after

Israel found what must surely have been the most difficult possible route to Marrakesh, and Hilary's flight back to Madrid. These paths weren't intended for motorized vehicles Hilary and I thought. The lack of people and the prevalence of goats didn't seem to impede my determined friend in his quest to get us to the middle of nowhere. Grade after precipitous grade, we snaked further into the mountains. If remote, at least the lofty passes were relatively moist and cool. There were plenty of large trees and rapidly flowing creeks to greet us as we passed along towards the clouds. The path would almost, but not quite, disappear among some of the steepest slopes.
Several hours passed before we saw another human. A rather perplexed Shepard was hanging out nearby a small stream flowing down the mountainside. Though communication was a bit labored, our wandering friend was a quick study with a camera. We got a picture, and though I'm not sure the photographer had any interest in them, Israel gave him a Snickers bar and a bag of chips. Unfortunately, I wasn't given a thing. With a Merci and parting waves we continued on our crooked path to Marrakesh.


  After a few more miles of vacuum-like solitude we stopped among a cropping of large cedar trees guarding over the banks of a friendly creek. Hilary and I shared her lunch as Israel rode off by himself. As I dined on salty potato chips Hilary patted my head and I realized how much I'd missed her. We'd been pretty close. While he was in school Israel was rather boring, and Hilary filled in while he was in the economics lab. She treated me like the dignified lady I am. I was always well cared for, if not outright spoiled. After graduating Israel and I left Chattanooga for the road, which primarily consisted of long hours in a van dreaming of trees. Our time with Hilary became slim as the miles piled up. At this point in the Atlas mountains, graduation was three and a half human years in the rear view mirror, and Israel and I had cumulatively been outside of the U.S. for over half that time, living off motorcycles and out of vans. I was accustomed to the rough life, but it was quite the treat to see Hilary and be pampered. Israel is exciting to be with, but the subtleties of sweetness are foreign to him. We finished up our lunch and I walked with Hilary as she snapped pictures. We could hear the moto in the distance, our reckless friend no doubt popping wheelies for the goats. I was happy to find upon his return that Israel had kept the duocycle in good order and we finished our rest along the creek before once again taking to our dusty Southwestern path.

  Shortly after our break among the cedar trees we were reunited with a stretch of pavement which was just long enough to be graced by road signs. Imilchile was our goal for the day's ride, but the hour was growing late. Further complicating our plight was the mountainous road. Consistent asphalt had once graced this portion of our route, but, as we were to find, rains and poor drainage had washed more away than what remained. A multitude of water-crossing provided some additional adversity to our afternoon, if rather wet for my determined chauffeur,
He only left me a little
but the sights and locals made the jaunt pleasurably unique.
   We made Imilchile around sunset and after finding a place to stay I entertained some of the town's children with my frisbee snatching abilities as the innkeeper prepared our dinner. Following a meal of Moroccan stew we retired to our cozy room, draped with wet socks from the day's multiple water crossings, and slept like the dead.
    As one might expect, the following morning brought with it bright African sunshine, and, given that we were well into the
Atlas Mountains, an agreeably mild summer temperature. I made a couple of new friends as Hilary and Israel packed the moto, and then we quickly departed in search of lofty heights, washed out bridges, and a crooked mountain road.
  This day's ride wasn't as solemn as the last. Though we strode through the mountains at a higher altitude there were more people about, waving at us or just tending to business. Generally the roads were in better condition as well, however, there were still a couple of occasions where Israel was forced to take the bike through water or over rocky, washed out, roads. Around midday our merry, Honda mounted, crew arrived at the physical high point of our journey.
 
 The Tizi n'Aguerd n'Zegzaoun Pass reaches precisely 2,639 meters, or 8,658 feet. This dog has reached loftier heights, but getting here was quite a challenge. The duocycle seldom found asphalt, and it was a crumbling mess when it had. In some areas the road was washed away altogether. We were well out in it. Make no mistake, this was an adventure. We dismounted and breathed in the clear Atlas Mountain air in peace.


 I'd have never thought that there would be anyone other than us up here. It had been several miles since we'd seen anyone. However, after a few moments alone, seemingly materializing from the rocks and sand, a young Moroccan fellow mysteriously appeared while we weren't paying attention. We looked up, and there he was. He looked more surprised to see us than we were to see him. Quite an inquisitive

chap, he asked lots of questions and posed for several pictures. I'm not quite sure if he fit the scenery well, or if the landscape emulated him. We managed to communicate with him well enough, though neither Hilary or Israel knew any French or Arabic. His eyes were expressive enough that a common language was unnecessary. Our new friend's countenance changed several times in the half hour we spent with him, from surprise to curiosity, from curiosity to joy, from joy to sorrow.  It was one of those rare occasions in life where the presence of another being added to, rather than detracted from, moments of solitude. Our encounter atop the high pass came to an end with my counterparts handing over chips and a candy bar to the new friend. We waved goodbye, and departed down the winding road toward Marrakesh.

  We journeyed a long way down over the following hours. The open blue sky and landscapes made our rate of decent difficult to quantify. Reference points were distant, obscure, and fuzzy. The grade never really felt all that steep. However, as time passed you could notice the temperature change. The relationship between my friends seemed to be following a similar path over the last couple of years. Their interludes had become more brief over greater periods of time, and the strength of their bond had inevitably weakened. Though not always outwardly apparent, upon close examination I could feel the climate between them changing. Hilary, almost always happy go lucky, had grown critical of Israel's fast paced life. To be fair, we did frequently leave her in the dust, but it wasn't that we didn't care for her. I think much of it was simply tunnel vision. Israel was set on both making his business a success and seeing as much of the world as possible. Though we traveled together regularly, and
Yeah, yeah. I know all about those
corresponded frequently, the lack of physical contact was quite a lot for Hilary to deal with. She adopted a furry little collie named Lily to help fill the void of companionship we‘d left, and went about training her to be a frisbee snatching therapy dog. Though I quite liked her new puppy I couldn't quite help but feel as though I had been replaced. How did such a thing happen? If this could befall me, what chance did Israel have? I knew, all his friends knew, everyone but the man himself seemed to know, unless circumstances quickly changed, Israel's days with Hilary were numbered.



I bet you didn't know I was a photographer
As we reached lower elevation the roads improved and our pace hastened. Israel is a racer at heart, with the skill to accompany it (a fortunate thing given his proclivity for eluding government officials), and though it had been a while since we'd encountered traffic, as the old diesel Mercedes sedans, that comprised at least 50% of the vehicles on the road due to a longstanding tariff on imported vehicles (excluding shitty French ones), began to reappear on the tight mountain roads we passed them as if they did not exist. Hilary's flight from Marrakesh back to her summer gig in Madrid was quickly approaching and the cornerstone of the trip was still ahead of us.
  The Tiz-n-Tichka Pass, which climbs (or in our case descended) the Dades Gorges, in the southern foothills of the Atlas Mountains, helped set our itinerary due to its twisty, photogenic, qualities. Though not quite Wrigley Field, I found it to be pretty nice. I particularly liked the stew served at the restaurant overlooking the serpentine stretch of tarmac. Israel, of course, wished to document our arrival at the pass with pictures and video. I wasn't quite so keen to comply, the stew smelled good and my butt was a bit stiff, but Israel was insistent and we took our obligatory trip through the slippery serpentine path. Corrugated, and well oiled with all manner of geriatric Mercedes excretions, the road wasn't ideal for fleet cycles.
Unconcerned with circumstances, my focused companion slid down, and then back up, the greasy rippled asphalt. I decided it was best to put my head down. Mercifully, rather that taking a precipitous plunge from the perilous pass, we found our way back to the top of the gorge. Thank God, there was stew awaiting us upon our return. After partially satisfying my appetite we all climbed aboard the duocycle for a much slower ride back down the gorge. The last of our decent from the Atlas Mountains coincided with an early evening breeze and a lethargic sunset that stretched for well over an hour, illuminating the long western path towards Marrakesh with a blood red sky. The cool dry air and our comfortably rapid pace tickled the fur of my swept back ears and I could smell the contents of a dozen unseen Mercedes sedans. I was at peace. It was one of the most pleasant rides of my life.
This is the lif
  As the final vestige of the sun's presences drained itself from the horizon our band of intrepid travelers left the pavement for a dirt road north towards a grand mesa to camp. We finished arranging our campsite under the starlight of a wide open sky, and the curious gaze of roaming jackals and feral dogs. I kept watch till the howls and rustles subsided. Dropping temperature then drew me to a warm spot between my friends, and I quickly fell into a comfortable dream filled slumber.
That's the spot
Carry on
  Dog dreams are much like your human dreams. They consist of restless, wild, memories, be they good or bad. Fortunately, my life hasn't been so traumatic (incidents with drunks driving Ford Explorers rapidly along the curb on Walnut Street excluded), and most of my dreams consist of squirrel chases, monkey encounters, and steak dinners. Though that night, perhaps through osmosis, I vividly recalled my many travels with Hilary. Twenty countries worth of belly rubs, head pats, and shared dinners. She's the mom I never really had. She was always there for me, if I so desired. I was at the Acropolis getting my stomach stroked when some curious locals awoke me from my dream. How rude! I was quite enjoying that memory. I went off to inspect the crowd of gawkers, finding nothing nefarious about their intentions I returned to the motorcycle's shade to supervise the packing of the moto.
 I couldn't quite put my claw on it, but as Israel slowly stowed our bedding away, and Hilary snapped pictures, there was a certain sadness that hadn't existed the night before. Sure, we were parting company that day, but that was nothing new. We left each other all the time, and yet on this day something was different. Their smiles that morning hid sadness, and the remainder of the trip to Marrakesh lacked the jovial wonder of the day before. It only took a couple of hours to reach the airport, but somehow the brief trip seemed to drag on forever. It was perhaps the only time we've ever arrived at an airport with time to spare, and we quietly sat together in the shade of awnings and palm trees. Hilary's departure time finally arrived, she hugged me and told me to be careful. After Israel walked her to the door of the airport, I could see him wiping at his eyes as he returned to the moto. He donned his helmet, and we left Marrakesh much more quickly than we'd arrived. We traveled on to the coast but the adventure was over. There was still one last sprint across Europe to make, but I'd lost count of the number of times we'd made that trip over the previous 18 months. Barcelona, Spain may as well have been Phoenix, Arizona. Many of life's mysteries no longer exist for Israel and I. Travel is perverse like that. We have exchanged a great number of opportunities and relationships in life for adventure that is never the quite as good the second time around. And yet, there is no closing Pandora's box once it has been opened. Life on a motorcycle or out of a van changes you. Israel and I no longer really fit into polite society, and even our most understanding friends can be critical of our attitudes and behaviors. This causes a great deal of grief for us, in particular while we're back home in Tennessee. Israel's lack of human companionship looks to be problematic. Hilary, though always seemingly ready for an adventure, has decided to take a more traditional path forward in life and will be getting married next month. News of of her engagement was difficult for Israel and I. Though you could feel the difficult sentiments between them in the dry Moroccan air that day out front of the airport in Marrakesh, we weren't really prepared for the loss of our friend to a different world. For all intents and purposes we now ride through life alone. However, in the shadows of our minds, memories keep us company.

   You can perhaps imagine my friend's concern as he carried me into the animal hospital way back where our tail began. "Take good care of her",  he said, "she's my best friend". Though I looked pathetic that night, and I was sore for a couple of weeks, I made a full recovery. Israel and I wasted no time getting back on the road, crossing Europe yet again. Plans of an adventure of a lifetime are in the works. What is there to do but continue moving forward? We are what we are. Sub Sahara Africa here we come. 





  
  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cluj to Constantinople: The Cold Tail of a Dog in a Box

  
  Skidding along an icy, snow-blown, Turkish motorway on one's side, with a motorcycle above you and asphalt below, generates a disconcerting feeling. I was wedged in my pannier so tightly that there was no escape. As the metal box scraped along the slick pavement my life flashed before my eyes. I am unsure if it entailed only 12 years of memories or 70. There have been lots of chases, food capers, road trips and untold of adventures since that fateful spring day, so long ago, when Israel scooped me up in his arms and took me home. Though my sense of time and sequence may be somewhat shaky, one thing I am certain of is the fact that I have lived a full life.

   Freedom, it's a word that many dogs cannot fully comprehend. Though, I suppose it possesses a sliding scale.  Everything is relative after all. There are many stages of individual liberty between a life locked up and one led off a leash wandering around Europe. Having experienced both extremes of the spectrum, I was lucky to have skipped a few levels in between. Once you have smelled sweet freedom, there is no returning to the tethers of oppression. I began my life, shortly after birth on a small farm, within the walls of the Washington County Animal Shelter. Shelter being a somewhat misleading term. Some of my fellow K-9s never make it out of there alive. Luckily, I had my sister, Maggie, to keep me company. We were both of an obstinate bent, however, we were bright, cute, and athletic too. Our stay was brief. A girl named Annaka rescued my sister and I from our austere surroundings. The following day, in the summer of 2003, I first met my friend Israel. He was there to collect some things from Annaka's house. Maggie and I were romping in sun soaked grass when the tall, and marginally aggravated, man came over to play with us. After about an hour, I remember him saying, in a very matter of fact tone, "I'm taking this one; she's bright and wild; her name is Daisy".

  "We're going to Asia", he said, in such a way that left no questions. I was initially a bit skeptical, I'd heard that in some parts of this continent dogs were used to support dietary needs! It was a relief to find that we were only going into the western portion, along the Mediterranean, to place called Turkey. That made me think of holidays with the family. Mmmm.., let's go, I thought, MY dietary needs could use some support. There was a caveat within this deal to reach the promised land of
delectable birds though. Our motorized home was to be left in Northern Romania. We were to take the cycle. The logic was sound from a certain perspective. There is something missing in the use of our moving homes. It's difficult to put a claw on, but it has something to do with insulation from the elements. Though I can see the animals, mountains, and trees I love so dearly, I am simply an observer of the world passing by my nose. Especially in the more civil parts of the globe, it's not quite an adventure. The duocycle offers a more engaging experience. I can hear more, see more, smell more, and feel more, as the wind blows by my nose and ears. I am part of the scenery. It's an exciting way to travel. However, there were two big reasons that I found this plan problematic. Firstly, it was winter, and secondly, it was going to be a long trip, almost 2000 miles.

  I didn't begin motorcycling till an advanced age. I was about 50 when we went to Birmingham (the one in Alabama) to collect a three-wheeled cycle for me to ride in. I say in because the attached box has a car-like quality to it. Aside from having a windshield, its seat is big and cushy. I can stand up, turn around, or lie down if I so choose. Motorcycling in Europe is altogether different. This cycle's box, or pannier as Israel says, is nowhere near as big or
comfortable. Its use was born of necessity. The towns and cities of Italy are old, and their roads were designed with horses in mind, not mammoth vans. Finding a place to park our mobile domicile so we could get out and explore was virtually impossible. The moto offered a solution to this predicament. It's fair to say that I enjoyed that first ride into Rome. We have used the motorcycle frequently since then. However, more times than not, these trips were merely used to explore areas in which the van was ill-suited. The most ground covered in a day had been about 100 miles. That was all about to change.
  
  We departed Cluj mid-afternoon. The temperature was slightly
above freezing when we left, but as sunlight dwindled it became painfully frigid. Our friend, Cristian, made arrangements for us to stay at his childhood home, with his parents, in the medieval city of Sibiu. It is place I found to be most agreeable. Cristian's mother, Iolan, possessed a seemingly unending supply of sausage
which certainly did nothing harm my appraisal. My love of all things pork not withstanding, Sibiu has a young, progressive, population that demonstrated an appreciation for my finer qualities. The old cobblestone streets are good for walking and there were plenty of places willing to allow me in (that's just good business).

  
   Another late start was made the following day after a long lunch. We took the lowest available pass through the Fagaras mountains (the highest in the Southern Carpathians), and found ourselves in a snow storm. It was the first of this trip. It would not be the last. After descending the mountains, the weather improved and we met Cristian in Bucharest. Unfortunately, our accommodations fell through, but that isn't the sort of thing to bother us. We found a place in the center of town built for the community and set camp.



The People's Palace? I guess dogs don't count.
  Shortly after the well-armed ground's keepers assisted in our departure from the campsite the next morning, snow began to fall. We opted to remain in Bucharest till it passed. We were waiting for a while. It snowed for a week straight. That wasn't all bad though. Our friend Cristian showed us around town, and we had a good time. I was generally well received, and people were loose with their table-scraps.


Cristian, have I ever conveyed to you my fondness of Kabab?
   Eventually the snow subsided. We hastily made our break south. I was loaded into my box and we crossed into Bulgaria for a long, cold, trip to the Turkish border. Upon climbing into the Balkan Mountains, that neatly divide Bulgaria horizontally, we encountered snow once again. It was a slippery ride to the pass, but we were rewarded by mildly warmer temperatures on the other side. For some inexplicable reason, Google was of the opinion that dirt roads were needed to complete our route.  This wouldn't have been of any concern were it not for the fact that it was after midnight and Israel had nearly run the duocycle out of fuel. After locating pavement we found ourselves wandering around in the dead of night among a series of nuclear power plants. There was more energy surrounding us than the whole of Bulgaria would ever need, and yet petrol was nowhere to be found. Something that could be found, however, was a couple of bored policemen sitting on the edge of a sleepy town. They were very surprised to encounter such a fine K-9 and snapped some pictures, after pulling us to the side of the road. Then Israel was given directions to the police station to meet the captain and pay a fine. "Take a left at the third bridge", they said. We took a cloverleaf right at the second bridge, that led over a river, and finally found fuel in the next town. Rather than cross the border during the wee hours of the morning, we opted to set camp about 20 miles from the edge of Turkey. The weather was calm and a bit above freezing when the tent was erected. We crawled inside and quickly fell asleep.

  A fast moving high pressure system brought huge gusting winds and extremely cold temperatures to greet us the following morning. The motorcycle was blown over twice. Once, striking a glancing blow to Israel within the tent as he readied baggage for our departure. Packing up camp was an infuriating affair and the tent sustained damage when it was blown down the hill into a massive thorny bush while Israel attempted to hoist the cycle from its side for the second time in close succession.
 
   After finally getting underway we dodged some livestock and dogs on our way back to the road leading to the border. We weren't quite sure what to expect crossing into Turkey. Ultimately, we were happy to find that it was just a matter of money. After an hour of buying stamps and documents, we were again on our way. Just as we pulled away from the final checkpoint, we were warned that there was snow ahead. Israel motioned to his new tires and gave a thumbs up sign along with a toothy grin. I place immense faith in my friend, perhaps, at times, too much. I mean he had already been wrong about so many things. I was disheartened to find that the climate was nothing like I'd been told it would be. Mediterranean, my butt! It was freezing, and that was before the sun went down. To compound my anguish, I didn't see a single succulent bird anywhere after crossing into the Islamic nation. Fraud, I though, as the cold, dark, foodless, night dashed my dreams to oblivion. How could things possibly get worse? About 50 miles from our destination, snow began drifting across the road.
  
  Being extracted from a metal box, which mercifully hasn't become your coffin, after skidding along
Tis but a scratch!
an icy, snow-blow, motorway with pavement below and a Yamaha above, to find yourself unscathed, generates gleeful emotions. I promptly took a roll in the snow. Whoa, I though, that was one hell of a ride! The transformation between cold and windy to icy, cold, and windy had ben a brief one. Though the motorway had been straight, and slightly downhill, a lateral gust of wind had actually pushed the rear of the duocycle sideways. It was a situation that we could not recover from. The slide quickly resulted in our motorcycle striking the ground on my side at around 50 miles per hour. A group of guys
Our haven from the storm. Taken on the less trying trip North 
following behind us stopped to help hoist the bike up and ask if we were alright. Israel checked to see if the bike would start, thanked them, and sent them on their way. As luck would have it we crashed in front of a construction site. Israel untethered part of our baggage, carried it into the open sanctuary, and returned to the road. I remained behind, looking at my friend from a distance wondering what he was doing kicking at the road. He returned to tell me (yes, he talks to me) that a truck had just scraped the road and tossed salt. I didn't like the direction this line of thought was moving. I went and laid down amidst the pile of luggage which was laying by the wall of the refuge of metal and concrete. Israel continued to pace and look out into the bleak abyss of wind and snow. We are almost there, he said, only 30 more miles. I didn't wish to encourage him and remained wedged against the bags as he returned to the motorway and had
Bent but not broken. My thanks go out to Roger, at ARD cases.
another kick. He returned with a determined look on his  face. "We can do it, the road isn't too bad now". It was what I had feared he would say. My friend's determination is often a good thing, however, occasionally it is to his detriment.

   Perhaps it was God. Maybe it was fate. Then again, it may have just been good, old fashioned, luck. But the sound of a particularly aggressive gust of wind thrashing at the building's metal siding was quickly followed by one of the duocycle hitting the ground for the 4th time that day. Israel rushed out to the icy, snow covered, shoulder of the highway to lift the bike up onto its wheels. This time there was no one to stop and help. It took several minutes for my obtuse friend to gain the footing required to raise the cycle from the snow. He was beaten, and he knew it. He pulled the bike into the building and cracked open a Guinness. "Things will look better in the morning", he said. That's what I wanted to hear, friend, that's what I wanted to hear.



  We were awakened late the following morning by an odd, chain smoking, Turkish fellow. He was the security guard that had been housed in the lit shipping container at the lower end of the construction site we had spied the previous night. For you prospective adventurers out there, a piece of advice. It is better to ask forgiveness than permission. This guy wasn't too concerned by our presence, although, he took care to avoid the gaze of our camera. I suppose he could be forgiven for sleeping on the job the night before. Nobody in their right mind would have been out in such weather. The expression on his face was priceless. We may as well have been visiting from Mars.
  Once back on the road it became apparent that continuing on the previous night would have been
Rolling in the Snow! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gHRFuOlYfs 
disastrous. Hundreds of abandoned cars and trucks littered the road. There had been dozens of accidents, the worst of which was a ten truck pile-up. Often times 3 lanes had been reduced to one and the visibility was awful due to the salty water being thrown up into our faces by passing trucks. Finding our hostel was another difficult process. The streets leading down to the water were San Francisco steep and covered in snow. Odd chants were emanating from the sky when we arrived at our destination, and I knew there was something fundamentally different about this city from all the others I'd visited during my, well traveled, life. We made it! It was time to explore.
Brrrr
The edge of Asia


  


Not everybody you run into takes good photos






Monday, November 24, 2014

Animals, Altitude, and Attitude: More is Less, Less is More

Well, my fur may be getting white, and my bones may occasionally ache, but I still get around pretty well. In fact,
I'm not the sort to stop unless Israel does. We are currently in Italy, for the 4th time this year, however, our progress seems to have stalled; not that I mind. The Alps are a bit frigid, but I do love the mountains. The winding paths here are better suited to travel by paw than machine but this doesn't seem to bother Israel much. He has consistently driven our home into places it should not fit (occasionally I hear the term Verboten from strangers during my early morning exploring around our camp spots, whatever that means, though I've not
heard it recently) and promptly unpacks our food and the 2 wheeled machine. Sometimes we get to undertake adventures searching out unsuspecting creatures. I have been introduced to a variety of new animals to chase on this trip. Marmots, Boar, Apes, Stambeccos, and Hedgehogs have all provided close encounters recently. Occasionally, I even chase my friend. Perhaps I am over 3 times his age, but I have twice the legs. Still, he puts up a good show, I suppose.
Not quite Spain, not quite England. Gibraltar is all fun!
 Yesterday, following a very cold night and an afternoon hike I was loaded into the box of the duo cycle and we searched the severely escarped paths surrounding our encampment for what seemed to be no particular reason. It was nice, but very quiet. We reached a clearing atop one of the bluffs and waited on darkness. Nothing was said, and though the setting was impressive, and the solitude meaningful, I couldn't help but feel a bit of my friend's despondence. I wonder, what will we do when there is nothing new to see?


At times it's good having a short memory. A day is a long time, and yesterday's concerns rarely matter to a dog today, especially if there is SNOW. Any day with snow is a new beginning. Everything becomes brighter, more exciting and my body wants to move. I'm uncertain of why this is, I am but a dog, however, there is something special in in the crystalized precipitation. Whatever the reasons, they are not relegated
to the world of K-9s. Israel loves the snow almost as much as I do, and the lack of other domesticated footprints along today's hike meant that his smile was only for me. We made our way back down to the house for dinner. Even my food tastes good after such a day, and I gobble it down quickly. Israel is easily convinced to share some of  his food too. Mmmmm.... pig bones and Brie crust! What more could a dog desire? We are now moving on from Italy through Switzerland to France. If I'm lucky, we'll have a few more snow filled days in the mountains. This is where I'm meant to be.