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! 
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.
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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A European Dogumentary

  I've often wondered what it is like to be a human. In many respects it looks grand indeed. To be honest, I feel as though I should have some sort of honorary status. I mean, I pretty much lead the life of a human, aside from sniffing other dogs' butts and pissing on a wide variety of posts. I go where they go, I eat what they eat, and when I try really hard, and I'm not dealing with a dipstick, I can even communicate with them. However, as close as I come to being human there are certain things that I will never be able to do. While their funny paws are ill suited for certain tasks, such as chasing down, and throttling, rabbits, they also allow for the articulate manipulation of objects which I can only envy. All the motorized gadgets they use are particularly interesting. My best friend, Israel, has a bunch of self propelled devices he uses to take us, and sometimes only him, ppphhh.., on adventures. Though I have never acquired the skills needed to operate these marvelous machines I learned early on where to be when they are put to use.
When I was younger I would
preemptively leap into their open windows and wait for Israel to come and take us on safari. These days I am not so agile and occasionally I need, or at lest request, help to get in open doors, but I still love the trips. Fortunately, Israel likes to travel as much as I do and he takes me just about everywhere he goes. The exception here are the open air, two wheeled, machines he seems to like so much. I am no a fan of these. They have been the impetus of many a dull day. Fortunately, about 20 years ago he began using an open air three wheeled machine that had a seat to the right and I got ride along with the wind in my fur. Still, every so often Israel would come, sit on the floor, rub my head and sorrowfully tell me that he would return. At first these long disappearances were a worry, but as I've grown older I have come to realize that Israel, for all his flaws, is rather resourceful. He always comes back in one piece. I just wish I could have been off having fun too.

                                                                My Friend Vladimir
  I don't want to complain too much, but, even though I've been very lucky pup, I still deal with bouts of depression and anger when I've been left behind by my best friend. What a crock! Just to be clear,
I rely more on him than he does me. And yet, even as I surpassed 70 years old he sat on the floor
once again and for an extended period stroked my fur and told me he would return. My despondence wasn't lost on him and I think he was feeling guilty as he left to travel around the world. Around the World? I didn't really have an appreciation for what this meant. 3, 4, 5 years, maybe more, left missing my friend? I was getting too old for such rejection. Much to my delight, Israel returned after "only" 3 years. It turns out that he was refused entry into a place called Russia and it thwarted his plans. This, folks, is what it feels like to be a dog. There is always someone looking to restrict your movements. His exclusion was a point of difficulty for Israel but it suited me just fine. We went back on the road and completed a tour of the United States (well 48 of them).
                                                                A New Adventure
  Well, I had to wait long enough but I finally got out of the United States at the ripe old age of 84.
Fortunately, I'm still in pretty good shape and my experience is a benefit in my new settings. A dog must be aware of their environment in order to make the best of the situation. There are now new challenges which must be dealt with. While a bark is, for all intents and purposes, a bark, the words used by humans are somewhat more complex. Though my tongue cannot form the syllables required to use words, I can actually understand many of them. Or at least I could till I arrived in Europe. The language barrier is made somewhat more surmountable by the fact that I am a very popular old girl here. Though I rarely understand what people are saying, they are almost always happy while saying it. They are always smiling, petting, and feeding me. This coupled with my superior nose ensures that my diet is well supplemented, just in case....
  I will leave my delineations here at the moment. Our presence is required in Spain and the French motorway tolls are prohibitively expensive. This means taking a slow path through little towns (with unsuspecting shop owners). It's going to be a long trip but it must be done. I will return with news, pictures, and video from the trail. We aren't an inconspicuous pair and interesting stories are created almost daily. For those of you that may have occasion to meet me along the way, I am partial to Kebab and my name is Gillette, Daisy Gillette.