As we pedal into town heads turn, eyebrows raise, conversations are interrupted, fingers are pointed, and often a series of chuckles can be heard. Some people look bemused, some people look ecstatic, some people look appalled, but regardless, people look. “You are crazy!”… “This is the best, this is the best, this is the best!”… “It must take a certain kind of madness”… “Can I take a photo?” Welcome to another day in the life of our circus on wheels: two humans and two dogs travelling the world with two bicycles. Paws to the FloorWinter is fast approaching in the south of Spain and my girlfriend Zoa and I are becoming cranky for several reasons:• Constant rain has turned the endless olive fields into thick slurries of red clay• The only place to pitch our tent is in the olive fields• We are realizing that olives taste horribly bitter when picked straight from the tree• Our clothes and sleeping bags are wet• My sleeping mattress is punctured• Snow is forecast for the next dayAt first light we pack up our tent with numb fingers and mechanical efficiency and pedal into the misty morning, our tires coated in a thick layer of red clay. An army of bunnies are romping away under the olive trees in a gratuitous display of free love, and our dogs are not impressed.‘Lemme at ‘em! Lemme at ‘em!’ Paco tells us over and over. His constant barking could try the patience of a Buddhist monk, but the silver lining is that when he is in hunting mode he is an amazingly strong and determined runner.I am especially thankful that my canine engine is revving at top speed today because we are heading uphill into strong headwinds. The headwinds are so strong in fact that a street sign blows out of its foundation and nearly crushes Paco into the triangular shape of a Give Way sign.While Paco charges forward, relentlessly tugging at his chain, his larger sidekick Jack plonks along beside Zoa’s bike. Being part Husky, part Border Collie, Jack is a potential super mutt of endurance. Unfortunately the genetic lottery had other ideas and instead we were given a food obsessed, sleep loving dog, with the agility of a hippopotamus. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in loyalty, always wanting to keep up with the group.Powered by kibbles, we climb to the top of a ridge, where we are suddenly stopped in our tracks. Our hearts flutter at the first sight of the solid white peaks of Sierra Nevada, Europe’s second largest mountain range – an imposing sight that leaves us speechless.After circumnavigating the northern foothills we turn off onto an even quieter road and freewheel into cycling bliss. We are entering the crevassed ochre mountains of Europe’s only desert and a strange calm falls over the group. As we wind through walls of bare earth sculpted by the master for millions of years, Jack and Paco enjoy the chance to relax on the back of the bikes and sniff the breeze.For the first time in five months of cycling we camp overlooking the desert canyons without a sound. No church bells, no techno music, no barking dogs and no gunfire. Not a single noise. Nada. Absolute silence.Christmas in a Cave “Hola!! Buena dia!!” We are greeted by an old man with thick-rimmed glasses as we cycle into town. The old man understands little of our poor Spanish, and we understand even less from his chopped down local dialect. When he notices Paco, who is considered a ‘scruffy little hound’ by many but is a favored hunting dog in Spain, he pulls out his wallet and offers us 20 Euro with an infectious cackle. Although tempting after days of listening to Paco’s incessant barking at the bunnies, one look at my girlfriend Zoa confirms that this is out of the question.It doesn’t take long to realize that Gorafe is not your average town. Dogs, cats, children, chickens, and sometimes donkeys roam freely through the streets past the spiky aloes, barbed prickly pears and bulbous white chimneys. Middle-aged women stroll around in their bathrobes, and nobody seems to be in too much of a hurry. There is no police, no post office and certainly no tourist information—just a pharmacy, a bakery, the local store, and three pubs.Gorafe is a town literally nestled into the landscape, with most of its 540 odd people living in cuevas (cave dwellings) chipped into the side of the mountain. With summer temperatures regularly climbing over 40 degrees Celsius, and sporadic snowfall in winter, caves are a natural way of regulating the temperature to around 15 degrees all year round.Modern caves are a little more sophisticated than when the Moors of Northern Africa crafted them in the 800’s. The cave we rented (yes, you can actually rent a cave) had a fireplace, warm shower, simple kitchen and a cozy bedroom. Others have skylights, fancy alcoves and solar power. Being the only travelers here for the winter, we enjoyed a great price.While Europe experienced its coldest winter in decades, we took a break from the bike saddles and explored our surroundings by foot and paw. We stumbled upon thermal pools draped by ferns, ancient prehistoric burial grounds, one of the oldest living aqueducts in the world, plateaus of almond trees with spectacular views of the peaks of the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada at 3,482 meters altitude, and mysterious caves deep in the desert where goat herders are hidden far from the maddening crowd. Paco had formed a bond with the local dogs and seemed to relish his off-leash expeditions through the endless folds of the desert canyons, but in February when the weather forecast showed a string of fine days, so it was time to say adios our new friends and return to our nomadic life on the road. An Unlikely Beginning to an Unlikely StoryOur story began in the dark of an Icelandic winter where two odd socks, an Australian boy and a Canadian girl, met far from home.Six months later our lives in Belgium were a fluster of excited activity. Jobs were quit, keys were shed, and just about everything we owned was sold. An epic wanderlust fuelled bicycle adventure was being planned and it didn’t matter that neither of us had changed a flat tire before—in fact I had barely touched a bike since I was a child.We were drawn to cycling as a way of travelling for its simplicity and sustainability. From the saddle of a bike, there is no separation from the surrounding environment and culture. You can feel the breeze in your hair, hear the chirp of a bird, and spark up a conversation with a stranger on the side of the road. Plus, it can be a very cheap way to get around. Instead of fuelling a car, a train, a plane or a bus, the major expense is fuelling a ravenous appetite; and burning up so many calories is fun when you can enjoy a guilt free diet. Bon appétit.But we had one small problem. Well, actually one medium sized problem, and another big, hairy problem. Our two dogs! Who would look after them while we pedaled carefree towards the horizon?The two of them had been dealt a rough start to life. Jack, a 40 kilogram Husky/Retriever/Grizzly-Bear cross, was found at a Vancouver shelter emaciated and with his front teeth gnawed down from spending long hours chewing at his chain. Paco, a wiry 15 kilogram Portuguese Podengo was found in Toronto running amongst traffic, scared of the world.While bike parts arrived and the apartment slowly emptied of endless piles of STUFF, our furry friends looked on with growing fear. The smell of change was in the air and they shadowed our every move with anxious, incriminating looks.They needn’t have worried. Blissfully ignorant of what we were getting ourselves into, our furry friends added sixty kilograms of doggy luggage in one hefty swoop. Jack, sometimes known as “The Refrigerator” for his size and ability to store vast amounts of food, required a heavy duty dog trailer (pulled by my girlfriend Zoa), while Paco could look down on the world, atop a basket fastened to my longtail bike.By the first snack break of the trip Paco wiggled his way out of his harness and disappeared into swampy grasslands to sniff out a trail of bunnies. Forty-five minutes, a salad, and six cheese rolls later, he emerged un-triumphant, his coat a sopping mess, and his face covered in an irritated red rash from the thickets of stinging nettles.But despite the initial culture (and nettle) shock, the dogs quickly settled into the travelling life. Every day presented new sights and smells, while also providing a re-assuring routine. The bikes and our tent became home sweet home, a constant thread in a tapestry of travel.When the pancake flats of Flanders soon turned to the waffled Belgian Ardennes, we gulped at the first major hill of the journey – an impossibly steep grade stretching straight and relentless into the sky. Completely untested, we attacked it hard, thrashing at the pedals and fumbling with the gears like amateurs until panting and exhausted we ground to an early stop.It was time for plan B. It was time to put the paws to the floor. Hills and flat stretches would be a perfect opportunity for Jack and Paco to run beside the bikes, while making our job much easier. We fastened some leashes to the side of our bikes and attached them to the dogs’ harnesses.After a brief adjustment period we were all in sync. The dogs learned to keep a steady pace, and we soon learnt to watch out for sudden ‘pit-stops’ by the side of the road. We also discovered that with some encouragement or the helpful intervention of some wild animals, the dogs would run faster and faster, helping to propel the bike forward. It certainly wasn’t the Iditarod, but our legs sure appreciated the help.Into the ArcticIf you imagine Norway as one big electric guitar, we awoke on the island of Andøya, somewhere at the top of the fret board, feeling like a nicely strummed E Minor. Autumn was creeping closer and a prolonged dusk was rolling into an extended dawn; a magical lighting to show off the spectacular mountain silhouettes and coastal islets of Arctic Norway.Despite being on the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia, and only 2,000km from the North Pole, the warm flow of the Gulf Stream buffers the coastal temperatures of Arctic Norway year-round, making it much milder than we expected. But that is not to say the weather in Norway is always pleasant…Our cheap ‘waterproof’ raingear was enough to get us through 12 months in less intense European climates but it was knocked out in the first round by Norway. With so many mountains and fjords, Norway is one giant waterfall really. It is worth keeping one eye to the sky – the first gust of wind flustering the tree canopy or a band of heavy clouds coming over the mountain top might be a warning to head for cover.After pedaling to Andøy among swirling cross-winds we boarded ‘The Whale Route’ ferry to the island of Senja with warnings of five meter waves at sea. The scheduled two hour ferry seemed to drag out to eternity, as the ship zig-zagged its way through the high swells. An onboard mechanic acknowledged that it was not really the best ship for this route. “It was made in the 70’s for fjords. It’s too narrow for the open sea. Yesterday we had to clean up a lot of accidents on the floor.”Indeed. Not long after the mechanic strolled away with his “I’ve been on ships my whole life, this is nothing walk,” the waves started dashing heavy blows against the bows. Jack and Paco started sliding across the floor and our books and corn chips began tumbling off the table. Zoa was the first to stumble for the toilet and before long a particularly rough patch had me doubled over, cursing the handfuls of corn chips I had just eaten. A domino effect was triggered.  Paco lost control of his faculties on Zoa’s shoe, which in turn had her grabbing for the nearest bag. By that time I was ready for round two. I’m sure there were must have been whales out there somewhere, but we certainly didn’t see any.After a late start we continued north and soon realized a pattern was emerging. The further north we pedaled, the greater the distance between towns, and the greater distance between towns, the more bike problems we developed. Spokes broke, hubs failed, and tires went flat. After 14,000kms of bump and grind our tires had begun to split apart at the seams, making roadside tire juggling a near daily occurrence. We needed some bike parts and it soon became clear that a succession of tiny fishing villages was not going to help. With boarded up stores and abandoned buildings, the villages took on the feeling of ghost towns, and we were lucky if we could find food, let along parts for a hub. We battled on with grumbling bellies to Alta, one of the larger outposts on the long and lonesome road north, where we were thrilled to find perhaps the world’s northernmost bicycle repair store run by the world’s northernmost bicycle repairing musher.While he worked on my wheel we talked about ‘Finnmarkslopet’, a challenging dog sled race he was competing in, which loops around the north-eastern corner of Norway via the borders of Russia and Finland. It is known for its poor trails and extreme climate, and you guessed it, being the northernmost sled dog race in the world. When the wheel was finished my attempts at payment were refused. “Don’t worry, I’ll charge the next customer double.” I gave my northernmost thanks and waved goodbye, once again amazed by the kindness of strangers. The End of the LandLush forest turned to withered birches, which turned to barren tundra. Nights became darker sooner, the weather chilled, and the reindeers had nowhere to hide.With less than 100 kilometers to the North Cape a sign warned us we were entering an ‘Area of Reindeer Husbandry’. The dogs began salivating and licking their lips. With sunshine on our faces, strong tailwinds at our back and frantic dogs at our sides, we powered along the rolling coastal road. The road sliced through primal slate rock faces, with strata lines stacked diagonally like the pages of a gigantic book. Sea eagles circled in the air, countless reindeer scattered at Paco’s barking, and even a curious arctic fox popped up his head to see what all the fuss was about.After hitch-hiking through THE DREADED BIG TUNNEL (a 7km tunnel that dips over 200 meters below the sea) on the back of a dump-truck, we were 71 degrees North and nearing the top of continental Europe. The end of the road, and the end of the land was near.Up, down, and then up, up and around, we corkscrewed through the mountains until we climbed to the top of a rise and could finally see cliffs of the North Cape. One last challenge remained—a 15% grade stretching straight and unrelenting to the top of the cliff. As we coasted to the bottom of the hill I noticed a cyclist (let’s call him Lance Armstrong) who was struggling up the hill fifty meters ahead of us. For a moment it felt like I was in the late stages of the Tour de France, pushing towards the finish line, the yellow jersey and eternal glory.While Zoa shook her head and laughed, I took Paco out of the basket, attached him to my bike and set off in pursuit. Sensing the importance of the event, Paco lunged forward yanking against his chain while I stood up and started grinding the pedals with clenched teeth. Yes! We were gaining ground. Lance Armstrong was faltering, wobbling side-to-side across the middle of the road.He glanced back at us and started increasing his pedal rate, but it wasn’t good enough. With extra encouragement Paco was going at full tilt, pulling the bike up with the singular purpose of a hunting dog. Ha! As we started to overtake on the outside I… wait a minute… what… NO, NO, NO!!! Paco stopped in his tracks and let out one of the longest pees in canine history.Finley, Zoa, Jack and Paco have cycled over 17,000 kilometers, through 18 countries in Europe. After saving some more money they plan to continue their journey through the Americas, starting in Canada.They also are going to have a children’s book published called the Dog Detectives in an Outback Odyssey, due out in Autumn. It is based on their two dogs cycling around the world solving crimes. Available at www.maverickbooks.co.ukHighs and lowsHeaviest Load: 85kg, Belgium – a guitar, too much clothing, water and food, plus dogLongest Day: 110km in DenmarkShortest Day: 3km, wine festival in BelgiumFastest Speed: 63km/h in PortugalColdest Camping: -10˚C, EstoniaFlat tires so far: 25Scariest moment for Fin: 4km tunnel in Italy: dimly lit, no hard shoulder and lots of trucks whizzing byScariest moment for Zoa: Crashing and destroying her bike while going downhill at 40km/h in GermanyScariest moment for Jack: Being left behind at the top of a mountain and galloping down the hill until we noticed and turned backScariest moment for Paco: Being chased by a bull in FranceLongest break from cycling: Two months in a cave, Gorafe, SpainMost days without showering: 12Most wine carried: 7.5l in France (5l was a gift)Strangest gift: A moose leg for our dogs in SwedenMost hospitable: France, five invitations into homesCraziest Camping Spot: Underneath a parked semi-trailer in the Italian rain


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