Road tests

I’ve missed Scout. It’s been 6 weeks since I saw her last and she’s done a lot of growing! Don’t worry, she’s still bendy and lanky enough to fit on my shoulders (and through a catflap) but she’s looking much more like a proper grownup doggo. I’m pretty sad to have missed the puppy months and get started on her training but hopefully five weeks intense bonding will make up for lost time. And I know she’s been well cared for by Street Hearts while I’ve been gone. Just like they do for the fifty other dogs in their care. The situation is chronic and Emma and Anthony simply can’t continue without better facilities and volunteer help. I was there for nine days and with the three of us working flat out we barely found time to eat. (More on this in my Street Hearts blog post to come.) As a result I feel like I neglected Scout a little too. I was so busy trying to gain the trust of scared dogs, or lead train puppies or, to be perfectly accurate, shovelling s**t, that Scout got a little pushed to the sidelines. She’s the complete opposite of the scared ones that need work; interested in everything, nuzzling at you for hugs, getting involved in everything you do, eating all the food she can see. “Get Out, Scout!” is, unfortunately, a popular refrain. She’s been so lucky to have found a place at Street Hearts but she isn’t suited to shelter life and it’s clear she needs new challenges and adventures.
So, on to the adventure training: Scout hasn’t slept in a house since being rescued (no idea if she had before that) and I was dubious about her ‘housetraining’ skills. The idea of cleaning up tent accidents filled me with dread but I was able to stay in a bungalow on the Street Hearts property so I could roll up the rugs and see what we were working with. Nine days and no accidents. She may have woken me at 3 in the morning once by jumping on me, but most of the time it was 5.30-7.30 and I’m much happier with that than waking up to a cleaning job. Awesome doggo points: 5

Trailer time

I wanted Scout to feel comfortable in Bill, the Burley Tail Wagon. It’s going to be her caravan, her safe place, her little snail shell…if snails got other, overly dedicated species to pull their shells around for them… We began with the wheels off, all the flaps open and a blanket, toys and treats inside. Doggo heaven. She jumped in with a little encouragement, sat for her Orijen treats, but wasn’t interested in spending much time in there. That evening she slept on the rug, but the next night she curled up inside Bill and even when the wheels were on she was very content to curl up or stretch out in her new bed/home. She actually seemed pretty pleased with herself, heck, I would be – this thing is awesome. She loved it so much that one morning I woke up to see she’d given the front flap a bit of extra attention (she chewed it, guys.). Emma had warned me that she was going through a secondary chew phase (…at least I really hope it’s a phase) so I’d brought with me a few of Will’s old toys and an antler chew. Turns out she really likes soft furnishings so I’ll have to buy a few stuffed toys she can busy herself with de-stuffing. I used an anti chew spray on the trailer and we didn’t have a repeat incident but I have to keep an eye on what she decides to amuse herself with – she listens when I say “no” and gave me back the pyjama shorts she nicked off my bed very nicely but she clearly needs some acceptable chew outlets so I don’t turn around to see nothing left of the trailer but some wheels and a satisfied dog. Awesome Doggo points: -1
The first bike + trailer training went well. I borrowed Anthony’s bike (Jeeves is still in the UK) and hooked up the trailer attachment easy peasy (points to Burley Design). It was clear Scout was a little unsure (thanks, distant thunder for not making that easy) but with some encouragement, a seatbelt (harness) and a bit of speed she stopped trying to leap out. I’d quite like to be able to ride with the front flap open for her to get a better air flow but she’s clearly not ready for that kind of self control yet. Maybe once we’ve been on the road a while. ADP: 4

Chilled out Scout

A few days later Emma and I saddled up to cycle to meet the Mayor, who has been very supportive of their work in the town and wider municipality by securing money for neutering and lending his Mayoral seal of approval to the programme. Leaving Street Hearts HQ, however, is not as simple as getting in a car or hopping on a bike. When we’re around, many of the dogs are free range and wander about the place but they need to be in pens and paddocks while unsupervised so when everyone leaves we run around catching puppies and scaredy dogs and finding places to put them. We received a dog the day before who has one of the worst cases of anxiety I have seen. He howled all night and was desperately scared of his new environment and of being without us. Emma and Anthony use expensive tranquilliser paste to aid catching feral dogs and we couldn’t move this new dog without traumatising him so we decided to give him a dose of sleepy juice so he could get some sleep and relax a little. We put it in cat meat because every dog knows that cat meat is delicious and, unbeknownst to me, while Anthony was keeping the other dogs away from the sleepy cat food, Scout followed me into the garden on our way to the van and she zoomed in behind him and gobbled up a small ticket to snoozetown.  Brilliant. It’s hard to say how much she snaffled and it affects different dogs in different ways so I was really hoping she hadn’t dosed herself up to the eyeballs – I wanted to get her running next to the bike at some point….good work, Scout. ADP: -3
It’s hard to tell exactly and maybe it was actually for the best, but she was hella chill on the ride. It took us about 25 minutes and she wasn’t all that interested in standing up when we got there. And her pupils were a little small, and she was walking a little bit sideways and blinking kinda slow….Yeah, ok, she was high as a kite, my dog stole drugs from another dog and she wasn’t even sorry. Do I need an intervention? She slept through till 8am though…it was kind of nice… Can I give her an extra AD point for that?


The meeting with the mayor (Scout safely trying to dopily steal food in the vet’s store room while we did grownup stuff) was extremely positive. I think we’re going to have a really exciting send off from Dryanovo – maybe even with people joining the first few miles on their bikes.


Street Hearts have done wonders for the abandoned and stray dogs here but the next mission is to educate people who have unneutered dogs on their property either as guard dogs or livestock or crop guardians. Twice a year in ‘puppy season’ Street Hearts deal with dumped and abandoned puppies left to die of cold or blood loss from fleas or malnutrition from worms or to be torn apart by jackals. It’s astonishingly irresponsible and callous behaviour but it is very common. By starting with fanfare from the little town where Scout was dumped and then on to the brilliant Veterinarian in Dryanovo where she was neutered, vaccinated against disease and microchipped so I can find her if I lose her, I hope that awareness might spread and attitudes towards dog ownership might begin to shift in a more responsible and caring direction.

I managed one more short excursion with Scout running alongside the bike after she’d slept off her high and she’s certainly less sure of herself outside in the big wide world. She wasn’t quite up for pulling me along, that might come in time. But until she can read the Satnav and take direction, I’m happy to take the lead, literally. It’ll be good for her to get a nice gentle run a couple of times a day before hopping in the trailer for a drink and a snooze. And to walk beside us when I have to push uphill! 2 ADPs for Scout the adventure pooch. I think she’ll be just fine, and when it’s just the two of us, we’ll have plenty of time to work on general good-dog behaviour and help her kick the drug habit. She’s already one hell of a cuddler, and bendy AF….I have to take Jeeves the bike apart to fly him out. I hope I can put him back together ok. I do not recommend practicing on foldy dogs…I definitely put this one together wrong…



Testing Testing

My mother turned 60 this year and she’s having a proper party, the first in her life, so she tells me. And to be honest, I don’t remember her ever having a party – my family never really went in for the birthday hype. But she’s done a lot of things differently over the last few years and now she’s actually having a full-on river punting, picnicking, hors d’ouevring, marqueeing, dining, live musicking, cocktailing birthday party with 40 of her nearest and dearest. Preparations are underway and it’s stressful but clearly going to be a huge success. Well, her creme caramel looked a bit funny and then I dropped something on top of it…sorry, Mum, it’ll still taste great. She wanted me up here a little early to help (she may be regretting that since the creme caramel incident) and I decided to use my journey to test out a few full days of cycling avec the trailer – loaded down with water and a big rug….here’s how that went….


Day 1 
80ish kilometres to Amerden Caravan and Camping Park (actually 90 because I went wrong)

Ten minutes out of the door and I clipped the tire of the trailer taking a corner too quickly on an underpass causing it to tip and take the bike with it. I miraculously unclipped my right foot in time to save myself crashing to the ground underneath it all and learned a valuable lesson about trailer life, very grateful the only dog inside was a fluffy one.
I plotted a slightly more scenic route out of London from Greenwich to avoid the big roads – I’ve been knocked off before, I’m not interested in navigating the traffic with a trailer in tow which makes me wider and slower. I tried as much as possible to stick to routes that have been designated ‘local’ bike paths. Sometimes this meant a quiet residential road (ace), sometimes a small white line on the road separating you from zoomy traffic (meh), and sometimes a lovely tarmacked path frequented by dog walkers or people with push-chairs (aaaaah, lovely! Wait, what? Seriously?!). London cycle paths must be plagued by motorcyclists or something because every few hundred meters at the start and end of these paths (and sometimes in the middle) there are numerous ingenious barriers perfectly built to prevent those of us dragging a two wheeled trailer behind their bike. Sometimes I had to wiggle my way through a zig-zag thing, sometimes I had to unhitch entirely and lift the unwieldy thing over a horizontal thing, or a narrow bollard thing, or through a twisty thing…there were numerous, unhelpful things. Many people, however, were very helpful, (some were conscripted, some volunteered) but after about the fifteenth obstacle I began to be less smiley about it.

I do parkour; railings and bollards are things I can have fun with, but throw a few wheels and a 20kg trailer in the mix and it starts to get you down. Trying to manipulate the trailer around a sharp bend while holding Jeeves up is a tricky business. On one section of the route I had to battle (with a nice lady’s help) through a sharp zig-zag configuration of railings to enter a park, only to cycle 30 meters along the edge to another identical zig-zag to get out again. This time the lady had disappeared and I had to do it alone. Jeeves fell over twice and when I picked him up after the second time he bit me with his big chainring, leaving two chunky teeth marks in my shin. I sympathised with him, but it all got a bit tedious. I also left some very nice people rather confused…I think they expected to see a child. Not a rug and a soft toy…
To cut a long, frustrating journey short, I basically should have just taken the ring road and trimmed off 30km of not very cyclable cycle path through south London.

Gravel: A lot of cycle paths run along canals. And are made of rocks. And are narrow. And are really bumpy, so that the internal monologue goes like this: ‘don’t get a puncture, don’t get a puncture, don’t fall in the river, don’t get a puncture, watch out for that duck’ etc. And your average speed cuts waaaay down. I followed a jogger for about 3km before I could catch up with her because the path finally smoothed out.

I got lost: I am not a good navigator. My brother is amazing at this, his internal compass could tell him which way was North after walking around an IKEA for an hour. I barely manage to work out where the car is parked. It’s a running joke in my family – the word ‘Bridgend’ is synonymous with Kate not really knowing where she is. That said, I’ve worked pretty hard at understanding maps and plotting routes etc. because I know I’m not naturally gifted in this area and sometimes there are not good signs and sometimes your satnav gets confused and sometimes it even dies because you’ve taken four hours longer than you were supposed to because of goddamn barriers and gravel.

Grit: Now, grit is different from gravel. Gravel can go do one. But grit keeps me going. I’m pretty gritty, and stubborn, and good at seeing the positives. Barrier number forty-something was one I could barely squeeze my bike through and there was no way I could get the trailer through it. It was 4.30pm and I’d seen one other person cycling the canal path in 30 mins. Luckily, just as I stood staring at the mind bogglingly cruel blockage a young man approached from the other direction. ‘Need some help?’ ‘Yes, please.’ I unhitched and he lifted from one side and I took it from the other. If we need to do this on the trip, at least Scout can hop out, with all the stuff inside it was about 10 kilos heavier than it needed to be which did not aid in lifting and twisting. ‘Wow! I’m so lucky you came along, thank you!’ I said to him. And that’s what my brain told me as I began the fiddly business of hitching up again. ‘Wow, I’m really lucky.’ Clever brain; telling me what I need to hear to keep me going. And then the stairs. The stairs that I had to grit my teeth and heave Jeeves up, slipping on gravel and dust, and then do the same with the trailer in the baking heat, which was so energy sapping I had to rest to return my heart rate to normal. ‘Hey, strength training too! That was an added bonus.’ That’ll do, brain, that’ll do.

And so, with dead satnav and only dear old google maps to guide me I wiggled my way to the campsite a full three hours later than I expected. It was blissfully quiet and calm and had an amazing shower block. Immediately I clocked a fellow bike tourer who asked expectantly ‘Dutch?’ ‘English!’ I replied almost apologetically (my primary language, if not my nationality). The Brits don’t have quite as strong a bike-touring culture as the Dutch so I imagine you’ll be right more times than you’ll be wrong if you assume a person on a bike with lots of bags is a Nederlander. Either that or my Danish ancestry has given me a Hollandic appearance…I’m 5’4….I’m not sure it’s that.

Edwin and I made that immediate connection that I think will be common on tour, jumping straight into conversations about routes and gear – he was on a 30 day tour and following a London – Land’s End route – and then, pretty quickly, more about our lives and careers. I envied his full, matching, Ortlieb panniers and handlebar bag set up, something that I have not yet managed to commit to purchasing and we discussed routes through Europe and the fact that I won’t have to worry about insurmountable barriers across cycle lanes anywhere else – solely an invention of the Brits. Phew.
He was up and gone before I clambered out of my tent – disciplined and on the road by 7am. Something I didn’t decide to push myself into just yet, although I think I might have to think about 5am starts to avoid the worst of the heat in Eastern Europe…cross that bridge when I come to it and all that. Maybe we’ll meet again in Holland…

Day 2
80ish kilometres to Witney

It was another hot day and I deliberately avoided the canal paths Google wanted to send me on but for a good 20-30km I had to ride on 60mph single carriage ways which had either no possible path or one that was rutted and overgrown. A constant choice between puncture or close zoomy car scares. The Phoenix trail is lovely, I urge you to wander it by foot, horse or trailered bike – all are welcome here. For the most part it was simply a question of keeping on going. It was hot, my half hour lunch break turned into an hour after I got lost getting back onto the cycle path afterwards, and the A40 cycle path is barren and zoomy and boring but it was simple cycling…I just kept going. 80km was done and dusted and I was surprisingly physically fine. Barely any soreness the following day, and food and sleep recovered me well. Showers are also remarkable at making you feel human again. Top tip.

So, safely at my Mum’s I’ve been putting up tents and cooking and cleaning and turning her garden into a Moroccan Palace for her epic 60th birthday party. For someone who hasn’t ever had a party before, she’s certainly not pulling any punches. Go big or go home, I guess. As Edwin said to me at the campsite when I revealed my plans and my lack of experience, ‘Why start small?’. Why indeed. Two days was nothing. Bring on 5 weeks. Jeeves, Trailer and I are so, so ready.