By Kristen Quadrone
My route is planned and I’ve got all my gear packed, but I run through the list just to be sure.
“Tent, poles, and stakes: check.
Sleeping bag and pad: check.
Water, snacks –” A small presence in the room interrupts my thought. I know that sound all too well, but I try not to give in.
“Ahem. Cookware, snacks, dinners –” the soft, drawn out whine returns.
“Ahem. Dinners: check.”
I throw my bike in the stand for a once-over. Turning the cranks, shifting down the cassette — from behind I can feel her stare. But I continue. I grab hold of one pair of spokes with each hand, and make my way around the wheel, but the weight of the guilt is becoming heavier with each faint whine that hits my ears. Then, it becomes too much to bear. Behind me, I hear the smallest sigh filled with disappointment and neglect. I turn around to see the sad little face of my dog, Emma Bean, as she shifts her weight into a deep side-sit, as if to ask “Forgetting something?”. Maybe it was all the packing of gear without hyping her up. Maybe it was the lack of “You wanna ride bikes?” and “Where we goin’, Em?”. Either way, she knows. I’m going on an adventure, and she isn’t coming.
This is how my bikepacking prep used to go. Emma would watch me pack all of the familiar camping gear, just sitting by as I tune up my bike, and she always caught on pretty quickly that she wouldn’t be joining me. The excitement of a bike trip contested by a breaking heart from leaving her behind became a familiar struggle. There had to be a way I could include her in on the fun. How could I combine my two favorite things – my dog and bikepacking?
I started by modifying and condensing my bikepacking trips. I would drive out to a forest road, park my car and pedal out as far as I felt comfortable having Emma run alongside me. Usually we could make it about 10-12 miles, me trying my best to keep Emma at a slow, easy trot pace to save enough of her energy to run back tomorrow.
And don’t get me wrong, this was a great way to adventure with my dog! It worked for a while, but I wanted us to go further. Faster. I wanted to explore new areas.
On one of our sub-24-hour adventures, we had seemingly taken it too fast and far the day before. On our return trip, we still had about 4 miles of dirt road left until we got back to the car, and Emma was dog tired. Not wanting to push her over the edge, I was curious if I could find a way to help transport her the rest of the way. With a couple of gear straps, I unfolded my foam sleeping pad over my rear rack and panniers, and secured it (mostly) flat. Balancing the bike and trying not to get into a toppling-loaded-bike situation, I picked Emma up and sat her on the platform I had created on the rear rack. I started by walking my bike gently down the dirt road, watching Emma the whole time to see if she’d stay put up there.
I was already excited about the adventures we were able to tackle together, but when she allowed me to hop back on the bike, and coast slowly down the dirt road while she sat confidently over my rear wheel, I knew that she would be up for even greater adventures.
From there, I tried out many configurations. I tried a single-side arm, two-wheeled trailer. We made this work for a few weeks, but Emma didn’t like being enclosed, plus it was difficult for her to load up on her own. It also didn’t perform great on dirt roads, sometimes tipping sideways on rougher bumps, and didn’t seem to want to track straight without more weight in it. Next idea.
Imagining a simpler, more streamlined system, we even tried a large milk crate secured to my rear rack with industrial zip ties. We both instantly knew this wasn’t our solution, but we were getting closer.
I was working at a local bike shop and my coworker mentioned he was considering getting rid of his Bob trailer, and I jumped on the opportunity. I dedicated a few days for Emma to get comfortable in it while it just sat in my living room. Luckily she’s very food motivated, so she learned quickly that getting into the trailer was a good thing (read: lots of treats). The final piece of the puzzle was my Robert Axle thru axle to get it connected to my bike, and before I knew it we were taking short laps around the block. With her chin in the air, her snoot sniffing all the neighborhood smells, my mind dreamt of all the amazing places we could go together.
I feel very lucky that Emma took so well to the trailer. I get asked often how I trained her to use the trailer and while it was a process, I am truly grateful to have simply been paired with such a smart, capable, intelligent pup. While I made sure to take small steps to get her used to it, starting with those small neighborhood rides on quiet roads, having commands for getting into and out of the trailer were also key. I also made sure to take my time finding the right balance between allowing her to run to get her excitement out, and putting her in the trailer so we can pick up the pace, cover miles, and get her some rest.
We started commuting to work together every day. I would ride to work on a mix of trails, bike paths and bike lanes. She’d run alongside the first mile or so to get her willies out, and then just before we turned onto the main road, I’d pull off onto the shoulder and say “trailer up!”. She’d gladly hop in and take a seat, knowing that if she rested for this section, she’d have more energy to run the dirt section. So when we got to the trail portion of our commute, I’d slow down to an almost-stop, and say “okay!”, and before her feet even hit the ground she was in a full sprint.
A great thing about our dogs is that they’re always ready to go play. You don’t even need to finish your question of “Do you wanna…” and their excitement answers an immediate “Yes!”. Emma is always excited to get outside, and now with a solid way to play together, we just couldn’t stop adventuring.
Every so often I’ll pack up the bike in the morning, pedal to work, and afterwards ride straight out into the forest for an overnighter. These are our favorite types of adventures. My legs may be tired rolling into work the next morning, but I never feel as refreshed, as energized as I do after a night at the quiet camp we made, far enough away from the dirt road we rode in on to feel as though we were the only ones in the woods. Walking to our desk in the morning, smelling the campfire on my jacket as I pack it away, and picking a few pine needles out of Emma’s fur, it felt like that adventure was a secret that only Emma and I had, and we kept it just for ourselves. After work, we’d roll right back out to the trails and find a new spot to call home that night. It’s a great way to keep myself from simply dreaming of the weekends. Sometimes though, you just need to run home for a night to restock on snacks and pack more work clothes.
Being able to pedal confidently, knowing that Emma is comfortable, safe, and capable of tackling long miles with me is an incredibly freeing feeling. I’m grateful to have found a great setup that works for both of us, and maybe it can be a great starting point for others too. Here is where we’ve landed with our dogpacking setup.
I ride a Trek 920 for commuting and bikepacking, so this is the bike that is almost always towing. With my Robert Axle thru axle, I’m able to tow Emma’s Bob Ibex trailer. We went with their suspension model because we ride so much on dirt and gravel roads, and there have been so many times I’ve audibly thanked the trailer’s suspension. (While it’s necessary to note that Bob trailers are not designed to haul animals, it’s even more important to note that Emma is more of a person than a dog anyway.) Inside the trailer, I use an old Therm-a-Rest Z Lite sleeping pad that I’ve folded in half and cut to fit the base of the trailer. This gives Emma a comfortable place to sit, and helps with any bumps along the way. When traveling light, everything needs to have more than one use, so I can also pull the pad out, unfold it and use it as a seat at camp or when we take breaks. The pad also tucks neatly into the corners of the custom trailer liner that I was lucky enough to have my coworker help me fabricate. It’s waterproof, straps all the way around the top rail of the trailer, and has a cinchable front pocket where I stash Emma’s leash, pickup bags, snacks, and even sometimes my camp shoes.
So now when we get ready to head out on a bikepacking trip, our packing process is always nothing but excitement for the both of us. She might not help much with the gear prep, but she keeps me company and always reminds me to pack extra snacks. We may go a little slower than if I were riding alone, and there’s no question that it’s harder work towing the trailer, Emma and her food, water and gear. But going farther, together sounds a lot better to me than going on any adventure without her. Here’s to the incredible adventures we share with our four-legged friends. “Trailer up!”
Prologue from The Robert Axle Project: We hope you loved this story about Kristen and Emma as much as we did and are excited to bring your pup out on the trail. We wanted to note that BOB has discontinued their bike trailers. There are still some BOB trailers out there if you go looking and there are also some great alternatives.