Puppy Dog Route – Sorta
Over the three-day weekend, Masukomi and I did the Puppy Dog Route. Or at least, that was our plan. The Puppy Dog Route is an all-dirt route from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts state border. We did the Trans-Mass Trail about 6 weeks ago, which connects from the end of the PDR to Connecticut. After having done both of these routes, we would have done dirt from Canada to Connecticut. It was supposed to be much-needed practice for easing me into dirt – the types of roads we’ll encounter on our trip. It was also supposed to help us sort out kit, what we still need, how our routine will work, etc. It was going to be a cold weekend, so we could try cold-weather camping and get a real idea for how we’ll handle conditions on the road.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out the way we’d planned.
Puppy Dog Route Day 1 – Boston to Troy, VT – 237 Miles
We planned to do the PDR over a three-day weekend. The route itself is a two-day route, but we’d need an extra day to get to/from the Canadian border where the trail begins/terminates, depending on which direction you go. I had a bit of work I needed to finish up on the day we headed out, plus we hadn’t had time to pack ahead of time, so we knew we were going to get out late that day. It made the most sense to hit the slab hard to get up to the Canadian border and camp at the start of the trail, and do the PDR north to south. Theoretically, Google Maps said the route should take around 3 hours 45 minutes. We got out of the house right at 12:00PM, and figured we had plenty of time to get to the campground and get the tent up before the sun set at 6:20PM.
What we failed to consider was Columbus Day Weekend traffic in New England. This is really the last big hurrah three-day weekend – by the next three-day weekend in November (Veteran’s Day) temperatures will have dropped and it won’t be good outdoor weather anymore unless you’re into winter sports. It was also close to peak foliage, and foliage in New England is a big deal. Long story short, it took us over three hours just to get to Franconia, New Hampshire on the slab – almost an hour longer than it should have.
Did I mention that it was also the worst wind I’ve ever ridden in? The wind was GUSTY. Steady winds weren’t a big deal, but there were heavy gusts that were blowing us all over the road. Combine that with the regular wind speed of being on the interstate, and it was an exhausting, heavy slog. Also? The ambient temperature kept dropping. By the time we got to Franconia, I wanted thermals in my motorcycle clothes. Unfortunately, my Rev’It! Sand Pants are quite tight, and I don’t have enough space in the pants for the thermal liner – just for the Hydratex waterproof/wind liner. I did put the thermal liner in my Rev’It! Sand jacket (which fits fine, albeit snugly, although it’s a size smaller than the pants), put the Respro Foggy in my helmet and made my Buff into a balaclava to give me some extra warmth on my head and chin. It was also time to bust out the heated grips.
Still, the clothes were inadequate for those temperatures on the highway (low 40s, in summer-weight gloves with no heated gear and no thermal liner in the pants). Based on the info I could find about calculating wind chill on a motorcycle, that put the effective temperature around 24 degrees. It was time for a break and some food. We asked a guy at a gas station in Franconia what restaurant he’d recommend, and he sent us down the interstate a few miles to an exit that had an Applebees and a Shaw’s grocery store. Since we’d also wanted to pick up some food to cook at the campsite that night, it was the perfect place to stop.
We sat in a warm restaurant and had warm food and warm drinks. It really helped to get my core body temperature up again. We also got some soup and hot cocoa from Shaw’s to cook at the campsite, as well as some eggs and oatmeal to make in the morning, and hit the road again. Unfortunately, at this point it was 5:17PM, which meant we had just over an hour to make it to our campground before sunset – and the GPS estimated that our campground was around 1:15 away.
In the end, we were on the road headed toward our campsite during sunset. The sunset itself was beautiful. The mountains formed a lovely backdrop to the oranges and reds that just kept getting more and more dramatic as we rode onward. Here are a few videos I took with my new ContourHD. Unfortunately, the camera over-exposed and you can’t really see all of the beautiful colors of the sunset, but it’ll give you an idea:
We arrived at Barrewood Campground right as the sunset was wrapping up. The office door was open but the guy who runs the campground wasn’t there, so we just grabbed a spot that looked like it would be somewhat sheltered from the wind and started setting up the tent, trying to beat the dark. Luckily, the REI Quarter Dome T3 tent is a cinch to set up, and it only took us a few minutes to get the tent up and offload the stuff from our panniers that was going into the tent. Masukomi worked on getting the stuff laid out in our tent, while I started the stove and started boiling water for our soup. By the time the water was ready, Masukomi had the tent all laid out and I went to change out of my motorcycle clothes while she tended the noodles. Then we sipped our soup in the tent and offloaded our video from the day before settling in for a cold night.
Camping was cold. Temperatures got down into the high 20s. We were in the REI Quarter Dome T3 tent, and I had an REI Siesta +30/+40 Sleeping Bag, which is rated for either 30 or 40 degrees, depending on which side is facing up. We’ve also each got the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Mummy Bag Liner, which is rated to add up to 25 degrees to a sleeping bag. I started the night wearing my thermal liners from my motorcycle gear, my calf-high motorcycle socks, my Cyclone Buff as a balaclava, and an Eastern Mountain Sports Power Stretch Skull Cap. I was really cold when I went to bed, but I attribute this partially to still getting over a cold. Sometime during the night, I was overheating in all my gear, even though it was only high 20’s outside the tent, so I took off the thermal liner pants. Stayed warm and snug through the rest of the night, even in the extreme cold.
Puppy Dog Route Day 2 – Troy, VT to Williamstown, VT – 161 Miles
Day 2 started well. We woke up around 7:30, and had everything out of the tent and into the panniers on the bikes by 9AM. Unfortunately, we’d thought the night before that we would cook oatmeal and eggs in the morning, so we left the stove out and we needed to clean the dishes. When we woke up, we changed our minds – we decided we’d spent a night in the cold so breakfast in a warm building would be good for our bodies. Unfortunately, this meant we still had to put away the stove and clean the dishes. We ended up somehow putzing around for another hour, meaning we didn’t get out of the campground until close to 10AM.
We headed down the road to the start of the PDR, which happened to be right around the corner from our campground. The Puppy Dog Route started in the parking lot of the Junction 101 Restaurant, and we decided that would be a good spot for breakfast. Turned out to be perfect. Simple, tasty fare well-executed. The home fries were crispy and simple; the bacon was cooked just like bacon should be; it was a warm meal that provided us with the energy we’d need for a long day of dirt.
After breakfast, adjusting our liners in our gear and otherwise prepping for the road, as well as gassing up a bit further down the road, it ended up being around 11:15AM before we really started the Puppy Dog Route. This delay ended up causing us problems later in the day.
Almost immediately when we hit dirt, we started seeing beautiful scenery. Here at the very northern tip of the Puppy Dog Route, foliage was slightly past peak, but the colors were still gorgeous and vibrant. We pretty quickly ran into a pretty spot with river, some interesting rocks and changing foliage, and stopped to take pictures. This set the scene for the rest of the day.
I was also excited to be taking video on my new ContourHD camera. Due to my month-long enforced hiatus from the bikes, I hadn’t had an opportunity to mount and test the new video camera before the trip. As we discovered from the video I took on Day 1, the camera was pointed slightly too far down and slightly tilted. I moved it up and tried to adjust the angle, but unfortunately I adjusted the angle the wrong direction.
But the foliage was just so beautiful and I couldn’t get enough of the colors.
We discovered pretty quickly that the GPS waypoints were going to be challenging to follow. Masukomi had the waypoints on her GPS, and I had printed the route sheets that the BMW Motorcycle Owners of Vermont folks had put together for the Puppy Dog Route. We never did figure out if it was the way the GPS waypoints were entered, or the way we imported them into our GPS, but Masukomi had a hard time telling where we were supposed to turn. We figured out pretty quickly that the route sheets were better about telling us where to turn, and the GPS could help us look ahead to find the roads. Between the two of us, we were able to navigate, but there was a fair amount of missing our turns and having to backtrack, and we had to rely far more heavily than I’d anticipated on following the route sheets. We definitely lost time with all of the turning around and backtracking.
The road itself was relatively not-challenging. The dirt was mostly hard-packed, with bits of gravel but not too much to worry about. We encountered one single-track ATV-style trail that was a bit more fun, but for the most part, the roads may as well have been paved. Frankly, the only thing that kept it from being too boring, in my mind, was the beautiful foliage we kept encountering.
Shortly after commenting on the relative ease of this road (and, unfortunately, only around 12:30PM – around an hour and a half into riding the PDR) I ran into a problem. The day before, I’d stuck my EZPass to my motorcycle windshield so I could stop pulling it out of my tank bag every time we got to a toll booth. Masukomi had hers on her windshield for months, and so I never thought it would be a problem. Apparently I was naive.
We were on a road much like the one above, going downhill, when my EZPass dropped off my windscreen and bounced over my dash into my forks. I immediately said over the intercom “Shit! We need to stop, now.” Unfortunately, we were going downhill on a curve around a one-lane bridge. But I knew I needed to get stopped ASAP to get the thing out of my forks, or face who knew what kinda problem – from losing it to having a serious mechanical issue because the thing was stuck in my forks. I tried to pull off to the left side of the road, where I wouldn’t be in the line of traffic coming down the hill and people going around the curve over the one-lane bridge could see me.
Alas, I have problems with my footing and my bike on hills – I put my right foot down to steady the bike and slipped on some loose gravel, and the bike went down on the right. It was one of those slow-motion things – it reached a certain point of critical mass where I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop the bike from going over, and it sort of threw me clear on the right. Unfortunately, I landed on my hands and knees, and landed particularly hard on my right hand. The bottom outside palm of the hand took the brunt of the landing. It HURT. I jumped up and hit the kill switch on the bike, and Masukomi was already on the way back to help me pick the bike up. We got it upright – no damage to the bike, as usual. Just some dirt on the Barkbusters and my pannier. The damage was to me, in this case.
My hand was already having problems, and I could tell it was only going to get worse, so I busted out the Ibuprofin and took 800MG – prescription strength. Then we got back on the bikes and I insisted on going ahead, even though my hand was killing me and I had to really fight hard not to whimper every time I had to brake, push on the bars or even use the throttle. I knew that if Masukomi heard me whimpering through the headset, she’d make me stop and rest it, and we were already behind schedule. We were going to have to push hard to make it to the campground before dark.
After that, I was pretty much out of commission for a while. I was quiet, trying not to let on how much my hand was bothering me. I’d mention every once in a while that it hurt, and Masukomi kept asking me if I wanted to rest it, but I knew we were crunched for time so I said I’d let her know if it got worse. I didn’t really try to take any more pictures for a while – I just followed along, watching the trip sheet for our turns and thinking about where to stop for gas and a bathroom break where I could rest my hand.
Unfortunately, sometime during this point, Masukomi’s microphone stopped working. We’d had the same problem with my microphone unit roughly a month before. The microphone was emitting static, but her voice got quieter and quieter, and eventually I couldn’t hear her anymore at all. She could still hear me, and the GPS would cut in with directions when needed, but she couldn’t talk to me. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve come to rely on being able to talk to her until she couldn’t talk back, and then I was extremely frustrated and felt quite alone on the bike. It got very solitary after that.
At close to 90 miles, we were on a state highway for a short jaunt and we missed a turn. We ended up following the state highway into the next town a mile or two down the road, which happened to be Stow, Vermont. We arrived in Stow around 2:30PM, and the traffic was horrendous. We’d been on the road for a little over three hours, and I wanted a restroom break. We stopped at a gas station to gas up the bikes, go to the restroom and regroup over our remaining route.
I was concerned at this point that it was 3pm and we still had 90 miles to go. We’d only come 90 miles in the past 4 hours, and another 4 hours would put us at 7PM – after dark. We also hadn’t had lunch yet, so we knew we’d have to eat. Masukomi noticed that the gas station had a little shop inside that made custom sandwiches to order, so we grabbed some sandwiches and took a break for lunch while we examined our route and discussed our options.
With a little help from my iPhone and Google Maps, we discovered that while we still had 90 miles of dirt to cover, the end of our route was actually only 60 miles away. And the campground where we were planning to stay was only 30 miles away. If we followed the PDR dirt route, it would be around 50 miles to get to our campground. We decided we’d follow the PDR until it crossed the road that would link up to our campground, and then break away from the route and head directly to the campground. By this time it was close to 4PM, but we figured that would give us plenty of time to get to the campground.
Got back on the PDR, and it was more pretty like the morning section had been. The Ibuprofin was helping my hand a bit, although it was still bothering me. The road itself was more of the same. We’d have a nice section through the woods, and then it would break out into a beautiful view like this one:
While we’d stopped, some clouds had moved in off to the east. So while it looked like the beautiful, sunlit scene above to the west, the east was a bit more dramatic:
Still, it was beautiful and I found myself enjoying the route in spite of my pain. It was still frustrating that I couldn’t hear Masukomi, but the weather was beautiful, the foliage was beautiful, and it was so good to be back on a bike after my month of enforced hiatus. We followed the route and encountered more pretty, until we hit the road that would lead us to our campground. We headed that way, and arrived at our campground at around 6PM – with plenty of light to set up the tent and get situated for the night.
There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between the campground of the night before and the one from Day 2. The guy who ran Barrewood Campground was really friendly, and the campground itself was small but well-maintained. We were limited on our options for Day 2 – because it was so late in the season, most of the state campgrounds were closed. There is a campground near the mid-point of the route, but it was closed so we were forced to look further afield for a private campground that was still open. We ended up at Limehurst Lake Campground, and immediately got off on a bad footing.
I took off my helmet and ear plugs to deal with the check-in process, as I was our elected spokesperson for this night of camping. Masukomi followed along, but didn’t take off her helmet or earplugs – she was just there to think of any questions I might forget, etc. I spoke with the woman about registering, and I got a very busybody, negative sort of vibe from her. She asked immediately if we’d be going back out again, as the “gate” would close at 7PM and we’d be locked in unless we paid an extra $20 for a gate key. Sometime during this process, Masukomi asked a question and the woman seemed flabbergasted. She said something like “Why don’t you take that thing off so I can see your face?” as if it offended her that Masukomi hadn’t removed the helmet. Masukomi explained that she’d just have to put it back on again, and I tried to jump in again to distract the woman. It just wasn’t a good vibe.
She told us that the restrooms in the tenting section of the campground had been turned off for the season, and the tables had been taken off all the sites except the first two – 1 and 6. If we wanted to use a restroom, we’d have to walk around the lake back to the RV section of camp to the bathhouses. She tried to recommend that we stay in the RV portion of camp, but we like the primitive-style camping, so we declined. Then she told us not to walk in the woods, as it was bear season, and moose season, and partridge season, and it was very dangerous.
We rode our bikes over to the tenting section, on the other side of the lake, and started to unpack. We chose the site away from the lake, as the trees went right up to the edge of the site and it seemed a bit more sheltered from the wind. We theorized that the temperatures would be a bit warmer away from the exposed lake. We laid out the tent, and sometime during this process, I absolutely crashed. I didn’t literally crash the bike – I just crashed mentally and physically. I was exhausted and cold, and my right hand was really bothering me again. I couldn’t do any of the camp tasks that required me to twist my right hand or put any weight on my hand. I had no energy, and Masukomi quickly recognized the symptoms and sent me into the tent to lie down. She finished unpacking and setting up the site, and she even walked over to the store where we’d checked in to see if they had any food more substantial than the eggs and oatmeal we had, since we were going to be locked into the campground.
The trip to the convenience store turned up nothing but a text from our dogsitter. It turns out, she’d texted us around noon saying that my dog was being too much of a problem and she wanted us to cut our trip short and come home and get him. We didn’t get the text until close to 7PM, and we already had the tent set up. The gate would be locked at 7, and there was no way we could get re-packed and out the gate before it closed. Plus I was exhausted and crashy, and Masukomi wouldn’t consider the idea of me riding home 4 hours in the dark. She didn’t think I’d be safe. We decided we’d have to get up at first light to pack and get home so we could pick up the dogs, and the dogsitter would just have to deal until then.
Thus ended Day 2. We were going to have to completely skip the second day of the Puppy Dog Route, and ride home on slab to pick up the dogs. The second day would have been in the southern half of the state, where the foliage was still peak. We were expecting a gorgeous, fun day on dirt. Instead, we were going to have to get up early and hit the slab.
I didn’t sleep well. My wrist was bothering me, and I couldn’t seem to get cold. I think I was partially dehydrated because I hadn’t drunk enough water during the day, and partially in need of calories. I kept waking up. At one point, I heard noises shortly after I woke up, and they started getting closer and closer. I ran through the possible animals that could be causing the noises, and the only thing I could come up with was possibly a moose. I’d never heard or seen a moose before, but it sounded like a very loud, deeper sorta mutant-cow-lowing. It started far off and to our right, and got closer and closer. At one point, it was directly parallel to our tent – essentially our tent was between it and the lake. Then it started getting further off to our left, until eventually I could barely hear it.
I must have laid awake listening to the sound for close to an hour before Masukomi woke up. I explained what I’d heard, and she was annoyed that I didn’t wake her – partially because I confessed that I’d been laying there petrified, and partially because she’d never heard a moose before, either, and felt like she’d missed out on the moose chanting. We ventured out of the tent for a call of nature, and thankfully I couldn’t see or hear anything while we were standing in the dark.
I explained that at one point, I’d heard movement in the brush, twigs snapping, etc. close to our tent, like the time we heard the bear on our Trans-Mass Trail trip. It kept going through my head that the woman at the office said it was bear season, and very dangerous, and that’s all I could think about. Laying there in the dark, listening to those noises, my heart was pounding and I was torn between lying quietly in the tent and hoping whatever-it-was wouldn’t notice us, or hopping on the bike and driving around the lake to the more populated RV section. Then I heard the probably-moose-sound from near the head of the lake, and immediately nixed the idea of riding the bikes around, as we’d have to pass the moose. So I laid there quietly for well over an hour, until the noises finally got too far away to hear and my exhausted body dropped back into sleep.
Puppy Dog Route Day 3 – Williamstown, VT to Boston, MA – 177 Miles
Masukomi’s normal weekday alarm woke us up at 7:15AM, which it turns out was only 15 minutes after sunrise. We crawled out of the tent to start packing up the bikes, and were greeted with a beautiful, eerie scene. The lake was steaming like a cauldron of boiling water. I didn’t think my camera was up to it, but I tried snapping a few shots.
We started packing up the bikes so we could hit the slab home to pick up the dogs. I wasn’t moving particularly fast, because my right hand was still bothering me and I was also upset about having to skip the second day of the PDR and cut our trip short. Ironically, this was the fastest we ever managed to break camp – we started getting ready around 7:30 and were on the road by 9AM. I wasn’t moving particularly fast, and I don’t think Masukomi was, either, which gave me hope that maybe we’d get this camping routine down faster once we’ve done it a bit more.
We hit the slab and started riding toward home. At around 9:30, we passed a random exit and Masukomi indicated that we should get off there, as we hadn’t done breakfast yet. We ended up stopping at Eaton’s Sugarhouse, which was the first random restaurant we found at the exit. Turns out that this was another random breakfast stop that we found to be quite tasty. The food wasn’t quite as well executed as the meal we’d had the day before at Junction 101 Restaurant, but I got sausage and biscuits and gravy, which I hadn’t had in years, and it was quite tasty. Reminded me of my grandma’s gravy, which is very hard to do. This warm, nostalgic meal (and the coffee, probably) put me in a good mood, and I couldn’t be angry even though we were cutting the trip a day short to come home and pick up the dogs.
We gassed up and got back on the slab shortly after 11AM. From there, it was I-89 down to I-93 into Boston. It was a long slog on slab, which neither of us particularly likes, and I was frustrated that Masukomi couldn’t talk to me. We kept running into traffic, which I assume was people coming home from Columbus Day Weekend – had us slowed/stopped a few times on the interstate. Still, we made fairly good time, and we got home around 1:30PM.
What We Took Away from the Weekend
In the end, the weekend was informative but disappointing. I’m concerned about using the Sena SMH-10 headsets on the big trip, as now both my microphone and Masukomi’s microphone have failed. Maybe we got a bad batch, but it’s not a good sign. Now we’ve got to turn her microphone in to the warranty folks for replacement, but luckily I’ve still got the replacement for my old mic to use as a backup (since I also bought a new microphone assembly).
We know we can camp in temperatures probably as bad as anything we’ll encounter on the road. I think I probably want an electric liner jacket for riding in really cold temperatures, as I was getting borderline hypothermic on the bike on the first day on the slab. I also need to hit the gym hard in the next 6 weeks so I can loose enough weight to wear the thermal liner under my pants, too.
We think we probably have enough room in our panniers for everything, as we carried everything we’ll be bringing on the big trip except spare parts. (We’re only planning to bring tubes, a chain and sprockets, though, and we had spare room in our panniers, so we think we’ll have room for parts.)
We’ve determined that our plan for dogsitting has fallen through. The dogsitter who had the dogs over the weekend doesn’t really “get” dogs. She’s friendly enough, but my dog is a ‘special needs’ dog – he was a rescue who may have been abused, and has bonded to me very exclusively. I’ve only left him alone a few times – twice in his own home with people who have visited/walked him or stayed with him, and once in someone else’s home. He did have some accidents when he stayed with a different dogsitter once before, but she really “got” dogs and knew how to react. After a couple of days, he was fine with her.
This dogsitter, who we were planning to use for the 4 months we’ll be gone on the big trip, doesn’t “get” dogs the way the old one did. She got frustrated when my dog had accidents, and apparently crated him to confine the damage. When I picked him up, he was covered in his own pee, and he had unexplained scrapes on his nose. I think this dogsitter would be fine with Masukomi’s dog, who is friendly and gets along with practically everyone (and who knows the dogsitter very well), but my nervous dog who didn’t know anyone in the household was just not a good match for her. This leads to some potential long-term difficulties. Now I have to figure out a new plan for my dog, and I only have 6 weeks to do it.
It was frustrating that the trip got cut short, but I did enjoy the day of riding we were able to do. We’re hoping to maybe take a weekend and do the southern leg of the route in the next week or two, so at least we will have completed the Puppy Dog Route. We’ll need to make some minor gear changes before the trip (gloves, heated jacket liner, thermal layer, etc.) but it was a good test of our gear in the cold, and our camping routine. I think, on the whole, it was a productive trip and we had some good riding.