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Portland couple quits jobs to cycle the world with their dog

Posted by on March 8th, 2016 at 11:25 am

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A “family portrait” of Jen Sotolongo, Dave Hoch and their pooch Sora.
(Photos: Jen Sotolongo and Dave Hoch)

Plenty of folks quit their jobs in exchange for adventure, but not quite in the way as Dave Hoch and Jen Sotolongo of Southeast Portland. Since May 2015, Dave and Jen have been cycle touring the world with a unique companion — their 11-year-old Australian Shepherd, Sora. Together, they call themselves the Long Haul Trekkers.

“Cycle touring is by far the most difficult occupation we’ve ever had. You’re at the mercy of the elements, you’re constantly exhausted, and you have to ask for a lot of help from strangers. You also develop wonderful relationships, receive the best education you’ll ever have, and get to eat anything you want.”

After he was unable to gain traction with the Cog Space, a co-work space start-up for Portland bicycle businesses, Dave found himself stuck in the same Corporate America job where he had been for the past eight years. When his exit strategy didn’t go as planned, he threw out the idea of a long term cycle tour to Jen.

“I needed to untether myself from the system and see the world,” Dave said. “Life is too short to sit behind a desk all day long. We spend our whole lives working just to retire, when the reality is that retirement may not come. I had a college friend who died from a heart attack at 33 last year. What is a life worth living if you don’t live it when you have the chance?”

At first, Jen wasn’t so sure about uprooting their lives. She has just gotten a new job in tourism, promoting cycling, outdoor recreation and the history of Clackamas County. It was a great job and she finally felt settled after a year of looking for work post grad school.

As she thought about it more, however, it didn’t take long before she agreed that a travel adventure on a bike sounded much better than life inside at a desk.

Once Jen and Dave committed to touring, they began saving as much money they could over the next year and planning for their adventure. Jen had a friend construct her a custom frame while Dave upgraded from a Surly Cross Check to a Long Haul Trucker Disc.

Working with Clinton Garner of A Better Cycle, their neighborhood bike shop, Dave procured the appropriate gear and essentials for a long term world cycle tour. Additionally, Dave began volunteering with Bikes for Humanity in exchange for a nine-week course in bicycle maintenance. The volunteer experience coupled with the maintenance course prepared him for any number of mishaps they might encounter on the road.

From May to December of 2015, they traveled over 4,200 miles by bicycle from Oslo, Norway to Athens, Greece, by way of Turkey and the Balkans, covering 16 European countries. In January, they set off from Ushuaia, Argentina in Patagonia where they plan to spend the next year or so making their way back to Portland.

Leaving Sora behind was never an option. She travels with the couple at home and they were determined to figure out a way to bring her on this trip. It means regular vet visits to obtain paperwork to meet entry requirements for various countries (11 visits and counting by the time of this publication), purchasing a one-time use kennel to fly Sora from Athens to Buenos Aires, and carrying an additional 70lbs of gear and dog food including her and her Burley Design Tail Wagon. To them, however, the joy she brings to the adventure far outweighs the headaches of having her along.

“Sora is part of the family. She’s like our child,” Dave commented. “When I adopted her, I committed to at least 15 years of love and care. She was a project dog when I got her and the project isn’t over.”

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Bike path sidewalk in Oslo.
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Ptuj, Slovenia.
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Istra, Croatia.
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A picnic in Turkey.

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Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria.
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Elbe River, Germany.

The couple chose to begin their tour in Europe as a way of easing into life on the road, especially with a dog. Knowing that Europe has some of the best cycling infrastructure and bike shares programs in the world, Dave and Jen also wanted to take the opportunity to study what the best infrastructure looks like and bring some ideas back home to Portland.

They quickly found that while Portland ranks among the top cycling cities in the United States and Oregon is a popular destination for cycle touring, the city and state overall still lag behind what they found in Europe, including countries with smaller economies like Slovenia and Czech Republic.

“We were shocked to enter the small town of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia and find bike paths incorporated into the sidewalks,” said Jen. “We also found them in Rethymno, Greece on Crete and in Bodrum, Turkey. Granted, cars still used the lanes as parking spaces because they’ll park anywhere they want, but the point is, the city made an effort to put it there.”

From inter-country bike paths like the Copenhagen-Berlin, Alpe Adria traversing the Alps from Austria to Italy or the Euro Velo network of multi-country routes, to Germany’s 11,700 kilometers of cycling paths, and routes so well-labeled that maps are unnecessary, Europe shows what can happen to its residents, tourism, and economies when cycling takes priority.

“Everyone felt comfortable on the bike paths in many parts of Europe. Families toured with young children and groups of older people left us in the dust with their electric bikes,” Jen explained.

With the number of accommodations, frequent campgrounds, restaurants, water stations, signage, and accessibility to trains and other modes of public transportation, the couple is brimming with ideas to bring back in hopes they can help further build upon the great work already happening in Oregon.

After spending far less than they had budgeted and not yet ready to head home, the couple decided to extend their journey to South America.

“Cycle touring is by far the most difficult occupation we’ve ever had,” says Jen. “You’re at the mercy of the elements, you’re constantly exhausted, and you have to ask for a lot of help from strangers. You also develop wonderful relationships, receive the best education you’ll ever have, and get to eat anything you want.”

While the cycling network in South America isn’t quite that of Europe or even the US, Dave, Jen, and Sora are up for the challenge, starting with battling the 60-kilometer/hour headwinds of Patagonia.

You can read about their adventures and mishaps, including blog posts by Sora in her “Behind the Spokes” column on on their website, Long Haul Trekkers. You can can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

This story was written for BikePortland by Jen Sotolongo.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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UncleMuscles
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UncleMuscles

If I quit my “Corporate America Job” to travel around the world with my wife and dog I might make it about a month before going completely broke and starting to spend my retirement. Let’s not act like this is some choice most people can make. It’s obvious these folks already had money. Travel is crazy expensive no matter what people who “just bummed around the world for a year” might tell you.

shuppatsu
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shuppatsu

Where does it say this is something most people can do? Yeah I’m sure they already had money. They were DINK professionals without kids. I’d hope they’d have some money. More power to them.

I can’t wait for the Bike Snob NYC treatment.

RH
Guest
RH

Good for them! I liked this quote from the story: “What is a life worth living if you don’t live it when you have the chance?”

SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

Printing this out to show my girlfriend and pet cat tonight.

Craig Gifen
Guest

“Travel is crazy expensive no matter what people who “just bummed around the world for a year” might tell you.”

You’re doing it wrong then.

I’ve biked the circumference of Australia for 13 months and hiked the PCT twice. Nowadays, I spend more on my mortgage in a year for my home in posh Felony Flats than I did on any of those trips, adjusted for inflation and everything.

Every single time I met someone who thought I must have been a trust fund kid or won the lottery. It was neither of those. They couldn’t grasp the concept that I funded those trips by working my butt off for a couple of years saving up money, eating a lot of beans and rice, and not spending money on dumb stuff. All my things went into storage and off I went.

PNP
Subscriber

I love this story. And it comes at a time when my job is making me crazy and I wish I could quit and do something else. Thank you for sharing this and giving me a breath of fresh air and freedom, if only vicariously. And the photos are beautiful.

Kirk Paulsen
Subscriber

Beautiful story, very inspirational. Life simply cannot get better than when traveling by bike with a dog and a human partner 🙂

Makes me wanna do the same thing! Oh heck, why am I even sitting here writing this, time to get out on my bike and see the world………….

CaptainKarma
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CaptainKarma

Isn’t the law on Air BnB that you have to live in the house 9 months oug of the year?

has brakes
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has brakes

neither of them is ridding a long haul trucker rendering their punny name less than cute

Jeff
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Jeff

It doesn’t take too much money to live on the road. Ian’s been doing it since the 1990s:

http://bikeportland.org/2016/02/09/bike-touring-con-man-still-duping-nice-people-years-174489

fourknees
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fourknees

Cost is relative and based on your expectations. I just had a friend take 9 months off of work bike toured in S. Korea/Australia for half the time and drove his car all around the western US the remainder going hiking, mountain biking and visiting friends.
He stealth camped while biking, and slept in his car or at friends. Food was mainly from the grocery, not eating out.

He didn’t make a lot, but saved up for 2 years and just did it.

Ted Buehler
Guest

I wish TriMet would have looked at the railing on that nice bridge in Ptuj, Slovenia before designing the railings on the Tilicum Bridge.

Ted Buehler

Ted Buehler
Guest

Excellent story and photos.

Folks, make sure you get out of North America once in a while and see the world. It’s a whole different place out there that will change your view of Possible Future Portlands that you can envision and create.

I hadn’t been out or North America for 7 years, but in the last six months I’ve spent a month each in Europe and in Thailand, traveling entirely by train and by bike. Now I’m now even less satisfied with Portland and Oregon’s bicycle infrastructure and more motivated to get it improved.

And stories like this make me seriously consider buttoning up my affairs here for a year and heading around the world by bike.

Thanks for the inspiration and documentation, Jen, Dave and Sora.

Ted Buehler

flightlessbird
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flightlessbird

Life is about finding ways to travel by bike more…even if it is just to work. Even better with good company. Great post.

dan
Guest
dan

The real question in my mind…has Portland’s rental market now gotten so hot that renting out your house will support traveling indefinitely? Hmm…

Ted Buehler
Guest

A note on travel costs. (note — topic drift alert)

As a bunch of folks pointed out in replies at the top of the comments, it’s generally possible to travel on a frugal budget by bicycle.

In the last 2 years its gotten considerably less expensive due to the convergence of a strong US dollar and low fossil fuel prices. (regardless of whether you like these two elements in other aspects of your life or global conditions, it is very conducive to affordable international travel if you get paid in US dollars).

Airfares, especially to Asia, are pretty reasonable. (The stalling Chinese economy helps, too). For instance it’s easy to find round trip tickets from San Francisco to Bangkok for under $600, and I’ve seen them for under $500. (look 4 weeks out on a site like Hipmunk or Kayak with flexible dates)

And, you can carry a small mountain bike in two boxes — frame in one (take out the fork), wheels and etc. in another, that both are under the 62 linear inch total size allowance for regular baggage. So if your bike is small enough, and you’re willing to fuss with making boxes, you don’t pay oversize luggage fees to travel with your touring bike. (first two pieces of checked luggage are free on international flights)

In Thailand the cost of living is pretty low anyway, when I was there last month is was $6/night/person in hostels, $2 for meals, the rural road network is fabulous for bicycling, and it only takes about $25 to ride the trains from one end of the country to the other.

In other countries, even if they were “expensive” in US dollars a couple years ago, the exchange rate has changed that you should reconsider it — for instance, the Japanese yen has fallen 33% against the dollar in the last couple years, so anything you would have bought in Japan 5 years ago is now 33% cheaper when purchased with US $.

If you want to travel the world by bicycle, this year is a time when you can do it safely, comfortably, and very affordably. Especially relative to 5 years ago.

(Again, the world isn’t a perfect place, and there’s injustice, poverty, privilege, and environmental catastrophe all around. but, in travelling to a far-off land and traveling by bike for a month or two, you may well bring back inspiration and motivation to make Portland a greener city.)

FWIW,
Ted Buehler

joe kurmaskie
Guest

You naysayers and malcontents talking smack about these two being priv. trust funders and thinking you have to have money are wrong about them specifically (I know them) and on a bigger scale you are missing out on the real meat of life. I traveled the world by bike with two nickels to rub together and if was glorious. I was raised middle white trash in Fla, with no trust fund, student loans at a public university, took crap jobs and set out with not enough money, worked along the way, made amazing life long connections, learned that the world outside of the evening news and fear mongering corporate media is a damn amazing place. But wait, he was single and young and white – SFW – I was poor and anonymous and without status and I stayed with locals and lived with the people and it was glorious, I ended some of my days tired and wet and hot and bruised and sore and bloody and… it was glorious. Then I went and had a family… so it was over. Wait, I put them on the bikes and trailers and it rocked – a secret summer across America and another one across Canada.

So haters gonna hate – anyone, and I mean anyone can do this- but most won’t b/c they are asking the wrong questions – focusing on money and equipment and routes and plans and what will happen after – when it’s about attitude and seeing that the society we’ve created is mostly the matrix and despite all your rage or satisfaction it’s still a rate race so if you want to leave the shire and set out on a journey… stray well!. About Jen and Dave – they reached out to me before their journey. I was able to secure them some Arkel bags at a discount – these are not trust fund kids and they had choices to make and they made them… but so what if they were TF kids, the world is for everyone – the goal should be to ease everyone’s suffering and bring laughter and humanity into the universe. And the bike and travel opens you up to these things and ideas and possibilities, rather than shuts you down.