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.”
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.