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After global cycling trek with their dog, Portland couple returns to promote animal rights

Posted by on April 18th, 2017 at 10:20 am

Jen Sotolongo, Sora, and Dave Hoch pedaling across a bridge in the O’Higgins region of Chile.
(Photos: Long Haul Trekkers)


— This post was edited by Jonathan Maus based on an article by Jen Sotolongo

After two years on the road pedaling across Europe and South America with their adopted Australian Shepherd, Sora, Jen Sotolongo and Dave Hoch of the Long Haul Trekkers will be returning home to Portland.

If they sound familiar, it’s because we covered their story about their ride from Oslo, Norway to Athens, Greece via the Balkans and Turkey last year. Since that piece was published, Jen, Dave, and Sora finished another continent: South America. They started in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, in Argentine Patagonia and finished in Medellín, Colombia. The adventure took them through six countries in South America (Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia), 23 in total and some 6,000 miles over the two years of their journey.

The original plan was to ride all the way back to Portland, however, two years of bicycle travel left them in need of a break and wanting to explore other aspects of life than just cycle touring. The constant up and down of the Andes with steep grades can wear out even the hardest of souls. “We spent entire days pushing up steep mountain passes that brought me to tears,” said Jen. “I certainly had moments wondering whether I would prefer to be back in my old life behind a desk. Then I’d look around me at the beautiful view and shake my head that the thought had even entered my mind.”

During their South American journey, they battled nearly daily 60 mph winds in barren Patagonia, swapped their skinny tires for fat bikes as they soared over sand dunes in the Atacama desert in Chile, and pedaled across the Bolivian Salt Flats, at 12,000 feet above sea level. They stayed with indigenous Aymara people, were invited into the homes of complete strangers to eat with their families and stay overnight, and met fellow riders following the same route from all over the world.

They also met countless street animals nearly everywhere they went. As animal lovers, it was difficult for them to see such an abundance of abandoned, abused and starving animals. They wanted to take them all home, but couldn’t, so they began to volunteer with shelters and organizations.


In northern Peru, they rode to the tiny coastal town of Colán, where they spent two weeks volunteering with an animal shelter run by a 70-year-old woman who has dedicated the past 30 years of her life to saving and reducing the animal population in her town.

The couple incorporated a mission into their brand to educate the public about animal rights, proper care and coexistence, and promote adoption and rescue.

“It was an incredibly difficult experience,” said Dave. “The animals are often found in dire conditions and the education of animal rights is not the same here.” The experience led to an epiphany on the road: They should use their travel as a means for social change. The couple incorporated a mission into their brand to educate the public about animal rights, proper care and coexistence, and promote adoption and rescue.

During their month-long stay in Medellín the trio partnered with an animal rights education group called Defenzoores, which made Sora the face of animal adoption in Medellín. The dog-friendly city loves their four-legged friends, but often buys them from markets and stores as a status symbol, rather than taking home one of the many who spend their lives on the streets.

Dave and Jen launched Pedaling for Pooches – Cycling Colombia for Defenzoores with a goal of raising $1,125 for the organization, or one dollar for every kilometer pedaled in Colombia. They met their goal and more, handing over $1,450 to Defenzoores at an event hosted by a local university where over 125 people attended to listen to their story cycling around the world with Sora, their rescue dog. It was the biggest audience they’ve seen for either animal or bike-related events.

Cycle Touring with a Dog: A Benefit for Family Dogs New Life

Enjoy a presentation about their journey across Europe and South America, ask them questions, and help raise money for Family Dogs New Life Shelter, where Dave adopted Sora in 2008.

  • Wednesday, April 26th at 7:30 pm
  • Velo Cult (1969 NE 42nd Ave)
  • Prize raffle

View event on our calendar

While in Medellín and in partnership with Defenzoores, Sora gave several interviews with local news outlets, appeared on local television, and stood in front of the city council to promote pet adoption and animal rights.

As Dave, Jen, and Sora return to Portland this week, they will be continuing their mission at a fundraiser they will be hosting for Family Dogs New Life, the local shelter where Dave adopted Sora in 2008.

They invite you to join them at Velo Cult on Wednesday, April 26th at 7:30 pm to learn more about their adventure and answer your questions about how to cycle tour with a dog, prepare financially for a long term bicycle tour, or any other inquires you might have. Family Dogs New Life (FDNL) will also talk about their shelter and programs. A portion of the beer sales will go toward FDNL and there will be a giveaway of over a dozen prizes including a Burley Design Tail Wagon, a Trail Blazers team autographed basketball, a one year membership to Bike Town, and more. Dogs and humans welcome. For more details and to RSVP, see the Facebook event invite or view the event on the BikePortland Calendar. 100% of the money raised will go directly to FDNL. They’re also currently hosting the #adoptandadventuredog fundraising giveaway on Instagram for FDNL with a variety of adventure dog-related prizes.

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.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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37 Comments
  • Bike Curious April 18, 2017 at 10:51 am

    I think it’s more than a little condescending to feel it’s your place to “educate” poor people about western social mores.

    They often have to make difficult choices about which family members to support. The notion that they need “educating” is tone deaf and patronizing.

    Looks like they had a fun trip tho, but jeez, save the shaming for your well to do Caucasian friends.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      Is is possible to share your ideas and values without being condescending?

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      • Middle of the Road Guy April 18, 2017 at 1:26 pm

        Personally, sometimes I take the same approach/method someone else does…so that when they have their reaction to it they might finally understand someone else might have the same reaction to them. E.g., what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

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  • Dave Hoch April 18, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Hi Bike Curious,

    Thanks for your point of view. Let me expand on what “educating” meant. It wasn’t from a place of privilege, but from a place of animal well being and health. For example, most of the people in the village we volunteered in had very little idea that both MALE and FEMALE dogs and cats could be spayed and neutered. We constantly heard, “but it’s a macho dog, it’s not possible.” Or in another instance, we talked with a women that thought cats were possessed by the devil and were going to curse her. That was an education opportunity, not pushing western social values or shaming.
    -dave

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    • Middle of the Road Guy April 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

      My black cat curses me all of the time.

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    • Mike April 19, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Not sure how cycling through a town is enough time to gain there trust enough for them to really here your message. Certain cultures require a lot of time spent living with them before they even begin to even open their ears. There are so many aid organizations that just breeze in and out of villages expecting lasting change and it doesn’t work that way. A little talk has no lasting effect when their way of thinking has been in place for generations.

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      • Long Haul Trekkers April 19, 2017 at 9:58 am

        It’s not, Mike. You’re absolutely right. We spent two weeks volunteering in Peru and we know that the people would not come to trust the gringos passing through. They don’t even trust the Peruvian woman who has been running the shelter for 30 years. Our goal is to help the animals where we can and speak up for those who have no voice, not chastise people what for they’re doing wrong in our eyes. That’s a cultural difference that needs to come from inside.

        Everyone asks us questions about Sora, so we always make sure to explain that she’s adopted and like our kid, a member of our family. We hope that by traveling with Sora and showing how we care for her and treat her demonstrates to others how they can love their animals and treat them with respect.

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  • dan April 18, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Awesome trip and I am jealous. The Cat 6 racer in me must note that 6,000 miles in 2 years works out to a very comfortable monthly distance of 250 miles – lots of time for chilling out!

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 12:32 pm

      Cat racing is cruel.

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      • Middle of the Road Guy April 18, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        Have you asked the cats what they think?

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 2:05 pm

          I tried that once and the cat put a curse on me.

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          • Middle of the Road Guy April 18, 2017 at 3:51 pm

            Finally, someone believes me when I say it happens!

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    • Long Haul Trekkers April 18, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      We definitely spent a lot of down time in cities along the way! Our average was a very leisurely 50km per day or so (riding days only).

      We did meet a few people who pedaled 160-200km per day. I think you’d enjoy checking out the Biking Man (https://www.facebook.com/BikingManUltra/). We met Axel in Cusco, Peru and he and a friend just broke the world record pedaling from Colombia to Patagonia in under 50 days.

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  • Steve April 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    I’m dying to know how much, if any, time in quarantine did Sora have go thru.

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    • Long Haul Trekkers April 18, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      Zero days, Steve! We specifically chose to visit countries that did not require quarantine. We do have a heavy folder of all her paperwork, however. It’s mainly island nations that require quarantine, most only need to see updated shots, flea and tick meds, deworming, and health certificates from a veterinarian and from the local department of agriculture.

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  • 9watts April 18, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Sounds like a great adventure. One thing I’d love to hear more about is the spent entire days pushing up steep mountain passes part. My sense has always been that with fancy gearing like most of us have, and especially with panniers, the physical effort of pedaling is in almost all cases going to be less than getting off and pushing. The only time I’ve found this not to be the case is when the grade is so steep and the gear consequently so low that you can’t maintain a straight line while pedaling. But I may be missing something. This matter comes up every time there’s a Sunday Parkways on the West Side too.

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    • dan April 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      I tow my dog to work most days: 75 lb dog (from Family Dogs New Life!) and a 25 pound trailer. He has arthritis and couldn’t make it without the tow, even at a slow speed. I gotta say, he’s heavy! I can’t imagine adding a touring load to that. How much weight did you have on your bikes when Sora was in the trailer?

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      • 9watts April 18, 2017 at 1:57 pm

        This whole adventure reminded me a lot of these folks: https://cyclinggypsies.wordpress.com/

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      • Long Haul Trekkers April 18, 2017 at 2:27 pm

        Dan,

        Yay for a fellow FDNL alum! That’s awesome that you bring him to work with you.

        We don’t know exact weight, because, well, we just didn’t really want to know! Sora weighs 42 lbs and the trailer an additional 27, plus all the dog accessories we throw in there. So the trailer alone adds a bit of extra weight…

        Let’s just say we had a lot of weight. A lot, a lot, a lot.

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    • Long Haul Trekkers April 18, 2017 at 2:23 pm

      It often is easier to pedal and I’d (Jen) switch back and forth, or just use my chest to push once my arms tired. Throughout South America, we’d encounter hills with grades ranging from 8% to the teens lasting 20km sometimes, which made it impossible for us to cycle. Then add in the gravel and then it’s useless pedaling up or down. Those with less weight could usually make it up hill. We had a ton of weight, way more than most, since we bring Sora. I always knew when it was really steep if we saw others pushing, too.

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  • Steve Scarich April 18, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    When is this country going to realize that ‘owning’ an animal is unnatural? Having a ‘pet’ for your occasional amusement is a sorry emotional attachment. If our society realizes this, enforces dog licensing, and questions the very idea of ‘pets’, then we might make some progress on the neglected dog and cat problem.

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    • dan April 18, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      This is an interesting idea. In your pet free world, are dogs extinct? They have evolved to be companions to humans, if there are no more pets or working dogs, what would become of them?

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      • Steve Scarich April 18, 2017 at 6:47 pm

        Not advocating a pet-free world. Just a world in which humans seriously ask themselves ‘Is my life going to be any better having a dependent animal for the next 10 years?’ and ‘is the best thing for animals to be locked up in the house for 23+ hours a day, with maybe 15 minutes of walking’? I live in Bend, where virtually every adult and retiree has a pet, and virtually everyone leaves their dog at home all day, lets it out to poop and pee, and walks it once or twice a week’. Is that a humane world? I say No!

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        • Long Haul Trekkers April 18, 2017 at 7:47 pm

          Sounds like there’s some dog running jobs waiting for us in Bend.

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          • Steve Scarich April 19, 2017 at 7:43 am

            Absolutely! There are so many dog-related businesses over here. Lots of people with money; I’m sure there is room for a dog-runner business.

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        • dan April 18, 2017 at 8:13 pm

          Dang, those are bad pet parents. My pooch comes to work with me and is pretty much with me or my wife close to 24 hours a day, and gets at least a long walk at morning and evening. Apparently he is living in doggie heaven.

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          • dan April 18, 2017 at 8:21 pm

            Nonetheless, I feel bad for not getting him out of town more than on weekends. Sigh.

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    • jeff April 19, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      you must not be a pet own if you think they’re ‘occasional amusement’. Pets are hardly limited to the U.S. I suggest traveling more. Maybe a bike tour, perhaps?

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    • jeff April 19, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      my dog gets more exercise each week than you do, whether running with me, my wife, running free in National Forests or 1000 acres. your generalizations are painful to read.

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      • jeff April 19, 2017 at 5:50 pm

        the rest of the time, the dog sleeps.

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  • rainbike April 18, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    Jen and Dave,
    Do you extend “animal rights” to the other species that most Westerners routinely consume and are you working to include awareness around the “rights” of those species? Sounds like we are only talking about doggies and kitties.

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  • Long Haul Trekkers April 19, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Hi Rainbike,

    While we haven’t volunteered or worked with organizations specifically dedicated to other species that Westerns routinely consume, we are indeed lovers of all animals and this reflects in our choice to follow a vegan diet. I have been vegetarian for 10 years and Dave for eight. Two years ago, we became vegan after vegan friends joined us on our tour in Croatia and taught us how to travel as a vegan. We haven’t turned back.

    As vegans, we are asked a lot of questions about our choice from fellow travelers, restaurant owners, or local people we meet along the way. We tell them how we find food to eat while traveling, even when it’s difficult to do so, and explain our reasons for eating this way and choosing not to buy animal products. We never ever push the lifestyle, but we do hope that we at least leave people with the inspiration to give it a try or include veg-friendly food on their menus.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Another thing to consider if you’re considering is that it doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing. Eating meat once a week, or only when you crave something specific, is a big step forward from eating meat as a matter of routine for all the reasons that reducing meat consumption is good.

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      • Bike Curious April 19, 2017 at 4:50 pm

        I’m now open to meals that have no meat, and do it a few times a week. It’s a small start, but a goodone for someone who just orgasmed while thinking about typing the word Porterhouse.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 4:54 pm

          There are lots of easy, cheap, tasty meals that don’t contain meat, so, done right, you need not feel you are sacrificing.

          I should clarify that none of these meals include okra.

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  • Steve Scarich April 20, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    You might want to educate yourself on the difference between observation and generalization. btw…I ride ~200 miles a week and walk/hike about 25 at age 70; is that enough for you?

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  • hill climb racing April 24, 2017 at 12:55 am

    You might want to educate yourself on the difference between observation and generalization. btw…I ride ~200 miles a week and walk/hike about 25 at age 70; is that enough for you?

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