— 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
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.