Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yellow Lab Runs, Rides from Maryland to Maine

Published in Downeast Dog News

The trip ended the way its days always did—with a high-five between Sadie and Dan McCrady. But they had to do a few extras for the cameras, as their 22-day, 850-mile journey from Maryland to Maine ended June 13 with twin ceremonies in South Portland and Portland.

Sadie, a 3-year-old purebred yellow Labrador Retriever, attentively listened to the official greetings, including remarks from South Portland Mayor Tom Blake and Portland City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, but perhaps she was just waiting for some more treats.

In South Portland, the city bought her a cake reading “Congratulations Sadie,” made by Scratch Baking Company using their popular dog-biscuit recipe, which she happily shared with the half-dozen other dogs there to celebrate the end of her trip with her bicycling human, McCrady.

McCrady dreamed up the idea last year, as a project to occupy his time in retirement. “I wanted to do something a little bit adventurous and a little challenging,” he said. Because Sadie had become a constant companion since McCrady and his wife adopted her after his retirement three years ago, there was “no question that whatever I did, it would be with her,” he said.

McCrady decided they would bicycle a part of the East Coast Greenway, a trail-in-progress whose full length is planned to stretch from Key West, Florida, to Calais, Maine, combining hard-surface off-road trails with a few segments of low-traffic roads. McCrady figured he would attract some attention for the trail and raise some money to support its development—he has rounded up $5,200 so far.

McCrady planned to take the Greenway’s route from his home in Annapolis, Maryland, to Maine, which he had visited many times because his wife’s sister and her husband live in South Portland. He arranged lodging with the help of Greenway supporters, many of whom offered to host the traveling pair.

The biggest bike trip McCrady made before this one lasted three days and covered 200 miles, and didn’t involve towing a trailer—or a canine companion. “This is the only time he’s done anything like this,” said his wife, Eileen, who came up from Maryland to join her sister and other family members and friends to greet McCrady and Sadie at the end of the trip.

It was a first for Sadie, too. McCrady gave her more food to handle her increased activity level—she ran an average of 10 miles a day, and once ran 25 miles in a day—and weighed her every week to make sure she was doing well. Her weight didn’t fluctuate more than half a pound either direction during the trip, McCrady said.

McCrady wasn’t sure how Sadie’s paws would hold up—“I even carried little boots,” he said—but she had no trouble. Sadie also had never blogged before, but learned quickly, posting daily during the trip at traildog-sadie.blogspot.com.

The pair averaged 55 miles a day. Whenever Sadie wasn’t running, she relaxed in her “limousine,” a Track’r dog-carrying bike trailer donated by Solvit Products. The one Sadie used was the largest model, capable of carrying 125 lbs., according to McCrady. Because Sadie is a fit 75 lbs., McCrady was able to stow some clothing under the floor of the trailer, giving her a softer ride and him some extra cargo capacity.

The trailer itself hitches and unhitches in only 30 seconds, and is fully enclosed, but with plenty of screened windows for Sadie to look and sniff through. When not in use, it folds down to be 6 inches thick and the size of a “small suitcase,” McCrady said.

During training rides, McCrady sent some feedback off to Solvit; they incorporated some of his ideas into their designs, and sent him a revised trailer for the actual journey. He still has an additional tip for the company—their guidelines suggest the dog should enter and exit through the zippered door in the rear of the trailer, but that didn’t seem safe to McCrady, who feared Sadie might manage to get out into traffic. Instead, he had Sadie jump through the opening directly behind the bicycle’s rear tire. As an additional precaution, “I’ve taught her she never goes in or out unless the bike’s at a full stop,” he said.

The celebrations began in South Portland’s Bug Light Park, where the mayor’s proclamation included formal recognition that a “dog’s need for exercise can help encourage dog owners’ increased physical activity.” That was cheered by local dog enthusiasts, including the South Portland Dog Owners Group (SoPoDOG), represented by its president, Crystal Goodrich, and several human and dog members.

SoPoDOG gave Sadie a taste of Maine lobster—in biscuit form—and a stuffed lobster dog toy, to complement the Maryland blue crab dog toy she had been given at the trip’s beginning in Annapolis.

Then they boarded a water taxi, which is part of the official route of the East Coast Greenway, and took Sadie’s first boat ride, crossing Portland Harbor to the water taxi dock next to Flatbread Company. Sadie took that in stride as well, lying calmly on the boat’s deck. “She’s a very mellow dog,” McCrady said.

During the walk and the ride up to East End Beach, where Sadie graciously accepted gifts from Fetchdog.com and Planet Dog, McCrady contemplated his next retirement project. “I think I’d like to get involved in some hiking,” he said, mentioning doing pieces of the Appalachian Trail.

That may not come as such welcome news for Sadie, because her owner’s plan already includes the assumption that she “can carry her own food and water.”