Operation Moto Dog takes on North America
Mallory Paige is traveling through every state and province in North America via motorcycle. She’s not going it alone – her yellow lab Baylor rides shotgun in a sidecar. They’ve named their journey “Operation Moto Dog.” You may wonder if Danger is Mallory’s middle name. In fact it is, legally.
Start at the beginning
Mallory didn’t start out with such a lofty goal. It all began on a trip to Ecuador in 2014 when she took her first ride on a dual-sport motorcycle. Upon returning stateside, Mallory decided to leave behind her home, a van named Goliath, and take on an almost 10-week quest from Oregon to Alaska.
“It all comes down to motivation,” Mallory admitted. “Learning is what gets me amped and starting a new adventure is the best way I’ve found to force myself into a growth stage,” she shared. “I wanted a mode that would really challenge me to learn about engines, minimize my belongings and force myself to be out there interacting with people on the road.”
Mallory wasn’t about to leave her beloved pup behind so she needed to get not just her first motorcycle but a sidecar too. She enjoyed the bike from Ecuador so much she searched for a similar one to call her own. The new cyclist began searching for a used 1998 KLR 650.
Getting a sidecar was not so simple. Mallory found they don’t come up for sale too often. When she spotted one near her Oregon home in May 2015, she immediately went to take a look. The man selling the sidecar had no idea what kind it was or how to attach it to a bike. Neither did Mallory, but she liked the price and Baylor gave his approval by settling right in. They hauled the sidecar into the back of a pickup and took it home. Just days later, the bike Mallory had been looking for became available too. Despite zero welding experience and no idea how to put the two together (or even if it was possible), Mallory went for it.
“I spent a couple weeks ignoring the haters and figuring out how to attach the two,” she shared. Her goal was to leave by June 9th. She had mere weeks to literally get it together.
WIY: Weld It Yourself
In May, shortly after purchasing the rig and sidecar, the new motorcyclist came across a flyer for the DIY Cave, a community workspace. Mallory signed up for a welding class and spent the next two weeks learning the tools and skills to attach the bike to the sidecar with the assistance of a few knowledgeable helpers. While she worked, Baylor would sit in the sidecar in the shop. As Mallory built the subframe the dog would sleep and watch from his new swanky digs.
“Once I’d finished the build, I looked at it and just knew Rufio was the right name. He’s a little bit edgy but has a good heart. I guess I like strong-yet-kind vehicles in my life,” Mallory quipped.
“I was so nervous about our first test ride but Baylor just sat there calmly and then laid down, bored with my slow parking lot driving. That was the moment I knew Operation Moto Dog was really going to happen,” Mallory shared.
Getting a move on
On June 15, 2015, just three days after completing the welding, Mallory loaded up her gear. Baylor hopped into the sidecar amidst some necessities and the duo waved goodbye to Bend, Oregon, as they headed North. Upon setting out, Mallory was days away from her 31st birthday and Baylor was 10. The two spent 69 days on the road, a journey that Mallory captured in an eBook, “Operation Moto Dog: The Alaska Chronicles.” You can download the book on her website.
“I have from Oregon to Alaska, more than 2,500 miles, to figure out how to ride a motorcycle sidecar, to become the adventure rider I envision,” Mallory wrote as the voyage began.
Her dreams of becoming “part Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jacques Cousteau and Shackleton,” were quickly on the way to becoming reality.
The book contains stories from all 69 days of the trip. Some pages are like logs, noting what happened, where Mallory and Baylor drove and if they met any interesting people. Others are more philosophical, delving into the freedom of the road and how it’s nice to be moving but still have a home to return to each night via tent. These entries, and many since, are also live on her website. Mallory created the online OMD travelogue as a way to share where she was and what she was doing with friends and family. Soon, though, over 50,000 people across the globe began checking in to follow the duos incredible experiences.
Many people ask how Mallory can afford such a long vacation. She always replies, “This is not a vacation. I work everyday on the road.” Like many modern nomads, Mallory is a writer who also builds websites. She doesn’t just head through towns in search of food and water – she needs the Internet.
Living the moto-sidecar life
Mallory spent the first few days getting comfortable with gripping the handlebars in a relaxed manner and learning to trust that her welds would hold. Baylor enjoyed watching the scenery fly by through his doggles, which prevent bugs and dirt from getting into his eyes.
In one passage of her book, Mallory noted she could call her trip motto, “Learn. Grow. Smell. The moto-sidecar life.” While traveling by car, you are somewhat removed from the environment you’re speeding through. On a motorcycle, however, you must be constantly alert watching the weather, checking the road and navigating. Every place has a different smell that you may never notice when surrounded by the metal and upholstery of a vehicle. This openness also allowed her to work on developing an “engine ear” to spot the normal and not-so-normal sounds her bike would make.
Going from vanlife to nightly camping was a big change. Gone were the days when Mallory could simply pull over and curl up in the back, Baylor at her side. Instead, she has to pay for a campsite or find a clandestine spot just off the road. Then, she has to secure Rufio, put up the tent, toss her belongings inside and get comfortable. After a long day of riding, all that work can seem daunting. A few days in, Mallory got the hang of the order of things and came to consider her tent as home. Every night Baylor briefly inspected the area surrounding their latest camp spot before diving into the tent for some much-needed TLC. He keeps Mallory warm and alerts her of questionable critters outside, fair payment for driving him around all day.
The duo can’t carry much on the back of the KLR or in the sidecar so they resupplied every few days, often at locales with bulk bins where Mallory purchased tiny amounts of a variety of things. She carries a small camp stove and uses a platypus water filter in streams or lakes when there are no gas stations or coffee shops nearby to fill up. As for small comforts, Mallory loves her Poler napsack, which is essentially the sleeping-bag version of a snuggie. She says it helps her get out of bed in the morning since she can start her day wearing it and remain warm and cozy.
The kindness of strangers
When people first hear of the OMD adventure, they pause. Many are delighted, but some share their concern. Mallory frequently hears questions like, “Are you sure you can go all that way?” and “Is it safe for a woman?” Had she let those possible fears cloud her vision, the Oregon to Alaska tour may have never taken off.
“One of the most life-altering lessons has been the value of accepting help. I had a fear – and really I think it’s one a lot of people have – of being a burden. I wanted to help others, but never ask for help. I was worried that accepting a meal, a place to stay or help along the way would make me more trouble than I was worth. But I’m realizing there’s a huge value in connecting with people,” Mallory acknowledged.
“As humans we thrive on community and connection. And, though it’s sometimes scary and uncomfortable, accepting kindnesses and help from others is a fantastic way to forge a connection.”
When the motorist is in doubt of whether it’s “fair” for her to accept support she turns to Amanda Palmer’s Ted Talk. This 13-minute interaction is worth every second of your time. The famous Dresden Dolls musician compares couch surfing to crowd surfing in that you have to be vulnerable and ask for help. We won’t give anything away but can say it made us tear up and we’re glad Mallory shared this amazing video with us. You’ll understand, after watching Palmer, exactly how Mallory reminds herself that she’s not the only one getting something out of these interactions.
The adventurer sometimes reads through comments from those she’s met along the way. Many individuals thank her for letting them be a small part of Operation Moto Dog and are so happy to have been involved and inspired by the traveling duo. The exchanges may not be monetarily the same, nor involve the same amount of effort or time, but both parties benefit and leave smiling (or tail wagging).
While reading her ebook, you’ll notice well-meaning strangers are a common theme. Whenever she was in need of mechanical assistance, she’d ask questions and do research in online motorcycle forums. There, people across the country would share their thoughts and experiences in the hopes of getting Operation Moto Dog just a little farther down the road.
On one such encounter, 15 days into the Oregon to Alaska trek, Rufio had been making some not-so-healthy noises. Mallory pulled over to the side of the road to diagnose the issue. As she noticed a growing puddle of oil underneath the KLR, two guys pulled up.
“What’s the trouble?” they queried.
Mallory shared her findings – the drain plug was gone. One of the men mentioned he happened to have a spare and pulled the essential missing part out of his pocket. Mallory was in disbelief. What were the odds that this random man happened to have the exact part she needed? They offered her the plug, its corresponding washer and threw in a bottle of oil to replenish what she had lost on the road.
After finishing the quick fix and hearing Rufio purr back to life, she shut off the engine and visited with the guys. Mike and John were on their own adventure touring Alaska. This was just one example of the connections Mallory made in completely per-happenstance moments along the road.
You can imagine the looks on random peoples faces when they get out of a car to fill up on gas and find they’re next to smiling Baylor in a sidecar. We would definitely want to get to know the fierce lady driver behind the handlebars.
“By standing on the shoulders of these knowledgeable and supportive strangers-turned friends I knew we could go farther, that there was more to discover than originally thought,” Mallory noted.
“On the road I see the absolute best of humanity. Strangers go out of the way to say hi, send encouragement and befriend us,” She explained. “I’m continuously shown the value in trusting and connecting. For every time I have the courage to put myself out there, to accept help, jump into a new situation, turn a stranger into a friend – hands from all around reach out to catch us. This cycle of kindness and inspiration is what keeps us motivated to get back on the road each day.”
Taking on North America
After the Oregon-Alaska trek was complete, Mallory knew she wasn’t done yet. Instead, she regrouped and committed to a new goal of traveling through every state, province and country in North America. In the final entry of “The Alaskan Chronicles,” Mallory notes she’d only finished phase one – A bigger adventure awaited.
“Sometimes we think we need to go to an exotic foreign location to meet interesting people or see beautiful places, but there really is so much to discover in this continent,” she shared.
“I’ve only scratched the surface and I’m constantly awed by North America.”
As of late January 2016, Mallory, Baylor and Rufio have been on the road for over 200 days. They’ve been through 13 states and three provinces. They spent Christmas on their own island off Southern Florida, hammock-tent style. Mallory partook in an all-women’s motorcycle class in Tennessee to test her off-roading skills and unite with other motoring ladies. The duo has snuggled up together in tents and cabins across all those miles. Mallory admits that even after all this time she has yet to come up with a solution for messy hair. Helmets and sleeping bags are not exactly conducive to perfect curls so she’s resigned to always having frizzy, crazy locks.
“When I get stressed out about needing to find a place to sleep at night or overwhelmed with all the daily decisions, I remind myself to just take it one step at a time. To make a decision, check the outcome and adjust as needed. Life is not a train ride, so your route can always change,” Mallory said.
“Each day is filled with unexpected surprises. Sometimes that’s overwhelming, but generally it’s absolutely amazing. Being open to people and opportunities have led to riding in a small plane over glaciers, fishing for salmon in Alaska, pressing apples at a historic homestead and countless strangers turning into friends,” Mallory shared.
To her, seeking adventure is not about planning your next big trip. Instead, it’s a mindset of trying new things and acting mindfully in the face of fear. Mallory believes that happiness is a choice only you control. The one person who has access to your attitude is you so make a conscious decision to live happy and seek out wonder and possibility.
“I hope that part of my legacy will be inspiring others to get out there and live their dreams. To realize you needn’t be fearless or perfect to go for it. I have no special abilities or skill that should make me good at this. If I can do it anyone can. Seriously.”
In Mallory’s words:
“You have a choice.
Every obstacle is an opportunity.
Choose Happy. Seek Adventure.”