Common Tread

Wiener dog is my co-pilot, sidecar is my fate

Dec 20, 2016

With the sidecar attached, the ride back to Phoenix from California was a bit more strenuous than rides before it. But we’d been planning this moment for months.

It was a chance to finally include that little red wiener dog – rescued just under a year ago – on an adventure.

We’d been planning it from the moment Justin found his blurry photo on some outdated website. Puppy-sitting our friends’ pair of characters left a schnitzel-shaped impression on our soft little hearts. We began looking for a Dachshund of our own. We pictured our growing family riding off into the sunset with a small Germanic canine propped proudly on the gas tank, Doggles glimmering as his ears fluttered against liberty’s most tangible attribute: the wind.

Captain Coffey
Captain Coffey checks out the Avenger sidecar. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

His name is Captain Coffey. We found him in a most seedy shelter, beset with kennel cough and malnourishment. Giving him every ounce of love we had, it didn’t take long for him to bounce back. So, Justin and I thought we'd finally share an activity that brings us joy and substance: riding. It’s our ideal family portrait — a man, his woman and their dog aboard the one machine humankind has made which can simulate the experience all animals in the kingdom desire... freedom.

Initially, Captain was timid, if not blatantly afraid, of our motorbikes — unwilling to ride shotgun, on-back or in-jacket on any voyages. He’s growing braver and more vivacious each day, so we wanted to attempt another go on a motorcycle. And this time we had an idea. We'd pick up a sidecar from our friends at the Veteran's Charity Ride, who keep a fleet of Champion Sidecars custom rigs affixed to a variety of Indian motorcycles. The founder of VCR, Dave — always looking out for my best interest — advised I borrow the Scout-Avenger setup because of how manageable it would be compared to the Springfield, Chief, and Chieftain sidecar combos. He also offered to show Justin and I how to safely and efficiently operate it because, apparently, they're not so effortless.

Captain Coffey in the sidecar
Captain Coffey considers this whole sidecar thing. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

That soon became clear to me. By the time we arrived with the rig at my in-laws’ place, my upper body burned from strain. But the pain didn't stop me from plopping the puppy into the Avenger’s cushy chamber. He really didn't know what to do, but maybe no reaction is a good reaction? We fired up the engine. He squirmed and tried to escape. But he soon submitted to the rumble after some serious belly scratching. Ingrid, Justin’s mama, suited up and suggested she accompany us for a quick spin around the block. Captain was appreciative of her presence, curling up in her lap while our velocity climbed and the world around him blurred.

sidecar ride
Having a reassuring lap to sit on helped Captain Coffey get used to the sidecar idea. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

The real test would be an expedition through some of Arizona's most beautiful and drastically changing landscapes. Down straight-aways daring you to cause trouble. Heavily wooded, winding roads taunting you with finality as you struggled through their curves and corkscrews. Could Captain handle the distance? Could I handle the rig?

Our destination was a little mountain town called Prescott. It's a boom town built from the town square out into the pines. Compared to the sterile, colorless style of Phoenix, Prescott oozes character. We would stay in a 100-year-old hotel just off the infamous Whiskey Row, but not before a full day's ride the long way ‘round through Wickenburg.

leaving the desert
Escaping the desert. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
The in-laws joined us on our inaugural adventure with the Wiener Man, setting off in uncharacteristically sweltering heat. We headed north, bending to the west a bit, hoping for a fast escape from the radiating temperatures that drew sweat where heads and helmets met. The pace cooled us, and when we finally reached the outskirts of civilization, I could steal a few glances at the Captain to see how he was doing.

Share the ride. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

As if he, too, noticed the growing wild around us, his ears perked and eyebrows danced with every reaction to something new. Some moments he sat perfectly still, giving in to the sensations, and let the sounds, the vibrations and the colors (those he can see) swallow him. Other moments, his eyes darted as fast as his tail wagged, and Ingrid pulled him in tight in case he was tempted to chase.

Prescott National Forest
The mountains loom ahead. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

The sun hung low when we approached the gateway to Prescott National Forest. At the end of a pin-straight piece of road, the view was staggering. The vast expanse of level Arizona desert left us vulnerable to a forceful confrontation from the approaching mountain range rising to the heavens. Even Captain had his eyes fixed on the summit of this looming bully who stole our attention from the road, the ride and our imaginations and wouldn’t give it back. We traced the path scribbled across its rock face… Following it to the heart, where Prescott pumped life between the pines.

I hadn't known struggle until this ride. Granted, the "easy steer" addition Champion installs on their sidecars made a world of difference, but it is still a sidecar. It still drifts right when I accelerate and sharply jerks left as I decelerate, no matter what the speed. It still takes stiff arms and abdomen to steady the sleigh forward. The fuel mileage drops and I have to mind the outer edge of the sidecar when I turn, change lanes or do just about anything.

What might have been “tiring” down a linear interstate was an exhausting battle amid the mountain passes, trying not to "fly the chair." I commanded the sidecar rig maybe a little more enthusiastically than needed, but the struggle was exhilarating! My palms were blistered, yet my smile never wavered – even as rogue javalina almost ended the joyride short, and bittersweet. Captain began to shiver. He and Ingrid weren’t prepared for a biting atmosphere. But before I could really feel the hurt, before the freeze consumed them, we’d made it to the hotel. The sun fell beneath the skyline.

sidecar ride in Prescott National Forest
Riding through the pines of the Prescott National Forest. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

I had missed the cold. Residing in Phoenix for many weeks out of the year and spending the rest chasing the sun, you start to forget why a little chill is important. Like yin and yang, it provides balance. It gives perspective.

mountain lake
Beauty at high elevation. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Like riding a nostalgic Indian Scout and sidecar called Avenger. A pairing that promised a bright future for the sort of couple like Justin and I who don’t want to slow down. Or to stop exploring or give in to the traditional definitions of family-life. A sidecar could allow us to share adventures we might otherwise need to give up and extend a passion that some think has a shelf life. Now we know.

As long as Justin or I can still grip the handlebar, whether or not a pup or a tot (or both?) is in our future, we’re never letting go.