Goats Across America

Latest update February 23, 2015 Started on November 10, 2014
Two goats, two rabbits, two humans, one truck, and an epic drive across the country. San Francisco to Gloucester Point.

November 10, 2014
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How it all ended.

As I'm sure you noticed, updates stopped about 50 miles from our final destination. There's a good reason for that. Fortunately, though the mighty truck was totaled, all passengers emerged unscathed.

The adventure continues at The Forever Expedition: openexplorer.com/expedition/foreverex

In The Field

Read a bit more about Goats Across America in Modern Farmer!


Final debrief coming in a few days.

The final morning. We awoke to an awesome Sunday brunch at Penmerryl Farms, complete with 14 dogs joining us in the dining room. What an outstanding place to stay for our final night on the road.


In the mountains of western Virginia, in the town of Greenville, lies Edelweiss, an inexplicably authentic German restaurant. Complete with accordion player.


Tamarack - the quintessential stop in Beckley, West Virginia that houses delicious food and beautiful art all in an easy stop from the highway.


Checking in from beautiful Charleston, West Virginia.


Kentucky is beautiful.


Tennessee as well! Such a pleasant surprise after flatlands of the midwest.

Bunnies are fun travel companions.


We've spent a lot of time talking about the goats and how to travel with them, but our caprine companions aren't our only cargo. The rabbits also have to be cared for.

Rabbits are quite a bit less demanding than goats. We still need to make sure our hotels are OK with small pets (Best Western is always a good option). We also need to keep the bunnies happy and healthy.

So how do we keep them clean on a long trip? The rabbits spend almost all their time in a crate. We use dog pee pads to line it and absorb their business. A little hay on top keeps them full and comfortable.

When we settle in for the night, we give them a few hours to run around. If they're really lucky, the entire room will be carpeted.


Back in Blue Grass.

After a long haul through the endless corn fields, we've finally made it back to our home turf of the south east. Hello Kentucky! We're pleased to know you.

We dropped the goats off at Stables and Sheets farm and backtracked to a nearby Best Western for human lodging.

And now it's time for a true southern road trip tradition: Waffle House.


Last year I slept through the entire drive through southern Illinois and Indiana. This time I made a point to actually see these states.


Not much to see, eh?

I try to avoid being negative about whole geographic regions, but jeez there is very little to capture my interest in this but of southern Illinois.

At last, in St. Louis, we cross the mighty Mississippi.


Wagons East through the Gateway to the West!


The new normal.

As we break out of another polar vortex-driven anomalous weather event, I'm thinking back the an article I wrote last year, Abnormal is the New Normal: southernfriedscience.com/?p=16477

In Kansas and Colorado we talked with several people who were as surprised by the weather as we were. It wasn't just a child night in the mountains. It was one of the coldest on record, and the coldest November 12 in Colorado history.

Welcome to the new normal.

The apartment at Heartland Ranch, set up like an old-timey town.


Hermione tries a new kind of pillow.


Good morning from Topeka, Kansas!


Our toilet is ice. How are you?


Rather warm, it's about 35C/95F today in Sydney. Keep warm!

What's the biggest challenge when traveling with goats?

Hands down, it's food. People food. With both goats and rabbits, and a big trailer, there aren't a ton of options for eating. You can't leave the animals in the car (especially when temperatures are running sub-zero) and the trailer makes it hard to park in most places that don't cater to truckers. We usually get in too late to get the critters settled, the trailer unhitched, and roll back into town before last call. So, we're mostly stuck with road food.

Tonight, we finally made it in with time to spare, so we're treating ourselves to pints and grub at the Blind Tiger brewpub in Topeka, Kansas.


The goats wouldn't let us continue once they saw the biggest rock on I-70. So we let them climb.


But what IS the biggest rock?

Kansas is plain.


This is about 1/3 the way across right?

Distance wise a bit more than a third, but for drivability it's closer to half. Easy to blast through the plains states.

Majestic windmills on the Colorado plains.


Still seeing the aftermath of last night's wintery vortex, we just passed a train wreck. 4 train cars in the middle of a much longer Union Pacific dumped their coal onto the plains of Colorado.

Good morning from Denver, where it is -15C right now.


Let it be known that crossing the Rockies in a blizzard is unwise.

Safely in Denver.

Icky weather begins. This is why one normally tries not to move in winter. Also, the horse boarding places are at a lack of indoor stalls because all the horses are hiding from the weather too.


can the goats come in the house?

We're currently following the Colorado River up into the Rockies. It's crazy to think how many people depend on this one relatively small body of water.


And how many goats!

Walking the goats at Dinosaur Hill. Hello, Colorado!


Are you allowed to let them graze here?

Of course. It's BLM land. We wouldn't have them out otherwise.

On becoming an automotive cyborg.

We, at least those of us in the robot-building world, think a lot about the ways humans integrate with technology. From smartphones to Google glass to even more deeply embedded tech, we're constantly thinking about the ways that humans will interface with emergent technologies.

One thing that driving across the country teaches you is how deeply we have already merged with 100 years of technology.

Americans are Carborgs.

We and our automobiles are cyborgs in a way that is more true to the meaning of the word than with any other piece of technology. We are trained to interface with it at an early age and use it to augment our own abilities: to run farther, faster; to carry more.

So embedded are we in the carborg lifestyle that we have built our society and our infrastructure around it. Even if you, personally, are not integrated with the automotive matrix, you are dependent on it for food, for emergency response, for resource dissemination. Even the unintegrated are still carborg auxiliaries.

I have driven the same vehicle for 14 years. I know its sounds, its vibrations. When I am behind the wheel, my truck is part of my nervous system. I feel changes in the engine as a tingle at the base of my neck. When towing a trailer up a steep hill, I feel it pull me, not through the RPM of the engine, but in my chest and legs, as if I were wearing a harness, dragging a load tethered to my own body.

There's a moment, on exceptionally long drives, where you no longer need to check the gauges, you just feel the car, an extension of yourself. You are a cyborg, so thoroughly integrated that you don't even notice the fusion of flesh and steel.

At that moment, you have come closer to achieving the dream of cybernetic idealists than with any other piece of technology, and you did it unconsciously.

I think this is from a few years back: The brain sees tools as extention of the body m.livescience.com/9664-brain-sees-tools-extensions-body.html

Remember paper maps?

There are still large chunks of the US without data coverage. Sometimes the intrepid traveler still needs to shut off the smart phone and check in with their trusty atlas.

For expedition planning, we're using the National Geographic Adventure Edition. Great maps and more off-highway recreation stops than you ever knew you wanted.


It's about time to roll out. Next stop, Colorado!


Do your goats ever escape?


Goats are natural escape artists and will take any opportunity to explore new and potentially delicious foliage. When we lived in North Carolina, these two had a habit of waiting until we left for work, sneaking out under a seemingly sturdy section of fence, and spending the day playing with the neighborhood kids.

They would sneak back into the yard whenever they heard the sound of my truck or Amy's car.

Side note, they know what our vehicles sound like. They can even tell the difference between my Durango and the neighbor's Durango.

We didn't even know they were getting out until a hurricane knocked out the fence completely and we had to replace it. Suddenly, a flock of 6 to 8 year olds was at our door asking us to let the goats back out.

So, this morning they snuck out the barn and I had the joy of chasing them through the Utah brush. How did I catch them? By opening the door to their favorite place in the world: my truck.


That's crazy! They're like the octopus of the farm!

At Oak Hills you can watch your four-legged friends play from the comfort of their viewing lounge.


Good morning from Oak Hills Stables!


Just because it was the dead of night didn't mean we weren't going to stop at the Salt Flats for a scenic stretch.


Just a couple of napping goats.


I think it's pretty safe to say that triple-trailer trucks are intimidating.


Road Train! Triple trailers are legal in 14 states, keep count as you cross the country, i'm super curious!

Indiana (turnpike only)
Kansas (turnpike only)
North Dakota
Ohio (turnpike only)
South Dakota

Quite common to see them in outback Australia too. :)

Before hitting the road, we took a 4 mile hike into fossil country, on the search for ammonites. None found, this time.


Good morning!

Driving across 40 miles of rough, unpaved rural roads provided the perfect shakedown conditions for our towing rig. A thorough examination of both vehicles revealed no anomalies or exceptional points of concern.

On a big trek like this, you need to check you fluids, breaks, and other wear-and-tear parts every day.


Brave. So the hotel was 20 miles off the highway? Or you guys just found a shortcut??

Hello Nevada!

We cruised through Donner Pass and into Nevada earlier today. Our first stop is a very special one.

Last year, on the reverse of this trip, we made a desperate stop at the Pioneer Garden Inn, far off the beaten path in the middle of the state. It was so delightful that we made a point to come back on this expedition.

After a harrowing 40 miles of unpaved back roads, we limped into the inn, exhausted and ready for some wine and sleep. This is no ordinary bed and breakfast. Nestled in one of Nevada's abandoned silver mining towns, the Inn is really a series of full sized guest houses, with a central dining area and barn. It also contains ssome truly excellent fossil beds, where visitors can hunt for ammonites on the grounds.

You don't need to board livestock in order to stay here. Anyone passing through Nevada should add the Old Pioneer Garden Inn in Unionville to their list of stops.


I can't wait to see the fossils you dig up!

Step one is to get the goats into the truck.

In this case, Luna was relatively well-behaved. But Hermione required a mid-air tackle as she she tried to escape over a picnic table.


Between the barn-truck and the rolling greenhouse, this trek looks to be positively hillbillie. Wagons East!


The other passengers.

Oh yeah, in addition to the animals, Amy's car has been transformed into a jungle. Herbs, fruit, veggies, and carnivorous plants.


Papers please?

You can't just load up a truck with goats and head east. Different states play host to a variety of different livestock diseases, and a rogue goat, left unchecked, can spread dangerous viruses across the country.

Step one for any backyard farmer looking to make the great migration is to visit your friendly, neighborhood large animal vet for a checkup and travel papers.

Plan you appointment carefully, since some states only permit a 10-day window on health checks. Most good horse hotels will ask for travel papers and some states (California especially) will stop you at the border to check your goats' paperwork.

A quick trip to the vet a day or two before departure can also serve as a good dry-run of your goat transportation system.


This is genius. Do both goats fit in one x-large dog carrier?

One XXL dog carrier. Not only do they fit, but they love riding in it. As soon as they see the car door open, they leap up into the crate.

How do you move cross country with goats? Where do you stay?

I'll let you in on a secret. This ain't our first rodeo.

Last year, Amy and I moved from North Carolina to San Francisco. We drove across the country. And we brought our goats. The learning curve was steep, but we figured out how to get it all done. Our biggest mistake had nothing to do with the goats. Our biggest mistake was shipping Amy's car and towing a UHaul loaded with all our stuff. We've learned (and, no longer fresh out of grad school, saved enough cash that we don't have to default to the cheapest option). This time, we're shipping our stuff and towing the car.

Onwards to the goats. By far, the most common question we get, from both curious friends and fellow backyard farmers who see themselves facing the same challenge, is "where do you stay? It's not like there's a secret network of hotels that cater to livestock or anything?"

There is a secret network of hotels that cater to livestock.

They're called horse motels, and they're primarily for people travelling to show their horses. A quick Google will turn up at least one or two in every state, usually along major highways. They range from barns with lofts to full service bed and breakfasts (for you and your four legged friends). With a little planning you can span America while spending every night in comfort and security for you and your goats.

If you can't quite make it to a horse motel, you can always graze your animals and pitch a tent in a National Forest and some National Parks.

Pictured: our first horse motel, in West Virginia.


Really?? You can graze in National Parks? Legally??

Only a few specific parks. Always call the ranger station before you let your critters roam.

Expedition Background

Four days from today, Amy and I are loading up our trusty truck and driving across the country. But this is no ordinary road trip, because the two of us come complete with a pair of feisty Nigerian dwarf goats, who will be riding in the back seat for a 3,000 mile journey from the San Francisco Bay to the shores of the Chesapeake. Fortunately, they'll be kept company by a pair of rabbits.

Join us as we travel across America, visiting national landmarks, fossil fields, and the special hotels you only see when you're travelling with livestock.


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