Goats Across AmericaNovember 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.