For the really important decisions in life I've found that no list of "pros and cons" will help. Logic doesn't really apply, nor does rationality. There's simply a knowing, a gut feeling that what we've chosen is the right thing to do, and it requires a leap of faith. It is a nervous but determined step into the unknown. Such was the case when we decided to bike around the world, and such was the case today.
One might think that making such a bold move would feel empowering, and it does, very briefly. It is satisfying and reassuring, comforting to feel that we've chosen the right path, and that we won't ever have to feel the burden of regret. But that feeling is fleeting, soon giving way to a leaden stomach and a trembling voice that says, "Oh. Sh*t. Now how are we going to do this?"
There is a Quaker saying, "Way Opens," which I often tell myself when its time to take the plunge into a new, perhaps daunting path. It is the right decision; there is no question about that. It's the kind of choice that is easy in its simplicity because it basically makes itself. Is there really any other option? No, there isn't, not unless we want it to haunt us for the rest of our lives. And so, we take the plunge, trusting in the universe and in our abilities. We have no idea how to make this happen, but it will, and we will cobble out a path as we go along. A way will open.
We awaken often, sleeping fitfully throughout the night, making sure we're not squishing the dozing fur balls who are nestled between us under the sleeping bag. Even with our hats on, under our down covers, it is very cold tonight. I am thankful these little guys are staying warm with us, and I can't stomach the thought of them shivering all night long outside by themselves. I'm not sure they would make it.
The spot we've chosen to camp on isn't the flattest in the world. We were a bit distracted, I guess, when choosing the location of our tent. We toss and turn, awakened often by a wee doggie who has decided that night time is the right time for exploring.
Annoyance at our lack of sleep is obliterated by one look at the tiny puppies who can't help but be unbearably cute. They sigh, they roll over, they put one tiny paw over their face. They spoon with one another, flopping together in a blob of fluff. Tyler and I both awaken at the same time, look at each other, and smile. We are smitten. Now what in the world are we going to do with you two?
Light has barely begun filtering through our tent, and the puppies are very awake and very hungry. It is difficult keeping our heavy eyelids open. Puppies climb over our bodies, rousing us to life each time their paws press softly against our backs as they curiously explore our tent. We can't help but laugh as they slip and tumble, tripping over the puffy fabric, landing in a floppy pile of fuzzy limbs.
Our smiles disappear and we feel heartwrenchingly sad as the puppies try sucking on our fingers, unable to understand why milk isn't pouring forth to feed them. What happened to your mommy? we think, though we know she could very well be dead by the side of the road. She could be starving, or she could be a loud, angry bike-chasing dog. We will never know exactly how these puppies came to be here, but we know one thing for sure: they our our responsibilities now, and we will take care of them.
After trying several times to get them to fall back asleep, we groggily rouse ourselves much earlier than normal to answer the call of small creatures who are dependent upon us for survival. Tyler checks email to see if we have a response from Rory at Romanian Animal Rescue, and I am on puppy duty, trying to prevent the guys from tromping across the keyboard or otherwise romping around wreaking havoc.
Rory has sent us several email addresses of organizations in Romania, and the phone number for Aura from the Daisy Hope Foundation. We try it, but there is no answer.
As Tyler breaks camp, I cook us all some pasta, and keep an eye on the puppies who are wrestling in the dewy grass. Tyler and I stare, unable to take our eyes from the cuteness. We shake our heads with a smile and a laugh, because how can you not laugh at these two creatures who just pranced into our lives and flipped it upside down?
Every time one of them gets too close to our hot stove, I scoop him up for a snuggle, telling him, "that is hot, you have to be careful or you will burn yourself!" When the spaghetti is cooked, I take some out for me and Tyler, then leave the rest to cook some more so it'll be very soft for the puppies. I'm pretty sure dogs only eat spaghetti in the movies, but we deem it the safest thing we have for them, so it will have to do.
When we've all eaten our fill, Tyler test-packs the puppies in a backpack, and we instantly realize we will be needing both his and mine to accommodate the two of them. Tyler re-arranges our electronics to free up his pack, and then we all relax for one final laze in the grass, a calm snuggle before the grand adventure begins. We still have no idea what we're going to do with them, but they are coming with us.
And so we scoop up these two precious creatures, put one in each backpack, and wear them close to our chests like babies. Tyler takes the white fluffy one that looks like a lamb, and I take the skinnier black one. We haven't named them because we know it'll make the inevitable parting even harder. With enough of the zipper open for their little heads to peek out, we wheel our bikes to the very busy road, and begin slowly climbing Romanian hills in search of a good home.
We pass house after house, keeping our eyes peeled for a suitable place for our puppies. Many have fiercely barking dogs chained up with only a two-foot radius in which to live their lives. We pass dog after dog, lying listlessly by the side of the road, or furtively scrounging for food among piles of litter. Unwilling to leave them to such a fate, we pedal onwards. That won't be you, little buddy, I say to the puppy I carry on my chest.
When we pass a home that has friendly-looking dogs roaming free in their large, fenced-in yard, we feel a brief sense of relief. Confident whoever lives here will take care of our charges, we ring the doorbell. A women comes to the gate, looking mightily confused at the sight of two cycle tourists and their puppy-filled packs. When we try to explain the situation, she smiles but shakes her head and motions us onward. She already has three dogs, and five is just too many for her. Of course she is right.
Tyler is crestfallen as we walk away, saying, "we may as well be trying to sell sand in a desert!"
When we pass a shop, we decide it's time to stop. We let the puppies out of the backpacks, and Tyler watches them tumble and play while I go inside to buy food. I pick up snacks for us, and some bean puree for the puppies since there is no puppy food available. I'm not sure the dogs are supposed to be eating solid food this early in their lives, considering they try suckling on everything, but we don't know what else to do.
While I'm buying groceries, I try to explain to the shopkeeper about our puppy situation. After I'm done paying, she walks out of the store with me, locks it up, and walks across the street. When she returns five minutes later, she tells us that no one in this area will take them. There are already ten dogs in the village!
It is quickly becoming clear that asking people is futile. We even stop at an old folk's home that looks perfect, but they say no and shoo us away. Perhaps the only option is carrying them with us to Bucharest, where there is a shelter for abandoned dogs? That feels impossible at the moment. For us, it is three days ride, but with two puppies in tow, we are slower than ever. We've covered less than ten kilometers in two hours, stopping often to show them off at potential homes, let them run around in the grass, and drink some water from our bottles.
Riding is difficult to say the least. There is no shoulder and the traffic-free lanes we've been enjoying in Romania are rapidly disappearing as we approach Bucharest. Speeding cars and semi trucks blast by, while drivers pass recklessly around blind curves. Making matters worse, our route involves lots and lots of climbing.
Under normal circumstances, I would be shaken by all the speeding traffic, working hard to remain steady and balanced as I pedaled my bike in my lowest gear. With a little puppy strapped to my chest, I am even more anxious, and the seriousness of the situation weighs heavily on my mind.
After some unpleasant cycling on the busy, dangerous road, we try to find other alternatives. We stop by the guardrail, shouting to each other over the noise of the traffic, hoping to see if our GPS shows any secondary routes heading in our direction. There are none.
It is nerve-wracking, trying to keep the puppies safe in our packs. Climbing is hard, and coasting proves to be equally difficult. As we speed down hills at breakneck speed, holding our bikes steady, one hand on the brakes and one hand trying to prevent a terrified, squealing puppy from escaping, semi trucks blow by on our left, just inches away. To our right, the pavement ends with a sharp drop into a ditch. It is tough going.
After some time, our puppies calm down, taking to the adventure surprisingly well. They alternate between sleeping, curled up in the bottom of our bags, and watching, wide eyed with their little heads poking out to see the world go by. During one of our rest breaks, my guy barfs up a little spaghetti; I guess he gets car sick, and it's no wonder with all the bumps and loud noises and smog. What on earth are we doing? I think, as we wipe puppy puke off my pannier and climb yet another hill.
When we see a roadside fruit-stand and a bunch of places grilling meat, we decide it is time to stop for lunch. Tyler stays with the bikes while I buy some bananas, oranges, and freshly grilled hot dogs, and then we wheel them to the side of the road, as far as possible from the vehicles that are still barreling dangerously through the narrow lanes.
As we try to lean our bikes together, while making sure our plate of food doesn't fall to the ground, and most importantly that no puppy runs into the road, reality sets in. We are overwhelmed with our new responsibilities. Managing this endeavor is taking a serious toll on our composure, and we still have no idea what we're going to do with the puppies. We briefly consider dropping them off in a pasture with other animals, but quickly veto it. A few hard days for us is a small price to pay for a lifetime of happiness for them.
As we are eating (no, don't stick your face into that *splat*mustard!) one of the many dogs hanging around comes over to sniff at our food. The puppies run to him immediately, and begin trying to suckle, desperate for their mother's milk. The male dog flees, disgusted, and our little puppies are left milkless. Hearts wrenching from witnessing this sad scene, we set our resolve once more. We will take care of them. Come hell or high water, we will keep them safe and find them a home.
As I keep the puppies from trotting headlong in front of speeding cars, I tell Tyler it's time to call those people in Bucharest again. Maybe they could meet us part way or at least help somehow?
Tyler unpacks his bike so he can retrieve the laptop and the phone number along with it. As semis pass, Tyler shouts into the phone, excited to reach Aura in Bucharest. She is a sweetheart, and immediately takes it upon herself to find someone nearby who will take the puppies. Tyler shouts out each letter of the town we're in, hoping our phone won't die, hoping the connection will last, hoping she'll be able to hear over the roar of traffic, hoping she'll be able to find us on the map. Feeling hopeful for the first time all day, we set off again.
Now firmly resolved in our plan, we take to the busy road once more, our minds fixed. I find myself feeling fiercely protective of our little puppies, and the crazy driving no longer flusters me, but angers me since I have such precious cargo in tow. Tyler is amazed that I am taking it all so cooly, shouting to me, "you've got nerves of steel honey, you're doing great!" But I am no longer worried about myself. I have a little puppy to take care of.
Together (all four of us!) we climb and descend, climb and descend, cheering each other on. "We got this." I shout. Tyler calls out the terrain ahead ("only two more switchbacks and then we're in the clear!") and together we make our way towards Bucharest.
At great length, we make it out of the hills, and now we're really cruising. Tyler receives a text message from Aura: she has found someone, and we can meet them in Piteşti, a town just thirty more kilometers away! Ecstatic that our plan might actually work, we count down the roadmarkers and relish the flat, slightly downhill terrain. Twenty five kilometers. Twenty kilometers. Fifteen. Ten. We're in the clear, and it really is downhill all the way to Piteşti!
"We made it! We really made it!" we shout to one another as we roll past the entrance to the city. Overjoyed, we bike through town, petting our precious cargo and telling them, "This is it! You're going to have a home!" We arrive triumphantly at the meeting spot Tyler has confirmed with Aura. While we wait for an English-speaking German doctor driving a blue car with a German license plate, we let the puppies out to play in a little fenced-in green area in a public square.
Passersby smile, children come to pet them, and a kind French woman, Florence, and her boy, Lucas, chat with us as we wait. We look around expectantly at a sea of faces, pointing one out, and asking each other, "do you think that's him?"
And then, out of the crowd, the good doctor arrives. He is a part of the AULIM, a German organization dedicated to helping strays in Romania. He will neuter the puppies, de-worm them, and vaccinate them against all kinds of nasty diseases. Our little pups will then be adopted by a family in Germany! It's really happening; the little guys will be safe!
The thought of them romping around with some German family brings tears to our eyes.
As does saying goodbye.
Tyler and the doctor take the puppies to his van, where they are put in a nice large crate for the drive to the shelter. We leave them with a thank you post-card for the adoptive family and receive a promise that they'll do their best to connect us with them.
The little black and white puppies are out of our hands, and gone from our lives, but we will miss them so much!
Overwhelmed, and running the gamut of emotions from pure joy to a deep sense of loss, we collapse in the nearest hotel, and like every other night, begin to write our story once more.