The Journey Begins

The Journey Begins

February 28, 2014


Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.

Narrated Audio Blog

Had everything gone to plan, us (Janell and Stu) and our 7 year old Bull Terrier mix Skyla would be riding through Central America right about now. So what went wrong? Skyla was diagnosed with cancer (Lymphoma) in October 2013, only weeks after booking our flights to Dallas. We were rapidly packing up our life in Sydney in preparation for a two year motorbike adventure across four and half continents.

Skyla sitting on her bike
Skyla sitting on her bike

Without treatment Skyla had only months to live. The news of lymphona was devastating and placed a major obstacle in our plans to travel around the world as a family. The tears and disheartened feelings were short lived as we turned to the internet for options to extend her quality and length of life. A Google search resulted in an article about a border collie called Muffin that had undergone a Bone Marrow Transplant as a potential cure in recent years. We approached the lovely team at Dee Why Veterinary Hospital who were more than happy to help us pursue this option and put us in contact with the talented team of vets (Alex, Angela, Catherine and Sandra) at the Sydney Animal Referral Hospital (A.R.H.).

Skyla's chemotherapy treatment commenced asap. Skyla was extremely lucky to have been able to undergo the treatment, it was very new and Skyla would be only the 5th dog in Australia to undergo the treatment and one of only tens around the world. While she was always excited to see the vets at A.R.H., happily wandering into the consultation room and accepting copious amounts of treats, she was always very keen to leave at the end of an appointment after the necessary prodding and poking. Everyone at A.R.H. knew her as the "noisy staffy" as she expresses her excitement when leaving the facility. We like to think that in some way she knew that we were doing the right thing by her.

We got the news of the Cancer about 3 months before our planned departure date, and with a treatment schedule of over 5 months, we rebooked our flights for late February and started concentrating on Skyla's recovery. The plan now was to finish the treatment at the end of January and see all three of us happy and healthy boarding a Qantas flight to Dallas by the end of February 2014. We would't know if the treatment was successful in removing the cancer forever, we'd only know that every day we had with her is a day we wouldn't otherwise have had.

The weeks leading up to our departure were hectic to say the least; finishing up our jobs, packing up our home, getting the all clear for Skyla to fly, purchasing our bikes from the other side of the world and figuring out vehicle registration overseas. But as we looked back at our extensive to do list with ticks, crosses, double ticks and strikethroughs everything seemed to be coming together. On the flip side we were only just realising the mammoth task we were about to undertake. Knowing the amount of preparation and work that had been done to date and that we hadn't even started yet, we wonder what had we got ourselves in for. Jumping in to the deep end has not failed us in the past so hopefully our good fortune would continue.

The three of us were on the same flight leaving Australia, Qantas Flight 007. It was a 15 hour direct flight from Sydney to Dallas. Janell was close to tears when leaving Skyla with the Customs Officers and the concern only escalated until the two were reunited in Dallas but only after some serious drama.

We landed on a Friday at 1pm but by the time we cleared customs and immigration it was after 3. We went to the cargo terminal expecting an easy process of picking up Skyla, but we needed to first clear her into the country and so had to drive to customs which was located 6km away. After a short but nervous wait they cleared and rubber stamped the paperwork and we headed back to the cargo terminal eager to get Skyla out of her cage. However, the customs officer hadn't entered the details into the computer system. We explained that we had the hardcopy originals in hand but it wasn't sufficient according to the terminal staff. By the time we'd realised, the customs office had closed for the weekend and we were told we'd have to come back on Monday! The staff were saying that they were not allowed to even let a dog out of its crate unless it had been cleared, so we couldn't even see her or take her for a walk or let her go to the toilet. They seemed happy with this, as if their weekend had already begun and we were an inconvenience. We argued and argued and told them that we were simply not going anywhere unless Skyla was released and that it was clearly a case of animal cruelty to leave her in that state. We ended up waiting a few hours but finally they got through to someone with the authority and common sense to release her based on the stamped hardcopies alone.

With all of us safely in the country the clock was ticking, but a few hold ups were to be expected and so we weren't to leave Dallas for nearly 3 weeks. We were both really happy with our bikes; Janell's 2006 F650GS and Stu's 2012 G650GS. They were kitted out with Touratech seats, panniers and extended range fuel tanks. In addition we had fitted a 240V inverter on Janells bike with the primary purpose of inflating a queen size mattress when camping.

Gearing up was definitely the most expensive part of our trip but it was important to get the right products for the purpose as well as quality products that would be resilient and durable for two years of adventure riding.

The Texas hospitality and generosity had been out of this world! A number of local riders had taken time out of their days and nights to share their riding experiences, pass on helpful hints and gear and show us some great places to eat and drink in Dallas. We'd been fortunate to join part of a ride with around 15 local guys heading North of Dallas. But only went part of the way as we very quickly realised we weren't prepared for the cold windy weather of Texas. A coffee break was welcomed to warm us up, then the three of us headed home with a list of recommended clothing essentials for the cold climates and high altitude riding we would encounter on our trip.

Interest in our trip, in particular Skyla, had pleasantly overwhelmed the three of us. We were invited to attend the monthly Dallas Fortworth BMW riders group and give a quick introduction to our trip. Once the formalities of the evening ceased we were able to have a good chat to some members about trips they had done and planned for the near future.

In addition to the ride and meeting, other highlights of Dallas included attending our very first ice hockey match (Dallas Stars vs Calgary Flames), listening to Texas music, tasting locally brewed beer and eating at some top star restaurants. To cap it all off, we had been staying at the Residence Inn in Richardson which was a fantastic pet friendly hotel with very happy and helpful staff.

There had been a few minor dramas so far but nothing compared to what would lie ahead of us. On our way through the flight security in Sydney, Stu accidentally left his Leatherman in our hand luggage, so it was promptly confiscated, keep an eye out for it on ebay or gumtree! On two separate occasions, Stu also forgot to remove the keys from the ignition, consequently running the battery flat. Luckily the bike was where he left it both times but guarantee it won't be the last time that happens.

This is sounding like a 'Stu bagging' so better throw in Janells root canal which was a very unpleasant surprise following some minor toothache upon arrival in Dallas. Skyla's only hiccup has been adjusting to a different brand of dog food...lets just say that the windows in the hotel room didn't open wide enough. It just goes to show that you can't plan for everything! To all our new friends in Dallas we would like to say a special thanks for welcoming us and helping us get up and running. Also a special thanks to the team at European Cycle Sports in Plano for their assistance acquiring and kitting up the bikes, our riding gear and familiarising us with the intricacies of each bike.



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