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CLIMBING EVERY MOUNTAIN

David Sylvester and his dog Chiva stop along Highway 101 in Curry County on his 15-month trek to visit the highest points in all of the the contiguous 48 states. (Submitted photo).
David Sylvester and his dog Chiva stop along Highway 101 in Curry County on his 15-month trek to visit the highest points in all of the the contiguous 48 states. (Submitted photo).

By Leah Weissman

Pilot staff writer

Head down, eyes squinting from the rain, cross-country bike rider David Sylvester, 26, kept pedaling along Highway 101 with one goal in mind – get to Langlois Market before it closed.

He heard they had the best hotdogs along the West Coast and, though he had already biked 60 miles, his hunger overpowered his desire to stop and sleep.

"I knew this was going to be hard," Sylvester said, referring to his bike journey. "But it's how you deal with things that makes the difference."

Dripping wet, he arrived just minutes after the market closed. Most people would have looked for a fast-food joint at that point, but Sylvester found someone still in the market to take pity on him and give him five hotdogs. While Sylvester gobbled down his hard-earned meal, he made sure to also feed his travel companion – his dog Chiva.

"I'm loving my life right now," he said laughing.

While applying for his Ph.D in pharmaceutical science, Sylvester, of Ballard, Wash., realized he wasn't ready to settle down in a long-term career. Instead, he kept thinking about how much he enjoyed hiking and biking with his two-year-old shepherd mix Chiva – and if he could somehow turn that into a lifestyle that involved helping others.

"I decided I was going to become a dog-transporting adventure cyclist and raise awareness about the environment and animals," he said. "I took the plunge and quit my job, got rid of my car, my apartment – unfortunately even my girlfriend."

With nothing more than a bike and 175 pounds of equipment, clothing, food, maps and Chiva – whom he lugs behind him in a trailer – Sylvester began his 12,000-mile journey March 13 with the intent to raise money for the Sierra Club and Humane Society of the United States.

"Any money people donate to me will all go to those two organizations," he said. "I also have a Donate button on my blog that people can use. I just adopted Chiva from the humane society, and wouldn't be doing this trip without her in my life. "

Sylvester will zigzag across America from Washington to Maine and, with Chiva by his side, climb the highest peak in each of the 48 contiguous United States. The trip should take about a year and a half, according to Sylvester. If they succeed, they will be the first human and dog team to undertake such a unique adventure.

"I've done plenty of camping and mountaineering and used to ride my bike to work so, I figured, why not combine all three?" he said. "This trip represents everything I am right now, everything I stand for: health and fitness, a dynamic lifestyle and trying to do something good. I've never done a bike trip like this before, but it's the lifestyle that I want to live.

"I could have studied for five years, but instead I'm loving my life," Sylvester added.

Before waving goodbye to family and friends, Sylvester made sure to contact a variety of businesses in the dog-related industry for sponsorship.

For instance, the manufacturer DoggyRide provided Chiva's trailer and is paying for Sylvester's health insurance, while Seattle Dog Magazine is paying his cell phone bills and will publish his trip memoirs in the future.

"The dog industry is so big, and it was a lot of work getting these connections, but it was a good idea," he said.

As of Saturday, April 5, Sylvester had biked approximately 500 miles from Ballard, Wash., to Brookings – representing only 4 percent of the entire projected journey. With Mount Hood behind him and 47 more peaks to summit, Sylvester said that, rather than physical exhaustion, the biggest challenge of the trip so far is trying to stay focused.

"Once you get in stride, it's not that bad," he said. "The weather can be a problem, especially when it's raining and you have trucks whizzing past you and spraying you with water. The key is to travel through good weather, though I'm not doing such a good job of it. When it comes down to it, I just have to stay focused on my goal every day."

While highways provide a more direct route, Sylvester said, when he can, he prefers to take back roads and logging roads so Chiva can run alongside him.

"I usually try to give her 15 miles of running every day," he said.

Although the trip is almost entirely self-funded and involves a lot campfires and sleeping under the stars – or curled up in a tent as the rain pounds down – Sylvester said he's not too proud to accept meals and shelter from people he meets along the way.

"I'm only at the beginning of my trip, and I've already met tons of great people," he said.

"Before getting to Gold Beach, I had camped three nights in a row. When I arrived, I went to a restaurant for dinner, and these two older ladies were so nice and bought me my meal. I told them what I was doing, and one of the ladies let me sleep at her house and take a shower. She treated me like her grandson – that's something I'll remember forever."

Along the way, Sylvester said he'll stop at local humane societies in the towns he visits, and is always open to talking with strangers about his cross-country bike ride. And if a child wants to pet Chiva, all they have to do is ask.

"When I first told my mom I was planning on doing this trip, she told me it was a monotonous life," Sylvester said. "She said all I'd be doing is peddling.

And I said, ‘Mom, this is the least monotonous life. I don't know where I'm going to sleep every day, where I'm even going sometimes.' Now she and my friends see how serious I am about this, and they read my blog every day."

For information about Sylvester and Chiva's journey, go to http://www.bikingdog.blogspot.com

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