Charlie Kemp and Molly Rider’s Dogpacking Rig
Charlie and Molly might just be the first “dogpacking” team to complete a bikepacking ultra endurance race. We had the chance to meet the duo at Mulberry Gap and ask them a few questions about the race and their rig. Find the interview here, plus loads of photos…
Back in 2016, Charlie Kemp and his trusty companion Molly Rider set out on a bikepacking ultra race across Florida hoping to benchmark the first completion of Cross Florida Individual Time Trial (and likely any other bikepacking race) with a dog. We caught up with Charlie and Molly at Mulberry Gap during the 2019 Bikepacking Summit to ask them a few questions about that race, bikepacking in general, and their rig and kit.
First off, tell us a bit about how you and Molly met!
I had lost my dog of 16 years a week before I went on the Tour Divide in 2015. Onyx was my buddy and he had a great life but he was small and not very athletic. While on the TD I had a lot of time to think and go through the grieving process. During that time I had wished I had him on the divide with me and I decided I wanted my next dog to be a trail dog. I had always wanted a Blue Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog and as they are phenomenal trail dogs. About six months later I started looking for another dog and as luck would have it there was a farm close by in Ocala, Florida, that advertised a litter of puppies, so I went out to take a look. There was only one blue female out of a litter of seven reds and blues and I chose her on the spot.
You’d already raced the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial (CFITT) a couple of times. What made you do it again?
As a matter of fact, I’d already raced all three of the Florida Ultra Endurance premier events: CFITT, the Huracan 300, and the Florida Divide. The Southeast’s “Triple Crown,” if you will. I was the first rider to complete all three back in 2015. So, what does a guy do when he has already achieved Florida’s Triple Crown? In my case, I stepped it up and did something nobody else has ever done: I did it with a dog. My one-year-old Australian Cattle Dog Molly Rider and I set off on a bikepacking ultra race across Florida, self supported and solo, hoping to benchmark the first completion of CFITT with a dog.
Tell us a bit about the CFITT route.
The CFITT is a 250-plus-mile mountain bike race across Florida utilizing off road bike trails, forest roads, jeep trails, bike paths, and a few pavement connectors. It is a solo, self-supported event, and no support crews or staging are allowed. Racers must rely solely on themselves and public resources to complete the route in the shortest time possible. Some folks camp, some ride straight through, and resupply logistics are an essential consideration for all. That year (2016), I started at the western terminus where the Withlacoochee River outflows just north of Crystal River, which is actually the finish point for the majority of racers. I elected to race the course from west to east rather than east to west like the rest of the racers because I’ve already raced this course going west.
To put this is perspective, I finished the race in 2013 with a time of 37 hours and finished in 8th place. In 2016, Molly and I Finished in 5 days 8 hours in dead last. So, that should tell you how different it is racing with a dog.
What led up to Molly being ready for the race?
I’m 50 years old, an experienced bikepacker, and I generally have my crap together, so registering for CFITT was nothing new for me, with the exception of knowing I had a four-legged companion this time. Molly and I had been working toward something like this since she came home at eight weeks old. There are many opinions on what makes a great trail dog and how to train one, but luckily Australian Cattle Dogs are pretty much plug and play when it comes to trail running and heeling to a bike.
I really only had to establish control and obedience with her, and she did the rest. That said, having a dog in the woods requires a 100% perfect recall. You simply can’t afford to have a dog that won’t come back when you call it or it will be a bad experience for both of you. With the help of Einstein Canine of Tampa Bay, Molly and I worked for eight months on obedience, off-leash work, recall, and retrieval. I was confident that Molly was where I needed her to be prior to making the commitment to race CFITT, so we registered and added our names to the list.
What were your objectives with that race?
I had several objectives going into the 2016 CFITT: 1) to be the first ever man-dog team to complete an ultra bikepacking race, 2) to do it self supported, just her and me in the woods racing to the other coast, and 3) to simply go on an adventure with my dog. I got all three in the end, but I learned more than I anticipated.
- 2014 Salsa El Mariachi Ti
- XT/XTR build with Atomic Carbon/Chris King wheels
- 2X10 with extender cog for a 26/42 low range
- Thomson post/stem/ti bars
- Panaracer Fat-B-Nimble 29×3 tires
- Brooks Imperial Pro saddle
- Revelate Bags
- Viscacha Saddlebag: Z-packs bag, Klymit pad, Six Moon Luna Solo tent, camp clothes, and hygiene bag, warmer layers
- Jerrycan: Tubes and tire repair kit
- Gas Tank: Batteries, cords, cache, wipes, etc.
- Feedbags: Water, bug repellent, chapstick
- Frame Bag: Food, water filter, tentpoles, ground tarp, Bike hardware/tool kit, lights, first aid kit
- Salsa Anything Bag used as a front roll: cook kit and two days of dried meals
- Front Pocket: Phone, sunscreen, snacks, ID/money, bars/gels
Tell us about the planning and gear preparation that went into this race and other rides.
How would Molly be able to complete a 250-mile, off-road, self-supported trek across the state? I had to plan, test, practice, and tighten up my system in order to pull this off. My number one priority was to complete the race without injuring my dog or myself. And to do it as fast as reasonably possible. I knew I’d have to be very conservative with Molly’s time on the ground. Generally accepted standards dictate that you shouldn’t force run a dog before they are well into their second year, so Molly would have limited time actually running.
It would be impractical and unsafe to have her running on pavement and other roads where there might be cars, so a trailer was mandatory. I’ve been toying with different trailer setups to carry her in since she was a puppy, and I settled on the BoB Ibex suspension trailer for the CFITT. This is a one-wheeled cart that fastens to the rear axle of the bike and pretty much follows my line wherever I take it. It has suspension to take the shock out of bumps and washboards, and can be set up to match the weight load. The BoB proved to be the only way to tow cargo through tight, twisty singletrack, and was clearly the right choice.
Molly’s personal BoB is outfitted with everything she needs for a multi-day excursion in the woods. Her trailer carries five or six days of food, two liters of water, her leashes, collars, med kit, treats, frisbee, etc. Everything she needs is on her cart and not on my bike. She rides in the trailer with a custom three-point harness by Alpine Outfitters, a company out of California that manufactures sled dog mushing harnesses. She can’t jump or bounce out and the harness is well padded for her comfort. It even has D-rings to mount her own SPOT locator beacon, a GPS transmitter that relays her location to my family and Trackleaders, the website covering the race. I have a tracker mounted to my bike as well, but I wanted her to have her own in the unlikely event that we got separated.
- BoB Ibex 28 Plus (BoB clearly states that their trailer is not intended for live cargo. I do so under my own risk) with a 75-pound capacity
- Wander-tech liner
- Bar padding on the front as a chin bar
- J-paks Rucksacks on the front: leashes, collars, first-aid, E-collar charger, dog shampoo, poop bags, trailer spare tube, skewer, and connecting pins
- Salsa Anything Cages on the rear inside: five days’ dog food and treats
- Two bottle cages on the rear outside, collapsible food/water bowls strapped to sides
- 1/2” yoga mat cut to fit the trailer as a pad
- 2’x2’ blanket folded stowed under the pad as her camp blanket
Any idea what the total weight of your rig was?
The total rig weight with Molly onboard was around 130 lbs. The rig is heavy but has unbelievable traction. Even with the trailer empty, the bike never breaks loose. And it still climbs well in low gear.
You must have to carry extra water, too. How does that work?
Depending on the weather and the distance, I may wear a small collapsible day pack with a bladder to carry additional water and food for remote crossings. I have carried as much as six liters if water sources were questionable. Provided we have water that we carry or filter, we can stay out for three full days without a restock. Since it is harder to source Molly’s specific dog food than human food while on trail, I carry five days’ minimum for her on a three-day trip.
How much does Molly run vs. ride on a typical day?
Molly will generally run 2-4 mile sections with 30-40 min in the trailer. We can cover 50 miles a day on relatively flat terrain, but in the mountains it’s more like 30. I have recently been leaving her unstrapped and she has been really good about not jumping out. Where there are distractions, dangers, or faster speeds involved I continue to strap her in.
How would you describe the ride with Molly?
I went into this ride with the promise that I would never push Molly anywhere near her limits. In fact, I didn’t even want to know what they were. I had too much at stake with regards to her health and safety, so we kept it really conservative. I only gave her small spells on the ground for 30-60 minutes at a time. Most of her time out of the trailer was on tight, technical singletrack, and she rarely broke out of a trot, except for a few small downhill sections. I kept a very close eye on her and we stopped often for water and frisbee breaks. It seems that no matter how tired Molly is, she will still catch her frisbee. I checked her paw pads multiple times throughout the day and pulled any sand spurs or hitchhikers out of her fur.
Having her next to me on the trail was a mix of joy and frustration. Prior to the trip, I had worked really hard on her “heel,” and she heeled flawlessly, but she was way too close to the bike. Most of what I taught her while walking didn’t work out that great while out on the trail with a bike involved. After some time, I could command her to go out ahead, and she has since done really well with that, but we are still working on her following behind. She is also getting really good at the “off trail” command when a biker or hiker comes from either direction. All of this takes time to perfect.
Looking back on that CFITT race, what were your takeaways?
While Molly did great and I really couldn’t ask for more from a one-year-old dog, this was the most challenging race I’ve ever done. It was the first time I had to focus on anything other than myself, and it took its toll on me. Looking back, I lost track of my nutrition and hydration due to the fact that all my focus was on Molly and what she was doing. I simply forgot to eat and drink. After a few days, I found myself in a deficit that I never really pulled out of, and it made the last three days very tough. I had everything I needed and there was no reason for me to fall into this trap, but it was my first time with a distraction as significant as Molly.
Moving forward, I won’t allow this to happen again but, that’s how we learn. Every bikepacking trip I’ve done has been a learning experience and I’ve constantly modified my kit and strategies. Molly and I will continue to find better ways to do things.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely. We completed the HuRaCaN 300 the first week of February 2018 and have hopes of a Triple Crown for Molly in the future. She’s made her place in bikepacking history and earned the title “ultra-dog.” Thanks for the adventures Molly Rider, you’re my hero!
Any gear upgrades or changes you’d like to make?
I’m actually looking at the possibility of outfitting a Salsa Blackborow with a custom basket for Molly to ride in. The rear rack has just about the right space for a padded container for her to sit in with panniers below to the sides. I only worry about the fact the her 42 pounds will carry a higher center of gravity than having her down low in the trailer. I have been riding her around all summer on the back of my Honda Rancher and she really loves being right behind me and is a lot less fussy. I’ll keep you up to date on what we decide. I love the idea of being self contained without the added length and bulkiness of the trailer, but I also like the ability of disconnecting it.
Lastly, any other rides on the horizon?
There are still a few routes in Florida that I really want to complete. One being the Florida Divide. That’s a big one and will likely take a couple weeks to finish. I would like to do the long option from Alabama to Key West, however work and time off might dictate that we do it in sections. I also really enjoyed bikepacking with Molly in the Georgia mountains and would love to put a couple of those routes under our belt. Planning for these adventures requires a lot of research with regards to interaction with cars and people, as well as supplies and camping options, but it’s all part of the fun.
Interested in learning more about dogpacking? Be sure to check out our Guide to Bikepacking With Your Dog here.