Mike Minnick was a chain-smoking bartender when he adopted a female border-collie mix that he named Bixby. On a less-than-healthy path, Minnick was ripe for a change when he met two cyclists who were riding cross-country.
“I’m the last person anyone would ever think would get on the bike and do it. I’m not a skinny little Spandex guy,” said the 39-year-old in a phone interview.
As powerful as the shot of inspiration was, it was backed by three fingers of doubt: Minnick was overweight, hadn’t pedaled since high school and knew more about life behind the bar than behind handlebars. He’d worked in drinking establishments for his most of his professional life, one of the few jobs where he could smoke, a habit he’d had for about 20 years.
While drowning in self-doubt, Minnick did what most animal people do: looked down at his four-legged muse and got Socratic with that bitch [sorry, we’ll show ourselves out]. “I was doubting whether I could physically do this—and I had all the doubts in the world. Bixby looked and me and told me, ‘Dreams are like sticks, buddy: You just have to chase them,’” explained Minnick.
But Minnick still had some logistics to work out. Mostly, how could he take Bixby with him?
He didn’t want to put her in one of those bike trailers that are traditionally used to haul small children. He also needed some cash. All in all, the preparation took about a year, and he knew when he found a bike designed to haul lots of gear—what’s known as a cargo bike—he’d be able to jerry-rig a dog crate with a sleeping bag attached to it. “I Forrest Gumped it: I set out from Galveston, Texas, and pedaled 600 miles to a family reunion in Arkansas,” said Minnick.
This maiden voyage was a trial run. Minnick just wanted to see if he could cover the distance with the Yuba Mondo, which weighed 150 pounds thanks to a tent, two sleeping bags, a few gallons of water, a solar panel, a laptop, water filters and 15 pounds of dog food. And that didn’t even include 50-pound Bixby.
But not only did Minnick accomplish this initial goal, he surpassed his expectations. With this confidence, he got all Bixby with another dream, tossing the next “stick” farther. Minnick and Bixby would ride from the easternmost town in the U.S. (Lubec, Maine) to the southernmost tip (Key West, Florida). Minnick and Bixby secured a ride to Maine and they started pedaling south on Sept. 7, 2013.
Not a big planner, when Minnick had the urge to take a detour, he took it, peeling off the direct route for island stops at places like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Manhattan. “I really like to take my time and let coincidences play out. When someone invites me to do something, I try to do it,” said Minnick.
Fate has smiled on the two. They’ve ridden in the Mardi Gras parade, sang happy birthday to Willie Nelson on the singer’s 81st, and even received a $50 donation from a sheriff in Arkansas, which Merrick calls a rebate for all the tickets he’s paid in the past. By the time the two arrived in Miami, it was Christmastime and a news crew interviewed Minnick, running the story on New Year’s Eve. In Key Largo at the time, the man and his dog became local celebs, and a light bulb went off: What if they continued to pedal and redirected the spotlight that fell on them to shelter animals?
Pets without owners are capable of changing lives, but, due to overpopulation, 2.7 million are euthanized annually. Call it, pedaling it forward. All this time behind the handlebars has provided plenty of time for Minnick to think.
“If there’s one thing I’ve figured out, [it’s that] there’s not a chance in the world that your dreams will come true if you don’t chase them.” Another? If a Harley rider in Wyoming offers to tow you over a mountain pass with a rope, don’t do it. (Thankfully, most bruises heal and dislocated shoulders can be fixed. Bixby, being Bixby, was not harmed.)
After pedaling about 8,500 miles through 30 states and visiting more than 100 shelters, the duo is currently in San Luis Obispo, California, lining up sponsors for another cross-country pass so they can maximize their effect on the shelters they visit.
“I barely scrape by,” says Minnick. “I’m perpetually broke and I’m having the time of my life. I’ve never been more free and I know that if I continue to follow this dream, these things will turn around and I will easily be able to support what’s going on—and hopefully make a lasting difference.”
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