Road-tripping with ‘bears’

Washougal couple take 2 Great Pyrenees on 9-week, cross-country adventure

Gracie, a 5-year-old Great Pyrenees dog, watches out the front window as her “dad,” Spencer Blank, drives across the country.

Barrett, a 4-year-old Great Pyrenees belonging to Kathy and Spencer Blank of Washougal, explores the Badlands during a cross-country road trip with his family.

Kathy Blank of Washougal drives cross-country with her dog, Gracie, resting her head on her shoulder.

Kathy and Spencer Blank of Washougal recently drove this fifth-wheel across the country with their two extra-large dogs.

Spencer Blank, of Washougal, finds an “emergency gathering point” with his pups, Barrett and Gracie, in Florida.

Crowds gathered whenever Gracie and Barrett, two Great Pyrenees from Washougal, stopped during a cross-country trip.

Kathy Blank, of Washougal, visits the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, Ky., with her dogs Gracie (left) and Barrett (right).

Road-tripping with dogs in tow isn’t that uncommon, but few people have attempted the type of trip one Washougal couple recently completed — a nine-week tour of the southern United States, zig-zagging from Washington to California to Nashville to Florida and back again with a fifth-wheel and two extra large, extra fluffy pups.

“We had a lot of fun, but there were some things we didn’t expect,” said Kathy Blank of the monster road trip she and her husband, Spencer Blank, took with their two Great Pyrenees dogs, Barrett and Gracie.

“Like the snow,” Spencer said, laughing and pointing to the couple’s first post on their blog about the trip, RVwithBears.com, which details the Washougal couple’s “Departure Day: on Feb. 24, the day a late-season, unexpected snow and ice storm hit Southwest Washington.

“0530 departure day,” Spencer posted on the first RVwithBears entry. “I’m awake, dogs awake, fed them and took them outside. Uh-oh. The snow predicted for midnight was falling. Not the pretty fluffy stuff, it’s slushy with a core of ice that makes you slip in the pasture kind of snow. Early snow. Check.”

“Rousted poor Kathy out of bed, we threw on some clothes, made a mug of tea (coffee pot packed … check) and bundled the dogs into the truck,” Spencer continued. “Snow fell all the way through Portland, but we made it out. Then it rained. A lot. The entire route (to Bakersfield, California). Still, that is better than more snow, which we did see on the side of the road in the passes, but no more snow on us.”

Weather crisis averted, the Blanks would soon encounter another unexpected problem they started to call “Zombie Gracie,” when their normally mellow, 5-year-old female pup, Gracie, began showing her extreme distaste for riding long distances in the Blanks’ truck.

In a blog post titled, “Gracie Hates Freeway Travel,” Spencer wrote: “We think she was traumatized as a puppy, before she was rescued in Idaho. City streets, window down, happy dog. Roll the window up and travel at freeway speeds, she becomes a drool factory.”

“Her eyes would get wide and she would just turn into a zombie dog,” Kathy said. “She’d sit on Barrett (the Blanks’ 4-year-old, 150-pound male dog), and he didn’t like that.”

In an attempt to dislodge his sister from sitting on top of him, Barrett would start to grumble and the Blanks would have nearly 300 pounds of fluffy white dogs wrestling in the back of their truck while it was traveling at highway speeds.

“We tried everything: CBD oil, melatonin, Dramamine, Benadryl,” Spencer said of the couple’s attempts to calm Gracie during their travels. “But nothing worked.”

Eventually, Spencer would have to build a contraption made from turning a dog gate sideways and taping duct tape to the top — so Gracie couldn’t jump over the makeshift barrier — to keep the Gracie from sitting on Barrett and causing fur to fly.

The Blanks also threw towels over their shoulders after Gracie decided she was most comfortable riding with her head near the passenger or driver’s side windows, resting on Kathy or Spencer’s shoulders, drool flowing freely.

A few other troubles — a dog ramp left behind at a campsite, a broken seat inside the fifth-wheel and mechanical woes — threatened to derail the Blanks’ trip, but the couple continued to rally, finding another dog ramp at a nearby Lowe’s, replacing the fifth-wheel seat and taking the RV in for repairs along the way.

Along the way, the Blanks visited their son in Nashville, attended a family friend’s wedding, went to Disney World, found an abundance of small towns with cute downtown areas thanks to their love of taking the “roads less traveled,” visited dozens of dog parks and — perhaps Spencer’s favorite part — toured more than 20 distilleries on the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”

At night, when Kathy and Spencer crawled into the small bed inside their fifth wheel … so did Barrett and Gracie. In several humorous photos from the couple’s adventure, the dogs are cuddled with their human parents and the Blanks have given the pictures captions such as “Spencer with dog blanket” and “Barrett asleep on my shoulder. All. Night.”

As much as they laugh about the pitfalls of “traveling with bears,” the Blanks said they wouldn’t have done the trip any other way.

“We never could have left them behind,” Kathy said.

The Blanks researched RV sites and destinations that were dog-friendly, which made the trip more enjoyable for them and their furry children. For instance, the couple found doggy daycares at places like the Grand Canyon and Disney World, so they could enjoy a leash-free day and not worry about Gracie and Barrett.

And, of course, the giant white pups proved to be just as popular in other parts of the country as they are in Camas-Washougal — Gracie and Barrett have a Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning walking route in downtown Camas that includes stops for bacon at Natalia’s, fresh water at Cafe Piccolo, and biscuits at several other businesses, including iQ Credit Union, Lutz Hardware and (before our move to the Columbian in Vancouver) the Post-Record office.

“People love them,” Kathy said of Gracie and Barrett. “Everywhere we went, people stopped to ask about them.”

Coming home, however, was a relief after more than two months on the road with their “bears.”

“They were so happy to be home,” Kathy said of the dogs. “Gracie just flopped onto her back in the pasture. Then they went to sleep. They were exhausted.”

And the Blanks?

“We were exhausted, too,” Kathy said, laughing.

They couple doesn’t have another mega-trip in the works in the near future, but said they know the types of travel tricks they might tweak for their next adventure. And they also have a few bits of wisdom to share with anyone considering taking their own dog-friendly road trip:

“Stop often,” Spencer said. “Don’t drive every day. Drive for four to six hours, max, and then stop to rest.”

“Bring special treats in case they stop eating their regular food,” Kathy said, adding this was something that happened when Gracie turned into “zombie dog.”

“Bring the things they can’t do without,” Spencer said. “If they have a special toy, bring it.”

To read about the Blanks’ road trip with Gracie and Barrett and see more “travelling with bears” pictures, visit RVwithBears.com.

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