Say what you will about Burning Man — the annual gathering of clothing-optional self-expression in the Nevada desert — the fact is, lives are changed by it. Often for the better.
Such was the case with Mike Minnick, an Austin, Texas-based man who, after attending the festival three years ago, decided to hit the road in a used truck with his adopted Border Collie mix, Bixby. “I decided to treat life as an adventure instead of a chore," he says.
While Mike was determined to see as much of the country as he could, his rig had other ideas — the truck broke down in the small west Texas burg of Terlingua. He couldn't afford repairs, but he was offered a school bus to live in and a bartending job so he could earn the funds to get back on the road.
It was in that dusty little town that Mike met the Coyote Brothers.
No, they weren't some notorious outlaw gang. They were siblings almost 11 months into a two-year cross-country bicycle trek. Having temporarily set up camp in town, they ventured into the bar where Mike worked.
"When they started talking about their adventures, everybody else just shut up," Mike remembers.
Inspired, Mike researched cargo bikes, eventually buying one able to safely carry both his gear and Bixby. At the time a self-described complacent chain-smoker, he says after his new cycling friends blew through his excuses, he and his best friend set off.
That was 7500 miles and 30 states ago.
While on the road it occurred to Mike that he could use his trek to create awareness about shelter dogs like Bixby. "To me she's the absolute epitome of what a rescue dog can be — loyal as the day is long, super friendly, and just ready for whatever adventure is next."
So now he and his best friend drop by local shelters and animal welfare organizations in every town they visit, working to shine a light on the many homeless pets waiting for their forever families. Their efforts have made a big difference for dogs like Scout, a Border Collie from a shelter in Denton, Texas. Two days after the shelter featured Scout in a post about Mike and Bixby's visit, he had his forever home.
Mike also hopes to inspire kids to think of shelter animals when asking for a pet. With his rubber-chicken-adorned, bright orange bike, he's a natural attraction for young people. During this interview, three curious boys — Evan, Ethan and Elijah McKinley — wandered over to meet this guy with the ready grin and the belly-rub-loving pooch in the basket.
"We're fostering a Great Dane," Evan says.
"Well, fostering until we adopt," laughs Tyler, the boys' father.
After a few days in Portland, where Mike and Bixby visited both the Oregon Humane Society and The Pixie Project, Mike says he's impressed by the city's love of canines — and its friendliness to bicyclists.
"I want to hug this whole town," he says with a smile. "I haven't been honked at once."
That has not been the case everywhere. In Florida, for example, Mike says drivers were less willing to share the road. "I took the advice of another cyclist down there and invested in an air horn," he says. "It came in very handy."
Mike and Bixby are headed next for Eugene, then down the Oregon and California coasts. They'll eventually wheel in to Petaluma, where they'll visit the headquarters of Yuba — the company that made Mike's cargo bike and that continues to help him out with parts and repairs.
And help is something Mike and Bixby need. They’re on a mission for shelter animals, but have yet to find a sponsor to at least partially finance the trek. Mike is also seeking someone willing to assist with updating his website and social media, so in addition to chronicling the ride, he can provide more exposure to the shelters and rescue animals he and Bixby meet.
Until then, man and dog exist on donations, pay from occasional odd jobs, and the goodwill of those who follow them on Facebook or at wheresbixby.com.
"Dreams are like sticks," Mike says, quoting a mantra he attributes to Bixby. "You just have to chase them."
Michele Coppola is a veteran Portland radio personality, copywriter and freelance writer who shares couch space with her three rescue pooches Lucy, Bailey, and Ginny, as well as Bryon, the stray man she married six years ago.