You Make the Call

Guide of no guide? Bring your dog? Rent or buy? Here’s how to make the right call.

Jan 20, 2011
Outside Magazine
Motorcycle travel.

"Pay Attention to the rhythm of the local drivers," says Grant Johnson.

Dog or No Dog?
It happens during the planning of almost every group wilderness outing: somebody will ask if he can bring his dog. The answer depends on the dog and the owner—your call there—but also the activity. Before you ask, make sure your pooch has the requisite training. —GRAYSON SCHAFFER

CANOEING/RAFTING: Your dog should be able to board and exit the boat calmly and lie quietly while you're floating. If you'll be running serious rapids—only in a raft, please—get him a life jacket with a sturdy haul loop, like Ruff Wear's Big Eddy Float Coat ($75;

SKIING: Having your dog pull you on your nordic skis with a mushing harness ($65; is a great idea. But backcountry skis, with their razor-sharp edges, can slice a dog's tendon instantly. Unless Rexwill heel a safe distance from skiers and wait up top while you ski down, don't bring him. If he's well behaved enough, protect his paws with Ruff Wear's new Bark'n Boots Polar Trex ($90;

HIKING/CAMPING: If you're OK seeing less wildlife, then OK. When you're in camp, dogs should be on their beds (like Mud River's roll-up Cache Cushion, $30; and not cruising for scraps or playing grab-ass with each other. Have them carry up to 15 percent of their weight with Ruff Wear's Palisades Pack ($125;

MOUNTAIN BIKING: Don't do it. Your dog might love it, but it's a recipe for arthritis. Exception: it's fine to exercise hard-running breeds like pointers, heelers, and huskies beside the bike, but if you're riding for your own fitness, especially downhill, leave him at home.

Write Your Own Motorcycle Diary
We all share the same dream: to self-sufficiently tour some remote mountain range or far-flung country by motorbike. Grant Johnson, owner of, a respected Web site on international motorcycle travel, is here to help you make it a reality.

RENT OR BUY? "If you're going for less than a month, rent," says Johnson. "It might cost you more than a car up front, but you'll spend way less on gas." But if you've taken off six weeks or more (you bastard), consider buying. The HUBB section of Johnson's Web site has user-generated suggestions for both options in nearly every country on earth. If you buy, spend at least $1,000, then put $100 in upgrades and maintenance into the bike before you set off; you'll likely recoup all of that when it's time to sell. Either way, ride local—so parts and knowledgeable mechanics are easy to come by. In Bolivia, that means the Yamaha 125cc trail bike; in India, get the Royal Enfield.

BRING THE BRAIN BUCKET. The motorcycle shop you rent or buy from can help you with paperwork and insurance, but don't count on finding a helmet that fits. Bring yours from home, along with some warm-weather body armor. Just because the locals forgo helmets—and often prefer shorts and flip-flops—doesn't mean you should.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS. "Pay attention to the rhythm of the local drivers," says Johnson. "In Mexico City, if a gap opens and you don't shoot through, you'll get hit by the rider behind you, who will. You have to ride the way they expect you to." If in doubt, Johnson says, pull over and watch the traffic until the customs become apparent.

Do yourself and your tripmates a favor and get some training. A weekend class is fine; a 70-to-80-hour Wilderness First Responder course ($450–$900) from Wilderness Medical Institute (, SOLO (, or Wilderness Medical Associates ( is better. In the meantime, Dr. Luanne Freer addresses a few potentially confounding predicaments.

SITUATION: Your buddy rings his bell hard at the ski resort. He never went unconscious but was woozy for a bit and is shaken but OK now.

FIRST RESPONSE: Don't let him take a breather in the lodge; call ski patrol immediately.

PROBLEM: He might have epidural hematoma (bleeding in the skull), which is treatable if diagnosed right away. (This is what killed Natasha Richardson.)

FREER'S RX: Ski patrol will check for any neurological trouble. If they release him, "monitor for 24 to 72 hours, avoiding strenuous activity but eating and drinking normally." If he continues to feel dizzy or sick, take him to a doctor.

SITUATION: Your leg is punctured by a stingray.
FIRST RESPONSE: Open the first-aid kit.
PROBLEM: Pain; infection if barbs break off in the wound.
FREER'S RX: "Clean the wound and make sure none of the barbs broke off and remain embedded. Soak the wound in warm water to neutralize the venom. Monitor for infection." And, no, you shouldn't pee on it. "That's the myth with jellyfish, not stingrays," says Freer. "Try vinegar instead."

SITUATION: You've cut your hand deep in the backcountry. Now red streaks are heading up your arm and you're running a fever.
FIRST RESPONSE: Call in the chopper.
PROBLEM: Your local infection is going systemic; this can be fatal.
FREER'S RX: "If you are equipped with antibiotics and know how to use them, start a course. But it's going to get worse, and you'll need intravenous antibiotics."

Dr. Luanne Freer is the medical director for Yellowstone National Park and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She also runs a volunteer clinic on Everest each spring (

Guide or No Guide?
Enjoy spending your weekends planning food caches, studying maps, and researching seasonal river flows? Guide yourself. If that sounds like a lot of work, and you'd rather go for a ride or run, consider hiring a pro. For mountainous trips in the United States, find AMGA-certified guides at; internationally, you can search for IFMGA-certified guides at Finding reputable adventure travel guides isn't quite as easy. We vet all the guided trips we feature in our magazine and Web site, as does guide clearinghouse site