Team Murf: Seeing America up close, from their handlebars and leash

Stefanie Boewe has a common refrain these days when she encounters strong headwinds, rude drivers, or a missed connection for a night’s lodging. “Well, I was looking for adventure,” she’ll say, and laugh it off.

Indeed, the wish to challenge herself physically and shake up the comfortable “bubble” of her life is what drove Boewe to begin a 4,000-miles-plus bike ride from Key West, Florida, to Calais, Maine. She is following the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway, end-to-end, plus its complementary coastal routes.

She’s riding solo, but Boewe is not alone. Her six-year-old Australian shepherd, Murf, runs alongside her on a leash or rests in the trailer she’s pulling. Team Murf, as she’s dubbed them, causes heads to turn on the roads and strangers to introduce themselves at rest breaks. Boewe wears colorful shorts and a tank top (no spandex cycling gear for her) and purple ankle-high Converse sneakers. Murf, a light-brown merle Aussie, sports a day-glow orange safety vest and lime-green booties to protect his feet from debris. He is growing accustomed to the paparazzi, the constant photo ops with strangers wanting to meet him every day.

We caught up with Boewe on the coast of North Carolina, exactly four weeks from the rainy March day when she left Key West. Her spirits remain high despite a few early challenges. She’s fighting some nerve issues in her hands from her first few days of riding into stiff headwinds while pulling at least 270 pounds of trailer, bags, and dog. The bolt that attaches the trailer to her bike frame keeps wearing through, so she’s carrying a few spares. And she’s fixed a handful of flats, easier when it’s the trailer wheels than the bike’s.

But mostly Boewe is soaking up each day of her tour. She’s growing stronger (she’s dropped 20 pounds of “fluff” weight, she says) and exercising her curiosity. “Probably the most surprising thing has been the level of kindness and open-mindedness and generosity of total strangers I’ve met along the way. On three occasions I have been literally plucked off the street by strangers, put up in their houses, in situations where I didn’t have any accommodations whatsoever and couldn’t figure out where to stay, and they would just offer.”

She’s enjoyed the changes in scenery and topography already from Florida through North Carolina. She’s seen flowers and animals that are new to her, including one small animal she eventually Googled to learn it was a fox squirrel (look it up).  She’s sharing nearly daily photos and stories on her Facebook page, 4 Paws & A Bicycle, which is now past 500 followers.

Boewe grew up in Germany, where bicycle touring — not to mention cycling for transportation and errands — is more common. A freelance writer and translator, she’s lived in Florida for ten years. She works from home, with all she needs within a few miles of her St. Petersburg home, creating that small bubble she was ready to burst. Then her lungs collapsed two years ago, out of nowhere, inspiring her to appreciate her health and fitness even more. And she wanted to get to know her adopted country more deeply. There’s no better way than by bike, she says. Traveling with her personable, high-energy sidekick — who loves to run alongside a bike — only enhances the experience.

“Everybody likes a cute dog,” she says. “So Murf has kind of been a door-opener for me, and probably helped with the kindness that we have experienced along the way.”

The East Coast Greenway gave Boewe an ideal venue for the kind of adventure she was seeking, she says. “It’s perfect as a way to get back into bike touring, to really explore my chosen country, to meet some friends along the way, to make new friends along the way, and to make this an adventure to share with my bicycle-crazy dog.”

Watch Boewe and Murf hit the road north

Read more of our May 2017 On the Greenway newsletter