My recent move from the Pacific Northwest to Texas was a major undertaking for me. I’ve moved before—to college and back, into an apartment, into houses—but never on such a large scale and over such a long distance. I had to evaluate the things I had collected over the years and decide what I’d bring with me, what I’d leave behind in storage, and what I’d rehome or toss. My top priority? My two pet goats. I had a jumbo dog crate I used when they needed to take a trip to the vet (twenty minutes away), but I had no idea how to safely haul them over two thousand miles. Thirty-plus hours of driving. Through parts of nine different states (due to some interesting routing that I’ll explain later).
I’m sure that after you read this blog, you’re going to think to yourself Hey that sounds like fun! I think I’ll get a couple of goats and drive them halfway across the United States. Since there is a sad lack of travel guides for goat owners (believe me, I checked all the bookstores), I’ll happily share some of the tips I picked up along the way. Some Dos and Don’ts for those adventurous souls who want to enhance their next driving vacation by bringing goats along for company and a few laughs.
Mode of Transportation
Do: First step, choose a vehicle. Not your car—goats can be joyfully destructive, and there’s no interior-detailing company in the world that would be able to restore your car to its original condition. Think it’s difficult to concentrate on driving when your kids are bickering in the backseat? Try doing it while your two goats are head-butting each other as they fight over the last fig bar.
I did extensive research on-line and found some interesting suggestions. One woman sent me a photo of her five goats as they traveled along a similar route. She had enclosed the bed of her pick-up with wire fencing and had not only the goats but also what looked like all of her worldly possessions crammed in there. It was good for a laugh, but a little too redneck even for me. It might have added some visual interest to a scene in Deliverance, though.
I checked into some traditional livestock hauling options, like horse transport companies, but they were usually ridiculously expensive or filled with detours to pick up other animals. Besides, my goats are a bit prissy. They prefer climate-controlled conditions with all the comforts their servant…I mean owner…can provide. So I settled on a cargo van that would carry two jumbo dog crates (one per goat), me and my friend Susan (one human per goat), a bale of hay, miscellaneous goat-related items, and our suitcases. After about five minutes on the road, there was hay everywhere. In our clothes, in every nook and cranny of the rented van, and even in the stitching of our suitcases. But the goats were comfortable. I thought we were all set for the long trip, but that leads me to my first Don’t:
Don’t: Travel in the middle of winter.
Choosing Your Route
Don’t: Forget to pack your map and driving directions.
Don’t: Pick the route that manages to pass through most of the weather channel’s severe weather warning areas.
Don’t: Travel in the middle of winter. (Yes, I already wrote that. It bears repeating.)
I rarely take road trips that last longer than three hours, so at first I didn’t really grasp the concept of a thirty hour trek. I spent the morning before we left checking the weather reports for Chinook pass in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, worried the pass would close before we got through. We made it over the pass, encountering minimal snow and ice, and I thought we were home free. I had failed to take into account the weather in the NE corner of Oregon, in Idaho, in Utah, in Wyoming, and in Colorado. It wasn’t good weather. By the way, have I suggested that you don’t travel in the middle of winter?
Now, before you check Google maps and tell me I should have taken a more direct route instead of the WA to OR to ID to UT to WY to CO to KS to OK way I went, let me explain one thing. Traveling with goats is stressful. Traveling with me while I’m fretting about my goats is even more stressful. I had to tag team my co-pilots, giving Susan some relief by dropping her at her home in Denver and picking up another friend who had flown there from Texas to drive the final third of the journey with me. (After all, she was the one who had suggested the move. Plus, she told me I’m tracking the weather…after you leave Utah it’ll be really nice. It wasn’t.)
Travel was slow because of the icy conditions and because we needed to stop every few hours to get the goats out for rest breaks. For the first two nights, we got what sleep we could in rest stops or parking lots, keeping the engine running so we stayed somewhat warm, but we did spend one night in a hotel in a small town in Wyoming (both hotel and city shall remain nameless so I can’t be traced back to the scene of the crime). The drive into town was harrowing, with wind and black ice and heavy snow (the road was closed to all traffic soon after we got through). Driving that huge, square cargo van was like parasailing down the wind-blown Columbia River Gorge, and after crawling along the dark and dangerous mountain road and being rocked by speeding semis as they passed, we all needed a break. So I checked us into a roadside hotel.
How to choose a hotel when traveling with goats: Look for one with private entrances to each room and ask for one in the back and on the ground floor. Try to ask for this in a nonchalant voice, so no one suspects you’re about to smuggle goats in with you, maybe saying something like it seems like it will be quieter back there. And learn from my mistake and find a hotel with doors wide enough for the crates to fit through. Only one of our crates was easy enough to dismantle when it was way below freezing, late at night, and we needed to get the goats into the room without being seen by anyone. No problem, I thought at the time. Shasta can sleep on the bed with me, and Emma can stay in her crate. Yes, that’s Shasta on my bed in the photo. This was the ONE moment of calm in a night of chaos.
What was the rest of the night like? Shasta stood at the foot of my bed and pounced at me playfully every few minutes. She watched television with me and stared at herself in the mirror (I was worried she might try to head butt this “other goat”). Every time Susan snored, Shasta would bleat an answer. Early in the morning, Emma got her chance to be out in the room while Shasta napped in the crate. For two goats that had eaten and drunk very little over the past few days of driving, they somehow managed to pee and poop nearly non-stop while we were in the room. SERIOUSLY. EVERYWHERE. I can try to explain what the room looked like the next morning, but the only way to fully understand is for you to take two goats and keep them in a hotel room with you for one night. I don’t have words to describe the havoc they can wreak; it simply must be experienced.
How to check out of a hotel after staying in it with two goats: First, dismantle the crate again, haul it back to the van and put it back together, and then sneak two goats out the door when no one is looking. Second, leave Susan and the goats in the van with the engine running and the heat on (it was below twenty) while you painstakingly pick up goat berries using toilet paper. Try (in vain) to air out the goat smell in the room by keeping the door wide open while you try (also in vain) to clean the carpet and bedspread with hotel towels. Then try (even more in vain, if that’s possible) to clean the hotel’s towels in the bathtub. Then leave a large tip and a note for housekeeping, explaining away the mess without mentioning the word “goats.” My note (paraphrased) went something like this:
I’m sorry we left the room in such a mess. We spent the day at a horse show and that’s why we tracked hay all over. I spilled a bottle of white wine on the bedspread and tried to rinse it out in the bathtub. You might want to wash it.
Don’t bother to explain the puddle Shasta left on Susan’s sheets. She’s warm in the car while you’re cleaning, so you don’t care if housekeeping thinks she wet the bed. When you check out and are asked how your stay was, just smile and say Very nice, thank you. Then repeatedly check your credit card statement, waiting for them to charge you for a new carpet and linens.
Ordeals aside, the goats made a surprisingly quick adjustment to their temporary cargo van home and then to their new Texas home. They love their pasture—with spools and bridges and rocks on which to climb and play—and they love their new brother (pooch) and sister (kitty). I wish I’d adjusted as easily, but I barely had a chance to catch my breath before I had to drive the van back to Washington (it was a round trip rental) and then drive my car back to Texas two weeks later. For more on those trips, check back next week…