ENCINITAS — Mike Minnick thought most people didn’t have mid-life crises until they were at least in their mid-40s or 50s.
But a few years ago, at age 35, Minnick found himself having one (or as close to one as he could have imagined it to be like).
The native Oklahoman had become a chain smoker, was bartending mostly and managing some nightclubs while living in Austin, Texas.
His life, in a word, had become “complacent,” he said. “It’s like, ‘what am I doing? I’m not proud of anything I’m doing, I’ve just got to go shake my life up,’” he said.
Not long after that, a friend offered him a ticket to the annual Burning Man festival held in the Nevada desert.
He got himself a truck and drove to the festival, stopping to visit the country’s national parks along the way.
It was while he was in Big Ben National Park that his truck broke down (he said his truck broke down often during that trip), where he came across a pair of brothers on a cross-country bicycle ride.
That encounter got him thinking. And after getting his truck fixed, living on a school bus for a year to save money, Minnick decided he would trade in his truck for a bicycle, put down the cigarettes and hit the road.
“That’s sort of what started it,” he said referring to his Burning Man trip. “I decided to leave my life behind,” said Minnick.
Now at 39, Minnick calls home wherever he parks his bike — for more than two years he’s been pedaling across the country on a Yuba Mundo cargo bike with his 5-year-old mutt Bixby on a mission to raise awareness about the importance of adopting shelter dogs and other pets.
So far he and Bixby have crossed 31 states and 9,200 miles.
“There’s nothing else that I would rather be doing,” Minnick said while stopping in Encinitas on Monday. “I certainly have a lot more good days doing this than when I was in my complacent life and just sort of bored, and all of a sudden, several years went by and I realized I haven’t even gone anywhere. I’ve barely even left the city that I lived in. And I’m pretty sure that life’s supposed to be meant as an adventure, not a chore,” he said.
He and Bixby first crossed paths in the town pound in Austin.
As Minnick describes the encounter: “she walked right up to me and she stuck her chin on my knee and leaned against me, and I knew right there.”
“They’re all willing to take you on an adventure, we just have to take the first step and adopt them so they can do so,” Minnick said.
Their adventure began in Lubec, Maine, pedaling south along the East Coast, across the Brooklyn Bridge and then down into Key West, Fla.
Having received some media attention along the way, and feeling they could do some good about raising awareness about local shelters, the duo decided to keep pedaling.
What Minnick thought would take a few months to ride to California ended up taking a year and a half, stopping along the way in New Orleans where they rode in a Mardi Gras parade and then later in Austin, Texas where the pair got to sing Happy Birthday to a then-81-year-old Willie Nelson.
For the past seven and a half months, Minnick and Bixby have been on the West Coast, spending a day or two in each of the cities they stop at.
The response he and Bixby have received, Minnick said, has restored his faith in humanity.
“All across the country, everywhere we’ve went, people have accepted us with open arms,” he said.
They’ve stayed at campgrounds or with local hosts, complete strangers they’ve met either through passing by, or through social media.
“That’s just been one of the most rewarding things about this entire trip, is actually getting to be a local in local towns, every town we go through. It’s a really special thing,” Minnick said.
And Bixby has been able to play fetch (her favorite game) in some of the most beautiful places in the country, he added.
There have been a couple of times, though, when Minnick’s questioned whether or not they should continue.
He tells of a 50-mile stretch of road in Arkansas that he calls the “horrible, evil, gross chicken road,” which runs from Camden to Hope.
He was told that the stretch would be a shortcut with no hills and shade.
“Well, there were huge hills and it was nothing but hills and there was no shade and it was over 100 degrees and they had just freshly asphalted that road,” Minnick said. “So it’s like toxic, sort of steam chemicals coming up out of the road; the road was sticky so my tires are also sticking to it, and then just when I think it can’t get any worse…Tyson Chicken trucks start coming out of these side roads, taking the chickens to the processing plant.
“And you’ve never smelled anything worse in your entire life. These chickens are alive, but they don’t smell like it,” he said.
At the end of that day, nearing the town of Hope, he felt like it all became worth it after a local woman pulled over and offered him fresh iced tea in a mason jar.
“That sweet tea, I will never forget,” he said.
Minnick said he has every intention of doing another cross-country tour again, calling it an official “hug your dog” tour.
This time he aims to reach out for sponsors, now wanting to do more than just raise awareness. On his next tour he’d like to be able to raise money for the shelters.
“My dreams have just gotten bigger and bigger and this amazing little creature right here, who started off her life at an animal shelter, when it really comes down to it, she absolutely rescued me.”
Follow their adventures at wheresbixby.com.