At 26, David Sylvester has quit his job as a vaccine scientist at PATH (the global health nonprofit) to cycle the United States with dog Chiva, literally, in tow.

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At 26, David Sylvester has quit his job as a vaccine scientist at PATH (the global health nonprofit) to cycle the continental United States with dog Chiva, literally, in tow. Eschewing motorized transport, he plans to hike to each state’s highest point — mostly for adventure, but also to make a statement about pedals, paws and environmental sustainability. He’ll donate any funds raised to the Sierra Club and Humane Society.

Q: So you’re going from global health to canine companionship?

A: For this trip, I want to shake it up and do something for canines. That’s just me. I love dogs. I love humans, too, but people tying a dog on a chain and leaving it there all day? That really bothers me. If I didn’t have Chiva, I wouldn’t be doing this trip. Her favorite thing is hiking. It’s a great sight to me. I think happiness only happens when it’s shared. Chiva makes my life better. She’s taught me responsibility. She’s helping me to be active and go after my dream.

Q: You’ve blogged about Dr. John Francis (www.planetwalk.org), an environmental activist who didn’t use a motor vehicle for 22 years, didn’t talk for 17 years while walking and sailing the world. Francis embarked on his journey after witnessing an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in 1971. What’s triggering your trip?

A: There’s not one big event. I look at traffic jams every day and I think: Is this sustainable? Shopping at Wal-Marts, excessive consumption. Are we going in the right direction? I want to show I’m personally committed. I hope to encourage people. It’s my big experiment to see if I am happier living this lifestyle off a bicycle, just a backpack, not a lot of belongings.

Q: Fifteen months! Do you think this kind of trip is easier to do with a dog than another person?

A: Depends on the person. I know that Chiva can pull her own weight.

It’s not like I’m running away from other people. I hope people (and their dogs) join me for different legs of the trip. It’s a social experiment, too. I want to learn their stories.