Jess and Greg Stone lead an unconventional life. They met when they were both international aid workers and found they shared a strong desire to explore, see the world and do some good along the way.
With so much in common, they married and together, the couple have combined their many loves — traveling, their dog, helping others, the colors of Guatemala and have combined it all into a transcontinental journey on their motorcycles that is spanning the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia.
Last year – on March 5, 2022 — the married couple started their adventurous ride in Guatemala, they traveled north to Mexico, back into the United States and Canada and kept going, reaching the Arctic Ocean.
After a recent short break in Greg’s hometown in the San Fernando Valley, they are now back on the road — currently riding en route to the tip of South America.
Once there, they plan to go to South Africa, ride up the east side of the continent, then on to Europe, Asia, and then Malaysia, where they will then travel back to Guatemala. The couple estimates that the rest of their trip will take them at least two years to complete.
The reason for the long trip is to raise $100,000 for “Girl Up,” a nonprofit founded by the United Nations Foundation that focuses on equity for girls and women in spaces where they are underrepresented. They’ve raised about $12,000 so far.
“It was an organization that I felt really passionate about because they do girl’s leadership and development training, and it’s all stuff that I wish that I had as a child, as a young girl,” said Jess, who has worked previously as an international aid worker. “I got in contact with them, and [told them,] I want to do something to help you and help get the word out about Girl Up and we decided, let’s do this partnership.”
Jess is also the founder of Ruffly, an online store that sells outdoor gear for dogs. Although it’s registered in Reseda, all the workshops are in Guatemala and the products are made, she said, by indigenous women.
To raise money for Girl Up, Jess is advertising her business while she rides her motorcycle and said 10 percent of all sales go towards the nonprofit. However, it’s not Jess on the bike that’s meant to get people’s attention, but rather her large, furry companion.
Moxie doesn’t ride in a sidecar or in a trailer; rather, the six-year-old German shepherd is actually hitching along directly on the back of Jess’ motorcycle.
Moxie is in a motorcycle dog carrier that they invented, which is sold on Ruffly.
Given the novelty of seeing a dog on a motorcycle, the hope is that passersbys will get interested in checking out Ruffly, and from sales, a contribution can in turn be made to the nonprofit.
This trip has been years in the making, even before Jess and Greg met.
First Transcontinental Trip
Canadian-born Jess and Woodland Hills native Greg first met in Africa in 2011 when both were aid workers. It wasn’t long before they connected and got together. Greg told Jess of his dream to ride down to the tip of South America. He previously attempted to do so but stopped in Panama after running out of money.
Greg invited Jess on a similar trip, but first, she had to learn how to ride a motorcycle. She had her reservations, but while in Liberia, she learned how to ride. For her first trip, she traveled from Los Angeles to British Columbia to Chile. The journey took eight months.
“It was not what I expected,” Jess recounted. “I don’t think I had the skills yet to feel comfortable to do it. I was completely overloaded with all my gear.”
Years later, Jess is feeling more confident for the much longer journey, even with a German shepherd tagging along, but did admit she still gets anxiety.
“Each time, there’s a new challenge,” Greg added. “Jess is an extremely capable and competent road rider and [she’s] learned how to deal with a 75-pound furry bulk on the back.”
Jess is a lifelong animal lover but never had a dog before. It was only after arriving in Guatemala and, knowing that they were going to stay for a few years, that they decided to get one.
The couple got Moxie when she was eight weeks old. And it was through her that Jess’ business came to be.
Inspiration Through Guatemala’s Vibrant Colors
When looking for something to outfit Moxie with, Jess couldn’t find anything she liked. Everything she had found was either leather or some other material that she felt was not durable enough to last on a German shepherd.
Eventually, she decided that they would make something of their own. At the time, Greg was working for a women’s microfinance nonprofit, which had an artisan program.
The women in the program used traditional techniques with natural dyes to make clothing. Already loving the vibrant colors of Guatemala, the two reached out and asked if they could make something for Moxie.
“They thought it was so funny because it’s not something [they do in] Guatemala,” Jess said. “There’s the ‘fufu’ stuff that you do for dogs, but in the village, they don’t really look at their dogs in the same sort of way. They don’t outfit them, so they really enjoyed it.”
It was from that experience that the idea to start a business was formed. Around 2017, the couple started getting organized with the artisans and experimented with different kinds of fabrics and styles. Officially registered in 2018, Ruffly has been steadily growing ever since, offering items like collars, beds, bandanas and kibble bags.
“They all came out of sort of a need for us — things we wanted along on the trip for dogs that are going to be active and people who want to bring their dogs on adventures, because the point of Ruffly is we want people to live extraordinary with [their] dog,” said Jess. “[Whether] that means taking your dog out for a stroll and going to a different neighborhood or that means taking them to the dog park or going on an adventure and a hike.”
Running Ruffly has taken up the bulk of the couple’s time, who have since had to put their aid work behind them. However, Jess has discovered that by having her own business, she is able to pay women a fair wage and help them grow in their own entrepreneurship — which she believes has had a greater impact on the community than her aid work.
“Our one artisan was able to bring on, I think she had at max, 12 different artisans under her that are all working for her, and she’s become sort of the jefa [boss] of everybody,” Jess said. “It’s fantastic because it’s not only her and her family that have gotten the income from all of this, but now everybody in the community.”
Beginning of a Ruff Rider
Ruffly’s most unique item, the motorcycle dog carrier, first came about through necessity. Not wanting to leave Moxie alone, but lacking a car, the only options they could find online were sidecars or trailers. However, Jess was unhappy with both options, having gotten accustomed to her riding style.
Once again, the couple decided to make something themselves.
Working in a metal shop, Greg designed a carrier for Moxie to ride in. It started to grab attention online, with people asking how they could get one. However, the two originally had no interest in making them.
“We [didn’t] want to go into manufacturing,” Jess explained. “We wanted our focus on the dog products like the collars, the leashes, the artisans and all of that is what our passion was.”
At first, they sold the plans so people could get something made at their local metal shop. But the shops would charge thousands of dollars, so people would come back and ask the couple if they could make it.
After seeing the demand, the couple changed course, manufacturing the carriers in Guatemala. The carriers are customized to the bike and the dog, fitting dogs less than 20 pounds up to 120 pounds. Jess has said they have sold a few hundred of these carriers around the world.
“I’m glad that we were able to find that niche in the market because … there’s a lot of women who come because they see me riding and they’re like, ‘I’ve got a big dog and I want to take her along, but I don’t know if I can,’ and they see me and [they’re] like, ‘I see that you do it. I want to do it too,’” Jess said.
“It’s really great and empowering in that sense to be able to do that for others.”
The Journey So Far
There is still a long way to go to complete their journey, but so far, the trio had a fun time riding up through North America.
“The most fun part about it is watching Moxie’s reaction when we’re riding,” Jess said. “She is alert the whole time. She does not sleep on the back of the bike. She is looking around, seeing and smelling new things all the time.”
While it has been an enjoyable experience, the trip has its own hazards. One of the most unique is, ironically, also what the couple is seeking: other people’s attention. Oftentimes, people on the road who see Moxie will try to film her on their phones, causing them to swerve on the road.
“I’m right behind her, so I can see everybody who has their phone out,” Greg said. “It’s less of a concern for Jess because they’re seeing her, but nobody’s paying attention to me.”
There have also stretches of unpaved roads the trio has traveled on that makes riding a motorcycle even more difficult. Near the Arctic Ocean is one such road that goes on for 850 kilometers. While she didn’t have any accidents when traveling on that particular road, Jess has had falls before. Fortunately, both her and Moxie would come out no worse for wear.
“Motorcycling has an inherent danger to it. [You] can’t get around that,” Greg said.
Regardless, the couple have enjoyed the reactions they’ve received from passersby, both young and old.
“It’s really nice to have that impact, and it’s [from] everybody, you know. It’s elderly people who [say] ‘I’ve never seen anything like that,’ or even young kids who say, ‘Oh, wow!’” Jess said. “It’s really heartwarming and I think that’s one of the best parts of the trip.”
For more information about Ruffly, visit its website at https://www.goruffly.com/. To donate to Girl Up, go to https://fundraise.unfoundation.org/give/356968/#!/donation/checkout.