(The trail adventure begins here.)
“It can’t be too much farther,” Lisa said, reciting a refrain that had become her mantra, much in the way that “I think I see the sun” had become mine.
Although we’d enjoyed a wonderfully sunny stretch when both of us really did see the sun for a significant portion of our second day on the trail-- our go-to slogans had too-often served the same function as those glib little motivational posters we all remember from our middle school classrooms (Michael Jordon missed 9000 shots so chin up about that math exam-- just keep trying—because it’s attitude, not aptitude that will determine your altitude! blah, blah, blah).
I gave Lisa a look that said, “Really? I think we’re past the point of motivational maxims,” as cold rain pelted our covered backpacks, trickled down our faces, seeped in our shoes and soaked our dogs’ fur.
“OK, I honestly have no idea how much further it is,” Lisa admitted, “but we’ve got to get there sometime.” Then, in an as-yet unprecedented move, Lisa herself assumed the Alpha position with Belle, and soggy little Audrey simply fell into line. We trudged ever upward, heading toward the promise of camp and the comforts of my waiting vehicle (Power! Transport! Supplies!).
The wide-open-faucet-in-the-heavens kind of rain eventually subsided, and we waded onward through the mud.
“I think I see the sun,” I offered.
“It can’t be much farther,” Lisa agreed.
Statistical probability was on our side at this point. Within an hour of our trail low, we were making a beeline toward my car. “I vote,” I panted, “that the packs go straight to the car and stay there the rest of the trip.”
“Agreed,” Lisa said, and then we were standing in the evening sun, shedding a combined 70-ish pounds of gear before floating over to the ranger station to secure a site.
Ravenous from the day of uphill trudging, we drove my car to the camp store down the road and ate fries and burgers—Lisa’s regular, mine bean. The cashier at the previous night’s camp had recounted in great detail the amount of food he has seen trail hikers consume after a long day on the trail. He described ice cream sandwiches, chips, and candy bars flying off the shelves like Frisbees at a college mixer. I, too, felt that ravenous—for the amount of time it took to finish my bean burger, and then I was ready to turn my attention to my smelly bunkmate.
Although the evening fell sunny and balmy, our party had not emerged from the deluge unsullied. A veteran of camping with canines, I was not without experience when it comes to campground grooming. I was able to borrow a towel from a campground attendant and take Audrey to a water pump for an outdoor “shower.” I tried keeping her on a tarp afterward, but she preferred to use the dry, clean space as a collection station for the dirt she kept mining from beneath the picnic table. Huskies like to dig. Kind of a lot.
So she dug, and we pitched our tents and wound out another day on the trail. It seemed now that we’d reunited with my car and established ourselves in what would be our base camp for the remainder of our adventure, chances of major melodrama or mishap had significantly declined.
Not that I was complaining. Although it was true, that, unlike Lisa, I was dying to see bears, and remained chagrinned we hadn’t seen any. It was also true that I wouldn’t have minded seeing what might have happened if we paid a visit to the shelter to commune with the Serious Hikers who may or may not have been there, even though I suspected that we were still low on trail stories. But those thoughts aside, I had a sense of what could only be described as relief about most things that Hadn’t Happened. My worries about the trip did not include wild animal attacks, creepers, or other,practical, concerns that plagued Lisa. No, my concerns boiled down to one, singular source, and it was soft, fluffy, and Arctic white in color—namely, Audrey.
I imagined her chewing through the tent in the night, like the king-sized bed skirt she ingested during a bit of insomnia one evening. I pictured her bolting into the darkness when I unzipped the tent in the night, galloping into a void of impenetrable wilderness. I feared, yea, even expected, that she’d break her leash, or her harness or slip from her collar. But yet? Here we were hunkered inside the mini Sydney Opera house, snug, reasonably clean, and too tired for shenanigans.
If it sounds like it was going just too well, you are definitely a keen listener. Which, incidentally, was a skill that served me well the following afternoon, when, after a long and treacherous hike, we gave our dogs some water, parked my van beneath a tree and slipped into the camp visitors’ center for a some supplies.
Lisa was flipping through some detailed (ie: not supplied by the park service) maps and on the cusp of confirming that we had actually walked A LOT further than we originally thought when, from the lobby I heard the single word “husky.”
“Husky” is not a word any husky owner ever wants to hear in public unless the have a visual on said dog. Which, at the moment I did not.
I heard words like “restaurant,’ and my heart jumped into my throat. Could she? Did she? Somehow, some way, did Audrey manage to jailbreak the van and hightail it into the restaurant?
No, no, even for a husky that seemed impossible. Even as I frantically motioned an SOS to Lisa and bolted toward the door, I pieced together that the woman was not telling on the dog, she was telling on me!
It is important for me to insert here a bit of a weather report. It was sunny and breezy with temps hovering in the mid 70s. I may have also mentioned the long drink and the shade.
It’s important to note these details because the woman at the lobby desk certainly had not, as evidenced by her animated speculation that I was dining in the restaurant while leaving my poor dog to fester in the heat.
I raced toward the car, where I saw what appeared from the distance to be a throng of onlookers. Was the woman a spokesperson for an entire mob of citizen, well, watch dogs?
I tried to pick up clues as I narrowed my distance from the throng. I was looking for signs of picketing, destruction of the van—was that a hand waving? No…it was, simply, a teen raising a sandwich to his mouth. The other members of the misidentified angry throng were merely a congregation of the teen’s bored cohorts enjoying some lunch outside their car.
The dogs? Belle was napping on the cool floor of the van, and Audrey was sitting in the driver’s seat smiling. Happy as can be. Not even panting.
I know every summer brings sad stories of unfortunate choices people make travelling with pets. I understand. But as a responsible pet owner, let me add to the conversation by noting that the condition of the animal should dictate any decisions you may make about “getting involved.”
If the dog is chilling in a seat near a cracked window, nose nowhere near the window, content, watching the world—there’s no need to “get involved.” Dogs like to go places. Especially on sunny 70 degree days with their tummies full of water. Because at that point? “Getting involved” devolves to “being a busybody.”
If you know Lisa and I at all, you’re aware that this incident didn’t sit well. We fumed in righteous outrage—the gall! The injustice! We worked ourselves into a lather on the way back to camp, arriving to find the following on our picnic table:
The refuse referenced two empty cups that were left on our picnic table. Because, in broad daylight, bears apparently waltz through camp sites to gather up empty coffee cups.
We were shamed. Indignant. And stunned to see that the citation had been served just three minutes prior; as though the entire campground had unanimously and simultaneously voted us off the island.
So we did the only thing we could do: we went on the lam.
And by lam I mean we loaded up the dogs and headed 15 miles back to our prior campground for the supplies we never got. Were we afraid that there would be wanted posters already distributed through the Shenandoah network? Of course! Did we think our kindly store purveyor would hit the secret button under the counter when our faces popped up on his computer screen? Yes, definitely.
But we were hungry, suspected on multiple counts of irresponsibility, and travelling with an easily recognizable companion (I did lament not packing a golden retriever costume for Audrey) and we had to take our chances.
We arrived to find our old headquarters welcoming. We stocked up on snacks—remember, we’d been on a treacherous trail hike and still hadn’t refueled. Lisa made a point of asking our clerk if bears enjoy every item she purchased. The clerk wholeheartedly confirmed that bears like every single item we bought. Then Lisa posed the thousand dollar question: “Do bears like coffee?”
“Hmmm. Well, hmmm…I don’t really think I have ever heard that.”
To which Lisa responded with a look of triumph in my direction.
We let things simmer down for some time before we showed our faces again back at camp. When we finally got into our tents--which didn't happen before we had to jerry rig the Sydney Opera House, which had spontaneously collapsed, failed at a fire, and a bizarre episode wherein I was lost in the dark without the benefit of corrective vision--Lisa sighed, still scandalized by the events of the day.
“Just think of it this way,” I said, “It’s the crazy, messed up, ridiculous things that get remembered about trips like this. Everything that went down today? Those things were trail stories, my friend.”