Housekeeping note: this should have been this week’s Tuesday post. You’re getting it on Thursday instead (I hope…) because scheduling glitch. Onward!
We’ll start in the middle.
The human half of our team (that’s me!) grew up often outdoors in the Midwest. For a while, I planned to try the Appalachian Trail after high school. But then I liked college too much to go leave-of-absence. And then I acquired a horse. The rest is history. I’ve been in New England since 2005, starting near Boston and gradually trending towards the north. I did some local hiking along the way, a little car camping, and took one premature solo walk up Mt. Washington that worked out fine but taught me a whole lot of respect for the Whites along the way. Mostly, though, I fell out of the habit.
And then I upended my life: applied to grad school in a new-to-me field, quit my job of nine years, and ended a long-term relationship. I moved twice in five months. Lost a chunk of my social circle. Struggled in surprising ways with being back in school and in unsurprising ways with wondering what would happen next. And started hiking again: because I was living in a beautiful area and I could, because I had a dog who needed to be made tired, and because the rhythm of walking made all the question marks in my life feel a little more bearable and because I have never once felt lonely on trail.
I’m done with school now. This post goes live the day after I officially get my degree and four after the first at my shiny new job in my shiny new field. I have one more move ahead of me, but my social circle and personal life are pretty great these days and hiking (and the folks I’ve met through it) have been no small part of that. And I’ve got a pretty cool dog.
That’s Lilo, who just turned five and is currently snoring away on the couch. She was never supposed to be a summit dog. She came into my life after my wonderful weird old dog, Casey, was hospitalized with pancreatitis and I realized that I couldn’t be between dogs. Enter one stressed-out shut-down shelter dog, just over a year old, who was perfect in the ways that I needed her to be perfect — patient with Casey, mostly — and quirky in ways that I was comfortable handling. (And a thousand thank yous to the staff at Nevins Farm, who provided special training and care to Lilo while she was there and went way out of their way to make sure that we got off on the right foot.) She was my emergency back-up dog.
She was also, it quickly came clear, pretty terrible at hiking. Lilo likes comfort; she likes her couch; she views rain and wind as a personal betrayal and is pretty sure that funny-looking boulders and shadows on trail are pit bull death traps. And she’s reactive. She actually has pretty great dog manners in general and a nice play style, but she worries about other dogs getting up in her face and isn’t above making some noise and big body language to keep ’em at a distance. (We’ll talk more about this and what we’ve done to mitigate it in future posts.) So when I started hiking again, I mostly left her home.
But the miles and hours started to add up. I missed having a dog at my side. We tried again. Short easy trails at first. Only on days when I could bring myself to be genuinely okay with stopping half a mile down the trail to stare at a boulder for 15 minutes and then retreat to the car and when I could bear to be “that jerk with the scary pit bull” if she reacted to another dog. And it got better. We can talk more about my methods, if anyone’s interested, but the long story short is that it got better.
I have 23 of the 48 4,000-footers so far. Lilo has 11. I’ll post about goals and my unapologetic goal-orientation and hiking with a dog who’s modified that — but it’s a measure, anyway, of how far we come. I don’t know if either of us will finish that list, but we’re having fun so far and I hope you’ll stick around to see.