This article originally appeared on The Trek on 02/05/2021, and can be read here: https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/tragedy-and-a-renewed-sense-of-why/
“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” – George R. R. Martin
I want to tell you about my best friend, Raz.
Raz was a dog of unparalleled nature. He was smart and loyal; loving and friendly to everyone he met. He loved to swim and roll around on his back in soft grasses. Raz liked to chase tennis balls and destroy rope toys. And he was always there for me whenever I needed him. He liked to follow me around the house and would come find me whenever I was away from him for too long. He was my absolute best friend.
And last week I lost him.
I had actually just gotten back from a weekend shakedown trip in the Red River Gorge in my home state of Kentucky when I noticed something wasn’t right with Raz. He was coughing some and was incredibly low energy. I mean, he wouldn’t even get up to go outside, which he loved to do! My fiance and I knew something was wrong because Raz was normally such a high energy dog.
The trip to the vet that I thought would end in him getting some doggy cold medicine ended up with an excruciating trip to the animal hospital to make the worst decision of my life; pay four to six thousand dollars for a surgery that may only add six to eight more painful months or let him go peacefully there and then.
We decided to let him go. We stayed with him until the very end, constantly telling him how much we loved him and how we’ll never forget him. And we never will.
A Renewed Sense of Why
OK, very sad. I know. But what does this have to do with hiking? Why am I writing this on a site where people come to talk and learn about long distance hiking and backpacking?
Well, the best answer is this loss has given me a new mission. A new purpose, if you will, to hiking the Appalachian Trail. No more is it just about me getting away from life and experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Now I’m hiking for Raz.
Raz would love the Appalachian Trail! I originally chose not to take him with me however because of logistics and his personality. For one, I didn’t want to have to deal with boarding him through the Smokies and any other section that doesn’t allow dogs. I also didn’t want to have to deal with more difficulty finding rides and hostels that accept dogs, difficult as those things may be already with Covid.
Secondly, as much as Raz loves adventures and hiking and being outdoors, he was a dog who was spoiled with comfort! He always had a big, comfy bed covered in blankets and pillows to sleep on. He even had a heated blanket in the winter! We pampered this dog! And I know from personal experience that he expects that kind of comfort at all times.
We’ve taken him camping before and he just cannot get comfortable sleeping on the ground of a tent without a big, comfy bed. He would get up and grumble and complain all night long. So obviously he wouldn’t want to sleep in a tent every night for five months! And besides, he was getting a little older and I didn’t want to make him do something that might hurt him.
Along for the Ride
So now Raz is coming with me!
Even though Raz won’t be with me in the flesh, he’ll be there in spirit. I’ve decided that I will carry his collar with me from the beginning all the way to Katahdin. It’s going to be hard knowing he is gone, knowing I won’t get to see him when I get home after finishing the trail. But having him with me in spirit will be enough to keep me going. I’ll have his collar on my pack, a constant reminder jingling along with me down the trail as if he was trotting right beside me every step of the way.