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Animals We Love
February 19, 2008
This month we are doing a two-part story about a six-thousand mile road trip that I took with my mom, her Golden and my Golden in the summer of 1997. Sadly, whatever photos we had of the trip are currently in the void that collects all old travel photos, so please enjoy the substitutions of our beautiful boys. I hope you enjoy reading about a very special time shared with my best friends and family. Look for part two in two weeks at the beginning of March.
If you have a special animal in your life that you’d like to tell us about, write me and we’ll share your story.
On the Road with Cody and Teague
Some of the best trips are spur of the moment, seat of the pants, get in the car and head in that direction, any direction, just get out of town. They are trips taken for the sake of going, going anywhere, for the adventure and to see what’s around the next corner. They are about shared moments with best friends that become cherished memories years later.
This was one of those trips.
I landed at San Diego airport after a long flight from Washington DC by way of Pittsburg. I had heard Teague barking before takeoff and then again after arriving at the gate in San Diego, so I knew that he’d made the trip safely, if unhappily, in the cargo section of the plane. Mom met me at the gate and we raced off to claim Teague after he’d been unloaded. He looked a little worse for wear; his water had splashed out of the dish and all over the floor of his kennel. Whatever resentment he harbored at being banished to the belly of the plane vanished once we got him out of the soggy cage and let him visit with all the lovely people in the airport who ohhed and ahhed over him. He took the accolades as his due.
The hardest part of our travels was behind us. The next day we packed up Mom’s Thunderbird. It was a two-door coupe with a massive backseat that was perfect for two massive Goldens and an even larger trunk that we were positive would hold everything we would be bringing and buying along the way. We weren’t sure exactly where we were going. We had a general idea of heading to Utah to see Zion and Bryce National Parks, then going north to Yellowstone and then into Canada to Vancouver, after which we’d come back south along the coast. That was as specific an itinerary as we’d come up with. We knew we’d have to be flexible with the two dogs along, and we were fine with that.
We set out hoping to make it to Utah by nightfall. Both dogs were in the backseat stretched out with just their rear ends touching. They were happy as could be, napping or resting their heads on our shoulders to catch the wind as we barreled along I-15 through Death Valley, making a gas stop in Las Vegas, moving east through the north-western tip of Arizona and then into Utah. We arrived in St. George a little more than eight hours after we’d set out. Both boys were thrilled to get out of the car for what they could tell was more than a bathroom break, as I began to unload the luggage from the trunk and Mom went to secure a room in a hotel that the AAA guide stated allowed dogs.
I was just getting the cooler with the boys’ food out of the trunk when Mom came out of the lobby and called to me, “Lex, can you come here and bring the boys?”
I could tell by the edge in her voice that there was a snag, and assumed, rightly it turned out, that the clerk wasn’t going to give us a room until he saw the dogs. He took one look at our gorgeous and particularly well behaved boys and said to my mother, “That will be an additional five hundred dollars. Two-fifty per dog. It’s a refundable deposit, depending on the condition of the room after you leave.”
My heart sank, and I prepared to repack the trunk, but to Mom’s credit, she didn’t bat an eye and signed for the room. A few minutes later we unlocked the door to one of the nicest rooms that hotel must’ve had – this became a theme for the rest of the trip, and we later agreed that the hotels must have had the policy that if you can afford the damage your dog does, you can afford to stay in the best room they had, or possibly vice-versa.
We woke the next morning to torrential rains. The gutters were overrunning. The streets transformed into rivers. I took one look at my year and a half old Golden who was bouncing around me in excitement and anticipation of what lay on the other side of the door and resigned myself to an unwanted second shower for that morning. Teague is a consummate water dog. As a puppy, he would wander into the shower or climb over the wall of the tub when I was in either of them. He looked at the all of that glorious water falling like buckets being emptied from some great bail out and was elated. Mom handed me Cody’s leash, a bunch of baggies and wished me well.
The three of us splashed and slogged up and down the sidewalk in front of the hotel for what seemed like the better part of the day. Rain tricked down the back of my neck and seeped into my shoes. Teague and Cody jumped and lunged through the puddles, at one point pulling me along toward the street where the promise of bigger puppy cannon balls lay. I had visions of the three of us being swept away down stream/street, and I somehow wrangled both thoroughly sodden dogs to stay on the sidewalk.
We waited for the storm to pass before heading out the one hour drive to Zion National Park. I had been there some years before and was looking forward to sharing the experience of doing some gentle hiking with Mom and the boys. Sadly, we had not bothered to check into the status of dogs in national parks beyond finding out that they were permitted in the parks on a leash no more than six feet long. What we didn’t know was that they are NOT allowed on most trails. The nice thing about our National Parks and Forests is that, by and large, one can see spectacular vistas from the car as one drives through, which is what we ended up doing after a cursory stop at the visitor center where we reluctantly left the dogs behind for race to see the waterfall at the top of the trail. When we got back to the car, expecting to see very upset dogs, we were relieved to find the boys snoozing contently – Cody using Teague’s rump as a pillow. We had nothing to worry about. They were fine; it was only we that were disappointed.
We cruised through Bryce Canyon, stopping occasionally to take photos and let the boys out where possible. Moving north through Utah back on I-15, we buzzed along with traffic that thinned to the point where it was the semis hauling their loads and us. We listened to the radio until it became static, and then we talked and laughed, the boys hanging their heads over the seats and looking alertly at the road ahead.
We stopped that night in town that was little more than a wide spot in the road, staying in a nondescript, but functional, motel. Outside our door that next morning was miles of desert. We walked the boys along in cold, dry air. Their noses sniffed up the scents of animals that had padded or slithered by in the night, and we watched the sun rise over the mountains and light up the desert floor with soft, deep colors of rose and gold and sage. Those colors filtered through the boys’ fur. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing your dog backlight by a rising sun, head up, ears alert, filled with youth and energy. After we let the boys play a good long game of tag, we loaded them back into the car and continued the trek north.
Our lunch stop that day was in Salt Lake City. The boys got to visit the capital building, the first of many capitals on this trip and then subsequently a tradition carried on in other trips.
Upon leaving Salt Lake City, we went into Wyoming and landed that night in Jackson Hole, one of two places where we spend more than one night. Jackson Hole was one of the best and friendliest places for the dogs. Again, we went through the routine of staying in the hotel’s nicest (expensive) rooms and paying double that for a pet deposit, but we were getting used to it and the sticker shock had worn off. The boys were having a blast at every stop getting to investigate new smells and whenever possible make new friends. Nothing breaks the ice with people like a happy, tail-in-the-air-wave-it-like-you-just-don’t-care Golden. We stopped and talked to what seemed like everyone in town. Actually, we stopped and they talked to the dogs, both of whom soaked up the attention and gave it back ten-fold.
When traveling with dogs there are some things that you end up doing that are strictly for them. After being cooped up for a few days Teague was beginning to show signs of an onset of ants-in-the-pants. Cody was much more of a gentleman, but it was obvious to us that both boys could use some mental, as well as physical, exercise. We took them over to a school playground that was close to our hotel and let them practice what they’d learned in agility. Teague and Cody climbed up and then slid down the slide; they balanced on the teeter-totter; they clamored through the tunnels and jumped over the bars. When we left for dinner that night, both boys were sacked out on their travel beds snoring loudly.
Before we left Jackson Hole for Yellowstone, we stopped in a massive field that had to be a part of someone’s ranch and let the boys run around. Cody was okay off-lead, but Teague had (still does) a nose of a scent hound. Once he got a scent, he would follow it at a dead run until he found its source. To this day he isn’t trustworthy off-lead. So Teague walked with us as we watched Cody bound like a bunny through the tall grass. And then, in the third week of August, it began to lightly snow. It melted as it hit the ground, but it was the first snow the boys had ever seen.
The only part of the trip that Mom had a notion of a plan for was Yellowstone. Her idea was drive through the park and get a room on the north end that would be convenient to re-entry for the next couple of days. How was she to know that there was a massive cross-country bike race whose participants, fans and followers had descended upon the town and surrounding area leaving us with no room at the inn, any inn anywhere near Yellowstone?
Fate smiled on us, as she did throughout the trip. We ended up well north of the park, too far north to drive back, but we ended up at a beautiful ranch – the 320 Ranch – in Big Sky, Montana. It was picturesque. A river ran through the grounds where people were practicing their fly fishing casts. The cabins were rustic and comfortable – handmade quilts were on the beds. There was a kitchenette and a fireplace. We roamed the grounds with the dogs, who were warmly welcomed, although we were warned not to let them get too far out of our sight because there had been a grizzly bear reported in the area. That news kept us from going way up the paths on the mountains that rose up behind the lodge. Wildman Teague took one look at the river, and I knew my biggest concern wasn’t going to be the grizzly. As usual, Cody was so well-behaved and he stuck next to Mom, only occasionally running off to eat some predigested something-or-other.
That night the boys got an extra special dinner of venison and buffalo from the 320 Ranch’s restaurant. I told Teague not to get used to it as he wolfed it down and looked at me for more. After dinner, we all cuddled up in front of the fire with hot cocoa until the dogs got too warm and headed off for the relative coolness of their own beds. For being a day that didn't go as planned, it couldn’t have been nicer.
The next day we zipped through Butte, Missoula, up into Kalispell, Whitefish, and Eureka. Along the way in each of these towns and roadside stores, we stopped and bought everything that had huckleberry scent or taste. The trunk was close to bursting, and we started slipping a few odds and ends into the back seat. The boys lost the luxury of being able to sprawl and began to take on more rigid, upright postures.
We crossed the border into Canada at Roosville. As we entered Canada, the border guard examined our papers and then the boys’ papers and wished us a lovely stay in his country.
**Check back in two weeks for the second half of "On the Road with Cody and Teague"!