A perky Holly was ready as we stepped from the mountain inn into the early morning coolness. She was energetic but my wife Jan and I had coffee in hands and followed her blearily under an archway to a pleasant nature trail.
Grinning happily as she occasionally glanced back, Holly darted over familiar ground under bird houses, along a hemlock grove and by trees scarred with bear claws.
After she let us catch up a few times, she sized us up and left as if to say, “You’ve got this.”
So Jan and I traipsed through the stillness save for Holly’s soon distant dashing over the fallen leaves and needles as the caffeine and adrenalin fueled us into wakefulness.
We eventually returned and saw Holly, the innkeepers’ family dog, on the porch. With a quick bark she announced our arrival and trotted with tail wagging to see us again. As an apparent reward for being well-behaved humans, she let us pet her.
People-friendly dogs are instant stress-reducing and smile-inducing companions. They often know the way on day-to-day terrain and act as impromptu guides and comics. Timing is everything and the right dog at the right time becomes an instant memorable part of the journey.
But those living a traveling life can also be awoken far too early by annoying yapping dogs as was the case for us on the Greek island of Crete last year, be frightened by snarls on dusty unfamiliar streets or trails and step in a few unwanted land mines as not everyone cleans up after their pet. Even a seemingly friendly dog head in your lap during a meal can make for a squeamish scene.
Once, while cycling through the far-reaches of Vermont near the Quebec border on a long-distance bike tour I was befriended by a lean boxer at a campsite, winning me over with those give-me-some-food eyes.
He bedded by me outside the tent for the night, and was at my side in the morning, at first trying to bite into the rolling rubber tires for breakfast—dogs can also terrorize cyclists when they show those menacing incisors— for a spell. The dog soon stopped but he stayed with me. Cars took notice. He was almost hit. Despite my stopping and yelling for him to go home, he didn’t.
It wasn’t until about biking five miles that I heard a voice call out, “How long you gonna run your dog?”
It was a police officer in his cruiser. Feeling a bit like a scene in a “Pink Panther” movie, I stopped and informed him Whitey, his dog tag said that, was not my dog. Whereupon Whitey was eventually led into the back of the police car by his collar and escorted home.
Years ago while cycling Iceland’s rough and tumble Ring Road, I headed inland from the coastal fishing village of Breiodalsvik as a relentless wind pushed me off my saddle to walk the road. Then a white and cream dog took leave of its flock to trot by me and multi-tasked over a mile or two, moving its sheep and darting under barbed wire fences. He followed a bit and didn’t heed my call in English to go home. Eventually, the owner drove by in a pick-up and muttered a few words to coax his pet inside. Guess the dog didn’t speak English.
Blazer, at least that’s what Jan called him, spoke English and adopted us for a spell as we rode through Montana on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 1998. She found us at a campsite, convinced us to give her some peanut butter and jelly sandwich pieces and the next morning became a canine alarm clock by tickling Jan’s toes through the tent mesh to wake us up. Blazer eventually heeded the call to go home.
Perhaps the most social dog was Abby, a young black lab mix I met deep in Maine’s woods after a long ski into a rustic lodge outside Greenville.
Dog tired when I reached the camp, Abby greeted me and seemingly never left my side during my stay. She scratched my cabin door and warmed up by the wood stove. Though she wasn’t allowed to sleep in a guest’s room, she was my backwoods guide through the snow, spruce and fir during my stay.
She doubled back when I was slow. When I called, she came. She ran the show, choosing the right lines over downed trees and limbs. I just followed her prints.
So to all those temporary loyal companions, please come when I call. I’ll rub your belly and ears. But also know when it’s time to go home.