By Effie Drew, special to VetriScience
My dog and I? We walk.
Luna and I are long-distance hikers. For weeks and months at a time, we thru-hike, traveling end to end on many of the most grueling trails in the country. My 4-year-old Australian Shepherd has hiked over 5,000 miles on long distance trails, including parts of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails and most recently completing the Continental Divide Trail .
Between the extensive training, tireless preparation and hikes themselves, we have spent countless hours outside together. Just us. It’s a unique experience that we share and the bond we’ve established is the greatest gift the trails have given me.
Unconditional love. That’s what our dogs give us. Luna’s energy on the trails is contagious. Her enthusiasm to begin each day is a constant reminder to live in the moment without getting hung up on the challenges of past days or anticipation of what lies ahead.
She’s undoubtedly present; blissed out by running free and constant companionship. It lifts me up to see a dog so happy and committed during the moments where I need to remember to embrace the challenge. She’s passionately cheerful all of the time.
I can’t pretend like she doesn’t have tough days, too. There have been times where I had to push her through difficult terrain or across rivers when she’s tired. Occasionally there’s a day when neither of us gets enough to eat. Fortunately, Luna possesses a high working drive and I truly believe that’s why she thrives in changing environments and circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong: long distance hiking is a lot of fun, but it also requires an immense amount of sweat and tears from both of us. The one constant is that we’re together through it all. That doesn’t change. This only works because of trust: she trusts that I’ll take care of her, make good decisions and never leave her.
In return, I’ve learned how to trust her as well.
She’s seen and done a lot in her short life, and generally she knows her own boundaries. I used to worry about her footing on rocks or making a misstep from sheer exhaustion. On steep, rocky scrambles, I may hesitate and question whether she’ll make it up. But she will. She always does.
I don’t worry about her anymore. I’ll simply take off her pack and attach it to mine, and watch as she baffles onlookers with her magnetic confidence and effortless athleticism.
She’s not a reckless risk-taker and neither am I. We are always in sync, and that’s why we make a great team. I couldn’t fathom ever leaving her behind, because we’re just getting started on our adventure together.