Saturday, March 30, 2013

Trails and Tribulations

I believe that this life is not made up of just the “good”, but in order for us to live a life much richer we need to experience and embrace hardships. We need to be hard-pressed and challenged, so when our lives are filled with enjoyment we can have a complete understanding of how “good” these precious moments truly are. Without persevering through adversity one can’t have a complete grasp of self identity. How can you know who you are when you have never been pushed to show your true colors? Without that pressure you are living a life that is a half painted masterpiece.

Yesterday’s hike presented us with such a challenge, and through it we unlocked an aspect of our friendship we hadn’t yet found the key to. We started off hiking Mt. Waumbek, a 7.2 mile hike, before the sun’s warmth had a chance to grace our land. Although the early start left me a little bogged, Cullen didn’t seem to be influenced at all. His pace ensured mine did not falter. As we reached the summit, the air still filled with the mornings haze, we quickly shared a snack and then we were off. Both our hike up and descent went quicker than I had originally thought. By 9:15 am we were back at the car restocking for our second hike of the day up Wildcat Mountain; a hike that would open my eyes.

Between the 2:30am early wake and the trek up Waumbek, my body’s strength depleted quicker than I had anticipated. Strangely enough I found myself struggling up the fair elevation gain Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail had to offer, which would only give way to the remorseless Wildcat Ridge Trail. With each step I felt my body grow weaker.

I did my best to stay fueled up by continuously snacking on carbs and fatty foods and drinking water, but nothing did the trick. Due to the snow and cold, Cullen has to keep moving in order to regulate normal body temperature. Min Pins do not take to the cold like other thicker furred breeds. This means my rests are far and few. I only get to stop for a moment or two, just long enough to catch my breath.

Up until the Wildcat Ridge Trail junction the track was packed down well from previous folks snowshoeing. Their prints left us with a well groomed trail to hike. However, from the very start of Wildcat Ridge Trail it was a completely different story. We were left to follow one set of boot prints and, ironically, one set of paw prints. These paw prints being obviously much larger than Cullen’s.

The deep and air-soft white powder drained me rapidly. The snow caved on every step, which on such a dramatic incline made it almost impossible. I felt my body’s strength bottom out, and I was no longer continuing with the use of muscle energy. I found myself running off the will to succeed. The need to accomplish kept one foot in front of the other. However, in such a challenge that same will and need is not always enough. When every step gets harder than the last and every thought is of quitting, you need more. Cullen’s friendship and determination fulfilled that need.

He would continuously turn back to check in on me. Without the need of verbal communication his eyes told me everything I needed. That’s the beauty of friendship. When one is weak the other is strong, and will lead you through privation, all without having to speak one word. The purity in the eyes can give you all the motivation and strength needed to overcome. For that is exactly what he had done on the mountain. That day his fortitude would lead me over 6 peaks (2 being 4k), through 18miles, and 10 hours of hiking.

I know Cullen’s physical strength will diminish, and his time on this planet will someday come to an end, but the lessons he has taught will last well beyond my days.

Life isn’t meant to be easy. We all must experience adversity, and at times you find each step getting harder than the last, but trust that a true friend will be there by your side. This friend will push you and provide you with the energy and strength your body lacks. Today’s pain shines new light on tomorrow’s pleasures, and helps define who we are. This pain will help reveal what is truly important in life. Never let these moments pass by, but grasp them with both hands and hold tight; For they are what makes us who we are.  

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Thanks for trailing Cullen’s Travels!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

His loyalty, his love, and his strength of mind...

What a special Friday spent backcountry boarding. Yesterday delivered us the kind of excitement you can only get when you break through walls you thought were unbreakable. Never underestimate the power of friendship and the obstacles that can be tackled when you have the support of your closest companion (no matter how big, small, human, or animal).

There are only a few slopes Waterville Valley closes to the people who pay for their tickets, and leave untouched and un-groomed for those who decided to hike up, which was only us that day! This isn’t exactly acceptable for the ski resort, but Cullen and I have a hard time following rules sometimes. We spent a while on this slope before eating some lunch, where we took the time to gaze at the attractive outlook before us. This spot presented a direct look at the Tripyramids, Mt. Osceola, and Mt. Kancamagus. It was in that moment where I realized something I hadn’t yet come to understand.

I have always appreciated these mountains, not just for their beauty, but for their spirit. I believe that these mountains are just as alive as we are, or in some cases, more alive. They pose a wisdom that exceeds our awareness. Their greatness and splendor span out much further than the clearest view from the highest summit. However, what I came to recognize this day was that a 16lb Min Pin, whose size and breed should be easily over showed by these dignified mountains, grew to be larger and nobler than them all. Obviously he is not physically bigger, but the spirit he poses is too large for me to grasp. His loyalty, his love, and his strength of mind continue to grow with each day.
However, watching him yesterday running up and down these mountain sides I saw the kind of spirit that I could only dream of possessing. I will forever live in these moments where the smile of his face expresses more happiness than any materialistic gift could bring and the look in his eyes shines brighter than the sun its self. To boast such radiance is something we should all strive for, because even during the darkest days our world will be full of such clarity.

He has shown me that this life is not meant to be perfect, but perfection is meant to be strived for. He has shown me that love, loyalty, willpower, and character can always continue to grow. All we have to do is live…. truly live.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

If You’re Lucky Enough Things Never Go As Planned

As I stepped outside, the morning air cool to my skin, I listened to the gentle river beyond the motel. While I waited for Cullen to finish with his early morning business, I couldn't help but lose myself in the blackened morning. I knew that in just a few hours we would officially be returning to the mountains and our new hiking season would be on its way. Our original goal for the weekend was to bag two peaks, Mt. Moriah and Mt. Wildcat, however if you’re lucky enough things never go as planned. The weekend of hiking taught me that teamwork is everything, and without it we would not get to experience all the beauty this world has to offer.

As we began our first hike up Moriah, via Stony Brook, I felt as though this winter had never laid us off. We were right back to doing what we love most. Cullen was back to himself trotting proudly through the forest with strong poise. Most of the trip up we were overshadowed by the thickness of the snow covered hemlocks, making the morning air even cooler. However, the coolness would soon fade and I was peeling layers off and Cullen would trade his snowsuit for a thin camouflage jacket. Due to the fact we passed most of the people snowshoeing their way up, our hike got a little bit more difficult. I didn’t pack my snowshoes, which I regretted as we approached the stunted woods near the top. The soft deep snow made each step feel pointless. This gave us no choice but to find our mountain legs in rapid time. Although, I don’t think Cull dog had any issue with this, seeing him gallop through the air soft powder turning back to check on me repeatedly.

Although I seemed to struggle reaching the summit of Moriah, there was no shameful feeling of doubt within me. I knew I would reach the summit. I was certain because I had the greatest kind of friend to motivate me. The kind of friend who only needs to look you in the eye to provide you with enough power to move mountains, or in my case reach the top of one. As we reached the summit I took my pack off as fast as possible. My eyes couldn’t comprehend the beauty displayed in front of us. No words I could write will ever be able to describe the magnificence of the snow covered mountains that day. The sky was as clear as the air we breathed, the sun provided more than welcoming warmth, the views stretched out further than my eyes could follow, but the little dog sitting before me made this moment whole. Without the sight of him with me, the experience would have been half as great.

As we sat on an open ledge overlooking the noble Presidential Mountains and the Carters I knew that this was the kind of memories that last a lifetime. No words spoken between us, just each other’s company was more than sufficient. The views before me were more than breath taking, but I didn’t find myself drawn to them. I was lost in a soft body of fur smelling of a sweet, musk-like rustic scent, and listening in on the small breathes entering and exiting two little lunges. I was drawn to Cullen more so than I ever had been. Having no idea of the time spent on this ledge our connection was broken by a nice older man, who I would ask to take a photo of us; a photo that would later bring tears to my eyes.

After we finished chatting  the man continued his unhurried pace to the top as Cull and I went all out on our decent. I found that he loves it when we run and go a little wacky on the way down. So, as I howled complete randomness we descended Mt. Moriah in a hasty fashion returning to the company of the women we love most. We rested our legs and swiftly fell asleep.

Waking early the next morning I felt myself a little apprehensive about hiking. Due to the fact I originally planned on hiking one peak, which would have been a 9.8 mile hike. I found myself packing up for a 12 mile hike. Cullen and I would attempt to reach the summits of Carter Dome, South Carter, and Middle Carter. Not quite sure I was up to it Cullen convinced me otherwise. His spirit was full of readiness, jumping up in complete excitement and scratching his back paws as though he were a charging bull gearing up for full attack. This transformed my apprehension to anticipation, and I couldn’t wait until I saw him grace yet another summit. We ended up finding our way to all three summits that sunny Sunday morning, and enjoyed the company of the neighboring mountains, the whispering winds, and most importantly each other.

The forest secretly spoke of spring to those who chose to listen close enough; with every drip of an icicle, with every thud from a clump of snow released from a pine branch, and with the muted crash from the brooks still being plastered in snow and ice. We sat upon our fourth and final mountain of the weekend, Cullen once again was able to open my eyes to something else. As this little 16 lb dog sat before me gazing into the outstretched valleys below I saw him as an equal more than ever. We always refer to our dogs as “he’s mine” or “I own that dog”, but the truth is I do not own Cullen. He is not a piece of property, such as this computer I am typing on. I give him the ability to make his own decisions, and those decisions continue to lead him back to me. Cullen is more of a friend, brother, and partner. He pushes me forward when I think I have had enough and he comforts me when I have had enough. This dog and I do not make it to the top of mountains because we work separately, but because he has shown me that becoming truly selfless creates an indestructible bond; it creates an unmatchable team.

So, as we sat on Middle Carter Sunday afternoon, our 4th peak in 2 days, I thanked him. I held him close, feeling his warmth against my face, smelling that sweet musk-like rustic scent once again, and whispered “thank you for all that you are” and just after I said such words he slowly closed and then re-opened his eyes, for much longer than a standard blink. His eyes told me everything.

A dog can be much more than a pet if given the chance. He can become your partner, and through teamwork you can experience great things. He can lead you to places you never though achievable, but the trick is to work as one. To let him work with you, not for you; for true friendship is never true if controlled. Once you find that companionship with your dog there will be no need for a leash or a fence, the support of your bond is what will keep him close.