My training partner is ruthless. She laps me on every climb, cuts switchbacks to bolt in front of me on the descents and offers absolutely no sympathy when I wipe out on the trail and fall flat on my face. Not only that, but she runs barefoot, drinks puddle water and is only two years old. My training partner is my dog, Bella.
Lucy was a pregnant, single mom on death row who, like so many persecuted expats before her, made her escape to Canada in search of a better life. She was a tough little pitbull whose romantic liaison with a wayward Catahoula had produced Bella and her siblings. The little family was happily living amongst the broken down automobiles and urban decay of a generous and loving pothead hoarder when we first met. All the pups were named after weed. There was Kush and Juicy Jay and Pie-Eye and little Dimebag. We took home the one called Indica and quickly renamed her Bella.
Young Bella’s transition from the mean streets and life as an unwanted pup to that of a relentlessly forward moving mountain hound was swift. While she still had her milk teeth and a penchant for teething, she was busy joining me on local peak bagging missions. Our hikes got longer as Bella got stronger. Soon we upped the ante and began to run. We started with short runs that threw in lots of walking and sniffing breaks. We’d climb steep things and I’d boost Bella up if she couldn’t manage on her own. We’d cross raging rivers and I’d carry her past the rapids when she was too scared to go it alone. But it wasn’t long until she was utterly fearless and no longer required my measly human assistance with the scary bits.
Bella runs with no regard for time or distance. She doesn’t care about wicking fabrics, electrolytes or proper form. For her, success is measured in unbridled joy and the freedom of off leash bushwhacking. When we’re going up an endless climb, she doesn’t know or care where the summit is. When Bella is climbing, climbing is the only thing in the world. When she’s bombing down the side of a mountain at breakneck speed, nothing else exists. And when we get to a cool, clear tarn on a sweltering afternoon, she drinks, swims, eats a little doggie treat and sleeps.
I’ve learned a lot from that dog. I’ve learned about companionship, perseverance and loyalty. I’ve learned that sometimes the training plan calls for flopping down in the heather mid-run to watch clouds roll across the sky. I’ve learned that running is simple and that the beauty of it can sometimes get lost in the details.
On those days when life has got me down, stress from work is hovering over me like my own personal storm cloud, and left to my own devices, I’d just as soon stay in bed and wallow in the misery of it all, Bella gets me out the door. And when we get to the trail and she pushes me up that first climb, everything melts away. It’s just me and my dog. Nothing else matters, we run, we jump, we chase things and life is beautiful.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the excellent biography, “John Clarke, Explorer of the Coast Mountains”…
“Have you ever taken a dog on a hike? Well, imagine yourself as the dog. As a dog you don’t worry about the weather or the route; the details of the hike are not concerns of yours; your only concern is to swim in every tarn, climb over every rock and experience every moment of this mysterious hike that you are being taken on. But who, you might ask, is taking you on the hike? The mountains! Who else lays the route? Who else decides when it is sunny and when it rains? And who else do you sidle up to panting, hot and exhausted?”
Be the dog.