What Hiking With Dogs Has Taught Me About Life

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.”

― Milan Kundera

Most of the runners I know have at some time “hit the wall”. Some have actually hit a wall. A rock wall. While falling down a mountainside. It happens.

I’ve even witnessed Bailey bonking. As part of the Africanus Athleticus dog breed, he seems to never run out of juice. But there was one time when I thought his internal engine might just conk in.

We were hiking to the mast on top of Elephant’s Eye in the Silvermine Nature Reserve. It was a hike we had done many times before with both Bailey and Bones. But it was hotter than expected and the usual water spots had dried up. The dogs were feeling it. So we turned back. Bailey panted loudly the whole way and sat down wherever he found shade and panted some more.

And some more…

And some more…

But he never gave up. His pace never slowed.

I know what you’re thinking. Dogs are too loyal to their owners to know when to stop. But this is not the case for Bones – the larger and older of the two. (We have definitely not nicknamed her Hippo. That would be rude. And the vet did not call her “extremely large”. No, no, that would be defamatory.) But Bones knows how to stop. She knows how to crawl and stop and crawl and stop. Until this becomes necessary…

We’re a lot more cautious these days. We take plenty cool water, in case the mountain streams have dried up. We take snacks. Heck, we take poop bags. And we turn back before Bones bonks, even if Bailey is tearing ahead. Because we’d rather have the dogs with us than not at all.

Taking care of them has also taught us to take better care of ourselves – to prepare, rather than just chase the adventure. Although, there is still plenty of drinking from mountain streams and using tree bark as spoons for our coffee.

If we need to sneak out of the house for a long trail run on our own, we make sure not to utter words like G-O or C-O-M-E, or to show any excitement whatsoever, so as not to get their hopes up, to not let on that we’re about to leave them behind. Because while they too are not immune to the heat and the hills, they would also rather be with us than not at all.

At least I’m pretty sure that’s what those eyes are telling me.

There is something so special about being in the mountains with dogs.

Watching Bailey run back and forth from the runner heading up the front to the last legs on the trail – usually those of Bones – makes me think that perhaps humanity, in the sense of compassion and consideration, comes easier to dogkind. Or at least, it does so in a way that is unconditional.

When Bailey is satisfied that the whole pack is still together and ambling along fine, he returns to the helm, beside the ankle of the frontrunner. (Bones used to be chief shepherd, but she accepted her role as slowpoke when Bailey joined our tribe years after her. Someone needs to have our back.)

The mountains test us, man and animal, and reveal our true natures. And what I see in my dogs is love, true love. A friend always keen for an adventure. And while they take great pleasure in making us look like fools when we throw a stick for them and they ignore it, they are generally great motivators.

Their perseverance challenges my own, pushes me. They are a reason to seek new playgrounds. Their wagging tails remind me to enjoy the run, the view, the relief of downhills after challenging ascents, the fresh air and cool water, and the scents of other dogs’ behinds. Their loyalty brings out the protector in me; a sort of ripple effect of love and kindness. Their patience reminds me to let go, detach, and be present.

Each run with these two makes me not only a better runner, but a better human. And I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” ― Josh Billings

For more information about the best practices when it comes to hiking with dogs, read Backpacker.com’s The Beginner’s Guide to Hiking With Dogs and Outdoors.org’s Hiking with Dogs.

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