The following is a guest post by author, adventurer and dog adoption advocate Tyler Coulson.
In 2011, I walked across the United States from Delaware to San Diego, California. I was a part of a team of two: me and Mabel the dog. Together, Mabel and I traveled about 3500 miles in 8 months’ time (including all the north-south detours and getting lost), and we walked about 3200 of those miles. I wrote a book about the hike and about practicing law (I used to be a corporate attorney) and the book is called By Men or By the Earth. My publishing company has pledged to give 10% of all profits on sales made between August 1 and December 31, 2012 to no-kill animal shelters.
I am not sure I would have finished the whole hike without Mabel. I probably would have. But it wouldn’t have been the same experience.
When we climbed into a cold tent after a day’s hike in the east (or then again in the Rocky Mountains), Mabel curled up in a ball on my feet and kept them warm. If I shivered in the night, she woke me up licking at my face and then lay beside me in the tent to keep me warm.
When we were out in the west, Mabel’s ears were always keen, listening for animals or people who could be approaching. And Mabel stood her ground and defended us when angry dogs, both domestic and wild, lunged at us in the Midwest.
It’s difficult to walk that far and to spend that much time alone. The overwhelming aloneness of the trip was sometimes difficult for me to deal with, but Mabel stayed with me and never complained. And when we hiked, she would periodically touch my left hand with her wet puppy nose to let me know that she was still there with me.
She was a great responsibility and she slowed the hike down a lot. I had to carry extra food and extra water, and we couldn’t hike at all when the temperature got too hot for Mabel. It took us 8 months to cross the continent. Without Mabel with me, I could have done it in 5.
But it wouldn’t have been the same.
I love that dog.
Mabel was a rescue dog. Some family didn’t want her and dropped her off at a shelter. I can’t understand that, but maybe they had good reasons. It kills me that the country is full of lonely people and at the same time shelters are full of dogs who are just bursting with love and energy. The world isn’t fair, I guess. Mabel was sad when she was in the shelter, and when I brought her home she was timid and reserved, confused and sad.
But that all changed after a few days with me. Suddenly she was a puppy again.
And on the Walk, after a couple days hiking, sweating, being in pain and being lonely and out in the elements, we’d check into a motel and Mabel would go CRAZY. She’d jump on and off of the bed and run in circles and collapse at my feet. She was so happy.
And she’d get so happy out in the middle of nowhere when we saw a wild turkey or, in the west, pronghorn antelope. Her tail would wag and her ears would perk up, and she’s one of those dogs that has a face that shows when she’s happy. You can actually see on her face that she’s happy.
I was pretty sad when I started the hike, for all sorts of reasons. Truth is, I was sad when I finished the hike, too. But Mabel was still there with me. When I got back home to Chicago and was depressed and confused and felt like I had nothing going on in my life, there she was. She was always at my feet, helping me write the book By Men or By the Earth. She’d cuddle up next to me as I slept. She’d lead me on insane happy walks through the neighborhood.
I know that she loves me, too.
Not many people will ever get a chance to experience a cross-country hike. I’m very lucky in that regard, and I feel lucky for that every day. Sometimes it’s overwhelming how fortunate I feel to have done it. But what really overwhelms me—what really makes me tear up—is thinking of how lucky I am to have done the trip with Mabel. Near the end of the trip, I tweeted that I had carried a lot of equipment and a lot of heartache across the country but that Mabel had carried me. She’s my teammate. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had.
And she was a rescue dog.
About Tyler Coulson
Tyler Coulson is an attorney and adventurer. He was born in rural Illinois, graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law, and practiced law at a large firm in Chicago, where he still lives with his dog, Mabel. He is the author of By Men or By the Earth, a memoir about his cross-country hike and his days in the law. His book is available at his website, www.tylercoulson.com. The publisher of the book, The Walkout Syndicate LLC, has pledged 10% of all profits on sales between August 1 and December 31, 2012, to support of no-kill animal shelters.