My history of hiking in PA has been less than ideal. I did get my first ‘real’ gear up here – pack, tent, and sleeping bag. I had also decided to do some exploration and maybe do large sections of the AT while living up here in 1996-7. I planned a two night trip to test my tent that did not go so great. Somewhere before reaching a spring, i lost the trail, wandered about for a few hours, ran out of water, and was generally not in the best of spirits by the time i got back to the trail. I just did an overnight and went home the next day.
– This is about to take a somewhat gross and potentially disturbing turn – though there is some redemption, or if not that, at least a happy ending.
Jake and i became good buds in 96 and talked about hiking a bunch. When the weather turned warm, we decided to hike together. Jake had not really done much hiking, but was interested. He was game to try anything, so i pulled out the maps for the old tent trial trip. We loaded Guthrey into the truck with our gear and headed out. About 45 minutes south of the trail, Guthrey fell out of the truck. I heard a sound like something being dropped into the bed of the truck and glanced in the rear-view mirror. I could see Guthrey still tumbling in the road. I pulled over and stopped the truck as quickly as i could, which took about an eighth of a mile, and ran back to Guthrey. From the minute i saw him in the mirror, i was screaming and crying and sobbing and yelling. I know that Jake did not know what was happening right away. He probably asked some questions and i may or may not have answered – i can’t remember that part of it.
I sat in the middle of the road with Guthrey and Jake stood a little bit away sort of watching for cars and also freaking out with me. Guthrey was alive, but it was obvious he was in terrible shape. I could not tell how many or which bones were broken, but i could see his head. There was a hole in his skull about the center line of his nose and an inch or so above the center line between his eyes. It was about as big around as a quarter and blood flowed from it in time with his heartbeats and his breath.
This happened right in front of someone’s house. The coolest old dude came out and talked to me. He was firm and kind at the same time. He told me i had to get out of the road. I said i could not leave my dog there, he might get hit by a car. I told him i was afraid to move him because i might sever his spine or do something else that might kill him. The man said that he would die for sure if we did nothing and anything had to be better than having us both get hit by a car. As carefully as i could, i picked Guthrey up and moved him into this man’s yard and laid him back down.
My sense of the timing and even the order involved in all of the steps is elastic at best. But i remember certain parts in great detail. I knelt gently petting Guthrey and still weeping. Jake was there and weeping. I can’t remember if he was also petting Guthrey, but i am sure that if he was not it was only for fear of hurting him. At some point, the man’s wife took Jake inside to use the phone and find a vet. Out of the blue, Guthrey opened his eyes, stood up smiling and tried to walk before he fell down and passed out again. That moment – hope, joy, fear, guilt, pain, wonder.
We were in a part of PA that neither of us was familiar with. I had been on this road once before on the previous hiking attempt. Jake had never been there. Jake had the directions. But we were both nervous and terrified. Then we had a new impossible moment. I told Jake he had to drive. The big blue truck is an automatic, and it is in a little better shape now (mechanically at least), but still it can be difficult to drive. Back in 1997 it was no picnic. The steering was beyond loose. There was so much play in the wheel you could turn it over 90 degrees in either direction and have no affect on the tires. Braking was also quite a chore. In part, it is a heavy truck with older brakes (i had not re-built them yet – so most of the braking system was from 1970). In part it was the way the engine was tuned. It was still in winter mode – rich mixture, advanced timing, high and fast idle. Even at a dead stop, you really had to stand on the brakes to keep the truck in place.
I don’t remember if Jake was 18 or 19 at the time, but it is suddenly his job to drive this giant old truck through unfamiliar curvy roads as rapidly and as safely as possible while looking for the turn for the vet which we had never seen. It may have been easier for me to drive, but i could not do it. I could not let go of Guthrey. If we got in a wreck with Jake driving and bad things happened, i knew i would not blame him at all. I could not face the possibilities of what could happen if i drove and we killed Guthrey getting him into Jake’s lap on the seat, or if he passed on the way to the vet. This all happened in the briefest of instants. Jake did not want to do it, but we did not argue or discuss it. We just did it. I picked Guthrey up and got in and Jake drove. Talking him through driving the truck gave us both something else to focus on instead of simply obsessing over Guthrey.
We knew we passed the vet, but we did not see it. We saw Bob’s Market which was a sign that we had just missed it. We pulled into a gas station and Jake asked the guy who knew nothing. I told him we should just turn around and go to Bob’s market. We did. Bob’s market is set back of the road about 100 yards to give room for the parking lot. When we were almost to the front of the store, i saw the vet across a field on another road. I jumped out with Guthrey in my arms and ran over. I can see the receptionist and some people waiting on the benches inside, but no one will help me. The doors are both “pulls”. I am covered in blood and carrying my 92 pound deeply wounded dog. I am kicking the doors (gently – but still) and probably yelling.
They come and lead me to the back. I get Guthrey on the table and am ushered away. Knowing that Guthrey is being looked after, i am still freaked out, but a little calmer as there is now truly nothing i can do. I head back out to find Jake and we hug and talk and cry and freak out some more. Oddly, i don’t remember much of the rest of the details about this time at the vet. I remember that i spent a lot of time in his cage in the back as he was in and out of consciousness from fatigue and stress and surgery and anesthesia, and lots of pain killers. I remember staying long after they were closed until the last person was leaving and locking up. I remember being there in the morning long before they opened but when the first person arrived to see to the animals. I remember Dr Bill coming to the back at some point and saying that i could take Guthrey home. He said that normally he would keep a dog under observation for much longer after a surgery like that, but that if i was going to sit in a little cage with him all day, i would probably watch him at home and not let him fall or hurt himself.
My parents were out of town. I think it was Spring Break, but i am not sure. I just know that Jake and I made a fort in the living room in front of the tv. We built some walls of furniture and pillows and had lots of blankets on the floor. For a week, we stayed with Guthrey in the living room and petted him and watched movies. We took turns running errands just to have a chance to get out of the house. We would go out for the essentials, more movies and pizza.
Guthrey healed nicely and came back to his old self with a few small adjustments. We were close before, but our bond was deeper now. He had liked Jake before also. Guthrey was a big fan of anyone who wold actually go and walk with him, which few of my other friends ever did. But he was closer to Jake after this than i think any of us really imagined.
It was not too long after the surgery, definitely while he still had the metal plates in his legs, that he started jumping up into the back of the truck again. He loved riding back there, though i have never let him or any other dog ride back there again. It took something major like that for me to learn this particular lesson. In my defense, i was not throwing caution to the wind and blithely sticking my thumb in the eyes of the fates, i simply did not know any better. Every dog i can remember from growing up rode not just in the back of pick-up trucks, but in the back of that pick-up truck, and not just dogs. My sister and my cousins and i rode back there all the time. Growing up, my sister and i spent every summer down south either in Central Mississippi, or South Georgia, or both. At the end of summer, we rode back up north to Virginia, or Tennessee, or Kentucky. I remember sitting on the lowered tailgate for most of the way up the Natchez Trace and then the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I don’t know how to transition out of this and back to hiking in PA, so i am just gonna stop now and come back to it next go round.