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Last summer, on one of many hikes up my home mountain – Lone Peak – I crossed over the 11,000-foot summit, picked my way down the precipitous east face and paid my respects at the top of the Big Couloir. The Big, as it is affectionately and ominously known, is the most famous ski run off Lone Peak: a 1,200-foot 50 degree vertical drop that slices down the peak’s east face like a white lightning bolt. Sitting at the top of that impossible chute, I swore off ever skiing it. Too steep, too narrow, too cliffy, too foreboding. I should know better than to ever say never.
For most of my 20’s, I honored a tradition of climbing mountains on my birthday. For my 30th, I upended my usual quest and hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. What a fitting evolution to spend my 35th sliding down a mountain on one of the gnarliest ski runs in the West, loving every moment, every movement. I am, as always, exactly where I should be at this point in my life. I wonder where the next five years will find me…
Ever since a scraggly feral puppy followed Bowie and I out of the desert, I’ve been a two-dog person. Why have one when you can have two? After saying goodbye to Bowie in November, I was so thankful to have Dio by my side and I really cherished our one on one time. Dio has stepped into Bowie’s role in so many ways – all of a sudden he loves peanut butter! – it astonishes me how vividly Bowie lives on in his brother Dio.
Now Dio gets to be the big brother, to a little sister! In early February I put in an application with a herding dog rescue based in Wyoming and of all their lovely dogs, this girl happened to be fostered the closest to us in Montana. She had survived parvo, kennel cough and a high kill shelter in Texas and by eight months of age she already gone through three names: Howlie, Glenda and Shadow.
I’ve never chosen my dogs. Bowie and Dio were mine the very first moment we met and so it was with Vida. When I stepped out of the car she ran right up to me, sat on my feet, wrapped her front legs around my legs and hugged me tight. She’s been by my side ever since. It’s miraculous to me that this creature made her way from Texas to Big Sky, Montana and yet, she’s absolutely meant to be here.
As we drove the five hours home to Big Sky, our sweet puppy snuggled up to her new big brother in the backseat, as calm and quiet as could be, a road trip natural. We threw names back and forth, looking for the right combination of sound and meaning and just as a spectacular sunset was peaking, I thought of Vedauwoo, Wyoming, one of my favorite names for one of my favorite places. Vida! La Vida – the Life. Perfect.
** I’ve heard from a few readers that they’re having trouble commenting on this post. Some comments have gone through so I’m not sure what the problem is. Keep trying! Or email me at email@example.com. Thanks!
Thank you all so much for the condolences and encouragement. It really does help to hear from those who have been touched by Bowie. This weekend marked 3 weeks without him, the longest I’ve ever gone. I miss him so much. I miss his utter contentment in my presence, paired with his enthusiastic willingness to go with me anywhere, unwavering for many thousands of miles. I miss his sprawling furry form in my lap, in my bed, in my car, in my life. I miss that big clown, King Bowie.
I’m sad but I’m happy too, happy he’s free of that tired old body. Happy he’s free. Through the tears I’m learning that he’s still right here. He lives on in his brother Dio and the hair in my soup and other forms less obvious. I put Bowie’s ashes in a tin that reminds me of my grandmother. Of course, the big dog barely fits and the lid won’t quite close. So I put a heavy Ganesh on top to help hold him in along with a piece of labradorite and a small river stone and a Chinese fortune that says “stay in touch, above all, with how you feel.” I look forward to releasing him on top of our mountain, when I’m ready. Spring feels right.
In the meantime, I’m skiing all over this place, imagining Bowie running free through the snow, on the wings of cheeky ravens, in the tracks of curious fox. This is a tough time, but I’m blessed to be weathering it in Big Sky. I’m living the most unexpected dream I’ve ever had here: after earning my EMT license this fall, I joined the biggest, baddest Ski Patrol team in the country. If you had told me two years ago that this would be my path, I would never have believed you. But skiing is believing and believing is something I’ve always done well.
Much love to you all this holiday season! I’ll see you in 2017!
Friends and readers, I’m sorry to resurrect this blog with sad news, but I wanted to let you all know that I had to say goodbye to Bowie. He’d been having a hard time lately and he was ready to be free of his tired old body. Loss is hard but the end was as beautiful and graceful as it could be. We shared the best possible life together for 12 years and I’m just so grateful for so many moments, so many miles.
When Bowie brought home his protege, D.O.G., I’m sure he had these days in mind. I’m so thankful to have Dio keeping me company right now. He always worshipped his big brother and adopted all his best attributes. You’d never know Dio was once a wild dog and Bowie truly lives on in this amazing creature.
Someday I will write a book on everything I’ve learned from these dogs. Lately Dio has been teaching me about accepting loss and letting go. I brought him in to see Bowie after he was gone and Dio sniffed him and then looked at me with complete understanding and acceptance. Then he was ready to leave. Bowie is gone, life goes on, says the wise desert dog. Let’s go play in the snow and believe Bowie is bouncing around with us. I am blessed with the best dogs, living and spirit.
Thank you for all the love and support this community has shown Bowie, Dio and I on all our journeys. I am well and happy and in the best possible place to lose my best friend. Letting go is love. Grief is gratitude. Onward and upward!
Click here for a slide show of my Travels with Bowie & D.O.G: 12 years, 49 states, thousands of miles, so many moments… Here’s to the best possible life!
Seven years ago, I took a road trip to Monument Valley, near the Arizona – Utah border, and came home with a puppy. Keeping a skinny, filthy, half-wild mutt I found wandering in the desert could have been a complete disaster, but it was meant to be, and we both knew it at first sight.
On January 14th, 2009, after a long drive from New Mexico, I pulled off the highway onto a random dirt road, parked, and set off across the open desert with my dog Bowie to hike around a distant, unnamed butte.
Rounding the far side, I saw movement under a sage. Crouched in a sliver of shade was a dog, wagging his tail. Something about him made my heart skip a beat. I held onto Bowie, in case the stray was hurt or sick, and talked sweetly to the dog, who cautiously emerged. Then I saw: He was in terrible shape, but filth and ribs aside, he was the spitting image of Bowie.
He was young, six months at the most. I could see the bony points of his hips and the line of his backbone through the matts tangled in his all-black coat. No collar. Clods of dirt were matted between his toes. I coaxed him, but he wouldn’t come closer so I poured some water in a dish and stepped back. He shot forward, desperate for a drink.
Monument Valley was an improbable place to find a dog. We were surrounded by nothing but desert. The only manmade things in sight were a barbed wire fence and my car glinting in the distance, parked on the side of a rarely traveled dirt road. No water, no shade, no people, no houses. Nothing.
I didn’t have any dog food with me. There was nothing else I could do out there for him, but walk and hope he followed. He looked like hell, but I was relieved to see he still had enough energy to be rambunctious. Over the next hour, the three of us circled that nameless, stunning butte, with Bowie and the puppy playing together like long-lost brothers. It was the youngest Bowie, then six, had acted in years.
The puppy was curious about me, but wary, and he was downright afraid of my camera. Every time I pointed it at him, he shied away and so I put it in my backpack and showed him my empty hands. Eventually, the puppy would follow Bowie within a few feet of me, but he always remained just beyond my outstretched hand, his tail wagging and eyes bright, wanting to be friends, but unsure.
Between he and Bowie, it was true love. I’ve never seen two dogs so happy to have made a friend. The two of them romped the whole way back to the car. When we got to the road, I put Bowie in the car and gave the stray more water and a small handful of dog food, not wanting to upset his neglected stomach.
I watched him eat, surprisingly daintily, for a starving dog. Where had he come from? How long had he been out here? Most importantly: What should I do with him? When he finished eating I opened the car door again, and he made the decision for me, jumping in next to Bowie, who outright grinned: Can we keep him?!
Living on the road, housesitting different places every few months, having a second dog – a wild one no less – was totally impractical. But this bedraggled, sweet-eyed creature had crossed my path and chosen to follow me. I wanted to trust him the way he was willing to trust me. I sat in the car for 15 minutes, coming to terms with what I already knew: this dog was mine, then I abandoned my plans to camp out that night, pulled a U-turn and drove straight back to New Mexico with that stinky, wild dog curled up in the backseat.
He slept the entire trip, only occasionally sitting up to look out the window, a road trip natural. I was afraid to let him out of the car. If he ran off it would break my heart and I didn’t want to scare him with a leash. Somewhere along the way, I named him D.O.G.
We got back to the Earthship well after dark and I opened the car door and let him loose. The other two dogs at my place pounced on him, but he sorted himself out like a good-natured dog and soon everybody was running around the driveway together. I took all four on a get-acquainted hike down my long dirt road. The moon was new and the stars were epic; I couldn’t see all-black Dio in the dark, but I was no longer worried about him running away. He had found friends and I knew he’d follow us forever.
It took another day for Dio to let me touch him and a month before he’d roll over for a belly rub. He was especially afraid of men and it was a year until he would willingly go up to strangers. Gradually, he got over his fears of brooms and sticks, running water, bridges and quick movements, though he’s still wary of children and terrified of gun fire.
Seven years later, you’d never know Dio had a rough start. He’s sleek and handsome, obedient, unflinchingly friendly and more worldly than most people. By last count, Dio has been hiking with me in 47 states. (He’s missing Hawaii, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Bowie has been to 49; he’s only missing Hawaii.) Not bad for a wild dog! He and Bowie are inseparable and people regularly ask me if they’re related. Now 12 years old, Bowie has only a little grey and a touch of arthritis and will still follow me anywhere, though I have to limit his miles to easy ones. Dio has kept both of us young!
When people hear Dio’s story, they usually say he’s a lucky dog, but luck implies chance and I know I was meant to find Dio. Across all the Southwest’s open, rugged space, I pulled my car over at that nondescript spot, went for a trail-less hike to a nameless butte in the middle of nowhere and found a perfect dog. That’s not luck, that’s love.
In 2015, this little blog of mine was visited by a few hundred thousand people in 167 countries (out of 196). I myself have only been to a dozen or so countries (in North, Central and South America and Europe) and I’m more than a little flabbergasted by the wanderlust of my words. In 2016, I’m gunning for the good fortune to visit at least two more countries – Nepal and India – and for the Blonde Coyote to travel even farther – and further. Thanks to everybody for following the “world renowned” Blonde Coyote and Happy New Year! 🙂
Here are a few of my favorite photos from a few of my favorite moments over the past year. Remember: Success has less to do with the accumulation of things and more to do with an accumulation of moments and creating a successful life might be as simple as determining which moments are the most valuable and seeing how many of those I can string together in a line. – Pam Houston
Why would you ever visit a place called Hells Canyon? Especially given how hard it is to get there: Few roads and only steep, difficult trails run down into the 2,400-meter-deep gorge — the deepest canyon in North America — which forms part of the border between Oregon and Idaho. Despite its remote and rugged challenges, however, Hells Canyon has attracted visitors for thousands of years, from the Clovis people and Native Americans to turn-of-the-century gold miners, sheep ranchers and homesteaders.
Today, the canyon is popular among whitewater rafters and fishing enthusiasts. A trip through Hells Canyon, with its diverse geologic pedigree involving 300 million years of island arcs, volcanism and catastrophic floods, will also delight geology-minded travelers. You don’t even need to be an extreme adventurer to enjoy the canyon: Shove off with a reputable rafting company like ROW Adventures and you’ll barely even need to paddle.
To read the rest of my feature on Hells Canyon, click over to EARTH magazine. More pix here.
Dear Ms. Caperton, Because of the long time since your last post, I’ve concluded that you have taken a turn off the open road life toward something else. So, I wanted to thank you for sharing your adventures, and for letting us (me) learn about your remarkable family.
I had hoped (I’m an accomplished procrastinator) to trade trail-craft with you and learn more about your kit and kaboodle e.g.
why do you use a trailer rather than a van (one less axle)? –do your dogs sleep in the trailer or outside? –what’s your experience with mosquitoes? –what are your absolute travel necessaries? (mine are back scratcher, kept within reach esp. while driving; flyswatter; night-time water bottle). I was also going to plague you with questions about your electrics.
But onward. Happy trails.
Several of you have written me emails over the past six months, wishing me well and wondering what I’m up to these days. I’m still at it, living the dream, all day, every day. I have been taking a break from blogging, but I’m still living the life. I’m just focusing my time and creative energy elsewhere, on other endeavors. Right now, my copilots and I are in New England, having driven a Volkswagen Eurovan from Montana to Nova Scotia on the Trans-Canadian Highway.
I’m still learning new lessons every day too: the road is all fun and games until your ride decides to break down in Nova Scotia and you’re 4,000 miles from home with two dogs and a borrowed van with a dying transmission. It seems my good car karma has run out, temporarily. There’s no easy way home, no easy way out, no easy way down, but we’re figuring it out one decision at a time. Van or no van, we’re moving forward, enjoying the hell out of life on the open road.
To answer your questions: I bought a trailer because I had a good tow vehicle at the time (my 2004 Subaru Impreza, the Raven) and I wanted to stick with it. Right now I’m traveling in a borrowed van because we’re on the east coast, visiting friends and families in major cities and we don’t want to be towing or parking a trailer in east coast traffic. We can sleep in the van anywhere – on our 3 week journey across Canada we didn’t pay for a single night. We stayed in the van every night and had no trouble finding places to park safely and legally for free.
The dogs sleep inside, always, of course. Bowie’s 12 now and one of his favorite hobbies is being comfortable. He’s all about the memory foam, sleeping bags and pillows. He’s earned every feather. Dio usually sleeps on the floor in the trailer or under the bed. We all fit just fine in the van too.
Mosquitoes are only bad in certain places at certain times of the year. So I don’t go there then. Or when I do, I keep on the move – those suckers can only fly around 2 mph so I hike at 3 and they can’t keep up.
My absolute travel necessities can be boiled down to a good pair of shoes. And I’m no longer in need of Ruby slippers. My Ruby ride didn’t make the cut. After a summer of check engine lights and mysterious overheating, we parted ways. My next pair of shoes will need to be a bit wilder! Happy trails to you all, too!
Introducing…. Ruby: a 2004 Subaru Forester! After the Rover went out with such a spectacular bang, a big part of me wanted to keep living the drive-to-the-end-of-any-road dream and get another beast, but I elected to keep moving forward onto the more practical dream of driving something more reliable and fuel efficient. After visiting every used car lot in Bozeman looking for a manual that could tow, I found Ruby. I bought her on a Monday and hit the road on Tuesday with no better plan than to ‘drive south ’til it stops raining’. After a 2-week, 3,500 mile loop through Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, California and Oregon, across deserts and mountains to the Pacific Ocean, Ruby’s part of the family.
Getting a hitch put on Ruby for the teardrop is near the top of my to do list, but after spending last summer rolling around the West from one mountain range to the next, my goal for this summer was to find a place to really get to know on foot. What more could a hiker ask for than to land in Big Sky country?!