A Speaking

In late January 2015, we rushed Copper to a late-night emergency veterinary hospital due to his inability to lie down and apparent pain. They drained a quantity of clear fluid from his belly, where it had been putting pressure on his lungs. They directed us to go to the UGA Small Animal Teaching Hospital, which we did the following morning. It didn’t take them very long to diagnose him. His pericardium had inflated like a balloon, putting so much pressure on his heart that it could not pump effectively, leading to the symptoms we’d seen the previous night. They drained a soda can’s worth of blood from his pericardium, after which they could spot the evidence of a tumor on his right auricle. A hemangiosarcoma, common cause of illness in older large breeds, especially Goldens. They said there were probably tumors throughout his body. He received some medicine intended to prevent his bleeding into his pericardium, which allowed him to go another six weeks filled with walks and extra food and lots of photos before the symptoms recurred, coming on as suddenly as before. On March 11th, 2015, after a long sleepless night of pain for Copper, we took him to the vet and had him put to sleep. It was hard to see him go, lying there on the floor as we held his paw, but it was still far better than seeing him suffer in silence, as we had all morning.

But I write this not to speak of a death, but a life. I have already written of the most significant portion of that life here on this very blog, and that portion of the story will be preserved for a long time in the book we worked half of last year to have printed with all the stories and pictures from our trail journey, and in another book that I will describe at the end of this post. So, here, in his memory, I will try to relay any other stories I can recall about him and whatever facts I can recall about what he was like.

There’s not much we can say for sure about his first three years of life, but much can be inferred. We don’t know who weaned him or trained him, but they certainly worked hard at it, for he was perfectly obedient when he came to us. We don’t know how they lost him, but we tried our best to find them, so we guess they must have lived far from where we found him or else set him loose on purpose. We don’t even know that he was certainly three years old; that was just the vet’s best guess.

For some time he ran the woods near our lake house with the neighborhood dogs Harley, Miles, and a stray beagle we called Buddy. He was skittish and avoided my dad when he called, but he came right over when my mom called. From this, we guessed that he either had bad experiences with men or good experiences with women, but it may have just been luck. He was fully grown and muscular, but thin as a rail, practically starving. Possibly he lived on whatever he could catch and whatever food had been left out for weeks. With some coaxing, my parents brought him into the lake house and fed him. The first I’d heard of him was from a call from my dad while I was at Georgia Tech in 2005. He described the dog to me, noting that he could not wrap his thumb and forefinger completely around his front leg.  He also noted that he would not eat or enter the house unless explicitly asked, and this I later witnessed. In other words, don’t ask me how to teach a dog to hike with you; Copper was already the perfect trail dog right from the day we first met. Anyway, I didn’t think too much of this occurrence at the time. I was busy and figured that the dog belonged to someone living nearby or that at least we would find the owner. Goldens are a valuable breed after all.

Well, they brought him home from the lake, to keep until his owners spotted him on one of the many advertisements they put out online, and when no one turned up, he just kind of fell into a new life with us.

I liked him, of course, but I didn’t fall in love with him right off the bat. I was usually at school and he was usually at home. Occasionally, I would come home and take him for a walk, but always on a leash. Despite his usual perfect obedience, he was still very energetic when young. He could keep up with the other dogs and enjoyed running with them, even if he didn’t always know why they were running. He was just being social.

He had his flaws, of course, even discounting the massive amounts of shedding. He was absolutely terrified of thunderstorms and gunfire. Once we took him on a trip to South Georgia to an event where some of my relatives fired two different Civil War-era artillery pieces, and even though we left him in the back of the car parked a thousand yards down the road, we came back to find him cowering underneath the steering column, in a smaller space than we believed he could fit. Many stormy nights I’ve spent dragging him into bed with me and pinning him down to stop him pacing back and forth or scratching on doors. You’ll recall the way he tore up the floor of my hammock bug net one stormy night in Vermont. Once we left him in the house alone on a stormy night and came back to find the dining room door broken open and a several hundred pound bookshelf pulled several feet away from the wall. With fear comes incredible strength apparently.

But when he was young, occasionally he would act out from joy rather than fear. Once, I took him to the park for a long walk and kept him on a leash the whole time and he was perfect the whole time until we returned to the van to go him. I opened the hatch for him, then unlatched the leash to give him freedom to jump in, but instead, he immediately bolted and ran a thousand years to jump up on a woman walking with her kids. She wasn’t the type of woman to enjoy the affections of an energetic dog and berated me roundly for allowing it to happen. I thought for a moment I was going to get sued over it. Copper didn’t get any affection from me that evening.

In his later years, it was exactly this youthful exuberance that he found most annoying in other dogs. One summer, he stayed with me for a few days in a house my then-girlfriend was sharing with two others, one of whom had adopted a pug puppy. That puppy wanted nothing more than to play with Copper, and Copper wanted nothing less. He’d lie down for a nap, and that puppy would come and pounce on him, and he’d just get up and move to another room. Just last year, he was being repeatedly harassed by my sister’s boyfriend’s dog until he got so fed up with it, he fought back, tearing a chunk out of the other dog’s ear. I don’t know if he taught a lesson that day, but I know that he got the larger portion of the apartment to himself the rest of the weekend.

I sometimes reckon that Copper would have led quite a sheltered life if it weren’t for the outings I took him on—especially, of course, the one incredible journey he took as described in this blog. I expect he would have taken quite well to domestic life. After all, one of his favorite activities was to lie on the cool tile floor behind the kitchen table, letting the air from the nearby vent waft over him. When called from this station, he would take his time standing up and getting moving, even if it was for supper or a walk that he was being called. It wasn’t for no reason that he lost some twenty pounds on our long hike. His chill attitude had left him with some extra pounds to lose.

Lazy Copper

Yet, whenever he made the two-hour car ride to the lake, he was always eager to jump out of the vehicle in a puff of flying fur and run straight to the lake to wade into the lake. It was his real happy place. It was where we found him after all. And that is why, in the summer of 2015, as soon as the weather was warm enough to put the pontoon in the water, we took his cremated remains to the lakeshore and scattered them into the shallows, then carried the remainder to the channel and poured them in from the bow of the boat where he always stood on our boat trips.

Copper in his usual position

Copper floating in the lake

Now, two years later, all we have left of him is our memories, the photos, videos, and the fine layer of fur still coating most of the upholstered surfaces inside our vehicles—that stuff is impossible to remove. So, let’s take a moment to raise a mental toast to a dog beloved of every person he met, the world’s worst guard dog, the best friend of all mankind. Everyone deserves to have his last words recorded, but Copper’s end was to fall asleep slowly and peacefully, on the vet’s floor by my said, holding my hand. The last thoughts he had to record were ones of pain, so it was for the best that he could have such peace in the end. Nonetheless, I’ll let him have the final words here, as recorded on his last night on Earth. He did not sleep that night because of the pain, but that’s not what he wanted to say at that final hour:

As best as I can tell, he said “Thanks for the ride, friend.”

Here is a Google photos album of the last night and morning of Copper’s life. You can tell he doesn’t look himself, but you can’t tell how much pain he was in and how hard he was breathing: https://goo.gl/photos/STXVD5qU7qXraNsH9

If you have any special memories of Copper, please leave a comment.

It was our intention—mine and my mom’s—that Copper’s memory should survive his brief lifespan by quite a bit. One day in 2015, she told me, “I’m going to write a children’s book about Copper’s Appalachian Trail journey, based on your blog. I’m going to need a lot of help from you to make it correct.”

And we did it. She wrote it, and I edited every draft of it. It took a year and a half of writing before she published it. Here it is:

It is a heavily abridged account of Copper’s trip on the Appalachian Trail as told from his perspective. It’s a tale of adversity, friendship, and growth, and I must admit, if you’ve read this blog, you will readily notice that it is heavily fictionalized. Yet, all of the events that transpire in the story are inspired by real life events. So many families have already read the first printing of this book, and kids absolutely eat it up, but adults have given it quite good reviews as well. I especially love the incomparable cartoon illustrations by family friend Nathaniel Hinton:

If you’re interested in giving it a read (and a review, hopefully!), you can purchase it in paperback for just $15 on Amazon, or, if you prefer the illustrations in glorious full color, for $25.

If you have read this book and enjoyed, please let me know in the comments.



At the end of the last, you left me loading hastily into a car at the top of Springer Mountain to immediately throw myself into a social situation in which a majority of the participants would not be hikers, something I had not done for seven months.


After the nearly hour-long drive back to Amicalola Falls and the cabin (in which we stopped to buy like 10 bags of boiled peanuts for the party that very few people ended up eating), I said a few quick hellos, took a picture, and headed straight for the shower. People would be arriving within the hour and I needed to be fresh and well-dressed so as not to offend.


After that was a whirlwind of food and posing for photos and entertaining children and trying to interact normally with people I hadn’t seen in at least a year, and for several years in some cases. (And we wouldn’t be the only ones celebrating. The park was full of children and families doing some kind of fall festival event in the park, involving tractor-towed hayrides among other things.) But a picture is worth a thousand words, so fifty pictures will easily make this the longest post on this blog. Here’s what happened at that party, in pictures in no particular order.

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The Home Stretch

Around 4PM, I began my climb out of Dick’s Creek Gap toward the top of Powell Mountain, fully stocked on snacks again (and sporting a brand new pair of Leki pokes), but all alone. After 3.5 miles, I stopped at Deep Gap Shelter to check it out. It was one of those shelters designed like an outdoor theater, with a wide stage on the front. I took off my shoes to let them air out and started on my snacks. I was listening to the new audiobook I had downloaded on Mama’s laptop at the Unicoi Lodge: Cory Doctorow’s For the Win. I wasn’t exactly expecting a YA novel, but I was getting into it a bit, just on the basis of the unusually multicurtural characters. Actually, I can’t remember another time I’ve read any other novel not largely focused on American characters. Oh, I remember one: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. I’m getting off-track. So, yeah, I sat there on the bench on the front of the shelter for the brighter part of the afternoon before I finally decided to get going.

by Youngblood on whiteblaze.net

by Youngblood on whiteblaze.net

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Outrunning the Cop

165 miles is all I had left to go. 10 days is all I had left to do it. Not only had I committed by giving the okay for a day to have people join me on the final climb, but I also had committed by agreeing to go back to work within a couple of days of my arrival on Springer. Sure, it’s one of the easiest sections of the trail, but that only meant it was bound to be even more of a whirlwind tour than Maine was: there were fewer views, fewer hard climbs and fewer reasons to stop or slow down in general. It’ll be a wonder if I can even remember half of it. I’ve certainly forgotten all the names.

It all started in the dark. I don’t mean I got up before dawn. I didn’t. I mean there was no light inside. Despite being a mile from an immense hydroelectric dam, power outages are a recurring problem, and I just happened to start my hike during one of them. As a result, it did no good to make it to the lobby before breakfast ended: how breakfast was canceled. They offered me a room temperature pastry instead. Welp. Good thing we had sandwich fixings in the room. Not a particularly auspicious way to start a 22 mile hike, but on the bright side, it gave me little reason to stick around. Continue reading

Speed-running Southern Maine Part 2

During our 45-minute meeting on the side of the road, as action-packed as it was, my parents had a few moments to spare a word or two about the cottages they’d been in the past two nights (and in which I would spend that night). They sounded nice, but I was a hiking fool. I looked and smelled like I needed a shower, but I felt rested and energized and ready to hike my greasy head across another 13 mile stretch. The range of elevations would be only 1300 feet, with the change spread out over the whole day, and I was ready for an easy day. (Compare this with the multiple 2500 foot elevation changes of the previous day.) In fact, it would be even easier than it looked: the terrain was downright pleasant.

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Speed-running Southern Maine Part 1

144 miles left to go in Maine and a plan to do it in 9 days. That’s an average of 16 miles a day. In Maine. Crazy right? The are three reasons that is even imaginable (let alone possible), any two of which would not be sufficient to put such a plan on the radar:

  • I’d nearly hiked 2000 miles already, and was in the best hiking shape of my life.
  • Copper wouldn’t be with me for any of it.
  • I could slackpack most of it, and sleep in a proper bed most nights.

Attempting 16 mile days every day for 9 days straight while climbing the steepest hills on the A.T. with a full pack, or with a dog, or on untested legs would be something only attempted by crazy professional hikers, crazy people, or Renea. But in my very particular situation, it seemed doable, and doing it is the subject of this post. Continue reading

Ford Escape: Hundred Mile Wilderness

This is a REALLY LONG POST. I recommend spreading out reading it over a few days. Or, you know, just skim it and look at the pictures. I won’t know the difference. I’m not even sure who all is reading these days. You all look like bars on a graph to me.

It was quite late in the day to be starting my first day into the hundred mile wilderness, given that I only had 7 days worth of food for Copper and me. (Yes, I was carrying half of his food to begin with, in a large bag. He carried in Tupperware, which, since his bowl had gone missing on Mt. Adams, he could eat out of) I needed to make ten miles to the Wilson Valley Lean-To before I slept if I were to stay on schedule. And not staying on schedule was not an option when you the trek ahead means crossing an under-trafficked logging road only every other day. The problem was, the trail doesn’t wait until after the first day to start throwing you in front of things worth taking pictures of.

For instance, right past the warning sign, I already reached the first pond of the wilderness: Spectacle Pond. All the ponds out here are scenic, so I succumbed to my urge to move quickly, and skipped the picture. An hour and two more ponds later, I dropped down a steep hill and landed at Leeman Brook Lean-to, where most of the hikers leaving that day had already gathered, some to snack, some just to chat, and some to have a safety meeting. Among the hikers already there were Counselor, Wonder Boy, and Piper. (The latter two may have been largely responsible for the safety material.) Continue reading

Trail Magic for the Late 2014 Thru-Hikers

I wanted to do another magic this year, and we had one all set up to go the weekend in April before I left for Europe, but unfortunately, with it going to be miserable squeezing in the preparations for it with all the other stuff that was going on then, plus someone who wanted to come having to cancel, plus the weather going sour, that plan was dropped. And then, because my European vacation was such a scheduling nightmare for my center director at work, I couldn’t get permission to go to Trail Days in Damascus, VA. Maybe next year! However, I was guaranteed to get Memorial Day off work, because it was a holiday, so I decided it was my last chance of the season. I asked Dangerpants, of whom I am unendingly jealous because she got to go to Trail Days, to ask the hikers there about where on the trail most of this year’s hikers were. Most of the people she spoke to had either hiked as far as Erwin, TN or Damascus. Even though I was personally as far as the Shenandoahs last year (and so my instinct had been to set up magic on the bank of the Tye River south of Waynesboro, VA), I realized there were quite a number of people who didn’t leave Springer until April, and that we could save a lot of gas money by just going a trail-week up from Damascus to the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center in Marion, VA.

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Easing Into Maine . . . Before Racing Across It

As I just mentioned, the southern part of Maine is known as the most rugged part of the A.T. From the day I left Gorham, it took me three days to do the first 26 miles in the Mahoosucs to Grafton Notch, where I arranged, while at the White Mountains Lodge, for my parents to pick me up. Since it was the beginning of October (this post begins with the 29th of September), I had no other chance to make the Kennebec River crossing or be guaranteed a chance to climb Katahdin if I didn’t skip ahead and do it before most of Maine. Also, I could do the rest of Maine a lot faster without a dog and a pack, and given that there was almost no one left on the trail this far back, I had no reason to draw out my trip any longer. It was time to get a move on. So, this was the plan: get to Grafton Notch, ride to Caratunk, do the Kennebec crossing, ride to Monson, do the 100 mile wilderness and Katahdin, and then slackpack the rest of the state southbound in nine days, before driving back south to do North Carolina and Georgia. It was to be a whirlwind tour of Maine, to be completed (I hoped) before it started snowing. This post should bring the story as far as Monson, after which I expect the story can be finished in just four more posts. So close!

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If ya can’t beat ’em, Gorham to Pinkham

…And we’re back!

After about 2 weeks, I’d managed to complete about 70 miles of the “real” Whites. That averages to about five miles per day. Even two months before, when I’d spent half of every day swimming in lakes, I was averaging better than that. And I still had 45 left to go before the Maine border. And I can tell you now: my average didn’t improve much at all for the remainder of it. When it comes to arduous hiking, there’s nothing like the Whites anywhere on the eastern seaboard.

I had set myself up on the edge of the road and the parking lot so I could try to bum rides from hikers leaving or entering the woods. It didn’t take super long to find a couple in a van headed towards Gorham on the way out of state and home. They took me to Gorham, and I explained that actually I was trying to get to the Lodge just on the eastern end of town near the A.T. They were perfectly happy to carry me that far, even though it was well out of their way.

Eventually (eons later), an older couple in a van picked me up, indicating that they were hikers themselves and very amenable to giving them a lift when they get the chance. They drove me right to the doorstep of the Lodge, even though it was much farther than I expected, way past the far end of town.

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