Cal Dobbs tells an unexpected but heartwarming story of rescuing an abused and abandoned mutt at the beginning of their 6,000 mile trek along the Continental Divide Trail.
It was a humid rainy summer day when I pulled the last peanut butter crackers out of the bottom of my food bag on the 300th mile of the 3,000 mile Continental Divide Trail. I knew I needed to get a move on to make it to the next Montana trail town before dark to get more food. Things had been relatively calm and easy-going on the trail to that point, but suddenly the energy around me shifted—I wasn’t alone. I heard snapping twigs, and as I turned around to discover the source of the sound, I saw a big black dog charging toward me. It started barking viciously, but I inhaled and was determined not to panic. As the dog neared me I stood tall and strong and commanded it to “SIT” as I pointed forcefully at the dirt in front of me. The dog jumped on me and nearly knocked me down, but I managed to push it off and stay calm as it bared its teeth and charged me again. I repeated the command until the dog eventually obeyed.
He looked like a black lab but with the silliest proportions. He was short and stout, but his paws were so big they could have belonged to a panther. Once the dog calmed down I continued my hike and to my surprise, he began to follow along beside me. I encouraged him to go home but he followed me for the next 13 miles. The dog stayed with me in my tent that night.
The next morning as we got ready to depart camp, I checked to see if he had any identification and discovered we had none. Still unsure of exactly what to do, I figured find a vet once we got to town to see if he was microchipped. When we reached the final stretch of trail into town we had to cross a busy highway. A truck approached us and the dog ran up to it. I screamed “STOP!” and the truck slammed on the brakes right in the nick of time. “Buddy, you can’t do that!” I scolded the dog. When I raised my voice he ducked low to the ground and looked at me trembling with terror in his eyes, as if I was going to hit him. I frowned with sadness realizing that this dog had likely been abused and associated discipline with physical pain. It was then that I realized that maybe he wasn’t lost, but maybe he was running away.
We made it to the vet and discovered that he wasn’t microchipped, so I called the police and filed a found dog report. They said they would place a 72-hour stray hold on him during which the owners could come pick him up. I asked them what would happen if the owners didn’t show up, and they said he would be sent to the pound unless I wanted him.
By the next day, no one had claimed him, and I was confronted with a difficult decision. Dozens of hikers must have passed by the day he chased after me, but he chose me. And now, it was my turn to choose him. “This is crazy,” I thought to myself. Hiking the CDT is one thing, but rescuing a dog mid-hike knowing that it could completely derail this hike I had trained and prepared so hard for was another. I asked myself what was more important: the hike or the dog. I knew that if I committed to him 100% and he couldn’t keep up I would have to end my hike early. Everything was riding on one stray dog being able to hike 25 miles a day with a full pack, and the odds weren’t great. In the biggest gamble of my life I decided yes, this dog was absolutely worth the risk.
Days passed and he acclimated to the trail immediately. It was as though he was born to hike and his personality started to flourish the more comfortable he got with his new life. I decided to name him Truman after a character in one of my favorite TV shows. When I told him his name, his tail started wagging and he smiled for the first time as if to say, “That’s me! That’s my name!”
Lonely days were no longer lonely and spooky nights in the tent didn’t scare me now that Truman was around.
There's a phrase among thru-hikers that, “the trail provides.” The trail provided me with my best friend and provided Truman with a life full of adventure he could never have imagined.
We walked over 2,000 miles from where I found him in Montana to Mexico, and his year Truman and I will be hiking the 2,600 Pacific Crest Trail, the 1,200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail, and the 800 mile Arizona Trail to conclude my Triple Crown and the Great Western Loop.