Someone recently asked me how old Bonny, my oldest Bearded Collie, was and I replied that she would be 14 in a couple of weeks. That got me to remembering a birthday several years back that turned out to be an outstanding doggie occasion.
I had almost forgotten it was Bonny’s birthday until that morning. I generally like to do something that makes the day a little special for the dogs and Bonny was turning 9 years old that day. We used to enjoy hiking in the woods with the dogs, but recently, we had been hiking almost every weekend with the llamas and our weekend llama trekking business and the dogs had been a little neglected in that department. We were just starting our summer break, having stopped the treks the weekend before due to the hot and humid Virginia summers. Mayzie, our younger beardie was now a year old and had never been on a real hike. So the plan was hatched.
The temperature was supposed to soar to the ninety’s later in the day, so we prepared for an early start. I quickly made a picnic breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches and orange juice and packed plenty of water and Gatorade. I filled the doggie canteen with fresh water and grabbed the extend-o-leashes and we were off. Some friends in the area had told us of a local trail that leads into the Shenandoah National Park and joins a park trail that terminates at the top of the Skyline Drive. The trail is a couple of miles from the house, so we drove to the trailhead and parked the car. We had not looked at the trail map before heading out, but had an impression that the trail was only about a couple of miles to the top. We figured it would take a couple of hours to go up and back and we’d stop along the way and eat our sandwiches.
The trail was beautiful. It is known by the locals as the Browntown Toll Road. It was built a couple of hundred years ago, long before the government claimed the mountain as a National Park, to provide an access for people on the other side of the mountain to ride into Browntown, a bustling little town for the early 1800s. The trail is still in excellent condition. It cuts through dense forest and luckily was well shaded, but we were sweating profusely in spite of our early start. We have a pretty good feel for distances as we hike about 4 miles of trails with llamas every week, so after about 2 miles, we started anticipating connecting with the Skyline drive. We covered another mile or so and were still not there.
The dogs were hot and tired and panting heavily. We were stopping frequently to give them water. They were plodding along dutifully, but the excitement and novelty had worn off. They weren’t as alert and observant as they had been earlier on, so it took us all by surprise when a doe leapt from the woods and crossed the trail no more than 10 feet in front of us. Bonny and Mayzie were instantly on guard and ready to take chase. Luckily we had them on leashes. I wondered briefly why the doe didn’t run down the hill away from us instead of choosing to run right in front of us the way she did.
We continued on up the trail about a quarter mile, when Tim pointed at a spot on the edge of the trail and said “Look”. At first glance, there was a sunny patch covered sparsely with low growing ground cover. But as I focused on the area, I detected a round brown hump with small white spots on it. At the other end of the hump were two pointed ears and two very wide eyes. We all had walked within inches of this new fawn and not even the dogs had detected its presence. It was incredibly tiny, and probably only a couple of days old. I was just saying to Tim that its Mom had given it strict instructions to stay put, and it was doing as it had been told, when it occurred to me that we had just encountered Mom. It became apparent why she had darted right in front of us on the trail. She was trying to lure the dogs away from her baby. We took a quick photo and moved hurriedly on so as not to distress the fawn any more than we already had.
We now guestimated that we had walked about 4 miles and still weren’t at the top. I had not come dressed appropriately for a strenuous hike. Anticipating the heat, I had worn shorts and tennis shoes. The trail in places was very rocky, and the bottoms of my feet were becoming increasingly tender. In other areas, the grass and weeds were a foot tall, and I had spied a goodly amount of poison ivy along the trail. We were debating on whether to turn around or keep going. I was spent, and starting to favor turning around. Tim wanted to see where the trail ended. We speculated that Murphy was on the trail with us, and that if we made the decision to turn around, the trail’s end would be a couple hundreds yards further on. However, if we continued to walk, it would be another mile at least. Finally we compromised. I found a log to sit on, and I stayed behind with the dogs, and Tim went on ahead to find the elusive end of the trail. He found it about a half mile up, and took photos to prove he was there.
The downhill hike was much easier than the going up. It took about 2 ½ hours to climb to the top, but we made it back down in about 1 ½ hours. The dogs were much livelier on the way down, having again found the bounce in their step. As soon as we opened the door to the house, they plopped down on the cool tile floor, and went instantly to sleep, dreaming, no doubt, of chasing deer all through the forest. I’m sure Bonny had the best Birthday a dog could wish for.