We awoke early, our gear packed from the night before, grabbing my bag and setting out. Rushing downstairs to feed Roland, I quietly float down the steps as to not wake up anyone else. Its early, the sun is up though, there is a chill about the air, crisp and clean. Roland devours his food as he does every morning and we set out to Susquehanna State Park in Maryland.
I am wearing my down jacket, synthetic workout shirt, cut off pants and boots. Today is the first hike with our new backpack from Osprey. The temperature is in the low 30’s and I can see the clear crystalline structures of ice pushing through the surface of the ground, reminding me of some foreign landscape from a movie. I though to myself wonderful, finally some frozen ground for once. The chill in the air turns my breath into a fine fog, as i breathe in and out, taking in the refreshingly cool air deep into my lungs.
Upon arriving at the park I follow these narrow winding roads down, down to the riverside. Parking, I notice a man walking back and forth in his running gear. He is either warming up or cooling down from his run. The terrain here is not as flat as I had expected. Striking up a conversation I quickly learn the details of the park as he asks what we are training for. I tell him the Appalachian Trail in a few months. His face lighting up, quickly responds with he thru-hiked in ’91. From there our conversation is all about the AT. Getting some great advice I head out on the route he suggested.
Roland ready as ever strides forward pulling our line taunt. Taking the trail head we quickly start up this very steep rocky hill. reminding me of PA more than Maryland with the size of the rocks. Roland and I are only able to make it up about three quarters of the way before we are met by some young newlyweds. They appear to be in their mid twenties and a very unlikely couple. It becomes apparent very quickly that their passion for the outdoors is what binds them together. I listen as the tell me about the honeymoon in Jamaica, hiking up rivers, cliff diving, swimming in local holes that the guides show them.
Roland now getting anxious starts to pull our gang line taunt almost pulling me over. Que taken, we say our good byes and quickly finish the hill. From here we get the most serene view of the Susquehanna. With all the foliage missing, I can see all the way to the other side. Spying white houses lined up along the river bank, complete with docks, boats and large patios. The water is moving fairly quick and choppy, negating any attempt at a picturesque reflection. I pause for a moment snapping a quick picture.
Warmed up and ready from the climb, I take off my jacket revealing just my t-shirt. I am not cold at all, the cool air against my skin helps to remove the sweat and lower my body temperature. Downhill we start and from here our hike goes downhill too. The ice crystals have melted in the morning sun and created a very wet, slick, muddy top layer on the frozen ground. The top half inch is just about the softest mud I had ever seen. Between Roland pulling slightly and the super slick ground I lose traction sliding down the hill here and there, making it very treacherous. I do not want to break my leg again and slowly work our way down the hillside.
Going up isn’t any better, even Roland is getting fed up with this. And then it happens, he quits. Just stops moving, refusing to budge, as if to say he was done for the day, could not be budged. Gang line tangled around him, slick ground, Roland quitting, my patience was thin at this point. Untangling him I trudge on ahead of him, this usually works in getting his attitude back in place. When he was sledding if he was out in front he would quit sometimes, but if I kept him as the number 2 dog he would fight to be the lead the entire trip.
NOPE, he quickly became tangled over and over in his line. At one point it got so bad I had to yang him in the air by his pack and pull the line down off his legs. We were miserable. Why was he fighting me so much, all I wanted to do was to crush our this hike and get home. At every instance he made our trek stop, slow down, stubborn as he was his efforts were unrelenting. That was it I just gave up. Fine Roland what ever you want, if it takes us two hours to do two miles then we will just be out here all day.
Roland in tow, we walked slowly up and down the trail. Taking our time we crossed two streams. We were out in the woods, just being, existing quietly in sync with nature. Maybe Roland wasn’t fighting with me, maybe I was fighting with him. Our hike had gone from a training hike to a relaxing stroll through the woods, no leader, no goal, no deadline, just him and myself out for walk. Wow my stubborn old dog never ceases to surprise me. Here I was thinking he was just having a bad day and he was trying to get me to relax.
The sights and sounds of the forest create this noisy quiet drowning out the hustle and bustle of our day. I put my jacket back on since we aren’t working very hard and empty his pack into mine. The next mile or so flies underfoot as we just enjoy being outside together. We don’t see another person till we get back to our vehicle. Roland relaxed and someone tired lays down as we strike up a conversation with two other hikers. I am asked how the trial is and I don’t lie. i tell them exactly how it is muddy slick and total suckage on the ups and downs, expect to slide on both of them. Parting I wish them a good hike and we head home.
Roland sleeps the whole way home, he is getting older now, at a very spry 12 years old the vet thinks he will live forever at his rate. maybe today was a sign of aging that he finally wants to slow down a bit, or maybe today was just an off day for the both of us and he had the foresight to put us in a good mood. A kind of wisdom that comes with age, either way i wouldn’t have it any other way. He is the best hiking partner a man could have, and the best friend a man could hope to have too.