The operation was planned for maximum stealth, the details plotted to their finest points. Preparations were executed under the shroud of darkest night. Everything was ready.
There was just one problem. Reese was on to me.
At 14 and 13 respectively, Reese and Miles can no longer endure the dawn-to-dusk hikes we took in younger days. Though their spirits remain strong, Reese is slowed by arthritis and a dysplasia-stricken hip, and Miles suffers from diabetes and hypothyroidism. Just a week shy of his eighth birthday, however, Wyatt is in his prime. Long after Reese’s and Miles’s batteries have drained, Wyatt’s remains charged. We have what in Dr. Strangelove parlance may be referred to as a vitality gap.
So a plan was hatched for Wyatt and I to escape for a full day outdoors, just the two of us. Friday night, as the dogs made their final marking circuit around the fence and foliage, I packed the food, water and outdoor gear, and loaded the car. Saturday morning, I would stick to my routine; make coffee, let the dogs out, get dressed. Normally, Reese and Miles take advantage of my absence from the bed to curl up next to my better half, while Wyatt stretches out on the couch.
As the dogs congregated at the back door and I filled my travel cup with steaming, hot consciousness, I ran down the checklist in my head; every element had been orchestrated with symphonic precision. All I had to do was wait for the old hounds to head to the bedroom, then coax Wyatt out with me.
The best laid schemes o’ mutts an’ men…
Miles trotted predictably to the back, and Wyatt made a beeline for the living room. But Reese stopped cold, his senses putting a CSI investigation to shame; he huffed, then unleashed a pointed howl. It was the pants.
The trousers of choice that morning: a pair of flannel-lined, Carhartt dungarees that I favor for cold-weather hikes. Reese, like many dogs, associates certain articles with specific activities (running shoes and walks, Camelbak and hikes, cutting board and vegetable samples). I did not know his cognizance had grown so acute as to recognize slacks, especially in the context of an otherwise common morning. Clearly, these were the wrong trousers for the occasion.
Reese’s vocal observation spurred Miles and Wyatt into action. Chaos reigned for a good quarter-hour as soft, pink light filtered through the windows. I had hoped to be on the trail by dawn; my partner, and likely our neighbors, had probably hoped to still be asleep.
Finally, Reese and Miles settled in bed, and I coerced Wyatt out of the house with a piece of Swiss cheese that metaphorically mocked the holes in my plan.
Ninety minutes later, Wyatt and I rushed into the crisp, mountain morning. We ran until I thought my heart was going to explode. Which was probably about five minutes, but felt like an hour.
We walked leisurely up a rocky incline, still patchy with snow after a week of weather more reflective of late spring than late winter. From somewhere in the distance, the crack of antlers and the bullish call of elk bulls.
We crested the ridge, and there, in the snow-encrusted meadow below us, they were. Five male elk, four of them paired off and sparring, the fifth roaming and grazing between them. Wyatt and I paused to watch the magnificent creatures trade partners, lock horns, and nibble on shoots of grass protruding through the ice. The elk soon returned to the sanctuary of the woods, and we moved on as well. We hiked like it was our job.
As we returned to the car under the unseasonably warm afternoon sun, I felt thankful for the day-long lack of gunfire, a sad rarity for this stretch of the woods despite its proximity to a branch of the Colorado Trail; I had no sooner finished the thought than a barrage of rifle shots erupted from an uncomfortable distance. Some missions, it seems, are impossible.