We celebrated becoming empty nesters by loading two of our four-legged kids in our 24-foot Class C Motorhome, aka the Bookmobile, and heading to Wyoming. I’d traveled in the Bookmobile with Petey the one-eyed Boston terrier before on our 60-Cities-in-60-Days Book Tour in the summer of 2013. Actually, one of each of the kids rode with us at all times as well. Petey wasn’t a big fan of the Bookmobile then, mainly because there was nothing in it for a dog. Book stores? Rotary club speeches? TV interviews? No dogs allowed. Snore. He was a great comfort to me, but for months afterward he wouldn’t go anywhere near the Bookmobile.
Georgia the incontinent Belgian Malinois guard dog had never done an RV trip. At home, the first thing we do each day is take our pack of dogs on a leashless walk in the country. They have hundreds of acres to roam and run through. By the time they eat breakfast, they’re tuckered out. That’s important for a Belgian Malinois. A tired Malinois is a good Malinois. A bored Malinois is an “outside” decibel (permanent hearing damage a certainty) barking, couch-eating, herding/jumping menace, just this side of full blown insanity. At best, she doesn’t suffer other dogs silently, or calmly, although she’s great with people.
“You realize you’re replacing your offspring with canines, don’t you?” a friend asked me.
I ignored her.
So we loaded up the reluctant Petey and the ticking time bomb Georgia and took them on a two-day drive to stay in an RV park in Wyoming. Now, if you haven’t RVed before, let me set the stage for you. Its row after row of RVs parked fifteen feet apart from each other with tiny plots of fenced “dog business” areas. Two out of every three RVs carries a small yipping dog, or more than one in some cases.
From the moment we parked in Wyoming, Georgia’s switch was flipped. Dogs everywhere. A new “home” to establish and protect. People (and dogs) in and out 24 hours a day. And worst of all, a few people with dogs that would walk them right up to where she lunged and (explosively) barked on the end of her line and ask us if Georgia would like to play with their three-pound ball of fluff. Personally, I think that’s an IQ test issue, but you can draw your own conclusions. Most people take one look at her and ask if anyone has ever bothered us with her around ;-). Um, no. Have you seen the teeth on a Malligator? But then they’d hand FiFi off to their spouse and come pet her and she would give them her famous Georgia hug of greeting (shoving her nose between arm and hip and huddling close for a long moment of contact and affection).
She’s a beauty, and there’s something adventurously awesome about petting a dog that looks like a wolf, so she was actually a hit with other campers, as long as she’d STOP BARKING. We’d learned lots of tricks to keep her quiet with Duke Ferguson’s Dog Training Genesis, so, if we were right there when it happened, we could soothe the savage beast. If not, we woke up everyone in a seven-mile radius. Putting her back in the RV helped, unless she heard another dog bark, or saw headlights, or any other of a long list of stimuli. One night there was so much activity that she sat up in the driver’s seat without sleeping all night, intermittently barking (“SHUT UP GEORGIA!!”) and sitting on the horn. I’m sure she wasn’t quite as popular then.
The key to RVing with Georgia, it turned out, was the same as living with Georgia at home: lots of exercise and brain work (smells, commands, things to stimulate her cerebral cortex at the same time she tired out her body), as early as possible in the morning. Petey seconded that motion. So our vacation started each day before six.
“They’re even more trouble than the kids,” Eric said, as he ruffled Petey’s ears.
It was at least a horse race.
On the first day, Eric took Georgia and Petey to the dog run so they could be off leash. It had one of those u-shaped gate latches, which was new to our dogs. He opened it to let them in and noticed Georgia watching him intently. When they were done playing, he put them back on leash and walked to the gate. Georgia stepped in front of him and opened it with her nose. Score one for the Malinois. Petey wants me to point out that he would have opened it but it was inconveniently high for a Boston terrier.
We headed to the mountains, to state and private land (we are hunting for a summer vacation home) where the dogs could be off leash. All the inconvenience of traveling with two dogs—one large, loud, and incontinent; the other small, demanding, and visually challenged—slipped away in the fun of hiking with them. They loved it. Loved it with a capital L. Loved it with twenty-thousand exclamation points shouted in Georgia’s outside voice. And it was a joy to behold. All the Dog Training Genesis paid off as they stayed within their allowed 100 yards of us and came when called.
Until they discovered wildlife. Squirrels. Chipmunks (aka mini-bears). Jackrabbits. Antelope. Deer. Then it was a little harder to call them back, but Georgia minded every time. Petey, the stubborn little cuss, not so much. Enervated by Georgia at his side, Petey was a wild man. Normally water-averse, he actually stepped boldly into ice cold mountain streams and waded across with water up to his neck. He chased everything with a pulse (never coming close, of course), and ran off into thick forest and down steep slopes, seemingly confident that Georgia would protect him from coyotes, mountain lions, and bears. We weren’t quite as confident, which is why we kept them close by.
On one hike into a fairly remote area, we looked onto the hillside above us, and a half mile away from us rambled a big, brown bear. It wasn’t close enough to raise our pulses, but it did get us talking about what if.
“I love Georgia a lot, but if a bear came after us and she wanted to protect us, I guess the smart thing to do is let her,” I mused.
“Absolutely. She wouldn’t let it happen any other way.” Eric patted Georgia’s head.
“Unless the bear got to Petey first.” The stocky little fellow strutted down the path in front of me, then stopped to eat a dead mouse. “NO!” I yelled. He looked aggrieved, and he resumed his strut.
“Petey’s appetizer sized. I don’t think he’d even be much of a distraction.”
“We couldn’t say this about our human kids,” I said.
The wisdom of hiking with dogs—of RV traveling with dogs—was becoming clearer.
We’d rented a four-wheel drive vehicle so we could traverse whatever roads we needed or wanted to. The back seats folded down and two big dog beds fit in the space nicely, along with their water bottles and treats and our cooler and hiking gear. The dogs helped us evaluate properties, and they were actually much more rational than our real kids. One was too prickly. One was too scary. One was pretty great. And one was just right. Petey refused to get back into the SUV at that place, and he had to be carried, squealing. I think we’ll be making an offer.
After one busy day of hiking, property prospecting, and house hunting, we determined we had enough gas (1/4 tank) to take the scenic way back, over the mountains and through a town to the south for a gas stop before turning north back to our RV park. Petey snored and Gerogia lay on her back, legs suspended in the air, blessedly racked out and quiet. The scenery was unbelievably gorgeous. We passed a sign that said 28 miles to our destination. We drove through open range grazing lease areas, and calves and lambs had to be honked out of the road. Deer and antelope moved out of the way a little quicker around every corner. We came to a fork (no signs) and stayed on the road we were traveling. We noticed, though, that as we drove, grass was sprouting out of the dirt road. The tracks were becoming rutted. And there was no sign of habitation except abandoned travel trailers and school buses.
It was making me a bit nervous.
Our gas was now down to less than an 1/8th of a tank. We’d had no cell signal the entire day, so I couldn’t pull up Google Maps or ask Siri to lend a hand. Finally we came to some signs. Our destination town was now FORTY-FIVE miles away. And we had a dangerously low gas tank and no idea where we were.
“Turn around?” Eric asked.
“Definitely.” I said, trying to sound calm.
“I think we’ve got about 50 miles back to town.”
“At least.” I gripped the hand rest on the passenger door.
“Why don’t we turn off the air conditioner. That’ll buy us a few more miles.”
About five miles back down the road, the empty gas tank light came on. We looked at each other.
“No one would bother us on the side of the road with her in the car.” I pointed at the blissfully snoozing Georgia with my thumb.
“And if we’re still out here a week from now, we could eat the dogs,” Eric said, matter of factly.
I laughed. “I couldn’t eat them.”
“Georgia might be a little stringy, but Petey looks like he’s well-marbled.”
“Hey, you said it earlier. We couldn’t say this if we were traveling with our offspring.”
The sun was setting and the temperature was falling fast. Who knew how cold it would get up here at night? Eric coasted downhill and used minimum gas on uphills. He cursed every lamb and calve that we’d cooed over before that forced him to use the brakes and cost us precious gasoline.
We came to the split in the road we’d passed before.
“That’s the direction we should have been heading,” Eric said.
“It will be interesting to see where we drove to, when we get back to civilization.”
We kept driving. Uphill. For twenty miles with that low gas light never blinking off. Then we were back on paved road, still with no cell signal, gas stations, or people.
“Twenty-eight miles to go,” I said, reading the sign we were passing.
“Should be downhill from here,” he said. “Mostly.”
Mostly was true, but mountains being what they are, we still had a lot of uphill left to go. Petey continued snoring. Georgia rolled over. Eric put the SUV in neutral on the downhills and I tolerated taking the curves faster than I liked so that he could minimize braking.
“Don’t try this neutral trick yourself,” he said, “or be very careful if you do. If the engine shuts off, we loose power steering and braking this way.”
“Oh, that’s comforting.”
“It’s all right. I’m monitoring the engine very closely. It hasn’t even hiccuped yet.”
The minutes passed slow as cold honey. With only five miles to go, we came upon an old man cautiously crawling his truck down the mountain, which made Eric have to slow down and lose his coasting momentum.
“Nooooooo,” Eric shouted.
The SUV still kept rolling, albeit more slowly. We saw the town ahead of us as we descended from the mountain into the foothills. Luckily, there was one last long, steep grade to go.
“First gas station we see,” I said.
Only there were no gas stations on that side of town. We cruised all the way to the center of town and had to stop at a traffic light. The engine started to sputter.
“We can push it from here.” I patted my husband’s arm. “You’ve done really good.”
Petey and Georgia sat up. Georgia barked.
Eric laughed. “With no help from them.”
“Just about what we’d expect from our real kids.”
Eric pushed the gas pedal one last time and with a few sputters, we made a left turn then an immediate right to coast into the gas station.
That’s all I’ve got.