As we climbed the last of the steep sections of today’s trail, we paused at the crown to scan the horizon and my stomach drops to my knees. Brush fire. No wonder it began to get even harder to draw-in air on the climb. While hiking, this is my third time of the hike ending with or in a wildfire, a statistic I do not want to accumulate.
This trip I am accompanied by my newly-acquired Labrador-Shepherd dog and she is having difficulty breathing as well. I reach down to give her a head-pat before pouring more water into her collapsible bowl but my hand is hitting the air. She has vanished. There just isn’t much left to explore heading up so I give that direction a minimal sight-pass while calling out to her. She must have started down, but why would she leave me, her trail manners have been surprisingly good this entire ascent. I continue to call for her, then decide to head down at least part way to a section to where I can see the majority of the trail.
I hear helicopters approaching, help is on the way for the brush fire which is greatly encouraging but I hear nothing from the dog. I see nothing of the dog either. The smoke column is rising and spreading east, encompassing the lower trail, which route change will be the safest to escape through?
More than worried for the dog at this point, my imagination is picturing her love for chasing lizards and I cringe. If she encountered a rattler…
Lord, please keep us safe.
She’s not downhill, so I climb back up the trail. As I round a blind curve, I think I hear panting below me, on the rough mountainside, off trail. Is she injured, unable to come to me? I stalk the bushes, calling her, trying to get a visual on her. Nothing. The mountainside is entirely too dangerous to attempt scrambling down any part of it and I want to cry. Time is not on our side with the fire, the heat, and she is without water since I’m carrying it. And she is not responding to me.
I really do not want to do this, but I must. The two times that I have fallen off the side of the mountain flashes in my mind but I power forward anyway. The dog is lost or broken. Heart pounding, I begin bushwhacking the crest of the mountain, snake-fear and falling-fear fueling the adrenalin and I hear a noise, a panting noise. There she is!!
Exhausted, her heart pounding beyond any measurable counting on my part, she is completely spent lying in the shade of a thorny bush. I drizzle water over her hot head and she licks my arm in appreciation. She is able to drink some water, but is too spent to get up at all from her lying position, so I tip the collapsible bowl to her mouth. I back away a bit for maximum air flow and smoke-filled breeze to help cool her down. I gently run my hands over every inch of her body, even under her one “Lab” ear, (she has one flopped Labrador ear, the other is an upright Shepherd ear, such a mismatched cuteness!) fingers desperately seeking for swelling, cuts, or other signs of injury.
Big breath of relief quickly changed to more concern as her ability to cool off sufficiently for the climb down took so long. I fan her with the wind-fueled brush fire below heavy on my mind. She is entirely too heavy for me to carry and expect to descend safely.
Eventually she is able to sit up, then stand. Her descent is nearly as slow as mine but she is steady. The firefighting helicopters and ground crew have made remarkable progress on the brush fire and my fears abate. We make it home, although detoured for a bit due to road closures from the firefighting efforts. I truly appreciate our hardworking and courageous firefighters everywhere!
Lord, I needed You again while out on trail and You, as always were there for me. You are True Master over nature and physics!
Yesterday Reckless had her rattlesnake avoidance training! I can breathe a bit easier.