Fetch in 50, A Victory Lap: How to Ride Home in Someone Else’s Car.

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Dad didn’t fight it… because he knew.

I suppose I did first, really.  I know the feel of Betty’s gears better than the felt on my balls. But given my inability to dictate any semblance of human speech, it didn’t matter.  What did was that Betty needed a vet, and a vet she needed quick.

In typical Fetch in 50 fashion, the timing of our “situation” was, for lack of a better term, interesting. I mean, we were 19,533 miles in and out of the summer, with our current position a mere three-hour shot to our driveway. After 98 days on the road – a road that demanded patience, and in turn, delivered immeasurable opportunity – dad eased my fearful fur with a look and a remedy that stretched from ear to ear:  he smiled.

The real kicker was that just an hour ago dad gave Betty quite the oral thank you card.  His gratitude for four years of service to him and I came out in one big, messy monologue. She was shade and she was warmth. She was home and a window to the world.  If it majored in love, it minored in surprise. Dad holds quite the vision for all who cross his path, but said even he was surprised by our mechanical-free summer.

Until now that is: when Betty’s top-end speed could see a deer make a roundtrip highway crossing without threatening its path.

Dad exited in Concordia, Missouri and popped in the first available gas station in search of an auto garage.  (The one across the street had just gone out of business.)  “Turn right and just past the church,” dad said, repeating the directions from the cashier.  “Maybe we should drop Betty off at the church instead,” he joked.  “And light a candle… or two.”

My premonition was that this would be an overnight job in the least.  Fetch in 50, Operation Alaska now seemed a shoe-in to hit the century mark in nights, and depending on the severity of Betty’s injury, there was an outside chance we’d reach month five.  At least we wouldn’t have to find a parking lot… we could sleep IN Betty, IN the garage.  But then dad handed Dennis, the man whose shop this was, his Triple A card and the Universe opened wide.

Dennis:  Looks like you got Premier Status.
My dad:  Is that right? (Dad hadn’t a clue of what Dennis just uttered. That’s when the awkward pause began).

Dennis:  Well… you can get a 200-mile tow with this card.
My dad:  Really? How far are we?
Dennis:   One-hundred and ninety miles from here to the Arch.
My dad:  So you can tow us home? (With dad’s math skills and following a long summer, he wasn’t too quick on the uptake.  Bless his bearded heart).
Dennis:  Yes I can.
My dad:  When?
(I was hoping for tomorrow, but would settle for the day after next).
Dennis:  
Can you gimme 30 minutes?

Sure enough, after a petro stop, Dad, me, and an on-leash Betty – in all her mala-swinging glory – were headed east. Dad was detached, I could feel it, but a bit disappointed that after the grind of the summer, and his paw being the only one to push Betty’s pedal – (not a tenth of a mile had been driven by anyone else) – that he wouldn’t be able to take her across the finish line.  He said our front-seat-tow-truck status felt like a country song.

(Singing).

Close to home from a road trip,
Broke down on the highway.
Tow truck with my yellow lab,
Didn’t get to finish my way.
love

But somehow our victory lap home couldn’t have been scripted any better.

As I sprawled across dad’s lap, his heartbeat never felt so still. Between Dennis and dad’s sporadic conversation, I closed my drooping eyes and fell into my last deep Fetch in 50 sleep, where memories of a grand and glorious American adventure flashed across my canine cortex like a montage of moments passed.

Like our first night on the road when we CouchSurfed with an electric-guitar-playing herbalist in Ojai, California – all the intel dad needed to comfortably BettySurf for the remainder of our journey.

Or the week we spent driving to Key West only to leave less than 24 hours later because dad said it was like “Six Flags on an island.”

Then there was the summer up East. In Maine, we awoke in a dark Walmart parking lot to drive up Cadillac Mountain – the peak of Acadia National Park – to catch the sunrise and first light in all of North America.

During our tour of Ivy League campuses, a professor at Brown University told us that Fetch in 50 was – and I quote directly – “the coolest idea I’ve ever heard in my life.”

And it’s hard to forget our visit to New York City.  It was September 11th, hot, and busy.  I lollygagged to a single toss in Central Park.  We slept at a Walmart across the Hudson River in New Jersey.  By happy accident, Betty’s view was a panorama of the Manhattan skyline.

We drove through a heat wave to reach the Outer Banks. Dad beelined into the cold Atlantic as I feared for his life. The moment I caught him, a wave caught us. Together, the liquid lift was an aerial, salty experience. It still feels like something more was at play that day.

There was the food too. In North Carolina, I begged for a driver’s Doritos three lanes over at a stoplight. In Oregon, I sat for a man with torn clothes and an onion-like stench.  He gave me the only food he had:  an entire banana.  Dad called him a “paragon of faith.”

When I arose from my dream, Dennis and dad had slammed their doors and were headed towards the facilities. With no yearning to bark, I sat in the front seat of the red truck and the anthem played on…

(Singing).

Stuck in park at a rest stop.
Betty White still in jeopardy.
Wondering:  will it ever end?,
Or is this just another memory?
love

I rotated between dad’s lap and Dennis’s knee the remainder of our 174-mile tow home.  What originally seemed to be an inconvenient way to conclude our 49-state journey, turned out to be the most graceful closing act. Dennis was our captain and his truck was our land ferry. A mile from home, we exited the highway at the exact moment the sun fell from Earth. But before the curtains closed, dad had an idea.

Drop us off at the church, will you Dennis?

Ten minutes later, with dad’s arm out the window and my nose towards the sky, together, we crossed the finish line.

19,534 miles.

love
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Into Oregon and Through Nevada: Fetch in 50 Turns Fetch in 49.

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First and last toss in Nevada.

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We entered Oregon at rush hour and dad veered left.

The abrupt turn didn’t calculate right away. For much of the past week, the three of us had trekked through the bowel of Small Town U.S.A.  Now, a mere 10-minute ride from downtown Portland – and reintroduction to humanity – it seemed dad had plans for an extension.

If there’s a perpetual riddle to life on the road, reintegration takes the trophy.

My nose can relate. In the countryside, there are acres of land at its sniffing disposal. But not in the city. Between the trash, the fumes and overdeveloped earth, not only is fetch space affected, so too is my oxygen.

I think dad’s sweet spot is acoustically related. The guy likes stillness, or as he calls it, “the best state anyone will visit.”  I’ve come to enjoy it as well.  And each time we transition back to the hubbub that is society, reverence is a must.  If jerkily entered, his sweet spot quickly becomes a sore spot.

So I let him do his thing.  And that’s what this turn was about.  Dad needed a breather, courtesy of an evening drive, before jumping back in.

We peeled east down Highway 84, a scenic little drive that parallels the Columbia River. The timing proved ideal. The air chilled and the sun fell. Together, we stood at the base of Mt. Hood, gawking; just the three of us, all alone, in a thicket of lodgepole pines.  (Silence).  When we circled back to Portland, I snored and dad completed his reintegration with a string of heartfelt tunes.

From there on, Oregon astonished – despite being nicknamed for a rodent.

Our 48th state was the ultimate championship test. In all my years on the fetch circuit, never have I experienced such surface fluctuation. Morning toss in the Cascades gave way to evening toss at Canon Beach.  But the real adjustment came in Central Oregon, where the high desert caught my stride by surprise.

I’m pretty certain dad fell for Bend, Oregon. He said God must’ve timeshared there. I couldn’t argue. Every which direction seemed an advertisement for Heaven.

We spent three days in and around Bend.  Our first afternoon we hiked the most beautiful state park, Smith Rock, either of us had ever seen.  My paws turned red and my tongue hung low.  The next day we climbed to the summit of Mt. Bachelor.  Dad took a nap.  And I took it in.

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On top of Mt. Bachelor.  When dad sleeps, I watch… kind of.

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Cool nights made for added blankets in the rear of Betty. Walmart’s occupancy was at an all-time high that week.  Of course, dad can make home just about anywhere.

I’d wager a week’s worth of road treats that my dad is the only camper in the history of Walmart camping to diffuse his car with essential oils prior to bed, only to wake up, walk inside, and grab a green juice for breakfast.


Gus!

Sorry, an organic green juice. See what I mean?  You just can’t script things with this guy.

Oregon had some interesting quirks too. Strangers pumped Betty’s tank, which I didn’t care for one bit.  Sales tax is obsolete, which I don’t understand one bit.  And grass, dad says, is legal, which has me wondering the number of states I’ve unlawfully grazed in.

Two weeks later, we were in Nevada, the only state I’d yet to clench my jaw. We split the Mojave Desert and arrived in Vegas at nightfall.

The irony of a Sin City finish to Fetch in 50 was too comical to ignore.  The thought of me completing the dream with a night chase on the Vegas Strip could garner quite the Instagram shot. But dad determined – with all his facial-haired foresight – there isn’t a vaccination on the market to guard against the filth of that sidewalk. Plus, our fulfillment doesn’t stem from a mouse click.

That’s not to say we skipped the Strip.  No, no.

After 17,000 miles on the road this summer, Betty deserved to strut, and strut she did. By sports cars and casinos; past limos and a big fountain with a strong, synthetic stench. Dad smiled at the moment, but wondered aloud how this street and the Blue Ridge Parkway could both be branded All-American Roads. No woods and no wildlife. Dad did mention a pack of wolves, but I didn’t smell any.

The following day we ditched the glitz and the glamour and I earned the 49th stamp on my fetch passport with a single pop-fly.  After a dry and exhausting desert hike – and 80-plus days away from home – we knew it was enough.  A few hours later, dad said the omens confirmed our completion.

Just before leaving town, Betty had a run-in with local law enforcement. Despite her paperwork and palpable aura, the officer said Betty was not showing up as a registered vehicle… anywhere.  Dad was pretty ho-hum; he even read a magazine while Sherlock did his detective work. Not me though.  When he returned, I showed him my teeth.

The nerve! The gall! The disrespect! Not only did he touch a woman without her permission, but he failed to genuflect as well.  When I first heard the sirens, I assumed a reward was in store. Did they want to name the highway for Betty? Maybe he was delivering the key to the city? Nope, just a leisurely Saturday warning that disrupted my nap and lifted my butt hair.

“All is well,” dad said.

And we broke east beneath a pink desert sky.

hello

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Fetch in 50 Back in the States: A Kennel, A Godfather, and A Short Film in Washington.

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Beach fetch: on set at sunset.

Big love
I was surrounded by tall walls.

Never in my life – and I mean never – had I so much as seen, let alone been the sole inhabitant, to a structure of such sterility.

The cement cell was roofless, sure, but the psychological tactics didn’t fool me. The blue-skied view served as one big hopeful illusion – more torture than gesture for the lonely prisoners who’d paced the chain-link gate.

My howls for help had gone unanswered and the reality of my incarceration began to settle in. For four years and 46 states I’d eluded an on-leash society; soon, a uniformed man would appear. He’d read me my rights and deliver the charges…

Beer-bellied-border-patrol guy: Gus, you have walked, ran, swam, pissed, sniffed, shat, slept, hiked, eaten and drank without a leash both at home and abroad.  Do you deny this?
Me:  Where’s my dad?!
Beer-bellied-border-patrol guy:  You are being charged in the court of canine law as a ‘fetch fugitive.’  How do you plea?
Me:  WHERE’S.  MY.  DAD?!?!

I hadn’t seen him since he locked me in here and walked away. That was 20 minutes ago.  Dad wouldn’t rat us out, would he? 

I mean, sure, our guilt was fairly blatant; all the evidence was printed in the canine rags.  (Dad said one newspaper called me a “four-legged Jesse James.”) Still, we’d take it to trial just to make ‘em work for our sentence. With my career and fate hanging in the balance, I’d opt for a jury over any admission to some bureaucrat with a badge.

My only question though was why now? This particular border crossing, our eighth and final one of the summer, should have come with a parade, not a summon.

In the past week we had slept at a gas station, ate from a neverending inventory of canned goods, belched and developed acute acid reflux because of said canned goods, and switchbacked obscure highways through the armpit of Canada.  The system sure knows how to kick you when you’re down, the thought rang.  And that’s when a door slammed.

Faintly, footsteps approached. Soon after, a shadow canopied my cage and an irked baritone filled my ear. Like William Wallace, I looked vertical and prayed for strength.

They took the apples! They took all of the ORGANIC apples!!!

Dad unlatched the gate, apologized and set me free. Promptly, he described his meeting.

First, they forced him to surrender Betty’s keys.  (This took some time).
Then, he waited.  (Which took even more time).
Finally, the interrogation began.  (This was a waste of time).

Bureaucrat with a badge:  Sir, are these your apples?
My dad:  Sure are.
Bureaucrat with a badge:  Where did you get them?
My dad:  A grocery store… wait, is this a trick question?
Bureaucrat with a badge:  Did you know they are a product of New Zealand?
My dad:  Does it matter if I did or I didn’t?
Bureaucrat with a badge:  I’m afraid we’ll have to confiscate them.
My dad:  Confiscate? That’s a little heavy.
Bureaucrat with a badge:  American food laws differ from Canada’s.
My dad:  But I just bought them. What if I ate all of them right now?
Bureaucrat with a badge:  I’m sorry, but that’s not allowed.
My dad: (Death stare).
Bureaucrat with a badge:  Drive safe.

It had been a month since we found any organic produce.  At this point in the journey, dad would have surrendered his Apple computer before his organic apples.

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Dad’s collection of apple tags.

love
The antagonist, dad said, held the brown bag as if a sudden movement might detonate their cores. Dad loathes drama, but admitted that, if we ate Monsanto-made fruit, the chemicals combined with the fire in his eyes could have blown up the building. He likened his loss to that of Belushi.

Not long after, dad and I were in Washington; back on home turf for good. With our close call behind us, all road facets improved from that point forward.

Like in the San Juan archipelago, where we stayed in a secluded cabin in the woods for two whole nights.  Real bed included.

Then, in Anacortes, when dad ran into a close family friend at the grocery store. By a serendipitous stroke of the Divine, he spotted her via Betty’s rearview mirror prior to reversing from the parking lot. Mammoth hugs ensued.

And then, a real life road miracle happened.  After a dreary morning stuck in the slow death that is Seattle traffic, I awoke in Betty circling the airport terminal.  Before gaining perspective, there I was, lying in the backseat on my godfather’s lap with all my Love and all my Might.

I’d never collected a family member on the road before.  Each time Betty fell from our Missouri driveway, it felt like a portal plunge into a land of unfamiliarity.  No recliners.  No dishwashers.  And certainly, no family.  Was my godfather’s road breath embarrassing?  Absolutely.  But some things are best left unsaid.

As it turns out, my godfather had come to film Betty, dad and me across our 47th state for a few days. From sunrise to sunset, the lights were on.  In Olympic National Park.  At the gas station. And over the Cascades. With clothes.  Without clothes.  However and wherever the narrative flowed.

One day we were kicked off of a pear farm. The next, I ran off set to eat bacon with a diner waitress.  Had dad not chopped me in my youth, my first-born pup would bear her name.

The rain came and went – we were in Washington after all – but Betty’s new wipers kept things clear. I was the star of the show, yes, but you know what they say in the biz… you’re only as good your leading lady. Come awards season, I trust Betty to be handed the hardware she deserves.

Theatrical release is currently one of many moving pieces. Dad says that short documentaries about a car, a dog and their bearded chauffeur aren’t high on Hollywood agenda’s. Fortunate for our film that, come press time, we’re all too aware that purity is power.

More to come next week,

love

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Fetch in 50 Alaska Status: Views from the Top of the World.

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It’s called “road breath.”

Legend has it that the testament of an epic adventure happens when I pant on dad.  According to him, temperature, hang-time and disgust are measured in equal parts. Apparently my “road breath” has hit a record level.  “Just the right amount of stink,” he keeps saying.

It makes sense, really. If glass reflected scent, dad would never look in the mirror again.  His “road breath” smells like an espresso machine farted. I can’t inhale enough of it. I knew we were on the ride of our lives, but with dad’s new system, I’m thrilled to know it’s official.

Speaking officially, did you see the headline in the Anchorage Times?

‘FETCH IN 50’ HAVING A BALL ACROSS ALASKA.

The pun was clever, I thought, though I’d have opted for ‘FETCH IN 50’ THROWING A PARTY UP NORTH. Get it, throw? We didn’t make the newspaper, of course.  Please, that’s for important intel like today’s crime and tomorrow’s weather.  Heaven forbid you just walk outside.

But I digress because that’s what humans say. The truth is we drove, hiked and fetched our asses off for a week and a half in the Last Frontier. And that is the news I’m set to deliver.

Our entrance to Alaska was quite the spectacle. We ditched the paw-parazzi by crossing the Yukon River by ferry. It took less than five minutes. From there, Betty tightroped Canada’s spine for 50 miles on the Top of the World Highway.

The day was gloomy, but the smoky clouds gave birth to the northernmost border crossing in the U.S., a spot open just four months each year.  “We earned a photo at this sign, pup,” dad said. He hopped out and fumbled his tripod for a minute, maybe two. Then the security door opened and the border agent appeared.

Sir?

Bent over, dad looked between his legs.

Uh, would it be easier if I took the photo for you?

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We made it!

She got our snapshot, but I doubt I looked at the camera; the scent from a nearby pole hijacked my everything. It smelt like one… no… two retrievers. I pulled dad across the street to confirm and spray.

My guys are inside, the agent said.  Would Gus like to meet them?  Slow day at the border, I thought.

I was right, two retrievers. Back and forth we branded the northernmost pole in the U.S., although I misfired on one and it flew back to Canada. We ran around the station off leash until the next traveler arrived.  God, I’d love to inspect one car, just one!!!

We slept in the pines that night, beneath a bridge on the river. Dad did the math:  it took 400-plus hours to reach Alaska, and less than two to update my fetch resume. But the adventure had just begun and west continued to be the way.

First it was Chicken, a gold-mining town with 8 residents, none of them birds. Then, Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway. I didn’t get to drench the “landmark” due to the tour bus of elderly photographers. I did, however, deuce in the nearby mulch.  I pray the stench peels its paint.

The holidays came early when we landed in North Pole, Alaska, a cash-grab of a destination where it’s “Christmas all year-round.”  Dad hardly blinked. He said the real Christmas miracle was catty-corner Santa’s workshop, where a fully functioning Blockbuster sat across the street.

That evening we entered Denali National Park, an area similar in size to a former fetch-flame of mine, Massachusetts. Like the entirety of the American park system, I’m not allowed out of the car.  Pets can disturb wildlife, all the pamphlets say. They should really clarify that term – “wildlife” – you know, before opening the gates to vanloads of insufferable sightseers. Talk about animals.

By Day 3 we made it all the way to Anchorage.  A nice young vendor at the Sunday market gave me scraps from the salmon cookout. I’ll always remember her face.

Dad chose the fishing town of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula as a settling down place.  We hiked through bear country in the sopping rain and I had my first ocean dip of the trip.  But the settling down part never manifested.

We arrived during the annual salmon fishing tournament, so Betty remained our home.  Locals said that fall arrived a month early, which meant rain, rain, rain.  We camped on the edge of the Gulf of Alaska with glacier views and bald eagles soaring above.  I slept and dad wrote.

A week into Alaska and still no sign of the sun. The clouds had blocked our view of Denali (the former Mt. McKinley) and dad was cold and wet. It was time to move on.

A couple long days on the road followed.  We crossed the border two more times. The drives were cinematic. Trees were yellowing and life kept giving. 800 fresh land miles brought us to Haines, Alaska. That’s when the sun came out.

It was like the opening of an award-winning play. Pull the curtain back and the sky, the peaks and the stars all appear. The ocean turned a Godlike shade.  “Oh there you are Alaska,” dad said.

Since then we’ve left Alaska, but Haines is what I’ll remember most.  And not just because I had the game of my life in a quiet Alaskan cove – one that brought me to a shiver – but probably because dad showered two nights in a row.  That’s no small feat in and of itself.

The next time we talk, my “road breath” might be harming the ozone.  Betty’s going on her fourth oil change of the trip today and dad said that for her 200,000-mile anniversary, he’s putting some shiny new windshield wipers on her.  Boy does dad know women..

Until next time,

hello there
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