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

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.

Dad’s collection of apple tags.

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,


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


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?


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.


Bent over, dad looked between his legs.

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

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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Fetch in 50: The Stories, the Scoop and the Saga of a Single Day on the Alaska Highway.

My name is Gus, but for the sake of authenticity, and the most precise summary of our week prior, allow me to be Frank regarding ‘Mile 0’ of the Alaska Highway.  For shits, let’s start with what it isn’t.

‘Mile 0’ of the Alaska Highway is not in Alaska! At first, I thought the signpost to be one of those cheesy roadside attractions, you know, like the ‘World’s Largest Apple Basket’ – which sadly is a real thing. (It’s in Frazeysburg, Ohio.  If it sounds juvenile, well, it’s even more life-sucking when you witness it.  You’re welcome for adding time to your life).

Back to the road.

Dad loathes these tourist stops. So when he stood in the middle of the highway for a snapshot of such futility, I 1). Watched in angst for his safety, and 2). Realized it wasn’t the prank I hoped for. Welcome to ‘Mile 0.’ Just kidding! Welcome to Alaska, you’ve come a long way.  That was my hope.

We were, in fact, still in Canada, Dawson Creek to be precise, a forgettable place some 1,500 miles from the Alaska state line – the supposed-to-be 46th notch on my collar.

To call this milepost gut-wrenching would be a gross understatement.  But to say it didn’t fuel us forward would be a grand miscalculation.

(Speaking of fuel and grand miscalculations, boy do I have a story for you. Same day too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, that’s two breakfasts, a lunch and a matinee lamb crisp into the future).

5,391 miles in three weeks is no small feat, I’m aware. No one said the road to Alaska was paved with pixie dust – though it’d be nice if it was paved in its entirety. Grit and grind (and I guess, gravel) are prerequisites for the fulfillment we seek.  Betty will tell you; the tread on her tires is all too evident, and goddammit, it won’t be had for nothing… we’ve come too far!

See? I told you I’d be Frank.

As for the drive, we modeled it after some dead guy’s quote. Umm… “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  That’s the one. I hate to piggyback on Eastern clichés, but there isn’t enough sleep to get there on naps alone.  Plus, the potholes are like alarm clocks on asphalt.

Which brings me to the physical state of the road.

The Alaska Highway is not a lap around suburbia. There is rarely, if ever, a smooth shot, let alone a straight one. There are no exits, only shoulders, and a healthy dose of eroding terrain.

And since I’m being Frank, uh, what’s with the speed limits Canada? For a proudly progressive nation, your speed limits, or (cue the French accent) “maximums,” are more conservative than George W. at a fundraiser in Dallas.  In America, we’d just park it.

Now, now, I’m being a sour traveler, but seriously, they’re quite underwhelming. What’s not underwhelming is the scenery.  So let’s deviate into the beauty of the drive.

The Alaska Highway is all that’s right about the natural world. The smell of the pines, the crisp air, the hue of the lakes and the rivers.  Oh Canada, let me count the ways your waters zig and zag.

Then there’s the wildlife, which I’m not exactly fond of but do admit to its intrigue.  Dad and Betty have given moose, foxes, elk, caribou, sheep and deer the right-of-way. No bears like last summer, but far too many ravens. I understand their sacred significance, but let’s call a spade a spade: they’re loud and they’re ugly.

The weather on the Alaska Highway is the real wild card of it all. Itinerant clouds erase blue skies. It rains a lot too; every couple of hours, which only augments the intensity.  I pray daily for dad in his seat. At night, I curl by his sleeping bag for warmth and in gratitude.

If there’s one thing to micromanage on the Highway, it’s gas status.  In such a remote part of the globe, stations are few and far between. Day one, 300 miles in, and guess who starts to feel frail?  Betty.

As a disclaimer, dad is the ultimate gentleman when it comes to Betty’s tank. Rarely does it plunge beneath halfway. For whatever reason, between the clamoring rain and kilometer conversion (dad’s math is worse than my breath), he chose the Alaska Highway for the scare of the century.

Then, when all hope felt lost, and Betty’s gauge closer to “D” than “E,” a lone pump behind a lone log structure sprouted from the mountains. (And this is why you commune with the road gods).  The clerk confirmed our desperation when reading the receipt.

Wow, that’s as high as it gets out here. You must have been on fumes.”

“Yeah, I thought we were toast,” dad said. “That’d be a story. What happens then?”

“Oh, at least a 5-hour wait… $500 tow too.”

Dad took the lesson in stride, but not before he apologized to Betty. I’m not complaining, dad emerged from the gift shop with a bag of freshly chopped bacon treats.

Our long first day on the Alaska Highway ended 50 miles down the way. We whiffed at two campsites before settling in at Muncho Lake, British Columbia – a glorious spot in the northern Rockies. That’s when a gold miner on his way home from Alaska grabbed dad’s ear in the parking lot. Not the best timing, but dad listened.

From Colorado… drinking Bud heavy… stitches on his nose… killed a wolf up North. His story melted when dad spoke of our journey.

…”yep, we call it Fetch in 50.”

Silence. Softness. A child’s smile.

Dad found his sweet spot.

A few moments later, I found mine. After a long and bumpy day, dad veered for a cove. The bonus of traveling vertical this time of year is the light of the night.  Dad clicked my leash and cocked his arm.

The water never felt so good.
the light
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P.S. Tune in next week as the Alaskan dream comes true.

Fetch in 50 Beneath the Border — Montana, Canada, and Beyond.

Dad, Betty, and me gawking at the Tetons on our own private road outside of Jackson, Wyoming.
love big

Coming to you live from Kalispell, Montana, this is Gus, your favorite front seat canine and loyal Fetch in 50 correspondent.

As we speak, we’ve been on the road for 16 long days. Conditions vary from place to place. The only constant is Betty – um, wow, now that’s a bumper sticker! Can you say patent pending? I can’t. I can only bark.

Back to Betty, she gives and gives. It’s funny to say but, for a woman of her pedigree, and far-reaching industry respect, and not just for automobiles but the entire feminist movement, it truly feels like she’s now just hitting her stride.

Take a world-class athlete for example. We’ll use me for simplicity’s sake. In biz-talk, Betty is what we call “in the zone.” She knows her mission and is on the drive of her life. As a lifelong shotgun sleeper, I know these things. Every highway vibration shakes my golden core.

Never mind the naysayers who say she can’t make it and the assholes who floor it around us as we gently ascend mountain ranges, then give us the stink eye as if to make a point. Never mind them.  Betty knows who she is and this ride has been sports-car smooth. You know, I think dad might be right… age is an illusion.

With our Alaskan journey in hot pursuit, Fetch in 50 is in reboot mode in northern Montana following a transient couple of weeks. This is our second day in these parts, which is a refreshing change of pace from the 4,100 miles we’ve spun to date. Hot days, alpine hikes, river and lake fetch, and car sleepovers have mandated the break in action. We need it more than American politics need a 3rd party.  OK, maybe not that bad.

When we cross the border tomorrow, it’s 3,900 kilometers to Anchorage. I’m polishing my metric system skills for Canada. (That’s 2,400 miles in non-metric-system-speaking human terms. In dog terms, it’s just a really fuckin long way). You think so too, eh?

Our respite though (I think) is revitalizing dad’s senses. He mentioned this morning that it’s time to “slow things down,” which despite the water in my ear, it still garnered quite the ring. Two nights of uninterrupted and perspiration-free shut-eye will do that to a man. I like coffee as much as the next guy, but come on, he’s not Buddy the Elf.

But the grind hasn’t been for naught. Never is. Hell, I deliver these words from the altar of God’s Country, where mountains rise like snow-capped cathedrals, and the skies – wheewww! – that’ll stain the memory.

Dad even made a friend today, just one – a Presbyterian pastor turned commercial knife sharpener who once sold beer at Busch Stadium. I think I got that right. Leave it to dad to meet that guy of all people. He had a beard too, which from the look in dad’s eye, I could tell he respected.

As for fetch, I’ve tacked four states to the ole résumé, bringing the Grand Tally to 45. The best part about summer is the majority of my retrieving happens in water – my sanctuary.  In South Dakota, I swam a reservoir. North Dakota, a murky creek. In Wyoming, I calmed the Snake River.  And Montana, I had a morning paddle in a peaceful cove on Flathead Lake – one of the largest and purest freshwater lakes known to man. I swam and hydrated.

It’s all bittersweet, really. On the one paw, I long to complete the dream. On the other paw, well, these moments with dad are going too fast.

Tomorrow, we’ll hit the pavement once more. Our last stop this side of the line will be Glacier National Park. There, we’ll meander the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Not long after, it’s Canada and beyond. (In Alaska, they have the Top of the World Highway. Yikes!)

Until next time, this is Gus signing off.

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