Category Archives: Georgia

Stuff that happens in Georgia

A Speaking

In late January 2015, we rushed Copper to a late-night emergency veterinary hospital due to his inability to lie down and apparent pain. They drained a quantity of clear fluid from his belly, where it had been putting pressure on his lungs. They directed us to go to the UGA Small Animal Teaching Hospital, which we did the following morning. It didn’t take them very long to diagnose him. His pericardium had inflated like a balloon, putting so much pressure on his heart that it could not pump effectively, leading to the symptoms we’d seen the previous night. They drained a soda can’s worth of blood from his pericardium, after which they could spot the evidence of a tumor on his right auricle. A hemangiosarcoma, common cause of illness in older large breeds, especially Goldens. They said there were probably tumors throughout his body. He received some medicine intended to prevent his bleeding into his pericardium, which allowed him to go another six weeks filled with walks and extra food and lots of photos (many of which have been lost to hardware failures) before the symptoms recurred, coming on as suddenly as before. On March 11th, 2015, after a long sleepless night of pain for Copper, we took him to the vet and had him put to sleep. It was hard to see him go, lying there on the floor as we held his paw, but it was still far better than seeing him suffer in silence, as we had all morning.

But I write this not to speak of a death, but a life. I have already written of the most significant portion of that life here on this very blog, and that portion of the story will be preserved for a long time in the book we worked half of last year to have printed with all the stories and pictures from our trail journey, and in another book that I will describe at the end of this post. So, here, in his memory, I will try to relay any other stories I can recall about him and whatever facts I can recall about what he was like.

There’s not much we can say for sure about his first three years of life, but much can be inferred. We don’t know who weaned him or trained him, but they certainly worked hard at it, for he was perfectly obedient when he came to us. We don’t know how they lost him, but we tried our best to find them, so we guess they must have lived far from where we found him or else set him loose on purpose. We don’t even know that he was certainly three years old; that was just the vet’s best guess.

For some time he ran the woods near our lake house with the neighborhood dogs Harley, Miles, and a stray beagle we called Buddy. He was skittish and avoided my dad when he called, but he came right over when my mom called. From this, we guessed that he either had bad experiences with men or good experiences with women, but it may have just been luck. He was fully grown and muscular, but thin as a rail, practically starving. Possibly he lived on whatever he could catch and whatever food had been left out for weeks. With some coaxing, my parents brought him into the lake house and fed him. The first I’d heard of him was from a call from my dad while I was at Georgia Tech in 2005. He described the dog to me, noting that he could not wrap his thumb and forefinger completely around his front leg.  He also noted that he would not eat or enter the house unless explicitly asked, and this I later witnessed. In other words, don’t ask me how to teach a dog to hike with you; Copper was already the perfect trail dog right from the day we first met. Anyway, I didn’t think too much of this occurrence at the time. I was busy and figured that the dog belonged to someone living nearby or that at least we would find the owner. Goldens are a valuable breed after all.

Well, they brought him home from the lake, to keep until his owners spotted him on one of the many advertisements they put out online, and when no one turned up, he just kind of fell into a new life with us.

I liked him, of course, but I didn’t fall in love with him right off the bat. I was usually at school and he was usually at home. Occasionally, I would come home and take him for a walk, but always on a leash. Despite his usual perfect obedience, he was still very energetic when young. He could keep up with the other dogs and enjoyed running with them, even if he didn’t always know why they were running. He was just being social.

He had his flaws, of course, even discounting the massive amounts of shedding. He was absolutely terrified of thunderstorms and gunfire. Once we took him on a trip to South Georgia to an event where some of my relatives fired two different Civil War-era artillery pieces, and even though we left him in the back of the car parked a thousand yards down the road, we came back to find him cowering underneath the steering column, in a smaller space than we believed he could fit. Many stormy nights I’ve spent dragging him into bed with me and pinning him down to stop him pacing back and forth or scratching on doors. You’ll recall the way he tore up the floor of my hammock bug net one stormy night in Vermont. Once we left him in the house alone on a stormy night and came back to find the dining room door broken open and a several hundred pound bookshelf pulled several feet away from the wall. With fear comes incredible strength apparently.

But when he was young, occasionally he would act out from joy rather than fear. Once, I took him to the park for a long walk and kept him on a leash the whole time and he was perfect the whole time until we returned to the van to go him. I opened the hatch for him, then unlatched the leash to give him freedom to jump in, but instead, he immediately bolted and ran a thousand years to jump up on a woman walking with her kids. She wasn’t the type of woman to enjoy the affections of an energetic dog and berated me roundly for allowing it to happen. I thought for a moment I was going to get sued over it. Copper didn’t get any affection from me that evening.

In his later years, it was exactly this youthful exuberance that he found most annoying in other dogs. One summer, he stayed with me for a few days in a house my then-girlfriend was sharing with two others, one of whom had adopted a pug puppy. That puppy wanted nothing more than to play with Copper, and Copper wanted nothing less. He’d lie down for a nap, and that puppy would come and pounce on him, and he’d just get up and move to another room. Just last year, he was being repeatedly harassed by my sister’s boyfriend’s dog until he got so fed up with it, he fought back, tearing a chunk out of the other dog’s ear. I don’t know if he taught a lesson that day, but I know that he got the larger portion of the apartment to himself the rest of the weekend.

I sometimes reckon that Copper would have led quite a sheltered life if it weren’t for the outings I took him on—especially, of course, the one incredible journey he took as described in this blog. I expect he would have taken quite well to domestic life. After all, one of his favorite activities was to lie on the cool tile floor behind the kitchen table, letting the air from the nearby vent waft over him. When called from this station, he would take his time standing up and getting moving, even if it was for supper or a walk that he was being called. It wasn’t for no reason that he lost some twenty pounds on our long hike. His chill attitude had left him with some extra pounds to lose.

Lazy Copper

Yet, whenever he made the two-hour car ride to the lake, he was always eager to jump out of the vehicle in a puff of flying fur and run straight to the lake to wade into the lake. It was his real happy place. It was where we found him after all. And that is why, in the summer of 2015, as soon as the weather was warm enough to put the pontoon in the water, we took his cremated remains to the lakeshore and scattered them into the shallows, then carried the remainder to the channel and poured them in from the bow of the boat where he always stood on our boat trips.

Copper in his usual position

Copper floating in the lake

Now, two years later, all we have left of him is our memories, the photos, videos, and the fine layer of fur still coating most of the upholstered surfaces inside our vehicles—that stuff is impossible to remove. So, let’s take a moment to raise a mental toast to a dog beloved of every person he met, the world’s worst guard dog, the best friend of all mankind. Everyone deserves to have his last words recorded, but Copper’s end was to fall asleep slowly and peacefully, on the vet’s floor by my said, holding my hand. The last thoughts he had to record were ones of pain, so it was for the best that he could have such peace in the end. Nonetheless, I’ll let him have the final words here, as recorded on his last night on Earth. He did not sleep that night because of the pain, but that’s not what he wanted to say at that final hour:

As best as I can tell, he said “Thanks for the ride, friend.”

If you have any special memories of Copper, please leave a comment.


It was our intention—mine and my mom’s—that Copper’s memory should survive his brief lifespan by quite a bit. One day in 2015, she told me, “I’m going to write a children’s book about Copper’s Appalachian Trail journey, based on your blog. I’m going to need a lot of help from you to make it correct.”

And we did it. She wrote it, and I edited every draft of it. It took a year and a half of writing before she published it. Here it is:

It is a heavily abridged account of Copper’s trip on the Appalachian Trail as told from his perspective. It’s a tale of adversity, friendship, and growth, and I must admit, if you’ve read this blog, you will readily notice that it is heavily fictionalized. Yet, all of the events that transpire in the story are inspired by real life events. So many families have already read the first printing of this book, and kids absolutely eat it up, but adults have given it quite good reviews as well. I especially love the incomparable cartoon illustrations by family friend Nathaniel Hinton:

If you’re interested in giving it a read (and a review, hopefully!), you can purchase it in paperback for just $15 on Amazon, or, if you prefer the illustrations in glorious full color, for $25.

If you have read this book and enjoyed, please let me know in the comments.

 

After-party

At the end of the last, you left me loading hastily into a car at the top of Springer Mountain to immediately throw myself into a social situation in which a majority of the participants would not be hikers, something I had not done for seven months.

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After the nearly hour-long drive back to Amicalola Falls and the cabin (in which we stopped to buy like 10 bags of boiled peanuts for the party that very few people ended up eating), I said a few quick hellos, took a picture, and headed straight for the shower. People would be arriving within the hour and I needed to be fresh and well-dressed so as not to offend.

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After that was a whirlwind of food and posing for photos and entertaining children and trying to interact normally with people I hadn’t seen in at least a year, and for several years in some cases. (And we wouldn’t be the only ones celebrating. The park was full of children and families doing some kind of fall festival event in the park, involving tractor-towed hayrides among other things.) But a picture is worth a thousand words, so fifty pictures will easily make this the longest post on this blog. Here’s what happened at that party, in pictures in no particular order.

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The Home Stretch

Around 4PM, I began my climb out of Dick’s Creek Gap toward the top of Powell Mountain, fully stocked on snacks again (and sporting a brand new pair of Leki pokes), but all alone. After 3.5 miles, I stopped at Deep Gap Shelter to check it out. It was one of those shelters designed like an outdoor theater, with a wide stage on the front. I took off my shoes to let them air out and started on my snacks. I was listening to the new audiobook I had downloaded on Mama’s laptop at the Unicoi Lodge: Cory Doctorow’s For the Win. I wasn’t exactly expecting a YA novel, but I was getting into it a bit, just on the basis of the unusually multicurtural characters. Actually, I can’t remember another time I’ve read any other novel not largely focused on American characters. Oh, I remember one: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. I’m getting off-track. So, yeah, I sat there on the bench on the front of the shelter for the brighter part of the afternoon before I finally decided to get going.

by Youngblood on whiteblaze.net

by Youngblood on whiteblaze.net

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Outrunning the Cop

165 miles is all I had left to go. 10 days is all I had left to do it. Not only had I committed by giving the okay for a day to have people join me on the final climb, but I also had committed by agreeing to go back to work within a couple of days of my arrival on Springer. Sure, it’s one of the easiest sections of the trail, but that only meant it was bound to be even more of a whirlwind tour than Maine was: there were fewer views, fewer hard climbs and fewer reasons to stop or slow down in general. It’ll be a wonder if I can even remember half of it. I’ve certainly forgotten all the names.

It all started in the dark. I don’t mean I got up before dawn. I didn’t. I mean there was no light inside. Despite being a mile from an immense hydroelectric dam, power outages are a recurring problem, and I just happened to start my hike during one of them. As a result, it did no good to make it to the lobby before breakfast ended: how breakfast was canceled. They offered me a room temperature pastry instead. Welp. Good thing we had sandwich fixings in the room. Not a particularly auspicious way to start a 22 mile hike, but on the bright side, it gave me little reason to stick around. Continue reading

Trail Magic for the 2014 AT Early Hikers

Dangerpants and I have been planning for the last few weeks to go up to north Georgia and do some magic for some of this year’s crop of hikers, and it turned out this past Sunday was the best day for both of us.
Leading up to it, I had a crazy week preparing, while also helping with planning my sister’s new bunk bed and doing a phone interview and working. On Friday, I went out and bought $150 of groceries and supplies, baked some brownies, and made a list of things to pack, but didn’t get the opportunity to pack them. What with getting my blogging hours in Friday night, I ended up only getting two hours of sleep before I had to get up for work. Then, after work, I had to get to Atlanta to catch the performance of Broadway’s Once at the Fox with my sister’s boyfriend Jimmy. With the MARTA trip both ways, I didn’t make it back until nearly midnight, which, with the time change, gave me six hours of sleep. I’d got most of my blogging done on the train, but I still had a few minutes left, so I finished it out and got five hours before I got up at the crack of dawn. I got enough coffee and cereal in me to wake up, then started gathering and loading things into the car. By the time I got everything together (including tracking down and replacing batteries in a hidden mattress pump) and got Copper in the car, it was almost 9am.
Dangerpants also got up at the crack of dawn, and she had prepared better, managing to make it to the trail on time (about 9am). Since I wasn’t there, she went into Hiawassee to check for calls from me. I was under the misapprehension that I hadn’t specified an exact time of arrival (just intending to arrive as early as I could manage) and so, of course, I didn’t call, thinking she wouldn’t be there yet either. (I also thought she’d be coming from Auburn, which is much farther than where she actually started from.)
When I arrived at the trailhead at Dick’s Creek Gap around 10:30am and started to unload, she got out and walked over, seeming very miffed. Oops. Not a good way to start. Anyway, not too many hikers had come by, so we unloaded our goods and set up, and it turns out she had been quite as creative in her shopping as I tried to be, and there wasn’t any real duplication of items. All the bases were covered for a good hiker feed.
Even before we’d finished laying out our wares, hikers started showing up. Here’s who partook of our offerings, in order of appearance: Continue reading

I leave for the Smokeys tomorrow

Well, later today really. Tonight, the clocks spring forward, and I will be up at nine to square away the last few things here, with a plan to leave by 1pm.

Current pack weight is 44lbs, including 8 days worth of food. It’ll easily be 50 once I add the water. If I had my rainfly (which is on my hammock, which is with Leighton), I’d consider leaving my tent. I doubt I’ll use it in the Smokeys. It’s not too late to change my mind about it, though, and I’m going to be carrying it later, so I may as well get used to it, and brainstorm other ways to cut weight. Perhaps I could ditch the filter pump and just rely on chemical treatment? I’ll probably end up deciding on the basis of what does and does not get used.

Here’s what I’ll be eating for the next week:

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That’s fajitas, bagels, rice stuff, and cheesy pasta stuff. I think I picked stuff so delicious and easy to prepare that I’ll have no trouble convincing myself to eat. The fajitas, for instance, I can make without even getting any dishes dirty.

Just 34 more hours until the adventure begins!

Shake-Out Trip with Steph and Leighton

The morning started with a huge scrambled egg and grits breakfast courtesy of my mom, and then a scramble for me to get some unpacked stuff put together.

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We were in high spirits for the two-and-a-half hour drive to the Cohutta Wilderness, with all kinds of different music playing the whole way and leftover grapes and cupcakes from the party to fuel us. We wanted to get on the trail by around 2pm, but the roads to our intended trailhead were slabs of ice, for which our 2WD Trailblazer was no match. A helpful couple who had just finished pulling someone out of a ditch told us how we could get into the Jacks River area without going over the mountain and led us halfway there. I navigated the rest of the way via the trail maps in Backcountry Navigator. We wound up starting from the Wilson Creek trailhead closer to 4:30pm, which was, thankfully, only an hour from Brey Fields and all its wonderful campsites along the Conasauga River. By 5pm, we were saddled up, adjusted, and headed off into a Winter Wonderland coated in a blanket of newfallen snow.

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FRIST PSOT! Gathering my wild oats

It’s getting so close to the day of reckoning now and there is so much to do! I still have a multitude of things on my to-do list and I wonder which ones are not going to get done. I have some idea. At least I can now scratch “Create A Trail Blog” off the list.

I’m head-starting the trail at Fontana Dam on March 11 in the morning. I want to get that part done with because it’s the only section Copper isn’t allowed to hike. He’ll be staying with my mom for those two weeks, and hopefully she’ll keep him in shape so his joints won’t be creaking when he joins me.

Here’s what my schedule looks like for the next week. Tomorrow is my send-off party, a huge affair my mom decided to throw that I’ve had to help with many of the preparations for and it has eaten up a good bit of my time. There has been a solid week-and-a-half of logistics and preparation for that affair. I hope everyone will enjoy it.

The guests arriving from the furthest away will be Steph and Leighton from Annapolis and Raleigh respectively. They will be staying the night Saturday night and accompanying me and Cop on our shake-out trip, which will run from Sunday to Wednesday. We’re going to do a fairly short loop I know up in the Cohutta Wilderness, only about 30-something miles, so it won’t be a particularly strenuous trip when spread out over four days, especially since we’ll be hitting the trail pretty early.  If all works out in terms of power, expect to see a post with plenty of photos from that trip next Wednesday.

Next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday will be last-minute preparation days. Some time in there, I’ll be doing a post describing the gear I plan to start the trail with. I guarantee you’ll see some things there you’ve never seen before.

Sunday the 10th, my mom will proceed to drive me to the the Smokies, where we’ll spend the night. She’ll drop me at the trailhead on Monday morning, and then I’ll be off.

In general, I’m going to try to write something everyday, though I may combine several boring days into a single post sometimes, and get the post uploaded two days after the events it describes have finished. There may be some gaps where, say, I run out of power and have to write up the events ex post facto, but I’ll be as stingy with my power consumption as I can to avoid that whenever possible.

I expect I’ll hit Katahdin by July or August or so, then fly back to civilization for transference back to Fontana Dam. Then I’ll spend the last month or two hiking south back to Springer Mountain. And then I’ll decide how I want to spend my post-trail life.