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Driving with my Dog to Alaska: North Dakota

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By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
August 19, 2012


Five years ago my dog, Beau, and I drove from our home in upstate New York to Alaska and back. The first four installments can be found by clicking the "Traveling with Beau" link on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page. In the last blog, Beau and I were spending the night in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Day four started fine: rising at 5:45, vigorous one hour walk, shower, light breakfast and on the road by 8:00am. However--as I did not fully realize until much later in the day--I was exhausted.  Having spent 40 of the preceding 60 hours on the road, and with the euphoria of embarking on our long-anticipated journey now over, I would soon realize that the three long days of driving was taking a huge toll on me. For Beau, the toll was even greater.


Statue at the entrance to the
By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
August 19, 2012


Five years ago my dog, Beau, and I drove from our home in upstate New York to Alaska and back. The first four installments can be found by clicking the "Traveling with Beau" link on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page. In the last blog, Beau and I were spending the night in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Day four started fine: rising at 5:45, vigorous one hour walk, shower, light breakfast and on the road by 8:00am. However--as I did not fully realize until much later in the day--I was exhausted.  Having spent 40 of the preceding 60 hours on the road, and with the euphoria of embarking on our long-anticipated journey now over, I would soon realize that the three long days of driving was taking a huge toll on me. For Beau, the toll was even greater.


Statue at the entrance to the
hockey arena shown below. 
As was our custom, we spent the first few hours of the day seeing the community that we had entered in the darkness of the preceding night. We drove to the campus of the University of North Dakota with modern but rugged buildings and her attractive landscape. We marveled at the immense hockey arena, audaciously sited on spacious real estate in what appeared to be a high-rent area of campus. I had read about Ralph Engelstad's $100 million gift--unrestricted, it was said--that allowed the construction of the massive hockey arena and the Fighting Sioux warrier statue at its entrance. 


Massive hockey arena at University of North Dakota,
built with a $100m gift from alumnus and former goalie, Ralph Engelstad.


The modest Biomedical Research
 Facility sits in the shadow
of the expansive  arena
In what I consider symbolic of one of the flagrances of university philanthropy, the diminutive Biomedical Science Research Institute sat across the parking lot from the sports arena, its age-tattered brick shell unable to receive even a simple upgrade because it fell outside the mega-donor's vision. 

I also perceived perhaps a touch of insecurity because the campus had a string of street names suggesting an affinity for the Ivies: Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Cornell. The monstrous hockey arena was located on Columbia Street, somewhat ironic, I thought, considering that its namesake Ivy doesn’t even have a hockey team.

As we headed west on Highway 2, the morning sun was obscured by a dingy haze that I soon realized was the gathering smoke of distant forest fires to the north and also the south. About 11:00 am I began to realize that Beau was not himself. Rather than curling up beside me and going to sleep, he lay for only moments at a time. Then unfolding his body, he would rise, look anxiously at me, circle two or three times, and then collapse with a gut-wrenching sigh into his passenger seat.  There he would remain settled for one, perhaps two minutes, then rise again and repeat the sequence: unfolding, rising, anxiously looking at me, circling, collapsing with a sigh. Something was terribly wrong.
This behavior was only part of my concern: he had not been eating. Traveling through Ontariothree days earlier, he had consumed very little of his kibble, but I just attributed that to his excitement and the distraction of the journey. The next two days, I had tempted him by softening the dry food with gravy from some high-priced canned food I had purchased at a convenience store in western Michigan. But now he was refusing food completely.
In early afternoon, we stopped for a long break at Devil’s Lake, the midpoint between Grand Forks and Minot. We had driven only 100 miles of our anticipated 500-mile day. So concerned was I about his anorexia that we stopped at a supermarket and picked up a roast chicken just off the spit, and some cheddar cheese and fresh water from the cooler.  Trotting back to the jeep, Beau caught the poultry aroma through the plastic bag before I could even toss it into the back of the jeep. He could barely contain his excitement as we drove the few hundred yards to a grassy area where I laid out our picnic blanket.  I fed him sparingly, but he ate it ravenously and even pooped abundantly before we fastened our respective seat belts and once again headed west.
Acres of honey bee-laden sunflowers brought joy amid an otherwise challenging day.
What gratification I felt from Beau’s dramatic lunchtime recovery was short-lived. No sooner were we back on the smoke-infested road than he returned to his restless rising, circling, collapsing, sighing.  Neither reassuring talking nor my caressing quelled his mounting anxiety as we stuttered across the prairie at an appallingly-slow rate. For the first time on our trip, I seriously considered aborting the journey.
Rugby, North Dakota,
the geographic center of North America.
We reached a small town called Rugby two hours after lunch and I took Beau for a long walk in the vicinity of the monument designating the “Geographic Center of North America”. I marveled that someone would ostensibly calculate the distance from the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in Canada’s Arctic to the junction of Mexico and Guatamala in the south, and from the western tip of the Aleutian Island chain to St. John’s, Newfoundland in the east. Beau’s restlessness had created the special circumstance by which I found myself stopping to witness this obscure monument. It was another of those beautiful examples of what one sees when you take the road less traveled. I certainly would not have known of the monument’s existence had I sped across the prairie on I-94 one hundred miles to the south.

We arrived at Minot, the train capital of North Dakota, at 4:00 pm. Beau’s deterioration had reached the point where I decided to stop for the night. We found a quaint and obscure motel on a quiet road on the southeast corner of the city, as remote from activity as was possible, and we just collapsed.  Beau crawled up on the bed beside me.  Rested his head on my chest and pointing his muzzle in the direction of my lower jaw, he fell into a deep sleep, unmoving until dusk descended hours later.  I slept soundly too, the first time in four days. 

Just before midnight, we left the room for a brief walk so Beau could relieve himself, then we crawled back into bed. No dinner. Though we had traveled only 30% of our anticipated route, the break proved critical. We were not turning  back. Tomorrow we would be in Canada and in four or maybe five days, Alaska.

What was our worst day became the turning point in my experience of traveling with Beau, as well as in my maturation of traveling with myself.  I got a dose of humility and common sense in a manner that I had not experienced in the preceding ten years as chief executive of a major veterinary college.  

Sometimes the greatest lessons in life come from the most humble circumstances, or from your dog, or both.


View original article: http://veterinarylegacy.blogspot.com/2012/08/driving-with-my-dog-to-alaska-north.html
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