It was a rolling rhythm. The gallop of paws, silent and light movement. Grace in motion.
Paolo and Oriana.
I hadn’t had them together alone like this since they were puppies. I always paired them with an older dog, so they could learn the ropes about hiking and the responsibilities of being loose. Paolo dropped out of the racing pool last year for maturity, and Oriana raced in every single race team. They were apart.
When I decided to go for a hike, to scale Mt Success, I knew I wanted Oriana to come with me, with her joy and experience and her fuzzy face. Maybe because I was reading about antoher training run, when I paired all the siblings and relatives together, but I wanted to bring the siblings. Keep it in the family.
Cut loose from the dog yard, they tore around the front yard and the house, Oriana roughhousing with her brother. She came to the truck first, and I had to chase down Paolo who wanted to go back to the dogyard. Once both were into the truck, we headed up Mill Brook Road to where the trail crosses the logging road. Oriana came out of the box first, frenetic energy directed entirely at me, but once I unloaded Paolo she attached herself to him and they took off.
They were so fast.
They chased each other around and around, playing in the wildflower fields along the dirt road.
They moved as one. Siblings.
It was cool and cloudy at first, the walking was easy, including the part I dislike the most, the greened-over road grade once we leave the crumbling logging road. They were ahead, smooth circling movements on and off the trail. I trusted them completely, and let my mind wander and my feet move up the trail I’ve walked up so many times, for so many years.
They would unexplicably tear into the woods, Paolo usually leading the charge, and Oriana closing the gap quickly because she’s so damn fast and athletic.
On this trail, the road grade levels off, and the hardwoods become softwoods, the dirt becomes ledge. From the ground up, the ecosystem is different, a sharp contrast. In a few steps, the world changes from growing-in clearcuts and skid roads to lush boreal swamp, twin planked bog bridges and beaver dams. Silence.
Mahoosucs. The ridgelines I’ve loved.
As we crossed a broken bridge, Oriana trotted right along. She has crossed this bridge a handful of times already this summer. Paolo attempted to follow her, but distrusted the log, and chose his own route. I tried to correct him, assuming from my decade of crossing this bridge that there was thick rushing water beneath.
The beavers had stopped up the flow, leaving a trickle of brown water.
I laughed, as I descended and crossed the muddy stream, avoiding the bridge entirely.
‘Thanks for opening my eyes, Paolo.’
Paolo and Oriana’s movements were fast but familiar. They wanted to run, to flow. Pure beautiful movement. They chased squirrels not to get the squirrel, but to look for a reason to run off trail. I know this, because after the squirrel was treed, they’d circle back to the trail immediately. More so than any of the dogs in the kennel, in the team, they embody pure athletic desire to run.
We reached Gentian Pond easily, quickly. I had been entertaining the thought of not going to Mt Success, but instead doing a different loop over Upper Gentian Pond and through Dream Lake. I had done that with Ellie and Foreman a few weeks prior. It would be shorter and faster, getting me home earlier.
Yet we got to Gentian Pond and the trail junction so easily, in just over an hour. Of course I knew I wanted to go to Mt Success.
The trail to Mt Success is a series of ups and downs, of steep ledge and flowing water. I have hiked it in so many conditions and for so many reasons over the years. I have hiked it in cold spring rain, postholing in snow as we tried to guess where the mud pits were so we could helicopter the trail bridge materials a few weeks later. I have hiked it in late June, with a heavy pack loaded with the tools necessary to move rocks and fell trees, misty clouds curling around the trees. I have hiked it in the dry clear August, for no real reason other than I wanted to see the view in the middle of my work day. I have hiked it in September, in the middle of a long weekend of overnights on my way to Carlo Col. I have thrashed around on the boundary that edges the mountain, repainting blazes and trimming back brush. I have slept on the side of that trail, camped out with Trail Crew. This mountain and I have a long history. But I still have so much to learn from it.
On this day, the climb to Success was straightforward. It was breezy and cool, perfect weather for moving uphill, for moving my body higher into the atmosphere. There was no humidity pressing me down into the earth. It’s easy to climb when the wind urges you on.
The air got cooler, the breeze fiercer. I regretted not bringing a warmer jacket as we climbed higher.
Paolo and Oriana would unleash their loud gruff sibling bark and everyone we met. I learned to get them by hikers by rustling the snack bag, distracting them so they would follow me silently. Paolo figured it out first, Oriana less sure. We didn’t encounter many hikers, and the few that we did were trail-hardened Appalachian Trail hikers, who aren’t disturbed by much at that point in their journey.
Of course, as we walked, I thought about racing. About training. About how I wanted to show up this year.
I wanted to go fast. I wanted to re-cultivate speed. Watching Paolo and Oriana run, I wanted to bring that back to the team.
Oriana and Paolo are siblings, and they interact as such. Paolo gives confidence to Oriana, urging her to keep ahead of me and explore more things in the woods. Oriana brings a degree of reasonableness to Paolo’s decision making, keeping him close and encouraging him to respond quickly to my calls. Towards the end of the day, I did have the thought ‘imagine if I could train them both to be leaders.’
The sun started to come out about halfway up the mountain, pieces of blue sky and bright white clouds. Oriana would light up glowing, the sun on her golden coat, iridescent. She and Paolo were still in constant movement, running ahead and returning.
At the summit, I returned to the spot where I had sat with Oriana and Bonobo in early July. It was windy and there was a notch where I had a windbreak. The sun came out and the earlier thoughts about needing a jacket disappeared, and I settled in, Paolo in my lap for a short while. I held him, surrounded him, kissed his ears and eased him more fully into my lap. He was a little calmer, having been tired out from the hike up. I held him, and then let him go.
Paolo and Oriana each had their noses in my lunch until I discouraged them enough that they moved away. They settled above and behind me, on a ledge. I was able to eat my sandwich in peace. Paolo had learned to sit on that ledge from Oriana, who had been hiking with me so much already. Eventually Oriana moved over, to a rock by my face, and I leaned towards her and kissed her fuzzy nose, her golden soft ears.
There were so many times throughout the day when they both rushed at me, paws thumping my chest, pushing me back, tails wagging and grinning.
Just like when they were puppies.
It had been so long since I had stopped seeing them as puppies, not fully realizing that they had grown. Part of that was acquiring other puppies behind them, a lot of it was running and racing with them last winter. I saw them as adults. For the most part.
The same bark that Paolo and Oriana have, I heard first from their father when Stephane’s team came up behind me on Portage Lake in Can Am in 2015. I had been waiting for Stephane to catch me, as he had in the Eagle Lake 100 earlier that season, moving past in a beautiful fluid lope. These fast fuzzy dogs. My jaw actually fell open when they passed.
I got to know Stephane in Can Am that year, as we ran together and I looked over his dogs at checkpoints. He laughed at me stuck in my sleeping bag in my sled at Maibec. He dropped out of the race not long after that, and said to me when I passed him in the night ‘Ah it is good for you, you can move up a place in finishing.’
That was the first Can Am 250 I finished.
At the finisher’s banquet, I got up the courage to ask Stephane and Nancy if they had puppies they would sell. I wanted those puppies so badly, I wanted those fast fuzzy dogs of my own. I called and bothered them, and emailed them, and in July I finally came up to get the puppies.
Paolo and Oriana are special in a number of ways, and it shows through the way I talk about them, the times the show up in the stories and the photos. A lot of that is because they are the first and only pair of puppies that I sought out intentionally, not opportunistically. I pursued them. Their origin story is tied up with my own origin story, of finishing the 250 for the first time. There is a lot there.
I took them for their first hikes, I put them in harness the first time, and I crossed the five finish lines with Oriana this past winter.
I sent a photo of Oriana and Paolo to my sister Rachel, who adores Oriana’s little paws. Rachel pointed out their symmetry, their sibling-ness. She reminded me that there was something special in siblings.
Their movements, the entire day, were coordinated. They sensed when ther was something to speed p for. They encouraged each other. They played with each other. If I can train them both to be leaders….watch out.
The light on the descent was golden afternoon glowing through the trees. Golden light like that at 3 p.m. is the sign of the tilting earth, the swiftly darkening day. The tilt in the earth and the way we receive the sun. The evenings are cool enough now for fleece and warm pants.
What else can I say about this day of suspended time, of walking through the memories of the lives I’ve lived on that landscape, and with these dogs?
I will say that my feet hurt, from gripping ledge for 10 miles.
I will say that I relished in that time away from screens.
And I will say that I am so happy with Paolo and Oriana.
We covered 10 miles in about 5 hours. It won’t be long before, in that same 5 hour period, we’ll be covering a lot more ground.