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Dogs Take an Epic Road Trip Into the Wilderness of Alaska
Parked for the night at the top of the world. Keno Hill, Yukon Territory, Canada
Parked for the night at the top of the world. Keno Hill, Yukon Territory, Canada

Griffith’s own separation anxiety also played a part. “The dogs travel everywhere with me,” she declared. “I decide where I can go and when I can go based on whether or not I can take them. If I can’t take them, I don’t go.”

Unlike Lucille, the dogs needed very little special equipment for the trip. Hugger, a Husky mix, thrived on cold weather, and Comfort, a Terrier mix, wore a thermal shirt for most of the trip (she basked in sunbeams whenever she found them). Other than that, a couple of sleeping bags, an abundant supply of Hugger’s prescriptions and 200 pounds of kibble were all the gear the dogs required. (“We carried way more food than was reasonable in case we got stuck somewhere,“Griffith explained.) And harnesses, of course; for their safety, the dogs wore them full-time so Griffith could quickly leash them up as needed.

On the Road

As it turned out, the satellite dish never worked very well. The first one had to be replaced even before setting out, delaying her start by a week and unintentionally pushing Griffith’s departure date to her late grandmother’s June 6 birthday. The second dish worked great at first, as Griffith made her way from northern Maine into Canada, and continued to work as she traveled back into the U.S. and across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, heading steadily westward.

By the time she reached Montana, however, the software had failed again, requiring a 200-mile detour to the last place that could repair it before she headed into the wilderness. The dish was plagued with technical difficulties for the rest of the trip, and whenever it was cloudy—which most days are in Alaska—it wouldn’t pick up the satellite at all.

In addition, Lucille needed constant attention. “The bus broke down the whole way there and the whole way back. I could tell you about every Ford service station between Fairbanks and Maine,” Griffith said. “But there was no giving up!”

Oblivious to all of that, the dogs settled easily into bus living. In fact, they thrived. Comfort remained alert while they were driving, stationing herself next to Griffith and taking in the scenery. Hugger slept in the back most of the time they were on the move, but developed a passion on walks that surprised Griffith.

“Nothing made her happier than sniffing f lowers! I didn’t know this about her,” Griffith said fondly. As they continued north toward Skagway, stopping at fields of flowers along the way, their bond grew stronger than ever.

“I felt as if the three of us were living on a level that people rarely get to experience because culture is so invasive,” Griffith remembered. “I feel that we’re very equal. My job is to keep them safe, not to oppress them.”

Despite Griffith’s watchful eye, the dogs did get occasionally get into trouble. Take, for example, their stop-off in Haines, Alaska, to photograph the grizzlies. The salmon were running and the bears were feeding. For the most part, birds and bears have a reciprocal arrangement in Alaska: the bears leave salmon remains wherever they happen to be and the birds pick them clean.

That day, however, the dogs beat the birds to a salmon under a bush, and before Griffith realized what was happening, they’d eaten enough rank fish to get sick. It was the kind of thing that could have happened anywhere, but they weren’t just anywhere, they were 130 miles from the nearest veterinarian. By evening, both dogs were vomiting blood.

“I’m used to being able to take my dogs wherever they need to go for whatever care they need. But it didn’t matter what I was willing to do, because there was nobody there to help us. That was the worst night of the trip,” recalled Griffith. There was nothing to do but head up the highway to Whitehorse (Yukon Territory, Canada).

Griffith drove north into the Yukon through the lengthening night, stopping every few minutes to take the dogs out into the thick of grizzly country to be sick. The next morning, having arrived intact at the vet’s office, she got the medication they needed, and they were fine within a couple of days. Griffith stayed in Whitehorse for two more days just to be sure, then drove back to Haines, always in pursuit of that perfect photo.

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Judy Jennings is a Tucson-based freelance writer with a deep interest in animal rescue stories. She is also a contributor to Wildlife Conservation Magazine and author of the blog “Tarot: Ancient Art for Modern Times.” 

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PHOTOGRAPHS © 2014 BY LINDA GRIFFITH\ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED