On the morning of Thursday, July 9th, I woke up in Mohrsville, PA. Rebel Yell’s family had allowed him to invite all of his new hiker friends to stay for the weekend. They were unbelievably hospitable and went out of their way to make us feel right at home. Almost every meal included some sort of Pennsylvania staple dish such as ham loaf, scrapple, ring Bologna, cream chipped beef on toast, etc. I had never even heard of these foods, but they were delicious! Mountain Goat hitchhiked up, passing 200 trail miles, to enjoy the weekend festivities. Rigga, Zipp, Perk, Land Mammal and Howzit slack packed, while I zeroed for three days in hopes of my feet getting well.
Slack packing is a term used to describe a hiker carrying only what is needed to hike for a certain stretch–so, water, minimal snacks/food, maybe a water filter, and that’s about it. The main bulk of your pack (shelter, excess food, sleeping bag) are transported or kept somewhere for you. I am not generally an advocate of slack packing, unless I don’t need my stuff for the night. For example, I wouldn’t want to do it if someone was driving my pack from one road crossing to another just so I didn’t have to carry it. But, if I knew I was staying inside for the night (hotel, house, hostel, etc) and I wouldn’t be camping, it wouldn’t make sense to take more than needed. But, every hiker must “hike their own hike” and live by their own standards for their thru hike.
During the span of the weekend, I washed my pack, clothes, tent, and sleeping pad. We all hung out stuff out to dry in hopes that the fresh air and sunshine would help de-stinkify everything. Rebel Yell had multiple events lined up such as line dancing, a cookout and bonfire. It was an awesome weekend, but we all agree we probably should have rested more.
It was fun having the group back together. But, I suppose all good things must come to an end! We all have hugs and said our goodbyes. Mountain Goat decided to stay on the trail with Rebel Yell and I, and he will return to Mohrsville to finish the skipped section after he summits Katahdin. We were dropped back off down south (about an hour away), and the others up north. I had gotten some new shoes and was ready to test them out!To my dismay, my feet began feeling very painful after just a couple miles. I had hoped three days of zeroes would have helped. We hiked for two more days, taking it slow, until we were in close proximity of Rebel Yell’s town. His dad came and picked the three of us up. We planned to slack pack for three days until we would be too far north for his family to drive. The first day we were picked up, I got a call informing me that Sugar (my dog daughter) was having surgery to remove a blockage that had been found in her stomach and intestines. She had eaten some sort of fabric and it did not pass. Because it had been in there so long, a perforated section of her intestine had to be removed. She made it through surgery and seemed to be healing up just fine. My mom and Montana were able to visit her, and sent me the picture below. During my second day of slack packing, I crossed mile 1200. I was really worried about my baby girl, so I couldn’t even really feel excited. But, I just kept pushing on. I received a call from the vet later that afternoon saying Sugar’s intestines had come apart and another surgery would be necessary to save her life. I basically ran the remaining two miles I had to hike that day. It was time to go home. I rented a car online that night and the earliest I could pick it up was 9am the next day. The vet went back in and repaired Sugar’s intestines again. She made it through the second surgery. I couldn’t sleep at all that night, but tried to think optimistically.
The next morning, I began my 13 hour road trip. Sugar’s morning report seemed positive, and the vet said I shouldn’t expect to hear from her until later in the evening. Around 6pm, I received a call saying Sugar’s surgery was unsuccessful once again. There was little to no hope that it would work a third time. At this point euthanasia was probably the best option. I was absolutely devastated. I’m not sure that word even really explains how I felt. I was flooded with guilt. Why had I left my baby girl? Why had I not gone home sooner to see about her? Would it have made a difference? And the most difficult question: what do I do now?
After pulling over and trying to calm down, I called the vet back and asked her what the chances were of the surgery working a third time. She said that with each surgery the likelihood of success decreases. That’s why the first one lasted less than 48 hours and the second one less than 24 hours. Also, there was the chance that Sugar may not live through a third surgery. I decided to not put Sugar through another surgery just to prolong the inevitable. It was too late and my baby was going to die. I wanted to make the best decision for her, and I probably should have opted to have mom and Frank go up to the vet school and put her down then. But, I felt like I had deserted her and the least I could do is hold her while she left this world. Plus, why should Mom and Frank be forced to do my dirty work? Choking back tears, I asked the vet to keep her stable while I rushed home. My ETA was about 1am. I was about 2-3 hours out when my phone rang. My heart dropped as I saw the number on display, realizing it must be more bad news regarding Sugar. Sure enough, the vet said Sugar was experiencing difficulty breathing and her blood pressure had become unstable. She said she would keep me posted. I hung up and called Mom and Frank begging them to rush up to the vet to be with Sugar so she could die with people she loved rather than being surrounded by strangers who had poked and prodded her the past few days. Less than five minutes later I received the call–Sugar had passed.
I lost it.
I felt nothing but overwhelming guilt. Because of my selfishness, she had died without her family near her. I hadn’t seen her since May, and she had been sick off and on since then. How could I have been so self-centered and just left her? Why didn’t I go home to care for her before now? Would it have made a difference? Why didn’t I just have her put down earlier in the day when I knew it was over? How could all of this have been prevented? Did she suffer longer because of me? Why couldn’t God just have kept her alive for three more hours? My baby had left the world without me giving her one last hug and kiss. I never got to tell her I love her before she died.I’m not sure I will ever forgive myself. But, I have found comfort in all of the memories we shared together. I want to thank everyone for their kind words. Everyone’s thoughts and prayers have meant more than I can express. Also, thank you to everyone who donated to the fund. I can not tell you how much I appreciate your generosity.
Last Sunday, I picked Sugar up from the vet and we took her home to bury her. Frank, momma and I dug her grave.The rest of my family came over to help me bury her and we made her a pretty little head stone. I must say, Sugar was laid to rest during one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen from my back yard. I’m so thankful for the years I had with my sweet Sugar Belle. She gave me unconditional love and countless memories. Rest in peace, baby girl. Your mommy will always love you!
It would’ve been very easy to stay home and not return to the trail. But, I just can’t give up that easy. Although I wasn’t thrilled about returning, I decided to dedicate the rest of my hike to Sugar. I returned to the trail on Friday, July 24th with Sugar’s collar hanging from my pack.
Please continue to send positive thoughts as my feet are STILL killing me. Physically, mentally and emotionally this has been the hardest portion of the trail for me. But, I’m a fighter and I won’t give up.
“Times are tough, but they ain’t got nothin’ on me…”
Well, until next time…
I just cried……
So sorry for your loss……from the bottom of my heart.
My first baby Jaco is gone while I was away in 2009
Second baby Vicky passed away while I was away this Spring.
I totally understand how you feel.
Be strong and good luck!!!!!!!!!!!!
Man, every time I read about sugar belle I cry so hard! I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sure she is so proud of you Jessica… Good luck with your feet! Stay positive! Thinking about you out here in CO!
I’ve never met you but have followed you from the start and wish I coulf give you the biggest hug right now. I have tears rolling down my cheeks after reading this and I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. I have two furbabies that are my world and I don’t know if I would have the courage you have. God bless you and remember, all dogs go to Heaven.
So sorry to hear of Sugar Belle’s passing. I can only imagine how hard it is, but you made the right decision to continue on and dedicate the remainder of your hike to her. She will definitely be with you along the way and you’ll be even closer to her when you reach the peak at Katahdin. Best wishes for the rest of your adventure. Peace
All the Love you have shared with your ” on line fam” goes with you! Stay strong!