It's no secret that my dog, Ranger, lives for his walks.
And he has set some clear expectations about my role in this daily outing.
I have to say, he's incredibly clever. Not only does he strike up the band every day to let me know that walk time is fast approaching, but he is also quite precise about his timing. Officially, I usually aim to leave the house at 4:20 p.m. But without any coaxing from me, Ranger can precisely calibrate when that hour is approaching. Right around four p.m., my boy's pre-walk alarm system kicks into gear. His whole body is transformed into an alert and highly expectant observation machine: ears perked up, bright eyes shining, he quivers with excitement over every move I make that could possibly be interpreted as heading toward the front door.
Since I've never caught him glancing at the clock, I assume Ranger sets his uncannily precise internal time-keeping system by watching the angle of the sun. Which is an especially challenging trick here in the northern latitudes of Seattle, where the hours of daylight shift by several minutes every day. Somehow, this little Galileo has figured out how to factor the changing levels of daylight into his concept of time. I have no idea how he does it, but he is pretty darn good.
Anyway, as Ranger's intensive propaganda campaign was building to a crescendo today at exactly 4:11 p.m., I commanded him to a drop-and-stay position. He obeyed in a heartbeat, understanding full well that obedience is a golden ticket. While his body lay rock solid on the front hall rug, his sweet, hopeful eyes followed me like lasers as I gathered up my outdoor gear and sat down on the bottom stair to tie up my shoes.
You wonky boy, I thought to myself. Don't you realize that I love our walks too?
It's true. After decades of shaming myself into believing that proper exercise requires a gym membership, I am a hardcore believer in the health benefits of a daily walk.
Now I'm no CrossFit princess and I'm not exactly marathon-ready. But in the years that I've been devoted to a daily half-hour walk, I've noticed that I am up to any physical challenges that life throws me. Skiing, hiking, keeping up with toddlers - my endurance and fitness levels speak for themselves.
So stop whining, dude, my internal monologue continued. I'd go on these walks every day even if you didn't want to come with me.
Then I leashed up my hiking buddy and we stepped outside.
Holy ice pellets, what a dismal afternoon. The rain was pelting down, not at all like a typically gentle and friendly Pacific Northwest drizzle. The drops stung my hands as I hastily stuffed them into my gloves, and by the time we reached the end of the driveway, I could feel that familiar ache between my shoulder blades, telling me that my layers were pathetically inadequate and my core temperature had already been compromised.
Crossing a short half-block through the neighborhood, we reached the main road and turned up along our usual route. Out on the open street, the fierce wind tore through my clothes and the rain soaked my legs in moments.
Five minutes later, the rain turned to mixed snow.
I was cold, wet and miserable. But I didn't think of turning back. Gotta man up and give it all you've got, I coached myself. Walk faster and you'll warm up. Just push through this like any other workout.
We were almost back home when we encountered another human/canine pair, the first souls we had seen on this usually well-populated trail. Standing off the sidewalk, an older man watched his collie doing her business. Far more sensibly dressed than me, this dog walker was hunkered down in a hard-core parka with the hood pulled up, his eyeglasses splattered with raindrops.
As our dogs quietly greeted one another, the man cheerfully called out a hello to me, standing up from his poop-scooping duties to give me a hearty smile.
"We sure must love our dogs," he said to me, "to take them out in this horrible weather."
And the truth passed over me like a shiver of icy cold. Personal fitness, my Aunt Fanny. If it weren't for this adorably hopeful, tail-wagging adrenalin-bullet of a dog, I would not have ventured out into this wicked weather for love or money.
My newfound friend was right. There are some things that we will do only for love, and risking hypothermia to take my boy, Ranger, for his daily walk is definitely one of them.
Like walking in the rain and the snow
When there's nowhere to go
And you're feeling like a part of you is dying
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If you're wondering why my dog has those weird bald patches and outrageous scars, here's the back story: