With a family spread across the United States, going home for Thanksgiving is not always something that can be accomplished, especially if you work in retail. Black Friday is an all hands on deck affair. When I am not able to make it to a family member’s home for Thanksgiving, I have established a tradition to take a hike. The solitude is enhanced, due to people, who would ordinarily be on the trail, otherwise engaged in culinary pursuits.
As on many of my hikes, I brought my dog Bush along. To get this out of the way, Bush was not named after a beer, beans or an American proto political dynasty; he is named after a bush I found him under in a cemetery.
The week leading up to Thanksgiving, I looked for a hike in the Catskills. I decided to bushwhack the north ridge of Slide Mountain, the highest mountain in the Catskills at 4,180 feet. Since there were no trails to follow up the mountain, the route I wanted to go, I oriented the map and determined the bearing I would need to travel to get from the trail I would start out on, to the river I would follow up into the bowl between Cornell Mountain and Slide Mountain. I also needed the bearing to follow the correct branch of this stream to make the ridge on Slide.
Having noted the two bearings I would need to the summit of Slide, Bush and I were ready for our Thanksgiving bushwhack. We got an early start, around 7:00 am, and arrived at the Giant Ledge trailhead by 9:00 am. With pack watered up and with a good boil-in-the-bag dinner for both of us, and a few snacks, human and canid, we set out. Within an hour we were in the bowl navigating up the river, until the river valley ended and the 2600 foot climb in one mile to Slide Mountain’s ridge and then to the summit.
While it is true that there are much fewer hikers in the woods on Thanksgiving, there are local hunters. Thanksgiving morning is a favorite time for hunters to see if they can bring home some venison. This is why I chose to follow the river bowl up in early morning hoping that the hunters would be above where Bush and I were on the river valley floor. We did hear some shots, but they were above us in the forest above the river. Bushwhacking out of the valley was an act of creativity. There were many rock ledges where I picked one way and Bush another, to get up. What is good for two legs and two arms is not always the best way for four legs. Once over one pitch we would regroup and continue our ascent. The step pitches were not the only obstacle; many blow downs needed to be maneuvered around as well. Soon the deciduous forest transitioned into one of thick balsam fir. Here is where following your beast is invaluable. Bush could find small herd paths that I would over look. He was a good guide, coming back to make sure I was following him. This is bushwhacking and we both got whacked pretty good, a couple of times. When it seems you are thoroughly lost you pop out onto the trail that leads to the summit and lunch.
Climbing up is one thing, descending is another. I chose to descend further down the trail so that I could walk the trail and make some time. There is a small herd path as the marked trail starts a major descent as well. Bush and I took this herd path. It is here that Bush flies on his four legs down the ridge and I descend on my very much slower two legs and two arms. Just as the climb was a steep short distance, so was the descent. It was late afternoon, the sun was going down, and we needed to get back to the truck. Once at the base of the ridge, I started to walk north to the Giant Ledge trail, which leads to the trailhead. I was calling for Bush as I walked. He can range out ahead of me and as long as I keep calling, he was very good at finding me. I keep heading north and down to the trail. No Bush though. I started to get worried. I redouble my sounding for him. The daylight was giving way to dusk and my dog was nowhere in sight. There is that point when you start to despair and I was rapidly arriving at that point. I stood real still and to my heart’s relief I heard feet running toward me. Out of the dusky woods, Bush appeared, except there was something wrong. He had blood from his nose down over his chest. I mean matted fur full of blood. Two inconsistent sights tend to get the subconscious thinking. Why is Bush covered in blood while at the same time running toward me with a look of canid bliss on his face?
Upon Bush’s arrival, all mystery is resolved. Besides the mat of blood from his nose down his chest to his front legs, there was the distinct smell of musk. At once, I knew what had happened. My partner had discovered his own culinary repast and fully indulged himself. Now I had a dog that smelled of Eau d’ Gut Pile, and I needed to travel with him for two hours and bring him home to housemates. Something needed to be done. Instead of striking for the truck, I descended to the river. Rather than getting into the truck and heading home, I headed to the river to bath my dog in ice cold water and then hike out to my truck with frozen numb hands. Once at the river, I grabbed him, waded into the river and got down to the dirty task of washing the musky blood out of his fur. Hands numb back into my glove, we head to the truck. Once in the truck I get a sacrificial piece of clothing and dry him off. Sticking my nose into his fur to see if we will be able to stay in the house, I thank God the musk odor was pretty well gone.
After the two-hour drive home, we get out of the truck and head inside the house. One of my housemates had made a turkey and thoughtfully had saved the giblets for Bush. “Here Bush, look what I have for you.” Bush goes over, smells the giblets, walks over to the couch, and jumps up to take his Thanksgiving nap. Giblets just don’t compare to a gut pile.