It had been a few months since Cooper and I moved in with my sister and her girlfriend at the time; Danielle and Danielle 2. I was still paying on the mortgage for a house that my ex was living in, while Coop & I were crammed into a small musty attic at “the Danielle’s”. I had to choose which bills I wanted to pay that month, and ended up needing to take out a Target credit card to purchase groceries. I was still crazy stressed and my anxiety palpable, but I felt free. It was the first time in my adult life that every decision I made came from me, and me alone. Aside from sharing my food with Coop, because he clearly owns me! I was in charge of my choices, my life and where I would go from here.
Those first few months were hard in so many ways, but they were also filled with so much fun and excitement. Living in the heart of downtown Saratoga, NY with my sister gave me the majority of the laugh lines still stuck on my face to this day. Is it just me, or is there something about spending time with your siblings that automatically makes you revert back to your goofy childhood self? Add in the fact that we could act like children but still spend the whole night at the bar drinking and it was a recipe for some really freaking fun times.
My weekends in the mountains, and weeknights with my sister were the perfect distraction for all the chaos I was feeling internally. And just as quickly as I had moved in, the moment had passed. My sister and her girlfriend were breaking up and she was moving out. She graciously offered to get an apartment with me, but remember how broke I was? So, being the really good millennial that I am, I did what any 20-something girl would do and went running to my parent’s basement. From an attic to a basement, it would seem like I was 2 steps forward and 1 step back. Except I had a few things on my side with this one. I had an incredibly supportive job who would allow me to work from home, parents who were, and still are my very best friends, and a room on their gorgeous property in the heart of the Adirondacks. Ya know, the place where I was escaping to every weekend? I was about to live there! Wake up there every day! Be just minutes instead of hours from the mountains. It started to feel like my mistakes and struggles had a purpose. Like maybe the universe actually did have my back, if I just took the time to listen.
I didn’t know at the time what that move would mean for me. Or how using the woods as my new Xanax would change the entire trajectory of my life. All I knew was that I could log off of work, run to the trails for a sunset hike, and be back in time for some amazing meal my father had cooked. And that was more than anything I could have dreamt up during that chapter in my life.
Next up for Coop and I: Dix Mountain.
Fun fact; Dix is the only mountain in the country that actually loses elevation when it gets too cold out. Some old wives tales even say that it was “in the pool” when it was formed.
I’m kidding! I told you guys I had a story to tell, not that I would be mature while telling it.
But for real people, be serious.
The Dix Range in Upstate NY consists of 5 High Peaks and Dix sits at the 6th highest mountain in the Adirondack Park at 4839 ft. I had previously hiked all 5 in the range by accident that past winter with my friend Jay, but that’s a story for another time. Today was Cooper’s turn!
We chose to approach Dix from the Route 73 trailhead in Keene, NY. It would be 14 miles round trip and about 3,800ft of elevation gain, making it one long ass day for just 1 summit. Rumor has it that parts of this trail are the steepest in the High Peaks, but I also exaggerate quite a bit!
We arrived at the trailhead just as the sun was rising, determined to beat the afternoon heat for Coop. Does anyone else cringe at the alarm clock every weekday morning and struggle to wake up M-F. Then the weekend comes and you gladly leap out of bed smiling hours before you typically wake up for work to head off to a hike? We woke up, grabbed our bags and quickly headed to Stewarts where we each got a breakfast sandwich before we hit the trail. The first five miles of the hike didn’t have much elevation gain and it felt like we were cruising right along!
On this day we wouldn’t see another human until we were well on our way back to the car. This was a true blessing for my antisocial-self and for poor Cooper. You see, I wasn’t the only one who developed anxiety and panic after we found the courage to leave that terribly manipulative relationship. If you read Chapter 1 of this blog, (If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?!) you already know that a big turning point in my life was seeing Cooper being mistreated. That was my driving factor of bravery to get us both out of there. I only saw it happen the one time, and I don’t know what occurred when I wasn’t around. But I do know that it took Coop about a year to fully recover from all of that.
You might be wondering how I think I know this about Coop? Am I sitting here in my pajamas at noon, writing this Chapter, with my chest puffed out in pride that I finally get to tell the world I am the true Pet Psychic? Not likely, although a girl can dream!
Cooper manifested his anxiety in a couple of different and obvious ways. Things like being extra attached towards me and pacing the room at night relentlessly started to happen daily. But the most prominent and horribly upsetting behavior he started to adapt was his fear of men. When we would go running on a bike path close to our house at the time we would have to turn around if he saw a man ahead of us on the trail. He literally would come to a complete halt, grab the leash in his mouth and pull towards the opposite direction until I no longer objected. When we were climbing mountains, I learned quick that we would have to step far off the trail to let someone pass us if a man was in the group. This worked in theory, except that Cooper is a black lab with a big goofy welcoming face, and quite often people would approach us and try and give him love without recognizing how afraid they were making him. He was even terrified of the sweetest man alive, my father, when we first moved into my parents’ home. This broke my heart to see my loving outgoing pup have such fear present. It was only the men he would act this way towards. Over time though, just like my confidence grew so did Cooper’s. Fear was soon replaced again with his usual enthusiastic and carefree self. And I can happily report that when he met my husband for the very first time, he practically tackled him with love leaping into his arms.
So back to the Dix:
(That’s what she said)
The first five miles were a cakewalk. Which could have two meanings since I truly did have cake in my pack on this day. After that however is where the struggle bus would pick me up and not let me go until the summit. We passed a lean to, some water crossings and made it to the base of a slide before the real ascent would start. I once read a review for a hike on AllTrails where a woman said “the only hard part was the incline.” Which I am still laughing about today because the incline is literally how you climb a mountain. But, turns out that strange review lady was right! This hike was steep. It was hot and humid already and we had the pleasure of being joined by a couple of very persistent black flies who crashed our party. Nevertheless, we persisted. Trudging through mud, over rocks and roots up a steep and narrow path, with cake still in our pack and burning calves on our legs we finally reached the top! The view from the summit of Dix remains one of my favorites in the Adirondack Park. 360 degrees of gorgeous! We were all by ourselves besides our friendly black fly neighbors and spent over an hour up there snacking, napping, and trying to teleport back to the car instead of hiking our lazy asses down. After Cooper’s drool dried nicely in the sun, we took a little detour to venture to Dix’s impressive subsidiary peak, The Beckhorn. You know I love a good pun, so there is a 1000% chance I called this The Breck-horn and will until the day I die.
With Cooper right by my side we made our way down the steep descent and practically ran to the stream where Coop could cool down and I could find my strategically placed ice cold beer that I took way too much time hiding from the zero people on the trail.
When we made it back to the car, I took a moment to think about how far my furry drooly friend and I have come in the past few months. We were living in the mountains now and each day was better than the last. It had been so damn difficult for the both of us to get to this point, and the climb wasn’t over yet, but we were getting there slowly. That night, with Cooper snoring at my side I started to dream bigger dreams for us and really believe that my restless heart could be fulfilled.
The only question now, was where to next?