I had laid out quite an ambitious agenda for my little road adventure: three days of driving north, meet Gwen at the SeaTac airport, take the ferry to Vashon Island where a person I had never met had offered to put me up at her home, the next day take a different ferry to the Olympia area for the Australian Shepherd Club of Washington trial, where I had entered Started Sheep and Started Ducks, after the trial go back to Vashon for the night, the next morning do that all over again for the second day of the trial, then that afternoon head up across the border to the Ballards where I would pick out a puppy, the next day drive out to Hope, BC, to watch the sire of the litter work cattle, then one more night at the Ballards, head home the following morning stopping in Everett Washington to watch Marti Parrish work some of her dogs, and then straight down I-5 to get back home in two days' hard driving. Eight and a half days, 2,560 miles. Tired yet?
This trip gave new meaning to the phrase "too much fun". One good thing was that each portion was so demanding that I was completely unable to worry about the next piece until it came time to face it.
The drive up, alone, was hard. Especially toward the end of each day, when I was worn out from the road. Bonnie picked up my anxiety and got the trots on the second day. She worries when I camp alone, and spends a lot of the night keeping watch through the mosquito netting. But she was always the steady, uncomplaining, quietly loyal companion. We passed through a great deal of magnificent countryside without being able to stop to admire it. We took a break on the Eel River and slept in a redwood forest much wetter than our own, Jedidiah State Park up near the Oregon border. The next day we made it through Oregon and much of Washington; the lush farmland of the Willamette Valley always makes me sigh with appreciation, not to say envy, but we passed many beautiful farms. That night we camped in the real temperate rain forest, below Olympia. We got an early enough start that we got in a a nearly two hour hike that warm, muggy evening, which relaxed us both a lot — that was when her loose bowels began to get back to normal.
One of the minor glitches in travel preparation was that I did not manage to procure a cell phone, so picking up Gwen at a major international airport neither of us had ever been to was a little more stressful than it might have otherwise been, but it went off without a hitch. Gwen was going to be my traveling companion, and a wonderful one she made: easy-going, a great conversationalist, just as fascinated with working Aussies as I am, with an excellent sense of direction and a better driver than me.
The next event was finding our way to my unknown friend's house. Marilyn Ballard had sent me the email addresses of various people who had grown-up half-sibs of this litter, and I wrote to them all. They all sent me photos and stories, and this kind person offered to put Gwen and me up on our way north. So we muddled our way to the Vashon Island ferry — what a relief to have Gwen's cell phone! — and all the way to her house.
It was a great privilege to have a home base, with someone with local knowlege. We were all immediately friends. She and her house have a certain resemblance to each other: orderly, upscale, tasteful, and competent. She has a flock of charming upscale Clun Forest sheep too, and those green paddocks and well-made fences and latches . . . on one of the most lovely islands in the Puget Sound. Her red Aussie is a strong-looking bitch with a strong personality to match. She was having no truck with a stranger bitch in her house, so we ended up having to juggle the dogs to keep them separate all the time.
This protectiveness of house and mistress was an Aussie trait that I hadn't thought too much about before, but I found these qualities of loyalty and guardianship very evident in many of the Aussies I subsequently met on this trip, often remarked because they were not desirable in that particular circumstance.
The rest of the day was wasted in Talking Dogs. This became the everpresent theme of the remainder of my trip. Can I get enough of discussing bloodlines, Aussie politics, working qualities, Aussie history, and sheep? Apparently not. We all talked our heads off until at least eleven, and then rose at dawn to make the early ferry to the trial.