Was it worth rescuing the dog? I say Yes, it absolutely was.
Linville Gorge, NC
Wanting to backpack during spring break, I assembled a group of five guys, including myself, to go to the Linville Gorge in North Carolina. We didn’t know it at the time but this trip would cause us to grow closer than we ever anticipated and the events of the trip would become known to many people at our college. Nine months after the trip I still hear, “Oh! that was your trip!?” from people I meet around campus.
I chose North Carolina as the destination because It was a state I had never been to and search results on the internet showed some very beautiful places to explore. The idea to do this trip came to me about two-and-a-half weeks before we left. That didn’t give us much time to plan, but we managed to plan everything out in great detail. On top of my school studies I purchased a guidebook, map, researched on the internet, called outdoor offices, and used any other means I could imagine to gather information.
Within a week we had a complete package including itinerary, maps, and emergency numbers as well as a list of allergies and back-country rules for the area we would be going. This package was then presented to the college to receive an Adventure Grant to help students cover the cost of back-country trips during spring break.
This was my first time planning a trip like this and I had very little time to act. In only a week-and-a-half I had thrown together a full trip to a state I had never visited and had worked out all of the details. Very soon we found ourselves free from classes and singin’ Lynyrd Skynyrd as we rolled down the highway.
After passing through Ohio with several displays of our Michigan loyalty (including flying a “worst state ever” banner through most of the state), we safely crossed the bridge into beautiful West Virginia. Next we traveled through Virginia and part of Tennessee before finally making camp in North Carolina. The group spent an hour pleasantly smoking pipes and swapping stories before finally making camp on the bank of the river that ran along our campsite.
In the middle of the night, we were abruptly awoken by a metallic clanking. As we listened intently, the noise grew louder and soon a ghostly light rounded the bend in the river. A train had broken the stillness of the night. We stood in awe as the giant iron beast cautiously chugged onward through the night. As the midnight train rumbled past, it enshrouded us in its mystical quality, which was significant because this was a marvel not well known to our generation.
In the morning we awoke, eager to reach the trail-head. After some minor delays we reached the trail-head and piled out of the van. The trails were much more visible than my research had led me to believe. Reviews online spoke of needing to use GPS or shoot bearing with a compass (the latter of which was our plan). We quickly made our way from the top of the gorge to the riverbed at the bottom.
The trail disappeared at the river so we decided to follow the shore as it went parallel with the “trail” on the map. We planned to pick up the trail next time it was visible. There was much enjoyment as we hopped from boulder to boulder along the shore. The sun was shining, the mood was light, and the day was just beginning.
Some distance down the shore we came across a rock face that could not be traversed. We cut away from the river to go around the cliff. On our way up there was a shout of, “ROCK!” as a man-sized slab of rock broke loose from the cliff and came sledding down the hill towards my comrades and I. With some quick sidestepping, the group avoided a very rare but dangerous encounter with nature.
As we rounded the cliff, the trail was once again pronounced and we decided to follow it once again. Upon stopping at an overlook from atop the cliff we decided to break for lunch. While eating peanut butter, honey, and Nutella tortillas, a husky wandered into our site. We petted the dog and waited for its owners to round the bend. They didn’t come.
Quickly a sense of concern rose within me as I had heard of dogs looking for help when their owners are injured. The group stayed put with the dog while myself and another member with abundant outdoor experience scouted for a half-mile in each direction on the trail. We found nobody.
Deciding there was nobody coming for the dog, and some of us being unwilling to leave her (others still bemoan the fact we ever picked her up), we recalculated our rations to feed another mouth and continued on the trail.
In the middle of the afternoon we reached the Tower, a high-point in the middle of the gorge from which nearly the entire length of the gorge could be seen. We fed the dog with some beef jerky from our snack bags and made a bowl of water for it. We tied the dog to a tree in the shade so we could climb the few remaining feet up a spire to the peak. On our way to the top we met two day-hikers who said the dog wasn’t theirs. We gave them the rabies shot ID number from the dog’s tag and one of our phone numbers. The man promised to call the vet and try to find out as much as he could for us that night but he wouldn’t take the dog with him.
A short V0 boulder route led us to the summit. It was beautiful. We could see for miles and were on a rock face that plummeted about 300 feet to the river below. We took pictures and overlooked our intended route for the next two days before climbing back down to meet up with the dog once again.
We began our long hike to the Spence Ridge Bridge in the southern half of the canyon. After walking longer than expected and having not seen the bridge some of the group began to grow concerned. Knowing we were on the right trail, but being unsure of how pronounced the bridge was, we broke out the map, oriented it, and drew a barring from the only visible landmark on the map. The intersection of this line and the trail was approximately where we were. I was quite accurate (~1/8 of a mile range) but that showed we were not as far along as had been hoped.
Noticing that our pace was slower than anticipated (due to rougher terrain than described online) and smaller rations (feeding six mouths now rather than five), it became apparent that our backup itinerary would be necessary. This new itinerary allowed us to camp at a sensational spot we came across and go swimming in an eddy between two of the hundreds of rapids in the river. The water was ice-cold, but that wasn’t a major concern after a long day of backpacking in the mountains of North Carolina.
A text reading, “Drew, Bantam” was received from the hiker met earlier. without further explanation, the text was useless to us. Service was minimal and no other texts were sent or received. With so little information, and not having a name for the dog, we called her “Bantam” which soon turned to her given trail name “Bynum.” Bynum slept in my tent with me – she loved to lay her head on a nice, lofty sleeping bag. The dog was well trained, she even nudged me in the middle of the night to be let out to use the bathroom. Bynum was a trooper, following us without a leash and keeping pace while being fed on only rice and jerky.
Shortly into our third day we came across the Spence Ridge Trail Bridge, where we stopped for most of the morning and enjoyed our time in the wilderness. We took turns doing short boulder routes, while being spotted by other members of the group. Bynum ran back and forth between us and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself. When I sat down she laid next to me and rolled over for a belly scratch. I hoped we wouldn’t find her owners so I could keep her.
After hiking a little further we stopped again for an extended lunch break. We were low on food for the dog and the only viable option for the group was to hike out yet this day and search for the dog’s owners before driving to Looking Glass Rock where we planned to spend the next two days. We took an extended lunch and sunned ourselves on boulders in the river. There were no bugs to speak of.
An extended series of switchbacks lead us out of the gorge where three of us sat while two ran back to get the car. During this waiting time, myself and one other noticed that we were feeling a bit sick.
By the time the van came back to pick us up I was feeling quite queasy – little did I know that I was about to experience the greatest sickness I have weathered. Bynum’s owners were tracked down and the three who felt healthy handed her over to two parents and seven-year-old crying with joy to see her lost companion. From what I am told it was quite moving but I was busy in the woods having some movements of my own.
(brace yourself, it gets worse from here)
The group went to a local restaurant for dinner. I spent the hour laying in the parking lot puking only to be interrupted by sprints to the bathroom. After my friends were done with dinner I asked them to take me to the hospital as my Wilderness First Response training made me recognize the sickness and I knew I needed antibiotics quickly. On the way there my other friend who thought he was healthy enough for dinner soon found out he hadn’t been, as he projected his meal on me and the van door. We both checked in to the hospital that evening.
We were diagnosed with a gastrointestinal illness (most likely Crypto). It is believed this was from some members of the group not maintaining proper sanitary standards as they petted the dog while eating, and even let it lick their faces (who knows what it had gotten in to!). After receiving fluids and medication we checked in to a motel run by one of the kindest women I have had the pleasure to meet. We stayed there for two of the worst days of my life. I attempted to do a 0.2 mile hike the next day, which was a disaster, and I soon found out that I had dropped more than eight pounds in 48 hours.
By the second day at the motel two more members of the group were showing signs of illness so we called the rest of the trip off and headed home. Five guys on a road trip when four are severely sick is quite a bonding experience. Never in my life have I laughed so much while feeling that gross. Even with the hospital bills, sickness, and loss of two days of our trip I have never regretted rescuing Bynum (or as her owners called her, “Grace”). Hearing about the tears in that seven-year-old’s eyes when she was reunited once again with her dog outweighs all the cost. There is a love between us and our dogs that only a dog lover, like myself, could understand.