© Judy Colwell, 1999
Carl named her Daisy. Daisy with her China blue eyes, short white and brown fur, legs hanging too far down from her body. She had the pearly white sharp teeth of a young dog. With a rescued border collie of my own, I knew what the feet of a working dog looked like. Daisy was not a working dog - her toe nails were too long and her foot pads too tender. She hadn't spent much time running free in the fields. She was a homebody, thirty pounds of tail-wagging joy. A mutt.
We met her after lunch as she and a black mutt companion joined us as we bicycled through a ranch yard on our way to a newly constructed gravel road. Suddenly there they were.
We were a group of ten cyclists in our third year of annual three week segments, pedaling from the Canada border to the Mexico border along the Continental Divide. An off-road route for mountain bikers carrying all of the gear that a backpacker would carry, plus gear specific for keeping a bicycle healthy. When we began our saga, we dubbed ourselves The Divide Ride Dogs.
We discouraged these two dogs in every way possible. Cyclists are wary of dogs as they often chase and bite. Daisy and her friend approached us with doggy smiles. "You have nothing to fear," her tail wagged. She and her friend romped through the sage and trotted along the dusty hot gravel road in the 90 degree weather, usually at the lead of our pack. The Divide Ride Dogs Plus Two. We stopped. They stopped. We rode. They trotted.
After five miles, we vigorously shooed them towards home. The dry scrubby landscape approaching the Wyoming Great Basin - a desert - was no place for free-wandering dogs.
At mile ten, Daisy's friend wandered off. Daisy was not to be so easily deterred from her new pack. Slowly up the hills and through let-her-rip downhills, Daisy stayed with us. This was worrisome.
She loped along, staying in the shade of the bikes. Her thin pink tongue lolled micro-inches from the road; it was 6 p.m. and she hadn't had water for hours and miles. I poured the last of my own water into our camping bucket. Daisy lapped it dry.
We reached camp late, about 7:30pm, along Little Sandy Creek - the Divide Ride Dogs Plus One, exactly twenty miles from Daisy's ranch.
Sweet-tempered and obedient, perhaps the subservience of a less-than-perfect home situation, she circled our food area as we set up our one-burner stove on a large flat-topped boulder. She was obviously hungry, but unwilling to steal food.
"Don't feed her," I implored. "Maybe she'll head for home." What was I saying? I, who had taken to carrying cat food on weekend trips because of the inevitable hungry stray cat that found me, one of which came home to stay for eleven years? Besotted by animals all of my life, and with two rescued dogs of my own, I couldn't let her go hungry.
Into my personal food stash I rustled and extracted, surreptitiously, two pita breads and two string cheese packets. If dogs can look grateful, she did.
After our own dinner of Pasta For Ten, we relented and fed her the noodle dregs from our big kettle. Gone! Water was freely available from the creek, although she preferred it from the bucket.
As dusk approached, a fiery sunset in the making, I walked her back to the road to encourage her to leave. She happily flushed sage grouse from the dry low scrub, dug into a rodent hole, and kept one eye on me. I tried to sneak away. Tail wagging, she "found" me. We were apparently playing hide and seek; she was winning.
Not normally an insomniac, that night I was, worrying about Daisy. She could die in this arid and unforgiving land. But we could not keep her with us.
At dawn I crawled from my tent into the morning sun. No Daisy! Thank goodness! Maybe she found her way home along those twenty miles of roads. Dogs can do that; stories of such occurrences do make the news.
Stretching and yawning she appeared out of the sagebrush, tail wagging. "Where's breakfast?" her eyes asked. My heart sank. "Oh damn! She didn't go home. Now what?"
Grits. Maybe she'll eat my breakfast grits. The gruel-y texture of instant oatmeal plays havoc with my gag reflex so I eat grits. Daily my companions laughed at me. "Not fit for a dog," they said. With encouragement and the addition of tepid water to the steaming grits, I managed to get Daisy to eat. First a bit on my finger for tasting. Then fingers lowered into the bowl to guide her mouth in. Grits were apparently an acquired taste.
After breakfast (two grits packets) and mildly sated, she curled up in the shade of a small boulder, one eye on our preparations to break camp.
I took her back to the road. She liked this game. She liked winning and trotting back to camp.
I was beside myself, nearly frantic with worry about her.
She wore a wide purple nylon-webbing collar, without tags. I ripped paper from a small notebook and wrote a note explaining where we found her and safety-pinned it to her collar, hoping someone would pick her up and take her home. What else could we do?
I couldn't cope with having her follow me out of camp, so sneaked out early, up the road and over a hill - out of sight - leaving her behind. My plan was to stop every vehicle in either direction to ask for help with our dilemma of the lost dog as we pedaled towards South Pass City and then the desert.
Traffic was light on those dirt roads, but for fifteen miles we stopped every pick-up truck, car, and even a cowboy on his horse who, with his border collies and Australian cattle dogs, was moving cattle. "Are you going back towards Boulder?" "Do you know about this dog?" One couple knew the area, but weren't going far enough to be of help.
As we all regrouped at noon I asked, "What about Daisy?"
Norm, the third cyclist out of camp, said Daisy followed him for ten miles. He had hoped she would join the cattle dogs, but didn't. After crossing the ridge of the Continental Divide, he lost her on a long fast downhill. She couldn't keep up.
That was the last any of us saw of Daisy.
Last updated: November 15, 1999.