I felt Kona shiver violently. I unzipped my sleeping bag and shuffled through my backpack in the darkness. I pulled out my extra base layer and fleece pants that I didn't need in my -5 degree sleeping bag. I awkwardly wrapped the shirt and pants around Kona's quaking body and curled up next to her. I stayed awake, worrying I would freeze my dog on our first backpacking adventure.
We arrived at the trailhead in the Los Padres National Forest at 3PM earlier that afternoon. I originally planned to join a group of friends for an overnight backpacking trip without Kona. But, when the group's numbers dropped from the double digits to 7, I filled a bag with kibble, grabbed a (thin) fleece mat for Kona to sleep on, and loaded my pup in the car. Two hours of nervous panting later, we were on the trail.
Choosing new experiences for a fearful dog poses a challenge. Do too much and your dog may backslide, get too comfortable in your routine and she doesn't make progress. Kona and I have reached a progress point that I'm comfortable with. Her life is very much managed and much more limited compared with more confident dogs, but she still gets ample opportunity to do what she enjoys, namely, romping in the great outdoors.
Still, I'd often dream about taking Kona camping and backpacking. As we started down the trail at 3 o'clock, I reassured myself the our overnight trip was a perfectly balanced challenge. Kona was already comfortable on the trail. She's shown that she can hang out with strangers, so long as they give her space. That only left us with two challenges, hang out in camp and sleep overnight in a tent.
The group had a head start, so Kona and I hiked the five miles to camp alone. The rolling hills and river offered a contrast to the steep slopes and narrow creeks of our home range.
I was happy to discover that the extra weight of my backpack actually gave me more stability as Kona pulled ahead on her line and did other things, like pouncing lizards.
Kona was herself, I was steady on my feet, we were off to a good start. Then, we arrived in camp.
I quickly learned just how little Kona knows about relaxing in a place other than home. As a friend put it, she's use to going out on the trail and going home, not staying. Each time I tried to stand in place to talk to someone, Kona whined and yanked on her leash. When yanking in one direction didn't work, she yanked in another direction. I thought maybe, just maybe, she'll settle in in an hour. To burn some energy and help her adjust, we explored the area around our campsite.
I was happy to see Kona accepted her new company (after very clear "ignore her" directions from me). She also helped herself to sticks from our firewood pile and played a game of keep away with me. Unfortunately, the whining and yanking never stopped. Tired of needing to be in constant motion, we retired to our tent just after sundown.
As the sky grew darker, the temperature began dropping. . .