When the Unknown becomes Known
Leaving Costa Rica on my bicycle with Charlie a few months ago was an extremely freeing experience. Heading off into the unknown has always felt like that for me. Leaving on my bicycle with everything I need to survive on me, with no real time limit or deadline. Other than knowing the general cardinal direction I wanted to head, everything else was going to be made up along the way. The southern point of Argentina was in mind, but the timeframe was not set. It wasn’t about ‘Getting to Argentina’, Argentina was just the direction in which to go where I could see everything in between. Where we would visit, which road we would take, how long it would take us, how the experience would be for me, and for Charlie - unknown.
I didn’t know how Charlie would handle this kind of long-term cycle. We’d cycled around Costa Rica for 3 weeks before and that cycle taught me a few things - Charlie needs to be kept in as normal of a routine as I possibly can create. She loves a routine and when things get all over the place, it definitely throws her off. When meeting new people, I knew I would also need to create a situation where she didn’t feel like she had to protect the bike and trailer as if it was her home. The pace would be up to her. I don’t just mean our pace as in the actual speed I was cycling - a lot of the time she would be in the trailer anyway. I mean pace as in the pace of the day. When we ride, when we stop. How many days we rest for. etc. As this trip was so open-ended, I wanted to keep a good eye on Charlie and see how she is coping with it. If she seemed too tired then I would adjust things accordingly.
WE left about 4 months ago and how has it been? Well, there have been challenging days and days that were extremely challenging. Charlie took to the role of trying to protect me from everyone we met. It started gradually but eventually it got to the point where she even went for a little kid who waddled up to the trailer. I researched as much as I could along the trip about dealing with her with positive reinforcement, having a calm energy, keeping things as positive and as routine-like as possible for her. I needed to try avoid contact with other people as much as possible.
I also noticed how she didn’t sleep in the trailer while riding. Usually back home, she would sleep a lot during the day, but now she was staying awake and alert to everything that was happening around her for the entire day. I would end the day with her completely exhausted - not from running - but mentally exhausted. Sometimes she would pass out before I had even pitched my tent - literally unable to stay awake. I would have to wake her up later in the night to give her food. During the night she would also often wake up to sounds outside.
It wasn’t all bad. There were good days too - most of the good day happened when we stayed for more than 2 days in one place. I spent 4 days camping at the foot of Volcan Baru in Panama. She has such a fun time exploring the trails with me there and hiking around. When she had a day to just ‘recover’, get to know the environment she was in, and then she was much more relaxed. Although she was still very much ‘on guard’, something which she never did when we lived in Costa Rica with her.
After almost 3 months of cycling and exploring Costa Rica and Panama, we arrived in Panama City and she was noticeably stressed. I left to do photography work for a month. Charlie stayed with Humberto who looked after her while I was gone. I knew I needed to really think about things.
I arrived back 4 days ago and the difference with Charlie was incredible. She was completely back to her normal self. Playing with other dogs, saying hello to people she didn’t know - just her normal happy Charlie. Credit is not only to her living in one place and being in a normal routine, it’s also given to Humberto and his incredible way with dogs.
Only when the unknown comes into your experience it becomes known. You don’t truly know something from reading about it or hearing it from someone else. It’s only truth when you experience it.
And there it is - the unknown became known. Doing this cycle any further in this format is not fair on Charlie and is ending here in Panama City.
As I write this I feel that lump in my throat. I don’t exactly know why. I don’t hold an ounce of resentment against her for not coping well with this. It’s not about that at all. It feels more that I remember the real tough times we shared together. I could see that she was really trying. I could see how everything she was doing, she was doing for me. In the 3 months cycling we shared so many new experiences together. She always had my back. We dealt with the extreme heat together, pushing the bike through jungle mud roads not knowing where we would camp that night. She walked next to me while I pushed the bike up steep hills for hours. Waking up in the middle of the night after hearing a loud noise outside the tent we would look at each other as if to say “YOU go look what that was - I’m staying here!” And I think what I’m feeling so emotional about is not being able to really communicate how grateful I am to her for sticking it out with me even when it was so tough on her.
Thank you Charlie.