Bike-sploring

I am learning to be a mountain biker.

I white knuckle every single switch back, get sweaty palms at the site of the smallest bridges, sweat out every single track (“see the spaces not the trees…see the spaces not the trees…see the…TREE!) and lets not even talk about roots.

I entertain my neighbors after work by doing figure 8’s, riding boards, and trying to manual on the back lawn.  I really want to try to bunny hop, but I really need to make sure all of the dog poop is picked up from the winter first.

I am pretty sure everyone thinks I have lost my mind.

I love being on a bike.  It makes me feel free and strong and just a little wild.  I am a kid again, pigtails flying, excited to see what is around the next bend.

It is great fun learning something new.  I feel like I live in the perfect place to hone some skills and build endurance until the awesome trails over in Carrabasset Valley dry up.

What my area lacks for in flowy single track it makes up for in miles and miles of dirt roads that can be explored pretty much year round.  There is ample climbing to be had, along with the sweet solitude that I so often crave.

And while solitude is great, having a partner in crime makes things even better.

Beth, Kineo, and Bennett enjoying the day!

Beth, Kineo, and Bennett enjoying the day!

Friends.  Dogs.  Bikes.

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Perfect.

We started riding on a familiar road, and after 30 minutes or so, I noticed this branch road that I always wondered where it went.

“Hey, want to check this out?”

“Sure!”

We made the turn and started riding, grinding our way through the loose gravel.  As we came around the bend I saw a series of very steep hills.

“Um.  Sorry,” I called behind me.

“For wha- Oh.”

The road would flatten out, and then climb steeply, flatten out, and then climb again.  We worked our way through washouts and mud holes, and continued up the hill.

The road ended rather abruptly in this sort of overlook that was pretty cool.

We threw our bikes down in the gravel and ran to the overlook, breathing heavy from the effort, laughing, and taking pictures.

Seriously. We just threw the bikes down, the dogs couldn't believe it either

Seriously. We just threw the bikes down, the dogs couldn’t believe it either

The overlook we biked to

The end of the road

After a while, we hopped back on our bikes and flew down the hills we just climbed, butts hanging back over the seats, negotiating the washouts, smiles pasted on our faces.

Meeting up at the bottom, Beth asked if we should check out “the bridge” (a snowmobile bridge under construction) and I nodded excitedly, “YES! Totally!  Let’s check that out!”

We both hopped on our bikes and rode on to the next adventure.

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Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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Grateful

This weekend was…well it was fabulous.

This time of year is one of my favorite times because the bugs are not out yet, the weather is mild, and the summer crowds have not yet arrived.  It is that middle time, between winter and late spring that is particularly sweet.

Right now, I can still take my dog for a run…

Logging miles with Kineo

Logging miles with Kineo

…and bike on the ATV trails…

My riding buddy

My riding buddy

…and not see a soul.

Looking toward the Bigelow Range

Looking toward the Bigelow Range

I can throw down my bike…

You just stay there, bike

You just stay there, bike

…and bushwack into Moores Bog (without getting eaten alive by the mosquitos, black flies, and whatever else bites you in June.)

Moores Bog

Moores Bog

I can take an adventurous drive to an off-road trailhead (“Hey guys, we didn’t even get stuck this time!”) to hike my favorite mountain…

Never too many dogs...

Never too many dogs…

…and find a blue bird day…

Moxie Bald Summit

Moxie Bald Summit

The pack

The pack

…and thigh deep snow at the top.

Its getting a little deep!

Its getting a little deep!

I can be totally surprised by my friends…

Helmets are necessary..

Helmets are necessary..

Surprise birthday party!

Surprise birthday party!

…and be so thankful to live in this amazingly beautiful place amongst the most awesome, thoughtful, and fun people in the world.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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Running Home

The Kennebec River has a smell.

Not the gross dead rotting things kind of smell that people from some places are used to.   But an inviting, delicious smell that makes my tail wag and my heart thump.

I watched the evening sun dance on the waters of Wyman Lake as I made my way home from work, and I realized the sun was dancing on…water.

I gave a little yelp of glee.  The north half of the lake was iced out.

Not able to keep my eyes off the lake, I rolled the window down and breathed in deep.  The river and the lake are the same water, and as I drove the winding S curves up the lake towards the river and home, I could smell that sweetness that I craved.

There is this run that I like to do – a nice little out and back that is almost entirely along the river.  Often there are bald eagles or osprey catching the wind currents and scanning the water for food.  I prefer to run it in the evening because the light hits the water just right, twirling with the current.  I drink it all in and disappear into myself a little.  It is perfect.

I needed to do this run tonight.  Like right now.

Suddenly impatient to get home, my foot pushed harder on the accelerator.  Parking haphazardly in the driveway, I sped into the house, throwing my work clothes off as I ran up the stairs to get changed into my long-neglected running gear.

I am not really sure what my hurry was.  Or why, now, after months (ehemm…and months) of not running at all that I suddenly was on fire to pound the pavement.

But I HAD to go.

I busted out the door and headed north, moving quickly through town.   Everything from the day started to melt away, and it was just me.  Before I knew it, I was there, running along the river, getting lost in the swirling light of the currents, breathing in the scent of home.


Hey there – I know I know.  I have been really horrible at posting to this blog for like…2 years.  I plan on reviving it and posting weekly again.  Honest.  I am done with Ironman, really.  I am.  It was fun, but I am moving on.  I sold my TT bike, my road bike, and now own a fat bike and a mountain bike.  I care a lot less about racing for now.  But I stay busy and there will be future posts on hikes, dogs, mountain biking, running, adventures, and all things outside.   Stay tuned.  

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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Skating Saved Me

I remember when I was growing up, I had this awesome birthday party at the local roller rink.   I felt like I was pretty cool, because the rink was one of my favorite places to hang out growing up.  I loved skating with my friends.

When I drive by the deserted building these days it always makes me kind of sad.

This is my friend Christine:

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She loved roller skating when she was growing up too.

Today she is a member of Maine Roller Derby team the R.I.P. Tides and is known to her teammates as Betty B. Tough.
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She is an instructor for a non-impact, roller-derby-based fitness class.

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She has spoken before the legislature about roller derby regulations in Maine.

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And when I asked her how Roller Derby changed her, her statement was simple and powerful:

“Skating saved me.”

To say she found her passion is an understatement.

The thing is, her rink, Happy Wheels, is one of 3 rinks that remain open in Maine.

And it is currently for sale.

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Maine Roller Derby wants to buy the rink to keep the roller skating tradition alive. This isn’t only about roller derby, it is about providing a place for families to have open skate sessions so they can enjoy a healthy, affordable activity together.

If you want help Maine Roller Derby with their capital campaign, you can donate HERE (or click the link in the upper right corner of this blog.)

Christine is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.  Talking to her makes you want to run out and chase down your dreams.

To learn more about her journey to becoming Betty B. Tough, and how she was rescued by roller skating, check out her video:

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Fat Biking Maine Huts and Trails

I just came back from a fabulous weekend fat biking and staying at the Maine Huts and Trails Poplar and Stratton Brook Huts.  I highly recommend checking this hut system out – the trails are extensive and well-maintained, the Huts are gorgeous, and the food is amazing.

The ‘huts’ are four off-the-grid eco lodges situated along an 80-mile trail system in western Maine. They all have a spacious great room, cozy reading areas, and a warm wood stove.  Guests stay in either shared or private bunkrooms that are heated with radiant heat.  Every hut is equipped with hot showers, toilets and gear drying rooms.

Maine Huts and Trails, Maine, fat bike

Inside Stratton Brook Hut

So yeah, they are pretty great and are one of Maine’s best-kept secrets.

The best part of the whole trip was that Regina flew to Maine just to hang out with me.

Maine Huts and Trails, Maine, fat bike

Regina and I psyched for our trip!

Friday – Poplar Hut

We packed up our gear and headed over to the Carrabassett Valley area.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

As we passed through Kingfield, we stopped for an awesome Fattie (a big fat burrito) from Rolling Fatties.  Locally sourced, fresh ingredients, made for you by awesome people.

Go there.  Eat.  Be happy.

You should go here. It is delicious.

You should go here. It is delicious.

After stuffing our faces, we headed to the Airport Trailhead and got on the trail.  I wasn’t really sure of trail conditions after a warm spell, but they were perfect for fat biking.

For this part of the trip, we carried our gear in packs – something that we asked Maine Huts and Trails to do for us for the next few days.

It was about 3 miles up to Poplar Hut.  We got up there pretty quickly, even riding with the packs.

My bike leaning against the hut

My bike leaning against the hut

After checking in and dumping our gear in our room, we headed back out for a walk to Poplar Falls.  Things were packed enough we didn’t need snowshoes.

Poplar Stream Falls

Poplar Stream Falls and my eye

Getting back to the lodge, we had a beer and hung out until dinner.

Fuel.

Fuel.

Dinner was amazing – locally made pasta with a pumpkin alfredo sauce and chicken sausage, along with salad and homemade bread.  Dessert was a cream pie with berries.

We spent some time hanging out in the great room talking to the other guests before heading to our room to read and head to bed.

Saturday – Stratton Brook Hut

We got up early and packed our gear bags so they could be shuttled to our next stop – Stratton Brook Hut.  Regina and I both agreed within about 30 seconds of riding that not biking with the packs was a good thing.

Both of us were excited to get out and ride – we had all day to get to the next Hut and had been given some good info on lots of local single track mountain bike trails that were packed down and open to fat bikes.

I say this, and I am absolutely not a mountain biker.  Yet.

Que entertainment for Regina.  My body and my bike might have become separated once or twice…but there are no pictures so it didn’t happen.

We rode for about 6 hours.   It was an amazing day, sunny and warm, with perfect conditions for fat biking.

Regina

Regina

Riding on the Narrow Gauge Trail

Riding on the Narrow Gauge Trail

Regina after she jumped a log. Because she is bad ass.

Regina after she jumped a log. Because she is bad ass.

This log is way bigger than it looks.

This log is way bigger than it looks.

Beauty break

Beauty break

Deciding it was time to head to the hut, we made our way to the trailhead.  The ride up to Stratton Brook is a series of switchbacks that are totally doable on legs that are not already toast.

Our legs were toast.  So we may have gotten off the bike on a few of the switchbacks.

Once the hut was in sight, we rode in like BOSSES.

Stratton Brook Hut

Stratton Brook Hut in view!  I smell beer.

Bikes resting after a big day

Bikes resting after a big day

This hut has amazing views of Sugarloaf and the Bigelows.

After settling in, we drank a few glasses of wine, read, relaxed and waited for dinner.  It was another awesome meal, but I only remember it was awesome, not exactly what it was.

We were pretty wiped after our day of riding and went to bed pretty early.

Sunday – Home

And we are off!

And we are off!

After a good nights sleep and a good breakfast we headed back on the trail.  My back was feeling kind of funky so I stayed on the main trails but Regina got off trail onto some more single track.

We got back to the truck around noon, and started the trek home.

If you get the chance to check out Maine Huts and Trails, I highly recommend it.  You can head up to any of their huts for lunch between 11:30-1:30 and check out the space and make your plans for your overnight visit.

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Mid-Winter 10 Mile Classic!

I KNOW!! I am as surprised as you are!

An actual race report???  From ME!?

I am dipping my toes back into racing again after well over a year off.  It felt good to start with this race.

The Mid-Winter 10 Mile Classic is one of my favorites.  It is usually cold and always windy.  Often times the course is snow packed.

I like the race for a few reasons.

It is a nice gauge of your mid-winter running fitness – the course is hilly, not ridiculously so, but enough so you think to yourself, “ah, yes…I should run more hills” or “huh. I guess I should actually train for these things.”

And while that is really great to know, for me the best part of the race is the people who show up.  It is really a “no bad weather” type of crowd, people who train through the varied and crazy conditions a New England winter can bring.

People who really need a race to break up their winter training.

At this race, a group of us ran a bone marrow drive for our friend Hayley.   We had quite a few people come, get swabbed, and join the registry.

Thank you to everyone who did – if you missed us and want to join the registry, head on over to www.deletebloodcancer.org and you can have a donor kit mailed to you.

I kind of forgot I was racing running shuffling – until I noticed the room of 600 people start to clear out. I said goodbye to my friends at the donor table and headed outside to shiver with the other racers while we waited for the gun to go off.

I worked my way to the back of the pack (marveling at the guy wearing shirts and no shirt), and found a spot.

Given my training (or lack of), I decided that my goal time for this race was “whatever.”

The gun went off and scared the crap out of half the racers.  Seriously, it was a loud one!  We started shuffling, finding our space in the crowd, and the pack cleared up pretty quickly.

I chugged along, totally over-dressed, and threw off half of my clothes to my friend Katie before mile 1 (thank you so much Katie and Cooper for being there!)

As mile 3 approached I just wasn’t feeling it. You know those days, you are running and your legs feel like lead, your head isn’t in the game, you really want a bloody Mary, some brunch, and a warm blanket to snuggle under.

But I shuffled along, staring off at the road ahead, letting my mind wander while moving my legs.   I was feeling every single ounce of weight I have gained over the past year, cursing myself for letting it happen.

I was hoping that something would get me out of my head, something would show up to make the time fly by, some inspiration, a jolt of energy…

And then there she was.

There I was, staring off into space, when I heard…“Mandy!? Is that you!”

I looked up to find the beautiful friendly smile of my friend Angel. The last time I saw her was when I met her 2 years ago while running the Eastern States 20 Mile Race.  We ended up next to each other and just started running together.

It was so great to see her! I went from blah to WAHOO in a matter of seconds.

I told her about my race plan, which, as I said before, was “whatever”.

She was totally on the same page, so we fell into step together.

The next 7 miles flew by – full of laughter, stories, and of our future racing and hiking plans.

Our conversation never lagged, and it made me yearn for a running partner for my long runs.

We skipped across the finish line, laughing and hugging and waving at the camera.

Next year, I think I will train a little more, but this was a great race.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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Get Swabbed

This is my friend Hayley and her little sister Maddie:

Hayley

When Hayley was 6, in 2008, she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia.  With some extensive treatment, she went into remission.

In October of this year, the aplastic anemia came back – and Hayley quite literally is in the fight of her life.  Due to the severe nature of her relapse Hayley’s doctors have decided that her best chance at survival is to receive a bone marrow transplant.

Right now, there is no match for her in the bone marrow registry.

I wish I could be Hayley’s match. I am not.

Maybe you are. Maybe you are someone else’s match.

There is only one way to find out – join the registry.

So – I have a favor to ask you.  Please help us find a match for Hayley – or for someone else that is in need.

Here is how you can help:

1) If you aren’t already on the national bone marrow registry please go HERE (http://www.deletebloodcancer.org/en) and register today.  All it takes is a swab to the inside of your cheek.

2) Have a ‘swab’ party! You can order up to 50 swab kits, invite your friends to swab the inside of their cheeks and send contact info in. Go HERE to find out more: http://www.deletebloodcancer.org/en/get-involved

3) Host a donor drive! Churches, schools, colleges, community center, police/fire departments are ALL great places to host drives. Find out more HERE: http://www.deletebloodcancer.org/en/get-involved

4) Make a donation – it costs Delete Blood Cancer $65 for every donor, and they do not charge for people to get on the registry – help fund donor drives, help find Hayley and people like her their match.  Donate HERE: http://www.deletebloodcancer.org/en/get-involved

5) Share this, repost this, let people know they can help save a life.

The registry is nation-wide. If you live out of the states, there are registries through Delete Blood Cancer for places around the globe.

If anyone is running the 10 Mile Mid-Winter Classic this coming weekend, my friend and I will be there before, during (well, I am running..er…shuffeling it), and after the race running a donor drive (approximately 8-1).  Even if you are not running the race, but are in the Cape Elizabeth area, stop by and get swabbed – it is so easy, and you could save a life.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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The New Guy…

I am not going to make an excuse about why I haven’t written a blog for so long.

I just haven’t had the energy.  Actually, this post will be mostly pictures because I want you to meet the new guy in my life.

This new guy, he is working out.

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine

Trail Kisses

He is full of challenges, likes to push boundaries, and has some emotional baggage.

So yeah, he is just like me.

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine

The call me Crazy Eyes

Before things froze, I got him on a boat on Moosehead Lake with his namesake mountain (Kineo) in the background:

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine, Kineo, Moosehead Lake

Kineo on Moosehead Lake, with a barge and Mount Kineo in the background

He logged his first miles on the Appalachian Trail:

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine, Bigelow, Little Bigelow

Kineo signing in on his first AT hike (Little Bigelow Mountain)

Since then, we have done a few more hikes:

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine, Mosquito Mountain

New Year’s Day Hike up Mosquito Mountain

And winter runs with friends:

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine

My running partners “Crazy Legs” Kineo and Austin, aka “Short Stuff”

Some of which turned into grand snowy adventures:

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine

One of our runs turned into a grand adventure!

And of course, we have been cross-country skiing…

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine

So I walk on these, right Mom?

I think he loves his new life here in Maine.

Like all dogs, he makes my life better – puppy antics and all.

Maine, Hike, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog, Berner, rescue, Maine

Glove Thief!

In other news…I have started training again.  I have this cool new 4-legged running partner that has me hitting trails instead of pavement, so who knows?  There might be a few trail races in my future.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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Keep Your Heart Open…

I am so thankful for all of your well wishes, cards, the notes, gifts, and for all of your donations to raise money for canine cancer research in Porter’s name.   Thank you so so much.

I miss him so much I cannot breath.

Sometimes I pull into my parents house, thinking for just a moment that he is at their house, waiting for me. Then reality climbs up and punches me in the chest.

For weeks, I would come home from work and go directly upstairs and crawl into bed.

I will never again look at the Bigelow Range without tracing the path we walked those three days in August, wishing with every bit of my soul that I could crawl back into that tent with him on Horns Pond, see his little stub of a tail wagging ahead of me as we climbed over West Peak, and have him waiting for me, smiling, on top of Avery Peak.

Porter, Caratunk, Pleasant Pond Mountain, Maine, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell Cancer, Fuck Cancer, BMD, cancer

The Bigelows
Beth McLaughlin photo

Porter, Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD, Avery Peak, Bigelow, Bigelow Traverse, Maine, Hike, Backpacking

Porter on Avery Peak

I am thankful for that time but I am greedy.

I want it back.

I want a do over.

I want to kick, scream, throw rocks and shake my fist at the Universe.  Why him?? Why so young??

But there are no answers, and I can’t go back in time.

The emptiness hit me hard this past week.  John went on a canoe trip, so I had the house to myself.

It was really the first time I was alone since Porter died, and I will just say that there were a lot of tears last week.

At some point…I opened up my email and was reminded about a young rescue Berner boy who had been forwarded to me a few weeks earlier.

I read about him.  9 mos old.  Active, happy, eager to learn.  Needs some training and a working home.

I felt guilty, like I was being disloyal to Porter for even consider this so soon.

I looked at the empty dog bed on the floor.  The empty dog dishes.  The unused toys in the toy box.

The empty house.

I composed an email, telling my story.  That I wasn’t ready really but would like to know more about this dog.

Immediately after hitting send I panicked.  Crap.  It is way too soon.

Then I thought…What is too soon? Who decides that?

In the end, it is different for everyone.

Some people wait a few days.  Some wait weeks, some months, some years…some go their lifetime.  Each of those things is perfectly fine.

People do like to tell you that either a) you need a dog right away (hurry!) or b) you need to wait at least (amount of time they think you should wait).

The problem is, what works for them, might not work for you.

When and if you do bring another dog into your life – it is never a replacement.   Each dog is different, and brings different things into our lives.

When my beloved Bailey died, I swore up and down I was never going to get a dog again.

Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, BMD

Bailey boy

All I wanted was my Bailey boy, that sweet, loyal, wonderful soul that graced my life for 10 years.

A few weeks later, I was inquiring about puppies, full of reservations, feeling as if I was being disloyal to him.

I moved forward, despite not being sure.

And that is how I met Porter, full of doubt, heart-broken, and questioning my decision.

On the way home he sat on my lap, all smiles and wiggles, and despite my doubts, he stole my heart.

Dog, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

Porter on his way home

That boy filled my life with more love, laughter and joy than I thought was possible in 3 short years.

He taught me so much.

One of the first lessons he gave me was – never be afraid to open your heart to the possibilities of a new beginning.

Bernese Mountain Dog

Porter’s trademark smile

So I took a deep breath, and sent a follow-up email.

After some back and forth, some photos, a phone interview, and an application, I was approved for adoption.

His name is going to be Kineo.  He is rescuing me this weekend.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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See You in the Mountains, My Friend

Yesterday afternoon, John and I said goodbye to our sweet Porter.

Dog, BMD, Porter, Bernese Mountain Dog, Maine, Hike, Eagle Rock, Mountain, Squaw Mountain, Big Moose Mountain

Despite our best efforts at fighting it over the past 7 months, the Mast Cell Cancer spread to his liver.

Dog, BMD, Porter, Bernese Mountain Dog, Maine, Hike, Mosquito Mountain, MountainHe brought so much love, light, and happiness to everyone he came in contact with both in real life and virtually in his 3 short years on this earth.

I woke up this morning to over 700 messages of condolences for Porter from his friends all over the world.

It is truly humbling and overwhelming to realize the reach he had, and I thank each and every one of you for your support and kind words.

He touched every single person he met.

Dog, BMD, Porter, Bernese Mountain Dog, Maine, Hike, Eagle Rock, Mountain, Squaw Mountain, Big Moose Mountain

When he passed, the 3 vet techs that worked with him and his veterinarian were all in tears.  They surrounded him with John and I as we said goodbye, and we all cried rivers of tears for the passing of such a sweet soul.

Being without him is just going to be hard.

Maine, hike, AT, Appalachian Trail, mountain, Porter, White cap, White Cap Mountain, BMD, Bernese Mountain Dog

When I drive, I reach over to put my hand on his head, and hit my console.

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When I am reading, I reach to pet him next to me, and hit the couch.

Porter the Bernese Mountain Dog

I walked into the house yesterday, took one look at his dishes, and just lost it.

I haven’t figured out yet if it is worse to have them there, or to take them away.  The same with his toys.

When I am at work walking through the woods and don’t feel his presence, I start to call his name…and then I remember he is gone.

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I miss him most as I walk through the woods.

My first hike without him is going to be the hardest thing in the world.

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But when I am standing on a mountain, looking at the clouds and the view around me, I will know he is with me, and I hope I manage to smile through the tears.

Mosquito Mountain

I desperately miss my happy sweet berner boy with the short tail, half an ear, and brilliant smile.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

I tried really hard to give him the best life I could.

I tried even harder when I realized we were on borrowed time.

He was a good dog.  A great dog.  The best dog.

Run free my sweet Porter boy.  I will see you in the mountains.

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