Today, we close the circle. Our travels through Ireland will conclude in 24 hours from now. Still, to this day, I’m not over the beauty. The thousands of shades of green. The incredible rich, vibrant colors of all the many flowers blooming as far as the eye can see. The hundreds of castles, churches and abbeys, holding the past inside their rocky, vine covered walls, like ancient time capsules. The bright smiles and chipper hellos from locals and travelers alike. The numerous small towns with their brightly painted buildings and historic pubs. I doubt that the memories will fade anytime soon.
I think the most interesting was hearing stories of the struggles of the proud, hard working Irish. The stories of sorrow and triumph. The strong, proud individuals that tried to make a difference for their countrymen in the time of need. The big men and women with large hands and kind hearts. The thick accents that change slightly as we traveled from county to county.
There were many times that I would be listening to our driver and I could envision the people he was talking about laughing and a dozen small children running around underfoot. The homes and land passed down through generations upon generations. The miles and miles of rock walls, the sheep dotting the green hillsides in white and pastel colors, splashed upon their backs showing ownership. The border collies running after them. Life, so simple and so hard.
It’s been a good day except for the 2 hours of driving. The countryside is gorgeous. The famous rock walls are now covered in a thick coat of green.
The roads are narrow and the means to an end if you want to see the small towns and castle/church ruins dotting the landscape.
Our choice of a van, the same size as our old van, was a good one at the time. Our driving skills are good but to combine the small rural roads, driving on the side of the road unfamiliar to us, a right hand drive and a stick shift, and we are like fish out of water.
What is the one constant in everyone’s life? No matter black, white, brown, or green…no matter if you live comfortably with means, or are barely scraping by…no matter if you live north, south, east or west…animal, insect, plant or human, impermanence is at play in your life.
Over the last year, our lives have been greatly impacted by this often times unwelcome part of the life cycle. Everyday things change. Our likes and dislikes, our health, plants bloom and die, trees loose leaves, even as simple as outgrowing our favorite outfit, everything is in a constant state of living and dying…change. We live our lives as if we have a life-time of living to be had, fall through each day as if there will surely be another. Will there be? Are you sure?
In my Buddhist practice, my teachers and their teachers and right on back to the Buddha, have always talked about impermanence. Nothing is without change. It is not only about a physical human death, even that is not permanent, but more about the constant flux that is a naturally occurring part of everything, living and dead. Humans are the worst at accepting this phenomenon. We try hard to make sure things are as we like them, to be sure we are always comfortable. We diet to stay the same weight, facelifts to prevent the inevitable force of gravity, even engage in risky behaviors to slow the aging process. Western medicine is all about treating the diseased so that death can be cheated. We never even think about death. To speak of our death is considered taboo, macabre, not something accepted in a “normal” daily conversation.
I know that the hardest part of accepting death, is to realize that death is not the end, not a permanent condition. Yes, our physicality comes to an end, but there is so much more to all living things that just a failing vessel of blood and organs, all things are made of the most basic of matter, water and carbon, formed into a structure that can resemble many different things, from a tree to a worm, yes and the human body. The essence of which is held together by energy. This energy is universal, it exists in the chair you’re sitting on, the flowers blooming in the spring, and even the ancient old growth forests rotting on the forest floors.
OK, so you may be thinking, how do I stop or slow change? How can I accept something, death for example, that seems so final…so permanent? What happens to that life force when the vessel dies? Religions have been trying to pacify the panic and mourning that goes along with death with the promise of heaven and hell. Alchemist have been trying to find the secret of eternal youth since the beginning of time. No matter, impermanence is just a universal condition to be accepted and worked through on a daily basis. If you knew you were gonna die tomorrow, would you do anything in your power to stave off this inevitability? You are not alone. Why not live everyday as if it were your last?
If I told you that to slow, maybe even end the violence in the world, the pestilence, the hate, anger, and all the “man-made” destruction of the planet, all we have to do is live each day as if it were a gift, treat each other with kindness, show unconditional love and acceptance to our fellow human beings and stop harming even the smallest of insects, would you at least try? It is so much easier to find fault, to feel the anger and act without thinking, to pass judgement and spread gossip, to continue to pollute rivers and oceans as if they were an endless resource. To avoid change at all costs. What if we all just gave it a little effort? What if everything you said to someone, stranger or friend, ally or foe, went through three gates first. Is it true? Is it necessary? The hardest one, is it kind? What if you smiled at a stranger, held the door for someone, didn’t honk and yell at the driver you feel is being crazy or stupid. Could you make a pact to do one kind thing for someone or something everyday? Could we each start a pay it forward society just by one kind act? What if it were really that simple?
The world is suffering, we all are dying everyday, tomorrow is not for certain. Every where Chris and I go, we bring love and light into someone’s darkness, whether we know that person or not. We are not alone. It is never too late but it does take an army to move an anthill these days. I implore you to at least try, how can it hurt? We can’t stop change but we can influence it with just a few random kindnesses.
It’s been a month since we said farewell to Gandaulf. I still have moments in the day when my eyes fill with tears and the words get stuck in throat. Times when all I want is to feel his thick, soft fur between my fingers, and smell his musky odor. At night I swear sometimes he is still there at the bottom of the bed snoring. Of course I sit with the feelings, let the tears fall and, like the clouds in a blue sky, it passes and I am left in the present moment…to move on.
We continue to sell off all our possessions and donated 4 big boxes of women’s clothing to the women’s shelter and odds and ends to the DI. Our shed is becoming more and more vacant everyday. Getting rid of “stuff” is fun, freeing and terrifying all at the same time. What I want to get rid of, Chris thinks we might need someday and sometime visa versa. No matter we settle and the item stays or goes and we move on to the next.
We have started our trial packs. It takes almost as many clothes to be gone for a week long vacation as it does to pack for a year. Save a nice outfit for the occasional fancy dinner or cafe hopping, a few more necessities for hiking or swimming, and an extra pair of shoes…they make a thing called a washer and dryer, so…just like at home, you still need to stop for a domestic goddess day.
The farewells continue almost daily. I have hooked up with some healers that are concocting some plant medicines for me to continue my journey of good mental health and a balance of mind and body. It’s been almost six months since I went cold turkey on anti-depressants and entered the world of good, wholesome plant based medicines. The journey has had its ups and downs, but I am a whole new person, not better, just changed and more energized and grounded.
Between this change and my spiritual endeavors, I have broken through the ancient fortress built around my heart and mind, and found a strong, safe foundation to build a new life on. Yes I have many small tears left on my heart, but I am free from this old baggage and free to build a new adventure in loving kindness and peace.
It has begun…today we officially sold our Adventure Van, SleepyTurtle. The UTV and trailer got sold to a friend we’ve been selling cars to forever. All of our toys and our “home” have gone to good homes. This we are happy about. The universe has been at play in the last 3 months.
As sad as it was to loose Gandaulf, we were in the right place…not in Baja. His death was the beginning of the avalanche of change in our lives. Our entire lives have been geared around Gandaulf, so when he went over the rainbow bridge, we felt a great loss and confusion.
This entire week has been all about getting back on our feet, liquidating everything and getting on with our new chapter of life. Mornings are getting easier, and we are beginning to accept whatever has happened as our path. It’s bucking against things as they come up, that causes us discomfort. As we listen and pay attention to the signs, being aware of the subtle nuances of our daily life, things fall into place. Things that seemed insurmountable.
Farewells have also begun this week. This is where I struggle. We have touched so many new lives, and made so many new friends over the last 3 years which may not seem like that big of a deal to some but for Chris and I, we never have been able to develop friendships outside of work. Now we’ve connected on a deeply personal maybe even spiritual level, and unknowingly influenced their lives by just being ourselves. This for me is a gift. It is exceedingly difficult to connect with people at a meaningful level these days, perhaps due to mistrust and social media…Or maybe the later makes it easier? These special relationships will never go away, and there is no such thing as “goodbye” in our book.
May 6, 2023 will be our new adventure start date. Until then, the universe has our backs.
On March 21, 2023, at 4pm, we lost an integral part of Two Travelin’ Chicas and a Corgi. Gandaulf had been with us since he was a mere 10 weeks old. He was the cutest little corgi muffin we’d ever seen. It had taken me months to talk Chris back into letting me get a puppy again. I was up for the challenge of house breaking, training and cuddling and with Chris traveling so much, I’d now have a companion to keep me company.
We went and got him on February 22, 2010. He was full of energy and very sharp teeth. I spent the first 2 hours and last 2 hours of everyday, training and playing with him so that he would be able to go to work with me everyday. He graduated his puppy class at 5 months old, the youngest they’d ever allowed into the class, and I dare say, the smartest. He never did like car rides much, and being his moms were car dealers, that became a big joke. Maybe it was his tiny legs? Maybe not being able to see? Maybe because everyday we drive a different car, truck or SUV…he never did warm up to rides in the car until we started to travel in the van.
By the time he reached three years old, he had charmed his way into many hearts. He was a great greeter at Salt Lake Imports, our dealership, and an even better sales dog. He loved to play ball so he would distract the customers while they were buying a car. He would do the cute thing and lay his head on their shoes and look up with his big endearing dark brown eyes. It was at 3 he started training to be a service animal.
We started out with walking through malls, airports and riding the light rail. He knew all the commands but when it came to walking through buildings with multicolor floors, he’d lean back on his hind legs and stop abruptly. Everyone around us in the airport, would pile up behind us and laugh as he made quite a scene. Eventually he overcame whatever he saw that scared him and he’d walk, ears back, head held high and little legs scurrying under him to keep up.
It took about 3 months to get him fully trained enough to get his jacket and register him with the US Service Dog Agency. Gandaulf was now a registered service dog and could travel anywhere, go anywhere and knew how to behave. He was one dog out of his jacket, but once we put his jacket on him, he transformed into another. He was always quiet, never begged in a restaurant, and ignored other dogs like he had on blinders. He was just perfect.
Chris and I loved to travel, and now Gandaulf could go just about anywhere with us. His first plane ride was 4.5 hours from Salt Lake City to Virginia Beach. Then he went to Mexico, Costa Rica, he was even an honorary “corn dog” in Nicaragua on Little Corn Island. He has been on sailboats where more pictures were taken of him than the sunset the tour was about. He had become a traveling partner and just loved every adventure. We always joked that he thought we traveled awfully far just to play ball.
He took to swimming, streams, Alpine Lakes and loved body surfing in the Oceans. He would help land any fish we caught on the banks of a river or in our white water raft. He loved to ride on kayaks, paddle boards and even had his own backpack for coming along on bike rides. He owned a climbing harness, life jacket, vibram sole booties and a snow jacket for messy Utah winter days when the snow was deeper than he was tall.
When we decided to retire early, we had to figure in our boy into our plans. We originally wanted to move out of the USA and settle down but with Gandaulf, that wasn’t gonna work out as well. He was a world traveler but the amount of paperwork and rabies vaccinations and other requirements made it difficult to go to more than one country at a time. Vanlife was just becoming a thing so we decided that sounded like fun! On November 11, 2017, we bought a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van and begun researching solar, plumbing and how to build out the perfect travel van, and begun building.
After 3 long years of trying to sell our business, Salt Lake Imports, we finally had a buyer and on March 2020, we wrapped up the paperwork on the sale, finalized the sale of our house, and diligently finished work on the van. She was done in June 2020, just in time to escape the madness of COVID-19. We dubbed her SleepyTurtle and had a wrap put on her of a Turtle made of turtles from the Iroquois legend of Turtle Island. We hit the road and spread our new found wings of freedom.
Gandaulf traveled like a king, after all he was a Corgi. We bought a child’s beanbag and stuffed it between our seats, making a cushy seat even in height to ours and he was able to see out the windows and cuddle up to us if he chose to. He had his own vent for AC or heat. If a window rolled down, he was right there to checkout whatever might be thinking of invading his castle. He greeted everyone with a smile and butt wiggles, no tail…
From June 2020 to February 2023, we traveled all around the western US, Canada and Baja Mexico. We laughed every time we saw a “brown forest service sign” and took off on an unknown road. The beauty of this type of traveling. We had built up the van for going off road. She had the largest off-road tires we could put on her, steel skid plates under her belly and protecting the differential. We had custom “rock rail type” nerf bar running boards made and a custom roof rack to hold her solar panel. We could be off grid for up to 10 days or longer when we are by water.
In July 2021, I noticed a small clump of strange tissue inside of Gandaulf’s eye. We immediately called his vet and within a few days, had flown back to Salt Lake for a vet visit. He needed to be seen by an eye specialist, so we flew back to Idaho and drove home to Salt Lake. Gandaulf’s appointment was thorough and the doctor came back with the news. He had developed and interocular tumor, but the pressure in his eye was good so it wasn’t an emergency to have his eye removed so we kept having the pressure checked and took pictures every week and sent it back to the docs.
It was on a hike in July 2022 that we noticed the first big change. We were hiking down to a river to do some fishing, Gandaulf hiking as usual until he started to sneeze backward. We don’t know if he snuffed up a grass seed or just some dirt but the pressure of the inward sneezes, caused the tumor to rupture inside his eye. He was obviously in pain. The next morning, he was in for a complete work up at a new vet in Colorado. Full X-rays, blood work and pressure check. No issues found other than the ruptured tumor. We got some pain meds and eye drops and in a few days he was right back to normal.
Life went on as normal for us…As normal as it was after loosing both Chris’ dad and little sister in January 2022. Gandaulf was approaching 13 years old and we started noticing his mental state was declining. It was harder for him to get in and out of the van. He had become very reactive to being touched, putting on his life jacket or service jacket became dangerous if you touched him wrong. He had become a vicious dog just out of the blue. He had less energy and was definitely showing signs of slowing down. Ball time got shorter and shorter and bu September he was having a hard time seeing in low light. His hearing was going and he was loosing his mind.
October 2022. We came back to Salt Lake to have a ceremony for Chris’ dad out in the west desert as he requested. I had really become worried and was afraid of my dog, I had been bit twice by him during his little temper tantrums and was beginning to see the end coming. We took him to his vet, Dr Kara, and he didn’t recognize her. She sat on the floor and cried, while explaining that he had dementia and appeared to be in a great deal of pain. She prepared us for maybe needing to help him out of his pain and confusion. We gave him 4 days to respond favorably to a new medication regime, and as usual, Gandaulf responded well and we learned how to live with his dementia and crazy moments of rage.
We were off again on the road, heading for Oregon for a stint of house sits through January. We explored Bend, Maupin and finally Portland in all it’s rainy glory. Gandaulf was sleeping a lot and needing more help to get up and down stairs and in and out of bed. He still loved to go on hikes with us and ball chasing still was his favorite past time.
January 2023 found us planning our winter trip to Baja. We planned on heading down the Oregon and California coast, stopping along the way to visit old friends. The rain was relentless, with atmospheric rivers hitting the coast causing devastating floods and mudslides. By the time we reached Palm Springs, we were able to dry out and stop while awaiting our new tags for the van so we could cross into Baja and start our winter adventure. Three days from us planning to cross the border, the guys that bought the dealership called and told us they weren’t going to be paying rent and we’re vacating the property. Our plans had been dashed once again. We needed to pack up and drive back to a wintery Salt Lake City, frozen by a very snowy, very long cold spell, needless to say we weren’t happy.
We lucked out and found an AIRBNB in a friends basement that served our needs while we sorted out the empty building, repairs and release or sale. Gandaulf slept a lot and was patient while we made repairs, painted and shuttled back and forth from home to the shop for the next 6 weeks, 6 weeks we could’ve been in Baja, toes dug into the sand, playing ball and hiking around. Six weeks that should’ve been all about our last hurrah with Gandaulf.
On the morning of March 20, 2023, Gandaulf woke up as he always did, lying on the bed waiting for his moms to help him down and give him his morning meal, scratches and walk. When I got up to help him down, I noticed his eye was weeping and he seemed to be reacting to bright light. The tumor in his eye looked normal so I didn’t give it a second thought. All that day and the next, his eye continued to weep and he was being more cuddly and needy than was his norm. On March 21, the eye had gotten worse and he wasn’t opening it at all. I knew in my heart that this was not going to end good.
We called his vet, who was in the Caribbean for the week, texted his other vet and a good friend who adopted older ailing Corgis, looking for someone to tell us what we wanted to hear, but all three gave us the same sage advice. It’s always better to go out on a good note, while he still remembers you and before he is so far gone with pain and confusion, that he’s not the dog you’ve known and loved. We took him to the only vet that could see him the same day. The tears started as we left him with a strange vet and waited to hear what could be done. At 10:30 the phone rang, the vet said she needed to remove the eye but needed to do all these tests first to be sure the “cancer”, first time I heard anyone call the tumor cancer, hadn’t spread. Of course we agreed to do whatever it took to get our boy happy again. The phone rang again, Gandaulf needed to be sedated just to do the ultrasound. It was time to stop all treatment, keeping in mind the advice we had been given. We went to the vet and picked him up.
The next few hours we played ball, ate ice cream and ate hamburgers through the tears. Gandaulf seemed to be perfect, enjoying his playtime and extra special treats. I held his paw as he napped one last time on his throne in the van and Chris and I cried asking each other if we were doing the right thing. We just wanted someone else to make the decision and speak the words. At 3:30 we took him back to the vet and we’re escorted into “the room”, the finale to a great life and the most compassionate act in our lives together. At 4pm, as I held him in my arms, Gandaulf went to sleep, never to wake up again in pain in this world.
We truly thought we would die right there along with him. We knew however that he would not want us to stop living our life of adventure and travel. We knew that this little guy was a tremendous part of our lives and he was going to be missed dearly. We knew that the tears would flow, some days would be good, some not so. It’s been almost two weeks, we are still struggling but slowly getting on with our lives. He will always be remembered by all those he touched in his short life. He had a huge impact on ours. Someday the pain will not accompany the tears, the tears will dry up and a smile will replace them when seeing his pictures, his beautiful smile, all our memories that he was part of. Someday…