It was late morning but already approaching 100 degrees when I decided to walk the granddog Kermit around my daughter’s neighborhood off Silverbell Drive. I wanted to move before it became a death wish to do so. We leashed up and wandered over to the tiny park at the end of Copper Moon Drive. Kermit chased lizards and bird shadows across the island of cool green grass. Above us in a mesquite tree was the local hawk, who recycles rodents for Pima County. He was beautiful and fearless in his perch. I felt emboldened also, feeling rather hawkish actually. “Raptor Man of the Sonoran Desert”.
Feeling the dog’s energy tug at the leash, I began to trot out of the neighborhood. I remembered the three mile walk we had done just two days prior; I made a left turn onto Silverbell and left into the ADJACENT upscale neighborhood . We trotted and jogged on the shady east side of the avenue. Kermit began to pull for the shady spots, however. She had no problem with heat or dehydration on this same walk two days ago, but now we were three hours later in the day– the difference between preheat and broil. I urged her to move again, trying to speed up our pace and shrink our time of exposure. We jogged on past a lady washing her trash cans. I almost asked her to wash down the puppy and give Kermie a drink, but I thought we could slog through the course ahead. She had earbuds in her ears and was in an awkward position, so I passed. I remembered a playground and a gas station where surely there would be water. Still, a decorative fountain gurgled across the street and I wondered what heavily chlorinated water would do to Kermit. I remembered drinking pool water accidentally as a kid and decided against chlorinating the pooch. We plodded on.
Turning left on the big road that parallels Silverbell, I was not sure if we were half way or a third, but I could see that there was less shade available on the “shady” side of the road. Again, Kermit sat at the first dark spot and I began to wonder if she was going to make it. I had my cell phone just in case I had to call for air conditioned back up in the form of a silver Prius. Common sense was being counterbalanced by stubborn pride, though. I did not want to hear the “What were you thinking?” comments from my family, not out of concern for me but for the well being of the pup. Kermit gave me the “What were you thinking?” look as she huffed and drooled away precious water. “I trusted you, Gramps, and look where it got me!”
I started once more, downhill slightly and I could see the school across the road. ‘Oh, relief’, I thought. I noticed a young family of five on bikes waiting and drinking water in the next shade spot ahead of us. They parted and said hello. The couple and their three sons could not have been any nicer. I asked if there was water at the school. The dad assured me there was and pointed out the green fountain. Bingo! Eureka! Geronimo! We were saved. The mom passed me an extra water bottle for the dog. I poured the lukewarm water into my cupped hand while Kermit slurped it up. “I’m from a place called Stupid, Utah;” I explained. I thanked them and ran across the scorching pavement into the school playground. There was water in the fountain, though it was hot to the touch. I waited for a full minute but the temperature did not reduce. Kermit sought out the shade and was not interested in the puddle I was making on the concrete sidewalk. I began to feel vaguely like an animal abuser.
My phone rattled in my pocket. (“Rattled” is probably not the best verb choice here in rattler country, but there it is.) My wife asked where I’d gotten off to, which is a habit of mine, to wander away with only vague details of my direction or intent. I tend to do this at inopportune times before and during shopping excursions, weddings, funerals, graduations, coronations, big shows, etc.
(I had done this years ago in Boston. We were getting ready for the fanciest wedding I’ve ever attended. The girls were primping for over an hour. I said, “I’m going for a run while you primp.” I had a vague idea that the groom’s house was along an old trail that ran past our hotel. So I ran into the town of Lexington. It was so much farther than I’d imagined, maybe 6 miles. When I got there, the house was deserted. I drank from their hose and started back to the hotel. I had not a dime on my person or a cell phone. I realized that I had run too far. Fortunately the return run was slightly downhill. I ran for my life, imagining the Hell awaiting me if I missed this wedding. Obviously the painful lesson did not stick.)
I explained that we were not far away and I’d call for back up if necessary. Still, I was concerned for Kermit in her black fur coat. This 3 mile hike was turning into the drama in the desert. Somehow a nice little trot down the street had turned into a life or death escape chase.
Off we went for the next leg of the dehydration drill. We ran across the road and jogged right into the midget football team car wash fundraiser. About 10 ten year old boys with soapy sponges and squeegees were surrounding dusty cars along with four or five dad coaches behind the corner gas station. Kermit immediately laid down in the solid shade of their tent and I introduced her to the kids and dads. “Can I pet her?” asked one boy while the next stood beside him with a dripping soppy sponge. “Can I wash her?” The dads cautioned against scaring my dehydrated puppy. One squinty-eyed coach warily told me to spray the dog just in case she snapped. (Probably the defensive coordinator) Another seemed to know dogs and said, “Rub her fur backwards so the water cools her skin instead of just slicking her fur.” Kermit would have stayed there for the remainder of the day, but I had to shove off for the final leg of the endurance trial. There was no shade along the remainder of our run.
We gutted it out, breathing fiery air for the last quarter mile. The last street we ran was slightly uphill; the houses looked bleached by the intense solar radiation silently showering them. As we burst into the cool air of my daughter’s house, I heard, “Where did you go? What were you thinking?” as Kermit laid down on the tile floor with wide dry eyes full of shock. The death march was over and we had survived. Any death march you can walk away from is a good one in my book. Apparently the management thought otherwise.