The people you meet when you travel with a dog

Spent the night at the KOA in Sweetwater, TN, halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga. We've stayed there before and we chose it because – like many KOAs – it has a fenced in area for dogs to run and play off leash. When we drive long distances, we always feel sorry for Bo, who at 11 months is still very much a puppy who needs lots of exercise.

So this morning, before we set off again for a day of traveling, I made a quick cup of coffee in the Roadtrek and took it and Bo to the play area. We met two other folks there who were doing the same thing and, as always, both had stories.

One was a guy in his late seventies who had a 10 year old mixed lab and spaniel. As Bo met his dog, I got to know the owner. I'll call him Steve. Steve was a barber by trade. Had been for more then 40 years. You'd never know it looking at him. He wears his gray hair long, in a pony tail.

He's from southern Ohio and is on his way to Florida with his wife in a fifth wheel, where they'll stay till spring. Steve shared how, for many years, he and his wife lived “primitive,” out in the country, with no electricity or running water. “We did it by choice,” he said. “We waited till our kids were grown. We didn't think that would be fair to them. But as soon as they were grown, we found a place in the country and went primitive. We just wanted to be self reliant. It was great.”

Eventually, though, his wife's mother became ill and had to move in with them. “We had to put in electricity for her,” he said. When she died after six years, Steve was thinking about “going back to primitive.” But then his wife had a stroke. For a while, she went blind, he said. Eventually some of her sight was restored, enough that she can now read large type. She travels with him but has limited mobility and is mostly confined to their RV. “We're both looking forward to the sunshine” in Florida, he said.

But his wife's stroke was not the end of the bad luck. Steve suffered a serious head injury in a tree cutting accident. “A limb hit me right on the top of my head,” he said, taking off his ball cap and showing me a faded scar across  his skull. It messed up his neck and back. Three fingers on his left had are partially paralyzed. And sometimes the back pain is pretty close to unbearable.

But the worst part of the accident, he says, is that it left him with the most bizarre phobia.

He told me about it when I went to shake his hand as he was leaving. “I can't do that,” he said.

My face must have registered by puzzlement.

“I can't stand to be touched,” he explained. “By anyone. Had to quit barbering. No one can explain it. I don't even touch my own wife or grandkids. It's been this way a long time now.”

He was able to touch his dog, though, and as he clipped her leash on and headed off to his fifth wheel, he again apologized. “It's nothing personal,” he said. “Believe me, I wish I wasn't like this. You can't imagine what it's like not  to to be able to touch someone.”

He's right.  A I watched him walk away, I thought about the things we take for granted and how we never know the burdens other people carry.

The other dog owner I met this morning had a much happier story. Her name was Andrea and she brought in a mixed breed terrier who ran off playing with Bo as we visited.

Andrea is 35, also from Ohio, and has been traveling solo with her dog for the past three months. She is slim, with dark hair and brown eyes and a ready smile. She travels in 1981 Class C, tows a motorcycle and set off back in August to see as many National Parks as she could. She did the Badlands, spent some time in Sturgis during Bike Week, saw Yellowstone. Glacier. Yosemite. All by herself.

“I found that there are an awful lot of really nice people out there,” she said, when I asked her the most important thing she had learned.

She had no qualms about safety or traveling alone. “I never had a problem. I tried to find my camp spot by dark every night and if something didn't feel right, I just avoided it. It was all good.”

Her return home for the holidays is “bittersweet,” she said. “I'm anxious to see friends and family but I'm kinda sad to have this ending. But then, I'm running low on money so I'll need to do get back to earning some regular money for awhile.”

But I could see that look in her eye that tells me she'll be back out there on the road again soon. “Yeah,”she said. “I really do like this lifestyle.”

I invited her to check out the blog, urged her to listen to the podcast and join our Facebook Group. I can recognize a kindred spirit when I meet one.

Bu 10 AM, Steve, Andrea and Jennifer, Bo and I were on our way again, all of us headed in different directions, joining a stream of other travelers. There are a lot of RVs on the road these days, Snowbirds, it seems, heading south before cold weather sets in.

We'll end up tonight somewhere in Georgia. Wonder who Bo will help me meet next time……