[Editor’s Note: The following is a brief excerpt from the forthcoming book about Tyler and Mabel walking across America. More excerpts will follow in the next few weeks. All excerpts are subject to change, and will likely be about various topics. I chose this one for the first excerpt because Mabel has been ill lately.]
Mabel and I reached a metal bridge over the Patuxent River outside of Bowie, Maryland. The bridge was “paved” with grated metal panels instead of a solid pavement. Mabel and I both could see right through the bridge to the water below us about 40 feet down. The spacing in the grates of the bridge was big enough that Mabel could not walk on it because her little paws might have slipped through. It was not a very big river, but we could not walk across it. There would not likely have been much need for a bridge if we could have walked across the river.
I was pretty sure that Mabel’s paws wouldn’t fall through the grating on the bridge and, once I was sure that crossing the bridge was no physical danger to her, I tried to coax her out onto it. But she would not come out onto the bridge. She stopped at the end of the pavement, where it met the grated bridge, and would move no farther. When I called for her to come out and gave a little tug on the leash, she would raise one paw and move it out over the bridge, but as soon as her paw was over that uncertain bridge, she would pull her paw back to the pavement and shift uneasily between her four paws. She looked down at the water below the bridge and then back at me, then she would try again but again would pull back her paw and shift uneasily. She knew that we were headed across that bridge and she knew that I was definitely heading across the bridge, and she began to whine because she thought I would leave her. Having Mabel with me was a great responsibility.
I walked her back away from the bridge to the edge of the metal guardrail extending from the south side of the bridge. I wrapped her leash around the guardrail and secured it there with a biner so she could neither run away nor run into traffic, and then I walked across the bridge. Mabel began to yip high-pitched, panicked barks as soon as I was maybe three or four steps onto the bridge. It was painful to hear her yipping like that, because she was certain that she had been abandoned there. There is not a person in the world who could have heard that yipping and howling and not broken near to tears by the sound of it, so full of sadness and fear. But there was no choice in the matter, so she went on howling and I went across the bridge. On the other side, I dropped my pack and the walking stick alongside the road and walked back across the bridge. Mabel stopped her ruckus when I was about halfway back over the bridge and instead she stood very erect, tail wagging, and her eyes absolutely fixed on me. She exploded in energy, jumping and pulling at the leash and wagging her tail when I got about 10 feet away from her. I knelt beside her and she nuzzled up against me, licking my face and leaning against me. I unlatched her and lifted her up into the cradle of my arms. She was too big to carry like a baby, but that was the only way to carry her, and as soon as she was up and in my arms she relaxed and looked at the bridge as if she knew exactly what had been going on the whole time. She kept her eyes trained forward as we walked onto the bridge, but about halfway across she scanned over the side and down below the bridge, and then turned to look me in the face. And she looked me in the face all the way across the rest of the bridge. She seemed to be puzzled, relaxed, and happy. I think she knew then that I would never leave her behind.