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Chapter Thirty Five: Falling in Love Again

The first steps into the wild were weighed down with backpacks. I cinched Ruger’s pack down on his back as Chelsea and I prepared to step onto the trail. We headed through mountain meadows and up forested hills. The hours passed as we saw the wonders hidden away for those who are willing to leave the comforts of civilizations and perfectly paved roads. We hiked over waterfalls and bedded down that night by a glacial lake. I went to sleep happier than I’d been in a long time.

The hunger for the hunt and for the lonely places, and the need to prepare for battle was building every day. The discontentment I felt with my life had never been higher. I was eager to come and put my skills and training to the test. I’d spent months preparing for that trip, carefully researching and selecting every piece of equipment and taking the time to make sure they were the best.

That first night we slept in a single-walled tent used for expeditions up Everest. It was small and lightweight, just big enough for the two of us. As we prepared to go to bed, the temperature plummeted to well below freezing, and Chelsea insisted we bring Ruger in from the cold. Relenting, I brought him into the tent where he bedded down at our feet. For a moment frozen in time, I felt complete.

My wife was lying next to me bundled up in wool and down feathers I’d helped to supply. I smelled mountain chamomile and wood smoke in the air. I could taste the fresh meal I’d carried up the mountainside. The perpetual restlessness in my soul, which had bid me to be ready to flee, escape, and evade, faded and I was free for a moment from its shackles and confines.

The air was crisp the next morning, and promises of peace washed down with every breath. I had my favorite customized pistol and tools for mountain expeditions strapped to my chest, and my backpack was loaded up. I looked over to see my wife smiling and my dog sniffing out chipmunks just beyond my reach. Ruger was loyal, and though he was off leash, he never wandered. He was happier on the trail than at any other time.

Soon Chelsea and I realized this was the place we wanted to be. We wanted to get up to the mountains and explore the wonders waiting on the trails. What was waiting back in civilization was frustration, but Ruger helped to provide me an outlet, ensuring I would survive the months to come.

Each week I would go to work, and as soon as possible, I would head home, throw on our packs, and head off to hike. I could be me on the trails within just minutes. Out there I didn’t have to hide the skills I’d learned or the tools of the trade. Out on the way of the wild, I was free to carry my pistols to fend off bears and show off my blades. I could carve notches in branches, feather sticks for tinder, and help my wife build a temporary shelter against the wind and rain. I could start fires with flint and steel, and teach others to do the same. In the wild, I could hunt for the perfect spot to spend the night and not have to think about the dreams: the hauntings of memories clawing their way through my soul.

Nate may have dated and fallen in love with Chelsea by taking her to spots in the city. But Nathan and the rest of us fell in love with her in the flowery meadows ten thousand feet above sea level and running from Bigfoot spirit creatures down back country trails. I found my joy renewed in the places where I could pick through patches of wild raspberries and find springs of fresh water bubbling out of rocks.

It was the summer after we got Ruger that Chelsea and I bonded for the first time. While I pumped water through a filter from a glacial stream, I saw in her what I am sure Nate saw in her too. I saw in her a woman who loved me even as I was. I saw in her a treasure and a delight. I saw her as she could be when freed from the shackles of her job and mundane Monday through Friday life. It was in that tiny tent with Ruger sleeping at our feet where we talked and listened and once again became one. Ruger was always there no matter where we went, except for the time a black bear approached our tent. He barked and growled to warn me, but then he hid by his momma while I went gleefully stalking into my familiar darkness with a flashlight and pistol to chase it off. That dog grew to be my best friend. He helped me remember that the joys in this life are still possible.

Over the next few years, Chelsea, Ruger, and I hiked hundreds of miles. When the winters set in, Ruger and I would explore the thousands of acres of trails along The Front Range, giving us a taste of the freedom we longed for day and night. While the horrors of my past and present began to scream to the front of my mind, Ruger was who I grabbed, and we’d head to the mountains for an appointment with The Creator of our hiding place. Ruger would sit at my side while I wrote in my journal, wept, and screamed out the insanities that had happened to me. He would sit on the rock next to me as I overlooked valleys that stretched out for miles, begging The Father to restore the broken one I’d become.

Ruger was fiercely loyal, but he was not whole. The damage to his hip from the days in the Bahamas was severe. Soon it became evident that the dysplasia he had on his joint had gotten worse. Within just three years of his arrival, his hip was nearly shot. The hikes became shorter and fewer in number. We took to calling him Chicken Wing after the goofy way he learned to move.

As time went on, the pain he was in became more evident, and he could only manage one or two walks a week. The restless energy he had drove him to misbehave, and soon my ideal companion dog lost his honed edge. But before he lost it entirely, Ruger would save Naomi’s and my life, and remind me why one must trust and obey The Father no matter what He says.

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