The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
THE ULTIMATE AMERICAN ROAD TRIP
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Eugene, Oregon

I came to Eugene because my awning was broken and Sutton RV was the closest Airstream dealer in the Pacific Northwest that could fix it. I figured I would stay a week, then head north to Port Townsend, Washington. But it was so beautiful here that I decided to stay an entire month. The weather was much warmer and sunnier than Washington at this time of year, and the Willamette Valley and surrounding hills were just so green and beautiful! Deerwood RV park turned out to be a very nice place to stay and it was a great spot for Riley, too, because the trails and river of Mount Pisgah were just around the corner.

MOUNT PISGAH, THE ARBORETUM AND BUFORD RECREATION AREA
I'd drive 25 mph on the Seavey Loop, a quiet pastoral country road, so Riley could stick his head out the window and enjoy the ride, the smells, and the view. He loved it. It was just a couple of miles to Mount Pisgah, where there was an arboretum with miles of easy trails through forest, meadow, or riverside. There are even more trails that wrap around the whole mountain and its peak, so there is no lack of interesting hiking or meandering here. It was always the perfect springtime afternoon treat for Riley and me. We hiked to the peak a couple times, but his favorite trail, of course, was the one that followed the river and ended at a small beach for swimming. I often like to let him pick the trails we walk, and swimming was always on his agenda. You have to pay to park here, so I got a Lane County parking pass so that we could be here everyday, hassle-free.

 

CYCLING!
The next great Eugene discovery was the network of bicycle trails that covers the entire city and follows both banks of the Willamette River. There are miles and miles of dedicated, paved bicycle/walking/hiking/rollerblading paths in the city and along the river. You can easily ride from one end of town to the other and not have to ride on a busy road, but if you ARE on a busy road - it's probably got a nice wide bike lane. It's just wonderful. I could ride the Seavey Loop Rd. from my campsite to downtown and ride a good 20-25 miles right along the river. Beautiful. Loved it.


GOOD EATING, GOOD LIVING
Eugene is in the southern end of the Wilamette valley which is an agricultural mecca. It is filled with farms, orchards, vineyards and wineries and surrounded by rolling green hills and mountains. There is no lack of good food or good outside living here. Vegetarians and foodies delight in the abundance of good restaurants, grocery stores and a Saturday market that offers fresh, organic, local foods (as well as all sorts of handcrafted items). Though I am not a vegetarian (yet), I found a little piece of paradise in the Pizza Research Institute - a pizzaria that serves all fresh organic and vegetarian - and always delicious! Papa's Soul Food, Off the Waffle, and Cornucopia also serve up delicious good stuff. Eugene has a very laid-back attitude that stokes a creative atmosphere and promotes good, healthy living. Good good stuff here in this town.

 

SILVER FALLS STATE PARK
About an hour and a half drive northeast from Eugene, Silver Falls State Park is deep in the countryside and I enjoyed a beautiful back-country drive through pasture and rolliing hills to get here. The main attraction is the Trail of Ten Falls/Canyon trail, and there are no dogs allowed on it. Luckily I did my homework and left ol' Riley at home to sleep on his comfy bed. This single trail, in its entirety passes by, or directly behind, ten big waterfalls. It's 8.7 miles long, with options for 5.6 or 2 miles. Geologically, this is a particularly interesting park because of the layers of lava flow that are visible in the earth behind the falls. Millions of years ago, this area was entirely covered with at least eight distinctively separate lava flows. Now the area has recovered, but it's certainly sparked a thing I hadn't considered - the potential devastating impact of the volcanos here in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

 

BONUS TIME WITH RILEY
One night after I shared a delicious bacon-blue cheese burger from Cornucopia with Riley, he got sick. He was throwing up and had diarrhea, and he was barely eating and drinking. In the past, this was usually a sign of something he ate that didn't agree with him and he would recover in a day or two. On the third day, however, his condition got much worse, and he was in obvious pain. He was moaning and did not want to move. In all my years of living with this dog, he has never acted like this. I watched him for awhile, trying to find ways to comfort him and find out what was wrong, then decided to take him to a vet immediately.

Not having any local recommendations, I went to the Emergency Vet in Springfield, on Q Street. They took Riley in the back to sedate him and take x-rays. I waited for an excruciatingly long time in the front room without any word on his condition. Finally, the doctor brought him out to me. Riley was visibly distressed and over-sedated. The X-rays showed a large mass invading his abdominal area. They told me it was most likely a spleen mass, but that he needed more x-rays, an ultrasound, and surgery. Only when he was on the operating room table would they be able to determine if this mass was cancerous, and then I would have to decide whether to send him to heaven or stitch him up and bring him home. It seemed awfully extreme to me. There was no mention that maybe he just ate something that didn't agree with him. They were certain that this mass was going to take his life quickly and that he needed to stay there overnight to continue with the tests and have surgery as soon as possible. They told me this and then handed me a piece of paper with an estimate of $2500.

Riley was stressed. I was a mess, and I knew Riley just wanted to go home and be in his bed. The vet was pressuring me to make a decision quickly, and Riley was having trouble standing up, but would not lay down and relax in the examination room. So I brought him into the car and stayed with him there - a familiar place of comfort for him. He relaxed immediately and layed his head in my lap. I struggled with the decision of what the best thing for him was. In my heart, I knew he just wanted to go home, but the doctors were saying it would be best for him to stay there. Their manner did not put me at ease and Riley made it very apparent that he didn't like it there. Not only that, they said he would have to stay the entire night for the tests because they would have to "fit him in" around the stream of other emergency patients that would come in. So essentially, in his time of need, he would be stuck in a cold cage and abandoned in this unfriendly place while he waited to be poked and prodded. It occurred to me that I might not even see him again in the morning. No way.

I brought him home where he could at least sleep in his bed and feel safe and cared for. I gave him pain meds and kept a vigil that night, sleeping next to him. He didn't sleep too well, but he rested and the next day he ate and drank and I felt like he was going to be all right. Each day he showed signs of improvement and after three days, he seemed good as new - his own bouncy, smiley self. Yay! I stopped giving him his dry dog food and started making meals of boiled chicken and rice or ground beef and rice. I tried to pretend the x-rays were wrong but knew that mass would probably get the best of him sooner or later, hopefully much later.

I had decided not to put him through anymore surgeries, so that meant no more tests too. He had already had a number of surgeries to remove lumps, some of which were cancerous. Even with those removed, you couldn't put your hand on his body without still feeling a handful of lumps. Most of them were probably just fatty tumors, but it was impossible to have them all tested. This surgery was too iffy too. As much as I didn't want to believe it (because he didn't act like it), he was an elderly dog. This was major invasive surgery, and the odds were that cancer was indeed attacking his internal organs. The prospect of saying goodbye to him on the operating table did not feel right and I did not want his final days to be recovering from painful surgery or going through chemo. Surgery was never much fun for him, and he really hated being at the vet's. He loved home and his bed and I wanted him to be in a place of love and comfort.

So I made every day fun for him and I never left him alone except for trips to the grocery store. These days were all about Riley. We went for beautiful walks at Mount Pisgah and Dorris Ranch, limiting the driving to slow, easy roads so he could stick his head out the window. Some days he felt really good - he ran around like his own puppy self. Other days he was lethargic and low-energy, so we stayed at home. He was definately slowing down, but he was eating and drinking. His eyes were bright and he was still bouncy and smiling that big silly smile of his. I thought for sure that mass we saw in the x-rays would just hang out for a couple more years and not cause him anymore pain and suffering, certainly not take his life anytime soon. Still, every evening I couldn't help but wonder if my best pal would make it through the night, and every morning I'd see that he was still with me and we'd have another day to celebrate together.

 

RILEY AND I GO OUR SEPARATE WAYS
We had a good two weeks of bonus time together before the symptoms came back on a Friday night. This time I decided to take him to McKenzie Animal Hospital for hospice advice and more painkillers. McKenzie was recommended to me by Cindy, a kind and generous soul who offered her help at the previous emergency vet visit and who quickly became a friend. I called McKenzie Saturday morning and they were able to see us right away. Dr. Boyle sat on the floor with Riley and I for an hour just petting him and talking about how to help him be most comfortable. I took home some FortiFlora and canned Hill's Prescription Diet i/d to help his digestive system, and a supply of Tramadol for pain. I hoped this would help him through this rough spot, and in a few days he'd be feeling much better, like before.

But he didn't get better this time. I gave him the regular dose of Tramadol to manage his pain, but he continued to decline over the weekend. When Monday afternoon came around, I started to really understand that he was probably not going to get better, and that his pain would only get worse. His breathing had become very shallow, he was very weak, and it took every bit of everything he had to first stand up and then attempt to negotiate the two steps to get outside. Once he was up, he could only take a couple steps at a time and I could see that it was extremely painful for him to move. Up until that afternoon I could not bear the idea of making a life or death decision for him...I didn't even want to think about it...but I now saw that Riley might eventually need help to end the painful ordeal that his body was putting him through. I called Dr. Boyle for more advice and inquired about having her come to the trailer if Riley needed her help. I made an appointment for her to come in the morning, hoping that either Riley would miraculously get better, or he would make the transition on his own.

That night I talked with him and held him in my arms all night. His condition had become much worse and the regular dose of Tramadol was not enough anymore, so I kept him carefully dosed to the max and at 1:00 am decided I needed to sleep. I slept for four hours right next to him, and woke up at 5 in the morning with Riley still hanging on. The pain meds must have been helping him, but I felt terrible that he was still suffering and had suffered through the night. He was still having a very difficult time breathing. I opened the door and the morning greeted us with a gentle spring rain and chirping birds. I kept it open so he could feel free to go outside if he wanted to, but he didn't have the strength to move, let alone stand up anymore. I told him that Dr. Boyle was coming soon and that she was going to help him feel much much better, but that it was okay for him to go on his own and to not be afraid. We laid there for those hours in front of the open door with my arms around him and petting him, my face nuzzled in his, while I talked and remembered with him before Dr. Boyle came and helped him make the transition.

My neighbors at Deerwood knew what was happening and were all very supportive. Bonnie, especially. Thank God for Bonnie and her little dog Razzle! There is no question in my mind that Bonnie was there in that park for a reason. She had been through this many times with her own beloved dogs and was there with me and Riley every step of the way. An angel, for sure. Thank you so very very much, Bonnie for being there with us. And thanks to Razzle too for that sweet, comic moment that Tuesday morning when she popped up on her hind legs to see where the voice came from inside the trailer and so startled Riley that his ears perked up and he actually lifted his head in wonder at the site of the little pop-up dog. I was also truly amazed at how my neighbors, who I barely knew, not only offered their heart-felt condolences and support, but also cried along with me, remembering their own special pals that they had lost.

I am also so thankful to all my friends and family who talked with me on the phone during those hours and days when it was the most difficult. As one very good friend put it: "...those companions that you have are as important to you as air and water. You had a family that would faithfully unquestioningly follow you, and now you are one short." So very true. Thank you all for the support and understanding. I feel very fortunate that most people around me understood the depth of the bond you can have with an animal pal and it was tremendously valuable to have those shoulders to cry on. I didn't just lose my dog. I lost a soul-mate, best friend and sidekick. He was pure love.

I thought for sure we had some years left to enjoy together. On this trip particularly, he was my constant companion for hiking new trails, exploring new cities, enjoying lunch at outdoor cafes, or hunting for photo opps. As one person said to me, upon seeing us on a trail once: "A dog and a camera...what else do you need?" Exactly my sentiments. We shared some really good times and he went places not many dogs get to go. He experienced grand vistas, smelled new smells, swam in some of the most beautiful crystal-clear waters, discovered and chased new critters, made new friends, and ate tasty new foods. But best of all, we were able to spend practically every minute of every day together. I am so thankful and lucky to have had him by my side for almost twelve years. He was a gift of joy to the people he met in this world, and everywhere he went he left a trail of smiles. What an honor it was for me to have been his guardian. I will miss him deeply.

Riley the dog
August 12, 1997 - April 28, 2009
(with me at Indian Sands, Brookings, Oregon)

Thanks for the smiles, the love and the joy, Riley. You were the best copilot ever.

 

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