Rachel & Nova’s Adoption Anniversary: Backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail

Rachel & Nova’s Adoption Anniversary: Backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail

  • Erin Swanson

Ruffwear's very own Rachel Jurgensen shares the journey of how she and her dog, Nova, celebrated the 4-year-anniversary of Nova's adoption by backpacking to and from the place where they first met – Odell Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Our lives came together on a windy day in July. I’ll always remember how small she was, this little puppy being scooped out of a truck. She came from Northern California, part of a litter surrendered to the local humane society. After months and months of searching for a new companion, I had all but given up when I stumbled upon the posting online and decided to inquire.

A woman holds her new puppy on a dock by a lake.

I was still deeply aching with grief over the loss of my soul dog, Skyla, who had passed away the year prior. She had been my partner in exploration for 11 years. When we moved to Central Oregon, our camp and hike lifestyle really elevated, quite literally, since our time in the Midwest and the South. Not a day went by where we weren’t craving for a trail up a volcano, down a river, or deep into the forest. The landscape provided us endless variations to dream of.

So when she was diagnosed with dreaded bone cancer and underwent a leg amputation, my hopes for further exploration together came to an unexpected halt. We had so much left to experience, it seemed. She left my side after a brief and courageous battle. Just like that, I lost my way until another set of paws came around and echoed my own once again.

A close-up photo of a Rottweiler-mix puppy's face.

We weren’t necessarily looking for a young pup, but I had grown weary from searching. Her early beginnings were so reminiscent of Skyla’s – both Rottweiler mixes, both accidents, both 10-weeks-old and from a litter of 10. I took comfort in the subtle signs that perhaps this was the next chapter I was meant to seek.

With most of her littermates being transferred to another shelter in Oregon, we were able to pick her up at their halfway point, which happened to be Odell Lake. This sky blue giant is stunning, spanning 6 miles long here in the Cascades range.

Holding her for the first time brought a rush over me. She was shaking, unsure of what was happening and who we were. It was clear we would need to win her trust and build her confidence in the days ahead. We chose the name Nova, which means “new.” It is also an astronomical term given to bright stars that appear suddenly in the sky and release powerful energy, incredibly fitting for what she symbolized.

A dog sits on a boat dock by a lake.

As she grew, so did my aching heart. I admittedly fell hard and fast for her antics and sense of wonder. She really brought the color back into my world in a way that only a dog can.

While much time has passed and countless adventures have been shared between the two of us, I had this desire grow to honor the significance of that place where our connection first began. Researching the Pacific Crest Trail sparked my curiosity when I noticed it runs right past Odell Lake. Backpacking to and from this waypoint seemed to be the perfect way to spend the 4-year anniversary of that day.

We set out towards nearby Diamond Peak, packs full and spirits high. Shortly into the hike, the sounds of cars on Willamette Pass dissipated and we came upon a high point overlooking the impressive lake, shimmering its radiant blue below.

A dog wearing a Ruffwear pack stands on a trail and looks out at a lake and mountains.

Carrying on, we set deeper into old growth forest and found our rhythm. The busy thoughts of everyday life quieted and I was able to enjoy the present, her leading the charge and me trusting her guidance. Our destination was the meadow below Diamond Peak, an 8700 foot volcano in the Cascade range.

Late snowfall made our trek increasingly difficult, so we opted to stay at lower elevation. This was hardly a sacrifice, as we found a lovely alpine lake to set up camp and spend the rest of the day.

A dog holds a stick in her mouth and plays by a lake.

I felt fully free to take in the simple pleasures, like the sun gracing my face and the mountain heather blooming a lovely pink with bee visitors aplenty. We even had an elusive pine marten spy on us from a nearby snag, curious and skeptical of our presence.

While I was happy to sit and relax with my feet up, Nova much prefered to entertain with her relentless attempts to play. Life for her is all about swimming, fetching, and rolling in the dirt, preferably all at the same time. Even though it was just us out there, one could hardly feel alone with this constant companionship. The only way to express my appreciation for that was to throw the frisbee for the hundredth time … and then again. And again.

A dog holds a Ruffwear Camp Flyer™ toy in her mouth at a campsite.

Time slipped by as darkness fell and the soft breeze graced the treetops. A pair of ducks gracefully paddled their way around the lake, mesmerizing to watch until we could see no more. Turning in for the evening, we nestled up together in our snug one-person tent. She sighed with tiredness from a day well spent and with that, my heart was full as we drifted off to sleep.

Morning was my time to reflect and her time to revisit the scents she had missed from the night. My thoughts wandered back to all the experiences I’ve been grateful to have with a dog by my side. The pawprints I follow that break trails through the snow in the winter and kick up the dust in the summer have been left by different companions over the years.

A woman poses with her dog by a hiking trail sign.

What hasn’t changed is why we love it so much. It provides a break from the everyday and a connection to the outdoors – to each other. Life becomes about putting one step in front of the other, setting up camp, and settling in for some “good” camp food and coffee.

Nonetheless, I’ll occasionally find myself wondering why we do it. It’s usually when the weather turns, and I’m restlessly hot or cold or wet or windblown. It’s when my feet blister and throb. It’s when I find out the summit is a false summit – for the third time. It’s when I didn’t pack anything I really needed despite feeling like I’d packed for eternity. Even more often, it’s when my mind hasn’t fully left behind the responsibilities of regular life. I begin to think how silly it is when we could just be in the comforts of home.

A dog swims in an alpine lake while on a camping trip with her human.

Those moments are brief, because the answer is always right there. It’s in the quiet of the morning all cozied up, it’s in the sound of a campfire, or the water, or the breeze. It’s in the dust storm dogs stir up when they can’t get close enough to the earth. When that grounding happens, a sense of calm washes over, and I instead start to dream up the next camp or hike adventure for us to take on.

After trekking our way back out, we were in no hurry to say goodbye to our beloved Odell Lake. We closed out our time together with one last dip in the water for Nova and a photo on the very dock I first held her in my arms. Revisiting this waypoint solidified the importance of pausing once in a while to honor new beginnings and our collective journey. We will be out here, carving out more so our connection can live on forever in these wild places.

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