2022 Vizsla National Specialty: Part 1, Getting There

It was going to be a three day drive: 1,200 miles, and Eggi, Fellow, and me, the only driver, because you know what? Dogs don’t drive. Without them, I could picture maybe, like, I dunno, doing it myself in two days, but, ok, the dogs were the point of the trip. So, a three day drive, with regular stops to smell the grass.

There is also the issue of wanting to be two states away the first night, because you aren’t making progress across this enormous country of wackos if you can’t get two states away from home the first day (sorry, Western/Midwestern America), so I simply had to get through all of Pennsylvania the first day. I don’t make these rules, they just are.

Something I brought plenty of: dog kibble.

Something I should have brought more of: familiar-tasting water from home.

Packing for the dogs: grooming stuff; two crates for riding in the car, two portable crates for sleeping in hotels, two wire crates and crate pads for the show; leashes and collars for walks, slip leashes for agility, show leashes; treats, poop bags, toys.

Packing for me: overnight bag for travel days with sneakers and clothes to compete in agility; two choices of outfits for obedience ring, plus shoes; three choices for conformation ring, plus boots; dress for banquet, plus other boots; raincoat, down vest, sweater, parka. Food, colored pencils, pens.

There used to be things to say about road trips across America. Regional sodas. Billboards for miles exhorting us to See Rock City. Now, we drive thousands of forgettable stretches of highway, following the blue line on the navigation app of the thousand dollar Chinese-made mobile device, hooked up to the car with the special white cord that always frays in the same place, jammed mindlessly on cruise-control between enormous trucks full of toilet paper and game consoles, great long reaches of endless pavement interrupted by exits for towns still named for native tribes long ago chased off the land by whites, but today a couple of streets, some potholes, a few sad but familiar fast food chains, and a drab purveyor of fuel and plastic-wrapped snacks as unmemorable as any other town on the way.

My traveling companions need to visit the rest areas to do their business, and we gain efficiency at every stop. Sometimes other people at the rest areas want to tell me things (my shirt matches my dogs), or ask me things (are they hunting dogs? is he a stud dog?). I walk them one at a time to control the chaos. But I wish I had found time to practice walking them together more, and I wish Fellow wouldn’t try to pee on his own legs or on Eggi. I say things to them about it. You could aim that, I say. Remind me I need to scrub those legs, I say. No one wants you to go there. Ok, good job, thank you for that, let’s go.

They get good at jumping in and out of the back of the big Ford, at waiting to pee until I encourage them to, at pooping every day at around 11 a.m.

The gas in Ohio is a dollar cheaper per gallon than everywhere else.

The dogs are good in the hotels and I didn’t do such a bad job of picking places the first two nights.

On the second day we arrive early enough to look for a park in Beloit, Wisconsin and actually go for a walk. The dogs are wild and hard to keep up with.

Anyplace I wear a mask, I am the only person in a mask. I am relieved to find that people are less likely to talk to me if I am wearing it.

The first day of showing will be agility. I have each dog signed up for three classes, two which count towards their point totals in the Iron Dog, novice standard and novice jumpers with weave (poles), and a third, which is called FAST, an acronym that means something like Fifteen and Send, where you do obstacles for points and have to send to a required element. The FAST event will be held first, and I intend to use it to familiarize the dogs with the venue and the equipment.

Fellow and I went to the Vizsla National Specialty last year, and he and I took an agility class at a big, new, unfamiliar place with strange (endlessly barking) dogs, a different instructor, and regulation mats and equipment for a few weeks in preparation. So, I am pretty confident he will get around the courses ok. He is game. Eggi is a year older, but is more sensitive, and has not had the experience of classes outside the supportive, familiar backyard place where we have been going since she was a puppy. I wanted to take her to the same class as Fellow, but I hadn’t been able to get it organized.

But, anyway, I make it all the way to Minnesota, and it’s still cold and windy at the end of April, and I marvel that I’ve signed myself up for this, and come all this way by myself.

Just One More Errand

Early in the evening between the first breeding and the second, I was sitting in the hotel restaurant eating half of a Kansas City strip steak that I intended to share with the dogs and I jokingly pointed out via text to the Bacon Provider that I could just drive down and see his mom in a quick trip of about 7 hours.

Shortly, we put together a real plan. He would fly down, I could meet him at the airport, and we could drive back together.

I was the big winner, because after driving 900 miles straight through by myself, a second driver made the drive sound easy. Ok, maybe not easy. Easier. So, Friday I did a little shopping (I had left Bedhead Hills without my toiletry bag), packed up my stuff and my sleepy bitch, and checked out. The Bacon Provider’s flight was expected at 9 p.m. in Tampa. 

The question of the trip down to Tampa was Where will We Pee, and the answer was Not Here.

I hit the same trio of delays: traffic, construction, and storms. The storms delayed the Bacon Provider’s flight as well, so in the end, he was an hour and a half late, and I pulled up in front of the airport just as he stepped outside.

From Tampa we hopped down to Sarasota, closer to his mom’s.   We stayed at the Westin, which is next to the Four Seasons, pretends to be almost as nice, and half the price. Currently, the Westin’s rooftop bar is a popular spot, and a sheriff was on the premises, riding the elevator,  both evenings we were there. As Eggi and I looked for something like grass for her to pee on, we witnessed a bar patron berating a parking valet (who barely looked old enough to drive, rattling about in his hotel polo shirt and khaki shorts) for not being willing or able to sell him drugs.

I have been going to Florida irregularly and/or regularly since I was in high school, and some of the nicer parts have been prettied up, so they no longer really look like Florida. The crummy, run-down bits are fewer and probably worse, but the jay-walking guy with no shoes and no belt, holding up his pants with one hand, hopping over some fire ants and disappearing into the bushes by the vacant bait and tackle shop isn’t as sorry a sight as the gently swaying guy in the elevator, cradling a big bag of take-out Red Lobster who smells so strongly of Kahlua you wonder if he’s been bathing in it. 

Despite the catastrophic collapse of a Miami condo, Florida is, at this moment, enjoying a frenzied real estate boom; they’re unmasked, unvaccinated, sunburned, and don’t wanna hear none of your nonsense about climate change, rising seas, ocean acidification, or worsening storms. They want all-cash deals, 20% over asking, and where’s that bartender I need another mojito. It’s ok, though, because it will all be under water by 2061.

It was good to see the Bacon Provider’s mother, anyway. She is dwindling, to be sure, and did not know me, but she said my husband’s name, and laughed some. It seems particularly unfair that someone whose life has been filled with trials, is, at the end, an enormous responsibility to her youngest daughter, who shares the job with a rotating team of carers. We can hope to see her again before the true end. The Bacon Provider hasn’t been able to visit since the pandemic began, and I guess this is another thing returning to normal, if visiting your ailing mother before she goes is ever normal.

For her part, Eggi was pleasant with the nurse, quiet indoors, and discovered lizards in the backyard, and so had a fine experience. To life, Eggi! To life!

We left the next morning hoping to outrun Tropical Storm Elsa, that was swirling into the Gulf of Mexico and preparing to make landfall on our heels.

The day we left Florida was, in fact, the Fourth of July, which is a holiday celebrated by Americans out of doors, with parades, sunburns, barbecues, and fireworks. Any excessive displays of the American flag these days should probably be met with suspicion, and this holiday doubles down with American public drunkenness.

We wanted to stay someplace interesting and break up the next leg before our stop in Virginia, and settled on Charleston, South Carolina, which wasn’t much out of the way. Charleston turns out to be difficult with dogs (there is essentially no grass anywhere in the old, interesting part of town where you might stay). But we had a nice long walk and eventually Eggi peed on a slim handful of weeds growing in an empty gravel church parking lot. 

At dinner a large we were told the hotel restaurant wouldn’t have a table for us at such late notice but in fact we were able to eat early and see a large group of partiers emerge from the elevator where they had been stuck for a good twenty minutes. When the shrieking was over, half left and the other half stayed to get real drunk. 

We soaked our feet and went to bed quite early and did not hear the fireworks at all.

In the morning we hit the road early Eggi even peed in the street like a proper urbanite. As the trip continued, Eggi became more expert with elevators, and could even use the “ding” and the light to predict which doors would open in a bank of elevators. Only once in a week did she try to defend the space from other people getting on.

We hit afternoon traffic coming into DC even though it was a holiday for most people. I guess it was everyone else coming back from the holiday weekend. And, so, another several hour stretch of bumper to bumper stop and go highway miles, and once again it fell during my driving shift. After so many days of this kind of driving, I had a cramp on my right leg. 

Living in Bedhead Hills, which is served by a commuter train to New York City, I can imagine a scenic and relaxing high-speed rail system, with stops in New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Tampa. It could even be based on green technology, and on the 4th of July we could toast to our Independence from fossil fuels.

Road Trip

We left Seattle last Friday afternoon, before the movers were done.  My husband and youngest son stayed behind to supervise and fly out in the morning.  We made it to Spokane in time for a late dinner. The next night we were in Billings, Montana, and the night after that Mitchell, South Dakota.  We stopped for the night in Joliet, Illinois and last of all, Jamestown, New York.

We followed a few rules:
1. Don’t drive more than five hours per driver per day if you’re going for more than a couple of days. Otherwise you will get too tired.  Sleep 8 hours or more at night, without setting alarms or having early wake-up pressures.
2. Get a really engaging audio book, a long one. Unabridged. The good ones are read by the author or someone super talented. We listened to Catch-22, read by Jay O. Sanders. There was a problem with the packaging, so there was glue on many of the disks, which caused skipping, but it almost didn’t matter.  We listened to both of the last two Harry Potter books on long car trips when the kids were younger, and they always made the miles fly by.
3. Eat the best food you can find. Be flexible. Our best meal was at The Pub in Jamestown, New York. It was full of locals watching the Yankees demolish the Indians on TV. We felt conspicuous walking in, but sat down anyway. Our waitress suggested the chicken salad, which was home-made and better than any chicken salad I’ve ever had. Really. 
4. Call ahead to hotels and be honest about how many pets you have and be clear about how big your trailer is. They will help you figure out parking, and they will charge you the minimum pet charge. Staff will also admire your knuckle-headed dogs even when they spazz out in the lobby, and you will sleep better knowing that your knuckle-headed dog who is barking in his sleep is at least not giving you away. 

5. Whenever possible, pets should ride in crates. Schwartz pooped in his within Seattle city limits, before we even made it to the freeway. We cleaned it out and he still screamed for a better part of the first day, but after a dip in the hotel room sink and a night of exploring the hotel room while everyone else slept, he was ready to go the next day. He now goes in his kennel without any trouble at all and only meows en route if we meow at him first. His appetite was off for a few days, but we made sure he had access to plenty of food and water at night and he arrived in the best shape of any of us. 
6. One of my biggest fears was that the dogs would wake up in the night and poop in the hotel room. We had limited ability to walk the dogs at all, and their potty breaks were brief and often alongside a busy street. After a day or two, they were both making one large poop morning and night after only the briefest of walks.  We tried not to leave the dogs in hotel rooms while we ate dinner, in many cases because it was forbidden.  They barked at people in restaurant parking lots, which was never good, but in five nights of hotels, we had no accidents.