real talk: why i got a dog

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Freddie Mercury in Big Sky, Montana.

I wake up every day, completely aware that I exist. Sounds so simple, so obvious, but it’s not really. I often feel so much pressure to make the most of each day I’m given, it’s difficult to relax. When it’s beautiful outside, I feel guilty for being inside. When it’s crappy outside, guilt chides me for making excuses for being inside. If I’m inside anyway, guilt burns a hole in the back of my head if I’m not working or writing or making something or doing something productive. I’m overly cognizant I’m alive and healthy and that could change any minute. I’ve seen it change in less. How can I sit around, how can I stop, when there are so many things I want to do, places I want to go, experiences I want to experience? I mean…it’s exhausting.

And especially unfortunate considering how much I love a good Netflix series binge, reading a book cover-to-cover in a single day, or just wandering aimlessly through my house, gazing at stuff. Almost everything I own has a story to tell; which is probably why I still own it.

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Multi-tasking

The mere existence of social media makes the guilt hungry. I’m hyperaware of all those successfully pulling off their dream adventure lifestyle; whether it’s mostly real or mostly an illusion, that’s a question for them. We live in a world of Twitter fandom, Instagram idols and YouTube sensations, many of whose sole job is to live and document their awesome lives, not to say that doesn’t come with its own challenges. It’s difficult not to notice these icons if you partake in social media at all, these constant reminders of the life you could be living. There’s something for everyone: van life, yogi life, mountain yogi life, people-who-adopt-pets-with-special-needs life, people-who-mimic-celebrity-photos life, dirtbag life, thru-hiker life, vegan life, tiny home life. I mean, pets have their own accounts and 9 outta 10 could probably enjoy an early retirement. If there’s a niche, there’s someone out there benefitting from our incessant need to consume it. No niche? That’s cool, just create one, sit back, and wait for the fan tweets to pour in.

Or, more realistically, don’t.

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Freddie’s headshot to audition for a White Walker role on Game of Thrones. We’re going places, people.

Because most of us aren’t able (or don’t want) to pull off that lifestyle, and never will, even if we try uber hard to do so. Even if it looks so easy. Errybody wannabe famous, get noticed, be seen as somebody, often without really having much to offer in exchange at all. We’re all photographers, writers, comedians, adventurers. The internet is saturated with shit, and everyone seems keen on taking a dump into an already overflowing toilet. I had small window of opportunity while hiking the AT to capitalize on internet fame, but I took one look at that toilet, and just couldn’t. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be had I made more effort (likely exactly where I am). Now I just have a bunch of Instagram followers, most of whom are bots, and the rest who don’t know me or care to, yet love to get upset with me for: eating meat, talking real talk, posting too many pictures of my dog, being able to thru-hike, being the me I’ve always been and not the me they want me to be. You name it, someone hates it; as if my personal social media presence is solely there to please them, whoever they are. Internet fame isn’t my answer, anyway.

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Mountains look good on him. Big Sky, Montana

Since I discovered there was more to being alive than school and work, I’ve been littering the years with micro-adventures; a series of journeys strung together, with regular life in between, a regular life I enjoyed. Extended weekends snowboarding in the mountains, long cycle trips on Wisconsin’s country roads, train rides south and road trips north. Cabin nights with friends and holidays abroad. Some lasting moments, some days.

But after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2015, everything “else” seemed somehow…smaller. I felt this nagging feeling creep in, telling me if I wasn’t doing something awesome, I was somehow letting myself down, not taking advantage of life the way I should be. I found myself just waiting for my next Big Adventure. Sometimes you’ll hear people refer to thru-hiking as a disease. Maybe this is what they mean. Because after the PCT, it got worse. I began neglecting the simple moments in life, moments I used to thrive on, in constant search of the grandiose. And that search was draining all the goodness from life and filling it with this poison called anxiety.

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Simple moments like being out of the car after driving to Montana from Wisconsin. Freddie gets it.

I needed to change my perspective, change my life in a big way. So I created a step-by-step guide on how to get my train back on track:

Step 1. Get a dog

There are no further steps.

I’ll be the first to tell you, it’s unfair and selfish to have a child to fix your life, so I feel a bit like a hypocrite right now, but may I remind you, Freddie needed saving too. (And ya, I know, he’s a dog, thanks.)

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Me and Freddie on adoption day, January 7, 2018. I’m so happy, I don’t recognize myself.

A lot of questions raced through my mind when adopting Freddie Mercury became a real thing. Shit, am I even ready to be a dog mom? (More than I ever knew.) Who will watch him when I travel for work? (It takes a village. Thank you, village, particularly one villager.) Will he eat the cats? (He will try.) Will he live up to his name? (Farrokh Bulsara aka Frederick “Freddie” Mercury would be very proud. And yes, when people look at me blankly after I state his name, I stare blankly back, immediately judging them.) Will I turn into one of those people who buys costumes for their dog? (Pshhh. Never.)

But one thing I didn’t mentally address, even though I could see it poking through all the fluffy questions, was what making Freddie Mercury part of my family really signified: The Tosh Tornado would have to find another method of travel.

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Us tornadoes like to stick together. Freddie in Big Sky, Montana

No more flying by the seat of my pants, spontaneous flight purchases, quitting my job and escaping to the Arctic (though I will always come back to you, Lapland). No more unplanned extended absences from home, accepting every invitation from every friend for every birthday, wedding and child birth. I’ve always been the person to show up, mostly because there was never a reason not to. And I love being that person. But…

I struggle with the overwhelming Menu of Life, always have. Endless pools of options mess with my mind hardcore, and my life had sort of become this bottomless pool of random mismatched opportunities. Nothing seemed to fit quite right. And I was drowning. I could do anything. I had the time, the money, the freedom, but I had lost some of my will. Writing that last sentence makes me feel like I’m complaining about having too many chips, and you can never have too many chips, but I needed…more. Structure? Responsibility? Actual chips? I don’t know. More something.

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Probably more mountains. The answer is always more mountains. Walking the cat track in Big Sky.

And Freddie gave me more. He brought focus to my menu of life, guiding my experiences to the Things You Can Do With Dogs section. For the most part, if Freddie can’t, I can’t now either. The menu became manageable. He opened doors by shutting so many others. I no longer feel guilty being inside, because I’m reading curled up next to a dog chasing bunnies in his dreams. (Freddie and I really bonded over our shared desire to make all the bunnies run in fear.) He means more weekends at home, more routine, more stability. I never thought I’d admit this to myself, and especially not to others, but I’m ready. It had become tiresome and lonely, all the running from place to place, feeling a bit more empty after every adventure.

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You’d run too, if a giant black wolf were chasing you. Photo: S Knurr

At the risk of sounding super cheesy, Freddie brings that great adventure to my every day. Actually, screw that, there’s nothing cheesy about loving a dog. Or maybe it’s all cheesy. Or maybe it’s the right amount of cheese. Whatever, who cares, it’s cheese and it’s delicious. No more pressure to live big, no more nagging guilt simply for living a relatively “normal” life, because it’s not just about me anymore. Of course, I write this two days after taking a 2500 mile road trip out to Big Sky for a week of mountains and snowboarding with my new adventure dog.

The adventures won’t stop. They’ll just be…different. I don’t need to constantly seek The Great to feel extraordinary. Freddie Mercury makes me feel pretty damn special every day, and that’s enough for me.

Now that was cheesy.

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❤ Photo: S Knurr

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