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Travels With Albie

Reflections on a Steinbeck-inspired road trip with an unforgettable dog

By: Peter Zheutlin

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Illustration by Sophie Casson

Five years ago, I persuaded my best friend Albie to take a road trip with me. We left Boston on a cool mid-April day, dipped our toes in the Pacific at Half Moon Bay, California in mid-May, and arrived home on Memorial Day weekend, 9,200 miles later, having touched 30 states during our journey.

Actually, Albie didn’t need much persuading, he just hopped in the car, and off we went for Albie, you see, was a Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever mix we’d rescued from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana in 2012. It’s not hyperbole to say Albie was the love of my life and since he died on New Year’s Eve of 2020 the grief has abated only slightly, and that’s okay. I don’t want to be over Albie because the grief is a testament to the love we shared for eight brief years. It connects me to him still.

By the vet’s reckoning, Albie was about three when he arrived in our home, tentative and shy, sleeping for the first few weeks under the coffee table in the living room, unwilling to venture upstairs even when we retired for the night. Albie would be the first of four rescue dogs, all from Louisiana, we’ve adopted since 2012, but I was, at first, a reluctant adopter, succumbing only after many years to the pleas of my wife Judy. When I finally relented, I set only one condition: that we would not share our bed with the dog.



A few weeks after he arrived in our home, I was headed to our bedroom and noticed Albie wasn’t in his usual spot under the coffee table. I called him, but there was no reply. I went upstairs, turned the corner into the bedroom, and there on the bed looking plaintive but utterly adorable was Albie. He was, I realized, telling us he was home now and that we were his family. One look in his eyes and I knew I would never, ever kick him out of bed.

By the spring of 2018 when we left on our cross-country adventure, I was just a few months away from signing up for Medicare, and Albie, because dogs age faster than humans, had caught up with me. He, too, was in late middle age or, perhaps more accurately, on the cusp of old age. Earlier that year I’d re-read Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck’s classic about traveling the country with his French poodle Charley. Steinbeck, approaching 60, was feeling his age and fearing he’d lost touch with the country he wrote about with such brilliance. With the sand in my own hourglass running out, I figured it was a good time to find out if America was still a country for old men, Albie and me.

''It’s not hyperbole to say Albie was the love of my life and since he died on New Year’s Eve of 2020 the grief has abated only slightly, and that’s okay.''

Much has been said about the intense bonds we form with our dogs and much of it is true. They are non-judgmental companions. Our relationships with them are less fraught and far simpler than our human relationships, even with the people we love. And they will travel 9,200 miles with you and never complain about your driving. But there is more to it. I loved Albie intensely and over the course of his lifetime spent countless hours speaking to him and gazing into his eyes, a gaze he faithfully returned. I grew convinced that Albie (and perhaps every other dog) knew some elusive secret about happiness and the meaning of life, but he was unable to tell me. I suspect it had something to do with living in the moment as dogs do.

As 2020—the year the world slipped into a deadly pandemic—wore on, it was hard to imagine things getting much worse, but they did when Albie’s health started to fail that autumn. I keep his name tag taped in my wallet and I’ve told Judy that when the sand in my hourglass does finally run out, I want my ashes and Albie’s scattered to the wind together. 

*Peter Zheutlin is the author of nine books, including The Dog Went Over the Mountain: Travels with Albie, winner of the Lowell Thomas Award (silver) for Best Travel Book, 2019-20.

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!

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By: Peter Zheutlin
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