Tyler Coulson exited his house one morning to take his dog for a walk. Eight months later, the duo returned. It was anything but an ordinary jaunt for the corporate lawyer and his dog, Mabel. It was a journey.
On March 11, 2011, Tyler and Mabel left Rehoboth Beach, DE, and kept walking until they reached San Diego on Nov. 8. Coulson was far from happy, personally and professionally, the day he put one foot in front of the other. He hoped the walk would help him get to a better place in life. Besides, he always wanted to do something grand, epic, and maybe a bit crazy. Armed with his pooch and a plan, off they went.
“I did not prepare for the walk well at all,” Coulson says. “I basically gained a bunch of weight and walked about five miles a day with a fifty-pound weight vest for a few months. It was all a waste of time. If I were doing it over, I would train differently.”
Mabel was never much of an exercise pooch. A rescue dog, she now loves to walk and run more than anything else in the world. Having entered the lawyer’s life at age one, she recently turned three.
He is calm and self-assured in describing the process of soul searching and reasons for taking the roads less traveled. “To be honest, I think that most people who do something like this are profoundly unhappy — there has to be something missing in your life before you can just pack up in a backpack and go walking,” he reflects.
Like nomads journeying across America, the two camped frequently and stayed with friends — and stayed in hotels far more than originally planned.
At first, the pair followed the American Discovery Trail, but faced inclement weather and lost a lot of time as a result. Once in Ohio, they followed the straightest roads they could find.
“We traveled about 3,500 miles (not all in a straight line) and walked about 3,200 of them,” Coulson recalls. “We had car support in the desert sections, though — a friend of mine lent her car, and another friend of mine came out to the desert and was there in case of emergencies.”
Coulson remembers the bear that entered their camp and destroyed their gear, as well as another time when, attempting to escape winter weather in Utah, dog-loving motorists coaxed them into a ride.
They did encounter rattlesnakes, but most memorable were the people they met along the way. Coulson says, “I guess the most amazing experience of the whole thing was just seeing the broad range of reactions you get from people when you do something so out of the ordinary — we saw the best and the worst in people, and I learned a lot from that.”
Coulson admits loving dogs since a young age, but he considers Mabel his friend and teammate and not a pet anymore.
Some people they met ended up being very good friends, including one man who allowed the duo to stay in a storage shed behind his house in Delaware.
At the mercy of the elements, Coulson and Mabel saw and felt it all: rain and cold, extreme heat and storms. “As much as possible I was careful with the weather, because dogs are not as adaptable as people,” he says. “Like in Iowa and Nebraska when it was so hot — I probably could have walked most of those days, drunk a lot of water, and been fine so long as I had a wide-brimmed hat, but Mabel couldn’t do that.”
Would he do it again? Yes and no, Coulson says. If he did, it would be for speed, so he would not bring Mabel. However, he is certain he would not have finished this walk without his trusty canine companion.
Coulson has finished a book about the journey, By Men or By the Earth, with 10 percent of the book sales until December 31 going to no-kill animal shelters. The book recalls what led to the walk and how it affected Coulson. He calls it a “tremendously personal book: pretty raw and honest.” He wants to help dogs in need.
Thinking of taking a walk and not coming back for a while, trusty canine pal by your side? “Be very careful before you do something grand and crazy like I did,” Coulson says. “The payoff for something like this is, on a personal level, just so vast that you can’t imagine it … but the costs are pretty high, too.”
Most folks cannot risk their whole lives and financial well-being to take off like this, so he advises you to think ahead, especially if you work behind a desk. “I’d say just try your best to get out there on the weekends with friends or family, get active, get moving, see some great stuff, and try to be good to people.”
Walk on, Tyler and Mabel, walk on.
What’s the most daring and off-the-beaten-path thing you’ve done with your dog? Would you take a long walk like this with your pooch? Let us know in the comments!