Total Miles: 430.5
Top of Goaskinvárri – July 15, 2016
I stopped to stare at the the stream for a moment to plot a course across the rocks, then felt a nudge on the back of my pack.
“Theodore Jones, if you nudge me again we are going to have a problem,” I said.
Theodore looked at me and huffed.
“Well go ahead and lead if you want to lead,” I said. “But stop nudging me.”
When the trail widened, Theodore shoved past me to take the front and I followed him for a bit until he took a wrong turn. I shook my head and kept walking down the trail, irritated that he was faster than me. He shoved past me again to get back in front. He raced ahead and lost the trail again, disappeared into the trees for a moment, then came crashing back to the front as soon as he realized his mistake. He turned and looked at me for a moment before continuing on.
Theodore Jones is a reindeer.
He probably has a name, but since I didn’t know it and needed something to call him after calling him “hey reindeer” and “crazy” for two hours, I decided to call him Theodore Jones. Theodore after Teddy Roosevelt, who would have shot him like I wanted to do every time he came barreling past me. And Jones just because I liked the sound of it.
I first met him coming out of Kautokeino. I’d spent half the day resupplying and recharging batteries, but wanted to walk a bit to cut into the long stretch of trail coming over the next week. When the trail seemed to lead me through someone’s backyard at the end of a road, I stopped to ask for directions and there was Theodore Jones, lounging around and curious.
I took his picture and thought that was the end of it until an hour later when he came crashing though the woods behind me and scared me half to death. Tired of a life of ease, he had done what many have threatened but none ever do, quit it all and join the trip.
I told him no at first, because this is a solo adventure and I didn’t want to become an accidental reindeer rustler, but Theodore Jones was not one to be dissuaded. I could yell, rattle my sticks, stomp the ground, and shoo him away all I wanted to, but he could ignore it all the same and keep right on walking.
“You can’t have any of my food,” I said.
He looked at me and munched on some poor plant.
“And you’re on your own for sleeping arrangements,” I said. “Tent only fits one.”
He didn’t flinch.
“And I walk all day,” I said.
He almost laughed.
Eventually I gave up trying to dissuade him. Theodore Jones was in and he knew it.
Sometimes he’d walk in front, leading the charge, dodging branches with his antlers. Sometimes he’d wander off to munch on some choice leaves then come racing back. Sometimes he’d look at me with pity as I sunk to my knee in bogs and he pranced around on his four giant feet.
But no matter what, we marched on. Through bogs, over a hill, past streams, into marshes, and up a mountain until just past midnight, when I decided to camp on the peak.
Theodore Jones liked the idea, grazing as I set up my tent and cooked dinner. He settled down for the night himself after a bit, curling up in a low spot of tundra fifty feet away and resting as he chewed on the nearby leaves.
“Goodnight, Theodore Jones,” I shouted from my tent.
He raised his head just a bit to look over at me. I smiled at him and waved. Truth is, he’d grown on me mile after goofy mile, sticking it out through the bogs, through me losing the trail for an hour, through the climb up the hill. We’d been in it together, the two of us, me and Theodore Jones, and, for one day at least, we’d triumphed.
A few hours later, I woke to a rustling and the click of his hooves on rocks. He stood just outside my tent. I looked at him and he looked at me, then he walked away, back toward home, a little piece of my heart with him.
“Goodbye, Theodore Jones,” I shouted.
He didn’t turn. He just kept walking away.