Hiking Along with Cali & Mila
Cali uses her platform to speak on Indigenous people’s topics and her life in Colorado with her dog, Mila. She is a mother, wife, full time ER nurse, and Coordinating Director for Native Women's Wilderness. And hiking has been a part of their journey every step of the way.
It was a brisk, fall afternoon in the Midwest. The leaves on the trees had turned various shades of yellow, orange and red. The colors as vibrant as a sunset. Mila was just barely three months old and her little legs couldn’t make it around the entire lake, so I carried her most of the way. Little did I know these same little legs of hers would one day be carrying her to the top of Mount Bierstadt (14,065 ft).
I was twenty three years old when I adopted Mila from our local adoption center (Tails Humane Society, Dekalb IL). We spent the first three years of life in the Midwest. Northern Illinois, to be specific.
Her first few months of life were spent at my parents house— growing up in the same place where I grew up. Our outdoor adventures included long walks in the forest preserve on a trail beneath the trees and in the grassy fields of the woods near our apartment. We spent hours playing fetch at the vacant soccer fields and watching her leap five feet into the air to catch the ball. She learned to swim in the shallow, muddy ponds and played fetch in the clearer waters of Lake Michigan. She took plentiful outdoor naps on the deck while soaking up the sun.
Needless to say, she was living the good life.
One wintry day, she hopped in the car and was off on a 14 hour one way road trip. She had no way of understanding where she was going, or that her life and adventures as she knew them were changing. But she was content as long as she was with us.
The following day, we reached our destination. Colorado. And Mila went from a Midwest pup to “Mila the Mountain Dog”.
Her adventures now included hiking 13ers and 14ers, spending nights at the campsite, and backpacking adventures. Our excursions usually ended with a visit to one of the many dog-friendly breweries that Colorado is known for. She became a Colorado dog, through and through.
While she routinely received good bills of health from the veterinarian while we were in Illinois, at one point she was diagnosed with anxiety and placed on medications to help alleviate some of those symptoms, which included chewing at her tail. She was often on the lower side of normal for weight but we had attributed that to her athleticism and it never seemed to be of much concern.
Within the first few months of living in Colorado, we noticed her weight appeared to be stabilizing. We could no longer see her ribs, and while she had been off anxiety medication for some time before moving, she was no longer chewing at her tail.
I often say that Mila is a true reflection of me, and it rings true when discussing our collective improvement in mental health. I noticed a significant change in my own mood after having lived in Colorado for a few months.
Between the sun shining in winter and the increase in our outdoor activities, I wasn’t experiencing the winter blues anymore. I too was able to stop anxiety medication for many years, so long as I kept my outdoor exposure often and consistent. Whenever I was outside, so was Mila. I really feel like Colorado saved us.
This summer will be Mila’s eleventh birthday. She has experienced some of the largest life events I will ever experience. One of these events includes the birth of two human children.
Our adventures have changed to accommodate the two new adventurers. We aren’t hiking 14ers, but we are still spending time outdoors in other ways and I think our newer pace is more comfortable for Mila as she ages.
Our oldest daughter is now three years old, and I see similarities between her awe of the outdoors and Mila’s.
As adults, I think we are often focused on logistics and our destination, but little adventurers and our dogs are often soaking it all in. Smelling the flowers on the way, getting their paws and feet wet in the stream, listening to the birds and animals we pass.
It doesn’t have to be the biggest adventure in order for it to be exactly what they need.
Follow Cali's adventures at @caliwolf on Instagram.