Adventure partners. Life warriors. Best friends. Jackson’s Journeys
As many of you know, Jackson underwent major surgery this week. Bone cancer reared its ugly face smack dab in the middle of their life trail. Jason bravely made the decision to have Jackson’s back right leg amputated. #f@$%cancer
Just a detour in their new journey as Jackson rests and recovers. For anyone who knows Jason Christopher and Jackson personally can attest to their amazing story. The outpouring of love and support on social media for these two incredible souls is nationwide. They have touched the lives of countless hikers, friends and family, as well as their enormous following on Facebook and Instagram…for over a decade. 12 years and 8 months to be exact. Jason and Jackson are the few in this world who truly leave you better than they found you.
The dynamic duo. When you meet them in person, however, there is no hype felt. It is beautifully simple. A man who loves his life companion more than anything else and a dog who loves his human even more than that. It is difficult to see where one stops and the other begins. Love presents in life as many experiences and moments…and this was one of the greatest forms of love I have witnessed.
Through Jay’s updates over the past month, memories of hiking with this duo flooded my mind, a shared experience with many others I imagine. The very first time I met Jay and Jackson was last September for a sunrise hike on Allen Mountain.
Sunrise hike on Allen. Because that’s what everyone chooses for their first mountain sunrise hike, right? After months of talking mountains with Jay, the time finally linked up. I needed the big mileage for my 46Climbs campaign, as my goal of 100 miles for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention drew nearer. Jackson? Oh..well he was working on his 6th tour of the 46 High Peaks! Unbelievable.
It went like this:
Me: “I’m going to hike Wakely Mountain on my drive up Saturday and I’m thinking about Allen for Sunday.“
Jay: “Allen could work. Sunrise hike?“
Me: “Yes, that! A sunrise hike is on my list too, so let’s do it.“
A conversation that took place a day before we hiked.
We met at the trailhead off of Tahawus Road at 1 a.m. Excited and scared out of my mind, I introduced myself to the pair. “Go say hi, Jackson,” Jay nudged calmly.
Jackson trotted over and gave his signature “lean-in hello” against my leg. Such a gentle soul. Jay always says Jackson is part wolf, and you definitely feel part of his “pack” after hiking with him.
It was just Jay, Jackson and I. The early fall night air hung with a misty haze at first. Both humid and clear. Jay led setting the pace, with Jackson in the middle, adorned with his neon glow collar, and myself as the caboose. A 10-mile adventure awaited before us. I hustled on, silently urging my lead balloon legs to hop to it. On the inside, however, I was scared to death. A feeling I did not want the boys to know! It cracks me up now thinking about how much I fear the dark…especially after all the hikes in darkness I tackled prior.
Yes, “cool and collected” was the mood I needed to exude. Twenty miles is a long time to spend with people you’ve never met, let alone hike with before. What if I couldn’t make it?
Trekking in the middle of the night is certainly interesting. I have started and ended hikes in the dark. But there is something eerily serene about beginning a hike at 1 a.m. The woods are completely silent. No birds. No critters moving. No movements in the brush of the forest residents. All life is asleep.
Onward we walked, among the beauty juxtaposed against the unnerving blackness of night. I kept my eyes peeled on Jackson’s glow collar at a feeble attempt to settle my nerves. Although the forest was deep in slumber, the headlamp casts haunting shadows bouncing in the distance.
“Doing ok?” Jay questioned.
“Yea..I’m good. (trying to sound brave) But maybe you could tell me a story or something to help a bit?“
A story? Storytelling is Jay’s forte, I quickly discovered! One time Jackson and I were climbing the Pinnacle Ridge….
It was just the thing I needed! Listening and walking, walking and listening…stopping every now and again to check the sky. There is a portion of the trail, right after the junction for Mount Adams, where the start of the herd path transforms into an open field.
“It’s always good to stop and check the sky,” Jay guided. Gazing upward at the celestial space, stars overflowed through the dissipating mist. Optimism for the gorgeous sunrise was in our favor. The current sky almost guaranteed it!
Jackson took turns trotting ahead as the lead dog and checking if I was still behind them. Tail wagging the entire time. The Guardian of the Adirondacks. A regal sweetness embodies his whole being.
And just like that, 5.5 miles whizzed by and the 2nd trail register stood in the distance. Hours feel like minutes when hiking in darkness. Your mind cannot see all the usual landmarks, the ones that visually tell you how many miles are left. Surely a benefit on a 10 mile adventure. It was now the perfect time for a snack break. Ham for Jackson. A forced protein bar for me.
“How are you feeling?” asked Jay.
“A little pukey,” I laughed. It was the truth. That way-too-early-to-be-hustling feeling lingered in my stomach. Confidence in “only better from here” filled my mind as we entered the next round of into the woods. Oh and, I should also mention this was the exact time my rechargeable headlamp went kaput. Thankfully, Jay had a few spares in his pack. Slightly embarrassed at forgetting my extra lamp in my truck, on went the spare and we were off and running again. Actually, he pretty much carries everything but the kitchen sink in his pack! Seriously though, being prepared is another strength of this team.
The storytelling resumed as we forged our way through my favorite section of the trail to Allen. The winding, soft-pine trail bed led the way to Skylight Brook. Cascades of water rushing and meandering through the brook in the wee hours of the morning equals Heavenly. The damp, crisp air surrounded us as the path curved down to the brook. Jackson trucked along happily as we marched on. Yes, step for step, braver and braver for this girl.
After successfully crossing both Skylight and Allen Brooks, the real fun began. The boulder hopping appeared slippery, as 8+miles trailed behind us now. Time to start climbing Allen Mountain. Steep up, up, up. I informed Jay I may fall behind moving forward. Definitely slow and steady on the ups for me. Jay assured me that we had plenty of time to make it to the summit for sunrise. I humored him and agreed as I kept Jackson’s glow collar in my sights.
Jackson was a champion! Instinct and nature are fascinating. As my eyes tracked his night neon, he gracefully navigated the mini-waterfalls and steep pitches with ease. The incline of the ascent has few reprieves. Throughout the twists and turns up rushing waterfalls and rock slides, the end was in sight.
There were moments when my body was yelling at me to stop and rest. My heart answered back with the reminder that we were climbing for mental health awareness. My heart gently pushed on, urging my mind to think of all those who struggle with mental illness. Those we love. Those we’ve lost. I pushed forward with fortitude for them, That is the essence of the 46Climbs campaign. So giving it my all, I managed to keep a close distance with Jay and Jackson.
First light appeared as we neared the last exposed slide. Just a bit further…a muddy, messy, eroded further. Glancing back at first light from the top of the slide, before heading back into the woods for the final summit push.
The last bit of trail before the summit brought a renewed energy and excitement.
Boom! Allen!! My first sunrise and another 46er for Jackson.
As night turned into day, we headed to the lookout off the treed summit first. I had to see about a tree. Spreading its arms like a dancer…some limbs are no longer. But still. It remains strong and rooted.
Then I showed Jay another spot that he hadn’t been to yet…a tiny rock lookout. Talking and trying to figure out of I was hot or cold, Jay said, “Look…” and pointed in the direction of the rise. The orange ball of fire illuminated before us. The photographs from an iPhone never bring justice to the vibrant mountainscape in the distance. I.was.in.awe.
Jackson, sweet boy. Resting in the morning glow.
Never would have made it without these two!
Or have enjoyed my very first PBR, ha! This whole journey was full of new experiences. Cheers to the sun!
The heavens rising to greet the day…
Another mountain summit for the month of September. The campaign were I raised $1636 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention because of your generosity and love. Thank you all again!
Absolutely stunning! All the fear and nerves seemed ages behind now, as we witnessed the coming of a brand new day.
After a few minutes on the tiny rock, we hiked back up to the usual summit lookout spot.
And then, a miracle happened. Just when you thought it could not possibly get any better, Divinity graced us with…the most breathtaking moment ever witnessed. This!
An Allen Sunrise. Just do it. I’ve always loved Allen. Nothin’ but love, Allen. This moment surpassed love and transcended my heart to purest essence of joy. When we arrived, Mount Marcy stood clearly afar. Then…we watched the clouds swiftly engulf her summit. Wonder how many hikers were in that view-blocking fluff ball? Mountain weather can be so temperamental and sudden, you just never know.
Everywhere we turned exploded with serene beauty. Enormous amounts of gratitude circled my mind.
My first sunrise….on Allen Mountain. Seriously, who does that?? Just incredible. I wasn’t sure I had it in me. Jackson knew better. The best guide in the park!
After a few summit snacks and celebrating, Jay went off to explore a bit more. Jackson and I, however, had the same idea. A long nap! It was 6:30 a.m. What else was there to do? We were the only 3 on the entire mountain.
Yes…a well-deserved nap was in order.
More mountain gazing and relaxing for the next 4 hours without any other souls on the summit still. Four hours! Unbelievable. Officially hooked on summit sunrises.
Around 10:30 a.m., the decision was made to make our way back down the mountain. Not without stopping at the gorgeous viewpoint that lives on the right, just a bit after departing the summit first, though!
Blue skies and majestic peaks towered above all else.
A few weeks too early for the changing of seasons, this mid-September Sunday proved to be a knockout nonetheless.
Hard to believe we ascended this spot in the dark…
Once back on flat land, it was more listening and walking, walking and listening. I may have done a bit of talking too. Jackson didn’t miss a beat. I admired his energy and spunk. The beauty of a sunrise hike is that you literally have the entire day to descend. No rush. No hurry. Just enjoying all the Mother Nature gifted us on this day. On the hike in, we moved with focused purpose. In contrast, the descent was easy…easy like Sunday morning. In addition to the daylight of nature’s playground, it feels like a completely new hike! Which, surprisingly added a burst of energy in my tired, exhausted legs.
Lush greens and shimmering sunlight were a welcomed sight after all the blackness at the start. We finally saw other people too! A group of three was heading up as we were on our way down.
“Did you camp?” they asked.
“No, we hit the trails at 1 a.m.” Jay replied. I nodded and smiled in a agreement. I have to admit, my chest filled with pride in that moment a little. It was just a walk in the park for Jay and Jackson. But I was so proud I made it through.
After that, we made a bet on the total number of people we would see on the descent. I said 8, Jay said 20. It would up being somewhere in the middle. Surprisingly, not many hikers out and about to visit Mr. Allen, despite how gorgeous the day turned out to be.
River baths and more ham on its way! Jackson happily enjoyed the opportunity to cool off and refresh his soul.
The final landmark that informs us that this hike is (almost) done! The last few miles on the out from Allen get me every time. Truth be told, I did fall behind on a mile near Lake Sally. Jackson stopped and waited until he saw me coming around the bend, before continuing on with Jay. Part of his pack. 🙂 I managed to catch up with them for the remainder of the hike. Phew!
This 20 mile journey brought the hike totals to 73 miles for the 46Climbs campaign back then. (Jay would also be part of the hike that pushed me over my 100 mile goal last September as well.)
To Jason & Jackson: This day left a HUGE handprint on my heart forever. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your easy-going, yet tenacious spirit is something so special, Jay. I appreciate you and your friendship. Thank you keeping me calm on this wild Allen ride and for helping me get to that summit! I know that the road ahead appears unknown and scary. I have NO DOUBT that you both will be back on top where the Universe brings you next. Rest and recover. Then renew and rise again. Jackson, strong boy! Thank you for guiding me on my first ever sunrise hike and teaching me that the dark can be a place of tremendous growth and eternal peace. Sending nothing but positive energy and peace your way for this next chapter in Jackson’s Journeys.
They are the few in this world who leave you better than they found you. And that was certainly true with me…