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Wading in the Headwaters of the Mississippi

Today is almost exactly 15 years to the day we waded across the headwaters of the Mississippi with our Chief Fun Officer Jerry leading the way. I just found Jerry’s Tripawds Blog post we published on August 2, 2007 titled, Wading in the Mississippi Headwaters. Like most of the scenes from our Be More Dog book, however, I remember as  if it was yesterday.

Headwaters of the Mississippi
Headwaters of the Mississippi – August 2, 2007

We actually mention the headwaters of the Mississippi a few times throughout the book. The first reference is early on, when we introduce Jerry and how his amputation inspired our RV road trip together.

Jerry didn’t seem to know why things changed so dramatically, and he didn’t care. All that mattered to him was having fun with his people. He was their co-pilot on an ever-changing journey that just so happened to take them all around the United States. They waded in the headwaters of the Mississippi, chased waves on the Atlantic coast in Maine, swam in the Gulf of Mexico, and climbed to the top of the world in the Rocky Mountains. For the first time in their lives, every day was new and exciting. And in an ironic sort of way, cancer was the best thing that ever happened to the trio.
~ Be More Dog: Learning to Live in the Now, Introduction – Why We Love Cats and Dogs

A strange silver lining indeed, that cancer diagnosis. We shared so many adventures on the road with Jerry. And he taught us so many important life lessons. And as our Tripawds CFO, he was teaching others along the way – everywhere we went. Or trip to the headwaters of the Mississippi was no exception.

The great river dividing the wide-open west and the dense eastern states was more than the halfway point of their journey from California to Maine. Eight months after vets predicted cancer would kill him within a year, Jerry was ready to prance in the cool shade of the towering pines that grow along the shallow waters near Lake Itasca, at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. There was no telling how long or how far he would travel, but for now, they didn’t care.
~ Be More Dog, Chapter 12 – Crossing the Mississippi

Jerry was always up for a swim. But none of us got that wet while wading across the headwaters of the Mississippi on that hot summer day.

Rene was more excited than any of them. She treasured the idea of her little tribe walking through the water, then going for a swim, but it didn’t quite work out that way. From the parking lot, they could see that the Mississippi River doesn’t begin in a deep, blue lake, but rather in a shallow stream with pure, clear, gurgling water spilling out onto the grassy land. You don’t swim in the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca State Park, you wade. Jerry was okay with either though. He reveled in the excitement of his human’s voice and galloped ahead at the end of his leash, looking like a younger, healthy dog. He just happened to be missing a limb.

Jerry, however, was also always up for a meet and greet. And this stop on our cross country tour was just one more opportunity to show the world that Tripawds Rule!

Headwaters of the Mississippi
Spreading the word that it’s better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.

“Come on, Jerry, let’s go to the water!” Jim led him past the visitor center. A family of foreign tourists watched in awe as they passed. Wildflowers carpeted the bumpy terrain while songbirds celebrated another gorgeous summer day.

This was our first of what would be many times crossing the Mississippi. But it is still the only time we waded across. So we were all excited to get to the water.

The wide, shallow creek was dotted with flat rocks that created a natural path for visitors to tiptoe across the narrowest point of the headwaters. Jerry led Jim and Rene straight toward the gentle water. Behind them, Jim heard a tiny voice declare, “Hey, that dog only has one leg!”

It wasn’t the first time a kid called Jerry a one-legged dog. We know it’s not what they mean. The front leg is just so prominent, it’s the first thing that comes to a child’s mind.

How come he only has one leg?” The boy from the parking lot followed Jerry into the water, amazed at how he hopped along on his one front leg.

“What do you mean, one leg?” Jim stopped to turn Jerry around with his leash. “He’s got three – that’s one more than you!

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