I’m leaving Tuesday for almost a week in California. I plan to visit friends, then do a presentation about teaching Braille music at a conference. Of course, Ecko will be coming with me.

Yesterday, I printed out my itinerary. Over the course of six days, I’ll stay in three different hotels and visit three airports. I’ll be going between two cities. On paper, it looks a little crazy.

My first few days will be in a hotel that doesn’t have a restaurant, so Ecko and I will get to do some exploring. We’ll have to if I want to eat! It’s a chance for us to cement our relationship even further because neither one of us will be in familiar territory.

A lot of people see guide dogs as magical animals that just “know” where they’re supposed to go. But often, this is because they’re seeing them work in familiar surroundings. If a dog goes to the same places many times, they remember, and some dogs, like Ecko, have pretty incredible memories. In these instances, it doesn’t take much for them to figure out where they should be headed, so the blind person often doesn’t have to give many instructions.

But actually, a blind person has to have a concept of where they want to go and how they might get there. If I say to Ecko, “Go to Starbucks,” he’ll start walking, but he’ll have no clue where he’s going, and I’m more likely to end up exploring some bushes while he’s checking for new pee-mail instead of ordering a latte.

Even if I don’t know how to get somewhere, I’ve got a fair amount of experience to draw on. For instance, I learned to travel using a white cane before I ever got a dog. I learned how to listen to traffic patterns to decide when to cross streets and other cues I can use to find my way.

When I’m walking with Ecko, I use all these experiences to tell him which way I want to go. I decide when it’s safe to cross the street; he makes sure I don’t bump into things while I’m doing it. Dogs are color-blind, so it’s not as if he’d be able to tell when the light changed, anyway.

One neat thing is that, in unfamiliar surroundings, we are forced to depend even more on one another. Last year, I took several trips for music and stayed in various hotels. In my opinion, most hotel designers were drunk when they did the lobby. They’re so into open spaces and avoiding corners that navigating through these places while they’re thronged with people after coming off a long, stressful flight is pretty stressful.

So, inevitably, I ask directions; nothing wrong with that, except many people have no idea how to give good ones. “Oh, you go that way a little while, and you’ll come to a door. Go out that and turn and it’ll be right there.” Huh?!

Then, there are the, “Oh, here, I’ll take you”. If I’m in a hurry, this is OK, except that, after I’m where I want to be, I still don’t have a much better idea of how I got there.

So often, I’ll go through the day, do what I need to do, and save my learning and dog teaching until the lobby is almost empty, usually somewhere between eleven and midnight. I can walk the same route a few times and only have to explain that no, I’m not lost a few times. Usually, whoever is working security or the front desk is satisfied with this explanation, and if I need help, they’re more than happy to provide it (hey, it beats trying to find a maintenance guy because the family in Room 812 is complaining about not having hot water!).

Anywhere I go with Ecko, I have to be prepared to explain. What kind of dog is he? How old? How does he know … And Ecko has to be an ambassador. If he’s the first guide or service dog someone sees, better that he’s clean, well-mannered and under control.

So, today, in preparation for this trip, I’ll be giving him a bath, packing his blanket and bowl, buying Ziploc bags for his food. He’s not real fond of flying but has resigned himself to doing it, figuring if “Mommy” is there and he gets fed and walked at least in a reasonable semblance of a timely fashion (it’s often hard to fit a doggy pit stop into the tight schedule of making airline connections), then he’ll put up with it.

Traveling outside our comfort zone brings us into contact with many people, and often, they have a lot to teach us. So even with the challenges that might come up, I’m looking forward to hearing their stories and sharing little pieces of mine.

Explore posts in the same categories: Dogs, Family and Friends, music

4 Comments on “Preparations”

  1. Glenn Says:

    May God bless you with safety, new friends, new victories, great conversations, and with his peace!

  2. halfnotes Says:


    Oh, I could definitely use the peace right about now!! Thanks so very much for the prayers. I’ll write about the trip and all its adventures and lessons after returning home. In the mean time (starting Wedmesday Feb. 28), my husband Ted is kind enough to post things I’ve written in advance. I’m looking forward to the trip and to returning home. When you’re away from home, you can appreciate how much you have, and when you get back to your familiar surroundings, you reflect with gladness on the places you’ve been.

    Again, thanks for the prayers.

  3. Glenn Says:

    I look forward to reading about your experiences!

  4. halfnotes Says:

    And I’m looking forward to writing about them!

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