Honoring Friends

Working through losing your hiking buddies and unconditional companions

Words and photos by Michael Polletta – Bivy Ambassador

True friends are hard to come by.  People come and go, and people who you really think are friends often seem to fade away when it’s not convenient to be friends anymore. True friendship takes work, just like any other relationship. After 43 years I can honestly say I have two true friends (aside from family members). Two true friends, who have never made me feel like I need to pretend to be someone I’m not. Two true friends who aren’t my friends because they feel obligated to be friends. Two true friends who I am 100% confident I can trust and rely on. We’ve been friends for over 25 years and although we live far apart now, they’re still my best friends.

I had four best friends until about a year and a half ago. I decided years ago that living in a shelter or on the street was no way to live, so I decided to bring the two knuckleheads above, Rudy and Dreya, into my life. Despite Dreya’s nasty fights with me at times (she did leave my blood on the wall once), they became two of my best friends and my hiking buddies.

I knew Rudy was the right one for me as soon as I saw his scrawny, all white puppy body sitting quietly by the door of his cage at the shelter 13 years ago. I knelt down in front of him and my wife at the time immediately said “he’s the one huh?” He became the greatest dog I ever could’ve hoped for. He quickly put on weight, was easily trained, and he loved to play rough with me. Dreya? Well let’s just say if you ever watched the Dog Whisperer you should be familiar with what a “red zone” case is. When we found her roaming the streets she had half of her puppy collar grown into her neck. She clearly had been abused. We fought several times, and I had to wear thick heavy gloves to grab her and subdue her during those fights, but she eventually settled down and found her place.

True friendship takes work, and sometimes it takes fighting tooth and nail to build that friendship.

Rudy, Drey, and I eventually relocated to Colorado. We quickly began taking trips into the mountains for local day hikes, camping trips, 14ers, and skiing. Although my personal life continued to be more tumultuous than I had hoped it would be, Rudy and Dreya were always there. No complaining. No agendas. We were a team, and we didn’t give up on the friendship. We went on to summit 3 14ers (Bierstadt, Democrat, and Gray’s) and attempted Elbert. We hiked all over Indian Peaks Wilderness, and they would chase me up and down Loveland Ski area when I couldn’t quite give up skiing for the season quite yet. We did a lot of trail running at Deer Creek Canyon, roamed the mountains around Crested Butte, and we even ended up moving in with my cousin and his 3 dogs at one point. Even though things were always changing Rudy and Dreya stayed the same.

Having to make the decision to end the lives of two of your best friends is the most awful thing I have ever had to do. I’ve seen and done things as a firefighter and a paramedic that no human being should ever have to do, yet nothing could prepare me for making the two hardest decisions of my life. No more hearing Rudy’s annoying howl every time I come home. No more hearing Dreya howl every time she hears a fire truck siren.  No more playing, no more hiking, no more Rudy and Dreya. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Rudy’s hips eventually just gave out. He couldn’t walk and he wouldn’t eat. Dreya lasted another 4 months after Rudy and we discovered she developed shot gunned lung cancer. I’m not sure how since she had never been around cigarette smoke while she was with me. I had been taking her into the mountains after Rudy was gone but she suddenly wasn’t able to keep up anymore. What bugs me is knowing now that she was sick, and not being able to help her early enough.

My trips really haven’t been the same. As I’ve said in another story, I took up writing to share my experiences and maybe give people a better insight into who I am. The truth is I think I did it because I don’t have my hiking buddies anymore. I’ve experienced some of the world’s most beautiful places with those two knuckleheads, and endured some of the worst times in my life with them. We saw incredible places and did incredible things that most people never get to do. I don’t really like to talk much, so I loved having them to just share those times with.

I have the memories though. I have pictures that bring back smiles. I have the ability to share our stories. So, I encourage you all to #adventurelikeyougiveadamn. #OptOutside instead of staying in. #LiveBravely and step outside of your comfort zone; and you can use Bivyapp to help you do all of that.

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