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Say cheese, Mr. Vice President!
Its hard to take a vacation as a veterinary practice owner, but I wouldve missed the nicest folks, the prettiest nature and a snapshot of a funny Florida lady and a U.S. vice president if I hadnt taken time off.
Years ago, my good friend Dr. Mark Justice, a veterinarian in Hobbs, New Mexico, advised me that we needed to start a group for veterinarians who like to fish. I was a bit skeptical about such a venture, but Mark wasn't. He worked at it awhile and came up with Vetadventure.
I just got back to west Texas from one of these fishing trips. We had vets from New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas and Utah, some of whom I'd never met before. We caught halibut, salmon, sea bass, cod and rockfish to the tune of about 50 lbs of fillets a piece. And we laughed. But we weren't the only group at the lodge near Angoon, Alaska. There were people from all over the world there as well, and we all fell in with a particular couple from Florida. Dot and Rudy were in their mid-70s and some of the most wonderful people I've ever met. My mother and stepdad had gone along with us, and they made friends with the Florida couple almost immediately.
On Friday we took an excursion to a hot springs and lake located a two-hour boat trip from the lodge. When we arrived, the captain told us we had a 45-minute hike up to the hot springs and lake. He said it was uphill all the way but downhill all the way back. I wasn't sure about these old folks in the group making it that far, but they insisted, so off we went.
Let me just paint a mental picture for you of what this place looked like. It was two hours by boat from the nearest town. The cove was next to mountains jutting up about 3,000 feet from the ocean. The mountains were covered with Sitka spruce trees and 200-foot waterfalls. There were humpback whales feeding about 15 feet from our boat as we docked and about 50 orcas in the straight leading into the bay. There were a few log cabins on the shore and a wooden path that led from the dock into the rainforest toward the hot springs. It was absolutely breathtaking.
We absorbed the view-salmon berries, blueberries, ferns, dense foliage, bald eagles, waterfalls, hummingbirds, bear footprints and Native American carvings. This went on for 45 minutes until we came upon the hot springs and then the lake. Each step was showed us new things we'd never seen before.
‘Why, looky there, Rudy! It's Walter Mondale!'
Along the way, some of the “younger folks” either led or pulled up the rear. I was in the very back. My job was to take the occasional arm of Dot or Rudy and help with the steep spots. It was a blast.
On the way back down, I was about 100 feet behind the group and was surprised to see a man in a business suit and tie coming up the trail toward us. He was followed by a woman wearing a pant suit and sunglasses. She was about 20 yards behind him. As they passed, I said hello, and they said nothing. They looked me over thoroughly and continued up the steep trail.
About a minute later, I heard Dot say, “Why, looky there, Rudy! It's Walter Mondale!” In my mind, former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale would have to be about 100 years old if he was even still alive. I was imagining someone pushing a wheelchair up the side of this mountain with a withered ex-politician covered by an umbrella. It kinda made sense. At least it'd explain the two professional, Secret-Service-looking hikers I'd just seen.
I finally caught up to the group just in time to hear Dot telling someone she wanted to get a picture with Walter. I then heard Rudy telling her that it most certainly wasn't Walter Mondale. She kept insisting it was. I finally caught sight of the person in question, and indeed it was not Walter Mondale. But what I did see made me laugh.
The celebrity in question kept saying, “No … no … no pictures.” But when you're facing a 75-year-old lady from Florida determined to get her picture taken with Walter Mondale in the middle of nowhere, well, you eventually say OK.
So, we got a picture with former Vice President Al Gore.
I wasn't in it. I took the picture. And it was a little blurry because I couldn't stop laughing.
I'm 55 years old. My youngest daughter, Kimmi, who's pregnant, was on the trip with us. I felt bad leaving work for 10 days to go to Alaska. But as we went over the events of the day on the way home, I realized It seems like just a few days ago that I was holding Kimmi in my arms when she was a newborn. Twenty-five years have passed so fast, and I probably don't even have 25 years left on earth. If I'm going to get honors like meeting Dot and Rudy and finding Al Gore in the middle of nowhere, I have to do it now.
Vetadventure, once just an idea, has given my family wonderful memories and reminded me that there's more to being a vet than working all the time.
Editor's note: Dr. Brock didn't see him on the trail, but, like Mr. Gore, former Vice President Walter Mondale is also still alive.
Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America.