By the time life had finished hitting Rick Crandall from all sides, he was at the lowest point of his life, both personally and professionally. Depressed to find himself facing a mid-late-life age crisis and watching his finances crumble as the tech industry bubble burst, he hopes his future isn't headed downhill. It was at this critical juncture in their new marriage that his wife Pamela made an astute and life-changing suggestion: "Let's get a dog."
So begins the story of Emme, a 200-pound Saint Bernard trapped in the body of 5-pound Australian terrier puppy. Soon, Emme and Rick hit the hiking trails around Aspen, Colorado. While she is groomed to be a show dog, it's soon obvious that her heart is in the hills and with Rick, who decides to add more challenging hikes to the mix. Before long, they are scaling Colorado's "fourteeners," peaks with altitudes of over 14,000 feet. On one magical day, Emme climbs to the top of four "fourteeners," a quarter of the sixteen such peaks she will complete during her life without once being carried on a trail or on the rocks on the way to a summit.
In mountaineering Rick realizes he has found—in his late sixties—his life's new passion. This is where Emme has led him—out of the abyss and to the top of the mountain. She was never really walking behind: she was nudging him along until he found his stride. Even after Rick understood the glory of climbing, it was Emme still doing the leading, until Rick learned how to lead himself.
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|Publisher:||Health Communications, Incorporated|
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About the Author
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Let's Get a Dog
Love me when I least deserve it because that's when I really need it.
— Swedish Proverb
My name is Rick Crandall. In 1966, I graduated from the University of Michigan (#GoBlue) and soon afterward co-founded one of the earliest computer timesharing companies in Ann Arbor, Michigan. These were the prehistoric days of the industry, before advances in solid-state physics that made possible the invention of the microchip in 1972. The internet and the first personal computers were still decades away. I was just twenty-two years old.
But after our talented team defied long odds to keep the company relevant, innovative, and (mostly) profitable for over twenty-five years, I found myself in my mid-fifties and burned out mentally, physically, and spiritually. When I took what seemed like a logical next career step — serving on tech company boards and coaching early-stage start-ups — the future felt less than certain than in any time in my life. While the companies I advised experienced little if any difficulty in transitioning to Y2K, the early days of the year 2000 continued to produce disorder and disruption for me having just ridden the emotional lows and anxieties that were the fallout of a sad and difficult divorce.
Around that same time our only child, my son Brett, graduated from high school and enrolled at NYU, 623 miles to the east in New York City. After our trip to the East Coast the previous year, Brett was so completely won over by Manhattan and the idea of attending a college located in the heart of this bustling metropolis that I could not even convince him to apply to a second or third choice of colleges. This approach was consistent with his successful, lifelong practice of bringing a laser-like focus to achieving his most serious goals. While I might have considered a backup plan and told him so, Brett wouldn't hear of such a thing. And no backups were needed it turned out, as he was accepted by the only school to which he had applied — NYU's Stern Undergraduate College.
The year was also marked by the death of my beloved dad — an accomplished businessman and a decorated World War II veteran who had been wounded in action. But more important than the credentials in his bio, he was a gentle giant who always had my back and made it his role to mediate any problems within our family. Even as he was getting up in years, I had never allowed myself to consider a world without my father in it.
With Brett leaving for NYU and in need of a permanent new home of my own, I began to at least consider a clean break from Michigan. When my doctors informed me that I had an acute case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, officially categorized as a "serious depression" that was related to a lack of sunlight in the winter months — something I'd been feeling more and more over the years but didn't realize — his diagnosis sealed the deal. Besides assigning a name to the health issue, my doctors were vocal in urging me to find a place to live that has significantly more sunny days each year than Ann Arbor. There were many reasons to love Ann Arbor, or I would not have called the town my home for almost forty years. And don't take my word for it — Forbes and CNN Money were among the publications that regularly included Ann Arbor among the best places to live in the United States. In fact, two life-style websites recently gave Ann Arbor its highest honors — niche.com as "Best City" (2017) and Livability.com as the #1 "Best Place to Live" (2018).
But as much as Ann Arbor fit me like an old pair of Levi's for so many years, the doctors continued to insist that the fifty-seven-year-old version of me needed more sunny days, particularly from October through April. A quick Google search for "cities with most sunlight" and "more sun than Ann Arbor" immediately produced a list of qualifying cities and towns ranging from sea to shining sea. In fact, it included just about every city, with the exceptions of Portland, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and several Midwestern cities.
Colorado — especially the Denver and Aspen areas — appeared high on every statistical list of annual sunny hours and average number of sunny days. That said, I don't recall applying my usual due diligence or an exhaustive decision-making process when it came to the choice of the Aspen area as my new home. Our family had taken ski trips out there about once a year, and a catchy tourism slogan had stuck with me over the years — "Aspen: Come for the winter, stay for the summer." As major decisions go, this one was as impulsive as it gets for me.
Sunny, gorgeous, near an airport with major airlines — check, check, check for Aspen. The only issue? Living in Washtenaw County, Michigan, for so long had not prepared me for the sticker shock of Aspen's home prices. The resort town had clearly come a long way in almost 140 years — from its days as a small silver mining community to a stunning, world-famous ski mecca. Two dozen art galleries and an airport filled with private jets should have been a giveaway that Aspen was now both home to, and destination of, the best-heeled among the well-heeled. And the asking prices of homes within Aspen made one wonder if a private jet were not included in the real estate prices I was seeing.
It was amid these major life transitions back in 2000 that I found myself swept off my feet by a woman named Pamela Levy. My consulting business led to considerable travel throughout the United States, serving on boards of several technology companies. It was through my work at one such company where Pamela worked as the executive advisor to the CEO that she and I became acquainted. I was finalizing my divorce as she was exiting a relationship, and so the emails began.
After enough words passed between us to fill a Russian novel, we finally decided to meet in person to pursue this relationship. By all measures, it was an inspired idea both in its imagination and execution. Lucille Ball probably said it best — "It wasn't love at first sight. It took a full five minutes." After a headlong dive into an emotional, whirlwind courtship, Pamela and I were married in August of 2000. We were thrilled that Pamela's son Clayton and my son Brett not only attended the festivities but also ventured out together on an eventful early morning rock climb on our wedding day, which they both survived (more on that later).
A few words about Pamela — at the center of her personality is the heart of an activist warrior always seeking to right injustices so that those who follow will not need to endure them. She is smart, creative, and quick-witted. And in contrast to my rational approach to most situations, Pamela has a more spiritual approach, such as when she prefers to consult with Chinese astrologers.
Having once lived in Aspen for six years, Pamela had the valuable asset of local knowledge when it came to compiling a list of homes that met our criteria. She extended the search about ten minutes outside of Aspen proper, which is how we wound up buying in the funky, rustic town of Woody Creek (population 263). The loft-style house was in fact a converted storage garage that had been maintained by a wealthy car collector. The good news is that there was no need to inspect under the floor boards for used anti-freeze; the floor was solid, polished concrete.
Woody Creek is best-known as the hometown of the late gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), whose home has been transformed into a writers' retreat and a museum. The local version of things is that in 2005, and in rapidly failing health, Mr. Thompson enjoyed a breakfast of fresh fruit and Jell-O splashed with gin and Grand Marnier — and then ended his life. In keeping with his wishes, his ashes were shot from a 100-foot cannon on his property at Owl Farm. Whether it was gazing at the mountain peaks for minutes at a time, acquainting myself with a product called "sunscreen," or engaging in conversations with my new neighbors at the Woody Creek Tavern, I often caught myself silently repeating, I have a feeling I'm not in Ann Arbor anymore.
Pamela and I had contrasting styles, but it seemed to work, probably because we understood almost immediately that we both required independence and support in following our individual passions. In this spirit, Pamela introduced a new subject one morning over coffee, six months into our marriage.
"Let's get a dog. I love animals and can't picture my life without them."
The request didn't take me entirely by surprise. From the start, I knew that Pamela was an animal person and that pets would be part of our future. I just didn't want to jump into the constraints of animal ownership and care so early on in our marriage. To be honest, I had stars in my eyes about a life with my new wife — as well as our freedom to both travel extensively and to participate in the outdoor social events that are so popular in the Aspen area. Four years removed from the full-time grind, I now found myself with a manageable schedule of board obligations and a set of advisor roles that often allowed me to contribute by phone and email. If people of a certain age were ranking the advantages of the "senior tour," flexibility of schedule would have to rank number one or close to it. A new dog would entail a rigidity of schedule and limitations to our lifestyle that I was certainly hesitant to embrace.
"How about we not get too tied down just yet? Maybe travel, do what we want whenever we want."
"I've been doing my research, and I even know what dog breed I want to get."
A happy wife equals a happy life, I thought — and repeated six times silently.
There were at least two good reasons for me to instantly agree to our having a dog. One was that Pamela had been lightly floating the idea of a pet monkey. Not only are monkeys wild animals that bite when touched, they cost up to $10,000 a year to maintain properly and can also be counted upon to urinate on every inch of a private home to mark their territory. Just in case the subject came up again, I'd saved an entire quote from my internet research: "I am a primatologist. I have dedicated my life to working with primates. There is not a chance I would want one as a pet."
Argument number two for a dog is that it would also represent a marked upgrade from Pamela's most recent pet, a Savannah serval cat named Simba that she owned during the months that we were dating. And for good measure, hers was an F1 generation cat, which meant it was a breeding step (or a step and a half) removed from the African serval cat, which also qualifies as a wild animal. In upholding the traditions of its ancestors, Pamela's Savannah cat preferred to hunt in the middle of the night, usually in our bedroom. She prowled as though at any moment she intended to pounce onto one of us or something we didn't see. Simba's résumé included a seven-foot vertical leap, as well its species' habit of marking its favorite territories, one of which turned out to be my chest. One night, she leaped from the floor, from the far side of a king bed, landed on my chest and stared into my face while she proceeded to pee while pinning me down. The overnight hours were like sleeping in a zoo, only we were inside the cage. You can understand why I eventually trained myself to snooze with at least one eye open.
Pamela reluctantly donated the cat to an animal sanctuary that was equipped to handle wild and semi-wild animals. She had gone to visit her son Clayton in Florida, transporting the female cat in an under seat animal carrier. But when it came time to place Simba back in the carrier for the return trip, the cat was having none of it. Upon hearing the hissing and seeing the fangs, Clayton appreciated the gravity of the situation. A motorcycle enthusiast, Clayton thought he could accomplish getting her back in the carrier, but only after donning protective gear. On went the leather jacket, pants, and gloves, as well as his helmet with visor, to protect himself from Simba's claws and teeth. Envisioning a similar scene at the TSA departure checkpoint, Pamela and Clayton arrived at the practical decision to find the cat a suitable home — coincidentally, not far from the airport.
Upon Pamela's arrival back in Colorado, we had officially become pet "empty-nesters." So, after I fended off the idea of a pet monkey and somehow survived the serval cat's hunting season, the suggestion (okay, it was a strong request) over morning coffee that we add a dog to our family sounded reasonable indeed. Just not a wild animal.
It was around this same time that the full impact of the collapse of the so-called "tech bubble" and its resulting loss of $5 trillion of stock value began to hit home. As a lifelong tech guy with full confidence in the industry that had defined my business career, I ignored the obvious signs and wound up riding the elevator to the basement. The conventional wisdom was that there would be a 10 to 15 percent correction of stock prices that we now see were based more on the vague promise of "technology" rather than on the fundamentals of strong cash flow and profitability. With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, I should have gotten out far sooner than I did. But it was the opinion of many industry colleagues, probably also analyzing with their hearts, that the large drops in tech stocks would correct and adjust upward. In the end, it was a mess. You knew it was bad when the Pets.com sock puppet — star of the 2000 Super Bowl — was liquidated along with his company less than a year after his star turn in a series of coast-to-coast commercials that had cost the company millions. It was a questionable decision, the business press suggested in the postmortems, to sell so many twenty-pound bags of dog and cat food at prices below their internal costs.
By the time the dust had settled, there had been a dramatic reduction in the nest egg that was supposed to sustain Pamela and me through our retirement years. Combined with the financial terms of my divorce a year and a half earlier, "Mr. Market" (as a friend referred to market forces of all kinds) had taught me long division in a manner that was harsh and unsparing. The idea of starting over in my late fifties was daunting, particularly in 2001, when youth seemed to be the valued credential of choice in the tech world. This was underscored by a sign at the main entrance to the 2001 Comdex computer show at the Las Vegas Convention Center — "No admittance to minors under eighteen years of age unless you are the CEO of a software company." But it didn't take a sign at a convention hall for me to read the writing on the wall — for the first time in my life I suddenly felt old.
This was also a first for me in experiencing a business-related failure on this level. In my mind, I had made the wrong choices for all the right reasons. The technology industry had provided me with everything I had on Earth, and I had tremendous faith in the underlying power of how it would continue to transform the world (and it has). What I had not considered was that with so many tech stocks in my portfolio — because that was often the primary form of compensation for board positions and for consulting with start-ups — I had left myself vulnerable to a bubble burst that could take down the entire sector — good and bad stocks alike.
My life and career up to that point had been defined by a decisive and confident attitude, always driving things forward, even when roads led to the unknown. But something was different this time. Rebuilding our financial stability felt like a tall mountain to climb, especially for someone whose opportunities were shrinking and whose AARP membership was out of place in a young person's tech world.
As these realities took hold and an overall melancholy set in, I'll be the first to admit that my behavior suffered. It is an understatement that I was not always the most pleasant person to be sharing a home and a bed, and this situation was not lost on Pamela. It had to be a new wife's nightmare — the older but (until now) vibrant new husband hitting a self-made wall and being thrown off-balance by a blue funk of depression. This challenge in our marriage revealed that Pamela was a disciple of the Law of Attraction — that what you think about and focus on are what you will attract into your life.
"It will all work out, new things will come your way," she would often say. To her credit, Pamela also walked the talk, continuing to give me plenty of room and making it clear she believed that only I could "fix" me.
My attitude was poles apart from Pamela's at that time. My approach to life was more along the lines of: "Things don't happen just by thinking about them; I need to make them happen."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Dog Who Took Me Up a Mountain"
Copyright © 2019 Rick Crandall.
Excerpted by permission of Health Communications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Let's Get a Dog 1
Chapter 2 Pint-Sized Pup, Giant Personality 17
Chapter 3 Best in Show 35
Chapter 4 Emme Delivers 55
Chapter 5 Camp Cost-a-Latte 67
Chapter 6 Take Me Higher 83
Chapter 7 Let's Get Lost 101
Chapter 8 Mount Yale: Our First Fourteener 117
Chapter 9 Small Dog Meets Four Tall Peaks 139
Chapter 10 A Tale of Two Bulls 163
Chapter 11 Emme the Rescue Dog 179
Chapter 12 Our Last Hikes 195
Chapter 13 Everybody's Got a Mountain to Climb 219
About the Authors 228