Matt Rickard is the founder of Footsteps for Good, an annual five day fundraising trek through the remote hills north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. This year, WVS Thailand is the grateful recipient of their fundraising efforts, all thanks to one dog…
The team for the trek in 2015 was small, at only six people with previous teams being between eight and 12. But the mission was the same as always - to complete a 65km trek through the jungle, staying with the local villagers and in the process, raise money for a good cause.
Following an evening out in Chiang Mai, the team set off early the next morning to the national park. Sitting in the back of a Songthaew (a pick-up truck converted to a people carrier) the journey took around 2.5 hours, half on the freeway before the last hour winding high in to the hills and off the beaten track to the starting point of the trek.
Backpacks on and support sticks in hand, the team set off for day one of the journey. The half-day trek into the jungle was broken midway by a short stop to watch a traditional Lisu tribal dance as well as a detour through a cave inhabited by a forest monk. We arrived at the Karen tribe village just before dark. It was a quiet village perched on the hillside, the community living by sustenance farming. The air was a mix of smoke from the scattered cooking fires and the tranquility of the village was only interrupted by the sounds of dogs, chickens, and pigs.
As we sat by the fire, all the dogs scrapped in the village but for one black nosed dog, who took a fancy to our group. As we sat, drank, chatted and played guitar, this dog came and pushed his muzzle and side of his head against us, one by one. He was uncharacteristically affectionate for a village dog and more like the behaviour of a cat actually. He stuck with the group all night.
The next day began with a steep climb out, up and above the village. It was incredibly hard on the legs! After we had covered the first kilometre, I noticed the dog from the previous evening was following us. We had a 22km trek ahead of us that day, over some steep hills and the guides said he may follow for the first couple of hours, hoping for some food but would be unlikely to continue the whole way.
The second day is the hardest day of the trek with some very steep hills and as the route is not taken by other trekking parties, the guides often have to use machetes to clear the way.
Having covered the highest hill, we made our way down through a bamboo forest for lunch by the stream. It was then that we noticed our new friend was still with us. He’d not been in view of the team for much of the walk but seemed to be tracking us. As we chatted around the fire for lunch we decided to give him a name and after much debate the group settled on Hobo, after the Canadian TV show, The Littlest Hobo, about a dog who wanders from town to town, helping people in need.
Late that afternoon we arrived in the second village which would be our home for the evening. To get to the village, you have to cross a rickety bridge suspended by cables; this was not something Hobo was willing to do so instead, he opted to cross the river. But as he did, he was swept away with the current, much to the shock of the team. Our head guide went in after him and was able to rescue him from being swept away.
That night in the village, the heavens opened, a very unseasonal event as the rain typically stops between mid November and mid February. The racket on the old tin roof kept the group awake most of the night and it was still falling fiercely at dawn, so we decided to wait until it subsided.
Hobo had stuck with us all night, sleeping under the house. After two hours of waiting for the rain to stop, we made the decision to cut the trek short by a day and instead trek out of the forest to be picked up. The out of season rain turned out to be a severe weather front that looked to stay.
Winters in the north of Thailand are mild, much like in Australia, but as we trekked in torrential rain, and without sufficient waterproofs, 15 degrees felt more like 5. The trek out was around 18km with a lot of uphill. The rain did not stop yet Hobo stayed with the group.
We were greeted by the Songthaew and a hot cup of tea, a welcome treat before we headed back on the national park road to civilization. Hobo had become part of team at this point and we loaded him in to the truck. He seemed nervous as if he had never been in a vehicle before. The group tried to convince me to take him home, but I was not looking for a new dog so instead we decided to drop him close to his village.
An hour into the drive, our truck pulled over at an intersection and two of our guides left to walk back to the village. We unloaded Hobo and said goodbye. It was a little sad, but it seemed the right thing to do. The two guides headed off the road with him as we carried on our way. About 500 metres up the road one of the team shouted to pull over. Hobo had left the guides and was running full speed back to the van. This time there was no way to deny this dog was on a mission to stick with the team. I called my wife and told her I was bringing him home.
That was two years ago and Hobo is now part of the family, along with our small poodle. It is Hobo who has inspired me to run this next Footsteps for Good for WVS and their Thai dog shelter, formerly known as Care for Dogs. There is a great deal of support needed to ensure the health and safety of animals in Asia and it’s humbling to see people dedicated to doing this work. Living in a region where I see the great work WVS are doing for these dogs is the motivation I need to recruit this year’s team and raise as much as possible for the dog shelter!
If you’d like to experience trekking through the remote jungles of Chiang Mai and be a part of Matt’s team for the 2019 venture, contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.footstepsforgood.com for more information.