Some challenges lead to failure, others lead to success, but few lead to an unexpected bonus. The latter was the case for Dale Blasingame.
Austin-based Blasingame started July 2014 with the personal challenge to visit every Texas state park within a year. Though he finished the challenge two days late, he had a new accomplishment under his belt and a new best friend, Lucy the dog, who has since visited every Texas state park and wiggled her way into Blasingame’s heart.
“I’m a very independent person and am totally comfortable being by myself; I’ve never wanted to be married,” Blasingame says. “But enjoying adventures with someone or something, there is something special to that(…) it’s always better with a best friend.”
Blasingame, who never would’ve described himself as an “outdoors person,” got into visiting parks after a bad breakup. He started traveling as a hobby and eventually visited Big Bend for the first time. When he saw the Milky Way, it was love at first sight; nature became his passion — one that only grew after having a dream in 2014 about traveling across the country. He wondered why this couldn’t be a reality and took a spontaneous solo trip.
After a slew of national park visits and that restless feeling of “what’s next?”, an old flame suggested he visit state parks. Eventually, he wound up at Pedernales Falls State Park where the park ranger asked if he wanted a state park pass. At that moment, he decided to start his challenge of visiting all Texas state parks in a year.
With Pedernales kicking off his year-long challenge, he used his weekends and holiday breaks to check off his list. But in September 2014, everything changed.
Halfway through an 11-mile hike at Buescher State Park, Blasingame met a man and his dog. After finishing the trail together, Blasingame asked him about getting a dog to hike with; he said he wouldn’t regret it.
On his way home, Blasingame noticed a small handmade outside the PetSmart across the street from his house, which was advertising an adoption event. He walked inside and met his future best friend, Lucy, who was named Fancy at the time.
“The funniest part about meeting Lucy is she wanted nothing to do with me,” Blasingame says. “She was so enthralled with her foster parent.”
Blasingame and Lucy made a lap around the store in which Lucy spent most of it trying to return to her foster mother. He addressed Lucy’s foster mother about it and after she spoke with Lucy, Blasingame took her on a walk again, and everything was different.
“It was as if Lucy 100% understood what (her foster mother) said,” Blasingame says. “She was a totally different dog.”
He adopted 9-month-old Lucy at the end of the month, and they started pursuing life together, side by side.
When Lucy came into Blasingame’s life, he was already about halfway through his state parks challenge. So, he decided to bring her along. The first state park they visited together was Resaca de la Palma State Park in October 2014.
“We went on a very short hike; I was scared to death because I had read there are so many snakes there,” Blasingame remembers. “Our hike was basically her and I running through the park.”
Blasingame and Lucy finished out his state parks challenge in July 2015 and circled back through the parks Lucy missed from his earlier days of the challenge. Along the way, he learned about her quirks, from her deep fear of water to her love of climbing rocks. She also grew to love visiting state parks just as much as Blasingame, if not more.
“She doesn’t get excited on any other turns or slowdowns (in the car), but she knows when I’m making that turn into a park,” Blasingame says.
He says when they’re driving to their favorite state park, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, she even knows where the exit is.
In December 2018, Lucy’s journey of visiting all the Texas state parks finally ended at Monahans Sandhills State Park where she was especially excited. Blasingame says it seemed as if Lucy knew this was a special trip as she didn’t want to get back in the car to leave like she typically does.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before from her,” Blasingame says. “(…) It was like she knew it was a big deal.”
Though 2018 felt like a mountain peak experience, making memories together and accomplishing their state park challenge together, the past few years have felt like a valley. Within the past two years, Blasingame lost both of his parents, and Blasingame and Lucy haven’t been able to travel as much since.
“I’ve been in very heavy grief mode (…) and she’s what got me through that,” Blasingame says. “I cherish every minute I have with her, especially when she’s happy and having fun; that means the world to me.”
Blasingame says he can never repay Lucy for the ways she’s helped him through this dark season. And as time has passed, he’s been able to show his appreciation by getting back into nature with her.
“Now, I’m just trying to make it up to her for these past few years where I’ve been in bed crying every day (and reminding) myself to get back out there and enjoy life,” Blasingame says. “It was a reminder to me that nature heals; (it’s) where you find so many things in life.”
However, as time allows for healing, it also lends itself to the reality of aging. Lucy turned 9 years old in December 2022, which will usher in many more serious “senior dog” conversations. He’s also noticed she’s slowed down quite a bit on their walks, which once used to be 13 miles and now end up being around two.
Though Lucy’s aging is a sobering thought, it also serves as a reminder for Blasingame to make the most of the time they have together by showing her as much as he can.
“We don’t have a goal, and that’s OK,” Blasingame says. “I have to remind myself I don’t always have to do these giant projects (but) just enjoy our time together and remember how much nature means to the both of us.”
Blasingame reflects on that first drive back from Buescher State Park when he noticed the sign for the adoptions at PetSmart. He wonders how different his life would’ve been if that day had gone another way.
“My life would be totally different if I would have been like, ‘No, I’ve got stuff to do’ or ‘I’m tired,’” Blasingame says. “I’m so glad I stopped at that sign and said something to the foster mom(…) We had that conversation and that gave me my best friend.”