GDB graduate and retired Army combat medic Phillip White, along with his wife Norma, and his guide dog, Jeff, completed a trek along the El Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St. James, last fall. This 500-mile pilgrimage walk that spills over the Pyrenees from France into northern Spain, was quite the journey for this accomplished guide dog team. “It would not have been possible without Jeff, who is the best guide dog in the whole world,” said Phil. “Jeff is such an intelligent guide and so very adaptable – adjusting to long plane rides, guiding in large cities to small rural hamlets, and managing varied terrain from city sidewalks to narrow rocky steep trails, as well as loose dogs and various farm animals.”
Phil and Jeff trained for over a year in preparation – starting out slowly and gradually building up their endurance and distance as a team. “What inspired me was the challenge,” said Phil. “It was also the adventure of doing something that not everyone has done.” On the trails, he closely monitored Jeff's health and hydration, and also made sure to give him adequate down and play time. “Jeff’s personality is very happy and carefree out of harness, but when he is working he’s all business and very focused,” said Phil.
The team traveled mostly by foot, but sometimes needed to use planes, trains, subways, buses, and taxis at times to get to their destinations. “Jeff was always ready to go and worked very hard,” said Norma. “We had a duffel bag that we moved ahead daily, which had extra gear and dog food needed for Jeff. Although we saw other dogs along the way, we did not see any other dog walk all the way from France.”
In the end, this amazing team spent a total of almost 50 days on the trail, and walked more than 600 miles. On their longest day, they covered 18 miles, and made sure to take a few days off in between to recharge. All of their preparation and hard work was well worth the effort and they had no injuries or problems along the way. “Overall our teamwork on the trail was outstanding,” said Phil. “I asked a lot of Jeff and he was always ready to go whenever it was time. One evening I was going to leave him in the room so he could rest, but he would not have anything to do with it – if I was going, so was he.”
On their next adventure, Phil and Jeff plan to walk across Ireland and Scotland.