Originally posted March 3, 2017.
Yes, it's a dog story. So it's understandable if you roll your eyes and shrug your shoulders. If you react, as you might, to the images that run across your mind, bounding and unleashed. You know the images: Puppies frolicking in grass fields or retrievers leaping into summer lakes or collies chasing after Frisbees in the park.
Yes, it's a dog story. But this story doesn't fit those pictures, unless the settings you imagine are the dense and swallowing Amazon jungle or the dusty streets of Quito, Ecuador, or a village 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
As with many stories about animals and humans, it's informed by a bond -- ancient as the place where it first formed, and new as the ways it was preserved and protected.
It's a dog story -- a dog that joined a race, and outpaced death, to find a new life.
2014 Adventure Racing World Championship
Adventure racing is less competition than survival test. A marginal sport in America but popular globally, its contests are cultlike in their following. Races, covering hundreds of miles across uncharted courses, feature some of the most extreme conditions in the world.
The races and rules are simple.
A team climbs, treks, cycles and kayaks across the arena of Earth. Races can last up to 10 days, with competitors sleeping an hour a night, or less -- all while sticking together, orienteering through climate zones, rationing food and water, and pushing their collective wills to the limit.
The team must cross the finish line together in order to win.
In 2014, heading into the Adventure Racing World Championships, Team Peak Performance for Sweden -- Mikael and Helena Lindnord, Simon Niemi, Karen Lundgren and Staffan Björklund -- was one of the best squads. The course that year was particularly difficult: 435 miles, reaching about 15,000 feet in elevation and spanning 13 different climate zones across Ecuador.
An Unlikely Encounter
On Day 4 of the race, the team reached a transition area, ready to change disciplines from biking to trekking. Just a few hours behind the leaders -- close in race terms -- the team's course would suddenly change. A then-unnamed stray dog approached Lindnord. The animal was in poor condition, severely injured with a large wound on its back.
Arthur's road appeared to end along the banks of the Cojimies River. In one of the final stages of the race, his team prepared for a 34-mile, 14-hour passage along the water, kayaking its way toward the finish.
"He felt something with Arthur, and he couldn't leave him. He just wanted to help his friend." -- Helena Lindnord, Mikael's wife
The race was over. The journey was just beginning.
After crossing the finish line, Mikael quickly realized he didn't want to leave Arthur behind. But getting the dog from Ecuador to Sweden was no easy matter. Both governments got involved, as news of the story began to spread across Europe, where photos of Arthur had gone viral.