With the drought in France prematurely shutting down our season we exchanged our cruising plans for a road trip to the Baltic countries. Visiting the Baltic is something we’ve wanted to do for some time but typically the weather at the end of the cruising season, our best opportunity for road trips, is not conducive to heading north. In 2019 the lack of water made a road trip starting early in August, a time we are normally cruising, a possibility. Thus we parked Wanderlust in Auxonne and Becky, Gigi, and I headed off to tour the Baltic coast in a rental car.
By the time we reached Poland, our 10-year old dog Gigi’s 22nd country visited, she seemed a more intent than usual about defining her territorial boundaries. At first we thought that our constant travels had caused our canine companion to become neurotically obsessive in her marking. She’s never been shy about leaving her p-mail messages for the other dogs, but now these marks were spaced every 50 feet or so. We began to suspect that there was an underlying health issue.
When we reached Torun Poland two weeks into the trip Becky took Gigi to see a vet. The vet examined Gigi and ran a standard lab panel. No obvious problem was found.
As itinerants it can be difficult to get complete health or veterinary care. And so it was in Poland. After the vet visit we moved on to the next stop before any follow-up with the Polish vet was possible. For now all we could do monitor Gigi’s peeing and hope it was a problem that would pass on its own.
The road trip continued as we passed through Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. From Helsinki Finland we crossed back to Travemünde Germany via an overnight ferry on the Baltic. Gigi adapted quickly to using the ferry’s outdoor pet relief area on deck. Back on land in Germany we stopped in Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen before crossing the border into the Netherlands, the final new country for Gigi, her 27th. In the Netherlands we looked for places where Wanderlust could be repainted with only limited success.
By the time we returned to Wanderlust in Auxonne France at the end of our Baltic journey it was clear that Gigi’s frequent peeing was not just a need to definitively lay claim her vast new territories. She was now starting to strain to pass urine. It was not a good sign.
Becky took Gigi in to see the vet in Auxonne. She came back with a course of antibiotics to treat a potential urinary tract infection, one of the possible causes of the problem. We were not hopeful that the treatment would help, but antibiotics were a logical first step.
When we returned to France at the end of the Baltic road trip we figured we’d take Wanderlust out for a final late season cruise. The cruising would have to be on a river as aside from a few short segments, the canals all around us were closed. With Wanderlust located in Auxonne heading north on the Petite Saône was the best route option. The Saône above Gray was the only nearby waterway that we had not cruised. While Wanderlust would only be able to go as far as Corre (the through route via the Canal des Vosges was closed) it would give us 170 km of waterway to cruise, 116 kilometers of which we had not seen.
Gigi’s urination problem complicated the plans. It meant that we would need to stop frequently to give her shore leave. Increased opportunities for a sniff-fest on the bank was something Gigi would appreciate no matter the circumstances. So we figured we could make it work.
Leaving Port Royal in Auxonne Wanderlust’s first overnight stop was in Pontailler-sur-Saône, a 2.5-hour cruise. From there we continued on to Gray, a place we had visited in 2017. If I read the maps correctly Gray with its 5,500+ residents is the second most populated commune on the Petite Saône behind only Auxonne. It seemed our last chance for anything other than basic services.
By the time we reached Gray the course of antibiotics prescribed for Gigi in Auxonne had finished. It had had not helped, at least as far as we could tell. If anything, Gigi’s difficulty urinating had worsened.
In Gray Becky found another vet, Dr. Pineau, whose office was conveniently located a 250 meter walk from where Wanderlust was moored. At her office Dr. Pineau reviewed Gigi’s history and then examined her lower abdomen with ultrasound. The imaging showed a concerning mass near the urethra. It was a problem outside the range of what Dr. Pineau could deal with in her office. Consequentially she referred Gigi to Dr. Duchamp, a veterinary cancer specialist in Dijon. It was not clear to us what treatments the Dijon clinic could offer. But it was clear that Gigi’s problem was serious. We feared her time with us might well limited, a concern that intensified each time we saw her strain to pass urine.
To get Gigi to her appointment at the Dijon clinic we needed a car. Thus we took a bus from Gray’s decaying bus depot to the train station in Dijon. At the train station are numerous agencies where we could rent a car. Driving back to Wanderlust we stopped in at the Techni Croc, an animal feed store on the approach to Gray’s port, to buy Gigi a bag of dog food. Under normal circumstances, with a car making transport of a heavy bag easy, we would have purchased a large bag of kibbles, enough to feed Gigi for several weeks. This time we only purchased a small bag. There seemed a good chance we would not need more.
The next day we loaded Gigi into the back seat of the rental car and headed out from Gray to the clinic in Dijon in the early morning fog. For the humans it was a quiet drive. We feared that this might well be a one-way trip for our canine companion.
Though we were gravely concerned about her health Gigi was unfazed. As we drove through the cool morning mist enveloping the Burgundian farmlands we cracked the car windows letting the brisk moist air wash through the car. Gigi, as she usually does, stuck her head out of the backseat right side window and took in the full complexity of smells of rural France in a way that only a dog can. She was still a dog, doing what a dog does. In the front seats the thought that she might not be with us on the return trip was crushing.
At the busy pet hospital we checked in and took a seat. A few minutes later Dr. Duchamp came over and took us to the examining room. He looked Gigi over, carefully examined the information from the other vets we’d seen, and then told us that he would also like to do some imaging. The results were expected in the late morning; he’d give us a call when he had them.
Rather than fester nervously in the waiting room we left to be distracted in Dijon’s central market. After the shopping at the market we wandered over to see the inside of the newly refurbished Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon in the Palais des ducs de Bourgogne. The museum and the market helped us forget about Gigi a bit. But even Dijon’s gems weren’t enough to fully deflect our thoughts from our canine companions plight.
Late morning came and went without a call from the vet. At lunch we headed to the Léon de Bruxelles outlet near the veternairy hospital. Halfway through our meal the cell phone rang. It was Dr. Duchamp with the results. Becky was on the phone; I didn’t get the full message. But I did hear her repeat “carcinoma” for my benefit. The news could not be good. It sounded bad. At the end of the call a time was set to meet; we’d receive the full details in person shortly.
After the call Becky and I tried to not let the other customers see our tears as we picked at the remaining mussels in the cocotte. We had lost our appetite in a restaurant we otherwise always find a treat.
At the hospital Dr. Duchamp, a veterinarian oncologist, walked us through his findings. He told us the location of Gigi’s cancer was on the distal end of her bladder. The consequence of this location was that her tumor was inoperable. She could not be cured.
With the grim prognosis Dr. Duchamp did give us a glimmer of hope. He proposed a treatment plan for Gigi using a combination of a COX-2 anti-inflammatory and infusions of a chemotherapeutic agent given once every three weeks. The anti-inflammatory would reduce the pressure on the urethra allowing her to more easily urinate while the cytotoxic agent would slow the tumor’s growth. This process, if continued, might give Gigi a comfortable year or two.
Gigi was having such a struggle peeing; it was hard for us to imagine that the medicines could work fast enough to help. The alternative was to put her to sleep this day. It was what we dreaded having to do when we left Gray in the morning.
As we discussed the treatment more with Dr. Duchamp we tried to avoid putting our desire to have our canine companion with us forever against Gigi’s personal comfort. In the end the doctor’s pitch won out. We could change course later if the treatment wasn’t helping, but for now we chose to try treating her with chemotherapy.
After a several minutes of straining to eliminate a few drops of urine in the small patch of grass outside the clinic’s door, Gigi jumped into the back seat of the rental car and returned with us to Wanderlust. It wasn’t a one-way car ride for Gigi after all; she was able to sniff the smells on the other side of the road on the way back. At this point we did not know if she would be with us for three days, three months, or three years. All we could hope was that we had done right by our dying dog.
With the diagnosis our plans changed. As we understood it, if Gigi’s condition worsened suddenly her urethra could become completely blocked. Unable to pass urine and without immediate treatment she would die a painful death. This was not something we could bear to think about happening. We needed to be able to get Gigi to a vet immediately if she took a hard turn for the worse and could no longer urinate. We also needed to be able to get her to the vet for her overnight chemotherapy appointments every three weeks. For this we would need ready access to a rental car and a base. It was best to turn Wanderlust around and head down the Saône back to our winter base in Auxonne.
Our planned journey up the Saône ended abruptly. This year the unexplored waters of the Saône above Gray would remain unexplored.
On the way back to Auxonne Gray Wanderlust pushed through the heavy saturating rain squalls that were bringing a belated end to France’s drought. It took us just a day to reach Port Royal, even with pauses between the showers at the bank to let Gigi pee.
When Wanderlust reached Auxonne she would stay in the area for the time being. It was really not the way we hoped to end our cruising season. But so it goes. For now Auxonne would be our base as we shuttled Gigi to her Dijon appointments and made short trips to explore the area.
Ahead of us was a big decision. Would we be able to take Gigi with us as we returned to San Francisco? Would she be well enough to make the flight? For the moment it was a big unknown.
Our 2019 cruising seasons had been filled with mechanical delays, waterway closures, and changed plans. As this year demonstrated, plans and barging are often like oil and water; they don’t always mix. We are OK with the unpredictablity of life on the waterways; we could even argue that its very unpredicatibility that is a primary appeal. But as Gigi has sadly reminded us, plans and life sometimes don’t mix well either. In this case, there is no lemonade that can be made from the lemons.
Leaving Auxonne Wanderlust made her first stop in Pontailler-sur-Saône. Her engine ran for 2.5 hours to cover the 12 kilometers and one lock. The quay in Pontailler has no services.
The next day Wanderlust continued on to Gray (4.1 engine hours with two locks and 29 kilometers). In Gray there’s a weak electrical feed up the bank along with a water tap. All services were free.
While in Gray we were asked to move for a fireworks display so we headed down stream to the quay in Mantoche for a night before returning to Gray. Wanderlust’s engine ran for 2.1 hours to cover the 14 kilometer round trip. There are no locks on this segment. Mantoche is a favorite mooring for us. The trees along the bank keep things cool and there is a nice grassy lawn adjacent to the quay that Gigi appreciated. Mantoche has no services.
During our stay in Gray we relocated Wanderlust to the Halte Nautique above the lock. The power feed there was somewhat better for us than at the quay. (Both power and water were again free.) Wanderlust’s engine ran for 8/10ths of an hour to cover the one-kilometer distance, including one lock and the time needed to get the mooring lines set.
We returned to Port Royal in Auxonne from Gray’s Halt Nautique a few days later. During this segment Wanderlust’s engine ran for a total of six hours as we covered the 55-kilometer distance. There are four locks, all controlled from the river with twisty polls.
The aborted trip up the Saône was Wanderlust’s final destination cruise of the season. She was out of the port on a couple of occasions later, one trip for some work in Saint-Jean-de-Losne and otherwise some maintenance jollies. These trips added 6.7 engine hours and about 40 kilometers and two locks added to the season’s total.