Big birthdays are only as good as the fashion that you usher them in. Picking up your driver’s license at age 16. Throwing up in the bushes outside a bar when you’re 21. You get the idea.
But if you’re Ace Kvale, turning 60 translates into a 60-day stroll with your best friend. And by best friend, we mean “man’s best friend” — his dog, Genghis Khan.
Just a trip for two, plus assorted friends who popped in for a few days here and there. The trek was filmed and turned into a nine-minute short, Ace and the Desert Dog, which premiered at the 5Point Adventure Film Festival in Carbondale, Colorado and brought the house down.
The film was a collaboration between Semi-Rad.com creator and writer, Brendan Leonard, Forest Woodard and Stefan Hunt, and pays homage to the strength of the human and dog connection in the great outdoors.
Kvale is a well-known outdoor photographer and he told Leonard about the trip early on (before he was even sure if he’d do it). But the idea got legs of its own and Kvale decided to go for it. Leonard joined the man and dog for 25 days and was impressed with the canine’s demeanor.
“He’s calm and comfortable in front of the camera,” said Leonard about Khan in a phone interview.
Kvale first got the blue heeler in December 2005, when he read about six puppies abandoned underneath a trailer. The young Khan reached out to Kvale and the two have been connected at the hip ever since. Khan even blogs at the Desert Dawg Adventure Blawg and the pup’s witty remarks are sprinkled throughout the film.
But getting to the beginning of the journey took a ton of work.
“It was carefully planned logistically. Weeks of planning went in. It was like an Alaska-style trip, but done in Utah,” said Kvale, in an interview after the world premiere of the film.
Even with planning, there were a couple hiccups on the trail. One of Kvale’s buddies had to get airlifted to safety after an injury. But that was the only serious incident.
Kvale and Khan had regular resupply drops. Friends would often bring cooked bacon (Khan’s favorite). In addition to cheese rinds and salami wrappers, the dog subsisted on a custom high-fat, high-calorie concoction made specifically for the trip from Zukes Dog Treats, helping the pooch maintain his weight.
Although Khan gets a little tired late in the trip, the round is quick. After a single day at home, Kvale said Khan “never looked better: Bright eyes, strong and happy.”
Beautifully shot, with great animations, the short about the 400-mile hike is both sweet and deep. One caveat: You will want to visit Utah immediately. Kvale goes out of his way to articulate that love for an animal isn’t always about learning how to love humans better. Because sometimes, just learning to love an animal by absorbing all the ways they love you is lesson enough.
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