When his chocolate Lab, Bella, was diagnosed with bone cancer and given only three to six months to live, Robert Kugler of Nebraska decided to take his best friend on an adventure.
The Marine vet had recently finished school, so he put off finding a job to spend time with his pooch. Bella had her leg amputated in March 2015 before they set out on their trek, but that certainly didn't seem to slow her down. They went hiking and swimming, trekked up mountains and across beaches, usually camping or spending the night with friends.
Kugler wrote on Facebook, "Bella joined me on an adventure across the country to explore this great land, visit many friends, encourage others to get out and explore, inspire those with disabilities to continue to Love their lives and enjoy the moment, and of course, to simply enjoy each other's company."
"We traveled for 5 months, and covered thousands of miles, and spent countless nights sleeping in the 4Runner, with many havens on couches and guest beds of the friends I've been fortunate enough to make across the country in my short lifetime. It was an incredible and unforgettable experience," he wrote on his blog.
Bella and Kugler's "Farewell Trip" has covered Chicago and Florida, Kansas City and the Adirondacks. They've gone to southern Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolina coast and zigzagged from Cleveland to Niagara Falls, Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.
Now, more than 14 months later, Bella is still going strong and she and Kugler are still exploring. After the first leg, they returned to Nebraska and, when the opportunity arose, hit the road for another trip.
Kugler told Mashable he terminated his lease, put all his belongings in a barn, and is ready to continue his adventure."I feel like right now this is my purpose. The chapter in my life right now is just exploring with my dog."
Along the way, the pair have often been stopped by strangers who say that their journey inspires them, Kugler told WOWT-TV. He said he's lost a lot of close friends and family members over the past few years, so the trip is helping him heal in more ways than one. He hopes it might inspire others to live their lives to the fullest.
"I just saw firsthand what happens when you don't do what you want to do in your life and that's that you don't get to do it,” said Kugler.