National Geographic grantee Cedar Wright and his expedition partner, Alex Honnold, are gluttons for both punishment and exploration. Shortly after climbing California’s fifteen tallest peaks for an expedition they appropriately dubbed “Sufferfest,” the adventure duo set out on Sufferfest 2. On this ambitious mission, Wright and Honnold gave themselves just three weeks to bike nearly 800 miles and climb 45 of the most iconic towers in the American Southwest.
Forgoing the creature comforts of home is par for the course on such an expedition. For example says Wright, “Sometimes you’re in the middle of nowhere and you gotta go, so you just pull off and pee behind a bush.” But what Wright found during one such pit-stop was completely unexpected. “I have to pee so I just stop on my bike randomly in the desert and all of a sudden I hear this whimpering sound and at first I can’t figure out what it is and then I look and there’s this little puppy curled up in an old tire hiding from the wind. I quickly realized that he had been abandoned.”
The puppy, which the explorers named Sufferpup, quickly turned the adventure duo into an adventure trio.
Wright recalls, “I picked him up out of the little tire and I was like ‘Oh, what do I do with you? What do I feed you?’ Obviously we didn’t have dog food or dog formula with us. And I was like, ‘Well, ya know he’d probably be drinking puppy milk or whatever,’ and so I was like, ‘We have string cheese.’ I took my thumb and gave him water and he suckled the water off my thumb and then nibbled on the string cheese. And he ate like an entire thing of string cheese.”
Not surprisingly, the string cheese later caused Sufferpup to release his bowels all over the explorers’ sleeping bags. That didn’t diminish the explorers’ affections for their new team member, but they did decide to build Sufferpup his own shelter. Wright says, “One of the important things for me was to have a cold beer at the end of the day so we had this used beer box and we were like, ‘Oh this will make a perfect little kennel for Sufferpup.’ So we just took the box and cut a hole in it and put some rags in there and that became Sufferpup’s little kennel, it became his little home. And while we were up climbing he’d be hiding in his little beer box home from the wind and the sand and then we’d get down and feed him.”
Although an unexpected addition to Sufferfest 2, Sufferpup was no less important. “He became our little buddy, he became our mascot for the Sufferfest,” Wright says. “For me, it was like ‘thank goodness for Sufferpup,’ because when you’re just pushing yourself to your absolute limit, biking further than you want to, climbing more than you really want to, it’s really heartening at the end of the day to come down and have this adorable little puppy to cuddle with. Without Sufferpup I don’t know if we would have made it.”
And without the explorers, it’s unlikely Sufferpup would have made it either. “He went from being this shivering close to death creature to being filled with energy and his coat started to look all rich and he really became this happy little puppy,” Wright says of Sufferpup’s transformation. Wright also made sure Sufferpup had somewhere to go once the expedition was over. “Sufferpup scored. Some friends of ours adopted Sufferpup and now he’s eating organic dog food in Boulder, Colorado. So happy ending for Sufferpup.”
Watch Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold in their Campfire Story, How Not to Climb A Mountain.
Listen to Cedar Wright share the team’s most suffer-worthy moments from the original Sufferfest expedition in his National Geographic Radio interview below.