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Adventures of Life


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Let the training begin!

If you’re going for a day hike be sure you make it happen on a beautiful day. I did. I’d spent the past week talking with my friend and planning this hike. It was to be the hike of all hikes. Mount Major was calling my name! Now this is one serious hike, all 1,800 feet. It takes a grand total of 2 1/2 hours to hike up and down this “mountain”. But we were going a little crazy and decided to drag the hike out by taking a slightly longer trail up and to chill at the summit where we would enjoy a true “backpacker” lunch.

Mount Major summit

Mount Major summit


This was a truly momentous hike for me. It would be the first time, since ACL surgery 10 months ago, that I would actually be doing any amount of vertical walking. I geared myself out making sure I had all the proper provisions. I had my very serious football player knee brace on, good footwear, and my trekking poles. I was determined. We loaded up our dogs with their own stash of water and strapped on our packs. The heaviest part of my pack was the 2L of water and my camera with multiple lenses. We were ready for the mountain.

**This was also a very important hike for Star! She has been running hard in an attempt to raise funds for a local school, The Birchtree Center, for youth with autism. She knows how much I adore one of the students (I work at home with them) and wants to make sure these kids get as many opportunities as possible. She’d love to have any support in meeting her goal!
Check out her page at http://birchtreecenter.dojiggy.com/ng/index.cfm/a522f7a/regPages/pledge/STARSADVENTURE/
Now back to our regularly scheduled program!!!**

Not a mile into the hike and I was questioning myself. Was I really ready for this? Was I pushing to do this a little too soon? Questions I took in stride, literally. My knee was doing great, just the occasional reminder that I didn’t have all the meniscus I’d been born with. So what was my downfall? It was the permanent divot in the couch which fit the curves of my ass perfectly. After almost a year of kicking back and taking it easy while I slowly built the muscle back up in my leg and moved past the worst of the pain I had no cardio endurance. Yup, that 50 foot rise we just climbed completely winded me. I felt like a fish out of water. I tried to be casual about the lack of air making it into my lungs. I’m sure my breathless banter and attempt at laughing didn’t help and even if my friend hadn’t picked up on the open mouth gasping I’m sure my cherry red face gave it away.

When you are a fish out of water take a moment and find yourself - I pulled out my camera and took this picture as an excuse to regain my breath

When you are a fish out of water take a moment and find yourself – I pulled out my camera and took this picture as an excuse to regain my breath


Multiple breaks along the way made it possible to move forward slowly and steadily. We bumped into a number of other hikers and enjoyed brief conversations with them. Talking about our furry hiking companions, the trail or their music. Please feel free to judge me for my next comment. KEEP YOUR MUSIC TO YOURSELF! I don’t mind music. I don’t mind Maroon 5. I do mind the lack of courtesy. When in the woods, hiking, bring earbuds or something of the sort. Blaring it from your iPod with static filled speakers on a busy trail is a no go. Listen to your music but don’t force it on others. Had I been thinking fast enough, and had air to spare, I would have busted out at the top of my lungs, singing off key (it’s the only way I can sing) “This is the song that never ends”. Instead we hiked faster to put distance between us and the noise pollution. Upon reaching the summit we caught up with some other hikers who were enjoying the view. And then it happened. Music. Blaring in my right ear. The guy had stopped directly next to me, joining into the conversation. I turned to him and with as much courtesy as I could muster yelled over the music ” can you please turn it down?” I don’t think I’ve offended someone so badly in quite some time. Guess I was destined to be The Ass of the Mountain.

IMG_9673E copy
Having summited we made our way over to an edge and settled down to enjoy our meal. Out came the GORP, apples and cheese. For a day hike these are staples, don’t leave home without them. We enjoyed the beauty spread before us. We looked out over Alton Bay, allowed the cool breeze to dry the sweat from our brows, and munched our food contentedly. The dogs meandered around checking out all the smells and finding wondrous things to eat. My dog, Star, has never had an issue with eating. Just about anything food-like is welcomed into her system. Last year she’d gorged herself on corn cobs she found on this summit and then spent the next day expelling them from her body. I kept a close eye on her this time, I wasn’t game for a repeat performance.

We wrapped up our lunch and set about doing photo shoots with the pups, because that’s what we do. Star and Tamarak did their best to look adorable and photo bomb each other at any and all opportunities. Then it was time to head down. The hike to the base was a bit of a workout as we’d decided to take the steep route down. My good leg got the workout of its life. Gentle step-downs full of control so I could place my other leg carefully. I must say I felt like Popeye on one side, muscles popping and defined as I clambered down the rocks.

Group shots are not always productive - Tamarak and Star

Group shots are not always productive – Tamarak and Star


We had almost made it to the end of the trail when nature called (guys you may opt out of this paragraph if you want but than again there could be some good info for lady friends of yours). It wasn’t anything serious, just the inkling that I had to pee. I could of held out until we hit up a gas station. BUT there was no way I was going to pass up on my first backwoods opportunity to use my pStyle! Ladies peeing in the woods isn’t something I detest but I’m sure you can understand the annoyance of having to prepare for it. The removal of your pack so you don’t fall over backwards, finding something to duck behind so you don’t provide a full moon midday, making sure you have your pants and undergarments out of the way so you don’t pee on them, and keeping the splash from coating your shoes. Needless to say it’s a process and one I don’t look forward to. Today was different. Giggling like a school girl I cut off trail, I only went about 15 feet. With my back to the trail I pulled my pStyle out of the side pocket of my pack, which was still on my back. I unzipped my pants and used my handy dandy “pee funnel” to stand there and empty my bladder. Now I had read about the joy and ease of using these in the woods but I was still a little apprehensive about just how convenient it would be. Well, NEVER AGAIN will I bare my ass to the cold air or pricker bushes. I finished up, zipped up and rinsed it off before putting it back in its bag and off we went.

sometimes you just have to let go!

sometimes you just have to let go!


We had a wonderful day out and I completed my first hike of the year! Having had such a great time testing out my new ACL we made plans for another “killer” hike and ventured out less then a week later. We hiked up Blue Job, a whopping 1,300 feet, and made another afternoon of food and photos.

Looking out from Blue Job mountain summit

Looking out from Blue Job mountain summit

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Planning Stages: Canine Companion Part 2; Is your pup happy? Ready? Allowed?

As you get ready to venture onto the trail with your dog remember what you’re out there for. The trails are a place to reconnect with nature, to enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise. A place to encounter wildlife, pick up ticks, and get dirty. IF you or your dog do not enjoy these things you are probably in the wrong place.

Sometimes you find yourself in the wrong place!

Sometimes you find yourself in the wrong place!

Does your dog enjoy hiking?
Something to consider before you get too far into your adventure. I have been lucky enough to have adventurous dogs both past and present. A pooch who is happy on the trail will make all the difference. They will look forward to the next bend in the trail just as much as you will. Summiting a mountain and catching all the scents being carried to them on the cooling breeze. A dog who gets excited when they see the tent being pitched or packed is one for the woods.

Is your dog physically able?
I’m not questioning the size of your dog. I don’t care if you have an 8 pound Chihuahua or a 180 pound English Mastiff. My question is, is your dog physically in shape. Choose a hike accordingly. If your 8 pound Chihuahua wants to, and is able to, carry a pack then by all means strap two pounds of hotdog to them for a snack later on. I am talking about the real issues: Age, injury, illness. These are things to consider. Is your dog to old? To young? Dogs under a year should have less strain and physical demands put on their joints and bones as they are growing. I’m not saying don’t take them out for a hike but be smart. Don’t load them up with a pack with too much weight (more then 50% their body weight, I’ll talk more about pack weight in gear) or take them for extended hikes (the AT). In the same respect think about how an older dog will handle the trails. Are their joints in good condition. Are they at a healthy weight. Think about that last question hard. Our view of perceived healthy weight and the truth of it are usually two different things. This link gives one of the best outlines for measuring healthy weight
http://m.vetmed.iastate.edu/vetapps/AdultBodyCondChart.pdf
If your dog has a history of illness take that into consideration. Lyme disease is common in areas with a high concentration of Deer ticks. Many dogs test positive although it may lay dormant in their body. When it surfaces, physical symptoms may be: lameness, joint soreness, lethargy, and lack of appetite along with other symptoms. These symptoms may show up for 3 or 4 days at a time and then vanish. If out on an extended hike you may not associate lameness with illness but instead as a repercussion of the exertion of the hike. Left untreated Lyme can cause kidney or even nerve damage. Remember your dog is your responsibility. They rely on you to make the right choices for them and care for them.

Solstice at 2 months old

Solstice at 2 months old

Here is the reason to consider those things~
I had the most amazing dog growing up. His name was Solstice and he was a mix of who knows what, but I always claimed he was Pitbull, Rottweiler, and Shepard. Made him seem like a total bundle of badass (which he was). He was 45 pounds of pure muscle and love. I took him everywhere with me. Hiking, swimming, rollerblading, horseback riding. If I was off on an adventure so was he. This was true from the time he was 3 months old until he was 13 years old.
It was one of those days, the air was hot and stifling, a thick blanket of humidity covering every inch of your body. It was a day for swimming. I packed my car up with towels and my dog, called up my friends and headed out to our favorite swimming hole. The best part about this place was the island about a third of a mile out into the pond. We headed for the island, Sol’ swimming along side, no problem keeping up. We were just past the halfway mark to the island. I rolled over onto my back to take a moment and just appreciate the water and the sun, to look up into the sky and watch the clouds. I’d only just turned over when Sol’ attempted to climb over me erasing the sense of calm. He was struggling. Exhausted. Unwilling to leave my side. I had just led my dog to his death. This dog who had followed me anywhere for 12 years and was still following me, but he just didn’t have it in him. To turn around was pointless, the distance back was about the same as if we continued. I battled with ideas, trying to find a solution. How to keep my muscle bound dog above the water and get us BOTH safely to a shore. The bond between us was so strong, it was obvious he trusted me with his life. I called him to me as I floated on my back and I invited him to climb partway up onto me. I started swimming, slowly moving along and allowing him to “hitch” a ride. He would take breaks using me as a docking station while he regained his energy and then he’d swim along side me. It didn’t matter if I was on my back or stomach I’d feel him sneak up alongside than rest his front paws on my shoulders so that he’d be dragged along, a turtle propped on my back. That day he became known as “Super Dog”.
One of the single most terrifying moments of my life, when I believed I’d sentenced him to death. I had not taken into consideration the physical ability of my dog. The year before he had contracted Lyme disease and I wasn’t aware of how much of a toll it had taken on his body. He lived another 3 years. They were tough years as he lost his sight and hearing, he was arthritic down to his toes. Our joint adventures stopped as he enjoyed sun bathing and relaxing for his final years.

Solstice giving a "play bow" with his favorite toy 11 years old

Solstice giving a “play bow” with his favorite toy
11 years old

Are dogs allowed where you’re going?
In my mind dogs should be allowed everywhere; on buses, at work, on every trail and every mountain, even in restaurants. And then I pause and think realistically. My dog, Star, would not survive if I brought her to those places. She hasn’t had a bath in almost two years so I know I shouldn’t have her near food. She would probably pee in the bus. oh, not true. She would release her anal glands. A much more embarrassing and horrific experience for all involved. She would be grumbling at every person who came through the door at work. Yeah, needless to say my dog shouldn’t be in all those places. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t do great on the trail. Star is amazing on the trail. She enjoys meeting people and dogs. Seeing the sights and smelling EVERYTHING. She tends to stick to the trails but then again she does have this uncanny teleporting skill. One moment she’ll be on the trail ahead of us and the next I hear her behind me. Little Miss Stealth who uses the trees and undergrowth to her advantage of moving unseen off trail. And it is for this reason that some places ask that dogs not be brought into them.
National Parks usually fall into the category, dog free zone. It may be hard to understand that your dog may damage the ecosystem but when you realize everyone else and their dog is also out doing the same thing, you start to realize just how large an impact the dogs can have on the environment. Parts of the AT are off limits to dogs. The Smoky Mountain National Forest in NC, a 5 mile stretch in NY and last and most painful, Baxter Park where the completion of the trail and everything you’ve been through comes to an end as you summit Katahdin, without your dog. In NC there are Kennels who will pick up and care for your dog while you are in the National Forest and then return them to you after (I’m sure you’ll hear more about them as I learn more).

Many trails will list they are dog friendly and to please keep your dog leashed. Carry in carry out (poop). Respect their wishes. There are many different reasons they may be asking you to keep your dog leashed. Maybe it’s a breeding ground for an endangered bird, or the undergrowth is fragile. If you want more info about hiking areas check out “Best Hikes with dogs” http://besthikeswithdogs.com/best-hikes-with-dogs-guidebooks/ . They rate trails based on terrain and how it can effect your dog. Is the trail dog friendly but not a good choice because the terrain is risky to your dog; sharp rocks, steep climbs, ladders.

Some places are meant to be explored

Some places are meant to be explored

No matter where you go or what you do remember to have fun and be safe!

to be continued…


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Planning stages: Canine companion Part 1

The moment when you first feel inspired to go do the unthinkable is breathtaking, you have it all under control until you realize planning was not included in the moment. I announced my intentions of hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) well before I had done any REAL research or planning. Did I know what the AT was? Of course I did. Or so I thought.

With a year to go before I will make my way up Springer Mountain in GA I have plenty of time to start planning. There are some BIG things to be planned. I am not the only one undertaking this experience, although I am the only one doing it by choice. I will be taking my trusty sidekick and companion Star along for the trip. A young pup with a sense of adventure. Star was rescued along with her siblings from a shelter in Arkansas and made her way up to NH where I saw her adorable face staring at me through her web profile. Love at first sight!

A face worth loving! Star at 4 1/2 months old.

A face worth loving!
Star at 4 1/2 months old.


For anyone who is thinking to take their dog hiking I wish you the best in finding all the information you need. After hours of scrubbing the internet looking for one piece of information or another I have come to an understanding, there is NO ONE PLACE to find what you are looking for. Keywords, phrases, websites… so much knowledge and so little organization. Opinions. There are a lot of those out there. And since there are so many I’m going to put one more out there.

Dogs on the trail are AWESOME!!! They require work and time! My dog is happiest when she is running free. But hike days with a dog are not just about the dog. They are about yourself and others on the trail. When I first started hiking with Star I didn’t think this way. It was for her. So what she was bombing up the trail, chasing squirrels, meeting other dogs, not coming back when called, she was having the time of her life! These were her puppy days.

Three years later I realize just how naïve my perspective was.
When on the trail ALWAYS have your dog under control. Star has taught me MANY things in the three years I’ve had her. She doesn’t love every dog she meets. Not all dogs love her. She’s better off leash than on. Treats make everything better. Even though she ignores people it doesn’t mean they feel comfortable around her. And you never know what they’re getting into when you can’t see them.

Down to the nitty gritty of things you might want to consider before going on the trail. I sat and made a list. It was a short list. I started searching and suddenly my list got longer and longer, to the point where there was no easy way to find the information. I will try to provide as much insight into the topics I’m covering. Much of what I say may be my own opinion or based off select facts that I have found.

1) Does your dog enjoy hiking?
2) Are they physically able?
3) Are dogs allowed where you’re going?
4) Does your dog play well with others?
5) What supplies does your dog need on the trail?
6) Are you willing to take care of their poop?
7) Special accommodations?
8) Environmental hazards?
9) Nutrition
10) Veterinary care
11) Are you ready to put their needs before yours?

All it takes is one misstep to find yourself stuck in the mud.

All it takes is one misstep to find yourself stuck in the mud.