Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Fox and The Hound


This is a cautionary tale of hiking with a dog off-leash. Even though I preach about the responsibility of keeping a dog on-leash, I regularly seek out opportunities where Charlie has a chance to run off-leash. It's only normal for a dog to be able to run free when the opportunity presents itself!

This doesn't mean, however, that I allow her to pester people or other dogs or even break the law, rather, I choose a good location where I can somewhat predict that no other people or dogs will come near us, or if they do, I'll have enough space/time to get Charlie back on her leash before it becomes a problem.

I don't put other people's pets at risk and I try to respect other people's space in case they are fearful of dogs.

This is typically a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless.

Today was the perfect example of this kind of risk...


Charlie and I were enjoying a beautiful fall day hiking at one of our favorite parks (on-leash). The trails were busy today with horseback riders, mountain bikers and other hikers with dogs. 

As we passed more and more people, I realized this hike was becoming more of a tug-o-war game between us:  me pulling Charlie away from horses and dogs, her pulling forward to greet the next person or animal to pass us. My shoulder began to hurt from pulling her back and she even choked a few times when the harness pressed up on her esophagus. 

I was becoming agitated and the hike was no longer full of fun and frolic for either of us.

Instead of cutting it short and heading home, I decided to take a detour off the busy trail and head off-trail into a forested peninsula where we had never run into another person or dog before and were pretty much guaranteed to have all to ourselves.

Once we were far enough off the main trail and surrounded by water on three sides, I let Charlie off her leash. She bounded forward leaping over logs and headed over to the shore to search out the best stick.

I shuffled my feet through the deep layer of fallen leaves making a <<CRUNCH-SWOOSH>> noise as I went, trying not to trip over rocks or roots. I had to stop occasionally to listen for Charlie to see where she was since she had run far enough ahead to be out of sight.

The third time I stopped my noisy crunch-swoosh-shuffle and looked up, I was surprised to see a beautiful red fox with a big bushy tail heading straight toward me! 

It took my brain a minute to register what I was seeing and everything seemed to go into slow-motion. 

The fox looked like it was leisurely cruising through the woods and barely even noticed when it passed within ten feet of a human. That's when I realized Charlie was in hot pursuit only 15 feet behind the fox and it looked like she was gaining on it.

As they streaked past me, I snapped out of my reverie and began to shout, "CHARLIE-COME!" over and over. I stood there in disbelief unable to stop her pursuit. Charlie's recall command is shaky at best, and once her prey drive kicks in, it's nearly impossible to get her to stop. 

In the past, we've only come across deer or squirrel in the woods and after a short chase, she comes back to me, winded but unharmed.

I had no idea what would happen if she actually caught up with this fox. Images of horrible bite wounds and scratches all over her body raced through my mind.

I called her name loudly over and over as I quickly made my way back the way we had come, trying fruitlessly to catch up to them. I didn't like the high-pitched, panicked quality of my voice as I yelled out. I had a feeling this was going to end badly.

But suddenly, Charlie was trotting back toward me and as she got close I bent down to inspect her. She was breathing heavily, but miraculously was unharmed!

I couldn't believe how lucky we had been. I've read and heard enough tales of dogs tangling with wildlife to know how horribly this could have ended.

Both our hearts were racing and our bodies were pumped full of adrenaline from this brief encounter. That was enough for me; we headed back to the main trail and went home. Our hiking excursion was over.

Charlie curled up on the front seat and eventually dozed off on the drive home. I opened the sun roof for some fresh air, turned off the radio and allowed my mind to replay the scene over and over. It's so weird how the brain works in situations like this and it still feels like it happened to someone else, not me.

This event probably won't stop me from allowing Charlie off-leash, but I will definitely be more careful about where I choose to allow her to run free from now on. I love this little dog and it's up to me to make sure she's safe. Just because I've never seen any dangerous wildlife near a well-used hiking trail doesn't mean that they're not there.

10/28/12:  Two years ago Charlie and I found bear tracks at this park. Yikes!


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Raining Acorns


We had the pleasure of one more nice-weather weekend for camping recently and took full advantage of it. These are the kinds of days that help us Wisconsinites make it through our harsh winters. I'll be reminiscing the beauty of this weekend for many months to come.

Warm winds stirred the leaves and we were treated to a "sprinkling" of acorns throughout the campsite. Dodging falling acorns became a game around camp and many of "those looks" were passed between mother and daughter as we realized how close we were to getting nailed in the head with them!


Sleeping in the tent at night was a whole new auditory experience as leaves and acorns slid and bounced down the sloped nylon walls, punctuated by the occasional *PING* of acorns hitting metal (probably the car) and *THUDS* as they hit the ground around the tent. Charlie was understandably freaked out by all the noise, but taking the rain cover off the tent and exposing the mesh ceiling helped mute the acorn thuds and allowed a view of a million sparkling stars now visible through the dwindling canopy above.

Charlie's acorn hat.

This was my first time camping in the fall. It will not be my last. There is no better time of year to experience the beautiful outdoors and enjoy the farewell party that nature throws for us before winter comes.

Such a sight to behold.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Busy Beavers @ Turtle Rock


So a couple of weeks ago, Charlie and I *attempted* to hike the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age Trail. We hadn't been there since last September and this is the absolute BEST time of year to hike this particular trail.

But after receiving heavy rains over a couple of weeks, we found that the trail was washed out shortly into our hike, and without water sandals (or a swimsuit), there was no way to get through.

Dejectedly, I turned around and slopped my way back through the muddy trail to the car and then drove to the other side of the Wisconsin River and hiked the Grandfather Falls Segment as Plan B - which was actually quite amazing!


But I really wanted to hike Turtle Rock.

So the following weekend, we ventured back - armed with my water sandals and a towel this time! But when we got to the spot where the trail was washed out, we found everything was neatly repaired.

By beavers.

Yep. This was my first time seeing firsthand the awesome construction ability of beavers. Pretty cool.

In the photo below, you can see the mowed trail on the other side of the beaver dam; the shore of the pond has "moved" into the trail about 10 feet and now you have to detour through the little creek on the other side of the dam. It's really quite incredible, since this "pond" was more like a marshy lowland last year; we've gotten a lot of rain this year!


I'm really glad I went back because the fall colors were absolutely gorgeous and well-worth the second trip.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Wooden Water Tubes

A cool feature of the Grandfather Falls Segment is the wooden water tubes that transport water from the reservoir down to the hydro dam.

This is what the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide says about them:
"Follow two large parallel pipelines that carry water down hundreds of yards from a man-made reservoir upriver. These pipeline "tubes" are made of wood banded with steel. Wood was used for these pipelines because it does not corrode or rot under the constant water pressure. However, the water pressure does create a fascinating tubular fountain effect. Water shoots from hundreds of small leaks occurring in knotholes in the wood."

The first time I saw them, they were nothing like what I expected. They were much larger and also much longer! It's really quite incredible that you can walk along right next to them. In fact, it's downright amazing that you can have access to the hydro dam property through this segment.

The tubes are so large, you can even see them on Google maps...


I've tried to capture the enormity of these tubes with photos, but it doesn't quite look the same. You have to feel what it's like to be in their presence, to hear the water cascading from the leaks.

So here's another quick video of the end of our Grandfather Falls hike as we walked past the tubes on our way to the parking area at the hydro dam:

(Just a reminder that if you have trouble viewing videos on this blog, you can try using a different browser like Chrome. Internet Explorer is not compatible with some features.)