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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good-Bye 2013 + Dog Games


I'm overwhelmed looking back on what a great year 2013 has been for us. It's absolutely amazing how many adventures we were able to experience! Charlie and I have become a perfect hiking team and we both enjoy hitting the trails and spending time in nature. I hope 2014 has more of the same in store for us!

Part of the reason that I've been reviewing our old trail reports is because the weather has been brutally cold, preventing us from being outside, so reminiscing is a good way to get through the winter months. Last Saturday we were able to enjoy an afternoon of hiking on the trails at Rib Mountain State Park in Wausau, but sadly it was one of the few days the weather was decent enough to risk being outside for any amount of time.

Hiking adventures, especially with dogs, can be drastically restricted due to sub-zero temperatures and dangerous wind chills in winter and because cold weather is a problem for a lot of people who want to be active with their dogs, I have a few tips and suggestions for finding indoor activities if you're stuck inside.

1. Get some food dispensing toys to replace the dinner bowl. This will make your dog "work" for their food and help them burn some calories while having fun! My favorite food dispensing ball is the Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball - it's a great size, easy to fill, easy to clean and isn't loud when it's rolling on hardwood floors.


VIDEO of Charlie using Omega Paw Treat Dispensing Ball
(with appearance by Leo The House Lion):

2. Work on trick-training! I know not all dogs are into performing tricks, but many high-energy dogs will respond well with a little patience on your part. Use their dinner kibble as "reward" for performing the tricks or another low-calorie treat to prevent excess calories. I love the 101 Dog Tricks book and find it easy enough to use for most dog owners, plus these tricks are great for entertaining friends and family!


3. Play the DOG FOOD GAME! This is a real easy way to feed your dog while getting their heart-rate elevated. Basically spend 5-10 minutes throwing your dog's food to him one kibble at a time while they chase it. My mom even uses this game on her overweight Chihuahua and it works every time!

VIDEO of Charlie playing the Dog Food Game:


4. I'm a big fan of Elk Antlers. When you just need some time to yourself and your dog is bugging you... rather than feed him another chewy or rawhide, invest in some elk or deer antlers. These provide HOURS of chew time and dogs love them! Depending on your dogs chewing habits, antlers can last for years, so they are a good investment!



Hopefully these tips will get you through some cold weather until you can get outside and hit the trails again. If you want to read more about how to deal with a high-energy dog, you can read my article on Dogster.com... click HERE.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ice Age Trail: Verona Segment


On the return trip home from our Christmas holiday, Charlie and I stopped at Prairie Moraine County Park to hike a small section of the Verona Segment. As chance would have it, I had pulled off at this exit twice this past summer to stop at the gas station and let Charlie go potty... I had no idea that a segment of the Ice Age Trail was located just a mile down the road!

I continue to be amazed at how accessible, yet relatively unknown, this trail is.
 
Even more ironic is that this segment borders a heavily used off-leash dog park that shares the same parking lot. So if you're hiking with your dog, the dog park is an excellent spot to let them romp off-leash before or after the hike.

Charlie looking toward the Dog Exercise Area from the Ice Age Trail.

Since Charlie is a bit fear-aggressive toward most other dogs, we avoid dog parks and take full advantage of hiking on the Ice Age Trail where no one else had ventured. As with most hiking trails in Wisconsin, dogs are required to be leashed at all times on the trail.


As the name of the county park implies, this area is mostly "prairie" which makes it hard to appreciate during winter months, but winter has a way of simplifying the landscape allowing you to see things differently. We have had the opportunity to hike the same segments during different seasons and I can guarantee that the trail offers something completely new every time we hike it; don't avoid hiking just because it is winter!

Because the snow was at least a foot deep on most parts of the trail, we only hiked for about 30 minutes - just enough to get our heart rate up and stretch our legs before continuing on with the long drive.

Approaching the moraine.

We climbed the switchbacks up from the trail head to the top of the Johnstown End Moraine - which marks the furthest advance of the Green Bay Lobe and according to the IAT Companion Guide is on St. Peter Sandstone bedrock. At the top of the moraine sits an open-grown bur oak tree that predates European settlement.

Open-grown bur oak tree at top of moraine.

It's a bit surreal appreciating these ancient glacial landmarks while busy traffic on nearby County Highway PD buzzes past and people are romping with their dogs below; geological history surrounds us on a daily basis and generally goes unnoticed.


If we had continued hiking, we would have come to a spur trail leading to an observation deck revealing views of a ravine in the moraine cut by meltwater and the Sugar River Valley in the Driftless Area to the south, however Charlie was tiring out from plowing through the deep snow so we turned back.


After returning home and Googling images of this segment, I'm curious to explore further in the early summer when the prairie flowers are in full bloom and being surrounded by the birds and butterflies that are drawn to these flowers.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Over The River And Through The Woods...


I rarely (if ever) travel for the holidays. I avoid crowds and traffic whenever possible. But this Christmas was different; perhaps the last Christmas of its kind, so we went.

The drive was horrendous, taking two hours longer than the normal four to get there. Snow covered the highway with a layer of slush causing the car to fish-tail through the first few hours and requiring me to drive at speeds so slow, I feared someone would slam into the back of me if they weren't paying attention. I stopped several times to call everyone I knew and ask for advice on what to do. I would be absolutely devastated if I couldn't make the drive but didn't want to risk my safety. Everyone repeated the same type of advice: "We hope you can make it, but it's not worth the risk."

Then my sister responded with: "Sounds like you need more weight in the back of your car."

So practical. She's the kind of sister who always knows exactly what to say at exactly the right time.

I remembered seeing a sign for Menards at the previous exit, so I turned around and bought 150 lbs. worth of kitty litter, Ice Melt and bird seed, then rearranged everything in my car to get these heavy bags in the back. I can't say that it really helped that much, but I felt much more confident and continued on with my slow journey until, mercifully, the snow stopped falling and the roads dried up.


The last couple of hours were smooth sailing and I drove westward into the sunset. Crystal clear blue skies lifted my spirits and I marveled at the fresh blanket of white snow covering everything. As the sun dipped lower, the horizon became a rainbow of color that backlit the snow-covered trees, turning their branches pink.

Eventually the glowing orange orb of the sun disappeared and the rainbow horizon intensified in color as the blue sky above turned a dark indigo blue. Then, right in front of me, a bright star appeared.
...

We arrived safely and had a magical and memorable Christmas. Definitely one-of-a-kind. I've never been more grateful and thankful and I hope I can hang onto these beautiful feelings for the year to come... that is afterall what Christmas is all about.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Dog Is My Co-Pilot = Distracted Driving

Charlie and I will be hitting the road today along with millions of other holiday travelers and while weather conditions are at the top of most people's minds when they travel, distracted driving is also a big problem these days.

You've probably seen the amusing "Dog Is My Co-Pilot" bumper sticker a million times, and honestly I don't think I've ever seen an actual dog in the co-pilot position in the vehicles with this slogan. But I have seen many dogs on their owners' laps while driving and with states cracking down on texting and driving, many are also enacting laws about unrestrained dogs in cars.

Charlie's favorite spot in my old Jeep was sitting on the middle console. I thought it was absolutely adorable when she perched herself on this spot, but there were two occasions when I had to stop suddenly and she hit her nose on the dashboard and once bumped the gear shift out of Drive and into Neutral. Scary shit.


Charlie riding without a restraint.

When I traded in my Jeep for a Kia Soul, the middle console was considerably smaller and not a good place for Charlie to sit, and after the previous scares mentioned above, I decided it was time to get her a car restraint.

Research showed that there weren't many options available that would protect her in a car crash, but I went with the best combination of products to help reduce distracted driving. I picked up a cheap-ish $20 car harness at one of the big-box pet stores and ordered a Kurgo Direct-to-Seat-Belt-Tether for $12. The Kurgo Tether works well with Charlie's Ruffwear Web Master Harness too.

I know that these products do not fully protect Charlie in a high-speed collision, but if I can prevent her from distracting me while driving, hopefully we won't have to worry about being in a collision.

If you think about it, our dogs are like kids to most of us; would you put your child in a car without a seatbelt? I admit, I miss having Charlie up front riding along with me and I know she misses being in front, but her safety is worth more.

Kurgo has some REALLY great products for protecting your dog in the car. I haven't tested many other brands, but this is a good place to start. They have a lot of different options to suit many different sizes of dogs.

Have a Merry Christmas and safe travels!


Direct to seat belt tether for dogs
Image courtesy of Kurgo.com

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Blog Hop Challenge

Apparently there is some sort of Blog Hop Challenge happening today to encourage pet bloggers to come out from behind the camera and introduce themselves. Well, for many of my regular readers, you already know that I bare my soul and probably share more than you want (or need) to know about me! But I love a challenge, so here goes:

1. Include a recent picture of yourself.



2. On December 18th, publish a post answering at least five (and feel free to answer more!) of the following questions:

What’s one thing you could do to be more kind to yourself?
I tend to be really hard on myself and have way too high expectations for what can reasonably be accomplished in a day, week, month or lifetime. Hiking makes me slow down and take time to "just be" so that is something that helps me find balance. I would like to make time to do more stretching and yoga-type activities to take care of my mind and body even more.

Other than blogging, what are three things you do that bring you joy?
Obviously hiking! Also being outdoors in nature, spending time with Charlie and enjoying a cup of coffee and a good book (when Charlie lets me!).

If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?
Life has been really good, so this is hard to answer. No matter what is going on (good or bad) I just try to be grateful for what I have. I guess I would like to have a job or career where I could spend time with dogs all day long and never go back to a desk job in Cubicleland, but someone's gotta pay the bills!

What is one thing you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
Since starting this blog, I've become a lot more self-confident. The past three years of my life have been a journey of self discovery and I've really learned who I am and what I want in life. As the saying goes, "the longest journey is the journey inward."

What one word would people who know you use to describe you?
Generous. I've always been a giving person... sometimes too giving. I'm really working on finding that balance between helping others without depleting myself completely.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I'm typically hiking or playing with Charlie in my free time, but I love that half-hour before bed when I can read a book uninterrupted while snuggling with my sleeping dog. It's a great way to wind down from the day and prepare my mind for a good night's sleep.

What do you wish you were more skilled at?
Sometimes this computer stuff gets a little overwhelming for me. Google is a great source to find answers, but it doesn't do everything. I wish I was better at web design and figuring out all those "codes."

What makes you feel fabulous?
Hmmm... fabulous? I guess when someone compliments my writing or photography, it feels pretty great. I try not to put too much stock into what others think of me, but when my family and friends say nice things about my blog, I just glow!



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Visiting an Old Friend


Charlie and I paid a visit to an "old friend" yesterday ~ the Grandfather Falls Segment of the Ice Age Trail... still as beautiful as ever.

The cold snap has finally given way to normal temperatures and we'll be hitting the trails in full force this week!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Best Hikes of 2013

At this time of year, I always find myself reflecting and appreciating all that I've accomplished. It's a good point in time to assess what you did right, what you did wrong and what you want to do differently next year. 2013 was one of the busiest and most challenging years I've ever had. It was full of ups and downs and tons of new adventures, pushing my limits and learning what I'm capable of. I've grown stronger and gained self-confidence and I owe it all to the renewing power of nature and movement; one foot in front of the other.

Because this time of year is for reflection, it is also a time for lists! Everywhere you look there are recap lists for "Best of" and "Top 10's," and in reviewing our adventures over the past year, I've come up with my own list of favorite hikes of 2013!

This was the year that I discovered the Ice Age Trail and because I became so passionate about this national scenic trail, most of my favorite hikes are IAT segments:

Grandfather Falls Segment - Most Inspirational Trail
This segment was the very first IAT segment that Charlie and I hiked, and for that reason it will always be my favorite. Grandfather Falls opened up my world of exploration and gave me appreciation for the wonders of nature available in my own "backyard."


Plover River Segment - The Beginning of Adventure
This segment was the "official" start of deciding to hike the Ice Age Trail with my dog. Although Charlie and I probably will never hike all the segments, we intend to hike as many as possible. I still remember the rush of disappearing into the thick jungle-like terrain on this segment and immersing myself in a new world full of tough challenges and unbelievable beauty.


St. Croix Falls Segment/Interstate State Park - An Introduction to IAT History
I was in WAY over my head with this segment! I mistakenly thought I'd be physically able to hike this entire segment and all the other interesting trails inside Interstate State Park during a two-day camping trip; boy, was I wrong! Even though we were unable to tackle every trail on the itinerary, we had a blast and continued to learn how much natural beauty our state has to offer. This was an action-packed weekend that was the high point of our summer.


Turtle Rock Segment - Most Challenging Trail
I had never felt so removed from civilization until I hiked this segment. We were truly in some of the most remote wilderness in this part of the state. The trail was long, hot and exhausting and I was never more glad to be done hiking for the day, but I also learned that I had the strength and willpower to do it! When we returned to Turtle Rock in the fall and hiked only the portion along the Wisconsin River, I slowed down and took the time to really appreciate the significance of the ancient rocks along the river and the unique beauty surrounding us. I'm so glad this segment is close to my home so that we can explore it on a regular basis - and best of all, it's directly across the river from Grandfather Falls, our other favorite trail!


Chaffee Creek Segment - Most Surprising Trail
This trail makes the list simply because it was such a surprise to find it! Throughout the year, I was in awe of how often the Ice Age Trail popped up in the most unlikely places and conversations; it seemed to be more than coincidence, like this trail was meant to find me. Chaffee Creek Segment reminds me that nature is more accessible and available than most people think and to not underestimate the effects nature can have on your well-being.


Honorable Mentions:
In addition to the Ice Age Trail segments, there were three stand-out trails and parks that are just too good not to mention...

1.  Dells of the Eau Claire ~ this county park also has a segment of the Ice Age Trail within its boundaries, but the park trails are definitely just as enchanting. This park is one of our area "gems" that many locals look forward to showing off to friends, family and visitors. The ancient bedrock that make up the dells are as old as the rocks found at Grandfather Falls and Turtle Rock.

2.  Big Eau Pleine ~ this is another local county park that is full of hiking trails open to horses, snow-shoeing, mountain biking and leashed dogs. There are two campgrounds, boat launches and it even contains a State Natural Area with old-growth forest.

3.  Governor Dodge State Park ~ this park contains over 5,000 acres containing trails and unique Driftless Area landscape to explore... simply more than can be accomplished in one trip! There are multiple campgrounds, two lakes with boat rentals, dog-friendly swimming areas and horseback riding trails. It may not look like much from the entrance, but wait until you get inside!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

In Pursuit of Blank Places on the Map

"To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part." ~Aldo Leopold


This past week, with high temperatures in the negative digits, has been excruciating! Not just physically, but mentally as well. December is usually the perfect month for hiking before it gets too cold or the snow too deep, but this year is just not cooperating.

Instead of complaining or sinking into cabin-fever-depression, I've decided to use the indoor time to plan out hikes and study my Ice Age Trail maps. This exercise for the mind has done wonders for my well-being and I'm really excited to get hiking again once the weather improves!

My niece always laughs at me because I'm seldom without a map in hand, but they bring me so much joy just imagining the adventures to be had!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cabin Fever

Frosty windows ~ beautiful artwork but claustrophobic.

It's WAY too early for cabin fever to be setting in... but hard to deny it's happening already. Temps have been in the negative digits the past week which means it's unsafe to go hiking, or to even be outside for any length of time.

Last night Charlie and I walked to the video store to return a DVD that was due (we've been watching a lot of t.v. and movies to pass the time) and even though it was only 8 blocks roundtrip, Charlie was hopping on three legs by the time we got home; her feet had gotten too cold.

My rule is that we don't hike unless it's going to be over 10 degrees. Today was supposed to get up to 13 degrees, but it never happened. It's so cold outside that all the window panes in my apartment have frozen over and we can no longer even look out the windows. Charlie keeps jumping up into her window seat to watch the neighborhood and is starting to show frustration at not being able to see out.

We play in the backyard for short bursts of activity and are working through the trick-training book indoors, but we're both itching to get back out on a trail. I'm afraid December is going to pass by all too quickly without being able to enjoy the outdoors before the deepest part of winter - January - sets in.

Fingers are crossed for a break in the cold... hopefully soon.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Fun With Pets


Since it's absolutely freezing cold outside, we decided to stay inside and try to set up the fake Christmas tree instead.

Charlie and Leo were enjoying playing hide-and-seek with the box until Leo's attention was diverted to the tree being assembled. His outdoor instincts quickly took over!


We realized that the tree was NOT going to be an option this year, but we did leave it up long enough for them to play with for a little while before packing it all away again.



 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nature's Glitter


A large portion of the country is experiencing a snowstorm today - including the Midwest where we live. I woke up and shoveled a couple of inches of wet snow off our sidewalks and driveway this morning and repeated the process again just twelve hours later. I've seen worse, but it's too early for this!


I clipped Charlie into her hiking vest and a long tether attached to a tree in our yard so she could watch me shovel while I tossed her tennis ball into the snow... her favorite hide-and-seek game. She bounced and played in the snow just like a small child, burying her nose in the white fluff and sticking her cute butt up in the air in play-stance. She knows just how to make me laugh!

Temperatures are forecast to drop into the negative digits later this week so it looks as though the almanac was correct: a colder and snowier winter than normal. Oh well. At least everything is covered with a beautiful white blanket of nature's glitter.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Paff Woods


Earlier this year a woman was attacked in Paff Woods, and while I was extremely disturbed about the news story, I was also intrigued to check out this local park that I had never heard of before. With this week being gun-deer season and Charlie limping on a bruised foot from last weekend, I thought this might be the perfect time to hike Paff Woods - a city park, hence no hunting allowed and a short enough hike that wouldn't aggravate Charlie's sore foot.


There's a tiny parking lot at the end of the road and as you begin the trail, a quaint wooden bridge takes you over a small, trickling creek and onto a boardwalk.


The boardwalk winds its way into the woods and eventually comes to a divergence where you have a choice to turn left or right or just sit on a bench and take a break. We decided to turn left.


The boardwalk continues for a short distance along the base of the hill amidst pine trees and fallen logs...


..until you come to the end of the boardwalk and a rustic woodsy trail takes over. It's a nice wide path with occasional rocks and tree roots, but otherwise fairly even. The trail continues uphill for a little ways and then levels out at the top where you can see a city street through the trees on the edge of the park.


We listened as a flock of geese flew over us, presumably on their way south and admired the giant trees at the top of this hill. A few crows were about making noise in the woods, but Charlie was too busy sniffing squirrel tracks to notice.


On the descent down the other side of the hill, I paused to admire the view of downtown Wausau through the bare tree branches and took a little break on a perfectly placed park bench. Charlie was sweet enough to give me some time to absorb the woodsy scents and peaceful quiet before urging me on.


As we made our way back to the fork in the boardwalk, I noticed a bit of graffiti that I actually didn't mind seeing...


...and we did. It was a very ENJOYable hike and only took about 30 minutes to complete the entire loop. I think we'll be making use of these woods a lot this winter when the roads are too hazardous to travel. The cool thing about this trail is that we can hike multiple loops (similar to walking on a track or treadmill) and get a variety of terrain going up and down the hill while breathing in fresh air... so much better than being at the gym, and added bonus - I get to have my dog along!

Nature is the only "gym" where dogs are allowed... and it's free!