Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tired Boots

In one of my previous posts, I said that hiking didn't require any special gear. Well, that is mostly true, but you can have a better experience if you bring along some essentials. One of them being proper shoes or boots.

Charlie and I *attempted* to take a walk around our neighborhood last night... I use the word "attempt" because most of the sidewalks were covered in ice and we had an interesting time traversing the landscape. The street lamps reflected the icy spots pretty well so we could tell where the dry spots were, but when we got to darker streets, it was nearly impossible to tell what you were walking on. In some spots, we opted to walk in the calf-deep snow on the boulevards because it was safer than skating the sidewalks.

Charlie is a bit of leash-puller, only because she's used to walking towards a destination where I'll let her off-leash to run; she's in a big hurry to get there. I haven't figured out how to explain to her that sometimes we're just walking around the neighborhood and our only destination is home. As a result, I ended up skating behind her a lot. At first, this took me out of my comfort zone and my initial feeling was to be scared from this loss of control; I was at the mercy of my dog! But then a childlike joy took over and it was actually fun! I bent my knees, like you would to go downhill skiing, and just let her pull me. Ahhh... to be ten years old again. Hmmm.

Anyway, getting back to proper shoes. All this "penguin waddling" and stiff posture from trying not to fall on the ice resulted in super-sore leg muscles. Even my toes were sore from gripping the soles of my boots with every step. I started evaluating my boots because my feet have been hurting more than usual after our hikes. I realized that I've had these boots for a few years now (actually probably more like four) and I wear them every day in the winter in addition to mile-long hikes; I love my boots. But I think they've seen better days and probably should retire very soon. I'll be going shopping this weekend to see what boots are left at this end-of-season time. I've been noticing sandals and summer clothes on shelves already so I'm afraid I may have to wait until next fall to find a pair of boots that I like, and that are in my size.
Happy hiking!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Good vs. Perfect

I'm a fan of Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness Project website. One of her Secrets of Adulthood, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," rings so true for me. Just last week I realized that I had stopped taking my daily vitamin and as a result I'm dealing with a cold. Don't get me wrong, I have no proof that lack of vitamins can make it easier for someone to get sick, but that's my theory in this instance.

I forgot to take my multi-vitamin for a couple of days and then that continued for about a month. In my mind, since I wasn't taking it every day (the perfect) why bother taking it at all. But taking my vitamin on the days I remember (the good) is better than not at all. Right?

Anyway, I started thinking this is the case with hiking and walking (and exercise, in general) for most people. Because they can't commit to a daily schedule, they don't do it at all. When in reality, doing it when you can is better than not at all. And even if the weather isn't all that great or you can't think of a good destination to walk towards, just the motion of your footsteps and focusing on your breaths can be healthy in so many ways.

Just head out your door and flip a coin ~ left or right ~ and keep walking. You don't have to pay attention to your surroundings if you don't want to (although if you really look, there is beauty all around you), just let your mind wander and de-clutter from the chaos of your day. Focus on the rhythm of your footsteps, take deep breaths... and after awhile you become relaxed and better able to see the world around you. Have you ever noticed that some of the chimneys on the houses in your neighborhood are really quite interesting? Pay attention to how light at different times of the day highlights architectural details of buildings that you've never really looked at.

The beauty of walking (and hiking) is that it forces you to slow down and increases your awareness of your surroundings. Houses and buildings that you typically zoom past in your vehicle all of a sudden have stained glass windows and hummingbirds in the flowers. Get out there and enjoy it; life is too short to miss this.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Urban Hike: Wausau River Edge Parkway

I am totally wiped out this weekend. Charlie let me sleep in a little bit this morning and even snuggled on the couch with me while I sipped my coffee and watched the CBS Sunday Morning show. But I have a ton of office work to do today and I know she won't let me get anything done unless I get her some decent exercise. Since I'm totally sick of driving, I decided we'd just walk down to the River Edge Parkway today.

I have to admit, I feel pretty lucky to live just a few blocks from the Wisconsin River and have access to this beautiful walking trail. The trail is not completely finished yet, and the segment by my neighborhood is seldom used because of this. Charlie and I typically take a daily walk on this trail ~ rain or shine! There is a newly installed kayak/canoe launch that we use in the summer and Divepoint Scuba opened a paddle shop at the entrance to the walkway last year. I have a feeling this section of the trail is going to start attracting a lot of paddle enthusiasts ~ and I'm one of them.

The path is well-lit with street lamps that always make me feel like I'm in the land of Narnia this time of year. When the snow is slowly drifting down in the lamplight and there's that muted sound that fresh snow makes, you can literally be transported away from the here and now. A few benches scattered along the trail make great spots to take a break and enjoy the riverfront scenery.

While I appreciate all the frozen, wintery brilliance of the walkway this time of year, mostly I'm day-dreaming of all the fun we'll have once the days start getting longer. I'm looking foward to our morning walks when we can watch the sun rise and listen to the birds sing. When Charlie can play in the water, rather than standing on the ice. When we can watch the carp splashing and slurping the surface of the water at sundown. So much to look foward to!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Council Grounds State Park

Charlie did great while I was out of town last night, but she's definitely ready to go on the next hike! I'm completely wiped out from the activities of the last 24 hours. The weather on the drive down to Milwaukee was terrible ~ complete white-knuckle driving, combined with rush hour traffic and bad directions totally stressed me out. We got there in time to check into our hotel and rush across the street to catch the concert. The drive home the next day was much better. We took a more familiar (and scenic) route and got home safely. And Charlie was happy to see me! I "decompressed" for a couple hours to relax from all the driving, but then realized that Charlie was going to need a good long hike to be satisfied for the day. Another drive was looming...

Charlie and I live on a typical city block about a mile from downtown Wausau. It's a convenient location, but oh how I miss living in the country where you can just walk out your backdoor and go hiking in the fields and woods surrounding your house. Charlie gets regular walks around our neighborhood, but there are not a lot of "off-leash" opportunities. In my opinion, a dog's life is not complete if they aren't allowed to run untethered every now and then. It's just not in their nature to be tied up all the time. The sheer joy in Charlie's face when she gets to run flat-out at top speed is priceless. Because of this, we end up driving to find good secluded hiking spots where she can run and I don't have to worry about traffic or people. Winter is the ideal time for this because many people just don't venture out ~ which is great because we get the woods all to ourselves!

But when we got to Council Grounds State Park today, there were signs posted for the Ice Drags. After driving a half hour to get there, I was pretty disappointed to realize that the park was going to have more activity today than I was hoping for. Charlie was spooked by all the engine revving noise on the river and neither of us were enjoying the hike too much. After a short walk along an unused path, we turned around and went back to the parking lot.

I thought maybe if I drove around, we could find another trail that would be more peaceful; that was not to be the case. Apparently most of the trails in the park have been groomed for cross country skiing and there were signs posted everywhere that no hiking was allowed on the groomed trails. Looked like we were out of luck today and weren't going to find a good spot afterall. Despite this, the short hike along the riverbank was quite beautiful. The soft pine branches were so green! And Charlie did get to explore a new place, even if it was short-lived.

We drove back into Merrill where I stopped at Culver's to get a frozen custard and feed Charlie some dog treats while we sat in the parking lot. I pulled out my Wisconsin Gazatteer to see if I could find some other hidden gem on our way back to Wausau. There was a small town(?) called Pine River that showed an icon for a "geographical feature." I thought it might be fun to check it out, but we ended up at a dead end road surrounded by private property and no way to hike back in to the woods to find this mystical geographical feature. I guess it will remain a mystery. I was getting tired and decided I'd been driving enough already so we headed home. We took a small detour to take a quick walk around the East High School athletic fields. Charlie definitely did not get the exercise I had intended for her today, but the effort was there.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Quick Hike: Sunnyvale Park

I'm heading out of town shortly to see a concert in Milwaukee. Charlie will be home for the next 22 hours, with scheduled visits from her doggy-sitter and a family friend, so we need to go for a quick hike to get her exercised before I leave. Because of time constraints, I didn't want to stray too far from home so we ended up driving to Sunnyvale Park on the West side of Wausau. This is an ideal place if you want a scenic but easy hike. The small "lake" is man-made and has a wide hiking trail around its perimeter. There is a sandy beach with bathrooms, volleyball pits and picnic shelters. One side of the park features an open area for model airplane flying ~ you can hear the buzz of the aircrafts in the air on most days. If you follow the occasional foot-paths through the woods, you'll end up on the bank of the Big Rib River which flows around the park in little s-shaped twists and turns. When the river is low enough, you can walk through the shallows to the little islands dotted throughout. Last summer I threw a tennis ball across the river onto an island for Charlie to fetch ~ she LOVES to swim ~ but she didn't see where it landed; it's still there.
Today is still pretty cold and it's snowing. The weather forecast had said the snow would taper off by noon; apparently that was wrong. The wind blowing on the North side of the lake is fierce and frigid. The snow pelted my face and made me miserable. Walking on the path was treacherous due to the ice layer beneath the snow that threatened to twist my ankle at any moment. But when we reached the other side of the lake, protected by the wall of trees, it was a peaceful little winter wonderland. The wind had not stripped the weeds and trees of their blanket of snow yet. The weeds were wearing little "hats" of snow and even though there was no bright sunlight, the snow sparkled.

I didn't really have time to hike all the way around the lake, but Charlie was having so much fun and I was inspired to take pictures of all the beauty around us. So the lesson to take away from today's hike: even though you don't have a lot of time and the weather is not cooperating, you can have a good hike if you just let the mood take over you. Typically once you motivate yourself and get out there ~ even when you don't feel like it ~ it'll be worth it!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stir Crazy Cold

Sitting at a desk in front of a computer behind a cubicle wall all day can drive you mad! Combine that with sub-zero temps in the heart of a January winter in Wisconsin, you can almost go stir-crazy from cabin fever. Although if I actually had a cabin, at least I could snuggle up in front of a fireplace and wrestle with my dog (in my mind, all cabins have fireplaces). Alas, I live in a small 500 square foot apartment with a tiny fenced-in yard.

Charlie and I look forward to our many hikes because of this very reason. We have a few more days of waiting for the temps to warm up before we get back outside to breathe some fresh air and stretch our legs. In the meantime, Charlie is standing watch over our hiking gear... boots, backpack and leash. Good girl, Charlie.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dells of Eau Claire: Fall Flashback

The temperatures this week are way below zero with wind chills too cold to speak of. Charlie and I will not be doing any extensive outdoor activities this week. Since we're limited to indoor playtime for a bit, I thought I'd post up some pictures of our hikes at Dells of the Eau Claire River from earlier this fall. Enjoy the flashback and remember warmer weather will be here before you know it!

And a short video of the river:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dells of the Eau Claire River County Park

This hidden gem located about 30 minutes East of Wausau is one of our favorite hiking places. A short (and scenic) drive provides miles of beautiful hiking trails, most of them completely deserted. I prefer hiking on quiet, secluded trails away from people and noise. And while this is a popular destination for both locals and visitors, there are still plenty of trails that are off the beaten path.

Hiking is a time for me to escape the hustle and bustle of the city life and let my mind wander without any distractions. Quiet is essential for my creative thinking and I look forward to these hikes all week long. Thoughts of the fresh crisp air and the snow crunching under my boots are what keep me sane during the long work-week. Saturday morning is the highlight of our week ~ and Charlie refuses to let me sleep in for long. She knows that when my automatic coffee pot doesn't go off, it must be Saturday, and the hiking is about to begin!

The falls were quiet today, although you could hear the water gurgling through the small openings here and there. Sound was so muted that I felt like I was transported to another world. You could almost imagine that you were hiking in a forest in the Pacific Northwest... just the smell of pine and clean air.

Here's a link to a great map showing the hiking trails:  Dells of Eau Claire Hiking Trails

*Another bonus about making the drive is that we can stop at the Owl Ridge General Store on the way home for some treats and baking supplies. Click here for directions and hours.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dog-Gone Snow Stomp

Charlie on the pitcher's mound
Temperatures were cold today! But the Wausau and Marathon County Parks Department went ahead with the first of two Dog-Gone Snow Stomps scheduled for this winter. For a small fee and with proof of rabies vaccine, dogs were allowed into Athletic Park (where the Wisconsin Woodchucks play baseball). Charlie had a great time socializing with the other dogs, and was surprisingly well-behaved! We only stayed for an hour; I was getting cold and Charlie had icicles hanging from her whiskers. Hopefully the weather will be a little warmer for the next one scheduled in February.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Definition of "Hiking"

According to the dusty, crumbling dictionary on my bookshelf, the definition of hiking is, "To go on an extended walk, especially for pleasure." That sounds about right to me. Put on a pair of comfortable shoes, go outside, and connect with the environment; listening to the world around me, aware of the sights and smells, and letting my mind wander and unwind. There are no rules, no special equipment needed, just get outside and go!

Friday, January 11, 2013

January Rain

I was lulled to sleep by the pitter-patter of rain against my bedroom window last night... which wouldn't be that strange, but it's January. In Wisconsin.
In any case, it was pleasant and brought back memories of summer for a minute... which is a good thing in January. In Wisconsin.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sticky Sticker

I had asked for a State Park sticker for Christmas... and (surprise!) I got one. Since the temperature warmed up to a balmy 29 degrees today, I decided I'd attempt to remove last year's sticker from my windshield and apply the new one. ("Attempt" was the key word, in case you missed that.) These stickers are manufactured with the stickiest glue! I was prepared for it this year, though. Rather than trying to peel it off with just my fingernails (as I've done in the past), I was armed with a razor blade, a giant bottle of Goo-Gone, glass cleaner and paper towels. Even with all the proper equipment, I still ended up scraping most of the goo off with my fingernails. Finally, after using enough Goo-Gone, the old sticker was off (and in about a million tiny pieces) and the new sticker was on!
I'm so excited to get out and start exploring! Stay tuned for trail updates, photos and musings as the 2013 hiking year begins...