Friday, May 31, 2013

Best Outdoor Activities Town: WAUSAU!

How cool is this?! Wisconsin Trails online survey results awarded Wausau with the #2 spot for Best Outdoor Activities Town! Since Wausau is the home of Hiking With Heather, I couldn't be happier! And it is so true... outdoor activities are abundant here. I love how they mention the Ice Age Trail... which will be the focus of my upcoming guided trail hikes. Charlie and I are heading up to the Turtle Rock Segment tomorrow!

Check out the other towns on the list here.

Excerpt from list on
2. Best Outdoor Activities Town: Wausau
Name an outdoor activity and it’s highly likely you can do it in Wausau. Skiing on Rib Mountain, kayaking on the Wisconsin River at Whitewater Park and hiking the Ice Age Trail are just the tip of the, ahem, iceberg when it comes to enjoying Wisconsin’s outdoors here.

“Tons of parks, Rib Mountain, snowmobile trails, fishing in Lake Wausau and the Wisconsin River, kayaking championships. And, there are a lot more green areas than other cities.” – Mark Ninnemann, Ringle

“I can paddle a kayak and catch a musky or a walleye in the same place!” – Andrew Plath, Wausau

“From downhill skiing at Granite Peak in the winter to boating and kayaking the Wisconsin River in the summer, there is always something to do. The area also offers great whitetail hunting and fishing opportunities.” – Ryan Plamann, Mauston

Runner-up: Eagle River

Thursday, May 30, 2013

National Trails Day - June 1st

June 1st is National Trails Day... do you have a trail picked out yet? Charlie and I are going to tackle another section of the Ice Age Trail on Saturday, perhaps the Turtle Rock Segment. If you need some ideas on where to go or what to do, here are some good resources:!/NationalTrailsDay?fref=ts

Get out and explore your world! And remember to carry out what you carry in... or better yet, take a garbage bag along to pick up what other's have left behind. Happy Trails!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dear Dudley

Follow the weekly pen-pal letters between Charlie and Dudley as they discuss life as dogs. Dudley lives in Massachusetts with his owner, Sarah Kilgallon, who leads dogs on wilderness trail hikes through pristine conservation land. You can view her blog at:

Dudley's letter:

Dear Dudley,
I've been so confused this week.  My Jeep with the Middle-Up-Front seat is gone! Mom came home with a different car and I am so lost... I don't know where to sit and all my good smells are gone! There's a big back seat with windows that go down and there's the front seat with a window. There's even a window in the roof! But the Middle-Up-Front seat is WAY too small for me to sit on and I keep sliding off. I don't know what I'm going to do. I like to go for rides.

I know what you mean about sister-dogs. I have a roommate-dog named Peanut. She is my grandma's dog and they live with us. She was here first so she thinks she is the boss, but she is just a little Chihuahua. When we play Tug-A-War, I always win! And sometimes I steal the treats that she hides in her blankie! Peanut is also very slow on walks, but it's not because she is sniffing everything like your sister Ethel... it's because she eats too many treats and stays on the couch all the time! I would be SO bored if I stayed on the couch all the time.

Last time Peanut came on a hike with me and my mom, Peanut turned around and headed back to the parking lot before we were even very far down the trail. What a wimp! Mom tells me to be patient because Peanut has leg problems, but they look fine to me! Maybe someday Peanut will get a leg-cart so I can chase her around and bite her tires!

I wish I could go on hikes with you! We could race each other and see who is the fastest!

My mom's birthday is this weekend and I plan on getting her up real early on Saturday so we can go for a walk right away! She loves to take me on walks! I'm going to give her lots of kisses too. I love her. Mom said that National Trails Day is on her birthday so we get to celebrate by going hiking! I can't wait! I hope you get to go hiking this weekend too. I'll write back about my adventures as soon as I can.

Friends Always,

p.s.  Here is another picture of me. Mom makes sure I get a good workout by attaching this long stretchy cord to my harness so I have to pull hard to go fast!

Monday, May 27, 2013

HWH Logo Done... and website coming soon!

The Hiking With Heather logo is finished! I had a lot of fun creating this logo to capture the essence of my "outdoor adventures with dog" tag line. Up next... Wilderness First Aid training at Camp Manitowish and then finishing up the website (which is still under construction).

Also, I want to thank "Cookie" at the Wausau Gander Mountain store for helping me pick out the most perfect hiking boots and for introducing me to "smartwool" socks... they are unbelievably soft!

Charlie and I headed up to Rib Mountain State Park twice this holiday weekend to break in the new hiking boots (which wasn't actually necessary because they are SO comfortable!). I made a quick video review of the Ruffwear Roamer leash while we were there and I'll be getting that out on YouTube this week along with some photos of our hike. Stay tuned...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dog Therapy

While the main purpose of this blog is to document and share the outdoor adventures of me and my dog, Charlie, occasionally I have to take pause and marvel that these awesome creatures we call dogs are in our lives. How different the world would be without them.

Charlie is not a certified therapy dog. She has not been formally trained in any way whatsoever. She is not a cuddler. But this past weekend, she provided some of the sweetest therapy to a ten-year-old girl, without even knowing it.

My niece lost a most favorite grandma at the tender age of six. She was too young to understand the complexities of death and loss at that time and has lived with many unanswered questions since. Recently, her grandpa has become ill and she is now facing the possibility of losing another grandparent. This has brought a lot of her questions bubbling to the surface, and last weekend the bubble burst. She started asking questions, and I was the one she chose to talk to. What a huge burden, what a beautiful opportunity.

As her questions were gently answered, one by one, snuggled in the double bed together, she would occasionally sit up and pet Charlie at the foot of the bed. I noticed the wordless exchange between them but did not acknowledge it at the time. Now, after having a few days to mull over our conversations, I realize how much she clung to Charlie throughout the weekend. And I realize that Charlie provided much needed dog therapy for this little girl.

I remember my childhood dog, Riley, and how I could talk to him and tell him anything. He did not care what I told him and wouldn't understand anyway. He would go with me anywhere and was always dependably by my side. He was the best friend to a little girl who had no other friends. The gentle weight of his head on my lap was reassuring and the warm brown eyes that gazed into my soul were full of endless love. And sometimes that is all you need.

A dog is not judgmental. They will not make you feel stupid or inappropriate for asking your questions. They will not lie to you. They will not even understand the things you are telling them, but they are there for you, offering their unconditional love and lots of kisses. They are a true comfort.

Your dog does not need to be certified, registered or professionally trained to provide a benefit to you. Their presence alone is enough. Their only desire in life is to be your friend. Their loyalty and love is unsurpassed. They are absolutely amazing and deserving of the title, Man's Best Friend.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dear Dudley... Love, Charlie

Follow the weekly pen-pal letters between Charlie and Dudley as they discuss life as dogs. Dudley lives in Massachusetts with his owner, Sarah Kilgallon, who leads dogs on wilderness trail hikes through pristine conservation land. You can view her blog at:

Dear Dudley,
Where have you been?  You must be very busy with your job.  I could not wait for your next letter - I want to tell you about all the fun I had last weekend!  My mom took me on a long road trip!  I can always tell when we will be driving for a long time because she puts lots of bags and boxes in the back of the car with me.  This is how I know to lay down and take a long nap.  I used to be able to sit in the Middle-Up-Front.  I LOVE sitting in the Middle-Up-Front!  I could lean on Mom's shoulder when we turned around corners and I could see out the big front window.  Then Mom put up something that makes me stay in the back.  I still try to sneak around it so I can put my nose out the window but I really miss sitting in the Middle-Up-Front.  Here is a picture of me when I got to sit in the Middle-Up-Front...

Oh, but wait!  I have to tell you about last weekend!  Mom picked up a little girl to ride with us part of the way and she let me give her all the kisses I want!  When we got to the Fun Country Place, I could run wherever I wanted without my leash on!  The little girl threw my ball for me EVERY time I brought it to her!  Sometimes she would lose my ball and then I would bring her a stick or a walnut!  She would throw those too!  Then she turned on the sprinkler for us to play in the water and get a drink.  She was very good at giving belly rubs and also scratching behind my ears.  I love her.

I was very tired when we left the Fun Country Place and I took a long nap.  We stopped at a school to drop off the little girl and I got to get out of the car to say good-bye.  I REALLY wanted to go in the school with her.  I was very sad to say good-bye.  I watched until she got in the building and then Mom made me get back in the car.  I went back to sleep but I had good dreams of playing fetch with my new little friend and imagined that I could still feel her rubbing my belly.  I can't wait to see the little girl again!

Do you ever get to go for car rides?  Do you like little girls as much as me?  Write me back as soon as possible.  I LOVE being pen-pals!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Black and White and GREEN all over!

We're back from our weekend road trip! All the fresh air and long hours in the Jeep have tired us out, but we had a lot of fun. The trees were fully leafed-out in this part of Wisconsin, lilacs were in full bloom - so sweet - and everything was GREEN! The weather was warm and humid and we even had a night of spectacular thunderstorms with quite the light show.

My ten-year-old niece joined us for part of the journey and was glued to Charlie for the whole weekend. It's pure joy to watch a little girl with a dog. And Charlie, of course, was so happy to have someone to throw her ball, rub her belly, scratch her ears, and receive her endless kisses. Adorable.

The weekend was filled with family time, sitting on quiet hillsides, planting flowers, watching birds and deer, enjoying the hazy sunset while grilling food. Laughter drifted across the tiny valleys as we watched Charlie do acrobatics while chasing her ball. The stormy night began with bedtime ghost stories and ended with two girls of very different ages lying in bed and talking late into the night, reminiscent of being at camp.

I did not spend the weekend with rigorous trail walks or explorations, but instead filled my heart with family.

Have fun.
Take care of yourself.
Be good to others.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Road Trip! Driftless Area

Charlie and I are heading out on a road trip tomorrow! We'll be traveling down to the Driftless Area of Wisconsin... that would be the southwest corner of the state. This is probably my most favorite part of the state - rolling hills dotted with cows, ancient oak trees, highways cut through limestone rock, meandering streams and the high bluffs along the Mississippi River. Everything is scenic and nostalgic to me in this place.

We'll have a great time romping through wide open fields and woods, splashing through spring-fed streams and absorbing the energy of nature. Plus, Charlie will get to play with her friend, BB - a black lab mix who is dumber than a rock but such a sweet boy. He exudes the patience of a saint while Charlie torments him in her smart-ass way. It's a joy to watch these two very different dogs interact with such playfulness that brings smiles and laughter to everyone in the house.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Drunk Spider Syndrome

Last week at work, I was on the phone with the pest control guy who was reviewing our pesticide schedule for the year. He explained that we shouldn't see any bugs in the office building since they have been treating the outside on a regular basis and if anything, we might encounter a spider appearing to be "drunk" while walking across the floor. As he was telling me of this drunk-spider syndrome, I couldn't help but notice that he sounded like what I imagine a drunk spider might if it could talk. Had this man been around pesticides too much? Were the chemicals beginning to affect his speech?

This got me thinking about workplace hazards in general and how many of our jobs are slowly killing us. I've read reports indicating that office workers who sit for most of the day shorten their lives by years... just by SITTING. I remember back to my first "real" office job where my supervisor had worked for 35 years. Her butt looked as if it had taken on the shape of her chair and I began to mentally label this infliction as "chair butt." I vowed to never get "chair butt" myself and took action to make sure I got regular exercise. Almost twenty years later, I am proud to say I have remained free of "chair butt" but I am often worried what the actual act of sitting all day is doing to me. Am I shortening my life by working in a cubicle?

Hiking is an important part of my life and I would rather be hiking than anything else. I sit in my office and stare out the window wondering how much longer I can take this job. I daydream about what else I could be doing. I mentally write out my business plan for creating a hiking guide service where I can enjoy being on the trail while helping other people get out and enjoy nature. I research trails that I want to explore and to learn about wilderness first aid and am slowly working up my courage to take action on this dream.

Part of my drive to put this dream into action has to do with a family member's diagnosis of esophageal cancer last week, an uncommon and typically untreatable disease. I can't help but wonder if the lifetime spent working in the tool and die industry, breathing metal dust and fumes, contributed to this diagnosis.

I don't want my job to kill me, especially since I have lost the passion for this job. It's time to seize the day and turn dreams into realities. I don't want to sell my precious days, weeks, and years to an employer. I want to earn my living doing what I love while creating unique, enjoyable experiences that await my future clients.

This blog began as a fun way to document adventures with my dog. Then the wheels began to turn in my mind and the project turned into a dream. The dream has become a goal. Now it's my turn to make the goal a reality.

Ready, set, go hiking!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ice Age Trail - Grandfather Falls, Part 2

I took my own advice and headed into the woods this weekend. I sat on a rock, listened to the wind in the tree branches along with the roar of the nearby falls, and let nature center my spirit. The terrain was all new to me since the last time I was here there was 2 feet of snow covering everything. Rocks, tree roots and leaf debris, combined with dampness from the recent snow-melt and rains made traversing the narrow trail difficult in some areas.

We quickly covered the previously hiked section of trail and were excited to explore the next section above the dam at Grandfather Falls. Having studied the map and trail description from the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide, I was better equipped with the knowledge of where to go. After reaching the dam and crossing the parking lot, I had a little trouble figuring out where the trail was, and then I spotted a narrow stone staircase.

We walked through a brief wooded area and out into the open fields of the hydroelectric plant. This area is immersed in history - all the way back to the Ice Age - and I paused to absorb it all. The logging industry has been a huge part of this landscape dating back to the late 1800's and it's also the site of the Wisconsin Conservation Corps Camp McCord from the 1930's. I was most looking forward to seeing the wood-banded pipelines that carry water down hundreds of yards from a man-made reservoir upriver. The Ice Age Trail Companion Guide describes the "fascinating tubular fountain effect" made by hundreds of small leaks occurring at knotholes in the wood. Amazingly, wood was used for these pipelines because it doesn't corrode or rot under the constant water pressure. I was completely in awe; these tubes were MUCH larger than I had imagined! 

Next up were the 1.8-billion-year-old boulders at Grandfather Falls. If you sit on one of these rocks and think about how old it is, you really begin to appreciate the grandness around you. And also how "small" your lifetime is in comparison. It's a humbling experience.

The trail became quite challenging from this point on. Tree roots wove themselves around the rocks and at times, the rocks and boulders took over the trail so much that I needed to find the yellow rectangles on trees to make sure I was still on the trail.

The trail is beautiful and very remote. I felt like I was the only one out there, although I did pass fisherman along the shore a few times. It's difficult to hear much of anything except the falls roaring alongside the trail. We experienced just about every type of weather on this day and I was grateful to be wearing my winter coat and earmuffs. One minute there would be smurf-blue skies with fluffy white clouds, then with no warning the skies would turn steel-gray with 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts. There would be sunshine one minute, and then it would start snowing. All I can say is, welcome to Wisconsin! And be prepared for any weather conditions on the trail.

The landscape and rock formations are truly magical. I wanted to continue on, but Charlie was showing signs of crabbiness due to being overly tired, so we headed back. I'm looking forward to hiking this trail and the next segment, Turtle Rock Segment, without my dog along. While I know the exercise and fresh air are good for her, I don't get to fully relax when I'm worried about bear and wolves attacking her. Plus, she nearly scared the shit out of me when she got too close to the falls where I thought she might decide to go for a swim. Next time will be just for me.

Amazingly, on our way back, we ran into the same man that we met the first time we hiked the trail back in February. I told him I'd taken his advice and hiked up past the dam where he had told me the landscape was just beautiful. He had hoped that the spring wildflowers would be in bloom this weekend, as they have been on past Mother's Day weekends, but the late winter has delayed them. He recommended coming back in a couple of weeks to see the flowers. I'm pretty sure I will.

Dear Dudley.... Love, Charlie

Follow the weekly pen-pal letters between Charlie and Dudley as they discuss life as dogs. Dudley lives in Massachusetts with his owner, Sarah Kilgallon, who leads dogs on wilderness trail hikes through pristine conservation land. You can view her blog at:

To view Dudley's letter to Charlie this week, click here. Charlie's response is below.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spring, Dr. Seuss Style

Branches full of mini palm trees.

I'm speculating here, but I'm pretty sure Dr. Seuss was inspired by spring when it came to his tree illustrations. Of course, I'm not even sure if Dr. Seuss did his own illustrations, but I dare you to look at the pictures in this post and not think about Dr. Seuss. Just try!

Jelly-fish-looking leaves.

Green flower firework explosions.
Bronze flower firework explosions.

Mini bouquet of roses!
All this beauty in a simple walk around the neighborhood after dinner. It's all there for you to enjoy. Slow down, look closely, let your imagination run wild. Nature is all around you.

Side Note:  For this walk I had Charlie connected to me with a hands-free belt leash, a small shoulder pack with her poop bags and treats inside, and my camera bag... all while carrying a filled poop bag with Charlie's "present" in it. Anything's possible!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Blues Amidst Green

I'm not a believer in organized religion and generally don't discuss my faith publicly - everyone has their own ideas. I will say, however, that I believe in Mother Nature. The book, The Celestine Prophecy, although a little hokey in places, makes some very good points about the renewing effect nature has on our "energy."

When I'm stressed, angry, sad, or just plain pissed off, I'm always amazed at how an hour in the woods, hiking and getting my body moving, erases all signs of negativity. Once I emerge from the forest, my head is clear, my outlook is bright and I can smile again. It's impossible to feel blue amidst the green. I think psychiatrists and doctors should prescribe a daily long walk through woods and mountains and streams instead of anti-depressants. Of course, this might put them out of business since it's their job to sell us pills.

I challenge you to find a secluded spot this weekend, sit on a rock, listen to the tree branches sway in the wind, watch the clouds scuttle by, inhale the sweet scent of earth. See how you feel when you get back to the parking lot. Sit in your car for a minute and let those feelings soak in. Carry them with you throughout the day. Share them with others through your smile and kindness. Pass it on.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Charlie's Shoe Fetish

I forgot to tell you the best part of our walk yesterday! You see, Charlie has this "thing" about shoes. She doesn't chew them up like some dogs, although I vaguely remember her ruining a couple pairs when she was a puppy. Thankfully she grew out of that stage quickly. No. Charlie likes to bring me shoes. But she doesn't just grab a shoe and sit in front of me with her tail wagging. Noooo. Charlie will take the very tip of a shoestring in between her front teeth, ever so gently, and with the shoe tenderly dangling from her teeth will begin to ascend the staircase, letting the shoe bang into each stair as she climbs to the top. And with each bang, I start giggling to the extent that by the time she's at the top, I'm in full-blown belly laughs. She then stands proudly in the middle of the living room with the shoe dangling mere centimeters from the floor, shoelace fully extended. And it's so god-damn adorable I can barely stand it!

I know that I encourage this behavior by laughing in the first place. Because she is able to illicit the laugh, hence attention, she will continue to do this as long as I continue to laugh. And that is just fine by me. It's cute and no shoes are harmed in the process. I truly believe that Charlie sees shoes as her "ticket to ride." When I put shoes on, we go somewhere. So when she brings me a shoe, I'm positive this is her way of saying she wants to go.

Which leads me to our walk yesterday. We walked past an older man resting on a bench with his shoes off twice; once on our way to White Water Park and then again on our way back. The second time he saw us, he engaged us in conversation and asked what Charlie's name was. I then learned that his dog, Peaches, who looked just like Charlie, had died a year ago. He was very happy to be able to pet another dog. And while I was chatting with him, Charlie innocently picked up one of his shoes and started prancing about with it. Being used to this behavior, I thought nothing of it, but then all of a sudden realized she just picked up some stranger's shoe! He started laughing and chased her in little circles to get his shoe back while Charlie thought that was the best game ever! He was really a good sport about it. And as we were walking away, all smiles, he thanked me and said "that was the best thing that happened to me all day!" How awesome is that.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Leash Hike: White Water Park

Barker-Stewart Island
Due to Charlie's blatant disregard for recall commands during yesterday's hike, I decided we would do a leash-walk along the Wisconsin River's River Edge Parkway today. We headed out toward downtown Wausau around 11:30am, merged onto the River Edge Parkway behind the Eye Clinic and went across the foot bridge to Barker-Stewart Island to do a lap around the trail and take a moment to watch the river as it lazily flowed past.

Remnants of original saw mill on island.
Train bridge on West side of island.
View of pedestrian bridge and downtown Wausau from East side of island.
After our lap around the island, we headed back to the River Edge Parkway and continued under the Scott St. bridge and behind the Marathon County Public Library where the dam for the White Water Park is located.
River Edge Parkway under Scott St. - hydro dam to the right.
Once we got behind the library, there's a short set of stairs that take you below the dam where kayakers enter the water at the top of the course.
Descending the stairs to the kayak launch platform below dam.
On the kayak launch platform looking upriver towards dam.
Charlie especially enjoys this spot to take a break, get a drink and explore along the shore. From here we crossed the street and headed down towards the White Water Park.

The River Edge Parkway continues along behind the seating area for the White Water Park and all the way down to Isle of Ferns Park. The picture below shows the beginning of the white water course as well as distant Rib Mountain and Granite Peak Ski Area in the background - with snow still on the slopes!

Ground seating along white water course.

Newly remodeled viewing area along course.
Here's a short video of the babbling water flowing over the boulders, followed by an impatient *BARK* from Charlie:

We got a little further down the trail when "nature called" and apparently the bathrooms are not open for the season yet, so we turned back and headed towards home, taking the Parkway through the undeveloped gap where it reconnects under Bridge Street. I had to steer Charlie around piles of broken glass, garbage and boards with nails sticking out of them... tempted to let her off-leash to run but too worried that she'd hurt herself on something.
Abandoned buildings along future expansion of parkway trail.
Once back on the trail, I started watching for river otters. I had spotted a pair of otters in this part of the river last year and am always on the lookout for them. Instead, I saw a dead deer in the water. What is it with finding death on all our walks?! Just a part of nature, I guess.
Charlie was really tired after two hours of walking. I was ready to go longer and just might go out again this evening by myself. It's been awhile since I've been on a solo walk (without dog) and think it might do me some good to have time to myself, untethered.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Comfort-Zone Hike: Fuel For The Soul

After a stomach-bug took me out for the whole day yesterday, I was worried about being too far away from a bathroom as well as dealing with lingering weakness from laying in bed all day. Charlie, however, was not going to let me off the hook; she needed a walk. And not just a lame walk around the neighborhood, she wanted to RUN. Also, she has this uncanny ability to tell when it's Saturday. And we always hike on Saturday.
Rather than trying to find a new hiking spot with unfamiliar trails, I decided we'd head over to my favorite park, Big Eau Pleine.

This park is like comfort food to me. I know our "regular" trail, I know how long it'll take us, I know where the bathrooms are, and I also know there will rarely be anyone else there. Charlie had a great time! She was happily tired by the time we got back to the parking lot and the fresh air helped me feel a lot better.

It turned out to be a much warmer day than expected - 73 degrees! I would have been grateful for some shade today, but you really can't complain on a day like this - although the ticks are out in full force. Charlie had her tick treatment last weekend (which is supposed to repel ticks), but still had some crawling on her. They are just so gross. If you don't have ticks in your neck of the woods, consider yourself lucky!

The fish were jumping along the shore and landing with big *SLAPS* on the water as ominous shadows from bald eagles and hawks followed above. Charlie was so curious about the fish jumping and swam out to investigate, only to be disappointed when she found nothing there.

We could use some shade here.

The grass is trying really hard to grow, but there's not much "green" yet. The tiny buds on the trees are just about ready to burst open. We might even have some shade by next weekend! It always amazes me how quickly everything blooms during the first couple weeks of May. All of a sudden it will be June and summer will be in full-swing.

There's a tiny frog on that rock!
We took occasional breaks in the private picnic shelters along the trail, while I continued to search for the hidden car key... with no luck, again. I have a feeling that after all this searching, Marathon County will be eliminated from the running in my next issue of Our Wisconsin magazine. Such is my luck.

No hidden key here.
At the very end of our hike, I saw a loon on the lake! I've never seen one here before. I hope it sticks around for the summer... there's nothing more beautiful than the sound of the loons while camping on a warm, starry night. I will be camping in this park within the next month, so I'll be sure to listen for the loon-song.

There's a loon in this photo.
It was good to be in a comfortable place today. As it turns out, I needed the renewing feeling of being surrounded by trees, sky, and water.

Fuel for the soul.