Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Recap: Other Stuff I Wrote This Month

I can't believe July is over! Where has the summer gone? Very soon the leaves will begin to change color up here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. While I love autumn the best, it's always hard to see the days getting shorter.

I suppose, time flies when you're having fun... and also when you're too busy to notice time flying! Speaking of busy, I was invited to be a blogger for last month and have been sharing some of my trail reports on their website. If you're looking for activities or inspiration for outdoor fun in Wisconsin, head over to their website to catch the latest happenings and events.

I also submitted a dog-related story to last month, if you haven't already seen it, here's the LINK.

Kassi - my neighbor's dog.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Recap: Finding Balance

Charlie and I stayed home this weekend. After too many weeks in a row of traveling and hiking, we were both worn out and ready to rest and relax at home. Of course this doesn't mean we layed around on the couch watching t.v. and eating ice cream all weekend! Well, I guess there was some laying on the couch and t.v. watching, but we did venture out to our favorite park and even walked downtown to catch some of the live music happenings! Charlie loves a crowd and eats up the attention like a starved dog.

The weather, though unusually cold and drizzly, was ideal for lazy afternoon naps and baking comfort food.

I visited the Woodson Art Museum to check out the new additions in the sculpture garden and luckily the rain held off until I was safely back in the car on the way home!

We had a long, relaxing hike around the trails at Big Eau Pleine County Park early Sunday morning where Charlie stretched her legs, running full speed down the trail. She's been such an angel on our leashed hikes lately and I wanted to reward her good behavior on this one trail that I feel comfortable having her off-leash since we typically have it all to ourselves. Even though it was cloudy and threatening rain, the woods were beautiful. We even saw a "dragon"... see if you can spot it in the photos below!

Hope you all had a great weekend with your fur-kid too!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Danger in Nature

Any time you wander down a path for a hike, there's a chance of danger. You might run into a wild animal, get poison ivy or slip down a steep embankment. There are all kinds of precautions you can take against these dangers:  carry a loud whistle, wear long pants and watch your step.

But one danger, as a woman and solo hiker, that I should be most worried about is my fellow man. This is something that is always on my mind, whether I want to think about it or not. I try my best to shove these horrible thoughts to the back corner of my brain so I don't have to address the fact that this is a very real and present danger. I don't want my fear of what could happen to prevent me from doing what I love.

I remember reading the part in Cheryl Strayed's book, Wild, where two male hikers caused her to believe her safety was in danger. My palms got sweaty and every muscle in my body tensed as I speed-read through those pages, afraid that the worst had happened. Luckily she escaped that situation unharmed.

Some people are not so lucky. While getting ready for work on Friday morning, a news story on the t.v. in the living room caught my attention and I ran over to listen. A woman had been attacked in a nature preserve - in MY city - at 10am on Wednesday morning while walking alone. How could this happen so close to home? She was able to get away with minor injuries and even provided a description to the police that resulted in this asshole's arrest. But still... she will no doubt be mentally scarred for awhile (or forever).

While attacks like this are very rare - they still happen. The only thing I can do is take every precaution possible and follow some really smart guidelines, like these:

  • Always let someone know where you are and when you'll return.
  • When possible, hike in groups.
  • Listen to your intuition - if something doesn't feel right, LEAVE!
  • Walk with purpose, confident and quick.
  • Learn some self-defense tactics, like hitting areas where you can do the most damage: eyes, nose, neck, groin, shin
Also, I highly recommend reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker (actually this is a must-read).

Be safe out there people.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Best Laid Plans...

Sometimes things just don't go as planned. There's intrinsic value in being able to roll with the punches and accept that even the best laid plans can go awry. It's advisable to have a positive attitude and lean towards spontaneity rather than being dismayed when Murphy's Law takes over.

Road trips can lead to flat tires, detours and wrong turns. With the right attitude, those events can become adventures! How boring would life be if everything went as planned, right?

Taking the scenic route has its advantages too. Like when I pulled over to fill up the car with gas and found an actual Whistle Stop Cafe right on the railroad tracks! I love the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, and therefore had to pull around to the back of the gas station to take some pics...

...and then I saw an old boarded-up train station on the other side of the quaint cafe, history seeping from every creaky board. I swear you could almost hear the faint cry of a train whistle off in the distance!

I've had a few days now to rest and reflect on the fun road trip, hiking and camping experiences we had last weekend.  Not everything on the itinerary was accomplished, but we packed as much as we could into the time we had. The return route was supposed to take us past Willow River State Park so I could hike the trail to the waterfall and have another awesome trip report for you, but we got lost for over an hour. And after arriving at the state park and driving all the way through it, I realized that the trail to the falls was actually just up the road from the state park entrance, not in the park. I was hot, irritable and frustrated so I bypassed this stop and got back on the highway to go home. Charlie was ready to take a long nap and I wished I could have laid down in the backseat with her. We'd had enough fun for this weekend and the rest would have to wait for another time. (But I REALLY wanted to see the waterfalls badly!)

Charlie is ready to go.

There will never be enough time in the day, but if you enjoy the time that you have, you've accomplished enough.

Have you ever gotten lost or had some "other" mishap occur while on a trip? Did it turn into a memorable adventure or was it just a complete disaster? Could your frame of mind have changed the outcome?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ice Age Trail: St. Croix Falls (Part 2)

I always look forward to the sense of wonder and anticipation when going to a new place; entering Interstate State Park did not disappoint! The ranger at the park office quickly and pleasantly checked me in to my reserved campsite and even offered Charlie a treat - dog friendly, yes! As we drove the scenic winding road to the South Campground at the back of the park, views of the St. Croix River and Dalles peeked out through the foliage and rejuvenated our excitement after hours of driving. I wanted to start hiking right away, but first we had to set up camp and get the dogs settled.

Since it was already late afternoon by the time we arrived at the campground, I decided to stick to trails in the vicinity rather than driving back to the much anticipated Pothole Trail. After setting up camp, Charlie and I walked through the campground to the trail head for Eagle Peak Trail, a .8 mile linear trail, to stretch our legs and get familiar with the terrain.

It was a challenging trail full of switchbacks up the hill and we were followed by a persistent deer fly the whole way. About halfway up I was lucky enough to notice a tiny spotted fawn sitting absolutely still in the tall grass. Charlie seemed to be on a mission to get to the top as quickly as possible and didn't even notice the fawn as I took several pictures. We were both pretty exhausted by the time we got to the top but the view was worth it! Oh, and did I mention that I LOVE these rocks!

On our way back down to the campground, we met another hiker who I later learned is an Ice Age Trail volunteer! What are the odds? Back at camp, my "assistant" was hard at work making dinner - mac n' cheese! Well it's always good to load up on carbs before big hikes, right?

And of course the obligatory s'mores! Can you see how perfectly toasted that marshmallow is?!

Charlie found a good "lookout" rock on the edge of our campsite which she used to keep an eye on the birds and chipmunks just over the hill at the back of the campsite where the Dalles Creek flows up into Lake O' the Dalles. We were having a difficult time acclimating to the campground because there is little privacy between the sites and the campground was full of campers on this Saturday night. People were up late talking loudly and drinking, music drifted in and out on the wind from some music event in St. Croix Falls and at 10pm sharp there were fireworks booming in the distance. Charlie and I had been in the tent since 9pm and I was trying to get her settled down since all the noise was making her anxious. But when the fireworks started and literally vibrated the ground we were sleeping on, she completely freaked out. I had to grasp her in a big bear hug, holding her tight to my chest, acting as a human Thundershirt to keep her from ripping the tent open. When the fireworks stopped and I got Charlie mostly calmed down, we drifted into a light sleep.

I was exhausted the next morning but off we went to hike the St. Croix Falls Segment of the Ice Age Trail (previously reported in Part 1). The majority of our hiking needed to be done today - Sunday - since we were headed back to Wausau the next day. I may have been a little over-ambitious with the hiking plans because after hiking through the morning, I realized there was no way we were going to get all the trails done in the state park. I had to decide which ones were a must-see. Rachel, the Ice Age Trail volunteer I had met yesterday, had recommended the Echo Canyon Trail, so after lunch and a quick nap, Charlie and I headed over to the trail head.

Somewhere along the trail I think we took a wrong turn and ended up on the River Bluff Trail. There were several rock climbers in the area practicing on the rock outcroppings and as we neared the river, there were more rock climbers on the bluffs below us and across the river. This is definitely a hot-spot for climbers!

After checking out the superb views of the river from here, we turned back because the trail became extremely steep and was mostly rock, which Charlie kept slipping on. I don't take chances with her safety so we back-tracked. There are three trails in this area that are all inter-linked at some point (River Bluff Trail, Echo Canyon Trail, Summit Rock Trail) and I'm pretty sure we hiked on all three of them because they are not well-marked once you get on them. Eventually we made it back to the parking area and I could tell Charlie had had enough hiking for the day. We took a break and drove around the park instead, taking in the views from the car - Charlie with her head hanging out the window and catching a breeze. After checking out the Pet Picnic Area, we spotted a doe with her fawn grazing alongside the road. I stopped the car to get my camera out of the backseat and they never even looked up at me! I hurried to take pictures, afraid Charlie would start barking and scare them off, but she sat calmly watching them and the deer just went about their business, taking no notice of me or my dog.

Back at the campsite, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, I began to worry that I wouldn't have time to see the Pothole Trail in the morning. With little energy, I hopped back in my car and drove up to the trail to scout it out; there was no way I was going to miss this trail! I thought maybe the setting sun would interfere with my photos and was hoping the rising sun in the morning would be better lighting. But after seeing the views from up there - both afternoon and morning - I don't think there's such a thing as a "bad time of day" for taking pictures here. It's breathtaking.

Pothole Trail leading to the Western Terminus
Normally this is a very busy trail, but on this Sunday night, I had it all to myself. I was in awe of the beauty and history surrounding me. This is one of Wisconsin's OLDEST trails in the state's OLDEST state park. You can't get any better than that. To sit there and think of all the people who have come and gone through this site and the sheer force it took to make these wonderful landmarks: the volcanic rock rising straight up out of the river bed, the volume of water it took to break loose boulders big enough to carve the Dalles, the force of the flood from Glacial Lake Duluth causing gravel and sand to carve the potholes. It's simply astounding.

Western Terminus of the Ice Age Trail!

Lookout spot to view Old Man of the Dalles rock.

Old Man of the Dalles rock

Small potholes

Another pothole

I highly recommend visiting this trail on a weekday when the crowds are smaller and you have a little more room to contemplate the magnitude of what you are seeing. Sit quietly on these rocks, listen to the water below, watch the turkey vultures soar overhead and let your mind wander. This place holds stories of great power; absorb that energy and refuel your nature-loving soul.

Enjoying the sunset over St. Croix River

I think I'm going to be researching photo/video editing software so I can combine my photos and videos... but until then, here's another crappy video:

And another...

And one more...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ice Age Trail: St. Croix Falls Segment (Part 1)

Charlie is looking forward to hiking the trail!

Last weekend Charlie and I road-tripped over to St. Croix Falls from Wausau via scenic Hwy 8 to hike the St. Croix Falls segment of the Ice Age Trail while camping at Interstate State Park - Wisconsin's OLDEST state park! If you are hiking this segment and have time to make it a weekend trip, I highly recommend camping at the state park since the Ice Age Trail's western terminus and Interpretive Center reside within the park anyway. Having a campsite there gives you a good "home-base" with which to explore the multitude of trails to be seen in the St. Croix Falls area and I can tell you from personal experience that a weekend will not be enough time to see it all!

We started at the River Rd. entrance where the trail follows along the St. Croix River shoreline. The sound of trickling water surrounded us as we made our way over several creek crossings through this part of the trail. Charlie was very exuberant on this section since she was able to stop constantly and play in the water!

There were plenty of challenges on this trail, but it was fun to see what would be around the next bend or over the next hill. We ran up steep inclines and picked our way carefully across the stepping stones of creeks.

I let Charlie go swimming when we reached the primitive shoreline campsite before arriving at Lions Park.

The remaining trail leading to Lions Park was a little more groomed than I'm used to seeing on the Ice Age Trail, which was confusing because I wasn't sure I was on the "right" trail. Instead of overgrown, natural paths with steps made of tree roots and rocks, we encountered wide, gravel walkways with wooden bridges spanning the creeks.

After emerging from the trail into Lions Park and crossing Hwy 87, we were greeted with a sign for the Mindy Creek Segment.

We proceeded up the trail to a metal gate and followed the side trail around it. Further up the path there was a City of St. Croix side trail called, Trail of Myths. I was very tempted to explore this trail (who wouldn't want to explore a Trail of MYTHS?) but I wanted to keep to the schedule so we continued on the Ice Age Trail.

The trail slowly wound its way up a steep slope until we reached the "Overlook" and then continued upwards past Mindy Creek for another quarter-mile or so until we came out on Day Rd. The woods are open and airy with rays of sunshine filtering through the leaves and bird-calls echo all around. The trail is narrow and strewn with rocks and tree roots but is a nice, quiet walk through the woods.

Stepping stones above site of an old Homestead Dam.

At the Overlook, there's a weathered but quaint bench to take in the views of St. Croix Falls below... although all we could see were trees mixed with the sound of traffic from a road below. Autumn views are probably spectacular from this spot though!

After the Overlook, a short section of trail through the woods is followed by an open, sunny area featuring a flat rock outcropping surrounded by meadow. There is another bench amongst the wildflowers offering an additional view of the St. Croix Falls valley.

The trail re-enters the woods and begins its descent toward Mindy Creek. In my opinion, this was the most spectacular part of the trail. Except for the echo of birds reverberating between the ravine walls, it is quiet. Mindy Creek was dry during this hike, but I'm sure during times of melt water or heavy rains, the sound of the water flowing through these boulders would be mesmerizing.

Looking down the ravine to dry Mindy Creek below.
Looking upstream while crossing dry Mindy Creek.

I'm in love with these rocks. If that makes me weird, I'm okay with that. I could sit on these rocks all day while thinking about the slow, quiet force of the glacier that brought them here. They are blanketed in ancient history, along with moss and lichens. They tell a story and I am there to listen.

After a few moments of quiet contemplation, interrupted by Charlie's impatience to keep hiking, we began the ascent on the opposite side of the ravine towards Day Rd. I couldn't help but to keep looking back at the creek bed.

There is a sturdy wooden bridge at the exit of the trail onto Day Rd. and a short walk across the street takes you to the parking lot of Ray Zillmer Park, where my ride was waiting to pick me up.

After reaching the car and reviewing my Companion Guide, I remembered it mentioned two 6-inch nautilus fossils in the stone slab near the bridge; I had to run back to check them out. Sure enough, there are two fossils on the top of the slab of stone as you step off the bridge; I almost missed them because I thought it was just a step!

I had fully intended to hike the half-mile loop trail off Ray Zillmer Park that boasted "fine views of St. Croix River valley from its highest point," but it was time for lunch and Charlie needed a break. Instead, I headed back to Interstate State Park, where we had set up camp for the weekend, and rested before continuing onto the trails in the park. The western terminus of the Ice Age Trail is on the Pothole Trail, and that was my next destination!

To be continued...

I'm experimenting with some video editing software so you can view ALL my photos from these hikes! Check out my crappy video: