Monday, September 30, 2013

Every Day I Walk...

“Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being
and walk away from every illness;
I have walked myself into my best thoughts,
and I know of no thought so burdensome
that one cannot walk away from it."
- Kierkegaard, letter, 1847

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Houghton Falls + Lake Superior

This post is long overdue, although given the busy and stressful week I've had, I think I'm allowed some delayed trail reporting. Earlier this week on Monday, we took a scenic drive up to the shores of Lake Superior near the small town of  Cornucopia in Bayfield County. Along the way, we stopped at Houghton Falls State Natural Area just north of Washburn since my brother-in-law had recommended it as a scenic spot to check out. I love exploring these out-of-the-way, almost unknown spots that mostly just the locals know about.

Once we were on the north side of Washburn, I began watching for signs indicating a "state natural area" however there are no signs on Hwy 13 to lead you to this gem... just watch for Houghton Falls Road and turn east. About a 1/2 mile down the road is a small gravel parking area at the trail head. Make sure you stop somewhere in Washburn to use the restroom because there are no facilities at this trail.

The signpost at the start of the trail indicated that dogs were allowed - YAY! But there was also a small brown sign above the "dogs allowed" sign that I didn't notice until I reviewed my pictures once we were home. It reads, "CAUTION! MINIMALLY IMPROVED TRAIL, STEEP CLIFFS AND DROP OFFS. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK." I guess I was just so excited that dogs were allowed on the trail, I failed to see the warning sign. After being in the car for almost 4 hours, Charlie had a lot of pent-up energy and keeping her on a leash, on a dangerous trail with steep cliffs and drop offs with tantalizing water below was pure torture. If you have a super-mellow dog that just loves to trot along next to you, I can recommend bringing your dog on this trail, however if you have a dog similar to Charlie, you'll have a better time exploring without your dog along.

Nice, easy boardwalk trail.

Intermittent boardwalks and packed gravel start off the trail with easy terrain, but eventually give way to packed dirt with tree roots threatening to trip you and send you careening over the edge of the cliff. Just kidding. But seriously, watch your step.

More challenging tree-root and drop-off trail.
Charlie was yanking and pulling the whole way... the distant shore of Lake Superior calling her name. About halfway into the trail, we arrived at the sandstone gorge and Echo Dells. Even though it was a bright, sunny day, the woods were dark and the caves beneath the sandstone ledge were even darker. Charlie desperately wanted to get to the tiny stream running along the bottom of the gorge and nearly pulled me over the edge of the pine-needle-covered trail. 

I found myself concentrating very hard on keeping my dog reigned in and didn't have a chance to really absorb the scenery. Charlie was bored and ready to keep moving so we hit the trail again toward Lake Superior's shoreline where I hoped she would have a chance to go swimming and burn off some energy.

When we reached the falls, it was more like a trickle. I have a feeling this area would be far more spectacular in the spring when snow melt creates enough water flow for the falls.

Dry falls.

As we got nearer to Lake Superior, the drop off along the side of the trail got steeper and more treacherous and Charlie's exuberance at being able to smell the upcoming opportunity to go swimming began to worry me; I realized there would be no access to the water from this high up.

The view from the cliffs along the shore was beautiful! Sun sparkling on the blue-green water with small, white sailboats dotting the horizon. The water was so clear you could see rocks scattered in the sand beneath the water. Several people were taking in the view from the sandstone cliffs overlooking the lake and one group was even having a photography session for senior class portraits out there! With Charlie's excitability at the opportunity to meet new people combined with the height of the cliffs, I made the decision to stay farther back on the trail and enjoy the view from a safer vantage point. Much to Charlie's dismay.

After having hiked a mile to the shore without an opportunity to go swimming, Charlie was rather sullen, and at times even bratty, on the way back to the parking area. We quickly finished our scenic drive to a sandy beach near the marina in Cornucopia where we could take a leisurely stroll along the beach while Charlie fetched pieces of driftwood in the surf. I think it was well worth the wait!

She had the best time running crazy-circles in the sand, splashing in the waves and finding every fetchable piece of driftwood available. On this first full day of fall, it felt more like a summer day! Charlie was a tired and happy dog on the drive home, saturated with clean lake water and covered head to toe in sand. I'm constantly aware of how lucky I am to have this dog and I'm pretty sure she knows what a lucky dog she is too.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Crimes, Cops and Being A Victim

Standing in my backyard at 6:30am this morning, I watched the sky turn a pinky-peach hue as the sun began to rise, taking in deep breaths of cool morning air and tilting my head up towards the sky to see the vibrant half-moon directly above with a faint star just off to its left while I reflected on the events of last night...

Up way past my bedtime last night (on a weeknight!) I found myself getting to know my new neighbor while we stood in a pile of broken glass in my driveway as a police officer took down our statements with red and blue lights bouncing off our faces. Not the most ideal way to get to know a new neighbor, but on the plus side I now know that she's the kind of person who will call 9-1-1 when she sees some punk casually smash in the back window of your car as he strolls down the sidewalk.

Yes, I was the victim of a meaningless and stupid crime last night.

It took over an hour to deal with the police and to secure my vehicle as best I could and then another two hours (and some chocolate cake) to calm down enough to go back to sleep. I'm not the kind of person who functions well on little sleep and am ever-so-grateful for my coffee this morning.

Several "signs" have occurred this summer telling me that it's time to move on, but last night was not just a sign - it was a wake-up call. A very loud one. In fact, after debating off and on for almost a year about moving, I had just made up my mind a few days ago that I'm ready for my next big adventure and to cut my ties with this town that I've made home for the past 17 years.

This has been a tough summer for me. A few months ago I had to call the police several times on one of my neighbors for neglecting her dogs in her backyard and for trying to instigate a fight with me in my front yard. She eventually was evicted and subsequently released her dogs into the neighborhood to fend for themselves; they're now at the Humane Society looking for new homes. Another neighbor poured urine and poison over our fence in an attempt to kill our wisteria tree. He was arrested for disorderly conduct for putting our dogs in danger with poison; the wisteria tree is now gone. Last week a puppy was shot to death in its front yard with a pellet gun just a block from our house; Charlie and I had just met this puppy a week prior to its death. Now a random drunk person walking down the sidewalk smashes my car window! Ugh. Not to mention that a year ago a man was murdered and dismembered in a house that I can see from my kitchen window.

In addition to all this neighborhood stress, my job is going down the tubes. I haven't enjoyed going to work in a very long time.

Maybe now you understand why I go into the woods every weekend. It's my escape from this daily reality. As I stood in my driveway last night thinking of all the things I was going to have to do to fix this mess, the one that bothered me the most was that I wasn't going to be able to take a road trip and go hiking this weekend. That's where my priorities are.

I hate feeling like a victim, but as I stare at the two Victim Information Brochures with case numbers on my desk, it's apparent that I am a victim according to the Wausau Police Dept. I can't believe I've been the victim of two separate crimes in a matter of a couple of months. I realize that it's up to me to change my mindset and instead of letting this get me down I have the choice to gain strength in spite of these events. So instead of wallowing in "Why Me?" I'm choosing to see these unfortunate events as my sign (and permission slip) to go forward with a new adventure and leave this place behind.

But first there is glass to clean up and a call needs to be made to the insurance company. TGIF.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dog Training: Learning From Mistakes

I wrote an article for this past month, which you can read HERE, about training regrets and missteps. Charlie is the first dog I've ever had that needed training... all my other dogs were "country dogs" that just seemed to know how to behave properly, plus they had tons of room to roam to expend their extra energy.

Before Charlie, I had never had a dog on a leash except for vet trips or special occasions. Most of my previous dogs just walked along next to me. This is the first time in my life that I've lived inside city limits, on a very busy street. It was absolutely essential for me to train Charlie.

When I brought her home, I read all kinds of dog-training books to make sure I did everything right with her. Socializing and exposing her to all kinds of stimuli were my main focus:  I didn't want to have a reactive dog, I wanted her to be friendly with everyone.

I wanted a dog I could take anywhere.

Almost three years later, not all of that has worked out the way I planned. Charlie absolutely LOVES people and going places, but she's highly reactive to other dogs. After three separate attacks from other dogs while we were on leash-walks in our neighborhood, she's now very fear-aggressive toward other dogs. Basically, she's going to be the one to bite first just to make sure she doesn't get bitten. It's unfortunate because I have a difficult time trusting her around other dogs and err on the safe side by keeping her leashed.

The thing about dog training is that it never ends. You can't finish a round of dog-training or work through a trick-training book and think, "There! We've done it! Now we can just go have fun!"
Training is a constant and ongoing part of a dog's life. Everything they learn needs to be reinforced on a regular basis.
The good part:  this constant reinforcement develops a lasting bond between you and your dog! That is the best reward of all.
One of the books I read shortly after adopting Charlie was, The Loved Dog Method by Tamar Gellar. This was the book that opened my eyes to a way of training that I could live with - using positive reinforcement. Because Charlie is so food motivated, this method worked wonders on learning loose-leash walking! If you're struggling with training your dog, I highly recommend you take a look at this book and see if any of her methods will work for you.
Every dog is different and not all training methods work on all dogs. Experiment and see what works for you and your dog and make sure it's a fun experience for both of you! The ultimate reward isn't a treat or a toy... it's the human-animal bond.
Give your dog a hug today.
Charlie's puppy picture... isn't she just adorable???

Monday, September 23, 2013

Feeling Lucky?

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I've been in search of the key for the Kia Soul in Our Wisconsin magazine's "Wisconsin Treasure Hunt" contest. You can read my previous posts about our progress HERE, HERE and HERE.

Every issue of the magazine contains basically the same content along with a new clue and the latest counties eliminated from the running. If you read closely in the August/September issue, however, you might have noticed that one word was a little different... perhaps illuminating an additional, hidden clue? In case you missed it, here it is:

Under the paragraph indicating that the key isn't going to be easy to find, the sentence ending in "...unless that person gets incredibly lucky," the word "lucky" was italicised, wherein the previous issues it was not.

My first instinct was to Google whether there was a city in Wisconsin called "Luck," which there is. But it's in an eliminated county, so that was no help. I did however start thinking that perhaps the key is located in a city or park with a name referring to a symbol of luck, such as "horseshoe" or "clover." Maybe the picnic shelter that contains the hidden key has a horseshoe hanging on it?

In any case, we will continue searching and eagerly await the next issue to see which counties have been eliminated and receive an additional clue.

Good luck searching!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Turtle Rock Revisited

The gray, cloudy morning gave way to sunshine and white fluffy clouds by early afternoon when we arrived at the trail head for Turtle Rock Segment for the second time this year. On this last day of summer, fall colors were beginning to develop along the highway as we traveled north from Wausau on this short road trip. The alternating sensation of cool air from the open sunroof and the warm air from the heat vents was exhilarating and I couldn't wait to have a second chance at hiking this segment!

Earlier this summer, when Charlie and I hiked the entire Turtle Rock segment, the hot, humid weather prevented me from enjoying the last half of the trail because I just wanted to be done hiking! The terrain was difficult both from the rocky landscape and the jungle-sized ferns towering over me, making it impossible to run from the mosquitoes.

I feel lucky to live so close to this segment and have the chance to experience it in different seasons. No trail is ever the same:  light, wildlife and weather make every hike a unique experience. And since the weather has cooled off as the days drift into autumn, bugs are no longer an issue.

Today we started at the trail head on County Hwy E in order to experience what I consider to be the best and most scenic part of this segment along the Wisconsin River ending at Grandfather Falls. At 1:30pm the sun was shining, fluffy white clouds scuttled across the sky and a strong breeze stirred the leaves all around us. The 60-degree temperature was cool and refreshing.

With the sun at a lower angle and the leaves beginning to change color, the forest had a soft yellow glow as the light filtered through the canopy. Beautiful white birch trees formed an ethereal tunnel as we made our way into the woods.

Charlie became distracted when the trail reached the stream that eventually flows into the Wisconsin River. She frequently sniffed the air and paused to listen, as if she sensed wildlife nearby. I made sure to talk loudly and clap my hands to alert any forest-dwellers.

Charlie took a swim break when we arrived at the Wisconsin River above Grandfather Dam where the water was calm, reflecting the electric blue sky above.

After a short break, we continued down toward Grandfather Falls, carefully picking our way through the rocky terrain. I absolutely LOVE this part of the trail because of its obstacle-course qualities. Climbing up and down and all around these rocks makes me feel like a kid again. We found several piles of scat on the trail but were unable to detect what kind of animal left them there. Some were fairly fresh so it's obvious that something had been through here recently, proving Charlie had been correct in her earlier wariness.


Upon arriving at Grandfather Falls, I took the opportunity to lie on the sun-warmed rock slab while having a snack and let the roaring water clear my mind and relax my spirit. Charlie was content to sit next to me, watching the water flow all around us and have some treats too.

After catching our breath and having a nice break, we continued on a little further to a calm spot in a narrow inlet between the shore and the raging rapids where Charlie could explore the rocky riverbank and play with sticks. I rock-hopped around as well, exploring with her and trying to stay dry! The reflection of the clear blue sky in the water was mesmerizing and we spent more time enjoying the scenery than I had anticipated. It's a lovely luxury to have time to slow down and enjoy the scenery, absorbing the landscape that surrounds you.

As we made our way back, I realized that the shorter days and the lower position of the sun caused the woods to seem almost dark in this late afternoon light. The sun-dappled trail we had enjoyed earlier was now a bit spooky. I was relieved to exit the woods and transition onto the wide, grassy path where the sunshine illuminated flying insects and glowed golden on the late-summer grasses.

Charlie slept peacefully on the way home while I made a quick stop at a roadside stand to purchase some camp wood for our backyard firepit. With the harvest moon waning and crisp, cool evenings looming, I'm looking forward to snuggling up around the campfire with some hot chocolate and enjoy this fleeting season before winter arrives. The fall colors are just starting to arrive here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, but they'll be in full blaze in just a week or two. It's a great time to plan a fall color road trip and explore this beautiful state!


Friday, September 20, 2013

Dog Pee

Do you guys remember the scene in the book, Marley & Me, where Marley releases his explosive diarrhea at the dog beach? In the water?

WHY do dogs do this???

I used to have a yellow lab named Ben that would poop in the water... almost like he thought he was hiding it and no one would notice he'd just pooped. I assume this because he always "did his business" off in the bushes where he thought no one would see.

My other dog, a German Shephard named Layla, was potty trained by her previous owners to poop right outside there back door and come right back in the house. For the rest of her life, she would poop right at your feet and turn around with this proud look on her face like, "See Mom, I pooped good, right?!"

So, Charlie doesn't poop in water, but she does pee in water. Again, I'm not sure if she thinks she's being super-stealthy and no one will notice she's peeing, but it's so obvious. And completely embarrassing.

Does your dog pee or poop in the water?


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fun & Sun At The Beach

We went to the beach and enjoyed this gorgeous 70-degree day. With a hint of autumn in the air and the sun at an obviously lower slant in the sky, it's time to enjoy the warm, sunny days while we can.

Charlie made some new friends and even shared her tennis ball!

I found a rusty hook attached to fishing line on the beach as we were leaving... I hate finding this stuff but am happy to pick it up before someone gets hurt. Be safe out there and have fun!

Rusty hook and fishing line = danger!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Behind the Photo: A Kayak Story

The other day I posted this picture on Facebook and received a comment about how easy-going Charlie must be. Ha! It got me thinking, though, that we are bombarded with so many photos via social media and the internet every day that we kind of take them for granted. Don't get me wrong - I know there is definite appreciation in viewing awesome photos, but have you ever wondered what it took to get that photo?

I admit, sometimes it's just plain luck when you get a great photo; right place, right time kind of thing. Some people take classes to learn the technical aspects of photography, yet other people spend years learning the craft through trial and error in order to achieve great photos.

I think it takes a little of all three: Skill, practice and luck!

I've been taking photos all my life. Photography is a passion of mine. But I've never been formally trained in this art and I've only just recently purchased a *nice* camera, which I have yet to learn to use properly. Typically I carry my small auto-focus camera on trail hikes to capture a multitude of photos that will hopefully string together a sort of experience for my readers. I like this camera because it's lightweight and it's automatic. However, the lens has become scratched and my photos are showing this flaw more and more... it may be time to suck it up and use the fancy camera from now on. In any case, I'm able to capture some pretty good photos mostly through luck and lots of practice; I also take hundreds of photos and hope that maybe a handful are good.

So I wanted to share with you the story behind the incredibly cute picture of Charlie perched on the front of my kayak.

I've kayaked with Charlie before so this was not her first time. She's a high-energy dog with a short attention span and I realize there is no way I can expect her to sit still in a boat while watching the scenery around her. She LOVES being in the boat but often she'll spontaneously decide to jump out and swim after a leaf or stick floating by in the water. When I kayak with Charlie, I know she's going to be in and out of the boat several times. Typically I end up with more water in the boat than out of it. Okay, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure feels that way!

Because she ends up swimming alongside the kayak so much, she wears a Ruffwear Float Coat. Not only does this keep her afloat if she gets too tired but it's also bright orange, making her more visible to other boaters - a safety thing.

Charlie watching her new friend take our picture.

On this particular outing, a family friend was along for the paddle. Charlie LOVES other people and is very social, so the entire time we were out on the lake, she was on the front of my kayak trying to jump onto his kayak! She would crouch up there and tremble and whine anytime he got near us and she even attempted to launch herself into his kayak a couple of times. When he was behind our kayak, she literally tried crawling over the top of me to get to the back of the boat so she could keep him within eyesight.

She fell into the water several times and then immediately wanted to get back in the kayak. The handle on her Float Coat comes in handy for pulling her into the boat and I was fairly proud of myself for not capsizing the kayak in the process. But repeatedly pulling my 50 lb. soaking-wet dog out of the water and back into the kayak caused me to be thoroughly soaked and we had to stop twice to empty the water out of my kayak.

Charlie "saying HI!"

Charlie about to launch out of my kayak... my pants are soaking wet already.

Charlie playing water-fetch with her new friend.

Charlie clinging to the kayak while watching her new friend paddle ahead of us.

Charlie about to launch off the kayak again to catch up with her friend!

I wouldn't have had it any other way - we had an awesomely fun day. I accept my dog's behavior, and quite honestly she provided tons of laughter and comedic relief throughout the day. It's proof that there's a story behind every picture!

Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ice Age Trail to Dog Lake

Sunday was an awesome day for a hike! But then again, when isn't it? We headed north on Hwy 17 again this weekend for a solo-hike on the Underdown Segment of the Ice Age Trail where I wanted to go as far as Dog Lake and then backtrack to the car, approximately 6 miles in total.

We started out at 10:30 a.m. at the Copper Lake Ave. entrance and parked on the edge of an ATV trail across the street. The sun was beginning to crest the trees and was slowly drying the dewy grass. It was a cool 62 degrees and I was worried that I hadn't dressed warm enough, although after we got going and worked up a little sweat, I was fine.

Within the first quarter-mile, we came across several piles of what I assume was bear poop that consisted of mostly berries, and it was obvious where they came from - the blackberry bushes were filled with dark, ripe berries that were hanging over the path. Charlie was careful to avoid the thorny branches, but I ended up with a few scratches on my shins and wished I had worn long pants.

The terrain went up and down like a roller coaster giving us a healthy workout. I loved the narrow, rocky trail that wound along the tops of the ridges with sloping views of the valleys and forest below. The slight morning breeze grew stronger causing the branches in the canopy to rub together. I had to pause occasionally to make sure the spooky noises weren't actually wild animals!

We came across sporadic swampy areas containing the peat bogs that were referenced in the IAT Companion Guide. Charlie pulled toward the swampy water but I kept us moving quickly past these areas so she wouldn't be tempted to jump in. Yuck!

At one of the higher points on the trail, there was a momentary view of distant hills and a strong breeze to help cool the sweat on my forehead. I paused to take in the view and catch my breath while Charlie nibbled grass, waiting to continue on.

We came upon a Leopold bench on one of the ridges but weren't ready to take a break. I sometimes wonder at the placement of these benches - often they are never where I wish they'd be.

The delicious wind swirled through the woods causing leaves and pine needles to rain down on us as I smiled wistfully at the changing season. Warmed patches of earth radiated heat as we hiked through open areas, while relief awaited us back in the shade of the woods. The alternating scenery kept us going at a quick pace, anxious to reach our destination where Charlie could go for a swim while I caught up on my trail notes.

We ended up off-trail twice but quickly realized that I hadn't seen a yellow blaze and traced our steps back to the trail. The yellow blazes are strategically placed so you always have a sense of where you are, which is very helpful since my mind drifts and daydreams on this trail so often. Don't second-guess yourself; if you haven't seen a yellow blaze in awhile - go back.

Finally we arrived at Dog Lake and Charlie was elated to be let off leash for a swim and a game of fetch. I sat down on a tree root to write while Charlie played with sticks in the water. I wondered again, why there are never Leopold benches when you need one! This would have been the perfect spot.

Shortly, we had visitors:  an older couple that had arrived at the trail head just after us. We chatted for a moment as Charlie persuaded them to throw her stick and I learned they were also segment-hikers. It's always nice to meet other people who have committed to hiking this treasure of a trail.

A dog swimming in Dog Lake - so perfect!

I'm glad we made it all the way there and even though we were both tired and sore, it was an awesome hike! I even took a break on that Leopold bench during the walk back when I needed to catch my breath. The ascent up the hill had been a long one and I was already tired; turns out that bench wasn't in such a bad spot after all!

I also remembered to watch for the old Homestead Site near Loop Rd. mentioned on the map. When I came across a pile of rocks, at first I thought it was an erratic but upon closer inspection, I saw an old milking pail amidst the stones and weeds. Perhaps these stones were actually part of the foundation? So much history to soak up for the day!

Rusted milking pail?

The old homestead site's foundation?

We had a magical hike along a must-see section of the Ice Age Trail full of challenging but beautiful terrain. The weather was perfect, the mosquitoes were persistent but not horrible and we were able to observe several distinct features of the Ice Age. This was a Sunday afternoon well-spent - observing and appreciating Mother Nature.