Saturday, December 27, 2014

Lemons Into Lemonade

Waking up to a blanket of freshly fallen snow, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning! I absolutely could not wait to get to a quiet hiking trail and take in the transformation of forest to fairy tale!

Unfortunately... waiting is exactly what I had to. I had to wait for the snow to stop falling and the snow plows to catch up with getting the roads cleaned up.

And then after almost 45 minutes of white-knuckle driving to our favorite Ice Age Trail segment, the parking area wasn't plowed out.

Figuring I could just pull off as far as possible and road-park, I got stuck. While in the process of getting myself unstuck, a nice man pulled up in his pickup truck (extremely handsome and snacking on an apple - how adorable?!) and offered to give me a push while I rocked my transmission and got out of the hole I had dug myself. Luckily I got myself out without needing a tow truck and thanked the nice man for stopping to help.

After all that heart-racing activity, I didn't even feel like hiking anymore. Charlie had given up on us doing anything fun and was napping in the backseat and all I wanted to do was go home and take a nap.

But since I was all bundled up and had already promised Charlie a hike, we headed back into town where I was sure we could find an urban trail with a plowed-out parking area, or at the very least, safe roadside parking.

Someone decorated this tree with ornaments!

At Fern Island in downtown Wausau, we were rewarded with the idyllic scenery I was looking forward to, unfortunately it came with a "city-sounds" backdrop. Throughout our walk, we were surrounded by the sounds of traffic, sirens, beeping of snowplows backing up, kids playing with snowboards across the river and the maddening sound of steel snowplow blades dropping and grating along cement.

Charlie ended up getting spooked by all the sounds and bolted back toward the parking lot, with me still attached to her.

Still, we enjoyed the distinct beauty of a new snowfall and some fresh air. All is good. Lemons into lemonade.

**Thank you to the guy who kindly stopped to help me... and to all of you out there who take the time to offer help to a stranger.**

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day Footprints

Some cute little footprints were left by my garage door Christmas Day. Just adorable.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Peanut Goes Hiking

Charlie's buddy, Peanut (a Chihuahua-mix), joined us for a foggy hike on Sunday. Unfortunately her tiny legs got too cold and she ended up hitching a ride in my tiny pink backpack!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Blaze Orange

Charlie wasn't the only one wearing blaze orange during our hike yesterday. I'm not that aware of what hunting seasons are going on at any given time, but I don't take chances with Charlie's safety in the woods; every year I purchase a blaze orange neck warmer in the hunting supply aisle of our local farm supply store and Charlie wears it every time we hike.

Part of the reason for this is because Charlie looks amazingly like a small deer when she bounds through the woods and leaps over logs. My heart would be broken if someone shot her mistakenly. Also, while she stays relatively close to me when she's off-leash on trails, it helps me see her better.

So yesterday, taking advantage of warmer-than-usual weather and enjoying the veil of fog swirling around us as we traversed a snow-covered landscape, I was not surprised to be following large boot prints alongside old splotches of blood in the snow. The segment of trail we were on is also public hunting and fishing grounds. Charlie put her tracking sense into gear and sniffed along the trail actively seeking out the source of blood and trying to pull me off-course to follow deer trails crossing our path.

Shortly, we came upon a man dressed in blaze orange sitting on a tree stump about 30 feet off the trail. He completely ignored us as we passed by as silently as possible so as not to disturb any wildlife that he might have been tracking.

After a while the large boot prints ended and the trail was all ours.

We enjoyed the serene beauty of the river as I carefully felt my way through the snow along the riverbank, trying not to trip on rocks and tree roots beneath the snow cover. Charlie learned what it felt like to stand on thin ice shelves along the shallow river before they broke beneath her, leaving her standing in ankle-deep water.

We listened to snow melting and dripping from the pine canopy above, the trickling water of the river flowing around tiny islands and breathed in the moist and mild air swirling around us. It was magical.


On the return trip back to the parking lot, we passed the hunter again, and this time he was standing up, rifle in hand. I was a bit startled to see such a high-powered weapon, as I had assumed it was only bow-hunting season. He once again ignored us as we passed by, but Charlie was alarmed and lunged and growled in his direction as we made our way past. I practically had to drag her behind me as we ascended a ridge because she wasn't going to let this "menacing" man out of her sight.

It's funny when I go into the wilderness that it's not wildlife or the elements that scare me, it's other people. I'm absolutely positive that this man meant no harm to anyone, he was just a hunter doing his thing, but seeing a gun can instill such a feeling of fear... even in a dog that has never seen a gun before.

Interesting, isn't it?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Nature's Sunday Service

Can you find Charlie in this photo?

The woods were blissfully quiet and peaceful on our Sunday morning hike today. We spent a total of 3 hours hiking this weekend at two different parks. Charlie sniffed out a furry raccoon tucked into a rotted out tree that I've passed by dozens of times before, snuggled in for the winter perhaps? And snow sparkles glittered all around from the late winter slant of warm sunshine. Here are a few of the other treasures we encountered this past weekend...

A miniature snowman along the trail.

Animal tracks in the snow revealing a tiny highway of activity.

Tree mushrooms illuminated by shafts of sunlight.

Tree branches dancing in the river's current. (+ VIDEO)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Keep The Journey Going

Life is like a road trip... for me anyway. Sometimes you take off in the car with no idea where you are going, but just want to feel the wind in your hair and the miles slipping by. Usually there are maps to help when you get lost, but more often than not, the "getting lost" part is the best part of the trip.

Some places will become so familiar and bring so much joy, you might decide to stay for a while. Other places will be disappointing and you'll just get in your car and move on.

I like the idea of being open to all the possibilities that come my way and flexible enough that I'm willing to take a chance on a new place, a new person or a new experience.

My favorite part of a road trip is finding a sign for something intriguing up ahead and the exhilarating feeling of making the turn and seeing something new.

That was how I found several of my favorite hiking places - just taking a chance on a sign.

So let's do that this next year. Let's be open to the unknown and allow new adventures to make us better people. Don't wait for someone to tell you where to go or what to see. Get in your car and just go. Take a chance on a sign.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Pet Photos

I decided to feature Charlie on the holiday cards this year. After tackling this somewhat hectic task, I have a few tips for you: 

1. Keep the "sessions" short.
2. Use "high value" treats to keep their attention on you!
3. Have an off-camera helper to hold treats above or near the camera to keep your pet's eyes on the camera.
4. Have fun! Don't get frustrated; let this be a fun experience for everyone. 

You might have to use a not-so-perfect picture, but it'll be funny and memorable.
Good luck!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Birthday Hike + Bullshit Weather

I awoke this morning to a bright blanket of fresh snow outside and immediately felt the need to go for a walk. Before breakfast or even coffee, Charlie and I headed out onto the neighborhood sidewalks as the day lightened, although no sunrise was visible through the clouds that were still snowing on us. The motion of walking and listening to the snowflakes land on my jacket helped invigorate my tired brain.

It's amazing how tiring the grieving process is.

I go through my daily routines: working, eating and sleeping, and even though I'm getting enough sleep, I'm tired all the time. I have to literally force myself to get up and take Charlie for a walk, which always makes me feel better, but just the same, it's an effort I have to talk myself into doing.

But today is my dad's birthday and I wanted to honor him by hiking and getting outdoors. He was an avid outdoorsman and I inherited that quality from him. And even though my family wouldn't be together today, we were all going to be doing the things he loved in his memory.

After a short deliberation and weighing the current road conditions, I decided to stick close to home and hike the remaining (and newer) portion of the Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail, where my tribute to my dad began almost a year and a half ago. Amazingly, I had never completed hiking this segment. Every time I arrived at the parking area, I automatically headed toward the trails that were familiar to me.

But my dad was always up for an adventure and often took the path less traveled, so instead of heading south today, I went north. I had seen pictures of the beautiful boardwalks that were recently built for this new trail and couldn't wait to see them in person.

What follows is a super long video (17 minutes!) of part of our hike today, condensed down from 2 hours. I was surprised that the video didn't fully capture just how beautiful the woods were today, but it'll give you an idea. The snow was crunchy under my boots but otherwise the woods were quiet; surrounded only by the sound of snow falling from the tree branches, and once we heard a flock of cranes in the distance.

During the return walk, I slipped and tripped numerous times and fell twice. The first time I fell, my boots slid on a patch of wet leaves beneath the snow and my butt landed firmly on a glacial rock in the path. I slid a few feet down the slope and suddenly noticed that I had peed my pants during the fall. Wonderful. Thankfully the camera was put away in my backpack by then.

But I didn't let any of that get me down. Quite the opposite actually. I surprised myself by laughing out loud as I wiped the snow off my pants. From that point on, every time I slipped, I let out a little "whoa!" and then giggled to myself. It's a strange sound to laugh at yourself in the woods, but I'm sure it helped heal the hole in my heart just a little bit. Although Charlie probably thought I'd totally lost my mind.

Tonight, as I reminisced the sweetness of today's hike, I overheard the weather forecast for the week and had to yell, "BULLSHIT," at the top of my lungs. I got a laugh out of my mom for that one, but seriously??? What is with this early cold-snap? I'm thankful that I got out into the woods today because with temps dipping into the single digits this week and a winter storm warning, I think I'll be hibernating for the rest of the week.

Please, please, please tell me this winter is NOT going to be like last year.

Love you, Dad. Always. Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Time For Everything

To every thing there is a season, 
and a time to every purpose under the heaven;
A time to be born, and a time to die; 
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; 
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

I don't mean to get all "biblical" on you guys since I'm not really that religious myself. My kind of religion involves spending time with Mother Nature, not in a church.

But the time to say good-bye to my dad is near and I'll be taking some time to rest and heal.

Charlie and I will continue to hike and explore, but they will be private and introspective hikes; not something to be shared.

I know you'll understand my short reprieve, and in the meantime, I'll leave you with this adorable video of Charlie. She found a giant-sized Kong toy on a recent hike and it was like Christmas morning to her; she was being so cute and silly.

Don't you just love the simple joy of a dog?


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Fox and The Hound

This is a cautionary tale of hiking with a dog off-leash. Even though I preach about the responsibility of keeping a dog on-leash, I regularly seek out opportunities where Charlie has a chance to run off-leash. It's only normal for a dog to be able to run free when the opportunity presents itself!

This doesn't mean, however, that I allow her to pester people or other dogs or even break the law, rather, I choose a good location where I can somewhat predict that no other people or dogs will come near us, or if they do, I'll have enough space/time to get Charlie back on her leash before it becomes a problem.

I don't put other people's pets at risk and I try to respect other people's space in case they are fearful of dogs.

This is typically a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless.

Today was the perfect example of this kind of risk...

Charlie and I were enjoying a beautiful fall day hiking at one of our favorite parks (on-leash). The trails were busy today with horseback riders, mountain bikers and other hikers with dogs. 

As we passed more and more people, I realized this hike was becoming more of a tug-o-war game between us:  me pulling Charlie away from horses and dogs, her pulling forward to greet the next person or animal to pass us. My shoulder began to hurt from pulling her back and she even choked a few times when the harness pressed up on her esophagus. 

I was becoming agitated and the hike was no longer full of fun and frolic for either of us.

Instead of cutting it short and heading home, I decided to take a detour off the busy trail and head off-trail into a forested peninsula where we had never run into another person or dog before and were pretty much guaranteed to have all to ourselves.

Once we were far enough off the main trail and surrounded by water on three sides, I let Charlie off her leash. She bounded forward leaping over logs and headed over to the shore to search out the best stick.

I shuffled my feet through the deep layer of fallen leaves making a <<CRUNCH-SWOOSH>> noise as I went, trying not to trip over rocks or roots. I had to stop occasionally to listen for Charlie to see where she was since she had run far enough ahead to be out of sight.

The third time I stopped my noisy crunch-swoosh-shuffle and looked up, I was surprised to see a beautiful red fox with a big bushy tail heading straight toward me! 

It took my brain a minute to register what I was seeing and everything seemed to go into slow-motion. 

The fox looked like it was leisurely cruising through the woods and barely even noticed when it passed within ten feet of a human. That's when I realized Charlie was in hot pursuit only 15 feet behind the fox and it looked like she was gaining on it.

As they streaked past me, I snapped out of my reverie and began to shout, "CHARLIE-COME!" over and over. I stood there in disbelief unable to stop her pursuit. Charlie's recall command is shaky at best, and once her prey drive kicks in, it's nearly impossible to get her to stop. 

In the past, we've only come across deer or squirrel in the woods and after a short chase, she comes back to me, winded but unharmed.

I had no idea what would happen if she actually caught up with this fox. Images of horrible bite wounds and scratches all over her body raced through my mind.

I called her name loudly over and over as I quickly made my way back the way we had come, trying fruitlessly to catch up to them. I didn't like the high-pitched, panicked quality of my voice as I yelled out. I had a feeling this was going to end badly.

But suddenly, Charlie was trotting back toward me and as she got close I bent down to inspect her. She was breathing heavily, but miraculously was unharmed!

I couldn't believe how lucky we had been. I've read and heard enough tales of dogs tangling with wildlife to know how horribly this could have ended.

Both our hearts were racing and our bodies were pumped full of adrenaline from this brief encounter. That was enough for me; we headed back to the main trail and went home. Our hiking excursion was over.

Charlie curled up on the front seat and eventually dozed off on the drive home. I opened the sun roof for some fresh air, turned off the radio and allowed my mind to replay the scene over and over. It's so weird how the brain works in situations like this and it still feels like it happened to someone else, not me.

This event probably won't stop me from allowing Charlie off-leash, but I will definitely be more careful about where I choose to allow her to run free from now on. I love this little dog and it's up to me to make sure she's safe. Just because I've never seen any dangerous wildlife near a well-used hiking trail doesn't mean that they're not there.

10/28/12:  Two years ago Charlie and I found bear tracks at this park. Yikes!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Raining Acorns

We had the pleasure of one more nice-weather weekend for camping recently and took full advantage of it. These are the kinds of days that help us Wisconsinites make it through our harsh winters. I'll be reminiscing the beauty of this weekend for many months to come.

Warm winds stirred the leaves and we were treated to a "sprinkling" of acorns throughout the campsite. Dodging falling acorns became a game around camp and many of "those looks" were passed between mother and daughter as we realized how close we were to getting nailed in the head with them!

Sleeping in the tent at night was a whole new auditory experience as leaves and acorns slid and bounced down the sloped nylon walls, punctuated by the occasional *PING* of acorns hitting metal (probably the car) and *THUDS* as they hit the ground around the tent. Charlie was understandably freaked out by all the noise, but taking the rain cover off the tent and exposing the mesh ceiling helped mute the acorn thuds and allowed a view of a million sparkling stars now visible through the dwindling canopy above.

Charlie's acorn hat.

This was my first time camping in the fall. It will not be my last. There is no better time of year to experience the beautiful outdoors and enjoy the farewell party that nature throws for us before winter comes.

Such a sight to behold.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Busy Beavers @ Turtle Rock

So a couple of weeks ago, Charlie and I *attempted* to hike the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age Trail. We hadn't been there since last September and this is the absolute BEST time of year to hike this particular trail.

But after receiving heavy rains over a couple of weeks, we found that the trail was washed out shortly into our hike, and without water sandals (or a swimsuit), there was no way to get through.

Dejectedly, I turned around and slopped my way back through the muddy trail to the car and then drove to the other side of the Wisconsin River and hiked the Grandfather Falls Segment as Plan B - which was actually quite amazing!

But I really wanted to hike Turtle Rock.

So the following weekend, we ventured back - armed with my water sandals and a towel this time! But when we got to the spot where the trail was washed out, we found everything was neatly repaired.

By beavers.

Yep. This was my first time seeing firsthand the awesome construction ability of beavers. Pretty cool.

In the photo below, you can see the mowed trail on the other side of the beaver dam; the shore of the pond has "moved" into the trail about 10 feet and now you have to detour through the little creek on the other side of the dam. It's really quite incredible, since this "pond" was more like a marshy lowland last year; we've gotten a lot of rain this year!

I'm really glad I went back because the fall colors were absolutely gorgeous and well-worth the second trip.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wooden Water Tubes

A cool feature of the Grandfather Falls Segment is the wooden water tubes that transport water from the reservoir down to the hydro dam.

This is what the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide says about them:
"Follow two large parallel pipelines that carry water down hundreds of yards from a man-made reservoir upriver. These pipeline "tubes" are made of wood banded with steel. Wood was used for these pipelines because it does not corrode or rot under the constant water pressure. However, the water pressure does create a fascinating tubular fountain effect. Water shoots from hundreds of small leaks occurring in knotholes in the wood."

The first time I saw them, they were nothing like what I expected. They were much larger and also much longer! It's really quite incredible that you can walk along right next to them. In fact, it's downright amazing that you can have access to the hydro dam property through this segment.

The tubes are so large, you can even see them on Google maps...

I've tried to capture the enormity of these tubes with photos, but it doesn't quite look the same. You have to feel what it's like to be in their presence, to hear the water cascading from the leaks.

So here's another quick video of the end of our Grandfather Falls hike as we walked past the tubes on our way to the parking area at the hydro dam:

(Just a reminder that if you have trouble viewing videos on this blog, you can try using a different browser like Chrome. Internet Explorer is not compatible with some features.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Choosing Grandfather Falls (with video)

Earlier this year, when I was being interviewed for an article in Dog Fancy magazine, I was asked what my favorite segment of the Ice Age Trail was. That was a really tough question for me and since I knew it would be the basis of the article/interview, it was a really important question too.

I chose the Grandfather Falls Segment.

The article came out in the May issue and I was thrilled to see myself and Charlie in such a big publication... and representing "The Midwest" too!

But every now and then I questioned whether I chose the right trail for this article. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE the Grandfather Falls Segment, but there are so many great segments of the Ice Age Trail that it really is almost impossible to choose a favorite.

Charlie and I revisited Grandfather Falls on a recent weekend and I was pleasantly surprised to feel justified in my choice. It really is a spectacular segment, and on this particular day the river was roaring with all the recent rainfall we've received and the trail was full of intoxicating smells of earth and leaves.

I brought along my GoPro camera to share the experience with anyone who wants a taste of one of the Midwest's best hiking trails.

Enjoy ~

(For those of you who are curious about Charlie's hiking gear, I use the Ruffwear Web Master harness in size Medium and the Ruffwear Roamer Leash in size Large. Charlie is a 42-lb. yellow lab/border collie mix. The Ruffwear gear is pricey, but worth it! I couldn't imagine hiking without this setup and it's so well-made that it will probably last Charlie's lifetime.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Back to School + Book Reports

I don't have kids but I've noticed the neighborhood grow much quieter over the past few weeks as children are now back in school and not riding their bikes in circles around the block. And as September marches on much more quickly than I'd like it to, this time of year always brings back my own memories of childhood and heading back to school.

New clothes, crisp folders, clean paper and sharpened pencils. And books. Lots of books!

I've always been a "reader" and always seem to be reading a couple of books at a time. I carry books with me in my purse (you never know when you'll have a minute to read!), a couple on the nightstand next to my bed and I subscribe to an assortment of magazines which pile up all around the house. You get the picture - I like to read!

So when Tim Fox contacted me about his book, Journeys: An Ice Age Adventure, I was excited to accept a complimentary copy. And although this book is aimed more at the middle-school age bracket, I read it from front to back and loved the story.

And since I have actually been to Natural Bridge State Park, where the story takes place, I could imagine being there in the story as I was reading.

If you have kids or nieces and nephews or grand-kids, I highly encourage you to get the kids in your life excited about reading... and there's no better way to do that than to take them on a field trip where they can experience the setting of a book in person! Children are encouraged to explore and really dig into a story when they can have a hands-on experience to bring the story to life.

If you haven't been to Natural Bridge State Park, I recommend taking a road trip and checking it out. It's an easy hiking adventure for kids of all ages and comes with some really interesting history of Wisconsin. This is an experience you can share with a child that both of you will cherish and reminisce about together.

Get outdoors, get active and find an adventure in your area. You won't regret it.

Tim's inscription inside my book sums it up perfectly... "Enjoy the adventure!"

Check out Tim Fox's website to learn more about the author and his book. Tim is also available for classroom visits to bring the journey to life!

I was provided a free copy of this book but the review and my opinion are all my own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Merrimac Ferry

The correct name for the only moving section of the Ice Age Trail is the Colsac III Ferry, but most people refer to it as the Merrimac Ferry.

I have several childhood memories riding this ferry across Lake Wisconsin on our way from Madison to Devil's Lake or Parfrey's Glen.

It's funny how this ferry ride always seemed longer to me as a child, and perhaps it was. I'm not sure if any modern changes have been made to the ferry in the past couple decades, but the trip I took across the ferry last weekend seemed to be only a few minutes; barely time to get out and stretch and take some photos.

If you're curious, or want to relive childhood memories through my lens, here's a video for you:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gibralter Rock

Last weekend I had to leave Charlie home while I went to Madison for a family visit. I wasn't sure if dogs would be welcome at this particular event and didn't want to take a chance that Charlie would have a problem when we got there. Plus it was a hot day and I wouldn't be able to leave her in the car.

Since I was going on a road trip without her, I figured I should take advantage of hiking at Gibralter Rock, which was on my way. This is one of those places that I would not be comfortable taking Charlie to and I knew, unfortunately, it would be a segment of the Ice Age Trail that I would have to hike without her.

But as I drove away from the house looking at her silly face as she stood up with her paws on the screen door, my heart literally broke into pieces and tears streamed down my face.

Obviously we don't do much apart from each other and it was extremely difficult for me to leave her behind. But I cheered myself up with the prospect of taking the Merrimac Ferry, the only moving part of the Ice Age Trail, across Lake Wisconsin on my way to Gibralter Rock and reliving childhood memories along the way.

The last time I was at Gibralter Rock I was a child hiking up there with my family and I have a clear memory of my mom getting a bad case of vertigo and constantly pulling us back from the edge of the trail.

I've had a fear of heights my whole life - probably inherited from my mom - so I was curious how I would feel revisiting this place.

The trail leading up to the top of the rock is winding and steep in some places, giving my lungs a good workout, but within 15 minutes I was at the top. That's when I realized that my happy-go-lucky hiking was at an end and I needed to really pay attention to my footing.

There are no guard rails and the trail winds very close to the edge in several places. There are flat rock outcroppings from which to get a great view or just sit and contemplate the turkey vultures floating below. But I get nervous out on those areas... I'm always afraid this will be the day that the rock ledge breaks free and tumbles below with me on it.

Regardless of my fear, I stuck it out and kept my GoPro camera rolling so you fine readers could get a sense of what it's like up there. But I have to admit I was relieved to head back down and get my feet on lower ground. I guess I'm just better-suited for hiking forests and river valleys; I'm not a mountain hiker.

Enjoy my little video...

p.s.  If you see my hands waving off-screen once in awhile, I'm swatting away bugs since I forgot to bring along bug spray! I tried really hard to keep my hands out of the picture, but I'm pretty sure I failed a few times.