Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sunday, Awesome Sunday

After a stressful and long day traveling across the state and back on Saturday, I was truly looking forward to a more relaxing day on Sunday.

The morning began with a batch of blueberry pancakes and a pot of coffee. Charlie had a big breakfast of Sojos mixed with fresh meat and blueberries. I sat in the backyard enjoying breakfast and watching birds flit back and forth between the trees and bird feeders while Charlie kept watch for squirrels. We played a short game of fetch and in general, just enjoyed a pleasant morning.

A little while later, I packed up the cooler with drinks and snacks and loaded Charlie into the car for a short drive to Hartman Creek State Park in Waupaca.

Having spent the previous morning packing up the car with all our camping gear and getting Charlie's expectations up for a fun trip then letting her down by just coming home, I felt like the worst dog-parent ever; I owed it to Charlie to have some fun today.

Fragrant pine forest.

Thankfully, Sunday was a completely different day - weatherwise - than Saturday. We had bright blue skies and sunshine for the entire day! Such a relief.

Giant rock along the Hartman Creek Segment of Ice Age Trail - trail selfies are hard!

We spent hours on hiking trails and even ended up on a section of the Ice Age Trail for a little bit.

Charlie took several swimming breaks throughout the afternoon, enjoying the cool, clear water. I get such a kick out of watching her body move through the water when she's swimming... it's really quite beautiful.

Distracted by flock of swimming geese in the distance.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rained Out at Perrot State Park

I had a sinking feeling as the first fat raindrops splashed onto my windshield while nearing our destination - Perrot State Park - on Saturday. The weather forecast had predicted isolated/scattered thunderstorms for the afternoon that would taper off by evening, so I had gone ahead with our plan to drive 3+ hours and camp for the next 3 days. I'm always up for an adventure and I've never let a little rain get in the way. How bad could it be?

At the park office, I left the windows of the car down halfway and the sunroof open to allow plenty of fresh air for the dogs while I went inside to check in to our campsite and get some hiking maps.

While waiting my turn, I noticed a sign on the counter indicating that the drinking water at the park had high nitrate levels and was unsafe for pregnant women or infants and that boiling the water would only concentrate the nitrate levels - so don't boil it either. Hmmm. This didn't look good, especially since I had chosen NOT to fill our water jug at home, but to use the state park water instead.

After receiving my maps and campsite tag, the clerk informed me that Catfish Days, an annual festival, was going on in town this weekend (which I had obviously seen already on our way to the park) and that hundreds of runners would be going through the park on Sunday and they would be closing off the main entrance to the park.

Hmmm. The whole point to camping (for me anyway) is getting away from crowds and noise. Hundreds of runners? Not good.

She also informed me that one hiking trail was off-limits to dogs and another one was known to have rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes??? For some reason, I was unaware that Wisconsin had rattlesnakes. How could I not know this? What kind of hiker am I?

Also, it seemed that the rain was now forecast to continue heavily throughout the afternoon and would taper off near 8pm and there would be more scattered showers throughout the night. I'm not afraid of a little rain and I've camped in rain before, but I've never attempted to set up my tent, etc. in the rain. This was going to be tricky.

As I exited the park office, I realized it was now pouring rain outside and the car was soaked. Yay.

I decided to drive through the campground and get an idea of the park layout. I had reserved my site earlier in the week - sight unseen - and was hoping for a decent spot. The campground loops were really confusing, but the map helped a little. Rounding the curve in the narrow drive, I was relieved to see that site 65 was actually pretty decent. A long driveway led to a nice round space with a good area for the tent and there was a convenient trail leading to the bathrooms at the back of the site with thick foliage surrounding us for plenty of privacy.

But everything was dripping wet and the ground was muddy with puddles.

Still trying to muster an attitude of optimism, I decided we could do a little hiking while waiting for the rain to stop. It was already getting late in the day, but I was putting on a brave face and hoping for the best.

Alert to the sounds of a nearby firing range.

We drove down to the trail entrance to Brady's Bluff - a trail that would offer spectacular views of Trempealeau Mountain. This was the whole reason we came here - Trempealeau Mountain:  a very rare solid rock island in the middle of the Mississippi River - one of only 3 of these types of islands along the entire Mississippi River. And Brady's Bluff is supposed to offer an amazing view of this special island.

The rain steadily continued as I buckled Charlie into her hiking vest and zipped up my raincoat. I could hear distant faint booms and wondered if the sounds were fireworks. But I couldn't imagine anyone lighting off fireworks during the day or in the rain.

Charlie apparently heard the booms too, although I hadn't noticed her increasing anxiety until we were well on our way up the trail. I realized, too late, that the sounds we were hearing were from a firing range somewhere nearby and the reverberating gunshots were spooking Charlie terribly.

Planning her escape up the side of the bluff.

The trail was slick and muddy and the steep stone steps were slippery. If I hadn't been strapped to a scared dog pulling me at a breakneck pace up the path, it actually would have been a beautiful and peaceful hike. I love hiking in the rain and listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops on the leafy vegetation; it makes me feel like I'm in a tropical rain forest.

But Charlie was trying to escape from the phantom danger of distant gunshots and was trying to scale the bluff to escape. I couldn't walk/run fast enough for her. She was digging in with all her strength, splaying her legs out with her belly almost flat to the ground to pull me along faster. Trying to keep up with her, I fell off the trail as we rounded a curve on one of the switchbacks and was afraid I had landed in poison ivy. My boot had sunk into the mud and I was pretty shaken from the close call.

Looking up the trail, I saw that it narrowed considerably and the drop-off along the edge was getting steeper. Little rivulets of rain were running down the muddy slope and I was worried that it was only going to get worse the further up we got.

At this point, neither of us were having fun and I decided we needed to go back. I wistfully looked up, sad that I would miss the view from the top, but also relieved to get off the dangerous trail.

Charlie, unfortunately, was not happy about going back down. To her, the threatening gunshots were down there and she wanted to continue going up. She leaped up into the vegetation on the hillside, trying to scale the bluff to escape several times. Sometimes she would bolt down the stone steps, dragging me behind her and then she would cower behind me on other parts of the trail.

Once we were off the trail she gained super-human strength and continued dragging me toward the car. I ran behind her at scary speeds, physically unable to stop her. Back at the car, I gave her a dose of Rescue Remedy and took a very long break to get my heart rate to return to normal. My whole body was shaking.

At this point, I was not in the mood to deal with setting up the campsite in the rain. This was not fun anymore. Every ounce of optimism was washed away with the flood of adrenaline in my body from our hike.

I made the difficult decision to abandon our camping reservation and drive home.

Sometimes the best of intentions don't work out. There was no point to "toughing it out" and staying if we weren't going to have fun. I rationalized the expense of the trip to just having a scenic road trip, enjoying the view of Trempealeau Mountain from the shore of the Mississippi River and getting to see a different part of the state that I had never been to before.

It was definitely an adventure.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Touch The Earth

Touch the earth, love the earth,
honor the earth, her plains,
her valleys, her hills, and her seas;
rest your spirit in her solitary places.
~ Ernest Dimnet

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Traffic & Tornadoes

"Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions."
~Lady Bird Johnson

While other holiday travelers headed north this past holiday weekend, Charlie and I headed southwest for a family visit in Platteville.

Friday was a picturesque summer day with clear blue skies illuminating a bright green landscape; the perfect day for a road trip!

Wildflowers are beginning to bloom along the highways, coloring the landscape in bright purples, pinks and oranges. Queen Anne's Lace is sprinkled along medians in bursts of bright white, appearing as nature's own fireworks, and honey-colored feathered grass waved in the wind. I am always so grateful for Lady Bird Johnson's efforts to beautify our highways with her love of wildflowers while on these summer road trips.

But when we got to Platteville, I was faced with the reality of how close the recent tornadoes came to my dad's house; a home I visit regularly. Driving through town along the path of damage, I was awe-struck by the massive amount of damage to a place so familiar to me. And when we came upon the home of a friend of the family and found nothing but the bare foundation, I was appalled. A friend was injured in that home and has a long recovery ahead of her.

I've always been awed and impressed with violent weather - especially tornadoes. It is a testimony of Mother Nature's power. But seeing the damage up close and thinking of all the people affected is humbling.

And even though I had a wonderful visit full of typical 4th of July celebrations - good food, laughter & family - the destruction just over the hill was ever-present in my mind.


I go into the woods on a regular basis and give thanks to the beauty of nature, but there is a violent and destructive side of nature as well and it is a reminder to respect this power. Enjoy it, but be safe.


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Monday, June 30, 2014

Swimming in the Weeds

Our camping plans were spoiled by the threat of severe weather last weekend, so Charlie and I spent the weekend at home and did a few local hikes instead. The weather didn't turn out to be as severe as predicted, but the humidity was high.

I hate camping in humidity, so having to change our plans turned out to be a good thing:
Heat + Humidity + Bugs + Bug Spray = Sweaty, Unhappy Heather

Anyway, the humidity did end up affecting me on our Sunday hike. I was clipping along at a good pace, it was mid-morning before the temps got too hot and we were under a thick canopy of shade trees with a pretty strong breeze. And yet, after 30 minutes of hiking my head was spinning and my hands were shaking; I had to stop and sit down, eat my granola bars, drink my entire bottle of water and just plain rest.

I cut our hike short and headed back up the trail to the park where I found a section of shoreline (away from the swimming beach) where Charlie could play fetch in the water for awhile and expend her energy.

The water in this reservoir currently has an outbreak of blue-green algae, which is toxic to dogs, and I had been trying to keep Charlie away from it during our hike. Luckily this area in the weeds seemed to be clear water; I could see all the way down to the sand, so I figured it was a safe spot to swim.

Charlie agreed.


After a long time of stick throwing, she still didn't want to leave. I actually had to start walking back to the parking lot without her because she wouldn't come out of the water. Every now and then I'd turn back to make sure she was coming. There she would be, about 50 feet behind me, watching to see if I would turn back and let her swim some more.

And even though she put on this pouty show of wanting to stay, she immediately fell asleep on the front seat of the car on the way home. Silly girl.

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