Sunday, August 16, 2015

Steamy Sunday Morning Hike

Today is the last day of the run of recent "steamy" summer weather we've had. Charlie and I have been hanging out in the cool shade of the backyard lately and not doing too much hiking because of the hot weather, but I decided to go hiking really early this morning before the heat of the day got too bad.

We hadn't been back to this trail since our "Mother's Day Mishap" with all the ticks, so I was hoping that by this time of year they'd be gone. Luckily, we didn't find any ticks at all.

We hit the trail at 8:00 am and quickly immersed ourselves into the tropical feeling of the forest.

It was blissfully still and quiet with wafts of foggy steam floating through the tree canopy. The only sound was the alternating 'squish' or 'thud' of my boots on the varying terrain of mud and rocks. I hop-skipped along the rocks and roots protruding from the trail and started getting into a good hiking rhythm, enjoying our quick pace but still absorbing the beautiful landscape.

Foliage was dense and overgrown on some parts of the trail; dew-drenched fern fronds soaked my bare shins and provided cooling relief to the scratches received from raspberry bushes that were taking over the trail. The warm-moist heat released intoxicating scents of late-summer flowers and grasses, while the high keening sound of cicadas signaled the beginning of the end of summer.

We took several short breaks to throw sticks and splash in the stream, and while we didn't cover a lot of distance, we spent a good hour and half romping in the woods. As we back-tracked to our starting point, a delicious breeze picked up and swirled around me, rustling leaves in the treetop above.

Refreshed, invigorated but also tired, Charlie napped on the front seat on the drive home. We had a great time enjoying the outdoors early before the heat of the day took over, and now we can "veg" out and relax for the afternoon!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Forest Critters

Charlie and I got out in the woods last weekend, visiting one of our favorite hiking trails. There were several horse trailers in the parking lot, so I kept Charlie on-leash today. Luckily, we didn't run into any horseback riders during our hike... just several piles of manure that were so tempting for Charlie to eat! Yuck.

In my alertness to the possibility of other people/dogs/horses using the trail, I happened to see several deer slipping quietly through the trees while Charlie was completely oblivious, too busy enjoying her hike. I also happened to see a bald eagle take off from a nearby tree and watched several cranes standing like statues in the shallows of the lake watching for their next meal.

As we neared the halfway point of the trail, I decided to take a quick break at the ramshackle picnic shelter with the rotting picnic table that no one ever uses, except me. It's on a little side trail toward the water's edge, so I let Charlie off-leash to go swimming while I sat down for a minute.

I took a look at the picnic table and found a spot on the bench that looked like it would hold my weight (as I said, it's rotting). I started to take off my backpack to get my water bottle out, when I heard a rustling of leaves in the back corner. Thinking it was probably just a mouse, I almost didn't turn to look.

Luckily, my curiosity got the best of me and I turned around.

My eyes took in a small mammal, black and white fur, pointy face and beady eyes staring at me. It took a minute for my brain to put all the pieces together, but suddenly I was like, "HOLY SHIT! SKUNK!"

Yeah, I got up pretty quickly and called Charlie back to the main trail, hoping she wouldn't catch its scent and go investigate. We hiked on for a ways down the trail, letting my heartbeat return to normal, and found a sunny spot on the beach to let Charlie swim again.

You never know what you're going to run into when you're out in the wilderness! It always pays to be alert and watch your surroundings... this was a lesson to not let my guard down even in places that I'm familiar with!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sunrise + Deer Swimming

This morning I was remembering back to when I read 'Life In The Woods' by Thoreau and how much he loved sunrises; he didn't miss one of them.

There's a certain magic in being awake at dawn and being outside in nature. It's a time to marvel at the quiet and fleeting beauty. 

With the hottest days of summer upon us, Charlie and I are walking early in the morning now instead of our normal evening walks. It's still warm and humid in the morning, but much more manageable.

This morning, as we made our way down to the River Edge Parkway on the Wisconsin River, I kept turning back to look at the gorgeous sunrise behind me. It was such a still and peaceful morning and the houses glowed pinkish-orange, reflecting the color of the sky above.

As we neared the trail, I spotted a doe on the path near the water's edge. It quickly darted into the trees before Charlie saw it and I figured it was making a fast retreat along the riverbank away from us.

But as I got closer to the river, I noticed ripples expanding in an ever-growing ring out in the water.

The deer was swimming away from us toward the island in the middle of the river!

Charlie and I sat on the riverbank watching its progression toward the shallows of the lily beds. It slowly emerged from the water and looked back to watch us as it moved into the woods on the other side.

Charlie just sat quietly watching and then quickly lost interest and started playing in the water, searching for sticks for me to throw for her.

Such a lovely treat to have a beautiful sunrise and watch a deer swimming on our Friday morning. You never know what you'll see when you make time to get outside.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Merrick Backcountry Adventure ~ Ice Age Trail

*This post is brought to you in partnership with Merrick.
All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Charlie and I typically avoid going anywhere "outdoorsy" on 4th of July weekend since campgrounds and trails are usually overcrowded and busy. Plus, Charlie's noise-reactivity is a problem when people are lighting off fireworks all around us. The last time we tried camping during this holiday, Charlie was a ball of fear, trembling in the tent and at times, trying to dig her way out of the tent. Not fun.

But this year, in partnership with Merrick Pet Foods, we decided to head up to the northwoods of Wisconsin and stay in a little lakefront cabin. Being able to stay "indoors" during the fireworks was the only way Charlie could feel safe.

Luckily the weather was perfect for the outdoor activities I had planned - kayaking on the lake and hiking on the Ice Age Trail!

We started our holiday weekend with a day paddling around the lake and exploring the shoreline. Charlie balanced herself perfectly on the front of the boat, like a kayak "hood ornament," keeping a lookout for loons that would pop up unexpectedly and then dive back underwater, only to pop up again somewhere else.

Every now and then she'd jump in to rescue a stick or leaf floating by and then I'd hoist her back into the boat when she was done playing. You just can't keep a lab out of water!

Spending the day out in the sun and fresh air was exhilarating, but also exhausting. It was nice to head back to the cabin for a hearty dinner on the deck while listening to loon-calls echo over the quiet lake. 

Charlie received a healthy serving of Merrick's Grain Free Beef canned food mixed with the Backcountry Raw Infused Great Plains Recipe kibble. After a long day of swimming and fetching sticks, she deserved a yummy dinner! 

Travelling with a dog on a homemade diet can be tricky and it's nice to be able to have wholesome food, like Merrick's Backcountry, to feed her when we're out on our adventures. I love that the food contains raw-infused bits to keep her on track with her healthy diet. And I love providing a "special treat" with the canned food to make sure she stays hydrated while giving her something she really enjoys eating.

. . .

As the day drew to close, most of the other vacationers headed into town to watch the fireworks, leaving the lake blissfully quiet and serene for the evening. I curled up in the safety of the cabin with my content pup and drifted off into a deep sleep.

The next day we headed out to hike a portion of the Ice Age Trail. I was hopeful that the mosquitoes and ticks wouldn't be too bad and was relieved when I was correct, although we did have some persistent horse-flies following us for most of the hike.

The ferns were thick and lush, birds were chirping and little streams babbled nearby. Charlie dipped her feet in the shallow brooks to cool off and splash around during short breaks before we'd head back onto the trail. As the temperature climbed and the woods began to feel rather tropical, we headed back to the cottage for a bit more kayaking to cool off before retiring in front of a campfire under the stars.

I love taking these long weekends and coming home with a tired pup. I know Charlie enjoys our outdoor adventures as much as I do and our bond continues to grow with every experience. 

Join the conversation about Merrick Backcountry by using hashtag #Wild4Backcountry and visit Merrick's website for coupons and more information:  Merrick Backcountry Website

*Disclaimer:  I received compensation for writing this review; although this post is sponsored, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I would never recommend something I didn't believe in. Pinky swear.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Charlie Hikes With A Friend

Yes, you heard that right! Charlie has a friend. For reals.

Charlie and Ellie at Grandfather Falls Segment

Charlie has been fear-aggressive toward other dogs for a couple of years now. We've worked with a trainer occasionally to help her resolve these issues and the trainer had recommended that I find one or two other dogs in my neighborhood that we could continue "practicing" with.

Unfortunately I had not found any good prospects, until a month ago, when I saw my neighbor walking her 2 dogs and decided to talk to her as she passed my front porch.

I explained the situation with Charlie and asked if she'd be willing to help me out. She said yes!

So we started out slowly and introduced them properly. They got used to each other on neutral territory with lots of positive reinforcement (treats and praise). Sara and I were both cautious and a little nervous at times, but eventually the dogs got used to each other and even began looking forward to their nightly walks together.

It was such an amazing feeling that I seriously wanted to *cheer* out loud.

So today was the next step in their "friendship"... riding in a car together to go hiking.

I buckled Charlie into her harness in the front seat and Sara sat in the backseat with Ellie also buckled in. There was a moment of growling at first, and then they both just sat in their seats and relaxed.

Again - amazing!

The hike went just as well. Charlie and Ellie walked side by side with no tension or aggressiveness from Charlie and they even drank out of the same water bowl with no issues (where a month ago, Charlie growled and snapped at Ellie for drinking out of "her" travel bowl).

Hopefully Sara and I will recruit other neighborhood dogs into our evening walks and perhaps even start a hiking meet-up for other dog-lovers and continue to expand Charlie's social network.

You have no idea how happy this makes me!!! Also, it's super-awesome to have someone *help* me pose the dogs for blog pictures... this is way harder than it looks! (Thanks Sara)