Things I Learned Hiking With A Dog

I love dogs (and cats.  I’m adamantly both a dog and a cat person) and I work with them every day.  Growing up my parents constantly adopted rescued dachshunds who had various scars and sad stories, but who turned into cuddle bugs and snuggle monsters.  I worked in shelters consistantly after graduating college, as well as being a dog walker and a receptionist at a vet clinic.  Yeah, I’ve seen some dogs.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that I lived with a dog who is- shall we say more a dog in the traditional sense of the word?  I refer to her as Dog on social media, where she has been cropping up a lot lately, and she receives a fair amount of attention.  Dog looks like a big black German Shepherd and she loves people, she loves adventure, and she loves exercise.  My roommates say that Dog doesn’t sleep, she waits.  Waits to play or run or explore.  She just waits.  Dog comes to work with me a couple of times a week, but on my days off I have started taking her out on hiking adventures.  This is Colorado, after all, where both dogs and adventures are the lifestyle.  Hiking with just a dog and no other human companions has taught me a thing or two.

1) You WILL become tired long before the dog and she WILL constantly look back at you with a disappointed look on her face.  Bless Dog’s heart, she always waits for me…except for yesterday we we descended a trail on a mountain side that was coated with ice and snow.  I ended up “surfing” part of the way down as Dog pulled and I clung to the leash, unwilling to let go.

2) No matter how sociable dogs are when in the dog park/doggie day care/a friend’s house/the neighborhood, etc meeting another dog on leash can be stressful.  The dogs might be tired or on edge from the hike, or picking up on whatever it is you the leash-holder are struggling with.  They don’t necessarily want to become friends with every other pup on the trail, so just greet the other hikers politely and move on.

3)I hope you packed dog-appropriate snacks!  If you didn’t pack some specifically for Fido then at least did you bring some that are safe to share?  I fully expected that half of my little Baybels cheese wheel would disappear into Dog’s maw and I’m okay with that.  Of course, the car was also stocked with a variety of treats so Dog could have a little power snack to reboot after the hike.

4) Dogs don’t chatter and they don’t get bossy about which trails to hike.  Well, maybe some dogs do…I enjoy hiking with friends too, but there is something wonderful about the peacefulness that comes from taking in a breathtaking view in silence with your canine by your side.  Dog is very good natured and listens pretty well (my roommates trained her well) so no matter how exciting or dull the trail I pick it, she’s enthusiastic about it.  That’s rare in a friend.

5) Don’t be a douche- bring plastic bags and throw away your dog’s waste!  Do not just leave it hanging from trail signs.  That is disgusting and lazy and hello!  Part of bringing the dog means taking responsibility for them!  Ugh, rant over, just pick up your dog’s poo please.

If you’re inspired to take your adorable canine for an adventure be sure to check if your intended destination allows dogs on the trail.  The rules can be kind of convoluted (like that many state and national parks allow dogs in campsites and anywhere cars go, but not on hiking trails).  Make sure you leash Fido too, because no matter how well behaved she is, there are bears and shit out there, so watch out.

Also, shout out to the Alt National Park Service for their bravery  and dedication to science and truth.  If you appreciate their work follow the link and show your support.  Follow them on Facebook or Twitter as AltNationalParkService.  Don’t forget Rogue NASA!


That Fabled First Trip Abroad

I grew up privileged enough to take fabulous vacations with my family.  We would go one of two, maybe three, destinations every year: Lake Superior or Germany.  Usually Lake Superior; we saw family in a city in northern MN called Duluth, but we also traveled as far as Canada and Michigan on our trips.  Making the pilgrimage to Germany was rite of passage in our family, as well as a tradition.  My mom was born on an army base in Bavaria, so I guess she had a leg up on all of us, but my dad and older siblings made fairly frequent trips.  The first time I was able to go was when I was twelve years old.  

I think twelve was the perfect age to go for the first time.  I was enough of a kid and an introvert to prefer the company of my dad and the other adults on the trip (it was a church exchange) to the teens and pre-teens that were there.  I gleefully filled up on all the delicious chocolate I could get my hands on and soaked up the language like a sponge.  I’ve had a lifelong love of collecting a particular type of German toy called Steiff and on this trip my dad took me to a large German department store and brought me to the room that was shelf after shelf filled with these gorgeous Steiff critters.  “What do you want?” Dad asked, which was basically like all twelve of my Christmases and birthdays combined into one magical afternoon on the Steiff store.

Since we were with a large group Dad and I dutifully went along with the cultural activities that were planned and we different families that hosted us.  I stayed in a cute and very typical German house with a single mom and her two daughters.  The elder daughter, Britta, was just a little older than I was, but light years ahead of me in terms of music, clothes, and personal fashion tastes.  I could tell that she found me juvenile and was doing her level best to be polite to the annoying Amerincan she got stuck with.  The younger sister, Pia, was about eight and was a lot friendlier.  I think if I had been any older I would have had a hard time staying there, but I was mostly blissfully unaware of the awkwardness between Britta and myself, and Britta’s mom was very good at mothering me in her German way.  In the end, I loved it.

On a weekend the rest of the group decided to take the bullet train to Paris for a whirlwind sightseeing trip.  Paris!  HOw glamorous!  At that point I had no French (I ended taking French for four years in high school and I still try to keep up with it) but the idea of going to another European country was quite romantic.  However, Dad had other ideas, and so as everyone else got on their bullet train to Paris, Dad and I got on a train north to a region of Germany on the Baltic Sea called Pommerania.  Aka the Mother Land where that side of the family originates.  Now, let me explain: you know that family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?  The one that speaks Greek at home, goes to Greek class, and has a subtle tribute to the Greek flag on their garage?  Yeah, that’s us, except we’re German, not Greek.  My parents’ garage code if the year the family emigrated from Deutschland to the USA.  It’s also my phone code, one of my brother’s, and my Dad’s phone code.  Anyway, so as a twelve year old I had a hard time at first skipping Paris for Pommerania, but as soon as the Baltic Sea came in sight and the medieval looking town appeared I came around to the idea.  Of course it was a wonderful day trip, and of course I’m so glad we went.  Isn’t it great to sometimes go along with someone else’s ideas?  *Sometimes*

Berlin was an exciting town and a big change from sleepy little Paderborn, where we had spent the first part of the trip.  We visited official buildings, a cathedral, took a river boat tour, and saw some of the Berlin Wall remains.  I pocketed a piece of the wall, not thinking much of it at the time.  That chunk of history is long gone now.  I wish I still had it.  One of my favorite parts of Berlin was visiting the Pergamon Museum.  You can’t tell from my face in the photo, but for a kid and her Dad who both love history, it was a thrilling afternoon.

I have traveled with my Dad since then- we make excellent travel companions- and have even been back to Germany with him.  I know most kinds aren’t lucky enough to take fantastic trips like this, or if they are, they go in a big group while their parents stay home.  I think if you’re a kid enjoy the trips your parents care enough to take you on, and if you’re a parent, don’t just leave the kids at home because “they won’t appreciate it”.  You never know what’s going to stick, but boy did this trip stick with me.  It’s fifteen years later and I’m still thinking about it (and writing about it!)

Check Out My Work on Travelettes!

The Travelettes have once again featured a guest article I wrote on their wonderful site!  You can find it Here.  This site is a resource that any and all female (actually anybody) travelers should check out whether they’re planning a trip, daydreaming about where to go next, or just looking for cool articles to read from the comfort of home.  The women who run this site are true travel gurus and are a gold mine of information and dead-useful tips and tricks.  Last fall I wrote about my solo trip to San Francisco.  Find that piece Here.  If you’re not too busy reading and rereading (ha) my articles, get lost in some truly fabulous posts about exotic locations you’ve only ever dreamed of.  Have fun!

Look, it’s me!

A Collection Of My Favorite Street Art

I’m using the term “street art” pretty loosely here, as one photo includes and advertisement for an art museum, and another is actually a sign that represents so very many long years of a country’s strife and internal struggle.  For the record, these are images of artistic expressions that were found outside.  There, that seems much more accurate.

A car parked in Berlin, 2002
“Free Derry” also known as “London Derry”, 2008
A building wall in San Francisco, 2009
Another wall in San Francisco, 2009
I know I’ve featured this before, also on Instagram, but I love it. Seattle, 2014

What Is It About Seattle?

I’m heading to the Pacific Northwest next month; Seattle to be exact.  I’ve been there a few times before since I have family in Blaine and Puyallup, and each time I am in awe of the natural beauty that Washington has to offer.  My daytrip to Mt. Rainier with my uncle in the summer of 2014 was one of my favorite travel days of all time.  Who doesn’t love a state with a Pacific coastline, a beautiful mountain range, and a rainforests?  Well besides Meg Ryan’s character in Sleepless in Seattle who, upon hearing that it rains nine months out of the year there exclaimed, “I do not want to move to Seattle!’
There’s something about that city, though.  I was just a kid when Seattle was all the rage as the “cool” place in the 1990’s.  It still has that vibe, but maybe it’s a little more weathered.  Seattle feels at once refreshing  and yet comfortable- like your favorite shirt that somehow never disintegrates in the wash.  It feels exciting, like there are so many things happening at once, and yet relaxed.  There are about a million excellent coffee shops to take refuge from the rain in.  Pudget Sound lends it a port city atmosphere, even though it’s not even on the coastline.  You can start the day down at sea level and end the day on a mountain.  That’s something not every place can boast.

Most of what I have described of Seattle so far could be applied to multiple cities.  So there must be something else.  Perhaps the frequently overcast skies make one more introspective?  There are plenty of writers,musicians, and poets there.  And weed dealers, don’t forget about them.  People respond to cities in different ways, and the adage “to each their own” seems very applicable.  I just can’t put my finger on it, the dammit there’s something about Seattle!  Next month when I’m there I’ll have to do some soul searching tucked away in a cozy coffee shop, thinkin’ about the city.

Kicking Off the New Year With A Mighty Mountain Adventure

New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet at my house.  We had a few people over and a few drinks, but it was a far cry from some of the NYE’s in years past, particularly the one’s spent in a cabin on Lake Michigan.  Thus when January 1st dawned we were reasonably up and alert.  We decided to drive to a nearby state park called Golden Gate Canyon (I previously wrote about a solo adventure I took there in early November) for a brisk hike.  The weather was positively warm and sunny in our neighborhood and- maybe because we were giddy with sunshine and holiday cheer- no one really bothered to think about what the weather in the mountains might be.  We packed snacks, baby gear, and hiking poles, and set off.  I threw on my denim jacket, which is comfy and full of pockets, but decidedly lacking in warmth unless it’s a balmy spring/autumn day.  

It took only half an hour to reach our destination, but a good half of that was spent on snakey, wending, twisty roads that went up and up.  So, for the second time in my life, I actually got car sick.  Not pleasant.  I sobered up, so to speak, when we got out of the car at the visitor center and felt the cold wind.  Yikes, I did not dress appropriately!  Luckily Ben was able to lend me his camo blanket, which I fashioned into a scarf.  That, along with his deer-hide mittens, kept me fairly toasty.  Oh yeah- and oh-so fashionable.  Inside the center Bekky and I found a list of wildlife sightings from other hikers, along with the trails they were spotted on.  “Bull moose!  Coyotes!  Foxes!  Mountain lions!”  They all listed the trail called Mountain Lion and so, with very little actual consideration for why that trail had so much wildlife (read: it was a remote and rarely hiked trail, due to it’s length and difficulty.  The ranger even politely pointed this out.  We missed the hint).

Out of the three adults on this hike, I was easily the most novice.  My roommates were better hikers than me even before they moved to odor ado five-going-on-six years ago, and by now they are even better.  It might be more accurate to describe my hiking style as “wandering around the woods, exploring aimlessly, and looking for animals”.  Thus while we were all having a good time, I was pretty sure I would not make the whole 8 mile loop and live to tell the tale.  The trail was gorgeous, alternating between views of the sit ant peaks and valleys, and winter woodland scenes, complete with little mouse trails in the snow.  Some parts of the trail were covered in a thick sheet of ice where snowmelt had frozen rather suddenly.  We did a lot of vertical hiking as the trail went up and and up towards Windy Peak.  A ways in I finally begged for mercy and we agreed to cut some mileage off our total hike.  It was getting later in the day and we began to o worry about losing the light.  In the mountains, once the sun goes behind a peak it gets dark much faster than on flat land.  It was also getting colder and *most* of us were tired (Ben seemed fine).  I have never used ski poles (if that’s the right word for these.  Like I said, novice) but was quite glad that Bena nod Bekky had brought them along.  When you are sore and exhausted and going up or down steep grades they are a lifesaver.

It was quiet, oh so quiet on our hike.  Apart from all the noise we made, of course.  There was light snow over on the ground, but also plenty of just dirt.  A few birds trilled warnings to each other as we went by.  The air smelled delightfully clean and crisp and of fir trees.  When we finally reached the top of Windy Peak the sun was setting, so the view was even more stunning than I would have guessed. The sky was a vivid pink and orange, and it threw the surrounding peaks into sharp relief.  As the name implied, it was pretty windy, so we didn’t spend too much time oohing and awwing over the view.  We did take turns climbing onto a rocky outcropping that dropped off steeply on all sides so that we could properly take in the view that we had hiked so far (it felt like) for.  However, since we were a the top of Windy Peak at sunset it meant that we really were in a race against time to get to the service road at the bottom before full darkness.  The way down went much faster, thanks to gravity, and a small amount of panic.  Well, urgency is probably a better word.  Again, those ski poles came in handy.  At this point the baby, who had been cheerful the whole way, began to get cold and hungry and generally fed up with the whole thing, so the trails were silent except for our huffing and puffing the thababy’s wails.  Bekky and Ben had headlamps which they broke out all too soon as the sun really and truly set and darkness set in.  I’m sure that all the wildlife for miles around was sitting tight and listening to us careening our way down the mountain.  We finally reached the bottom and…the sign, which should have pointed the way towards the parking lot where our car was, pointed back the way we had just come. SHIT.  It was dark, cold, and windy.  The baby was wailing and freezing.  We were exhausted and confused.  A decision had to be made and fast, so we decided to heed the signpost and had back up the trail.  It didn’t feel like the right way, but who were we to doubt the freakin’ signs?  Luckily we saw flashlights coming our way.  Two tired but friendly hunters (with enchanting Southern accents) appeared and told us that they were also heading to their car, which was parked in the same lot as outs.  Hallelujah!  Saved.  It turns out that the service road we had just been on had in fact been the correct way and that we did not need to head back up the mountain.  Another in saving grace.  It was a little disconcerting to me to be walking in the darkness with two people carrying rifles.  They told us that they heard the baby’s wails from way off and we afraid a panther had gotten someone.  If that statement doesn’t give you chills in the dark and cold I don’t know what will.  

We reached the car without incident and said goodbye to our deus ex machina friends.  We left the park, the baby fell asleep in the car almost immediately, and we rewarded ourselves with pizza on the way home.  In retrospect, in the warmth  and comfort of this coffee shop (aka my office) it was a might adventure and an excellent way to kick off 2017.  I’m not sure I want to do it again though.  Next time, I vow to plan ahead.