Tag Archive 'hiking with dogs'

Apr 27 2017

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Early Spring Overnighter

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Every once in a while I feel an overwhelming urge to spend a night alone in the woods. Either that or my wife orders me to do so when I become too grumpy. Yesterday the urge came hard and fast.

My dog Matika became very excited when the backpacking gear came out. She knows. She was all smiles during the ride to Johnson. There I left my car at the Long Trail parking lot and headed south.

I like to hike the LT south from Route 15 in early spring because there’s not much I can do to damage the trail. It crosses a meadow, tags a rail trail, follows a logging road, then becomes a skidder trail as it climbs into the mountains. By the time it’s a bona fide footpath, I’ve left it and am bushwhacking along a stream.

The loggers are taking a break during mud season so I had the woods all to myself. Just me and my dog, that is.

I travelled light, only taking with me what would fit in my old rucksack. A three-mile hike put me deep into the woods. I found a nice place along the stream to make camp. Afterwards I collected wood and made a small campfire. I can sit and feed sticks into a campfire for hours. Matika likes just looking around and chewing sticks.

An hour or so after dark, I slipped beneath the tarp to sleep. Matika was already there waiting for me. The sky broke open and the stars came out. You know what that means. Radiational cooling. I froze my ass off despite the fact that temps shot into the 60s yesterday and the 70s today. But it was worth it to crawl out this morning to a sun cresting the nearby ridge, deep in the woods. The mountain stream roared endlessly. And a breakfast campfire made it easy to shrug off last night’s chill.

Hiking out, I found a small patch of spring beauty, then a purple trillium in bloom – one that had still been closed the day before. Ah, spring! Matika crossed paths with a red fox that vanished in the blink of an eye. Something for both of us.

 

 

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Apr 19 2017

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Prospect Rock

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With all the rain in the forecast for this week, it seemed a crime to waste a fair day staying indoors. So I grabbed my rucksack and hike boots before heading to Hyde Park to do some book hunting yesterday. I worked the book sale for a couple hours, then drove to a trailhead for the Long Trail just west of Johnson.

My dog Matika was overjoyed at the prospect of hiking in the woods again. Finally! It’s been days! And a day without a hike is a day wasted as far as she’s concerned. Hmm… She might be on to something.

It’s a short hike from the road to Prospect Rock, but it feels longer due to the 500-foot ascent. Got me huffing and puffing, anyhow. One look from the cliffs made it all worthwhile. The Lamoille River Valley unfolded before me in all its springtime beauty. Not much green other than conifers, and still a little snow in the distant peaks, but beautiful all the same.

I settled into a depression in the rock to eat my lunch and enjoy the view. Matika sniffed around – a bit too close to the edge at times. I called her back. A pair of hawks rode the thermals overhead. The sun burned brightly in the mostly clear sky, warming both me and the rock. A few other hikers came and went, otherwise I had the place to myself.

Early spring. I find it difficult to be unhappy this time of year. The warm season is just beginning and the prospects for a lot of day hiking look good. I hiked out of the woods thinking that these combination work/play outings might be just the thing this year. Any way to get outdoors is a good way. Matika concurs.

 

 

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Apr 10 2017

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Back on the Trail

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With temps soaring into the 60s this morning, there was no force great enough to keep me indoors working. I loaded my dog Matika into the car and drove to Niquette Bay State Park to do my first hike of the warm season.

The trail was surprisingly dry despite the recent snow melt-off and three days of rain. No matter. I made it a point to leave a set of boot prints pressed deep into the few mud holes that I came upon. Matika did the same.

I passed a couple other hikers with their restless dogs, otherwise I had the woods all to myself. A woodpecker serenaded me with his loud knocking. I listened to the telltale songs of nuthatches, chickadees, and robins as I tramped. Otherwise all was quiet.

The sun played hide-and-seek from the clouds overhead. A cool breeze blew inland from the punky ice still covering the edges and bays of Lake Champlain. Trees creaked as the wind whispered through their upper boughs. I caught a whiff of that intoxicating forest smell and instantly came down with a case of spring fever.

I cut my pace to a crawl just to savor the walk. Matika took notice but didn’t seem to mind. All the same, I broke a sweat as the trail turned sharply then started climbing. My leg muscles complained, grossly under-used through the winter. Yeah, I felt all of my 61 years as I climbed the hill, but didn’t mind it one bit.

There’s a time for thinking deep thoughts, and another for simply being in the moment. During this outing, all I wanted was to move through the forest, sweating, while grooving on the sights, sounds, and smell of it – more in my body than in my head, like my dog. It has been a long winter. It felt good to be back on the trail again.

 

 

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Jan 08 2017

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A Good Winter Bushwhack

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A few days ago, I drove to a nearby state park for a short walk at dusk after a full day’s work. My dog Matika enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me. So the next day I did only as much work as necessary before stuffing a few essentials in an old rucksack and heading for the mountains. Time for a taste of wild country. Actually, it was long overdue.

The inch of fresh snow covering the icy woods road provided sufficient traction so the Microspikes stayed in my pack. A mile up the road I turned onto a trail hidden beneath a couple inches of crusty snow. I crunched my way down to the brook, which was still open surprisingly enough. Yeah, it has been a squirrelly winter so far: freeze and thaw then freeze again.

The trail petered out beyond a downed tree. Suddenly I was bushwhacking the familiar route to a favorite spot along the brook. There I once buried the ashes of my first German shepherd dog, Jessie. Matika romped through the woods like a pup despite her eleven years. I was happy to see it. Looks like she’ll be hiking with me a while longer.

Just above the campsite, recent storms had ravaged the banks of the brook, creating mudslides and thickets of downed trees. It was rough getting through there, but it felt good to be in the trackless woods again. I took cover from a chilling breeze coming down the mountain then ate a quick lunch with Matika. My wife Judy had given me an energy bar that’s good for both dogs and people, so Matika and I shared that after our respective meals. People food or dog food? – hard to say.

With temps hovering around 20 degrees, I didn’t linger at the lunch spot. I tagged the trace of an old skidder trail leaving the brook then slowly made my way back to the woods road. Matika negotiated the slippery slope with no difficulty. I dropped to all fours once to do the same.

Out came the Microspikes as I descended the woods road. That made the walk easy enough where I could lose myself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. In the distance the mountain summits looked cold and forbidding. No matter. Here in a heavily forested hollow, I was having no trouble. In fact, I got back to my car a bit sooner than I would have liked.

A good winter bushwhack. Won’t wait so long before getting out again. There’s more to life than work, work, work.

 

 

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Apr 21 2016

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Spring Fever

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hepaticaThree days, three short hikes.  There’s business to be done but it’s hard staying indoors. We’re into sunny weather now with temps reaching into the 50s, 60s.  I’m taking time to stretch my legs and groove on nature’s awakening.

I hike strong and hard down the trail… because I can. The flu bug that felled me last month is long gone. I’m getting my strength back. Feels good to speed hike like a man on a mission.  My dog Matika has a hard time keeping up. She’s a little annoyed, actually. I’m cutting into her sniffing time.

The forest is leafless and brown for the most part. That’s okay. The greenery will come soon enough. It has already begun, actually. Patches of trout lily leaves and other vegetation have arisen from the forest duff already. Yeah, the great green explosion is not far away.

What’s this? Round-lobed hepatica in full bloom! Dozens of creamy white and blue flowers quake in the gentle breeze. Some are still unfurling. They haven’t been up more than a couple days. Always one of the first wildflowers to grace the forest floor, they mesmerize me. I drop down on the ground for a closer look.

Continuing along the trail, I am giddy with the prospects of the growing season ahead. Then I start plotting: When can I get into the woods for an extended hike? Breaking a sweat, I strip off my light jacket and breathe in deeply the cool air. Like me, Matika is all smiles. And why shouldn’t she be? It’s a glorious spring day and we’re in the thick of it.

 

 

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Jan 28 2015

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Maine Hiking Narrative

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UT coverFinally the Maine hiking narrative has reached print. A lot of readers have been waiting for it, I realize. I’ve been busy promoting my Adirondack book during the past year and a half so I’m just now getting around to publishing this. At any rate, The Unexpected Trail is now available both as a paperback and a Kindle download at Amazon.com. Those of you would like to purchase it directly from me can go to woodthrushbooks.com. I’ll have copies in-house and ready to ship in a week or so.

The Unexpected Trail is a detailed account of my trek through the 100 Mile Wilderness, located in northern Maine. It’s the most remote section of the entire Appalachian Trail, where supplies cannot be acquired. That means anyone hiking it has to carry provisions enough for ten days, at least.

Fording rivers, traversing two mountain ranges, and slogging through bogs – yeah, it was a tough hike to be sure. But Maine’s sprawling North Woods is lush, wild and beautiful.  Most of its backcountry lakes and ponds are pristine. Well worth the effort, even for a chubby, old woods wanderer like me.

Matika, my longhaired German shepherd, accompanied me on this trek. She carried a few things in her doggie backpack and provided lots of comic relief along the way. I was worried about her ability to navigate the toughest sections of trail, but she stayed out of trouble for the most part.

This narrative is similar to previous ones that I’ve written yet it has its own distinctive flavor. I’ve done my best to capture the unique character of the Maine Woods – it’s history and ongoing land-use fight as well as its flora and fauna. I hope you enjoy reading it.

 

 

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Sep 10 2014

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Woods Retreat

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FrHillBkCampMonday morning I stuffed a few essentials into my rucksack and headed for the hills. I had plenty to do at home, but when the wild beckons the work can wait. I was overdue for a night alone in the woods.

I had my canine companion Matika with me, of course. Together we humped up the Long Trail two and a half miles from the trailhead parking lot to a small stream called French Hill Brook. From there we bushwhacked west, following the stream until I found a nice place to camp.

I didn’t set up camp right away. Instead I left my rucksack leaning against a tree and fished the brook for a while. In most places the overhanging vegetation made it difficult to cast, but I stumbled upon a few large holes where I could present my fly properly. There a couple wild trout rose to it, taking me by surprise. I didn’t expect to find 7 to 9-inch brookies this high up. I pulled them out of the water long enough to admire their beautiful markings then put them back.

I set up camp as late afternoon shadows overtook the forest. Matika lounged about, chewing on some of my firewood. Then I settled in for dinner and a little campfire meditation. The fire burned away all my concerns as I fed sticks into it. After the sun departed, a full moon rose into the cobalt sky. It’s light filtered through the trees. A cool September breeze kicked up. In the cusp between summer and fall… I reveled in it.

Up at daybreak, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before breaking camp. The hike out was easy: downhill all the way. Soon I was back home and getting ready for a half-day shift at the store. No matter. I got my fix of wildness so I’m all set for a while.

 

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Jul 30 2014

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Brook Walk

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BlackFallsBrookAfter helping a friend move some stuff, I weighed my options for the rest of the day: do some work, sit and read in the backyard, or go fishing? I asked my dog Matika for her input. She made it clear that heading for the hills was the best choice. So off we went.

I parked my car along a dirt road then slipped into the woods. It was a short hike to the stream. With cool temps and a clear sky overhead, I expected the fishing to be half decent. But the brook roiled with runoff from two days of steady rain. The first few casts yielded nothing. No matter. I walked the brook anyway, casting into promising pools along the way.

Matika was in her glory. She ran through the woods, sniffed around, and negotiated the rock-strewn stream with surprising agility. I stumbled along feeling every one of my 58 years, thinking how much easier it was to brook walk back when I was in my 30s. No rises to my fly but I didn’t care. While grumbling to myself that fishing this brook was a waste of time, I listened to the tumbling water and inhaled the dank smell of the wet forest. My eyes feasted on the green foliage all around me.

Philosophers make lousy fishermen, I kept thinking. If I was serious about catching fish, I would have come out later on when the aquatic flies were hatching. But all I really wanted to do was walk the brook on a late summer day and contemplate the intricacies of wild nature.

The hours passed quickly. As I made my way back to the car empty-handed, it occurred to me that this would have been a great outing had I not been carrying a rod. Then, for a moment, I was almost as happy as my dog.

 

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Mar 04 2014

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Cabin Fever

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Sheldon woodsIt has been a long winter, colder than any in memory, and I have a case of cabin fever that won’t quit. That’s why I went out this morning after a round of writing, despite the fact that it got down to 3 below zero last night. By the time I’d pulled on several layers of wool clothing and had slipped out the door, it was 10 above zero. Still very cold for early March, but it would have to do.

Matika was as happy as I was to get out of the house. She ran circles around me as I tramped a hard-packed trail cutting through the woods. She disappeared momentarily. When I found her she was chewing on the bones of a deer that hadn’t survived the winter.

The tracks of several other wild animals crisscrossed the trail. This time of year, they could only be doing one thing: looking for food.  That made me realize just how easy I have it. Grumble all I want about this long, cold season, at least I’m well fed.

The fresh air, bright sunlight, and forest silence work wonders on me regardless of the time of year, no matter what the thermometer says. It was good getting out this morning, and I was just a little disappointed when I’d finished the loop and had returned to the car. So soon?  Not the daylong excursion that I so desperately need, but good enough for now.

Patience, patience. Spring isn’t far away. In a few more weeks, Matika and I will be slogging through cold mud. Then we’ll be in our glory.

 

 

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Jan 15 2014

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Icy Hike

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winter hike at duskBecause of the thick coat of ice covering everything during the past few weeks, my dog Matika and I haven’t been outdoors much. Restless and feeling pent up, we went out Monday in spite of it.

A January thaw had melted off most of the ice and snow. All the same, the trail was difficult to negotiate. Good thing I was wearing Yaktrax rubber and wire traction devices on my boots. Without them I would have been sliding all over the place. As things were, I did better than Matika.

I was busy doing literary work most of the day so we didn’t leave the house until late in the afternoon. That put us on the trail just before dusk. We did a short loop that only took an hour. I had stashed a headlamp in a jacket pocket before leaving the house, but I really didn’t want to use it.

A little exercise, fresh air, and the sound of wind whispering through the trees. These are reasons enough to go for a hike no matter what the conditions are, even in the dead of winter. Matika is always ready when I am. The hardest part is getting out of the house.

From an icy ledge, I enjoyed a good view of Mount Mansfield all blue and frigid-looking in the distance. A short while later, a swath of pink streaked across the sky. I caught glimpses of it through the barren trees.

In winter, when the flora and fauna are dormant, the elemental aspects of the natural world are more pronounced. Every time I witness it, I resolve to get out more this time of year. But the dire warnings of weather forecasters keep me hunkered down at home more often than not. My mistake.

 

 

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