Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day Three: Adventures Indeed

Favorite DogGear: My leather, four foot long, two dog coupler. I picked it up at a show somewhere, so I don't have a link for it, but it is teh awesome sauce. Long enough that the girls can get away from each other, short enough for good control. One of the better purchases I've ever made. 

Close Encounters on the Wild Side: owl, red squirrel, loon, wood duck, garter snake, toad, more ticks, grouse, another toad, moose scat

Today was a beautiful day for a hike: blue skies and sixties. Which, as it turns out, was quite the blessing because what my dad called "five miles" turned out closer to nine - eleven for me because I had to double back to find my glasses (which I didn't, *sigh*).

But the campfire's burning, the hammock is up, and my boots are almost dry, so no complaints here.

Partridge Lake, as seen from my hammock. Hell yes. 

Today's big adventure was crossing a river. It didn't look like much at first glance - fast water, sure, but lots of rocks and downed trees to cross on.

Rock, though, is slippery when wet, and rocks in a stream or river can shift unexpectedly. The crevices between stones are often deceptively deep, and can grab and twist an ankle in an instant. It doesn't take much to unbalance you when you're carrying a sixty pound pack - or when you have four spindly legs on four different stones. A broken leg is bad. A broken leg in the middle of a river is worse.

This is our adventure river. Exciting, huh?

View in the other direction. 

My dad crosses first. "You're feet are going to get wet!" he yells back.

My feet are still wet from yesterday's rain, so no loss there. I take the girls' packs off - I'll come back for them once I cross. Just because I need to wear my pack to cross the river doesn't mean Piper and B have to wear theirs. I have my brother hold the girls back while I cross and drop my pack on the other side. Then I call back: "Let Piper off her leash."

It takes about ten minutes and some pretty tricky juggling on the parts of both humans and canine to get her to the other side - tricky juggling that Rubi will not be able to perform as she is not nearly as forgiving of intimate handling. Not to mention my worry that she'll run away as soon as the leash is off.

I cross back to Rubi and send my brother across the river to Piper and my dad. Then Rubi and I leave the trail and head down stream to find a quieter place to cross.
This is what we find.

Sure enough, further down there's a place where a tree has fall across the water and created a pool. On the other side of the tree, there's a two foot drop and the rapids continue. I get as close to the shore as I can through the under brush, and my dad gets ready to grab Rubi's leash as soon as she crosses. This is as good as it's going to get.

"Okay," I shout. "Call her!"

Rubi, to my relief, heads straight for my dad - but she decides to keep her feet dry and cross over on the down tree.

You remember, the one holding the river back? With the drop and the rapids on the other side?

I play the leash out as far as I can, hold my breath, and let go.

She gets about three quarters of the way across, choosing her steps carefully, and my dad is able to grab the end of her leash. He holds it loosely and turns around, moving for more solid ground.

Suddenly, Rubi's back end slips, her eyes go wide with panic, and she drops over the the wrong side of log, into the rapids. The leash goes tight around her neck and she twists, falling against the log, claws scratching madly at the air.

Although each detail of Rubi's terror is sharp and clear in my mind, I have no memory of crossing the distance between me and her. I go from seeing Rubi flail to being there, pulling her back to safety, passing her off to my dad, and watching anxiously as he checks her over for injury.

She's fine, but I don't start breathing again until I see her shake off and look back at me in the middle of the river as if asking what I'm still doing there.

I thought when I dropped Rubi's leash that I was as close to the other river bank as I was going to get. It's amazing, the possibilities that appear when someone we care about needs rescuing. My definition of impossible has shifted, that's for sure.

The rest of today's trail was pretty mild in comparison to our watery adventure. Once I collect the girls' packs and cross to the other wide, we take a long break.

Rubi soaks up every moment after her near-danger experience. 

From here, the Border Route gets hillier. This means that by the time we finally make camp at Partridge Lake, we're all exhausted and sore. But the up and down means more scenic views, from the swamps near Topper Lake . . .

We can't stay here - this is moose country!

To the spectacular views of South Lake . . .

Lovely, lovely. 

South Lake is Rubi-approved.

Piper has been with me long enough to know that when I stop moving, she should take every advantage to get some rest.

People keep saying Piper's beautiful. Sorry, I just don't see it. 

Even on the trail, you never know what you're going to see next . . .

The root system from this blown-down tree was seriously two stories high.
I should've put the girls next to it for size comparison, but I didn't, so you'll just have to believe me. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mostly Wordless Wedneday

My dad and Miss B.

A student asked anthropologist Margaret Mead for the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture. He expected the answer to be a clay pot, or perhaps a fishhook or grinding stone. 

Her answer: "A healed femur."

Mead explained that no mended bones are found where the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, reigns. A healed femur shows that someone cared. Someone had to do that injured person's hunting and gathering until the leg healed. 

The evidence of compassion is the first sign of civilization.

                                                                                  ~R Wayne Willis

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day Two: In Which It Rains

Favorite DogGear: Chilly Dogs Great White North Winter Coats - impressively toasty, even when a little damp. Spent seven days of almost constant wear in the Northwoods, and look good as new after a trip through the washing machine (because they didn't smell like new coming out of the woods).

Close Encounters on the Wild Side: red squirrel, loon, minnows, coyote scat, ticks. Oh god, the ticks.

But look - a loon! Honest! Not a black and white spot on the camera lens.
True story.

After a super yummy breakfast of french toast and coffee, we do a final gear check and then hop in the shuttle for a ride to our starting point. The idea will be to walk about twenty-five miles along the Border Route Trail back to Clearwater Lake Lodge, where my dad's Jeep awaits to drive us back home. On our trip out there, our driver tells us about the Rottweiler he used to have an what a nice dog it was (dog lovers - they're everywhere, man). This lets me forgive him for wishing us thunderstorms - "no offense, but we could really use it." Or at least, I forgive him in that moment, because half a mile into our hike, it starts to rain.

Our starting point. Rubi loves the grasses, omnomnom.
As far as rain goes, it's not bad: gentle and even, no wind. Or, at least, it's not bad if you're not hiking in it. The people have rain gear, but it's not long before the water wicks through our socks and into our boots. The trail is beautiful, even in the rain, but wet boots make for miserable hiking.

Pretty, but wet.

The girls don't fair much better. I packed them winter coats instead of rain gear, and before long, they're soaked. As soon as we stop moving, they start shivering. We all push ourselves harder than we should, and practically exhaust ourselves in the five miles to our first campsite on Topper Lake.

My first order of buisness is setting up the clubhouse -er, I mean "tent" and getting the girls dried off and warm. I towel them down, pop them in the tent, throw on their coats and wrap them in their sleeping bag. They still look wretched, and I start questioning my decision to bring them along at all.

"This look? This is hate . . . feel the warmth of our hate, crazy lady."
Luckily, the rain lets up in the early afternoon, and we all venture out of hiding. Even the sun comes out! It turns out that our little campsite on Topper Lake is quite pretty. Wet, but pretty.

Topper Lake, as seen from our campsite. 

Topper Lake from our campsite, just facing the other direction. 
It's still pretty windy and a little chilly, but after spending a few hours in our tent, the girls and I are ready to do a little exploring. We head back up the trail to check out a few overlooks that we rushed by in our drive to be warm and dry.

Suddenly, the wet seems worth it.

South Lake (I think) on the other side of the trail from Topper.
Piper and Rubi in front of  South Lake, North Lake in the distance (I think).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day One: 8 Hours is Too Long to be Stuck in a car with Rubi

Favorite DogGear: Lupine Collar's 1" martingale collars - pit bull tough, but clean up nice. Guaranteed for life, even if chewed. 

Close Encounters on the Wild Side: black flies, gold finches, chickadees, pine martin

I've traveled the roads between River Falls, WI, and Duluth, MN all my life: to visit friends, to see family, to go one vacation - sometimes all three. The miles of pavement, the hills, the trees, and the little towns are as comforting and familiar to me as a warm quilt on a winter night.

My dad decides on a short detour to see an old friend who's having a rough time of it. Why they talk, Piper Ann, Rubi, my brother, and I wander down to the lake to stretch our legs. One of Rubi's previous foster homes told me that she likes to swim, and I'm curious to see what she thinks of the lake. We haven't found a place in the cities where she can play in the water because, well, there tend to be other dogs at beaches where dogs are allowed. Go figure.

Rubi rushes down to the shoreline, but seems content to wade ankle deep and eat copious amounts of grass. (She does this at home, too, but she almost never throws up - Rubi just really likes the taste of grass, I guess.) We follow Piper out onto the dock because, well, why not? Rubi looks out over the lake, breathes deep and sighs.

Clear Lake. Not to be confused with Clearwater Lake. One Rubi owns; one pwn'd Rubi. 


Rubi takes one step too far and the lake swallows her in an undignified gulp.

I wince as her head goes under once, and then again. Apparently, losing twenty pounds of fat changes your buoyancy. The water is only about twenty inches deep here, and after a few seconds of vigorous splashing, Rubi gets her front feet back on the dock, fixing me with the most horrified expression I've ever seen on a canine face.

I'm pretty such she thinks she's melting.

Rubi collects herself to jump back on the dock, gives a little hop - and falls backward into the lake again.

I can't help it, I burst out laughing.

This time, when she drags herself half out, I grab her collar and help her out of that treacherous, pit bull-eating lake. Rubi makes a beeline for shore and safety, me snickering behind her. Throughout the rest of our trip, Rubi makes one idea abundantly clear -

Rubi is not, nor will she ever be, a water dog. Not never. Fo' serious.

After our adventure on the lake, we're back on the road, up through Duluth and then east along Highway 61. This road from Duluth to Grand Marais is the most beautiful drive I've ever taken. One one side rolls Lake Superior; four years I lived in Duluth, and not one moment did I grow tired of seeing this lake. It's splendor cannot be captured by mere words, and pictures are merely a pale replication of its glory. On the other side of the pavement lies the great Northwoods. Brilliant poplars and birches freckled with the darker shades of ever greens, broken up by frequent glimpses of rivers and waterfalls - Lake Superior's many tributaries.

On the road. Ready to get off the road anytime now. Really.

Once we reach Grand Marais, we turn north onto the Gunflint Trail. It's not long after that when we reach Clearwater Lake Lodge, where we'll be spending the night before hitting the trail. Once out of the car, Rubi goes wild, sniffing and whirling and rushing the end of the leash. Even Piper's a bit wound up; eight hours in a car has not been kind to any of us. I herd, cajole, and drag the girls down to the lake for a little exploring. Rubi wades right into the water, squats, and pees.

That's right: Rubi now owns Clearwater Lake.

Don't worry, I'm sure she still let you use it if you ask nice . . . but bring bribes, just in case.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

First, a Word from Our Sponsor

See that clump of trees behind me and a little to the right?

That's Canada. Ontario, to be exact.

Here in Minnesota, I am a Canine Good Citizen. I teach little kids how to be safe around dogs. I sneak into my mom's bed every chance I get, I live for my big orange ball, and I've never met a cookie I didn't like. 

Oatmeal are the best.

Over there in Ontario - if I were old enough - I would required be muzzled every time I left the house. I would never be allowed more than a six foot leash from my mom - unless I'm in an enclosed private property. If I bit someone, it would be The End - even if I acted purely from self defense and was completely provoked. But since I'm not old enough to be grandfathered in under Bill 132, I would just be killed. For being born the wrong breed. 

For setting paws on the wrong side of a river. 

Isn't that the silliest thing you've ever heard? 

(Rubi and I would like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt, sincerest, and deepest gratitude to those people in Minnesota who have worked with tireless strength and constant vigilance to keep breed specific legislation off our backs and out of lives. Y'all are big damn heroes to us. Thank you for our freedom.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Here We Go

You know when your at the top of the first big hill on a roller coaster and you look down and you think "OMG, IchangedmymindIwanttogetoffRIGHTTHISSECOND!!!!!!" and then the screaming starts because it's too late to get off?

Ready or not . . .

Friday, May 11, 2012


Today, the dog who used to flatten when strangers came into a room was swarmed by a pack of feral children while on a walk.

He thought this was pretty neat and would like to know why he wasn't allowed to go home with said children.

You may have noticed, but I rather love this dog.

How blue was the sky the day the air smelled of hope, 
                                                                        And not fear.
                                                       ~Jodi Hills

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Holy Crap, It's MAY!!!

That means only seventeen days left until our big adventure hiking in the BWCA. Luckily, the girls and I are about as prepared as possible. I still have a few bits of gear to pick up including a sleeping pad for myself, a stuff sack for the girls' sleeping bag, and some odds'n'ends for the first aide kit, but everything else seems to be falling in to place. Rubi and Piper got the all-clear from the vet - with the addition of some happy pain pills for the girl with the bionic knees (that's Piper, btw) and an herbal bug repellent for them both. Both girls are able to carrying their fully weighted packs for at least five miles, which is the minimum distance we're planning for each day. I'll keep a journal while I'm up there, and I'll update the blog one day at a time when I get back.

In other news, I am surrendering to the idea that Jai is reactive. As his confidence grows, so grows his determination - and that goes hand-in-hand with his level of frustration when he doesn't get what he wants. I think I spend so long in denial partially because Rubi and Maus's reactivity is so severe. Jai isn't anywhere in the same category as them, but he definitely gets over-stimulated, over-aroused, and can throw a tantrum with the best of them.

Since coming to this conclusion, I haven't really changed my training plan, though. Jai is still the same dog whether I label him as "reactive" or not. Our relationship building has been paying off, and Jai's enthusiasm for training is growing up right along with his confidence. We're still hacking away at the relaxation protocol, and I decided to take our hard work for a test drive on Tuesday. Jai and I and our friend the Thundershirt went out for coffee at the Caribou near our house. It went beautifully. We hung out on the patio and Jai watched the world go by just like a real dog! He had maybe one or two brief episodes of zombie-watching level paranoia, but otherwise seemed to enjoy the outing.

In spite of our challenges, I'm having a lot of fun working with Jai. He wants very much to be a happy, worry-free dog, and piece by piece, we're getting there. I think there must be something wrong with my brain that I love working with the special needs dogs so much more than the "normal" dogs. But then, taking a shy, uncertain soul and helping him realize that he doesn't have to live in the past - he can be free of his demons, too - who wouldn't love to do that?