The Empty Stall

Horsepeople have a saying about the danger of having fewer horses than stalls. Somehow an empty stall never seems to stay that way for long. I don’t know what the doggish equivalent is. But I really kinda want a second dog, you guys.

(I promise that there will be hiking-dog posts again soon. We’re slated to head up Cabot this weekend with pals two-footed and four-! In the meantime, though, it is pouring rain and disgusting slush outside, so this is what you get.)

I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to add a dog in the next year or two. Which is kind of a weird thought in itself. Lilo happened quickly; I started looking for an emergency back-up dog and within a very few weeks, there she was. Casey, canis emeritus, fell into my lap. Getting to plan the next dog feels like a luxury, but also like a lot of pressure. How do you know when it’s time?

Lilo is both my main reason to dig in my heels and one of my main reasons to forge ahead. She’s already a little unsettled from the move. Maybe it would be asking too much for her to adjust to a new family member on top of that. She’s always happy to see her friends and never seems to get sick of her best pal even on multi-day visits, and definitely any new dog would need the Lilo seal of approval! But even so. She’s been an only dog for a lot longer than she was two of two. And I value the depth of our one-on-one bond. I don’t know for sure that it’ll be okay, and I really hate that.

(I’m also fresh out of grad school and into a government job, which means that finances are a little tight at the moment. I could make it work without undue stress, for certain, but waiting would probably be the prudent thing to do.)

On the other paw, she is always happy to hang with her friends. As quirky a dog-sibling as Casey was, she liked having him around and was less reactive; he was a cheerful, oblivious chap and gave her confidence. And especially now that I’m working again, I think she would like some company.

As, honestly, would I. The new house is a little bigger than I’m used to and while I feel perfectly safe here, there have been a few times when I’ve been down at one end in the garage and wished there was a dog within eyesight instead of just the one snoozing on the couch. I realize that this specific situation is not a good reason to get another, since history suggests that I’d end up alone in the garage while two dogs snoozed on the couch! But the space seems to want another creature in it, is what I mean.

And I was thrown for a pretty good loop recently when Lilo came up randomly very lame. The vet’s assessment was a soft-tissue sprain and with time and rest and now easing back into our routine walks, she seems to be fine. But I really hated that week of not having a dog to walk, you guys. I know from horses, too, the danger of this scenario. Sometimes you just end up cold-hosing eight legs instead of four. Even so.

For now, common sense prevails. Later would be better. Longer days, warmer weather, more paychecks in the bank. And I’m not entirely sure what sort of second dog I even want. Something that Lilo will enjoy, for sure, but beyond that? I have no desire for a tiny baby puppy — unless a particular prospective litter comes to be, in which case I’m very interested indeed. In an ideal world, I’d like another hiking buddy (and playmate for Lilo), adolescent to young adult , athletic and confident — but in that age range, the kind of dogs that I like tend to be, ah, challenging, and while I find them hilarious, I’m not sure how much of a challenge I’m up for right now. In a different ideal world, I’d really love to give a soft landing to a senior dog and definitely I would have enough bandwidth for that — but senior dogs have senior dog medical bills (and are probably not feasible to insure), and that’s daunting.

So we’ll see, I suppose, as we usually do. I’m keeping my eyes open, but so far that’s all. Part of me is hoping and trusting that it’ll come clear with time, that the right dog will fall into my lap at the right time. That’s been my strategy to date, after all, and it’s worked out okay so far.

Hiking the White Mountains Without a Reactive Dog

When I started back into hiking with Lilo, I made her a promise: my first priority when she was out on trail with me would always be that she had a good time. I’d challenge her and stretch her comfort zone, yes, but if she was ever really and truly not having fun, we’d go home. She didn’t care, because she’s a dog and doesn’t speak English, but I do think that managing our hikes with that in mind has been a big part of her successful transition to trail dogdom. And it means that every once in a while she stays home.

Usually it’s because I’m committed to a group hike that’s obviously too many miles for her. She didn’t come along for my Bonds traverse or either time I’ve done Owl’s Head.  My love of sketchy, scrambly trail is more of a balancing act — she’s a pretty good scrambler, but watching makes me nervous — but mostly my love of hiking with Lilo wins out and I pick a more dog-able route. Weather- and footing-related calls are the tough ones because conditions can change so quickly in the mountains. But the combo of forecasted rain, reports of serious ice, and it being somebody else’s birthday hike simplified my decision-making this Sunday, and Lilo stayed home.

I was glad of it when I stepped out of the car at Crawford Depot into some high-mileage winds. The expected few inches of snow had turned into 6-8″ and the roads were as yet entirely untreated; I didn’t see a plow until the last few miles of the drive. Lilo would not have minded the slow going in the car, but she would not have thought the winds were a funny jokes! But the trailhead for Ethan Pond trail, the start of our planned traverse, was still and quiet, and the snow ceased to fall. As we moved off through powdery snow and mild temperatures, I thought that maybe I should have brought her after all.

Venturing forth!

wtf2And then we got to the steep bits and AHAHAHA, NOPE.

Here’s the thing about our route: we went up Ethan Pond to the Willey Range trail, traversing to end up at the depot rather than doing the out-and-back that I’d done on both prior tours of these mountains, both times with dog in tow. I’d heard about the ladders on the other side of Willey and mentally bookmarked them to try at some future date. But somehow, despite hearing that the range was icy, I hadn’t quite done the math on steepness plus differing patterns of sun and wind exposure. Those fresh 6-8″ of snow covered sheets of boilerplate ice.

A confession: I was undergeared for this hike. I have snowshoes, but not a proper mountaineering version with aggressive traction. I have microspikes, but not full-on crampons. At the start of the season, I hadn’t planned to hike winter mountains at all. But it’s been a mild winter. I did one, and then another. My grad student budget would only stretch to so much gear. I figured that at some point I’d hit a stretch that I wasn’t comfortable with and turn back and that would be it. But so far so good. Until Sunday.

(Although to be fair, the other four in our group had quality snowshoes and I was not the only one struggling at times. The cattle dog did great, though!)

Where there was snowcover, I held my own. Some of the sketchy bits found my ninjaing my way through the trees to the side of the trail, but that was okay. And then there were the other places, where there just was no good alternative to going straight up a sheet of ice. Those places were not so good. I never once felt unsafe, but there were a handful of moments when I genuinely had no idea how I would make it up the next pitch except that it had to happen somehow because no way in hell was I going back down the way that we’d come.

Spent a while stuck here trying to pick my route and figured I might as well document the moment. The lower stairs were fine, but the upper ones entirely encased in ice were…a bit challenging. (Unfortunately most of my pics that show the steepness of the terrain — with and without ladders — also show my fellow hikers and I try not to post those on a public blog. Also I was too busy trying not to die to get pics of the really sketchy stuff.)

We had a great crew. Hiking with a new group is always kind of a coin toss; you just don’t know how it’s going to be. I’ve known most of the others online for a bit and briefly met one on Moosilauke’s South Peak when he and his dapper little pup happened on our five-dog summit party, so I was fairly sure that I wouldn’t be murdered in the woods, but still. You never know what the chemistry will be. This group, though? The chemistry was great. Lots of can-do and quality banter and calm, cheerful competence. I think that we did not enjoy every minute of the Willey ascent, but we got each other through, and it’s a thing that I’m very glad to have done.wtf4My big fear on the way up Willey wasn’t so much that something bad would happen — like I said, I never felt unsafe — as that the rest of the hike might be that same ice. It’s one thing to deal with a handful of patches and pitches; that’s physically and mentally fatiguing, but then it’s done. It’s another thing to deal with that for miles on end. I figured the flattish ridge would be fine, even if icy, but there’s a short but very sharp, steep section on the ascent to Field that I was worried about. And, while A-Z trail to Avalon on the way down isn’t overly steep, ice too hard for our traction to bite on well would make for very slow going at the end of the day. But it would be whatever it would be and given that descending Ethan Pond wasn’t an option, it didn’t seem to bear too much worrying about until and unless it turned out to be real.

Happily, it did not! Topping out on Willey improved our lot in life considerably. The snow was deeper on the ridge, but some intrepid hikers had gotten an early start on the out-and-back from the depot and broken the trail out beautifully, and the only real ice we saw from that point on was decorating boulders off to the sides of the path. The winds picked up occasionally, but this ridge is well-protected and it was such a warm day that we were really quite comfortable.wtf6

One partymember was on a mission to find the summit sticks for all three peaks.

Ghost of a ridgeline just visible through the clouds.
Some moose was here!

wtf9The ridgeline ramble was just fine. While I wasn’t quick enough to capture the view, the clouds did very briefly lift on Field. I hike for interesting forests and features as much as for dramatic views — although the amazing undercast decorating the Presidentials last time on Willey is one of my favorite views to date! — and there were plenty of both, from the stacked boulder above to ripply ice to frozen downy Spanish moss. The company remained excellent and the cattle dog cracked me up; a veteran hiking and backpacking dawg, he gave a total of zero fucks all day and often plopped down in the snow to wait for us slowpokes to catch up when he wasn’t busy supervising our attempts to climb the icy bits. Herding dogs are not usually my jam, but he was a cool, cool kid.

The descent back to the depot found us racing the setting sun and the start of a light drizzling rain. We’d started a bit later than planned due to the road conditions and moved slower on the ascent up Willey due to the ice. We all had lights, of course, but no one really wanted to stop to dig them (or full-on raingear) out unless it got really dark. (And hiking by headlamp is not my favorite. I love hiking in the dark, especially under a full moon with snow reflecting back the ambient light, but an artificial light source makes me all too aware of everything that I can’t see beyond the limits of my light!)

Still, there’s always time to appreciate a lovely birch wood and a happy face…wtf10wtf11In the deepening dusk, tired (some of us — like me! — more than others) and happy and feeling thoroughly accomplished, we reached the sign for the cascade loop and then the Mt. Willard trail and the depot just steps after that.

And of course when I got home, Lilo was ready to plaaaay!


Running The Rails

One big selling point for the new place was the presence of New Hampshire’s longest rail trail right across the street. We’re closer to the Whites here, with smaller mountains within an easy drive, but returning to full-time work meant that I was looking hard for someplace I’d feel safe walking in the dark on winter evenings. Sidewalks would have worked, too, but I do love a rail trail.

Not the most dramatic scenery, but plenty of trail!

They get a bad rap. I get it. Rail trails tend to be straight and flat and not necessarily run through the world’s most interesting terrain. But me, I’ve lived near trains until the last year or so. There’s something about that sense of going-somewhere-else that speaks to me. And even in the absence of the actual machines, I like looking down that tunnel of trees and knowing that there will always be more trail than we’ll walk on this particular night.

The Hurtta coat had a buckle get crushed in a car door by accident (not while on the dog!) — glad we have a back-up coat!
Obligatory New England stream.

We’ll be back in the mountains soon, I hope, but having this practically right out out our door is a delight after the last few weeks of playing Frogger on twisty narrow back roads after dark. I’m also Googling the area, reading guidebooks, and driving with my head on a swivel for other suitable nearby destination hikes. I’ve got some ideas; I’ll report back once we’ve checked them out!

Catching a good sniff as the first flakes start to fall…

How do you find new local trails to share with your pup?


Home Is Wherever I’m With You

All moved into the new place now! I am so glad that I listened when my partner (aka, Lilo’s other favorite person) suggested I might want to move before the long weekend instead of after. Saturday and Sunday were intense, but right now — mid-morning Monday — all is peaceful.

I mean, there are still boxes to unpack and things — so many things! — to sort and at some point this week I’ll regret not having done laundry over the weekend. (No washer/dryer at the new place yet.)

But I have cooked. Taken a bubble bath. Read a book. Done only a very little exploring because it has been negative billion degrees (not actually an exaggeration), but I’ve scoped out the closet rail trail access and that’s on the docket for later today after meeting Amanda for lunch. I am content. I think we’re going to be happy here.

Getting comfort-a-bull.

Lilo was a tougher sell. She’s more comfortable more quickly in new places than she was a few years ago, but she still, at the end of the day, really wants to be at home. So it’s hard for her when “home” is suddenly somewhere new.

I’ve gotten some practice in this unsettled stretch in figuring out how to help her along. Moving her mat doesn’t do it; she’s used to that traveling to temporary places and while it gives her structure, it doesn’t seem to signal “home.” Moving her favorite blanket, though — an afghan that Amanda made and gave me not too long before Lilo came into my life? That’s a big deal. She doesn’t seem to care about it under normal circumstances, but when stressed or not feeling well, snuggling with her afghan is alllll that Lilo wants to do.

Afghan hound.


I also think that letting her see the old place empty was useful. She went back with me on Sunday to clean it — she is pretty sure that we live in the car now — and her confusion was obvious, much like when we showed up at the new house on Saturday and magically all our things were here. But when we got back home again — maybe I am anthropomorphizing? But she seemed to understand.

How do you help your critters feel at home in a new space?


Tiny Triumph

Lilo has done all sorts of cool things and I think, like in said in the Pierce/Eisenhower post, on a regular basis that I could not possibly be any prouder of her.

But Wednesday night (tonight, as I type) she was surprised by a strange dog entering the vet’s office waiting room and — didn’t react. Just held her down right where she was and quietly worked on Look(ing) At That and did nothing.

And that’s been a longer road than any hike she’s ever done.

This is why I’ve decided to let her live even though she refused to limp in front of the vet.

Rats Push Levers

Reinforced behavior continues.

Half the fun of operant conditioning is watching the lightbulb go on when the dog realizes that they can make you do a trick (give a treat).

Which is how I ended up with a dog who gives me her “T. rex” behavior every time she’s excited and not sure what else to do.

And now with a dog who — with the help of an increased exercise load and a change to a better-for-her but lower-octane diet — trained me to give her third dinner.

And fourth.

Hungry dogs (and their hoards) beg by hanging out meaningfully on their mats.

We are not going to talk about how many days it took me to figure out what was going on and why she was suddenly “starving.”

The dog ain’t dumb, I tell you what.

Immova-bull Object

It has not been a very interesting weekend to be Lilo.

I did something terrible to my back on Saturday in the process of…taking the sheets off the bed for laundry day. Don’t be like me, kiddos! Play it safe; skip the housekeeping and go hike instead. We did make it to the beach — I figured it was the only sane thing to do on our last weekend living this close to the ocean — but proper hiking (or sitting) (or standing very still) was not happening. And the crowning achievement of my day turned out to be not “make significant progress re: packing up the house” but rather “with sufficient ibuprofen on board, manage to tie own shoelaces.”

Too exhausted by the wild activity of Saturday to get out of bed on Sunday morning.

I’m a little more mobile today (Sunday) and did get some packing done in between meeting a pal for brunch, taking Lilo for short little strolls down the road, and far too many hours of vicarious hiking via computer survival sim. My books are now in boxes, which means the move is real. Lilo has mostly spent the day being unsettled, in between dying of boredom…

So much side-eye.


This is her third move in eighteen months, too, and she is not yet thrilled. Really wish I could explain to her that this one ought to stick.