Winter is beginning to settle in at the higher elevations, but fall is hanging on below 2,000′. Lilo and I snuck out on Sunday in search of a 4-6 mile loop. We had three peaks left to finish off the Belknap Range and my first thought was to tackle two of those, but the weather was so fine that I couldn’t bear the thought of not poking our heads above treeline, however briefly. So we opted for a loop up South Straightback via the mellower side of Precipice Path before backtracking along the Belknap Ridge Trail to a new peak, Anna, before returning to the car via the Anna-Goat trail and Old Stage Road.
As usual, finding the trailhead was the hardest part. First I missed a turn and ended up near Alton Bay — which was so pretty that it was hard to begrudge the wasted time! Then it turned out that there wasn’t so much a “parking area” as a “patch of grass next to a realtor’s sign and already occupied by a Prius that I sure hoped belonged to a hiker and not a disgruntled landowner.” I drove around a bit trying to scope out a trail sign before shrugging, parking, and starting off down what I hoped was Old Stage Road and feared was one of the many snowmobile trails in the area.
Happily, what would have been my turnback point turned out to be marked with the trail signs that we needed! My policy is that I’ll do two turns worth of exploring. If we get to three and I’m still not confident in our position, then we turn back. But this third junction confirmed we had indeed been on Old Stage and put us onto purple-blazed Precipice Path. We opted for the side without the cliffs and waterfall…this time!
We enjoyed the varied but never technical footage and the still-vibrant foliage decorating the Belknaps even as snow fell farther north. I felt my lack of fitness keenly, but Lilo is always willing to wait and judge me from ahead.
We gained the ridge in a cluster of birch and evergreen, and the Christmas-red undergrowth from the Moats hike a few week past was taller and shading to orange here and now. The day was warm in the sun, approaching icy in the gusting wind, and I felt utterly peaceful as we made our way towards Straightback; we were just exactly where we were meant to be.
The wind was blowing hard atop South Straightback, but the views were expansive and fine (and for some reason didn’t want to upload to WordPress!). Lilo humored me by posing near the summit sign with the big sky in the background.
I toyed with the idea of heading over to Major to look out over the lakes and we even ventured a little ways down that trail. But the certainty of crowds on that peak and the lure of a new one drove us back. Lilo briefly sulked by the summit sign — she really doesn’t enjoy out-and-backs and apparently thought I was cheating her out of a loop by not continuing on to Major!
But we discussed it and she agreed to a small overlapping portion of the BRT so that we could go tag Anna!
The narrative now outpaces the pictures; we were in company for part of the descent off Anna and the forest was sun-dappled in that way that does my heart much good but my camera, less so. Lilo earned kudos for her good behavior from all three groups we saw during the remainder of the hike (and one person wanted to explain why my pit bull is an exceptional pit bull — sigh). She’s been much brighter lately and led most of the way back to the car. Not sure how much is the cooler weather and how much her thyroid meds, but I’m happy either way!
We have two Belknap peaks left. Mack is adjacent to Anna; Whiteface is over on the other end of the range near Piper, which we loved. We have plenty of options for nice half-day loops to get each done and explore a bit more of the area. I don’t see too many big-mile days in my near future, what with Titus’s upcoming surgery and rehab, so I’m turning my focus to smaller hikes with plenty of bang for buck. Luckily, there are plenty of those to keep my brain happy and to give Lilo some one-on-one time.
And it’s pretty wonderful to have my best girl back on trail again.
This is the face of a very stoned cattlefrog who will be having knee surgery on November 1st.
This surgeon agreed that the original August x-rays look very clean, which was a relief; I was just gutted thinking he’d had a CCL tear all this time after all. But tonight’s exam and imaging following on his recent backslide were suggestive of an early partial tear.
So here we go. I feel great about the surgeon and hospital and am glad to have a plan. Otherwise, I’m pretty disappointed and guilty and sad. This poor little dog just cannot catch a break.
I used to be much less particular about who watched my animals while I was away. Oh, I wasn’t cavalier! I enlisted friends or boarded at places that I felt comfortable with. But I spent years in the horse world dealing with folks who were unreasonably picky and precious, micromanaging about every last detail of Lightning’s life when really Lightning would have much rather gotten to hang out in the field with all his friends, even if he was wearing a midweight blanket instead of a heavy-. I had become — just as unreasonably, though I didn’t realize it at the time — terrified of coming across as That Guy. So I spent rather a long time in the realm of accepting good-enough care.
The first wake-up call came when I, through happy accident, ended up leaving my weird and darling old Caseydog in the care of just the right person and saw the difference when I picked him up. So happy to see me, but also so happy where he was!
The next and bigger wake-up call came when I moved my then-horse, for many reasons, into a new barn and discovered how much better I felt when I could just take for granted that he was okay when I wasn’t there to keep tabs on him. A weight I hadn’t fully appreciated was just gone from my shoulders.
So I’ve gotten increasingly choosy, these last few years, about whether I leave the dog(s) behind when I travel and if so, in whose care. In practice, that’s meant that I don’t travel very far very often right now. I’m living in a new area where I don’t yet have a strong local support system established and I’m resource-limited. This past weekend’s whirlwind trip to Pennsylvania was a long time coming and was made possible by Paws on Peaks generously agreeing to take the critters for the weekend.
Lilo isn’t an especially complicated dog to care for. She’s more reactive off-trail than on-, so I wouldn’t want just anybody taking her for long walks in heavily-trafficked areas. But her house manners are pretty impeccable, as long as it’s a house where the couches belong to the dogs.
Titus is more challenging. He’s a sweet, happy charmer of a dog. He’s also a demanding little fellow who cheerfully brought me every shoe off Krista’s rack while we were chatting at drop-off time and whose compromised leg needs protecting. Give us a year or so and it’ll be a different story. Right now, though, he’d overwhelm an awful lot of lovely folks. (He overwhelms me!)
Even more than the resident humans, I was super-curious to see what Tybee and Tango would think of their houseguests. Lilo gets along with both dogs like gangbusters. Ty and Titus were smitten with each other from their first moment of meeting when we picked him up at the shelter, but Tango isn’t the cattlefrog’s biggest fan. We were all confident that they could coexist under the same roof successfully for a few days, but I wondered whether Titus would work his dog-charming magic.
The answer turned out to be only sort of. They got along better and better as the weekend went, but Titus opted to find Tango funny instead of, y’know, barking less. Work in progress! The girls apparently took turns playing with Titus, though, and Tango got lots of pets, so everyone was happy in the end.
It was reassuring to hear that my beasties handled themselves well and also that they were quirky for Krista in the same ways that they’re quirky for me at home. I not-so-secretly hoped that I would come back and hear that she had found a magic trick for getting Titus to settle, but there’s a lot to be said for reassurance that you’re not somehow breaking your dogs in a way that a better handler would just instantly fix. And the success she had in managing them gave me confidence to be a little bolder in my asks. As I type this, we’re all hanging out together with some good chews available, but not a constant stream of exciting new distractions. And yes, Titus is having moments of needing an adult — but on the whole, it’s going well!
I was really touched to hear that Lilo wanted to hang out with Titus during their stay. He adores her and she decided a while back that he’s her annoying dog, but it’s not always clear to me whether she really likes him yet. But apparently she repeatedly opted to chill near him during quiet times even though he preferred couch was in a different room.
I missed the dogs while I was away and I was delighted to see them on my return, but I never once worried about them — and when we were loading up to go home, Titus was very interested in getting into his crate when he saw it go into the car, but also very interested in running back up the stairs to Krista and company’s house. I’m glad they had such a good time at camp!
I wish that the dogs and I could be hiking big hikes right now, but we can’t. I’m trying to look at the situation as an interesting challenge. Anybody can find big views of the glorious New England autumn by skipping up above treeline. How can we instead make the most of limited miles and a requirement for good footing?
The Presidential Rail Trail is our latest attempt. We parked near Mount Washington Regional Airport and walked a nondescript but pleasant (and rehabbing-dog-friendly!) mile and a half to a viewing platform on Cherry Pond.
We’d had a surprisingly efficient morning. Now the afternoon stretched ahead of us with many hours before we had to report back in to life. So I considered our options to get where we needed to go and selected the route that led us through Evans Notch.
Seasonally-gated 113 is a lovely, twisty road that parallels the Wild River for a while before turning away into the Notch. The foliage peak had continued to make its way east over the week and stretches of 113 just glowed. And then we reached a wide-open vista (albeit at least in part due to tree-cutting, which is not my favorite way to achieve a view) of Evans Notch.
There’s also a memorial plaque here, allegedly the only one of its kind in the Whites — although Bette Davis might have a thing or two to say about that! Google tells me that it’s a tribute to one of the foremen who build the road through the Notch and who had asked that his ashes be scattered at the height of land. I’m a little ambivalent about this sort of thing in general: I totally understand wanting to be connected to a place that you or your loved one enjoyed in life but I also feel it’s important to preserve the wild-ness of these places as much as we can. Here, though, close to the road that Donahue himself built and apparently still maintained by his family, it felt fitting.
The dogs and I lingered here for a while, sitting on rocks and enjoying the sun. They ate dinner; I read a chapter of an old favorite book. It wasn’t proper hiking, but for now, it will do.
It’s been a rough week in dog health. Or rather, Tuesday was a rough day in dog health, starting with Facebook reminding me first thing in the morning that it was the three-year anniversary of saying goodbye to my dear old Caseydog.
Then I got a call from our local vet about mid-day. Lilo has developed some odd minor but persistent skin lesions over the last few weeks. She’s been entirely unbothered by them, but something was clearly not right. We did a round of testing for the usual primary skin problems. When those results proved uninteresting, we ran bloodwork.
The vet was leaning towards serum allergy testing; I wanted a thyroid test. Many cheers to our insurance company for not putting me in the position of having to choose. It turned out we were both right. She came back hypothyroid with quite a few environmental allergies. One thing at a time so we can evaluate effectiveness; she started on thyroid meds on Wednesday.
And then I took Titus to his rehab appointment. He was quite sore to physical exam and did not gait well on the water treadmill even at low speeds. He’s back on the muscle relaxants and booked for another appointment next week, which we would theoretically have skipped if he’d continued to progress as he has been. So much for a slow and careful return to play. I feel doubly awful given how happy he was to be out there on Saturday.
This too shall pass. Titus was progressing really well before this setback. He’ll progress really well again, even if I had really hoped to be farther along at this point, ten weeks post-injury.
And while Lilo has not been obviously in any kind of distress, it sounds like a thyroid issue might very well explain that exercise intolerance and increased generalized weirdness that we spent this summer chasing around — so I am hopeful that getting her meds dialed in (and allergy shots if those seem like an appropriate step once we’re happy with her thyroid levels) will help her out.
And I am grateful to have loved Casey well enough to still miss him every day.
I would really like to get some happy dog news in the near future, though!