Temptation and Doubt

Christmas morning, Lilo and I stood on the Osseo trail near its junction with Lincoln Woods and watched a single snowmobile buzz along the latter towards trails to Owl’s Head and the Bonds. The driver saw me watching and raised one hand in acknowledgement. I don’t remember if I waved back. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on Lincoln Woods. I thought I saw a shoulder patch, but couldn’t read it from where I stood.

For a moment, it stopped my heart.

But there was no search effort staged in the parking lot when Lilo and I returned: just a single Fish & Game truck with trailer ramp down. I mentioned it to a couple of friends, but “that was weird” seemed to be the end of that.

And then Monday morning I got back in the car after a nice toddle with Titus and a friend at Diana’s Baths and looked at Facebook and saw that a hiker had died on Bondcliff. That snowmobile had been exactly what I first feared and then discarded: the beginning of the effort to find and bring him home.

Here are three things that I’ve been thinking about — none specific to or meant as judgments of this event or individual; only things that I’ve been thinking — since.

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One.

A few years ago I switched from galloping horses at solid obstacles back to endurance sports. I had this idea at the time (though it wasn’t the reason I switched) that the latter would feel not less risky, but less pressured, at least. I don’t mind playing with margin of error; it’s actually something that I really value in my hobbies and that informs my professional life, too. Flippantly: if it’s not at least a little dangerous, I’m not interested. But part of me liked the idea of reducing the urgency of decision-making. Of allowing more time to gather and process information.

What I didn’t realize until I was in it was that time can be its own trap.

That is: when you have to decide, you have to decide. The consequences of making the wrong call can be dramatically catastrophic. But so, it turns out, can be the consequences of not making any call. Of waiting. Deferring. Continuing on just a little further to “see how it goes.” There is such a thing as a point of no return and the thing about endurance sport is that sometimes that point slips by without you realizing it.

We talk a lot about watching for red flags and changes in the weather and signs that it’s just not your day. All of that, I endorse! More and more, though, I think that maybe we’re wrong-headed. Maybe we shouldn’t be waiting for signs to turn around. Maybe we should be seeking green flags instead: reasons to continue. Maybe, when we’re shaving the margin, the question shouldn’t be, “Why am I stopping?” but rather, “Why I am not?”

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Two.

It could have been any of us. Bad things happen, even to people who are smart and skilled and capable and prepared. Being all those things can reduce the likelihood and improve the chance of a good outcome. Being all those things is well worth doing! Not making a reasonable good-faith effort to be those things is irresponsible at best.

But beyond a certain threshold, all you can do is all you can do.

And all you can do is not a guarantee.

I don’t think that’s a reason to be afraid or not to pursue the things that you love, whatever they may be. I don’t think it’s a reason not to learn all we can from those things that do happen or a reason not to be as compassionate as we can towards those who live through them or towards those who don’t. I just think it’s a thing to know, to live with, to look at with clear eyes, and a thing to which we’re all of us, one way or another, responsible in the end.

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Three.

This stunning Runner’s World story about the Mount Marathon runner who simply disappeared. This excerpt in particular:

So now you’re Michael LeMaitre, toeing the starting line last July 4. You haven’t been up the mountain, and you’re a little nervous. Then you look up and you see the peak, so close you can almost reach and tap its summit. It’s just three measly miles, round-trip! Straight up and down again, with hundreds of new best friends! You’ve been through so much more than this. Take it slow, you think, and you’ll be fine.

Honestly—if you were Michael LeMaitre at the starting line, what would you do?

What would you do?

There’s not a wrong answer to that question. There are many worlds in which LeMaitre — or Kate Matrosova, or George Mallory and Andrew Irvine — comes back down that mountain, as did those folks in the Adirondacks not two weeks ago. There are all sorts of reasons to make all sorts of choices. Some are better than others, but what matters is only: what would you do?

Here’s what I know as a student of risk: most of what happens when the rubber hits the road was decided in the hours and days and weeks and months and years leading up to what will look like “the moment” in the after-action report. Here’s what I know: risk is what you get in the space between temptation and doubt.

What would you do, in that space?

For everything else, choose accordingly.

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And also four.

I wrote to a friend after hearing the news, “It was such a beautiful day.” And it was, you know. Vibrant skies. Fresh-fallen snow. And powerful, powerful winds at the higher elevation. Even on Lincoln Woods, ground-level and protected at the point where Lilo and I — originally bound for Black Pond because I missed Bondcliff and wanted, while I wait out this time of strictly smaller hikes, to see it however I could — turned back in favor of Osseo because Lilo kept telling me something is wrong, you could hear that freight-train roar. It would have been beautiful on top and very, very cold.

Whoever he was, he was one of us, in a spot that is sacred to many of us. I really hate it when people say “died doing what they loved.” I understand where that comes from, but I think it erases what should not be erased and also that most people would really rather have done what they loved and been home for dinner without the dying bit in between.

But I hope those skies and that spot were some comfort. I don’t really believe in an afterlife but wherever he is now, I hope that it’s warm.

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More of the Same

We’re still here and still hanging out, just watching the weeks go by. Seven and a half post-TPLO now. Titus goes in for his eight-week x-rays on Tuesday. Those will either spell the beginning of a return to normality around here or else the crushing disappointment of a prolonged recovery or (please, no) another surgery. I have no reason to expect they won’t be at least satisfactory, but I’m holding my breath anyway.

We have taken our “forty-five minutes of controlled, flattish, good-footing walking” show on the road a couple of times!

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Titus contemplates the outflow at Franklin Falls dam while I remind him that he’s not allowed to do that many stairs just yet.

The last two weekends have been marked by unfavorable weather: significantly negative temperatures, crazy high winds, and/or that greatest of miseries, winter rain. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Mt. Washington was literally the second-coldest place on earth. So despite my best intentions, all hiking has screeched to a halt for Lilo and myself. I flirted with joining in for part of a friend’s hike but I would have been turning back alone early, already a dodgy proposition in winter even when preplanned, and just wasn’t feeling prepared, organized, or fit enough to solo under the conditions. Paws on Peaks and I had discussed a small hike last Sunday before the whole world turned into a terrifying ice slick. So much for that!

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Lilo thinks cold wind is some bullshit.

We have been easing back into training, which feels good. Lilo is working on a back-foot target and on cleaning up her heel position. She’s a super thoughtful and enthusiastic worker. I’ve been lazy about finding things for her to do, these last few months, and I think we’re both enjoying rounding back into form. Her public-access skills have, uh, degraded significantly — she tagged along to Titus’s last PT appointment and kept trying to convince him to play with her in the waiting room until I was like, “OKAY WE ARE ALL PRACTICING OUR DOWN-STAYS NOW” — and I foresee many field trips in our future to local dog-friendly stores.

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Being good is exhausting.

As for the fuzzy dog, he thinks getting to go more places and do more things is a great quality of life improvement. He’s starting to get his training brain back — actually asked me for a session the other night, which was great! — and he is utterly delighted by the foot of snow that we have on the ground right now. That’s a mixed blessing, since he isn’t supposed to go bounding through the stuff, as he would dearly like to do! But apparently stuffing his face into it up to the eyeballs (and occasionally burrowing with the whole front half of his body, standing up, and burrowing again) is almost as good. Fingers and paws are crossed for him to start getting long-line privileges back soon enough for him to enjoy the rest!

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Snowy cattlefrog in his natural habitat.

So that’s our life right now. Not exactly the big-hike posts that I’d like to be writing, but the mountains will be there when we’re ready — and I am hoping to get out for a couple of small hikes this weekend — and in the meantime, it’s what we have.

 

 

The Gift of Positive Training

I’m honored to have been invited to play in the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop! This month’s theme is the Gift of Positive Training.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the gift of time.

Having lived on the reactivity rollercoaster with Lilo (and to a lesser degree, Casey), I thought I knew everything that I could ever need to know about accepting thhat progress will take as long as it takes. I said it out loud to many people when I started scanning Petfinder last winter in search of “too much dog:” I was totally confident in my ability to have patience with a training challenge, especially if it wasn’t *that* training challenge.

In a lot of ways, I was right. Training breakdowns and naughty-dog shenanigans that would have had me in tears five years ago are now greeted with calm sympathy and/or delighted laughter. Frustration — and I’ve come closer, early on, *I made a mistake,* with adopting this dog than any of my others — is always leavened with an appreciation for his many wonderful qualities and a certainty that things will get better, as they indeed have. And every time I watch Titus deploy his impeccable dog-dog skills, I remember all over again why I brought him home. Here’s to new challenges!

Including my positive-training gift to Titus and his to me.

Because it turns out that what’s foxed me this time around isn’t a training challenge. It’s *not* training. It’s just being present with a dog, attentive to his needs, appreciative of who he is now in the moment, without attachment to who he may eventually be.

I am not great at presence, you guys. I’m great at *doing* things. At project management. At seeing possibility and driving towards it, adjusting to meet whatever I encounter on the way. This is a skillset that has suited my previous (and other current!) dogs well. Lilo in particular is so self-contained and self-determined that she imposes presence on me. It’s nice.

Titus, on the other hand, is not the asshole that I had in mind when I started looking at cattle dogs. He’s sweet. Sensitive. Endlessly observant and aware. He needs me to be his calm, safe place in the world more than any other animal — including my dear hot, spooky little horse — ever has, because he just does not at this point in his life have the capacity to be that for himself. And he tells on me every time I’m distracted or rushed or otherwise less than sweet and sensitive, observant or aware, back.

It’s easy to look at this dog and see the amazing raw material that he is. He is *such* a cool critter, you guys. Smart and biddable and athletic and made of nothing but springs and happy (and occasionally teeth). But he knows it. And he doesn’t like it. He wouldn’t put it in these words because he is, y’know, a dog. But what I’ve figured out from these months of getting to know him and then, with his injury, getting to know him all over again is this: he simply wants to be *seen.*

Don’t we all?

So this is the gift that positive training has given me, that I’m now giving to him. Patience. Attention. Understanding. Listening to my dog and doing my best to meet his needs. Giving it time. Enjoying him and seeing him for who he is right now and letting all that possibility spiral out into the future. Not forgetting about it or about all those dreams! But having faith, just as I had face in those early reactive days with Lilo, that we’ll get there when we get there.

Also: that the dog in front of me know is perfect exactly as he is and that being there with him, basking in his soft fur when he flops down in that parking lot because he *needs* a belly rub before he can bear getting back into the car and in all those sunrises that I’ve seen because he just can’t bear to go back to sleep, is pretty perfect, too.

 

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Glen Bull-der

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Council of evil, reunited once more!

Last weekend, Lilo and I met up with Paws on Peaks at the Glen Ellis trailhead for a winter-conditions hike to Glen Boulder.
This was part of a route that has been on my wishlist for months. My original goal was to do a gorgeous loop via Glen Boulder and Boott Spur, maximizing time above treeline while avoiding the congestion of popular peaks. But the distance and elevation gain was still a bit too big an ask of Titus and the hike plus drive time for the full loop is longer than I’m comfortable leaving him alone at home.

Glen Boulder, a dramatically-poised glacial erratic, is just 1.7 miles from the trailhead. It’s a relatively steep 1.7 miles, though, that breaks above treeline. That made it a good shakedown for all concerned: a quick little taste of “real winter” in the Whites without prolonged exposure.

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Perfect Tango rocking the (perfect) head tilt.

The dogs were delighted by the cold and snow. Even Lilo did some crazy zoomies and she rolled and rolled while waiting for me to finish organizing my pack. We had a short hike up the gated road to the actual trailhead.

The hike up to treeline is a beautiful blur. It was awesome to catch up with Krista and the dogs had a grand time bombing up the trail together. The conditions were pretty wonderful, with just enough snow to partially fill in the rocks and merit use of microspikes but not so much that we regretted leaving the snowshoes at home. The mountain streams below treeline are not frozen yet, but this trail only sports a few easy stepover crossings.

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Krista looks back to the view.

I worry a lot this time of year about whether I’ll be too cold while hiking (or if something goes so wrong that I have to stop…), but it was a pleasant sunny day and we shed layers steadily as we climbed. There’s something so encouraging about being comfortable in the cold and snow. It makes me feel capable like almost nothing else!

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More expansive views from above treeline…

The temperature did drop as we approached treeline and we began to hear the wind more strongly. There’s one short but tricky scramble just at treeline that gave the dogs, Lilo especially, pause. Krista lifted her two up and then scrambled up herself. I snapped Lilo’s leash back onto her harness and lifted while Krista assisted from above. This is the downside to hiking with big dogs. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I can do, conditioning-wise, to help improve Lilo’s core strength and balance.

The next stretch of trail was normal White-Mountain steep but the ground, covered in a crust of snow, dropped away rapidly to the left. The dogs trotted up it easily, but now *I* was a little taken aback. I have the most amazing(?) knack for picturing how things might go terribly wrong. I said aloud that I wasn’t sure if I should have brought Lilo on this hike. Krista assured me that the grade mediated up ahead where the dogs already were, though, so there didn’t seem to be any point in turning back. (And happily, that section looked much less daunting on the descent; we were down it before we realized that we’d reached it again.)

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I’m pretty bad at knowing exactly what features I’m looking at, but I believe that’s Boott Spur with the snow blowing off?

The wind was strong above treeline. I had layered up again (but still had a hardshell and my second puffy in reserve, and never felt the need to pull out my serious gloves — victory!) and opted not to mess too much with picture-taking, but I stopped often to wonder at the scenery all around me. Just a few miles away at this same time, a friend of mine was turning back from an attempt on Washington and Monroe due to poor visibility in the blowing snow. Below the boulder, though, it was a gusty, gorgeous day.

The prehike discussion had included a possibility of ascending a bit above beyond Glen Boulder. The trail did look inviting! I discovered immediately after taking Lilo’s picture by the boulder, though, that she had cracked a nail *and* reopened the happy-tail scarring at her tail tip at some point on the ascent. She hadn’t notice, because pit bull. But the spot where she sat for the photo looked a bit like a murder scene. I thought at first that she had sliced her pads, though I couldn’t think how on such nice, non-icy snow, and was relieved to discover that they were intact. I assume she did the nail on a scramble and Krista theorized that the cold, dry air had caused the scar tissue to crack. So that’s something I’ll need to debug. I’m thinking some sort of protective sleeve that I can attach to her coat? Not sure yet what that will look like, though. Between those (minor, but still) injuries and starting to run up against my turnaround time, we opted to turn back.

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Glen Boulder and the bull, about two seconds before I spotted the blood. Sigh.

 

The hike down went smoothly, except for the part where Lilo decided to launch herself off that scramble and Krista ended up having to catch her, with a resulting tumble into the snow. Guess we need to do a little more work on our “wait” command…! It was thematically appropriate, though, since one of the great joys of winter hiking is speedy controlled-slide descents. I’m painfully slow rock-hopping downhill; it’s fun to zoom along for a change.

So it was a bit of a mixed-bag as hikes go: great scenery, better company, and a confidence-boost in the prepared-for-winter department, but obviously I vastly prefer that hikes not include any bleeding. I really enjoyed the route as a shakedown hike and opportunity to get quickly and briefly above treeline and in the abstract I’d love to revisit it and continue on, but I’ll have to think about that scramble. The former will fill in and be dog-friendlier as the snow deepens, I think, but I’m not sure what the section just above it will look like at that point. So I’m not sure yet if we’ll go back that way before summer — but I’m sure we’ll try it then!

Madame Sherri Forest

Thanks, everybody, for the kind words on my last post. They were much appreciated, even in the depths of my moping. Titus was much closer to his current normal by Monday evening, the rehab team found nothing amiss on Wednesday, and he’s now up to two twenty-minute walks a day at five weeks (tomorrow) post-op. Could be three, but he usually just wants to chill out and chew on something amazing by his last walk before bed — so that one usually ends up shorter!

Meanwhile, Lilo and I headed to the southwestern corner of the state on Saturday to check out the Madame Sherri forest, iincluding the remains of an old castle there.

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The trails were mostly nondescript, but the view from Moon Ledge on this pleasant day were well worth the trouble.

I’ve been meaning to check out this area for a while, but it’s a nearly two-hour drive for not many miles of trail. Even historical context and hypothetical hauntings hadn’t motivated me sufficiently. But the time limit of not wanting to leave Titus alone for longer than a work day is a good fit for oddball excursions like this one.

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My favorite view, whatever the view.

We hiked the Daniel Mountain loop with side trips to the castle before and after. Lilo really liked the openness of the trails. I was less impressed, though the going was easy, until we reached the first vista. Then I was sold.

We had that loop to ourselves even though there were plenty of cars in the lot. I suspect most folks stayed with the loop closest to the parking area. Turns out there are enough trail miles here to justify the drive, after all. It’s almost like adventure-planning ought to include looking at a map or something!

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The castle remains consist mostly of this staircase, part of a chimnney, and several support pillars.

The ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle are a very short walk — 200m, max — from the parking lot. The footprint is much smaller than I had expected; I suspect the little old house that I currently live in covers a bit more ground. There’s a quiet dignity to the old staircase, though, and all those stacked-up stones. It’s not hard to imagine what the area and approach might have looked like in its younger days.

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Pit bull ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

The area does show signs of use. I’m unbothered by the charred wood in the fireplace — that’s what a fireplace is for, after all, and it’s as safe as an outdoor fire gets; if I lived in the area, I’d probably join in! — but I spent a while before heading home picking up broken glass and fishing bottles out of holes in the foundation. Stewardship has been on my mind a lot over these last few days, what with the proposal to build a hotel below the summit of Washington, and taking a tiny bit of care for this unique spot seemed like the least I could do.