Happily for Lilo, there was a warming trend over the weekend and by the time I returned home from breakfast with a friend on Sunday morning, conditions were pit bull-approved! We loaded up and headed for Mt. Roberts on the Castle in the Clouds property.
Lilo has been struggling a bit with hiking over the last few weeks. I’ve found it demoralizing. She did well through the shoulder season and seemed to love winter hiking last year. In retrospect, last year was mild in temperature as well as snowfall and as a grad student, I was able to cherrypick the fine-weather days to take her out. I really wanted to have a good outing with her and was a little apprehensive starting out, especially when the trailhead itself — surrounded by open fields — proved quite windy. Not her favorite!
She settled in nicely once we reached the trails proper. Note to folks thinking of hiking this trail with dogs: it does start and finish near a horse pasture. If you don’t know for a fact that your pup is good around horses, please assume they’re not and keep them leashed. Lilo has spent a lot of time at barns in her life and I know she’s trustworthy, but I’ve also done my fair share of waiting for people to remove their dog from under my horse’s belly — so it’s a word that I try to spread when I have the chance!
The trail up Mt. Roberts is clearly well-traveled. On this day it was largely hard-packed and in a few steep, sunny spots, actually down to leaves and rock instead of snow. We also saw some easily-avoidable water ice. This route, from Ossippee Park Road, climbs steadily but not relentlessly. It got my underfit heart pumping, but never felt stressful, and the grade moderates frequently.
Sunday was gorgeous, with a vibrant blue sky and little wind at elevation. I’m sure that contributed to the incandescent happiness of nearly everyone we met on trail, including a very polite and handsome Malamute (I think) accompanying a pair of trail runners. I was fortunate enough to share the summit with a group of three who arrived just as Lilo decided that I, in the middle of changing my socks, looked like a good place to sit…
I normally prefer loops to out and back trails like this one, but the views made for a thoroughly enjoyable descent. Even Lilo, who normally does not approve of prolonged stopping because we have places to go and why are we wasting her time when we could be going there, was happy to find a sunwarmed snowless patch and drink in the scenery.
Here’s one more blog-relevant goal: I’m going to try to be better about responding to comments starting now. I always intend to and often do in my head, but I keep thinking, “I’ll wait until I get back to my laptop,” and then…don’t. Going to try to carve out a bit of time going forward to actually make that happen, now that running up to the office no longer means locking Titus back in his crate as it has for most of the time post-TPLO. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and input so much.
Anyway! Last Saturday Titus and I met up with a group of friends to hike Greeley Ponds from the Kancamagus Highway. I’ve heard wonderful things about this scenic, gently rolling route, but had not quite gotten around to it yet. It turned out to be a perfect fit for a companionable amble with two hikers (one human, one canine) who are coming back from injury.
I waffled all week about whether to bring both dogs. Between Titus’s redeveloping manners, a recent spike in Lilo’s reactivity for reasons not clear to me, and the narrowness of winter trails making it difficult to get out of the way of passersby, 1:1 dog:handler ratio is optimal right now and this trip was originally planned to be Titus’s show. Lilo knows what the pack means, though, and it’s hard to leave her behind. In the end, the weather decided me. -1 degree F at the start is way too cold for this pit bull.
The trail was in great shape aside from one minor blowdown at the start and contrary to this hilarious recent trail report. Heavy use and a recent thaw/freeze cycle had the footpath well-developed. Stepping off did mean postholing and I may have at one point ended up in double postholes above my knees while returning from a bathroom break. Luckily — since Titus was busily trying to steal a mitten from the friend I’d left him with — I managed to free myself without too much trouble!
The little guy did me proud. This was his longest hike since October and second-longest since July(!). 4.4 flat-to-gently-rolling miles seemed like a reasonable next step from his recent adventures (mostly not documented here), but I watched his gait like a hawk and was prepared to turn around in the event of any change. He finished up tired but not noticeably sore. Even more important, he still looked good several hours later when the adrenaline and joy of being out! on! a hike! wore off. And he handled himself beautifully on the trail. We did have to discuss alternatives to pulling like a lunatic early on, as the poor mite was Very Excited (and the other dog with the group was definitely taunting him). Once he grokked the rules, though, he was a joy to hike along with and even demonstrated admirable patience when the group stopped for socialization and snacks.
He was also his usual weird self, of course. Wouldn’t have it any other way!
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions as such. Mostly I think that if there’s something you want to do, then you should go ahead and get started already. That may mean the very tiniest of steps! It may not look anything at all from the outside like meaningful pursuit of your end goal. But for me, it’s both important and motivating to take concrete action. I can (and if I allow it, will) plan endlessly. Movement matters.
But I do love the symbolism of the holiday with its the arbitrary turning of the page and its invitation to reassess and reaffirm. In that spirit, here are my relevant-to-this-blog intentions for 2017.
1) Return to the New Hampshire 4,000 footers. What with one thing and another, I’ve drifted away from the higher peaks. Note that the focus here is hiking these mountains and reminding myself that I can, not necessarily checking off the list. Just climb Tecumseh a couple of times would count. That would be very silly of me, but it would totally count.
2) Sleep outdoors three times. I miss backpacking, you guys. This is not a backpacking goal. I think Titus will be ready to sleep in or outside my tent without eating my sleeping bag this year, but I don’t know that for sure. I want to leave myself room for car-camping with his soft crate to feel like a worthwhile thing. But yes: tent, sleeping bag, dogs, outside. Go.
3) Work on the paw-protection puzzle. We’ve done well thus far with bare paws most of the year, Musher’s Secret in winter, and rare occasions of minor on-trail first-aid. Lilo would appreciate a bit more protection for even just local walks on very cold days, though. Titus lost most (all?) of his paw conditioning during his layup. And there is a lot of rock in this state, yo. I would feel more comfortable with a set of boots in my pack. We’ve already started the proof-of-concept testing with a loaner set from Paws of Peaks. Now that I know that Lilo doesn’t mind wearing boots, I’m ready to start trying to find her the right fit. For Titus’s part, our initial work will be just the ongoing effort in increasing his comfort in having his paws handled at all.
4) Hike in Vermont, New York, and/or Maine. I really love New Hampshire, but our nearby states are full of equally scenic and interesting trails. I want to continue to expand my adventures and explore new-to-me options outside of what has become my geographic comfort zone. I have a few ideas already; I look forward to coming up with more and then following through!
5) Train each dog in public once per week. I take a lot of pride in having well-trained good-citizen dogs. They’re easier to work and live with. Both of mine really get a kick out of training. And I am also very vain; I find it very reinforcing to present a flashy heel or fast recall. But we’ve fallen off the training wagon since Titus’s injury to the extent that I’ve been writing a blog post in my head titled “On Having the Bad Dogs on Trail.” It’s time to knock off the rust, including confirming that our work holds up in the real world. What this effort looks like will vary by dog, day, and context, but the point is that I want to reestablish the habit of doing more than just hiking and noodling at home.
6) Invite the possibility of new hiking buddies on four separate occasions. I’m an introvert who likes people. This is sometimes a problem. I really enjoy solo hiking. Under most circumstances I have no reservations about soloing, especially with a dog or two along. But I also really enjoy hiking with good company and there are certain situations — winter hiking along remote and/or high-elevation routes in particular — where it’s just smarter to have (the right) companion. And I can get a little weird in my head about the tap dance of making new friends. So this goal is in service of getting a little more practice in finding hiking buddies. The invitation is what counts. The outcome will be whatever it is and that’s fine; I just have to put myself out there enough to ask.
(For an actual write-up of the hike behind these pictures, please visit Paws on Peaks.)
Titus’s eight-week x-rays looked good!
There’s one small spot (circled) left to fill in with new bone, but everything is in place and healing well…despite, at times, his very best efforts! Now we work towards a return to normal life. We celebrated with a family walk to Aresthusa Falls. The road to full recovery is still long and all paws are crossed for the continued health of the other CCL… But we are totally delighted to have made it this far!