Flat Mountain Pond

So this weekend was kind of a big deal!


My family camped pretty regularly when I was small and I backpacked solo (plus dog) during my college years. I had wanted, for a while, to thru-hike the Appalachian trail. Instead I bought a horse, which pretty much consumed the next decade!

But I’ve been thinking. Toying with the idea. Standing on mountains looking down into forest and pond and wanting, even while I appreciated the wide-open view, to know what was down below.


But there were complications. Missing highly relevant pieces of gear now that I’m living in New Hampshire instead of Illinois. Titus’s injury and then Titus’s inability to sleep in the presence of humans. Weather. Fear.


And then: this weekend. An invitation to join some friends at Flat Mountain Pond. A small, accepting, dog-loving crew with whom I felt safe enough to ask dumb questions, break out my 15-year-old gear, and believe would still like me even if a certain darling cattlefrog chose to bark all night.


Flat Mountain Pond trail is an easy about-five-mile walk from the Bennett Street trailhead. We opted to shave a little distance and add a little climbing in exchange for scenic pools and cascades by taking the Bennett Street trail for the first part of the hike and hooking onto Flat Mountain Pond a bit later on.

I opted to start a bit after the others in the name of getting enough sleep (and to hike off my jitters without inflicting them on anybody but the dogs!). And I was a bad hiker: I looked at the map and skimmed the book description for water crossing info and obvious red flags, but didn’t bother to check the elevation gain. So I was a little surprised by hitting a short but bracingly steep stretch of trail! But I’ve been wanting to get a little more climbing into the dogs. And myself!


I was especially proud of us all at the numerous water crossings. I worry about water. It’s an easy place for something to go badly wrong. But we were calm and methodical. I focused on the task and my foot placement and never felt uncomfortable, even when navigating some awkward spots. Titus handled his temporary off-leash privileges without making me regret them and when I opted to keep him leashed crossing, never made me regret that, either. And Lilo, who I used to have to baby across, was cool as a cucumber.

And when we reached the pond, our friends were there and we otherwise had the place to ourselves. That was exciting for everyone!IMG_5467

Fog lifted and settled and lifted again for the entirety of the trip. Sometimes we had stunning views, as above. Sometimes the pond, peaks, pines were enshrouded and those stumps seemed to float in midair. There was no bad options and the constant gentle shift was fascinating to watch.


My gear was a mishmash of new equipment (like the Ursack bear bag that I used, with odor-barrier plastic bags, to protect my food), dayhiking stuff that I’ve acquired along the way, and my Kelty external frame pack and Walrus tent that my parents gave me high school graduation presents back in 2000.

The tent is a heavier than comparable modern tents, but pretty bombproof and — it turned out — more spacious than I had remembered. Two humans would be stretching it, but one human and two dogs worked just fine!

And the pack felt like coming home. I wouldn’t want to carry it on technical terrain, but for this, it worked just fine.IMG_5515

We do need to dial in our sleep system aside from the tent. The dogs were comfy, but I wanted more sleeping bag than I got!

And I really need to solve the bugs-biting-my-short-haired-dog issue. The flies and mosquitoes were vicious this weekend. All four dogs felt it, but poor Lilo was the only non-cattle dog on site and thus the easiest target by far. I’ve been utterly unimpressed by the “natural” sprays that I’ve tried in the past and she hates them besides. A Vectra trial last year was uninspiring. And I’m reluctant to use my own sprays on a creature that licks herself.

If the budget was endless, I’d put her in a Hurtta Sun & Bug Blocker and pick up doggy sleeping systems for them both. But alas, I have my limitations and I’m not sure the size chart accommodates her, to boot. So I’ll keep thinking. And I’m very open to suggestions if you folks have solutions that work for you!IMG_5559

I was really impressed with both dogs. They hiked beautifully in both directions and were generally good citizens in camp and in the tent. Cosleeping in the bedroom at home is still an ongoing process, so I was especially leery about the latter — but they slept better than I did! I’m not totally sure I should celebrate that, but hey.IMG_5563

As for me, I can’t remember the last time that I spent so long just sitting still, resting and relaxing, enjoying the company of friends and enjoying the company of myself. I’m doer and a goer, by nature and having Titus has both exacerbated and made me reevalaute those tendencies. I don’t rest very well when left to my own devices. But the weight-carrying hike in, the excellent and mellow company, and the perfect peace of the setting all worked its magic on me. For a day and a morning, I was able to let go and just be still.IMG_5595

And then walk back out again! I left ahead of the others on account of the very warm forecast; I wanted as much of Lilo’s hiking as possible done before it got hot. We timed it right, I think. In the last mile I was sweating even hiking downhill, but never really uncomfortable. Titus, who is the least fit of us currently, finished up tired but game. And Lilo actually seemed to get stronger as she went along (although she’s holding down the couch pretty well right now!).

Now we rest, recover, regroup. I’m not sure what or when our next outing will be. But there will be a next outing. For now, that’s enough for me.IMG_5596

Hiking Our Own Hike

First things first: we have an Instagram now! It is cleverly usernamed @bullyandblaze. I’m be posting one or two pictures a day, either current events or older favorites, and we’ll just see where it goes from there.

Speaking of current events, I’m pleased to report that we’ve been hiking a lot lately! Our mileage is vanishingly tiny but our frequency is up from nearly zero to several times per week. Right now, frequency matters more. Contributing factors? Primarily two.

Not these two, seen here atop tiny Bog Mountain.

Factor the first: Titus’s last check-up with our local vet. The listened thoughtfully to my assessment of our current state, conducted a careful exam, and then made it clear in the process of discussing timelines and options that he thought Titus looked pretty good and that I should go ahead and do more with him.

Sure is interesting how much better I feel about listening when a vet says that while making clear that I am heard, understood, and will be supported if things don’t go well than when they imply that I am crazy and/or stupid!

So I took a deep breath and dove in.


Or committed to dabbling a few toes, at least.

Look who wades in the water now!

Factor two was realizing how many new-to-me trails there are within 20-40min of my house that are totally suitable for this current project. I’d been feeling a little down, friends, about not hiking big hikes currently. Or not even about the big hikes, necessarily. Just: new places. New trails. There were so many routes on my wishlist, but precious few fit our current parameters for distance and difficultly.

Simultaneously enter a bit of creative Googling and also a new obedience class for Titus that has me driving just a slightly different direction than I had ever driven before. And thus enter a whole new list (and reminders of a few former favorites) of easy-to-moderate short hikes that don’t require spending more time in the car than we’ll spend on trail.

South Mountain loop at Pawtuckaway. Not a new route, but one that I haven’t visited in a while and a perfect fit for date-night hiking!

So we’ve reinstated the midweeknight hike that was a favorite feature of last summer. Not enough time between work and bed for long drives or long dramatic hikes, but plenty for a few pleasant miles away from it all. Like any adventure, they don’t all work out. We made it less than a mile into a very pretty hike last week, for example, before retreating in haste from what turned out to be a mosquito hellpit! But trying things again feels good, even so.

And finally enter, once more, the reminder that there are worse fates than spending more time in the car driving through beautiful landscape than on trail hiking through same.

The photo that I was arranging didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, but I love this one (taken by Paws on Peaks) even better!

I think we’re about a month away from taking another look at any of my longstanding wishlist hikes and given the way the last year has gone, it may turn out to be much longer than that. But affirmed support and new excitement are a heady combination, and we’re all enjoying getting to walk through the flowers as well as stopping to take a few sniffs of same.



White Blaze Wednesday

IMG_4653IMG_4663IMG_4666IMG_4671We hit the road last weekend: central New Hampshire to Pittsburg, PA, and back. We drove from one green spot on the map to the next, checked out all sorts of pretty little forest roads and trails, and then on the return drive, stopped at the AT just past Bennington, VT. Many miles still lay ahead of us, but those rocks and white blazes felt an awful lot like home.



What We Did On Our Early-Summer Vacation

Or late-winter, depending on your point of view. But it is 84 degrees out there right now! This is, just for the record, about 20 degrees too many.

But it is nice to feel the sun.IMG_4267

The truth is that I’ve meant to write here for weeks. I would compose posts in my head and then never actually sit down and write them because their content, whatever it was, paled next to the reality that my dogs just were not doing well. Which is its own deeply infuriating saga that I’m not going to detail here except to say that I ended up rage-quitting most of the specialists in favor of our local vet clinic. This flies in the face of my every instinct when dealing with lameness — but it seems to be working for now, and at least doesn’t make me so frustrated with not being heard that I want to scream and hit things.


Then there was a few weeks of silence when everyone was, it looked like, doing well and I was afraid to say anything and jinx it. And finally, as I began at last to believe that we were on the right track and at least to breathe again, a stretch of time when I couldn’t be bothered to write because I was too busy enjoying my dogs again.


So we’re hiking! Sort of. We’re taking it very, very, glacially slow. We’re toddling. Tinyhikes. Two miles. Maybe three. No significant terrain or elevation change. Just decompression walks in the woods.


It’s enough.


It’s everything.


We’re also training a bit more. Playing a bit more. Flirting with nosework. Hanging out on the porch in the sun.


And Sunday was apparently opening day for cattlefrog wallowing season. So there’s that!


I feel like we lost the winter and like, in so many ways, we’re right back where we started a year and change ago, except that this go-round it’s not only Titus who is unfit and out of practice! But I think we understand each other better now, and we’re finding all sorts of interesting new places to stroll that meet our current needs, and it’s been a long cold winter, but now the sun is out again.

At the end of his tinyhike today, Titus sat by my feet and gave me his classic, “Aren’t we so lucky?!? Isn’t this great!?!” grin.

We so very are.

It so very is.