Eight moments of Zen

Thanks, Forest Poodles, for inviting me to share eight photos of happiness. Here they are, my eight moments of Zen.

Reading with my pups

This is pretty much my perfect day. Reading on the beach with my dogs. I have it as the cover photo on my Facebook page, on a sticker on the back of my iPhone case, and printed on my business cards. No one’s asked me what book I’m reading. It’s Poser by Claire Dederer.

Isis, Summer 2010

My sunshiney Isis in the summer of 2010. She loved her pool, and her soccer ball.

Selfie with my sidekick

I take more dog selfies than I do solo selfies. Here’s one with Mia during a lunch break on a day when I took her to work. Rob had been taking her to his work more often than I was at that point, so this is me reclaiming her as my sidekick.

Snuggle Bug

This is a selfie too, although I’m pretending to be asleep. Most mornings, the dogs wait to jump on the bed until I’m in the shower. Sometimes I have to get back in bed and snuggle with them before getting on with my day. Leo is my snuggle bug.

Christmas Mia

When I was in grad school in 2001, the internet was still pretty new. The girl with the computer next to mine discovered a hilarious picture of a kitten online. Whenever things got slow or stressful, she’d bring the picture up and we’d laugh our asses off. That’s sort of how I feel about the above picture of Mia. Rob took it at his work while I was in Los Angeles for Christmas. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile.

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This is Abe. I made a video of him at the Humane Society of Skagit Valley and almost cried when it resulted in his getting adopted. And almost cried again when he got sent back for barking too much. He did finally get adopted again for real.

leo

Eight-week-old Leo, the day we brought him home, June 2010.

Isis under the dogwood

I took this photo of Isis on an October afternoon with perfect light. It was one of several awesome photos that day and I never did anything with it until my book cover designer picked it for the cover image of Bark and Lunge. She cropped it perfectly, and I’m still not tired of it, even after staring at it on the book cover, T-shirts, postcards, and banners.

fitDogFriday

Please enjoy the FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggyTo Dog with Love and My GBGV Life. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!  

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December so soon?

Christmas family

This is our family tradition. Every year, we go to the same lot with our dog(s) and pose in front of our tree(s) before Rob chops them down. We get two trees: one for the house and one for the martial arts studio. We’ve been going to the same lot since before we had dogs, but I think we went to a different one the first Christmas we had Isis.

We call this Isis's "Muppet Baby" phase.

Christmas 2006. We call this Isis’s “Muppet Baby” phase.

We’ve really gotten it down to a science. For the family portraits, we use a tripod and set the camera’s timer to take 10 pictures in a row.


BlogPaws Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop

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WOOF! Traveling with a reactive dog

Whenever I’m preparing for a trip, I get a twisty, angsty feeling in my chest because I hate leaving my dogs behind.

Lots of places in the Pacific Northwest welcome dogs, but they wouldn’t necessarily welcome leash-reactive Leo. Since I don’t consider it socially acceptable to take him on walks where he barks and lunges at our neighbors, I hardly consider it socially acceptable to take him to a crowded dog-friendly campground or motel.

I searched and searched for an appropriate place to take the dogs for the Fourth of July. I was leaning toward tent-camping in the middle of nowhere until I discovered the Chevy Chase Beach Cabins in Port Townsend, Washington:

Chevy Chase Beach Cabins and the adjoining beach is a haven for dogs! We allow dogs at Chevy Chase Beach Cabins because we are dog lovers ourselves and love to vacation with our furry friends!

Dogs are welcome in all seven of the cabins, and the beach is private.

Scout is the resident dog at Chevy Chase. We were lucky to inherit Scout from the previous owners (life is too good for her here, no one could picture her as a city dog!). Scout is very friendly, loves children, tolerates other dogs, and loves meeting and greeting guests. 

My fantasy was that the grounds would be one big dog park situation, where leash-reactivity would not be an issue. Leo is well socialized and plays nicely with other dogs off leash. He only barks and lunges at them when he’s on leash, sees them from afar and can’t get to them. This is called barrier frustration.

We booked an adorable yellow cabin for two nights. No one was around when we first arrived. We strolled downhill to the private beach, which was everything I hoped it would be. I’ve let Leo run free at an uncrowded beach before, dropping his leash and letting it drag. Here, we truly let the dogs off leash and they romped in the water. No joggers or bicycles lured him into temptation.

Back at the cabin, we needed to let the dogs dry off before we let them inside. Mia remained off leash, we tethered Leo to the cabin door with a 30-foot leash, and we sat in the Adirondack chairs on the porch. Total perfection.

Until a landscaping lady, to whom Leo already had been introduced, headed straight for us. Guess who barked at her?

And guess who got anxious when the guests in the other cabins returned? Me. It was me who got anxious. These guests included several small children and no large dogs. When the first little girl raced for the tree swing near our cabin, I hustled Leo inside.

Was that my plan, to run and hide every time another guest went by? No, I remembered. I brought cheese for this very reason.

I took Leo back outside and gave him cheese every time a new person came into view. He smiled, took the cheese calmly, and didn’t bark at any of the strange people. Not even when they ran.

He did, however, bark at people who walked by our cabin when we were inside. And he barked at Scout, the resident Lab mix. I had gotten so excited by the description on Chevy Chase’s website that I glossed over a code word: tolerates. Scout merely tolerates other dogs. She had no interest in playing with Leo and Mia. She lurked in the yard by the main house, as was her right, and every time he saw her, Leo barked his scary bark.

So that wasn’t ideal.

But this weekend away was about the best an owner of a reactive dog can get (without the angsty feeling of leaving the dog behind). Leo got to do fun things like romp off leash on a beach. We sat in the sand and read our books with our dogs beside us. If the worst thing Leo did was startle a few people by barking from inside our cabin as they walked by, I’ll take it!

Why it worked:

  • We found a fairly secluded spot that was exceedingly dog friendly.
  • I used potential triggers as opportunities to counter-condition Leo.

Epilogue: Leo usually wears a Calming Cap in the car, but we took it off him for the long winding island road, not anticipating we would see so many bicycles. I created a secondary reinforcer by saying, each time Leo noticed a bicycle, “Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, Good boy!” I had no cheese in my hand at the time, but it did have a reassuring effect on him, and now I’ve added that cue when I give him cheese in the presence of bicycles.

Do you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, August 17, hosted by Oz the Terrier and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

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Do dogs need rules?

Unbelievably, there are people in dog training circles who think positive-only training is wrong. But as Victoria Stilwell explains, positive does not equal permissive.

Cesar Millan is big on saying that dogs need rules, boundaries, and limitations, more than they need affection. Whether or not that’s true, I abandoned that notion around the time I learned that most of Millan’s methods are not backed by science or research.

I’ll be honest. I let my dogs do whatever they want, and I shower them with affection.

Know what else?

I can’t name a single rule that my dogs follow.

Not one.

Sure, they’re house trained and they walk on leashes. Do those count as rules?

German shepherd training

My doggie daddy and dog grandma are even more lenient with the rules than I am. Perhaps that explains the adoration in Mia’s eyes.

I can think of two rules that would be useful:

  1. No chewing doors.
  2. No surfing counters.

Left to their own devices, Mia won’t follow the first, and Leo won’t follow the second. Best I can do to enforce those rules is to block their access. Put an X-pen across the doors Mia likes to eat, and never leave food on the counter.

We were told to implement some strict rules when we first sought help for Isis’s leash reactivity. As far as I’m concerned, the world’s stupidest rule is that dogs shouldn’t be allowed on the bed.

I mean, sure, if your dog bites you in bed, or growls at your wife, probably keep him off the bed. But what did Isis sleeping on my pillow have to do with her lashing out at other dogs on leash?

At the time, I was willing to do anything to improve Isis’s behavior, but I couldn’t see Rob going along with the bed rule. Our initial plan when we first got her was to keep her off the furniture, but after about a week, Rob scooped our two-month-old dog into his arms and lay down with her, singing, “Whee! Isis is on the bed!”

I tried to enforce the new rules recommended by our trainers, but sure enough, I came home one night to find Rob watching a Seinfeld rerun in bed, with Isis sitting at his feet.

“Isis! Off the bed,” I ordered.

“She’s not allowed to be on the bed at all?” Rob asked. “I like visiting with her.”

Why did he have to be such a softie? He weakened my resolve. I sat down on the bed and when Isis jumped up again, I let her.

“Those rules are for bad dogs,” I told her. “We have a good dog.”

Now, here were are, five years later with no rules.

I want to be a responsible dog owner, really I do. I was grateful when Fern Camacho’s podcast The Great Dog Adventure covered the topic: What Rules Should Your Dog Have?

I was further relieved that he validated my feeling that when you have older, basically well-behaved dogs, you can ease up on the rules. We did have rules for Leo when he was a puppy. Now that he doesn’t chew furniture anymore, he has more freedom.

We don’t make our dogs sit for 15 minutes before feeding them, and Fern says they don’t have to, as long as they don’t ambush us. Listening to the podcast, I laughed when Fern said sometimes it’s enough for a dog to make eye contact and check in before being given a treat. Reminded me of a time when I was trying to be strict, and I saw Rob’s mom give Isis some treats.

“You have to make her do something before you give her a treat,” I said.

“She did do something,” Alice said. “She looked at me.”

What do you guys think? Do good dogs even need rules? What rules do you have for your dogs?

This is my first time joining the Thursday Barks and Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog.

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Thanksgiving pride and joy

Lately, when we bring the dogs to Rob’s parents’ house, they behave very well and wind up calmly lying down: Mia on a throw rug while Leo helps himself to the couch. In the past, Leo’s countersurfing has been a problem, but since he seems to have matured a bit, I was eager to bring them both to Thanksgiving dinner.

Our gathering was small: me and Rob, Rob’s parents, Rob’s uncle and aunt, and a delightful six-year-old girl Leo has known since he was a puppy.

Here he is, getting ready to pull her wheelchair like it’s a sleigh.

And here he is pulling her as Mia cheers on.

I know, normal people post pictures of their meal.

I didn’t realize that Rob’s aunt had never met the dogs. I felt a cold stab of guilt when Leo and I opened the door for her and she recoiled, saying “I’m quite terrified of large dogs.” A year ago, I might have panicked and stuck Leo in the car and made him wait out the rest of the celebration there, but I had faith in my boy, who has no history of snarling at anyone while off leash. I murmured to Rob to make sure Leo didn’t pester her at all, and Auntie clarified that she was terrified of dogs she didn’t know. Rob asked if it would help if she petted Leo, and she said it would.

Leo did a fair bit of polite wandering prior to dinner being served. Nothing inappropriate, but to someone afraid of dogs, I know Leo’s size is intimidating.

During dinner, Mia lay down underneath the table, a little closer to Auntie’s feet than I would have liked, but I’m not sure Auntie even noticed. Leo lay down on a mat behind Auntie at first. Then he did a cursory counter check while the kitchen was unattended. When he returned, he lay down on the other side of the table.

A perk of Rob’s and my never actually eating meals at our kitchen table is that our dogs don’t beg. At all! So kudos to us!

After we finished eating and the older men returned to the football cave, however, Leo stood and wrapped his teeth around the drumstick end of the turkey carcass still sitting on the dining table.

“Ha, ha, anyone want turkey leftovers?” I could afford to joke, because I don’t eat turkey.

No one was overly troubled by this transgression. After all, the turkey was at the exact height of Leo’s nose when he stood. What’s a dog to do?

Then, just as Rob’s mom congratulated herself for getting the rest of the food put away quickly in Leo’s presence, my boy propped his paws on the counter and licked a stick of butter in a dish.

“Just throw it out,” said Rob’s dad. (Leo is a repeat butter-stealing offender. Once he ate the whole stick before we caught him.)

“He only licked the top stick of butter,” I defended.

And Auntie agreed. “It’s true. I saw him.”

After that, I put Leo’s leash on, to keep him away from the counters and to play reindeer games. But then his leash got caught on one of the wheels of the wheelchair, so I detached him and was distracted long enough for him to snatch a wing from the turkey (now on top of the stove) and race around the house with it.

“Just let him have it,” said Rob’s dad. Yeah, that’s how permissive my dogs’ grandparents are.

“The bones are cooked; they could splinter,” I said.

I retrieved the wing bones from his mouth and gave half of his booty to Mia.

When I got home, I laughed at this post about countersurfing on Victoria Stilwell’s Positively blog. That might have been useful to read before dinner. But I already knew, the failure in management was ours. You can’t get mad at a dog for doing what comes naturally. (Honestly, I can’t get mad at Leo for anything. He’s just Leo.)

At the end of the day, I was thankful that Leo waited until after we’d eaten to showcase his naughty side. And I was beyond thrilled when Rob’s mom reported that Auntie was very impressed with how well-behaved our dogs were. Even after witnessing Leo’s antics!

I know I’m a little late to the Monday Mischief party, and Thanksgiving seems like it was ages ago already, but maybe some of you are still catching up too.

Anyone else have a countersurfer attend Thanksgiving?

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Leo wants to do fun things, too

I have a T-shirt from Dog is Good that reads: “To my dog, this I promise you: I will love you unconditionally; for who you are, not who I’d like you to be. I will protect you and keep you safe. Always.”

I love this sentiment so much that I bought the shirt despite the who/whom error. It beautifully expresses the takeaway from my memoir about Isis.

This promise nagged at me when I couldn’t fall asleep Friday night. I was scheduled to work all day Saturday and Sunday at the NWIFC booth at the Stillaguamish Festival of the River in Arlington. The festival is awesome for a variety of reasons, not least being that dogs are allowed. Last year, they paraded past me for two days, and a couple of enormous Great Danes even stopped for a spell in the shade of my booth. Next year, I thought at the time, if it’s not too hot, I’ll bring Mia.

We planned for Rob and the doggies to drive down Saturday night and take advantage of my vendor’s perk: overnight camping. We like to sleep in a tent exactly one night a year, usually after a strenuous hike. This year’s lack of a strenuous hike was what I most looked forward to.

As I lay in bed on Friday, eyes wide open and mind racing, I worried about Leo. Barrier frustrated Leo. He gets along with everyone at the dog park, barely noticing the people. A bike can ride past and he doesn’t care. If he’s off leash. But, like Isis before him, he barks and lunges at so many things while on leash. Which causes him to turn his head and bite whatever’s closest. Usually Mia’s head or Rob’s thigh. Mia can handle these redirected bites, but human skin is more sensitive. His redirected bites have broken the skin. By accident of course. He’d never bite a person. Oh no, he’s friendly. But if I’ve learned nothing else, I recognize that Leo is not reliable in uncontrolled situations.

So what was I thinking, bringing Leo to a festival that attracts 6,000 people a day, where he would have to be on a leash around other dogs? I was thinking that he did just fine on-leash at Dog Days of Summer last year. I was thinking, worse case scenario, he sleeps in the car.

I was thinking that I wanted a dog I could take camping. It wouldn’t be fair to leave Leo at home while Mia went to the festival. I wanted Leo to be able to do fun things too.

I couldn’t sleep Friday night because of that promise I’d made Leo. I will protect you and keep you safe. Always.

Was I breaking that promise to put him in a situation where he might not feel safe? Where he might bark and lunge and scare people, or worse, hurt someone?

(I also might have been feeling some social anxiety about having to set up and staff a booth by myself for eight hours two days in a row.)

When I got to the festival Saturday morning, I found a shaded parking spot near an available tent site removed from the festival grounds. See? It’s going to be fine, I told myself. We’ll just keep Leo away from the crowds.

Unfortunately, someone else stole our tent spot during the day, so when Rob and the dogs arrived, we headed deeper into the woods, scratching our legs on nettles to get to a secluded spot for the four of us to snuggle into our three-person tent. We tethered Leo to a tree when he wasn’t inside our tent. Mia, of course, was allowed to wander free, since she never went far.

I was so proud of my boy. Sure he barked at a couple of people who passed by, but we kept him safe by setting up camp far enough away from the trail. I had my best night of sleep yet in that tent. I think Leo did too.

In the morning, we fed the dogs their breakfast beside the car. We didn’t push Leo over threshold by forcing him to encounter hundreds of people, but we did expose him to a dozen or so strangers in the parking area. He blithely ignored an Airedale tethered to an RV about a hundred feet away, and walked parallel to a couple of yippy dogs without incident.

Before Rob and Leo left for the day, we took the dogs down to a little river nook, where we let him off leash. Yes, we ran the risk that he would get the zoomies and escape from us, as Isis did once at the Port Townsend ferry terminal, but here at least Leo was far from vehicle traffic, and we assured ourselves that he’s perfectly friendly off leash. 

My pulse quickened when he raced up the steep stairs carved into the bank, but he came right back, and I was happy to give him those few minutes of freedom to romp and splash in the river. You can see on his face how much he enjoyed it.

leo splash

With Leo, I have to strike a balance. The back of my shirt says, “We will do enjoyable things together every day. I will guide you through this world. But above all, we are a team. I will do my best to be worthy of your love and trust.”

This weekend reminded me that my guidance and his trust in me are absolutely the key to doing enjoyable things together every day.

In my next post, I’ll tell you how Mia enjoyed working the booth with me all day Sunday.

My Awesome Saturday

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Day in My Life

First time using the Gallery feature. Didn’t even know it existed. Daily Post, you may have created a monster.

 

Dog year in review

I’ve been waiting to say goodbye to this year since Feb. 2. I might be a little premature in doing so now… something else awful could still happen! But today was my last day at work for the year, and I’m in the mood to do some reflecting.

In a way, 2011 was the worst year of my life. Isis’ death certainly was the low point of my last 25 years.

Something wonderful happened this year too. We found Mia. More precisely, Rob’s sister knew someone who was looking for a home for an apparently abandoned dog. Our Mia.

Never mind how anyone could abandon any dog, we can’t imagine how anyone could abandon Mia. She’s a wonderful dog and obviously was meant to be ours, which she proved by hopping in my car within minutes of meeting us, saying, “All right, let’s do this!” She didn’t even ask us anything like, “How many walks will I go on a week?” “What sort of diet will you be feeding me?” “How many hours will I be left alone each day?”

Rob said the other day, “Can you believe there was a time we weren’t sure if we were going to take Mia?”

She’s done wonders to restore peace, balance and happiness to our home. She’s been an excellent mentor for Leo. Even though I’m pretty sure she’s the one who told him how to escape the yard via the creek. Of course, she would never stray from our property, but Leo’s made a break for it twice, so we’re going to go ahead and fence that side of the yard.

And now we have two dogs, just like I always wanted. (Of course, one of those dogs was supposed to be Isis. We still have Isis-shaped holes in our hearts, as a fellow student in my memoir class described it.) I walked them both this morning on the wooded trail near our house, bundled up in fleece long underwear and a wool hat, admiring the frost growing on broken branches like a glistening white fungus. I meant to walk just Leo, but Mia slipped out the door ahead of us, so I grabbed her leash and took her along.

A few years ago, I had the sad realization that I never would be able to walk Isis safely on that trail. The path is too narrow and winding, so joggers and other dogs came upon us with little warning, triggering Isis’ vicious barking frenzy. I tried walking her during off-hours, but the last straw was having her pull me off my feet and drag me through the mud so she could sink her teeth into a black lab’s butt. The lab was unharmed, but its owner was not amused.

I thought I would never walk that trail again, not foreseeing a time when I would have a different dog, dogs even, who could be trusted on that narrow, winding trail. I used to be jealous of a guy I’d see walking two mellow rottweilers. Now I’m the woman walking the two huge German shepherds. They’re not perfect in public. Leo likes to grab Mia’s leash and at specific points on our route, they devolve into a National Geographic display of wildlife, rearing up on their hind legs and snarling at each other. All in play, of course, but tell that to the passing motorists who just catch the tableau of two entwined dogs with their leashes tangled around me.

Walking them was the highlight of my day.

A love letter to Rob and Disneyland

Rob loves Disneyland. I grew up in L.A., so Disneyland always has been as familiar to me as the county fair. We discovered Disney’s California Adventure, the theme park next door, on our first visit to Los Angeles together. Since then, we’ve been to the pair of parks in Anaheim a bunch of times and in 2007 we spent 5 days at Disney World.

A magical place. The Happiest Place on Earth.

Totally.

During our first visit in the summer of 2004, we swung circles inside a giant citrus on a ride called Orange Stinger at California Adventure. We hadn’t yet been dating a whole year. I had moved 2 1/2 hours away to Olympia, but our relationship had continued to grow. I flew with the cartoonish sound of bees buzzing in my ears, wind in my teeth from smiling so big and I couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy.

Orange Stinger has been replaced with the Silly Symphony Swings, which has better music, but feels much shorter. I miss the orange.


I was recovering from a cold during our most recent visit to the Happiest Place on Earth, and though I flagged a bit after a lunchtime glass of sangria, I was reminded of how much I love Disneyland and how much I love Rob at Disneyland.

My midday energy slump gave Rob a chance to show off his resourcefulness, cheerful easygoing nature, and irritating ability to fall asleep anywhere. At 3 p.m., we entered Disneyland proper for the first time of the day, having spent the morning at Cal. Adv. The lines for the renovated Star Tours and Ghost Galaxy Space Mountain were prohibitively long and they weren’t giving out any more Fast Passes.

At that moment, there wasn’t another single thing I wanted to do at Disneyland and felt like we might as well go home. Rob suggested walking to Critter Country and as we passed a display of carved pumpkins, I didn’t even think I could make it there.

Trying not to be a buzz kill, I suggested a quick trip on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I’d been losing my voice, so I didn’t want to scream, but the ride was exhilarating as ever. Even with a head cold, I love a roller coaster. The 15-minute line, though, was brutal. I suggested that we find a place where I could just rest while Rob ran around Critter Country or wherever. He said, “No, I’ll rest with you.”

We found a nook next to Davy Crockett’s Canoes, which weren’t running. I was tempted to duck the rope and nap ON a canoe. Rob took off his shoes and used them for a pillow, laying down on the concrete behind a boulder. I tried variously to relax by resting my head on his belly, on my shoes, and sitting with my back against the boulder. Earlier, when I struggled to put one foot in front of the other in Adventure Land, I thought I might actually be able to fall asleep if I just closed my eyes for a minute. Not so. Rob, on the other hand, was snoring.

Still, I was rejuvenated by the brief respite. With 20 minutes until we could use our Fast Pass at the Haunted Mansion, we strolled over to the bridge to Sleeping Beauty’s castle and sat on a bench watching waves of costumed families arrive for Mickey’s Halloween Party. This was a highlight, just sitting together smiling at baby Wolverines and Captains America. Entire groups dressed as the cast of Peter Pan. Heavyset teenage girls dressed in short, corseted dresses invoking Sexy Minnie, Sexy Cinderella, Sexy Wicked Queen. (I can mock, I own the Sexy Wicked Queen costume.)

Because we’ve been to Disneyland and California Adventure so many times and will go many more times, we can shrug off disappointments like not getting to ride Star Tours or Space Mountain. I didn’t even realize until this minute that the only rides we went on at Disneyland were Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain. At California Adventure, we hit The Little Mermaid, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (twice), Silly Symphony Swings, California Screaming and Soaring Over California. Rob always wants to go on Tower of Terror more than once, and I always feel a little bit like, “Really? Again?” But the rises and falls of that haunted service elevator are randomly determined, and the combination during our second ride may well have been the best. ever.
On our way out, we discovered the Wilderness Explorer Camp at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which I compared to a dog park for children, where parents can take their kids to run out all their energy on ropes courses, rock walls and tire swings. We cut through the Grand Californian Hotel to get to the tram and discovered a lovely, enormous lobby with cushy chairs and a live pianist. We mentally bookmarked the spot for a future midday nap.
Disneyland brings out the best in us. I love Rob’s sense of wonder at discovering two new places we haven’t seen before. My feet were aching, but his enthusiasm is contagious. I said, “Yeah, let’s have a look. Let’s find out what my animal totem is.” (First try it was beaver, but I did it again until I got the salmon.)
We used to stay until closing, but we were ready to go at about 9. As the tram pulled up to the Mickey and Friends parking structure, we heard the first explosions of the fireworks show. We disembarked and sat beside each other at the tram stop, watching the fireworks light up the theme park, a safe distance from the crowds, just the two of us.

Beyond Oyster Dome

During the past few years, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m just not that outdoorsy. And that’s OK.

Never mind that I live in the Northwest and that my friends and colleagues hike, kayak, climb rocks and sleep outside for fun. Sometimes I get to wade in rivers and brave the elements for work, and I enjoy the adventure. But it’s also OK when I find it challenging.

I like to read. And I like to nap.

I have chronicled a couple of the adventures that led me to this conclusion. They include a mountain goat survey for work. And the hike that made me realize that I would definitely hold Rob back if we were partners in the Amazing Race.

Here I am at the zenith of the Bat Caves hike of 2005:

I look proud of myself, don’t I?

Totally faking it.

Here I am last weekend, having hiked that same trail even higher to the Oyster Dome:

That’s genuine pride.

Rob had gotten it into his head to hike up to the Oyster Dome, spend the night and then do a TRX/portable kettlebell workout the next morning. I said, “Good luck with that. Enjoy.” But then he started acquiring all kinds of gear and it started to sound like fun. I said I’d go too, and we’d bring the dogs. Then I thought it might rain that night, and I chickened out. Then the weather was supposed to be really nice, and I was back in.

We got a tent, sleeping bags, camp food, headlamps, little reflecting things for the dogs. And I just committed to it. I was going to make it up there.

It helped that it was not too hot, not too cold, and we left in plenty of time to get to the top before sundown. Because we would have had a hell of a time setting up camp after dark.

In my 2005 blog post, I was very descriptive about each step of that agonizing hike. This time, I was prepared for Rob to take off way ahead of me, but he was pretty weighed down by his backpack full of lanterns and a 2.5 gallon jug of drinking water, so for most of the hike, we were together. We strapped a backpack on Leo too, with his food and two bottles of water. It was a pretty heavy pack and he did seem tired. We took it off him during our many rest stops and he’d plop down beside us, looking enormously proud of himself.

Each time we got up to go again, he’d stand, resigned to his duty, and let me strap that thing back on him. For the first half of the hike, he also had the burden of pulling me. As we got to the steeper parts, I unhooked Leo’s leash as well. That’s when I fell behind.

Mia was off leash almost the whole way, and would trot ahead, leading the pack, looking back at us frequently to make sure we were still with her. I worried the hike would be too strenuous for her, but she kept bounding ahead.

I don’t think I’m in such better shape than I was in 2005, although maybe I walk more often, because of the dogs, and I knew what to expect. We passed a couple of dry streambeds and I remembered how scary they were when they were filled with water.

The last part of the hike was no joke. Very steep. At one point, I could take only five to ten steps at a time. I’d stop, take a few breaths, and count out steps again. I made it to twelve a few times. Then back to five. My feet were unsteady because of the weight of the pack. I struggled to find my footing amid the roots. Rob and the dogs had climbed out of sight, but I didn’t have the devastated, abandoned feeling I had before. Even if I took only five steps at a time, I was going to get there.

During the last stretch, I knew we were almost there. I could see sky between the trees. The trail was uphill, but smooth. No roots to trip me up. I made it.

Rob wanted to set up the tent right on the rock face, looking out at the bay. We found that spot to be a little too windy, so we moved the fully assembled tent to a spot nestled between the trees. Still with a water view. We had tethered the dogs to a tree and left them there while we moved the tent. They cried and moaned.”You didn’t bring us all the way up here to leave us tied to this tree, did you?”

No one else camped up there with us, although we did see a guy carrying a wiener dog when we first reached the top. Carrying his dog, I think, so Leo wouldn’t eat it. “So this is the dome?” he asked. It was very near sunset and I didn’t envy him having to make that downward hike in the dark.

Our dogs slept with us in the tent, and let us snuggle them more than usual. Mia makes an excellent pillow.

I highly recommend a headlamp for late night bathroom trips in pitch black woods. Rob slept like a rock, as usual, but I barely slept, which was not entirely unexpected. I frequently have trouble sleeping in new places. Add to that the extreme physical exertion, and yeah, I’ll confess, I was in a great deal of pain. Too bad we both brought first aid kits with Band-Aids and Neosporin, but no ibuprofen. My legs ached. Not just in the muscles, but deep in the bones and joints. I couldn’t get comfortable even just lying there. Everything hurt. I remembered a similar feeling in my arms following an overzealous kayaking adventure in 2006. I also remembered it would not last.

In the morning, I felt better, and Leo was antsy. I tethered him to a tree and tried to let him wander outside the tent. He kept winding himself around trees, and a few times tried to take down the tent by circling around it. I’d bring him back in the tent, hoping he’d settle down, but he wouldn’t, so I’d let him out again. Finally, after he was quiet for several minutes, I thought he’d just settled down outside. I gave the tether a gentle tug and felt its slack. I reeled it in, still slack, until I had in my hand, like a scene from a horror movie, the chewed-off end of a leash. “Leo chewed through the tether!” Rob didn’t even wake.

I slipped on my hiking boots and said, “Mia, go find Leo.” Oyster Dome is basically a rock formation surrounded by cliffs. A dog could easily slide, jump or fall off one of them. I called Leo’s name a few times and he finally bounded toward us, romping with Mia through the trees until I clamped a leash back on his collar.

Leo was duplicating his usual morning routine. He doesn’t want us to stay in bed all morning. He’ll start tearing at the bedsheets until I get up. But if I relocate to the couch, he’ll hop up on the chair across from me and go back to sleep. I grabbed my sleeping bag, leashed both dogs, and lay down on a nice slanty rock with a view of the bay. Rob woke up and started putting on his shoes to come join us, but we were interrupted by Leo’s territorial bark. Some rotten people had gotten up at the crack of dawn and summitted the Oyster Dome already. By this time, Leo considered the rock to be our new house, and he was going to protect it. Sorry, folks who thought you would experience a peaceful morning atop the dome. Sorry my dog ruined it for you.

So we didn’t get a picture of me snuggled in my sleeping bag on the rock.

We stretched with our TRXs, ate a leisurely breakfast and walked the agonizingly steep trail home. It was murder on the knees.