Bike-walking Buck

April 5, 2015

It’s been a while since I wrote a dog-hike post, mainly because I’ve only been doing familiar, close-in trails. Buck has not been entirely happy with this state of affairs, as he considers even a six hour hike covering 14 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain disappointingly short.  So I’ve been keeping him active in other ways.

For a while I gave him more run-free time by going to a large unofficial off-leash area near the Microsoft Advanta campus in Bellevue. This is a former airport, later garbage dump, and now a grassy field east of 156th Ave NE across from the State Troopers facility.  There a group of dog owners regularly congregate around a bench to talk while the dogs play.  In the picture on my About page I’m sitting on that bench.


Taking Buck there had its disadvantages.  He’s not a fetch-and-retrieve dog, so he didn’t get much exercise.  And the area is teeming with rabbits.  It would have been fine if his only rabbit interaction was chasing them from grass to blackberry thicket, but he spent far more time seeking out and eating “rabbit nuggets.”

Then it occurred to me that we could go farther on our daily walks if I rode a bike.  At first I resisted the idea, thinking it would be really awkward and the leash would get tangled or I’d run into Buck or he’d stick his nose through the spokes while the wheels were turning.  But I decided to try it, and it worked out much better than expected, with one exception.

The leash-tangling hazard was resolved by using a retractable leash – it always stays taut between you and the dog.  I have two – a 16 footer and a 26 footer.  The 16 retracts more reliably, the 26 allows more freedom of movement for the dog.


This all worked out well until one day I was biking with Buck along 156th Ave NE on the sidewalk the other side of the road from the State Trooper facility.  Suddenly he took off running hard, after I knew not what.  The leash spun noisily out to its limit and yanked me forward. Brakes were useless and soon I was speeding along much too fast for safety.  Then Buck crashed into the bushes and I knew I was next.  I let go of the leash just as my bike plunged into the undergrowth in the ditch.  The thicket stopped the bike abruptly and I went head over heels past the handlebars.  At least the thick branches cushioned my fall – a little to the right or left and I’d have landed head first in rocks. 

Meanwhile I heard a pitched battle going on somewhere beyond me in the woods, growls and snarls and yips and barks, and it sounded like Buck was getting beat up.  But I couldn’t see anything, as my glasses had come off.  And when I found them the lens on one side had popped out.  Never did find it.  Slowly I climbed up out of the bushes and made my way over to the battleground where I found Buck tangling with a raccoon.  I found the leash end, and with great effort dragged him away.  I bicycled home with one-eyed glasses, keeping Buck on a shorter-than-was-really-necessary leash. irrationally upset with him though of course the mishap was my fault for not being prepared for such an eventuality. 

Buck paid for that encounter by having to wear the “cone of shame” after getting treated for Raccoon scratches. 


I had to get a new pair of glasses.  And a new plan for bike-walking Buck.  I developed a new strategy:  whenever bike-walking the dog I am prepared to let go of the leash immediately if Buck takes off after something (usually it’s a squirrel hustling to get the nearest tree).  Then I catch up at a safe bike speed, dismount, and retrieve the end of the leash.

(Why not just train him to stop when commanded, you ask.  I’ve done that, and sometimes it works.  But over time between refresher courses the strength of that training wanes.  And even when the training is fresh, sometimes instinct trumps even effective obedience training. Different dogs respond differently to training, and so-called dog training experts who assume you can achieve anything with any dog don’t realize dog personalities are as varied and unique as humans’. )

These events don’t happen very often, but I’ve avoided a couple crashes that way since the raccoon affair, and we’ve done a lot of bike-walking.  Here’s a picture of my bike and Buck at Enatai beach in Bellevue, with the leash hanging from the fence rail in the background.


Of course, it’s also nice to be able to ride without holding on to a leash where that’s possible, and I’ve been doing more of that too over the last year. Here’s a picture taken near lake Keechelus. The yellow bottle in the bike water carrier is the dog water bottle you see in the Granite Mountain post.



How to Find Dirty Harry’s Truck

May 21, 2011

I had been hiking up to Dirty Harry’s Balcony and Dirty Harry’s Peak many times before I found mention on the web of the abandoned logging truck lost in the woods halfway up the mountain.  I found many people talking about having looked repeatedly for it without finding it, and the few who posted pictures told conflicting stories about how they found it.  So I armed myself with two of these stories and went up to see if it was all that difficult to find.  It wasn’t.  But the directions I found were not very clear, so here’s an alternative.

  1. Hike up the Dirty Harry trail past the cutoff to the balcony until you get to the year-round stream at around 3,000 foot elevation (everyone calls it Museum Creek but I’ve never seen it labeled as such on a map).
  2. About 15 yards or so before you get to the creek itself, strike off to the right through the bushes about where you see the old cable lying on the ground (see the picture below).
  3. Very soon (maybe 30 yards or less) you’ll come to an old somewhat-overgrown but very visible logging road. If you went left on this road you’d go downhill back to the creek. Go right and follow the road through a switchback, and the truck will be on your left.

Below is a picture of the main Dirty Harry trail as it approaches the creek. Go right before you get to the creek.

Go right before you get to the creek

When you first come to it, the truck is on the left on the other side of a stream (at least there was a stream when I was there on May 21).

First view of truck on the left as you come up the road

From the front, looking downhill with the stream on the left.

From the front

Another downhill view.

Another front view

Inside the cab.  There was supposed to be a geo-cache-like ammo box with a log for people to sign in, but it wasn’t there.

Inside the cab

Was not terribly successful at getting two dogs to move quickly through a rocky stream in order to beat the camera self-timer in time to pose nicely for a picture.

Me, Buck, and Cookie

Snowshoes on Dirty Harry

March 26, 2011

Today the intrepid trio scaled the mountain that defeated them earlier in the winter. The trailhead at 1,350 foot elevation was snow-free, so I stowed the gaiters, snowshoes, mittens, and trekking poles in my backpack.


Snow cover started up soon and became consistent well before the cutoff to the balcony at 2,500 feet. From there up until 3,700 feet the trail alternated between stretches of deep but dense snow and a stream breaking through the snow.


In some places the trail-stream cut through snow close to six-feet deep.


At a boulder field covered by snow the dogs decided to take a side-trip off the trail through untouched snow.



But they only did that once, as they quickly realized that moving around without snowshoes was problematic.


Also a little dangerous. While breaking through the snow somewhere Cookie’s hind leg punched past a rock and scraped a cut that started bleeding. She decided to take a break until the bleeding stopped.


But at last we made it to the tippy top at just under 4,700 feet. At Dirty Harry this a a ridge with an edge that drops off almost vertically 1,600 feet to Granite Lakes below.



The problem with these kinds of summits in these kinds of conditions is that I worry about how cognizant dogs are about snow instability. They tend to enjoy views as much as we do, and they’re shorter, so they have to get closer to see over the edge, and the snow feels solid enough to them for that. But I had visions of a block of snow with one of them on it breaking off and accelerating down that 1,600 foot drop at the rate of approximately 32 feet per second per second. So it was hard to relax for all the worry about incautious dogs, and anyway the weather was not conducive to relaxation either, being very windy and cold with snow flurries starting up.  So we headed back down the tree-lined path along the center of the ridge.


We, or at least I, wouldn’t have made it without the snowshoes. They worked great today because the snow was fairly dense. Even so, if I were buying snowshoes today, I would find a pair much like mine but with better bindings. Mine are the MSR Evo model.


The problem is it’s a fair amount of work to put them on and take them off, and the more you do that, the more they tend to find ways to loosen their own straps and come off all by themselves. If I had a pair with better bindings I’d have been more inclined to put them on at 2,500 feet instead of 3,700 feet and take them off as needed, and I’d have covered those 1,200 feet much quicker both uphill and downhill.

I’ve already come to realize that they’re not just useful for deep snow.  Even in snow that’s just six inches or so deep and fairly firm in most places, you can go much faster in snowshoes because they even out the uneven surface that otherwise you have to be careful to avoid twisting your ankle on. I found that I was practically running downhill from 4,700 feet to 3,700 feet, then my downward speed took a major hit as soon as I took off the snowshoes.

Anyway, a good time was had by all and we’ll certainly be doing this again some time before the snow is all gone.

On the way back we had our traditional Burger King after-hike snack: veggie burger for me and burgers for the dogs.  I treated them each to a double cheeseburger.  They patiently (somewhat) wait with their snouts sticking forward from the backseat over the center console and I alternate between them, ripping a piece of bread and burger and handing it to each dog in turn. "A piece for Cookie … a piece for Buck … a piece for Cookie … a piece for Buck …" When they’re done I start in on mine, and it’s been a hard lesson for them to learn but they have come to realize that I’m not going to share mine with them, so they let me eat it in peace.

We’ve been back a couple of hours now and dogs are ready to do it all over again but I’m still recovering even after taking a nap.

Winter Dog Hikes

March 23, 2011

Hard to believe I haven’t posted a dog hike here since early September. Six months went by in the blink of an eye. Time seems to speed up as I get older and the number of hours in the day decreases. But we’ve been getting out there, and here is some evidence.

Bandera in November

In November we took the Bandera Mountain trail for the first time. It seemed pretty tame at the trailhead.

2010-11 Bandera Mountain 001

Then at about 2800 feet we started to see snow.

2010-11 Bandera Mountain 003

And the farther we went, the more snow we saw.

2010-11 Bandera Mountain 004

Before long Buck was almost tunneling through the stuff.


We’re still working on Buck’s weight problem and he’s just not the most agile dog there ever was, so when the snow got up over his head and he couldn’t quite make it up the side of one large boulder, we had to turn around. It was foggy and there wouldn’t have been a view anyway.


Dirty Harry in November

Next was Dirty Harry after a heavy snowfall. We discovered that fresh wet snow loves to make itself into balls that cling to Buck’s fur and are as hard to knock off him as ice. I dug some out with my pocket knife and managed to dig some of the flesh out of my fingers in the process.

2010-11 Dirty Harry 003

He trudged along dragging golf balls that turned into baseballs and baseballs that turned almost into bowling balls. He finally gave up and I hacked away at them with my pocket knife, taking a little more care to avoid maiming myself in the process.


Squak in November

Even Squak got snow in November.

2010-11 Squak Mountain 002

Dirty Harry in December

In December Dirty Harry beyond the balcony was mostly a stream with snow banks.

2010-12 Dirty Harry 002

Kachess Ridge in December

Finally I decided to try snowshoes. I had been reluctant at first, thinking it would be unfair for me to easily skip along the top of snowdrifts while the dogs have to fight their way through the hard way. But it occurred to me that they need exercise much more than I do anyway, especially Buck who seems to stay overweight no matter how much we cut back his meal sizes. The poor dog is perpetually starving and goes on two hours of walks every day and still does not lose weight. If I let him eat as much as he wanted he’s be wider than he is tall.

Our first snowshoe trip was Kachess Ridge (just off the exit at mile 70 on I-90), and it turns out I was wrong to be concerned at all about snowshoes giving me an advantage over the dogs. Dog energy so far surpasses human energy (at least 51-year-old human energy) that they still ran rings amount me even when they had to practically swim through the snow.

2010-12 Kachess Ridge 008

2010-12 Kachess Ridge 009

2010-12-19 Kachess Ridge 005

Dirty Harry in December

Then back to Dirty Harry in December again, this time with snowshoes.

2010-12-30 Dirty Harry Snowshoe 006

2010-12-30 Dirty Harry Snowshoe 008

Around the 4,000 foot level Buck had trouble digging his way out through snow over his head.

2010-12-30 Dirty Harry Snowshoe 010

He finally made it, but I wasn’t exactly skipping over the snowdrifts in my small-size snowshoes in the deep powder, and I found myself taking 20 steps and stopping to pant for a while, then taking 20 more and stopping for another couple of minutes. A dozen or so of those cycles and I thought to myself, "this isn’t fun." One last look forward, and then I followed the snowshoe tracks back down the mountain.

2010-12-30 Dirty Harry Snowshoe 012

2010-12-30 Dirty Harry Snowshoe 013

Dirty Harry in February

By February snow cover at Dirty Harry had mostly melted below the 4,000 foot level. On the way up we ran across a rusty bucket someone had hung from a tree branch over the trail. Buck thought this looked as suspicious and alarming as the big black bear statues at the Brown Bear Car Wash on 148th Ave. NE and NE 8th. After directing a prodigious amount of barking and growling at it, he cautiously strutted around it and we went on our way, danger behind us.


Poo Poo Point in March

I’d heard of Poo Poo Point for a long time but had never been there. As a hike it sounds like just the sort of thing Buck, Cookie, and I would normally jump at: an 1,800 foot climb to a fantastic view. But everyone else in the Puget Sound area knows about it too, and the three of us don’t like trails that are more crowded than Bellevue Square.

Then a week ago while Karen and I were on the way to a Sunday hike at Squak Mountain we saw the grassy launch pad high in the distance and about a half-dozen hang-gliders or paragliders swirling around it. That reminded me to watch for a week-day opportunity and one came up this week on Monday.

It was a rare non-rainy March day, and when we got to the summit we had the whole place to ourselves. A fantastic view of Lake Sammamish, Bellevue, and even 520 and Seattle in the distance. The light green cross in the pictures is the glider launch pad – made of the same kind of plastic fake grass they line mini-golf courses with.

2011-03-21 Poo Poo Point 008


2011-03-21 Poo Poo Point 013

For once the self-timer on the camera worked pretty well.


Snack time for the dogs, then time to head back.

2011-03-21 Poo Poo Point 015

Such were some of the highlights of the winter hiking-with-dogs season. We are looking forward to getting back into the snow, though we’ll have to go higher to find it. It’s been more than a month since we’ve been up Dirty Harry way, and that’s too long.

Dog Personality

September 19, 2010

One positive aspect of having two dogs is that the difference between them calls to your attention facets of the personality of each that you might take for granted otherwise. 

Cookie is almost always completely quiet.  She’ll give chase to a squirrel but not a peep comes out of her mouth.  Even a cat rarely evokes a bark.  Buck, on the other hand, has such an incredible vocal range it’s almost as if he can talk.  At the sight of a squirrel he’ll drag you to the tree and try to climb it and launches into a veritable cacophony of squeals and barks and yips and yaps and ki-yi-yis, all at a pitch high enough to break glass.  After a while he plants his rump on the ground and continues yapping while alternately stomping his right and left front paws on the ground out of excitement and frustration.  The idea seems to be to entice the squirrel to come down and play, but it never seems to work.  Things are different with cats.  The sight of a cat calls forth a throaty bark from his jaws while his claws are digging deep furrows through the pavement trying to break the leash or break your grip on it.

When he wants up on the bed there’s a very short little low-volume yip.  If he’s ignored, he waits a while and the yip gets a little louder.  The cycle repeats until the yip becomes a rather more insistent yap and you get down and help him up (we have a high bed and he’s not a jumper). 

When it’s feeding time or you’re eating something that smells good and you’re trying to ignore him, the yap is still high-pitched but a little lower and more like an arf and more insistent right from the start.  It’s always two at a time:  arf, arf; wait to see if there’s a response; arf, arf; wait to see a response; ad infinitum until (a) he gets what he wants or (b) you evict him from the premises. The call to play time is similar.

If Buck senses danger its a semi-high-pitch frantic staccato arfing, not the two-at-a-time-and-wait routine. Once when we were hiking and came up to a log across a rushing river far below he took one look at the bridge, one look at me on the other side, and he ran back about 20 feet, turned around and gave me a very clear rendition of “I can’t do that, I won’t do that!” I went back and carried him across.

Another time we were hiking and we came across an orange backhoe someone had been doing trail work with and left there, and I got the danger warning.  This time the normally-high-pitched dog produced a very deep growl and matching bark to warn away the malefactor.  The bear statues at the Brown Bear car wash on 148th Ave NE also appeared menacing to him in the same way as we drove by.

Buck howls long and plaintively whenever he hears emergency vehicle sirens in the distance.  Cookie doesn’t even notice them.

Their different attitude toward squirrels goes beyond vocalization.  Cookie gives chase if she sees one crossing directly in front of her on the path, but otherwise she’ll blithely prance past dozens of them all around her.  Buck, on the other hand, everywhere we go is scanning the upper reaches of the trees at all times.  He can spot squirrel-caused branch movement a hundred feet high and a half mile away and will give chase immediately with leash-holder in tow.

On the other hand, anytime we’re near tall grass Buck is scanning the lower reaches of the greenery for any signs of mice or rats, something Cookie has only a passing interest in.  We have been to Marymoor dog park dozens of times, and in all those times I have never seen another dog ignore the other dogs in order spend all his time pouncing in the tall grass to hunt for mice and rats.  We can spend an hour there and that’s all Buck wants to do.  He makes a four-paw high leap into the air from the path into the grass and his snout goes deep into the roots trying to catch a mouse unawares.  He has been successful several times this way, but most of the time you see his nose in the ground and his rump sticking up with the tail wagging, after which he comes up mouseless.  In a big field of grass he’ll make a flying leap and then another flying leap and then another and another, like a giant four-legged frog, until he’s he’s far out in the field.  It’s spectacular but I’ve never seen him actually catch a mouse after multi-jump pounce.

2010-06 Marymoor Dog Park 003 cropped

2010-06 Marymoor Dog Park 001 mouseless

Beyond personality, when you get an adult dog you get a different background of life experience as well.  I had both dogs in the vet exam room and from the waiting room we heard a meow.  Cookie’s ears pricked up, she got that "I want it, I want it!” look in her eyes and wanted to batter down the door to get at the source of the sound.  Buck, on the other hand, didn’t realize there was any special significance to that sound.  He’s never heard a cat meow.

A similar difference obtains when we’re walking on the sidewalk and a car comes by.  Buck walks blithely along with not a care in the world.  Cookie, on the other hand, looks back and watches the car coming with apprehensiveness, and as it gets close she slinks as far away from the road as the double-leash will let her, almost dragging Buck off the far side of the sidewalk.  All the while her head is turned all the way around, terror in her eyes.  As the car goes past, she gradually drifts back onto the sidewalk, watching the car suspiciously as it disappears ahead of us.

When we’re going on a walk there are many options for destinations.  There’s Robinswood woods (squirrels), Robinswood dog park (dogs), Robinswood sports fields (endless expanses of grass to run in), the greenbelt leading to the library (rats and mice galore in the tall grass), and the big open area near Microsoft Advanta (rabbits), to name just a few.  If I think we’re walking to Robinswood and we get to the branch point and he wants to go to Advanta, he stops walking along beside or ahead of me and won’t move farther.  I pull but he stands there looking at me.  I pull again and he won’t come.  He just looks at me.  So when I have time I give in and off we go to Advanta.  Otherwise I have to pull a bit harder.  I sometimes give him a treat to compensate to reward his willingness to do what he manifestly doesn’t want to do.

He does the same thing for certain things he wants when we’re at home.  I have a plush green recliner in my office.  He likes to be in here when I’m in here and usually wants to be on the green chair.  But it’s an easy place to throw backpacks and coats and the like.  So he saunters into the office, sees the green chair occupied, looks at it for a moment, then looks back at me.  He stands there silently looking it at and looking back at me until I get up and remove the offending object so he can get up there and relax.  But if I stay here too long typing on my computer the chair starts to seem like it’s too far away and he moves down to the floor right underneath my desk chair’s rollers, oblivious to the possibility that I’ll roll over an ear or something.

He’s there right now and it’s time for us to go on our morning walk or hike.  We’ll probably head to one of his other favorite routes – Squak mountain.

One Complication Too Many

September 6, 2010

A couple of days after we picked up Cookie I came into the kitchen and stopped short as I watched her finish dropping a pile of poop next to a big wet splotch on our dining room carpet.  OK, thought I, she’s new here, maybe she’s a little confused.  No biggie.  Just clean it up and she’ll adapt to her new surroundings.

Well, she did adapt but not in the expected manner.  The next day a spot big enough to turn a couple dozen paper towels yellow appeared in another area of the dining room carpet.  A day later another followed.  Later yet a lake spread across the Wilsonart floor in the kitchen. 

OK, so we need to house train a four-year-old dog who was supposed to be a house-trained two-year-old.  You get surprises when you marry a spouse or get a kid or get a dog, and you just have to adapt.

Adapting to some surprises is easier than others, however.  To effectively house train a dog you really have to catch her in the act, and Cookie is a master at avoiding detection.  You can let her out in the morning and watch her diligently and she acts like a six-year-old who refuses to use the bathroom before a long car trip.  You let her back in and keep an eye on her, but of course you can’t every second.  Everyone has to check email once in a while, right?  (Doing that fifty times a day is a horrible waste of time but it’s an addiction that’s hard to break.) And you’re not watching a dog when you’re watching a monitor.  Then you walk back to the dining room, and on the way your socks get soaked.

Multiply that by a few more days and the frustration mounts.  We did not sign on for this kind of challenge.  We experienced enough house-training to last us a decade when Buck was a puppy.  It is not fun.  And now it’s the school year and everyone is busy and we have two dogs, and everyone is stretched a bit thin already.  In a word, this is one complication too many.

For Karen and me the handwriting was on the wall – Cookie’s days were numbered.  But Zoe would not hear of it.  Would she then take responsibility for the house training, we asked?  Yes, she would.  Would that turn out to be the same kind of commitment she made when we got Buck and which turned out to be a dead letter from the day it was made?  No this would be different.

We are now a week into the Zoe-takes-responsibility-for-Cookie era, and the record is mixed.  Zoe has willingly taken on more responsibility, but she’s no better than I was at keeping eyes glued to Cookie every second she’s in carpet-squirting range.  For Zoe, the call to run off and play with friends still tends to trump the call to stay and watch a dog who might soil the carpet at any moment but who waits for an opportune moment. 

Cookie is a very nice dog who is affectionate and appreciates affection and harbors not an ounce of aggression for any human or canine.  She deserves a very nice home.  But whether this is the best home for her is now an open question.

Switchbacks are Good

September 5, 2010

Twenty-four years ago I hiked with my sister Colleen and friend Bob up to the summit of Mt. Persis.  It was not a pleasant experience.  After climbing 2,700 feet almost straight up we found the summit so shrouded in thick fog that we could barely see each other, let alone the purportedly magnificent views.  Then the steep trail did a number on my knees on the way down.  The tendonitis got so severe that it felt like two pieces of rusty metal grinding against each other, and my knees have been touchy about long steep stretches ever since.


Colleen and Bob at the summit of Mt. Persis in 1986

So Persis has been in the back of my mind for 24 years. What fantastic views did I miss?  What if I went more slowly and carefully?  I consulted with Buck and he confirmed that we’ve been doing so well on our climbs lately that this would be a good time for a new assault.  In addition, it would be a great chance to try out my new Garmin 60Csx hand-held GPS.

The Garmin came in handy right away – at first I couldn’t find the trail because where the it leaves the parking area looks like a little avalanche area rather than a normal trail.  That should have clued me in as to what was coming.


The trailhead

I had read that the trail goes straight up without switchbacks, but what that actually meant didn’t really sink in.  Take a look at the slope on that “trail” in the picture.  It’s that way all the way up, steeper than stairs but paved with loose dirt and wet rocks and roots.

I figured, no sweat, we’ll just go slow and take it easy.  Even so it was work, and even Buck got tired – no excuse about being too hot for him this time, as it was only about 50 degrees.


Buck taking a rest.

That would have worked tolerably well except for an unexpected condition.  Clouds had been moving through the area and they left their calling card:  every leaf, every branch, every root and every rock were all coated with water.  Grab a branch or tree to help pull yourself up and you get a shower of water.  Make your way through the underbrush of an overgrown trail and you get all the water on your pants and your shoes and your pack and sometimes your face.


The overgrown trail with a gauntlet of wet brush to go through.

I was wearing jeans, and soon they were as soaked as if I’d been trudging into a driving rain.  Wet jeans complicates climbing a bit.  Because they stick to your skin, you often have to pull to unstick them when stepping up over a waist-high obstacle, which pretty much describes this whole trail.  I did have a plastic poncho in the pack for wet conditions, but no plastic rain pants.

Not wearing jeans, Buck was not quite as handicapped as I was and didn’t understand why I was lagging behind.


Buck waits patiently for me.

We climbed about 900 feet this way when we stopped to take stock of the situation.  Wet jeans.  Ridiculously steep trail.  Clouds disobeying the weather report that predicted they would pass on after early morning.  A voice in my head said “This isn’t fun.”  If not, why am I doing it?  Buck being his usual agreeable self didn’t complain when I told him plans had changed.  And thus I was defeated by a mountain once again.


The self-timer captures us at our turn-around spot.

Determined not to let the mountain get its revenge twice over by zapping my knees again, I lowered myself carefully and slowly down the slippery slope.  Not having any joint problems to worry about, Buck ran on ahead and once in a while waited for me to catch up.


Buck waits for me on the way down too.

This time the defeat is permanent, I think.  Mailbox Peak is similar and we had a similar experience there.  I never quite realized it before, but I really like switchbacks.  I like walking, not scrambling.  Scrambling a little ways at the top is one thing, scrambling for 3,000 feet of elevation gain is quite another.  No more mountain trails for us that have been blazed by people who think straight up is the way to go.

However, the Garmin GPS was a roaring success.  It helped me find the trailhead.  It got me back on the trail a couple of times.  There are a few side trails that go off to lookout points on the top of rock outcroppings.  You don’t realize you’re on the wrong trail until it ends on a narrow ledge and you’re staring down at an abyss hundreds of feet down on three sides.  After one or two of those it is reassuring to be able to look at a GPS screen and see that yes, you have strayed a quarter mile off course.  Without it you’d probably make your way back to where you took the wrong turn, but it’s still reassuring to see that little arrow moving inexorably back toward the little pink line that represents the trail.

Not our most fun outing, but we learned something:  switchbacks are good.


Back at the trailhead with wet pants, pack, and fur.

It’s Complicated

August 25, 2010

After two weeks so far, living with two dogs reminds me of the name of a very bad movie that I wasted a chunk of my life on not so long ago.

Walking is complicated.  We already had a six-foot leash and and a sixteen-foot extendable, so I tried those at first.  Holding both with one hand is awkward and they get tangled.  Hold with two hands and you can’t do anything else like control an MP3 player.  You can temporarily hold two leashes in one hand and get out the MP3 in the other, but try a one-handed earphone unwind and you get another tangle, or if you get the earbud into your ear, sooner or later one of the leashes will catch it and yank it out.

So I bought a double leash.  Four feet from the handle it branches into two two-foot sections, one to each dog.  This was easier.  Just one handle to hold and only two short sections to tangle.

DSC_0304 Walking Dogs on Double Leash

However, walking is still complicated.  The dogs’ interests and actions are not synchronized.  When you’re walking along with one dog and he wants to stop and sniff, you can let him do that.  With two dogs, you can stop if you want but the other dog blithely marches onward and gives the sniffer a good yank. Or vice versa, the threesome is moving at a good clip and suddenly one dog wants to go backward and check out some sweet-smelling road-kill.  Or one goes to the left of some signpost and one goes to the right and they stop rather abruptly two-feet beyond it.  Or better yet, after lagging behind slightly they decide to catch up and do to you what they did to the signpost. Or a squirrel runs across the road in front of you and you experience a two-dog-power shoulder-yank.  The Dog Whisperer TV show always shows Cesar Milan “walking” a team of about a dozen dogs all on leashes towing him on inline skates.  I always thought that might be a fun way to give my dogs some exercise, but now I suspect that was just a photo-op for which they cleared the area of squirrels, rabbits, and cats.

Training two dogs to heel at the same time is complicated.  I had only in the last month or so taught Buck how to heel.  He was doing pretty good, needing a yank back only once in a while.  But he’s forgetting.  Recently I took the two dogs out and for some reason wherever we went they acted as though a squirrel were running just ahead of them.  They were winning the tug-of-war, and I decided it was time some dual-dog heeling practice.  I grabbed the leash at the branch point and tried the way one trainer taught me:  every time they pull, you stop and make them wait a while.  Then you start up again and keep moving as long as they leave slack in the leash.  Repeat the process if they pull.  They’re supposed to get the idea that they only get what they want – forward progress — by leaving some slack in the leash.  Doesn’t work.  I would stop, hold for a minute or two until they stop straining, then move forward, and the instant I moved forward they’d be chasing that imaginary squirrel again.  So the forward progress was measured in feet per hour rather than miles per hour.  This was not fun.

Next, I tried the way another trainer advised.  I held them on my left, and every time they got a ways ahead I’d give them a quick yank to get them back even with me, then I’d let it go slack until they got ahead again.  This  gave me rather more of a left-arm workout than I really needed, and they still weren’t quite getting the message.  It’s true, the message was supposed to be conveyed to them by means of a “training collar,” aka choke chain, which I did not have.  And to their credit, the yanks were slightly less frequent toward the end of that not-very-fun walk.  Slightly.

Dog relationships turn out to be as complicated as human ones too.  At first the newcomer seemed to be accepted pretty well by the doggie king of the castle.  They even played well together, but there was an edge to their play.  They took turns mounting each other.  Constantly.  (I never knew that female dogs would do this; but then I was surprised that fixed males would do it.  I’d heard it was just a dominance thing, but I’d had my doubts.  No longer.)  We didn’t stop it even though it grossed out my 12-year-old daughter, because that, after all, is what dogs do.  But then one time it turned a little bit nasty.  We heard a squabble out back and one dog was getting the worst of it and was squealing in fear or pain.  I ran out and yelled at them and they broke it up, but Buck ran off to a corner of the yard with his tail between his legs, and no amount of coaxing would get him to come back.  I had to go out and put the leash on him to bring him back.  So then I was scared for poor Buck – what if Cookie were to attack and hurt him while the two were home alone?  That left me apprehensive to say the least the next day at work.

But they didn’t get into another spat.  They play now and then again but I don’t allow the mounting anymore.  Since then there has been the occasional slight growl when one intrudes on the other’s space, but otherwise they ignore each other most of the time and play on occasion.  I had thought of getting a second dog precisely to provide a playmate for Buck during his long hours alone during the day.  But this has not happened.  It turns out that they play now only when I take them on walks.  Perversely, they seem to want to do it only when one or both of them is on leash – just try to keep those lines untangled when two dogs are wrestling and flipping each other.

Traveling is complicated.  For years we had an extended-cab pickup.  It was fine in back for two small kids.  Then the kids got bigger and the back of the cab shrunk in size.  Then we added a big dog, and the back seat shrunk even more.  It was so tight that for a three-hour drive Buck would sit the whole time with his rump on the seat between Zoe and Tony and his front legs standing on the floor in front of the seat.  This spring we got a crew cab pickup (we need a truck to tow our trailer).  Now there was room for a dog to lie completely on the floor with two kids on the seat.  But add a second dog and that back seat area into squabble-engendering crampedness again.

We camp in a travel trailer.  It’s a good-sized trailer at 27 feet in length, but that too has dramatically shrink in size.  Four people and one big dog already experienced a lot of squeezing past and stepping over and bumping into and stepping on, but it was marginally manageable.  Add a second dog into the mix and suddenly the big trailer feels like a pup tent.  Because they move around so much it’s almost like having four dogs, two on the floor, one on the couch, and one on the bed at all times. And that’s during the summer when you don’t have to deal with wet dogs and muddy feet.

Also, at a campsite you don’t have a fenced yard or a dog door.  So you tie the dog to a long lead when they need to be outside but you’re not walking him.  With one dog that’s not so hard – we got a 40-foot cable and clip one end to the trailer and that’s it.  With two dogs, you can’t just clip them both to the trailer because they’ll get all tangled up.  I figured I’d solve that problem by getting one of those big screw things that drill into the ground to give you a tie-up spot for a long lead.  So I did that and got what they had for a long lead at the time – 30 feet long.  Then I’d keep them from getting tangled by putting that about 30 feet away from the reach of the trailer lead.  What didn’t occur to me is that this puts the second lead anchor about 70 feet away from the trailer.  Try doing that in the typical campsite or even the typical private lot.  And if the dogs need to go out early in the morning, and you want to just lean out in your jammies and grab the end of a lead and clip it on, you can only do that to one dog.

I knew that living with two dogs would have its ups and downs and maybe complicate life a bit, but I also figured that it would all be worthwhile to lighten the crushing boredom poor Buck has to endure on long workdays.  But the reality of this story is that now we have two crushingly bored dogs.  So anyone thinking of getting a second dog as a playmate might want to consider whether a professional dog walker or dog daycare or supply of Xbox games for dogs might be a better investment to solve this problem.

Or maybe the secret is to get three dogs?

And Cookie Makes Two

August 8, 2010

For a long time I’ve been feeling bad about Buck having to spend all day by himself with nothing to do.  Shepherding dogs are well known for being high-energy critters that are bred to work all day, not to mention that their highly intelligent minds need stimulating conversation and difficult puzzles to solve.

It has been so trying for me to see the sadness in Buck’s face when we get back from our morning walk and he knows he has a good 10 hours to sit around with nothing to do until some time after Daddy gets home from work. 😦

Those walks have been inexorably stretching out as a result.  The original intention was 30 minutes a morning, rain or shine or snow or hail or sleet or whatever.  That turned into 45 minutes every morning.  And lately it’s been close to an hour every morning.  I don’t begrudge him that as it’s a joy to walk him, but no matter how long we stay out there’s always the big sigh, dejected swallow or two, and crushingly bored look when we get home and he plops down in the living room.

Then I recently read this great book named Amazing Gracie about a deaf Great Dane and two guys who founded a dog treat company called Three Dog Bakery.   One of them had two dogs and the other had Gracie and they all lived in one house, and the guys somehow found time to work 12 hours a day while establishing this dog treat company while still keeping three dogs around.  Well, I try to get in lots of hours too between my work hours and my research and writing hours, so, I thought, maybe two dogs is doable without killing my attempts at being productive outside of work hours.

What would it hurt just to look?  Next thing you know my browser was pointing at and the screen zeroed in on a dog that looked like a perfect match – a border collie mix named Manny at the nearby Human Society shelter.  Saturday morning Karen and Zoe and I drove by there just to take a look.  Wouldn’t hurt to look, would it?

Like going to test drive a car “just to look.”  Who hasn’t done that and driven away unexpectedly with a new car?  I know that as much as anyone but shut it out of my mind.

Well, we get there and I look at Manny and he seems perfect and we ask if we can take her out and meet her and they say no.  He can’t go to a home with other dogs.  Not dog-friendly.

Meanwhile we’ve browsed the other canines in the shelter and there’s this calm German Shepherd mix about Buck’s size with big sad eyes looking up at his from his little bed.  Name is Cookie.  On their “canine-ality” sheet she is labeled a wall-flower and seems calm and friendly.  We decide to meet her and she’s quite friendly.  And her face and facial expressions bear an uncanny resemblance to Buck’s.  She practically begs us to take her home.

Having had a little forethought about how things might play out, we had brought Buck with us.  We introduce them and they play nicely together.

Not wanting to make a rash decision we might regret later, we decided not to adopt her immediately but we would put her “on hold.” That would at least let us sleep on it.  Then Tony too, my teenage son, wanted to take a look and we drove by.  He approved and now we had positive vibes from every family member.  Things were looking positive but we needed that night to sleep on it.

Then a friend called with two fantastic seats to Sunday’s Mariners game – 3rd row up from the third-base dugout.  That would take up much of Sunday, making a Sunday pickup of Cookie problematic.

Besides, we had waited when we got Buck and that had almost been a disaster.  We put him on hold and said we’d come get him after school ended in a couple weeks.  Then just two days before we were to pick him up I got a phone call.  “Buck’s had an accident.”  the voice in the phone said.  Two years ago and I remember the call, and what was said and where I was and what I was doing vividly.  He’d been injured, and although it wasn’t life-threatening, we didn’t think we were ready to adopt an injured puppy.  So they put the little guy up for adoption again.  A few days later we changed our minds.  We’d grown attached to that picture on PetFinder of the cream-colored puppy with a stick in his mouth.  But by then a woman was coming to look at him, we were told, and we had to wait to see if that woman would take him.  So we waited on pins and needles to see if we’d lost him.  Somehow that woman turned down the best dog in the world.  Must have been divine intervention.  And we said we’d take him, and the rest is history.

So perhaps rashness this time would be OK.  Besides, if things don’t work out, the shelter would always take her back, right?  It’s not like it’s an immediate life-long commitment with absolutely no way out.  Or that’s what I told myself, anyway.  So I drove back and picked her up. I did get “buyer’s remose” that evening as I walked the two dogs together.  So many things now become more problematic with two dogs than they were with one.  But she’s already worming her way into our hearts.  And they’re great playmates.

And that, I suppose is the end of this story and the beginning of another one.

Cookie and Buck enjoying meat-market bones.



Granite Mountain with Buck

July 21, 2010

Ever since we missed the cutoff and ended up at Pratt Lake, Buck and I have been wanting to finish the original job and trek to the summit of Granite Mountain.  Neither of us like crowds, though.  So we took a Wednesday afternoon to do it.

When we got to the cutoff this time it was easy to see why we missed it – if you didn’t notice the little sign you can hardly see the trail going off to the right.

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It was a warm day but not that hot – 75 degrees maybe.  But for those of us wearing thick Collie fur that’s pretty hot weather to be climbing a mountain. We had gained 1,700 feet of altitude (from 1,800 at the base to 3,500) when Buck had had enough and lay down in the middle of the trail.

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He’s taken time out for rests before, but this was different.  He was panting faster than I’d ever seen him before – I counted 250 shallow pants per minute.  I gave him some water, but that didn’t help much.

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(This dog water bottle, by the way is called the Gulpy and it is an incredibly intelligent design.  When the trough is folded back over the bottle the spout is automatically closed.  When you open the trough the water doesn’t just dribble out, you have to squeeze it – so you get just as much as you want.)

After 15 minutes a hiker came down and stopped to talk.  Buck often is the occasion for exchanges of pleasantries.  Practically ever other person we see feels compelled to say something like “Beautiful dog.”  I get lots of practice saying “Thank you” and by now I’ve got the line “Collie and Golden Retriever with some German Shepherd” pretty well memorized.

This hiker was a Korean-looking man with a big pack and two hiking poles. He’d been photographing flowers and had a pack full of photographic equipment.  Noticing the frantically panting dog, he mentioned seeing something like that on the Mason Lake trail. (The Mason Lake trail is near Bandera mountain and was in the news recently because a man fell to his death and his Corgi waited at his side for 24 hours until the rescue folks came).  On that trail this man had seen another dog who was suffering from heat exhaustion.  His owner was literally dragging him along by the leash trying to get him up to the lake.  The dog died.

This story didn’t exactly put my mind at ease, and I considered turning around.

Buck didn’t want to drink much but I tried another tack:  poured water all over him and rubbed it into his fur to try to cool him off.  Hard to say if it was effective, because it was another 15 minutes before he finally felt able to get up up and trudge on.  He seemed to want to go upward and onward rather than downward and backward, so on we went.  The same hiker said there was a pool fed by melting snow just 30 minutes up, so that was our next cool-off destination.

The trail pretty soon peeked out of the trees on occasion and offered vistas of I-90 far below and the mountains on the other side of it.

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An hour later Buck was getting hot again and we had to stop for several 15 minute panting breaks.  He would go off the trail into the bushes and dig out the ground a bit and lie down there.  The “30 minutes to the pool” dragged for more than an hour and things only got hotter because the sun beat down on us as we got out of the trees.

I was getting worried, as I had a limited supply of water and was using it up to keep his fur wet even though that didn’t seem to help.  Eventually we met a couple of hikers and they said the pool was just “100 or 200 yards” further.  Buck and I rejoiced and trudged on.  100 yards passed, then 200 yards, then 30 more minutes and no water.  Buck was slowing down and walking behind me now and I was getting more worried.  Then one time I looked behind me and he was gone – and for an instant I was possessed by sheer terror thinking perhaps he’d collapsed.  But no, he had stepped aside to say hello to a chipmunk.

Came across another hiker and he said no, there’s no pool at all, but a little trickle of running water.

At last we reached a creek and Buck got his feet wet, and a bit farther was the pool.  Buck is squeamish about water, but this was only 18 inches deep or so and I shoved him in so he got all of his legs and his belly soaked.

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It wasn’t long an heat worries were over, because we hit snow.  Lots of it.

It was right about here that I suddenly heard a very loud whistle.  I thought some hiker was using his whistle from his “ten essentials” pack to call for help.  It came again, very loud but obviously from a long distance away.  As we continued up there were more of them, and I realized these were the “whistlers” that Whistler BC was named after – rodents with remarkably powerful vocal cords.  Buck barked to entice them to come out of their holes in the rocks to play but was no more successful at that than he is enticing squirrels to come down out of trees.

Soon the snow was everywhere and some of it so steep you had to kick into it hard to create a step, and if you didn’t do that well enough you’d take an unplanned seat-of-the-pants sledding trip down the mountain.

The snow even made the trail hard to find in places.

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Finally the end was in sight – the fire lookout at the tippy top of the mountain.

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More snow and a a lot of big rocks later, we made it to the top and lounged for a while under the fire lookout.

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And enjoyed the views. (If you look hard enough you can Rainier in the first picture below.)

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Lots of flowers were blooming but I only took a picture of one kind … maybe more next time.

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So we had a great time, but I will be more careful with Mr. Collie-fur next time.  No hot-day mountain climbing.  A thorough brushing to remove as much undercoat as possible before warm-day mountain climbing.  Leave early in the morning before it gets hot.

The experience reminded me of how much I worry about him.  Relatively speaking, with human family members there isn’t usually that much to worry about.  Spouses and kids don’t get lost when they get free of the house or yard, and if they do get lost, they know how to tell people who they are and where they live.  Spouses and kids always look both ways before crossing busy roads, but if a door or gate is carelessly left open, and if the roaming dog that results gets to a busy road … well, the unthinkable could happen.

In about two and a half years, Buck has become a member of the family and it would be a disaster of incredible magnitude to lose him.

When I was twenty years old I had a cock-a-poo my mother had named Poochie Pooh.


When my parents and siblings all moved to the lower 48, Poochie Pooh was my the only family I had left.  Then one day he got out of the back yard and the unthinkable happened.  I remember dialing my parents’ number dozens of times to try to reach them. Finally my mother answered and I blurted out, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  She answered, “Did your house burn down?”  It seemed as though she didn’t at first understand my value system very well, but she caught on quickly.  I was so depressed and unable to come out of the depression that in a couple of weeks she flew up to Alaska from Seattle to help me out.

My scale of possible disasters is similar now to what it was then.  That makes me feel very vulnerable at times precisely because “the worse that could happen” is always a possibility with a dog in many more might-actually-happen ways that don’t really apply to human family members.