Dogs and Tents

We have decided to take two days to go backpacking.  It’s been a long time since we spent the night in backcountry.  We have chosen a pretty easy place to re-introduce ourselves and expose Tisen for the first time.  At least, we think it will be easy.  What’s 7 miles with 35 pounds on your back?

We have a checklist of things to pack for our dog:

  • Medications (the only one with no insurance is the only one on medication!)
  • Vitamins
  • Special food (because he has allergies, which led to the medication in the first place)
  • Insulated and padded sleeping roll for dogs
  • Collapsible water bowl
  • Water bottle
  • Wipes to remove poison ivy from his fur (for my protection, not his)
  • Super glue (in case he cuts a paw pad)

Given the list, it seemed logical to me that Tisen would carry some of his own stuff.  At least his own food and first aid items.  So, I had him fitted for his own backpack.  Pat vetoed the backpack idea.  He thinks Tisen will be sore from walking so much and doesn’t need to carry any extra weight.  He has a point.

Of course, once we agreed no backpack for Tisen, it was like he knew he wasn’t going to be carrying anything so he started adding to the pile of gear.  First Blue Dog appeared on the pile.  When I moved Blue Dog, Lion showed up.  Most recently, it was Duck.  I haven’t broken it to him that he’s not going to be able to bring any of them on the trail with him.

We have, however, had pre-camping lessons in the living room.  We wanted to see if Tisen would fit in the tent with us.  It’s going to be a tight fit, but if he lays parallel to us, we can put his sleeping mat under our mats (which are narrow at the feet) and he can lay between our sleeping bags.  As long as no one moves, it should be super comfortable.

We also practiced entering and exiting the tent.  We wanted to make sure Tisen would get in and out quickly so we don’t end up with a swarm of mosquitos cuddling up with us.  After a couple of practices, he was coming in and out like a trooper.

Next, I practiced getting up to heed the call of nature (which happens about 8x a night when I am camping just because it’s so inconvenient, I think) and leaving Tisen in the tent.  He did pretty well lying still while I got out and back in again.

I think we’re ready.  Now we just have to figure out how to stuff it all into our backpacks.

On a photography note, what’s really amazing about the shots in the gallery is that all but the first one were shot at 25,600 ISO.  The darker images have some grain, but they look better than the Canon 40D did at 800 ISO.  That’s pretty impressive.


Edward Point

As Tisen and I walked what we thought was the last 15 minutes to Edward Point, shadows raced across the forest floor like silent, dark ghosts.  I looked up to discover a half a dozen turkey vultures circling overhead.  Close overhead.  Too close.

Given we were hot, tired, and bleeding from numerous wounds from brambles, it was a little ominous to feel like they were so interested in us.

Fortunately, they soared further away as we approached, giving us a more breathing room.

As we looked around (well, I looked around, I don’t know what Tisen was doing exactly), I realized that the area must have had a fire in recent years.  The trees were charred in place.  The growth was thick and dense, but it was all wild flowers and sun-loving brush.  The bugs loved it.  I couldn’t seem to keep them off of me.  I saw bugs on me that I’d never seen before.  I stopped shooing and started swatting, leaving red hand-prints on my arms.  They went well with the bleeding scratches from the earlier brambles.

There is something disconcerting about hiking from relatively deep forest into bright meadows when a mountain is well below timberline.  You expect to come out into open spaces when hiking in Colorado, but here, it just seems wrong.  I found myself wondering when the forest had burned and whether that was normal here in the Eastern  US.

About 15 minutes after we’d found our way back to the Cumberland Trail, we encountered an overlook that faced the cliff on the other side of the gulch.  Directly across from us was a huge building that absolutely looked wrong.  There is nothing I resent more than when I spend hours making my way to a overlook in the “wilderness” only to discover I’m within a football field (or two) of a major development.  I found myself hoping this was not, in fact, Edward Point.

I googled Edward Point to see if I could tell.  Thankfully, I was able to determine that we were not there yet.  Now, I had a decision to face.  A 72-pound dog who is tired and hot and 45-year-old knees that are equally tired give one pause at moments like these.  Had it been me and only me, there would have been no hesitation–I was going to make it to Edward Point this time no matter what.  However, I’d lifted Tisen enough times on the way up to know I couldn’t carry him back.  I had to consider whether he could make it or not.

I decided to give it another 10 minutes.  I could see where we were along the gulf and it seemed like Edward Point, which overlooks the main river valley, had to be close.  I was so glad we’d stuck it out when we arrived at the overlook.  While Tisen took a nap in the shade, I took as many photos of the view as I could.

Lost Again

Tisen has a very specific way of cooling off in streams. He walks in, feels around with his feet until he finds the perfect spot, then he lays down.  I suspect it has something to do with his Holstein genes.

Having cooled off for several minutes and drunk his fill of water, Tisen recovered enough to tackle the uphill climb.

As we made our way of the far side of the gulch, the climb got steeper.  We were distracted by the amazing rock formations.  Perhaps this is why, when we got to the next junction in the trail, I decided we needed to head downhill rather than up.  This turned out to be a bad mistake.

We ended up on a trail that kept getting narrower and more overgrown.  Soon, we were walking through brambles that hooked themselves into bare skin, tearing flesh as I forced my way through.  Tisen was somewhat protected by his fur, but both of us looked like we’d taken a beating by the time we got to a clearer part of the trail.

The trail now tucked up against another rock bluff, looking more like a deer trail than a parks and recreation trail.  I should have turned around about a 1/4 mile in.  Have I mentioned I have issues with going backwards?

On the plus side, since nature was calling pretty loudly at this point, it was good that we were in an isolated area with plenty of underbrush so I could heed the call without fear of someone walking up on me.  On the minus side, there were so many enormous spider webs in the rocky bluff I was almost afraid to turn my back on them.

When we got around the bluff, we started bush-whacking uphill, hearing voices above us and thinking that must be the main trail.

This was tough going.

Not only were there more brambles and spider webs, but now there were more and more rocks to climb as well.  I was worried about Tisen getting a little more exercise than he could handle.

As we walked along the face of yet another rock bluff, we caught up with a couple with a child and two dogs.  I have no idea how they all got there, but there they were.  I asked them where we were and they assured me that we were just below the Cumberland Trail.  All we had to do was go straight up the rock face.

I found an entry point that I could climb, lifted all 72 pounds of Tisen up onto the rock at shoulder height and managed to convince him to stay up there while I used a tree to assist my own ascent.

Bush-whacking through another patch of brambles rewarded us with being back on the main trail.  The couple had said Edward Point was about 15 minutes away; had it been much further, I probably would have started heading home.


Sunday has become unofficial hiking day.  Of late, I seem to have fallen into a new routine.  Saturday, I recover from the previous 5 days of hiking, biking, rowing, and yoga.  I do this mostly by laying on the couch with the occasional interruption of taking Tisen for walks.

But Sunday, Sunday I hike.  And this past Sunday, Pat needed to work, so it was the perfect opportunity to make my second attempt at Edward Point.  This time, Tisen and I would start at 10:30 in the morning instead of 4:30 in the evening.  We were mentally prepared for a rather challenging 6 mile hike, up and down Signal Mountain, scrambling over rocks.

This was our fourth trip to the Signal Point overlook.  It’s an easy walk down a paved trail from the parking lot.  We spent 20 minutes covering the 100 yards from the parking lot to the overlook–there were lots of places to sniff.

But the overlook is it for the suburban park setting.  After stopping for a couple of quick shots, we headed to the Cumberland Trail.  Even with its manmade steps, it’s not an easy trail.  Many people make it the first half mile to a “natural” overlook point over the gully that our trail would wind its way around.  But it involves clamoring down steep and big steps, jumping onto rocks, and stepping carefully.  Tisen did an amazing job navigating all the obstacles.

Every time we go on a hike that starts out with an accessible view, I notice the drop off in population as you get further from the parking lot.  We were still on the most traveled part of the trail, but already we were down to only 2 other people who we didn’t see until we made it to the overlook point.

Before we’d rounded the first blind turn, a Pileated Woodpecker called from so close to where we were standing that I was sure I would look up and see it clinging to a tree.  As I searched for the shape of this giant woodpecker, it called again, sounding slightly further away.  I searched frantically, watching for shadows against the dark forest floor.  When it called a third time, the Doppler effect kicked in–I could hear it moving away from us as it called.  I was bummed.  I haven’t seen a Pileated Woodpecker in quite a while–I would have loved to have gotten a shot of it.

We continued our hike possibly in greater safety now that the woodpecker was gone–I have a tendency to forget I’m walking on the edge of a cliff when I’m searching for a bird.

When we stopped at the first natural overlook, Tisen was already panting hard.  I got out his portable water bowl and tried to coax him into drinking water.  Tisen stuck his elbow in the collapsible water bowl and stared at me, pink tongue lolling from his black-and-white mouth.


Late Sunday afternoon, I got the urge to hike.  Pat, however, did not.  He was in the middle of a project.  I started to settle back into the couch, but then thought, “I didn’t move to Chattanooga so I could sit on the couch.”

With a little surfing, I discovered there was a section of the Cumberland Trail on Signal mountain and it sounded awesome.

Based on the map scale and the “pinky measurement” technique I’ve developed (patent pending), I guestimated it was between 2 and 2.5 miles one way.

As we started down the trail, we passed a sign that said Edward’s Point Overlook was 2.9 miles away (there goes my patent!).  I resigned myself to the reality that we were not going to make it to Edward’s Point today.

We made our way down some treacherous steps and then some even more treacherous steps.  After about 20 minutes of walking, we made it to another overlook.  Black Vultures soared on a thermal, rising up over the mountain and disappearing on the other side.  I tried to get a shot, but they disappeared before I could even get my lens cap off.  I shot a boat down on the river below instead.

We kept on going, which might have been a mistake.  I had trouble getting Tisen to drink water.  He wouldn’t drink out of my hand and he shied away from a water stream.  I paused to find a depression in a rock he could drink from.

As we continued, we heard a waterfall.  I thought maybe water would be nearby, but each stream was just a damp mark on the side of the mountain.

I watched Tisen plow through poison ivy.  As much as I knew I should avoid touching him, I couldn’t help myself.  I suspect even my camera is now covered in poison ivy oil.

We’d made it about 200 yards past a frightening bridge when our time ran out.  With no photo ops since noticing a cluster of mushrooms high above us,  I was cursing every ounce I was carrying.

When we stopped again at the rock with the depression for more water, Tisen laid flat out on his side, head down, sides heaving.  I wasn’t sure he was going to get up again.  But, when I stood up, he popped up like he’d just been teasing me and even led the way up the steepest parts of the trail.  I was really impressed when he hopped up those scary steps full of energy.

We stopped at the overlook in the park one last time to shoot the Eastern sky.  The light was better, although the sun was still too high for shooting towards the West.

Hot, tired, and hungry, we headed back down the mountain to return home.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t relax right away–both Tisen and I required poison ivy detoxification.  Tisen does not much like baths, but he seemed to feel pretty good afterwards.  Or maybe it was after dinner?

Itching to Hike

Back when I was a Camp Fire Girl, I accepted a dare to roll in a patch of poison ivy. 24 hours later, I showed no reaction. Even three days later, there was nothing.
Fast forward about 15 years.

I was working in the garden at our first house, removing the crazy plants that had taken over in front of the house. I noticed about half way through that some of the vines I was attacking were poison ivy. I shrugged and thought, “Good thing I’ m not allergic.”

By the next day, I had a horrible itchy mess. A friend told me running hot water on it would help shorten the length of the reaction by stimulating the histamine response to happen faster (or something like that). I decided to try it. By the following morning, I had an enormous welt at least 5 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. It was oozing so much fluid, a stream was running down my arm.

Ever since, if I so much as see poison ivy (and perhaps more often, when I don’t) I end up breaking out. Thankfully, having learned a few things since then, not like that first time:
1) I watch out for it and avoid it as best as possible.
2) If I do come into contact, I wipe off with alcohol and wash thoroughly at the earliest possible moment.
3) I treat my clothes as hazardous and throw them into the wash in hot water immediately.
4) If I start to itch, I take an anti-histamine.
Above all, I do NOT run extremely hot water over the area!

As we picked our way along the Cumberland Trail last Sunday, all of these memories flooded into my head. The poison ivy grew so prolifically all along the trail, it was impossible to avoid contact. Even of I could have successfully cleared every leaf, vine, and stem, Tisen simply plowed right through it.

After all, Tisen doesn’t have to worry about being allergic to it. But dogs are great transferrers of poison ivy oils from plant to human. So, Tisen got treated like my toxic clothes and went straight into the tub when we got home. He was not very happy about his bath afterwards, as you can see from the last photos.

In spite of the poison ivy, the trail was beautiful. Because it was up high on a ridge, the wind blew through the trees almost constantly. The sound of wind blowing through trees always creates an inner stillness for me–even when I’m watching Tisen run through hundreds of poison ivy plants.
When a grove of older trees started creaking with an almost mechanical noise, I had to laugh–they sounded a lot like my knees.

After winding our way along the ridge listening to the woods being played by the wind like a strange instrument, we decided to head on back. After all, we had eight creaky knees reminding us not to overdo it.

Tennessee Hocking Hills

Hocking Hills is . . . An area? A collection of parks? A collection of hills? Perhaps all of the above. Whatever the name refers to, for me, it a part of growing up.

Something that my friends in Tennessee might not quite understand about growing up in Ohio is the experience of growing up where the land is flat. While Ohio has its river valleys, in Central Ohio, they tend to create long, slow slopes that are barely noticeable in a car.

The steeply angled streets of Chattanooga that climb, descend, and climb again seem as foreign to me as a river that flows North. When I was growing up, we had to drive somewhere to experience substantial hills and, more often than not, that somewhere was Hocking Hills.

Hocking Hills is about an hour or so South of Columbus. It marks the edge of a glacier that planed down the irregularities in the landscape to the North, leaving behind what was once plains and then forests and is now some of the flattest farmland around (except maybe for Kansas). But just beyond this geological boundary, the land rolls. The hills are high and cut deep by ancient rivers, leaving fascinating ravines with sandstone outcroppings and lush ferns.

It’s the kind of place that brings people from several states back over and over to experience in every season. In the spring and fall, it’s hard to find a parking place in any of the state parks if you get there after late morning. Flat landers rush to the hills in droves, seeking the experience of driving the winding roads as well as hiking the ravines.

On Sunday, Pat and I took Tisen for what may have been his first hike in the woods ever. We went to a section of the Cumberland Trail and picked our way through incredibly large and voracious looking poison ivy plants.

As we entered the woods, the bright sunlight dimmed under the trees and we had to blink, waiting for our eyes to adjust.

We started near the top of a large hill that would put Hocking Hills to shame and ascended several more times until we were walking along the very edge of the ridge line of the slope. As we worked our way along the ridge, the large outcroppings of stone protruding from the opposite side of the ridge immediately made me think of the kinds of formations we would see at Hocking Hills. It’s funny how you can hike to the top of a mountain and find only what you brought with you.

Tisen, having never seen Hocking Hills, cannot appreciate the similarity, but he appreciates being allowed to run ahead on the trail–something he could never be allowed to do in the crowds at Hocking Hills. Today, we are the only car parked at the trailhead and we neither see nor hear any other hikers on the trail. This solitude makes the walk that much more satisfying.