Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Risky Business

I couldn't take it anymore. I haven't been able to get out for a high-altitude hike with Kona this week, so I took her to our foxtail-infested ridge. I think both Kona and I have been antsy from missing our daily trail time and the extra nervous energy piled too high. Off we went.

Running with Kona on these fireroads wouldn't be risky if she wasn't a pouncer. The trail is wide enough to steer clear of stickers, but Kona can't resist the rabbits and I can't hold her on a short lead. Luckily, I have a new leash that's shorter than Kona's regular line to help limit her range.

The folks at CanaDog found my post about Kona's canicross kit and sent me their new 3-in-1 leash to try out for free. This new line is made out of webbing, instead of rope, so it's easier to hold. It's working well for us because it's only 4 feet long (plus the bungee) which turns out to be the perfect length for me to keep Kona away from the sides of the trail but still keep her attached to my waist. This has required some funny running from me, including quick, sideways dashes to deflect potential pounces, but it keeps my arms happy.

It felt good to move in the overcast morning. June Gloom pushes the marine layer inland this time of year, keeping morning temps down and the sun covered. Despite the cool air, summer surrounded us. All of winter's green has dried. Even the mustard is on its last leg.
Kona was less than thrilled about my bizarre running and squeaking every time she neared the side of the trail, but I don't think I stressed her too much. We stopped at our turn-around point to practice some obedience. Kona had trouble focusing, but gave me a few sits and took her treats. She was much more interested in the ridge above us.

On the final stretch to the car, a row of mustard stood in the middle of the trail, free of foxtails and fair game for sniffing. Kona didn't waste any time.
It was perhaps a risky run, but it was fun to move on our home turf.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Weekend Writeup

Kona finished her level 3 nose work class last weekend. Her class ended the series with an Odor Recognition Test. The ORT is required for dogs to compete and checks to be sure they recognize the target odor. It's overseen by an official judge.

The test itself is really simple. It's a box drill and the dogs have three minutes to find the odor. It's a blind search for the handlers, so we have to know our dogs well enough to recognize when they find the odor since most of the dogs don't have an official alert at this point.

Kona didn't pass. She was the only dog who didn't. She wasn't able to focus. Though I can sometimes help remind her of what she's doing, no luck this time. I was bummed about it, mostly because I hate taking her to class only to see her stressed out. I also really thought she would pass and was looking forward to an official recognition that Kona and I had accomplished something. I know Kona and I are always accomplishing things, but in the moment it was hard to remind myself of that.

What went wrong? The environment changed. Instead of the human classmates being inside with us, they were all outside. She didn't know the judge and timekeeper, but I don't think they scared her, I think she just didn't put them together with searching.

I did get the affirmation that I read Kona well. She was able to engage her nose a number of times and even paid special attention to a couple boxes, but I knew she was just sniffing and not searching. I thought it was cool to recognize the difference. It was also a good reminder for me that I go to classes with the goal for Kona to have fun in a different environment, with the greater goal of increasing her confidence. I need to be more focused from here on out to cater the class exercises to help Kona relax and have fun.

It was another learning weekend. We'll be back in the level 4 class in a couple weeks!

Here's a Nose Work video if you want to see some dogs at work. The clips of the dogs searching the rows of boxes is the box drill.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Welcoming Summer

Kona and I celebrated the Summer Solstice by hitting the trails. I hoped to make it to the high peak we didn't summit two weeks ago. The temperatures were cooler this morning, so I felt good about pushing further. We said goodbye to the marine layer-covered city below.
My sniffer dog was on duty.
With Kona attached to my waist, I have to pay attention because I never know when she might find something worthy of a big leap.
With one eye on the trail and the other on Kona, I had to remind myself to look up. I stopped to check out the ridge we would have to cross.
Before becoming too worried about the distance we needed to travel, we stopped at an old ski hut to rest. Well, I rested and Kona made sure the coast was clear before we left.
As we gained elevation and time passed, the sun awoke the lizards.
Kona was too focused to notice the amazing surroundings. (I first wanted to caption this photo with, "She wanted to mangle the lizard like an avalanche mangled the tree," but thought that was kind of morbid and Kona's too cute for that, even if that was her intention.)
We finally made it to the ridge, which unfortunately wasn't as close to the summit as I thought, but the view wasn't bad.
While I felt fatigued by the altitude, Kona was thrilled by the small alpine shrubs that might as well been lizard motels.
When we--finally!!--reached the peak, I asked Kona to sit by the summit marker. We had a communication lapse and she ended up on top of the marker. Kona sat on our summit!
It was windy and cold at the peak, so we didn't stick around long, but I enjoyed our vantage point. Someone forgot to tell the ice patches that today's summer.
I thought about signing the summit log before we left, but Kona had a different idea. "Kona was here."
I made a strong attempt to jog our descent. Translation: I spent a good amount of time sliding on my butt. All the same, we made it down much quicker than we hiked up. We made one stop for Kona to take her fill of water.
And that is how we welcomed Summer. Happy Solstice everyone.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Enjoying the Last Days of Spring

Jacaranda Tree begins to shed its flowers.

Kona relaxes in the late-afternoon sun.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Our Hike in. . .Pictures!

We went to the same high canyon we explored two weeks ago.

Yucca showed off a tree-sized bloom.
We stopped early by the creek to let Kona drink.
Back on the trail, Kona tried to set the pace.
She stopped in her tracks when she spotted, you guessed it, a squirrel.

The creek kept us company as it bubbled into pools before moving down canyon.

Kona detoured to explore the ruins of an old cabin. I marveled at the river rock construction.

I also stood amazed at the force of nature.
Kona didn't do much standing. Her nose was hard at work.
Water spilled over the trail to the creek below, reminding me of the Pacific Northwest, if only for a few meters of trail.
Kona looked back at her lingering human.
As we gained elevation, I watched the sun slowly work into the canyon.
Though we hiked at a steady pace, our destination on the ridge above felt a mile (straight up) away.
Seconds from the top, Kona spotted a chipmunk,
but quickly lost sight of it.
With potential prey up a tree, I was able to coax Kona to our saddle.
The fun continued on our descent. First there were lizards
Next came the chipmunk.
We made one final stop by a pool before heading to the car.
It was another great morning with my Kona Girl.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Uphill Deer and Downhill Lizards

We were back to our high trails to start the week out right. I decided to head to a trail I've been on a handfull of times, but have never taken Kona. It was only a few miles from the trail we explored last week, but it was a few swerving miles. You should have seen my freeway driving skills try to handle the hairpin turns. The speed limit was 10 mph, so you bet I was flooring it at 7. Scary mountain roads. . .

We arrived without a problem. Kona hopped out of her crate on full alert. Thankfully, there wasn't munch around to keep her worried. We headed up the fireroad that would eventually lead us to our trailhead. I took a detour down a small trail to take Kona to the creek to rehydrate. The creekbed sat at the bottom of a streaming waterfall. The water flowed down the canyon walls over several levels, creating a perilous water slide.

Back on the main trail, we pushed uphill and nearly missed the turnoff for our trailhead. The steep single track blended into the rocky fireroad. Although a popular peak trail, the first several meters switchback up a scree slope that refuses to pack down into a trail. My heart rate immediately skyrocketed. I shook my head in amazement of Kona, who impatiently pulled on her line to yank me up the hill.

We soon arrived at the trail log book. Unlike summit logs, which celebrate a hiker's success, trail logs seem to forebode the mishap, the tragedy. You write down your name to confirm you went up, in case you don't come down. I hesitantly picked up the pen, as if writing my own curse.

6/7/2010 7:30 am AC and Kona

And we were off. About 10 minutes into our hike, Kona glued her nose to the ground and lifted it only for seconds at a time for our entire ascent. With my novice tracking skills, it took me awhile to find the deer tracks that Kona followed. I'm amazed at her focus when it comes to deer.

I was glad to have Kona's company (and help, as she tugged me uphill). The trail was the kind of steep that keeps you from looking around. My thighs took up too much oxygen and left no energy for me to keep my head up. I kept asking, "Wait, why is this fun?" But 30 minutes in and my body started to relax. I stopped to look around the uninviting, but somehow beautiful, terrain. All around me, trees sat sideways, perhaps toppled over by snow or rain. Dead yucca sat with dried out blooms, dotting the canyons with erect skeletons. Up narrow draws, patches of thick ice resisted the intense sun, feeding wildflowers, and perhaps Kona's deer.

After a long hour climb, we reached our turning point. I decided early on that we wouldn't go to the summit. It was hot and we had reached treeline, so the trail to the peak would provide little shade for the heaving Kona. I stopped to snack. Kona found a lizard to stalk. She seemed annoyed that the little reptile wouldn't come out of its hiding spot between two granite rocks. I urged her away from the lizard, but the theme of our descent had begun.

While Kona used her nose for the uphill, she was all eyes downhill. The sun was out for perfect lizard weather. Anything moving was worth pouncing. If I caught her in time, a firm "leave it" kept her from yanking me downhill. Thankfully, the lizards served mostly as a good distraction from the several parties we met on our hike out.

Back at the car, I felt satisfyingly tired, but had a twinge of disappointment for not making it to the summit. We'll just have to go back.

Side notes:
Some of you have asked about foxtail season and (perhaps jokingly) about foxtail masks. I think the worst of foxtail season is between June and July. Unfortunately, even when the stickers begin falling off, they're still a hazard for Kona, who tends to glue her nose to the ground. I'm really not sure when they'll have fallen off and blown away. I'll do some solo scouting to check out our local trails later in the season.

I seriously thought about making Kona a foxtail mask. I was going to buy a mesh muzzle (the kind that lets the dog keep its mouth open) and line it with a doctor's mask. I think this would work, but I was concerned about how covering Kona's mouth might affect her ability to dissipate heat. Also, I really don't think Kona could handle a mask. She still freezes every time I put her harness on.

A question for all who take their dogs on long excursions: Does anyone set a mileage limit for their dogs? I want to take Kona up some of these peaks, but don't want to overdue it. I Know so much depends on weather, terrain, etc., but was curious if anyone sets a rule-of-thumb limit.

Daily Kona: Girl on a Mission

Friday, June 4, 2010

Staying Flexible

I've had a tough week. Kona and I have a choreographed morning routine. Skipping it this week to stay away from foxtails has been hard for me. Because Kona is sensitive in the afternoons and evenings and often needs more space, mornings with a wiggle-butt goofy trail dog are special. I'm missing my Kona trail time.

On another personal note, my "tendinitis" (In quotation marks because I know it's something else, but need to work through some insurance nuts and bolts before I can see a rheumatologist) has not been happy with my decreased activity level. I didn't realize how much my trail runs helped me. The joints in my arms and neck have caused me more problems this week, which worries me.

Trying to get Kona out of the house this week has also served as a reminder of how many fears she still has. Neighborhood walks have been short and a trip to a park this morning left Kona shaking. Kona just can't handle normal neighborhood activity and there are times when that just sucks.

So now that I've depressed everyone, it's time for a pick-me-up. After nearly bursting into tears when we got home from our failed park outing, I decided I needed a plan and an attitude adjustment.

I'm going to get to explore high mountain trails with my trail dog this summer. I already explored an incredible canyon this week. I thought I could make it out to our mountain trails only once a week, but I'm going to make it out there twice. On the in-between days, I'm staying flexible with how to exercise my athletic canine. It's OK if she doesn't get out of the house. I'm not a horrible handler if I milk her obsession with water. She can chase the hose to burn off steam. As for me, I can hit the streets to get my run.

And for a daily dose of Kona. . .

We'll find our happy moments, on or off trail.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Successful Plan

I researched all the grasses that dry into stickers in our area and found only one that grows at over 5,000 ft. So the plan was to drive to higher trails.

At first, it seemed like a great idea. I remembered the area that I wanted to explore was only a half hour drive from home. I could justify that drive. I soon discovered that the half hour I remembered was the drive on the freeway, but I also needed to get up the mountain. Nearly an hour after we left home, Kona and I pulled up to the trailhead.

What was the first thing I noticed? Yep, foxtails. Nooooo!! I decided we drove too far to not hike. I did a little investigating and noticed that the grass wasn't completely dry, so felt better. After noticing the foxtails, I noticed the air. Fresh mountain air. I felt like I was at summer camp in the mountains. I instantly forgot about the stickers and leashed Kona to get moving.

The plan was to follow a canyon up to the nearest saddle that stood at 7500 ft. The elevation at the trailhead was somewhere around 4500 ft. I immediately decided that my sea-level lungs were not up for a run. We would hike.

Kona had spent much of the drive whining and panting, so at the first chance I found, I took her down to the creek to get some water. Oh how I wish I could show you pictures! The creek bubbled and burst around rocks and over ledges, creating waterfalls of all sizes as it flowed down the canyon. I was one happy girl.

Kona took her spot up front and we hiked as fast as my lungs would permit. About 20 minutes in, the foxtails disappeared. My plan worked! It felt good to be able to enjoy the trail and not worry about protecting Kona's snout.

And there was so much to enjoy! The canyon walls stood steep with scree and pines. The rocky landscape reminded me of the sierras. Yuccas boasted towering blooms of pale yellow flowers. For Kona, there were squirrels. Big, bushy, grey squirrels. Not the wimpy city variety. She also met a new creature: chipmunks! She thought those were fun. Thankfully, she seemed to keep her wits enough to not chase them down the scree slopes.

As we neared the saddle, I saw something I haven't seen in four years. Snow! A week ago, the saddle sat covered in snow. Today, I had to push a few extra yards uptrail to find a few patches of slushy white stuff. Kona immediately started digging in our small snow patch. She was less thrilled about the slushballs I threw her way.

While I ate some trailmix, I noticed Kona freeze. She lifted a paw and watched the trail leading up to a nearby peak. Down the trail came a trail runner. He was coming from one peak and heading in the direction of three others. His shorts and shirt stood in contrast to my full-fleece ensemble. It was nice to have company, if only for a few seconds. Kona pulled on her leash in his direction. I watched as he vanished from sight, running towards snow-capped peaks. Maybe next time Kona Girl.