Monday, July 23, 2012

Seize your day

As much as I am a morning person, there are those moments between waking up and being up that I want nothing more than to not get up.

This morning, it was after a few grumbles that I hoisted myself out of bed, shuffling my inflamed feet to Kona's crate.  Kona poked me with her nose as I stretched on the floor next to her.  With a few more grunts, I remember what I woke up for.  It was morning, a new day, a new chance to seize the day.

It was a week ago today that we learned of a friend's crossing.  K was a kindred mountain spirit.  I treasured reading about her adventures with her humans, KB and the Runner, and her Labrabro, R.  Her passing has been grieved by the blogging community, though it is her life and spirit that we will all carry longer still.

Kona and I trotted into the morning.  The air held a crispness unusual for Summer that eased my legs and lungs into the day's run.  Clouds dotted the sky in pastel designs and I couldn't help but smile.

As we approached a series of steep climbs, a breeze kicked up at our backs.  Kona peered back at me.  We took off up the first hill.  I turned my feet over like I was running over hot coals, swinging my arms to propel me upwards.  Kona's trot turned into a gallop.  At the top of the first hill, my legs burned like wasabi, and all I could do was smile.  We sprinted up the second hill, then the third.  At the top of the last climb, I slumped over into a full tripod, gasping for air and begging for mercy from the acid that churned in my legs.  Kona looked over at me.  Her tongue hung out of her mouth and her eyes sparkled with glee.  The breeze kicked over our backs and I smiled again, thanking K for her reminder to seize the moment. 

It's in the wake of loss and tragedy that we remember to hold dear the things we love.  But seizing the day isn't about remembering to hold tight to what we find precious, it's about recognizing all that is precious in front of us.

In the spirit of K, find your precious, seize your day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Feelin' hot, hot, hot

It was a toasty day here in the Southland.  Hope everyone is finding ways to stay cool this Summer.  Kona has her preference!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

While we've been away: Up, up, and up

I felt Spring's countdown and knew it was time to tackle our local high peak.  Kona has joined me on pieces of this trail, but we'd never gone higher than the halfway point.  We wouldn't make it to the peak on this day, but the plan was to get close.

We started up the trail with a marine layer to keep the sun off the exposed trail. 


The first mile and a half was steep, and filled with morning exercisers.  I reminded myself that the trail would empty soon.  Kona took the stream of people in stride, perhaps better than myself.  I took my mind off my burning lung by inhaling deep whiffs of clouds.

Despite several relentless climbs, the trail offered short stretches of downhill.  My legs took the breaks in effort with glee, through I reminded myself that these stretches would be uphill on the way home.

We slowly climbed out of the lower canyons, meeting the sun in a canopy of oaks and sycamores.  The trees kept me cool and housed Kona's friend, Grey Squirrel.

The next mile climbed gently, making me wonder how the trail could gain 5,000 feet before the summit.  I enjoyed taking my focus off my legs to take in the sights. 

Just as I became relaxed with the easy terrain, the trail shot skyward.  Kona, ever the athlete, kept her pace, pulling me up toward the ridgeline.  It wasn't long before the rock elves began grabbing my toes.  After toe stubs turned into a slow motion face plant, I gave in.  I turned in my steady shuffle for  a fast hike, then a hike.  Yes, a hike was just fine.  

We reached our trail junction and turn around point.  We were only about a mile from the peak, but we were out of time.  My hip flexors were okay with that.  

I found a tree stump to perch on while Kona kept tabs on the forest below us.  I said good morning to the city below us, still draped in clouds.  Kona looked my way, letting me know it was time to get moving.  I obliged.  Down the trail we ran, keeping careful eye out for squirrels and rock elves.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

While we've been away

While it's breezy and cool here in the shade at 5PM, I'm still convinced that Summer is in full swing.  I've had late afternoons that required full sprawl under the fan on the wood floors because that's what Summer does.  

Before all our hillsides turned to crisp and the mornings became boldly toasty for long outings, Kona and I were sure to hit our local forests.  We bid Spring adieu on some trail running adventures.

Kona knows how to take best advantage of my photo breaks.

On this particular morning, we hustled past our local peak, heading further North toward a distant ridge.  Our early efforts were rewarded as the sun hadn't reached our treeless trail.

After zigging up switchbacks, and resorting to ever slower shuffling, we reached the ridge.  It's hard to see from the light contrast in the picture below, but Kona and I looked down into the moonscape of an old burn area.  This section of forest burned during the Station Fire in 2009.

Really, I looked into the moonscape.  Kona was too busy catching the whiff of her favorite forest dweller.  Sure enough, we rounded a corned just as three doe bounded up the steep slopes.  Kona insisted that I lost Good Human Points for not letting her follow suit.

 After convincing Kona that there was more to life than deer (Kona edit: there was no convincing) we rounded the trail into the South-facing forest.  The sky-stretching pines made a sharp contrast to the chaparral that accompanied our climb. 

I was relieved when we made it off the forest trail, rejoining a fireroad that gave us views of the open, chaparral slope below.  Growing up around sagebrush, adventuring on granite fields in the Sierras and mesas in the high desert, leaves me claustrophobic in forests.

I trotted behind Kona on our open trail.  In was hard to believe that during the Winter, we slugged along the same trail, covered in snow.

The descent home offered views of forest spared from the fires three years ago.   Kona and I shared the end of Spring, marveling at the contrasts of nature.  We'd be sure to enjoy our forest again, before Summer caught up with us.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gusty Peak Run

The day a storm clears is the day to be outside in Los Angeles. Rain and wind clear the skies, sharpen colors, and show off the landscape from sea to mountain peaks.

Kona and I hit the trailhead just before dawn to get a jump on our post-storm run. Three lights glided across the trail, several switchbacks above us. I could tell from the smooth movement that cyclist were up ahead. I welcomed their presence to scare away the pre-sun spookies and enjoyed the changing light.
The chill in the air numbed my fingers and stung my nose, sensations you fully appreciate living in always toasty Southern California.

As we rounded a switchback, Kona froze. I jumped as a man suddenly appeared around the bend of the trail. I looked for a spot to give Kona space from the hiker. As we stumbled to find a safe place the man asked if Kona was friendly.

"Not really," I replied.

I've found this answer to be effective in making strangers give my girl the space she needs. "She's not aggressive, but fearful, and you're a back-lit, hooded, big man," just doesn't seem to work.
Though spooked by the back-lit, big man, Kona recovered quickly, inviting me to take the path of the animals.
Back on the human trail, the sky put on a show as we shuffled along.
I wished the uneven terrain didn't require my attention, knowing I was missing the quickly changing morning.
As we zigzagged up the trail, the steady breeze picked up to a forceful wind. When we reached our peak, a gust took off through the small grove of pines like a fighter jet. I ducked reflexively, certain the invisible plane would crash land on our path.

We made a stop at our vista point where I always take a picture of Kona. You can tell from her expression what she thought of the high winds.
As we darted past the tree grove to start our descent, we ran into a hiker we see often on the trail. The white-haired man greeted us, nearly shouting to be heard above the wind.

As we headed back down the trail, I pulled off the breaks, told my legs to behave, and let gravity work magic. Kona and I bounced off rocks, shimmied around switchbacks, and paused briefly, because the views were still spectacular.
As we flew down the trail, I looked down at Kona, her tail high and tongue hanging, and remembered what our fellow hiker shouted at our peak.

"Your dog must really like it out here."

Yes. Yes she does. And I do too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring's Winter Gift

Entering the Spring season, we were just above 50% normal rainfall for this time of year. Although we'd be hard pressed to make up all that lost water before Summer, late storms have brought some relief before the Baking Season.
Our last storm also left me a special treat. . .snowy foothills!

It was a morning to take our time and enjoy.

These snow-dustings last only until the afternoon sun hits the South facing slopes.
Our hills will soon change from green to golden-brown.
That's a happy Kona tail!
I hope everyone is enjoying their own springtime.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


We arrived home at 2PM after our overnight backpacking trip. Kona flopped in her bed at 2:30PM. I had to wake her up for dinner and she didn't budge after eating until morning.

The tortured soul. . .

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The 21 Hour Experiment: Part 2

Adrenaline jolted me from my semi-conscious state. Kona sat by the tent door, inhaling so intensely, air rushed through her nostrils in what sounded like a rumbling growl, not an exhale. She trembled. Adrenaline didn't let me consider the cold. Surely, she quaked in fear at whatever prowled outside our nylon fortress.

And so the night continued. I stayed somewhere between dream-state and battle mode, wondering what shot Kona to attention this time, then trying to cover her trembling body when she finally settled again.

We stayed hunkered down until enough light crept into our basin to scare away the boogiemen. When I crawled out of our tent, spinningly tired, I saw the ice. It covered our tent and hardened the sand floor. A friend's thermometer confirmed it dropped into the 20's overnight. There was only one thing to do while we waited for the sun to reach us, we walked. Quickly.
With the long night behind us, I laughed at how a hypervigilent dog does not make for a reassuring campmate. Ignorance is bliss while you sleep in Bear Creek Camp.
I also felt terrible about not considering how cold Kona might be. The weather forecast called for temperatures only in the low forties, but I hadn't considered that our camp fell in a low basin that sucked in cold like an ice queen. Thankfully, so long as we stayed in motion that morning, Kona stopped shivering. I paused briefly to watch the moon's reflection below us.
Despite the long night and long day that proceeded it, Kona still could not settle once we were back at camp. We was a happy dog, so long as she could explore.
My attempt to eat breakfast was humorous with Kona yanking and whining, so we called it a day. Instead of heading home at sunset, we started down the trail mid morning, leaving the group behind us. After the stress of trying to manage Kona in a new setting and around new people, it was a relief to be out on our own, doing what we know how to do. I waved goodbye as we took off briskly down the path.
Whatever stress Kona felt from our undertaking melted instantly under the power of lizards. She hunted and sniffed and pounced like a regular Kona Dog. The settling solitude passed too quickly. At noon, we were back at the trailhead, our 21 hour adventure complete.
As I drove the winding road toward home, hips aching and eyelids heavy, I daydreamed of our next camping trip. Open space and night skies have a way of getting to you. In the meantime, we have some work to do. . .

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The 21 Hour Experiment

I felt Kona shiver violently. I unzipped my sleeping bag and shuffled through my backpack in the darkness. I pulled out my extra base layer and fleece pants that I didn't need in my -5 degree sleeping bag. I awkwardly wrapped the shirt and pants around Kona's quaking body and curled up next to her. I stayed awake, worrying I would freeze my dog on our first backpacking adventure.

We arrived at the trailhead in the Los Padres National Forest at 3PM earlier that afternoon. I originally planned to join a group of friends for an overnight backpacking trip without Kona. But, when the group's numbers dropped from the double digits to 7, I filled a bag with kibble, grabbed a (thin) fleece mat for Kona to sleep on, and loaded my pup in the car. Two hours of nervous panting later, we were on the trail.
Choosing new experiences for a fearful dog poses a challenge. Do too much and your dog may backslide, get too comfortable in your routine and she doesn't make progress. Kona and I have reached a progress point that I'm comfortable with. Her life is very much managed and much more limited compared with more confident dogs, but she still gets ample opportunity to do what she enjoys, namely, romping in the great outdoors.
Still, I'd often dream about taking Kona camping and backpacking. As we started down the trail at 3 o'clock, I reassured myself the our overnight trip was a perfectly balanced challenge. Kona was already comfortable on the trail. She's shown that she can hang out with strangers, so long as they give her space. That only left us with two challenges, hang out in camp and sleep overnight in a tent.
The group had a head start, so Kona and I hiked the five miles to camp alone. The rolling hills and river offered a contrast to the steep slopes and narrow creeks of our home range.
I was happy to discover that the extra weight of my backpack actually gave me more stability as Kona pulled ahead on her line and did other things, like pouncing lizards.
Kona was herself, I was steady on my feet, we were off to a good start. Then, we arrived in camp.

I quickly learned just how little Kona knows about relaxing in a place other than home. As a friend put it, she's use to going out on the trail and going home, not staying. Each time I tried to stand in place to talk to someone, Kona whined and yanked on her leash. When yanking in one direction didn't work, she yanked in another direction. I thought maybe, just maybe, she'll settle in in an hour. To burn some energy and help her adjust, we explored the area around our campsite.
I was happy to see Kona accepted her new company (after very clear "ignore her" directions from me). She also helped herself to sticks from our firewood pile and played a game of keep away with me. Unfortunately, the whining and yanking never stopped. Tired of needing to be in constant motion, we retired to our tent just after sundown.
As the sky grew darker, the temperature began dropping. . .