Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Decisions Go To The Dogs

I've been reading several blogs, with lively commentary, regarding the definition of Adventure.  Some say adventure is doing things you've never done before, others say the purest form of adventure involves giving up a "normal" life to hike across New Zealand or kayak the Nile or some other such extreme endeavor.  True adventurists scoff at guided tours and companies that capitalize on the human spirit by promising adventure while doing all the hard stuff for you.

I don't fit neatly into any of those categories.  Most of my adventures come about accidentally, and almost all of them involve my friend Debbie, who is not an adventurer at all.

Every year in October, Debbie and I go camping together.  At this point I can't even remember how this tradition started, but in the beginning I tried to ignite a passion for outdoor adventure in Debbie.  She gave it the old college try, but our annual trip has evolved into a few days of Debbie reading by the campfire and me restlessly prowling around the campsite.  Debbie knows how to relax and unwind; I do not.

This year I told her we would be camping in Petosky, Michigan, because Petosky is synonymous with shopping, restaurants, and luxury hotels.  I figured if she equated camping with Petosky, she would be more likely to enjoy the experience.  But camping is camping, and the Petosky State Park is a world away from the posh downtown area.  Throw in four straight days of torrential rain, and we had ourselves a true outdoor camping experience.  Sorry, Debbie.

By the third day, I was very restless, wanting to explore and hike and find myself immersed in nature.  Debbie and I had walked 25 feet away from our campsite to look for Petosky Stones on the beach.  But I found that foray into nature boring, so I left Debbie to go walk the dogs.

Because dogs are domesticated animals, they generally are not as adaptable as wild animals.  In other words, dogs are creatures of habit, and my big dog, Rooney, was having difficulty in this new environment with his digestive system.  To put it bluntly, he hadn't pooped.  In three days.  I was a little concerned.

Normally, when I take Rooney camping (which I do often), on our first morning in a new place I will walk Rooney until he picks a spot he likes to take care of business.  Every day for the remainder of the trip Rooney will go to that one spot each morning for his daily constitutional.  Even though there was a nice wide trail right behind our Petosky campsite, a 2 mile jaunt with plenty of weeds and underbrush, Rooney hadn't taken advantage of this perfect spot.  So after fifteen minutes of staring at the waters of Lake Michigan looking for that one special stone, I announced to Debbie that I was going to walk the dogs down the trail again, in the hopes that Rooney would find relief there.  I said to Debbie,

"I will be back in about 15 minutes."  Famous last words for someone who has a tendency to get lost in the woods.

As I walked the dogs down the familiar trail, Rooney pulled off on a side trail.  I thought maybe I should let him take the lead to find his spot where he was comfortable.  I left the decision of the direction of our hike to Rooney, thinking that we were in Petosky State Park; we couldn't possibly get lost.

We crossed the road that leads into the campground.  On the other side, the Yellow trail began and Rooney pulled ahead.  Had it not been such a pretty trail, perhaps I would have paid closer attention to the trail markings.  But at the first juncture I simply followed Rooney, and it wasn't until much later that I realized the yellow marker was in the shape of a diamond.  A DIAMOND.  For you non-hikers out there, that means the highest level of difficulty.

We climbed a very steep hill.  We went down another steep hill.  Then we plodded up a steeper hill, with the rain turning the loose soil to mud and the wet trees I had to use to pull myself up the hill were slippery to grasp.  I won't tell you that I slid back down a few times on my knees, because in my mind that didn't happen.  The dogs and I labored up and struggled down.  Finally, we reached a high ridge and I thought the trail had to be almost back to the campground.  But then, in a break through the trees, I saw something that made my heart drop into my stomach.

Earlier in the day, Debbie had wanted to visit a French antiques shop in Petosky.  We drove 2 miles down the State Park road, and another 5 miles on the highway to get to this shop.  Across the street was a four-story brick building that had been converted into a pub.  From the top of the ridge I was now standing on, I was looking down on the roof of the four-story pub.  I was 7 miles from my campsite!

I hadn't planned on this hike.  I had no water, no food, and no cell phone (not that it would have worked in the deep woods anyway).  I didn't even have a camera to capture the amazing beauty around me.  I debated about whether to turn back and re-trace my steps, or keep going.  Because the demon hills I was traversing were on a more direct route to the campground than the road, I decided to keep going ahead thinking it would be the shorter way to go.  We forged on, down and up, sideways, upside down once, looking for any sign of the end of this trail from hell.  After a particularly slippery slide down one ridge, I looked up to see a trail marker pointing to the easy yellow trail, and the campground.  I almost wept with relief.

We still had another mile to go to connect back to the original trail.  As the dogs and I plodded down the wide flat trail, thirsty and tired and soaking wet, I was anxious to get back and let Debbie know we were ok.  She must be worried sick!  I had no idea what time it was, or how long we had been gone, but it was much longer than the fifteen minutes I had told her.  I hoped she hadn't informed the ranger we were missing.  Oh geez, what if they were out searching for us?  Debbie must be frantic!

We literally ran the last 1/4 mile, I was so worried.  As we burst into the campsite, Debbie looked up from her chair and the book she was reading, cozy with a blanket, sitting by the fire that was still burning despite the rain because I had set an awning up over it, a glass of wine at her side, and she said,

"Oh.  Did you go out again?  I thought you were napping."

What?  We were missing for three hours and she didn't even know?  She thought I was napping?

With a certain amount of indignation, I told Debbie what had happened.  I also pointed out that if I were ever to get lost for real I guess I couldn't count on her to raise the calvary.  I sat in my chair to pout, drinking a gallon of water, when Rooney stood up, walked a few steps from the fire, and pooped in the campsite.  He found his spot.

It was a mini adventure, but an adventure nonetheless.  The terrain was difficult, I wasn't sure where I was, and no one else knew where I was either.  After consulting the trail map later, I discovered that I had only hiked about 3 miles total, not the 14 miles that it felt like, but with the level of difficulty I had a pretty good hike.  I saw beautiful scenery deep in the woods, and it was all good.

I don't seek adventure.  It usually finds me when I am least prepared for it.  Spending as much time as I do outdoors, it is bound to happen.  When I leave decisions to the dogs, it is a given that an adventure awaits.  But I like it that way.  Sometimes when I plan an adventure, it falls short of the vision I had in my mind, but when adventure happens accidentally, I have a story to tell and fond memories to keep.  Maybe that's the true spirit of adventure, just going out and seeing what happens.

The dogs were exhausted that night and slept deeply, as did I.  As for Debbie, she suffered a restless night of tossing and turning, feeling deep guilt over my struggles while she sat cozy by the fire, not noticing I was missing.  At least that's the way the story goes when I tell it.