Take a hike! Bring a friend
ADDISON COUNTY — The fall, for my family, has always been synonymous with hiking. With its blazing foliage, rustic trails and scenic mountain vistas, Addison County is a hub for autumn outdoor activities. We like to take full advantage.
My wife Dottie and I used to simply don sturdy shoes, pack a water bottle and a snack, and head to the hills.
Now it’s a little more complicated.
Our backpack now includes a harness, kibble and poop bags.
Yes, a 5-month-old miniature goldendoodle has joined our hiking expeditions. And let’s just say that can make things more interesting.
Roxie is what you might call a “blanket dog”; she doesn’t let her humans get out of her sight. I indulge her compulsion by taking her to work with me most days. I go to the photocopier, and there’s Roxie. I go to the restroom, Roxie is standing there with an accusatory look when I open the door, as if to say, “Where the heck have you been?” Someone comes over to be interviewed, Roxie wants to be in the room. The cute little critter sits quietly, disemboweling a stuffed toy while I take notes. Perfect, positive vibe for an interview, right?
Anyway, this is her first autumn on Earth, and she wants to experience it to the fullest. So she insists on being part of the hiking group.
The exercise would be good for her, we thought.
Would probably help her sleep soundly at night, we surmised.
All those things have proved more true for her humans than for Roxie.
Tail in whiplash mode, Roxie bolts out of the car when we get to a trailhead. She reluctantly acquiesces to her leash, and she has no choice; we know what would happen if an unrestrained Roxie were to see a suspicious squirrel along the mountain trail. Just last week she nearly pulled my arm out of its socket after spotting a hoppy-toad on our lawn. Of course she wouldn’t have known what to do with it had I let her corner her “prey.”
Once on the trail, Roxie immediately has to take the lead. Sniffer goes into high gear. If there’s mud, she’ll make sure to walk into it, rather than sidestep it. She must have read a lot of Robert Frost during her first few weeks, as she definitely prefers the path less traveled. We hit a fork in the forest trail and Roxie veers to the side that offers the most sticks, brambles and poison ivy, if she can find it.
It’s easy to lose track of Roxie during the fall, even when she’s on a leash. She’s covered in soft copper curls, so she blends in with the foliage. If she were to stand in front of a pile of leaves, you’d have a hard time seeing her.
As we snake our way up a mountain, Roxie mixes quick trotting bursts with pauses — to sniff a flower, the base of a tree and anything else that might bear the scent of another animal. Her specialty: Walk a few feet outside of the path and wrap the leash around a small tree. Extra credit if she can snag onto multiple trees. Roxie has weaved her leash into some majestic snarls. I need to have my smart phone on hand in case I need a sailor to talk me through the undoing of a transom knot or barrel hitch.
Our little pup senses adventure around every corner. Roxie loves to make new four-legged and human friends. She prefers encountering other dogs her size. She’d just as soon give a wide berth to great Danes, pit bulls and German shepherds. Nothing personal; she’s just wary of any animal that could eat her in three or fewer bites.
As humans know, the view from the top of the mountain is the wonderful payoff for the journey. We like to sit down, eat a snack, take a few photos and chat.
First — after trying to mooch from the snack bag — she has to check out the mountaintop. And that, for her, means getting just close enough to the edge to give me a heart attack. This is usually where I give the leash a white-knuckled clutch until we’re ready for the descent.
It’s easier hiking downhill, and that principle of physics isn’t lost on the dog. The quicker she trots, the faster she gets to her bed and supper. Roxie never seems to hit the odd rock or raised tree root, but she leads me right to them — perhaps thinking I’ve left her a truck-sized doggie treat in my will.
Back home, Roxie plays on while her humans rest.
Then, at around 8 p.m., she drops, probably dreaming of the next hike — and many more, before she’ll experience that things we call “snow,” for the first time.
John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.