Fayston, Vermont. Hiking with dogs is something that happens daily at wagmorevt. If you go, here are a few practical tips to make a jaunt into the woods enjoyable and safe:
- Bring a trail map. Paper won’t give a low battery warning, but at the very least download a map on your phone. Service can be sketchy in the mountains. Read the map and plan your route before you go. Remember to sign in & out at the trail head, if asked. Always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going.
- Don’t head out into a storm. Check the weather. Know what to expect. Plan for the unexpected.
- Don’t go hungry. Pack water and a snack. Or two. Don’t feed the bears – don’t litter your snack wrappers. (If you are lucky to see a large creature in the woods, give them plenty of space.)
- Chuck T’s are not the best footwear choice. Wear supportive and waterproof shoes or boots and wool socks. The tougher the trail and the more stuff you are carrying (See #1 & 3), the more boot you will need.
- Make activity-appropriate wardrobe choices. Cotton t-shirts are best for channel surfing. A techy shirt will be a wicking layer on the way up so you won’t be a hot cold mess at the summit. Bring layers for changes in temperature and weather. Wear bright colors so you can be seen – by hunters and, well, if stuff happens, by rescue teams.
- Know the neighborhood. Check to see if hunting is permitted on your route. Avoid times of day when the hunted and hunters are most active, usually dawn and dusk.
- Orange is the new black. Put hi-viz colors on your dogs so you can see them and others can, too. (See #6.) Mudd+Wyeth’s Spot-the-Dog products are not only bright but have reflective strips or dots on them, too. (Unpaid endorsement – we use their products.)
- Sh*t happens. Pick up after your dog. No one wants to smell that on their shoes. Also, dogs love to roll in all sorts of yucky things. (Charlie Brown is particularly fond of spontaneous mud baths.) Have a towel handy at trail’s end. If the hike involves a drive, bring wet hand wipes for a quick clean-up before hopping in the car.
- Obey leash laws. Please. Use a collar and tags with identification and current contact information and/or microchip. This tip is from Captain Obvious, but someone will write me if I leave it off the list.
- Watch where you are going. Listen to the birds, not your headphones. Watch the sun’s position for direction and time clues. Notice the changes in vegetation and rock as you climb. Mind trail markers and enjoy the small details along the way: funky mushrooms and cool moss, hopping toads and crawling orange efts, and the variety of critter tracks. Enjoy the journey, not just reach a destination.
About #10. Last week, I took Lucy and Charlie Brown on our neighborhood loop hike that takes us down a dirt road, through a hayfield, then winds back around and up the hill on a trail in the woods before ending on a gravel drive that connects back to the dirt road and home. It’s about a 3.5-mile trek that is generally pretty easy, but the last half of the wooded trail is probably only used by us and the deer as it’s overgrown in many places. The trail doesn’t have any markers.
Near the end of the wooded trail section, I spotted a new path cut through the underbrush. Curious, I called back Charlie to follow this trail, thinking it linked up with other familiar trails further ahead. Lucy charged ahead to join Charlie as he darted back and forth, flushing grouse from the underbrush. They will sleep well tonight.
The new path turned then headed down a steep hill. Blue square steep. From the sun’s position, I knew I was moving away from home, but I kept descending on the trail. I was enjoying the quiet of the forest and a bit of an adventure. Finally, the path flattened out. A few yards through the trees, I saw a shed and a yard. I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I looked back at the path I just came down. I had to turn around. And climb back up that hill.
“Caw, Caw, Caw, HaHaHa,” laughed a crow, interrupting the quiet. “Very funny,” I replied wryly. I started back up the hill, and Charlie charged ahead once again.
Up, up, up I trudged. Sweating, I stopped to remove two layers down to my short-sleeved golf shirt. I checked my phone: No service. So no directional help. I wasn’t lost, though. I didn’t feel afraid. I knew I simply needed to retrace my steps to where I jumped from my original route, and I had plenty of daylight left. Near the hill’s top, the path went to the left, but Charlie started down an overgrown trail that split to the right. Toward home.
The trail was nearly covered by thorny underbrush, but the slender branches gently bent away as I walked through unscratched. Ahead, the sun broke through the canopy, illuminating a patch of bright green ferns on the forest floor. A signal to “go”, I walked to them. The ferns were thigh-high and soft. I ran my fingertips across the tops, like a lazy hand touching the water’s surface from a canoe adrift. The sun felt warm on my face. As I reached the end of the fern patch, I noticed a familiar hand-painted sign nailed to a tree. I will be on the gravel soon, then home.
I have seemingly endless time to hike as I lost my job a few weeks ago. This change in circumstance made me feel a little hurt and naturally angry, but mostly I didn’t know what to do with myself. I began a job search, cleaned my closet then my house, and baked cookies, but I was still feeling anxious and restless. I was lost.
Somewhere in the ferns, I found my way.