We didn’t hike much over the summer. It was too hot for me. Once the weather reached 80 degrees I started whining about it and when it hits 85 degrees I won’t even go. Not too mention the biting flies, mosquitos, and gnats.
But with the cooler fall weather, we are on the trails again. Fall is my favorite season, not only because of the temperatures, but the colors are just so beautiful. The maples are putting on a show with their golds and oranges. I especially like seeing the colors on the trees against the blue of the reservoir water at West Branch State Park where we usually hike.
It doesn’t matter how many times we hike at West Branch, we always see something new to us that we hadn’t seen before. Last week I thought we had discovered something called a fern moss. Fern mosses are mosses that have a fernlike appearance and there are numerous types.
Upon further research, I discovered that these two photos are not of fern mosses at all. These are apparently something called ground pine or clubmoss. They are more closely related to ferns than either pine or moss. The plant with the flat needles is called ground cedar. As near as I can tell, the other one is called tree clubmoss.
These tiny plants grow very slowly. It takes up to 15 years until they are mature to the point where they can reproduce. For this reason it’s best to leave them alone.
We often see other sights that are new to us as we are out in the woods and walking along roadways. We see birds, snakes, minks, weasels, etc. It is fun looking them up in field guides or online to learn about exactly what it is we have encountered.
We take all five dogs with us when we hike. It seems funny not to have Nikki waiting for us back at home anymore after her passing last week. You can read about Nikki at this link. Miss Nikki Pouncer Pants: A Tribute
We took a hike on the Rock Face Trail at West Branch last week. We had put this one off at my request because I didn’t want to undertake it when it was snowy and possibly slippery. It turned out that the biggest challenge was the rocks used in paving the trail. This is also a mountain bike trail and marked for experts only. We took this warning to apply to mountain bikes and thought hiking would be no problem. And the trail is definitely hikeable, although the going is slow. I had to stop once and get Shelby out from between two rocks. She could have done it, but I knew she was tired by then and at eleven years old, I didn’t want her straining herself.
What I can’t figure out is why someone would want to ride their bicycle over all those rocks. The trails generally go back and forth over a small area distance-wise. What you could walk quickly as the crow flies, becomes a ribbon maze to create more distance. And of course, the up and down and bumping and jarring from riding over the rocks. I’m thinking it must be a young person’s activity. Something to be pursued before you have achy joints and you still have more cushioning left between your bones.
Of course, hubby and the bigger dogs always fare better than me and the shorter dogs. For some reason I am also the only one who seems to have problems keeping my footing and not sliding in the mud.
Mercifully, for these types of formations, the trail goes around the rock face and not up and over, or down. I don’t think I could handle that. It is always exciting to see new things along the trails. The trees are starting to bud out and new green shoots are springing forth from the soil.
By the time we get back home, I am ready for a cup of tea and a bit of reading. The dogs are ready for a nap.
We were back hiking at West Branch State Park yesterday. We combined two trails for a total of 3.81 miles. A portion of the walk was along the edge of the Reservoir. It is so nice to hike near the water and listen to waves splashing as the water rolls in and out. Although I am not the biggest fan of swimming, I do love to be near the water for its beauty.
Some of our dogs enjoy getting in the water and some do not. Zekie LOVES the water. In fact, when we are hiking and use a foot bridge to cross over small streams, Zekie always tries to jump off the bridge so he can wade through the water. I often let him. He gets such a kick out of it that he turns around and smiles at me with a mischievous grin.
Yesterday, my husband threw a stick in the water and told Baxter to go get it. Baxter just gave him the “surely you jest” look as he turned his head and walked away. My husband said to Baxter, “Zekie will get the stick. Get it Zekie”. And he did.
Zekie was so proud about retrieving the stick. We were proud of him too. He is a pretty good fetch dog. He will bring things back, but it is difficult to get him to relinquish them. He always brings them to within a few feet of us and lays them down though. He just can’t make the final step of putting them into our hands.
You can see in this photo that Zekie has a sense of humor and a bond with his fellow pack members. Here he is smiling at Cassius. Probably telling him, “Hey, I went and got that stick and brought it back. Did you see me, huh, huh!” Cassius likes to wade into the water. He just stands there enjoying it.
This is the beach area we hiked down an incline to reach so the dogs could play in the water. The level of the Reservoir is low now, so the beach area is bigger than it often is. You can see how shallow the water. This makes it easy for the dogs to walk into the water and back out to the shore line.
Above, you can see a tiny island in the distance. During the summer when the water level is raised in the Reservoir, this little bit of land is probably submerged. Levels are kept lower during the winter off-season months. If you look closely, you can see some birds on the edge of the little island. Most of them were seagulls. As you drive over the bridge to reach the parking lot for this area of the park, you can often see Canada Geese, sea gulls, and an assortment of ducks bobbing on the water. The park is home to various wildlife. Two times within the past week we have seen mink crossing our path. The animals have learned to cohabitate with all the park goers who frequent the area.
We went for a hike a few days ago when it was still cold and there was ice in the reservoir water at West Branch State Park in Portage County, Ohio. Our walk took us down an abandoned road and since hunting season is over, we took some of the side trails off the road to see where they went. One took us to a property that was abandoned when the land became property of the the State Parks system. You could still see the old, paved driveway and various detritus from the long gone house and garage. I love looking at old, forgotten sites and thinking about the people who once lived there.
The next side trail we tried took us down an old grassy, farm-type driveway. At the end of a very long drive, there was a row of large trees all planted in a line. No evidence of any farmstead remained but after a short jaunt through the woods, we came out on the water at the edge of the reservoir. Zekie and Claire (above) held a sit-stay just long enough for me to get a nice photo. I drop the dogs’ leashes once I give them the command, so I can back far enough away to get them in the lens. Once I get the shot, I grab the leashes again. Sit-stays are awesome!
After getting the photo of Zekie and Claire, I turned around and Shelby was also doing a sit-stay behind me. She heard me give the other dogs the commands and she obeyed them as well. She is such a good girl. That’s why she gets to go so many more places than the other dogs do.
Here is the view that was just beyond Zekie and Claire. The ice was just starting to melt, but farther around the bend, it was still thick enough that someone was ice fishing that day. The patterns that the ice made in the water were a beautiful sight to behold.
From there I hiked around to the other side of this outcropping to look at the water from there. As I was in route, I was surprised by a large tree branch a few inches off the ground and caught the toe of my hiking boot on it. I recovered enough that I was starting to regain my balance. At the same moment Zekie decided to give an extra tug on the leash, because he wanted to see where daddy had gone. This was all it took for me to continue my downward tumble and fall down. I landed in a pile of dead leaves so it was a pretty cushy impact. And, dedicated dog owner that I am, I did not lose my grip on the leashes as I fell! Zekie did turn around and seem to want to know what I was doing down there on the ground and why I was slowing his progress. Still, I’m claiming an Olympic type score of 10 out of 10 for maintaining control of the dogs!
Once I picked myself up and got on my way, here is the view I saw once I made it the other side of the outcropping. There is a sharp drop of 15 feet. At the bottom is a small beach and you can see a number of teeny-tiny icebergs floating out in the water. There was more melting here because the water is so shallow. Looks like the perfect place for a picnic when it warms up a little more! We’ll have to take a longer way around with a more gradual incline.
Hiking has been challenging this week. We did take one day off because of icy conditions and bad weather, but then we were back at it. The reservoir at West Branch State Park has been frozen. We have seen several people ice fishing on it each day. Some of them have little tents they set up on the ice for a bit of protection from the elements. Others just cut a hole and fish. The photo above is one I took from a hiking/snowmobile trail on the south side of the reservoir.
We did hike yesterday. I knew the footing would be slippery with melted and re-frozen hard pack snow. With the warming conditions it was a combination of ice and slush. I strapped on the Yak Trax so I would have a better grip for safer footing. This was the first time I had used them for hiking and I was pleased. I felt much more confident that I could navigate the trails and keep my balance.
We also hiked today. I didn’t wear the Yak Trax today because it was warm enough that there was a fair amount of slush on top of the snow and ice. Footing was a little tricky. The trails were packed from snowmobiles, mountain bikes, and foot traffic. The packed snow was still there, but many times there was enough melting underneath that my foot would punch through the snow and fall a few inches. This means you have to pull your foot out of a hole. The descent through the layer of snow also ends with a jarring impact when you reach the bottom. The snow also slides and moves with each step so it was a tiring hike. We went 2.8 miles this afternoon, but I must say it seemed farther.
Great news! Shelby is back to hiking. This is the first day she has rejoined us on our hikes since her attack by loose dogs exactly three weeks ago. Encounter With Loose Dogs, Gone Bad We kept Shelby home while she was healing up and to keep her wounds clean. She also had a thigh shaved due to dog bites and it has been too cold for her bare skin. Today the temperature climbed up over 50 degrees and Shelby has been wanting to join us again, so today was her lucky day. She did great. She was so happy to be back on the trails with us. Baxter was happy too. He never smiles as big as when his “sister” Shelby is walking with him.
It’s not the clearest view, but here you can see Shelby’s shaved leg. The fur has grown an impressive amount in three weeks. I call this haircut on her leg “The Howard Walowitz”. All you Big Bang Theory fans will understand.
Here is Shelby napping. Her first hike in three weeks has her tired out. She is happy to be a part of the pack out on the trails again. I feel like we have overcome a big hurdle and Shelby is, if not back to normal, at least well on the road to recovery.
We hiked with four of our dogs today, Zekie, Claire, Cassius, and Baxter. Shelby is still on injury leave from her run in with the loose dogs last week so rested at home. You can read about her injury. Progression of a Dog Bite Wound She is looking much better and her bruising is mostly gone now, we’re just finishing off the antibiotics as healing continues.
We went back to West Branch State Park to explore some of the trails we hadn’t tried before. From the the Mountain Bike Trail parking lot, we went down the main trail to trailhead A3. This trail is a snowmobile trail so it is nice and wide and relatively flat. We hiked out A3 until we came to the Bit O’ Honey Trail which is a mountain bike trail. Mountain bike trails are generally rougher, rockier, and tougher going. I am particularly slow, making sure I don’t trip on rocks, sticks, and so on. Even so, when it is in the 20’s, I get hot enough on these trails that I soon end up with my hood down and my gloves in my pocket. If it is a longer mountain bike trail, I end up with my coat unzipped too. That still leaves me with a turtleneck and a polar fleece and I am just fine. If we slow down, I just zip my coat back up.
The dogs start pestering us each afternoon around 1:30 pm. They know we leave for walking or hiking near 2 o’clock. On the rare day that we haven’t gone, they mope and give us dirty looks from the dog beds or couch. Yes, they are spoiled pups!
Cassius the greyhound always wears a coat in the winter when we walk or hike. All our past greyhounds have too. They just don’t have the body fat to stand up to cold temperatures. Baxter the Lab/Rott/Dobe mix has never worn a coat until this year, once it got below 30 degrees. In the past Baxter never wanted a coat. Now that he will be 12 in a few months, he seems to get colder and appreciates the warmth. Other than that he hasn’t slowed down much. So, getting ready for winter hiking can be quite the process. In addition to two humans suiting up and getting the right boots, sunglasses, hats, etc., we also have two dogs to put coats on.
Luckily, Baxter looks quite handsome in his coat. Of course, I am biased and think Baxter looks quite dapper all the time!
We are back to trail hiking. We had a scary incident while out last week. Two loose dogs attacked Shelby and Zekie. It was quite scary and between that and the ice, I took a couple days off from walking. For two days after that we walked on paved trails in town.
Zekie survived the attack and wasn’t much worse for wear. Shelby, however, was quite seriously wounded, but is on the mend. I continue to give her meds and provide wound maintenance while she heals. She won’t be hiking again any time soon. I won’t even think about it for a few weeks. She needs time to recuperate, and I don’t want her wound aggravated from too much activity. Also, the wound needs to stay clean and not have dirt and salt from the trails and roads splashing on her underside.
I love hiking in the snow and am glad to be back on the trails. I find it easier to hike with snow on the ground. It fills in a lot of the divots and small holes, and covers the large gravel. These tend to make the walking surface uneven and having them covered in snow makes it easier for me. The trail is beautiful when there is freshly fallen snow. I sometimes feel bad that we pass by and leave footsteps and pawprints to mar its beauty. The landscape at trailside still provides views of unbroken snow vistas. It can also be fun to see who else is using the trails, be it footsteps, pawprints, snowmobiles, or snow bicyclers.
After last week’s incident, we hike with pepper spray. I have heard that a product called Spray Shield, that is citronella based, is safer for dogs. I will look into that in the future. For now, what I have is pepper spray. I need to be responsible for defending my dogs to the best of my ability. I feel guilty that I failed them last week. Especially Shelby. She and I are a working team, having provided therapy dog visits for the past seven years. I need her to trust that I will take care of her, and you better believe that I will do everything in my power to do so.
It seems odd to be out hiking without Shelby. She is none too happy about it either when we leave her at home, even though she gets a treat when we go out the door. She is used to being part of everything that goes on and she believes she is in charge of safety. The other dogs believe that too! Even while she is healing, she does what she can to maintain order around here. Above, she is watching out the window to see what is going on in the neighborhood. She still barks at the mail jeep and delivery people, alerting us that strangers are about. Last night after we had gone to bed, Shelby even barked at something outside and a few seconds later, our motion activated security light came on.
Today was our 31st day in a row of hiking! We have logged over 74 miles of trails in the past 30 days. Not bad for January. The unseasonably mild weather has accommodated us.
This afternoon’s hike was a snowy one. Our area of northeast Ohio was fortunate to get only a few inches from yesterday’s snow storm. Other areas faired much worse than we did. It was still enough to slow us down a bit. We humans had to look for rocks, roots, and branches buried underneath the snow and just waiting to trip us up. The long-haired dogs, Shelby, Zekie, and Claire, had to stop repeatedly to chew snowballs from the back of their legs. Shelby in particular seemed to stop suddenly and plunk herself down in front of me on the trail, especially where it was only one track wide.
Another trail hazard was the areas that had thin sheets of ice, frozen over running water. None of these were more than a couple of inches deep, so it was the element of surprise as you dropped through the ice and had to step out that was the issue, rather than any danger. This does help you to see how important it is to have the proper footwear for the conditions you are out in. Fortunately, I had chosen to wear my L.L. Bean Wildcat boots, so I was in good shape.
I also plan carefully what gloves and coat I will wear. Usually, at this time of year I wear my mid-thigh length storm parka. The terrain we covered today had lots of winding paths as well as ups and downs. Even though it was about 30 degrees, I got hot enough that for the last quarter of the hike I had my coat unzipped and my gloves in my pocket. Of course, I was also wearing a turtleneck and a hooded sweatshirt under my parka. Layering is king for outdoor activities in the winter time.
The types of trails at West Branch State Park, near Ravenna, Ohio are varied. There are mountain bike trails, snow mobile trails, and of course, hiking trails. There is something for everyone and you can walk on any of the trails. Be aware that as this is a multi-purpose park, you should be aware of your surroundings at all times in case you come across bicycles or other vehicles. Hunting is allowed, in season, so be prepared. That is why Cassius’ new collar is very bright. A New Collar For Cassius
Although the trails were snow covered, we all had a good time. The views are beautiful and the squinch of the new fallen snow is pleasing to the ear. The dogs like to occasionally grab up mouthfuls of snow and swallow them. Rather like the doggy version of snow ice cream.
We have been noticing a lot of bird activity in the past week although I am not sure why. Perhaps they are having more trouble finding food this late in the winter. This is just a guess on my part. I only know for sure that I have seen increased numbers of birds flitting around, sometimes groups of birds, and they often sing. They are medium sized songbirds, at least a few were robins.
Here is a photograph I took of the trail map from trailhead entrance beside the mountain bike trail. The hike we took today was the squiggly blue line next to the water. It is fun because you are able to see the water for the majority of the time you are hiking.
I encourage you to try hiking in every season. What you see varies depending on the time of year. We tend to think of winter as a lean time with less plants. It is the perfect time to see the structure of the woods. I notice things that I never see in the summer because then they are covered with leaves and undergrowth. Each season has its own beauty. See which one you like best. Maybe, like me, you will decide you like them all.