Tag Archives: Winter

Three Season Hiking, and one of them is NOT summer!

Baxter, resting after a walk.

How did Baxter get so sleepy? Winter hiking!

We hike more in the winter months than we do during the summer. The reasons are many. In the summertime, it is just too hot. For the dogs, and for me. Not only is the air temperature too hot, surfaces can be dangerous for the dogs’ paws.

And then there are the bugs. Mosquitos, gnats, and the dreaded biting flies. Not only are mosquitoes pesky, but they can also carry diseases like West Nile Virus or heartworms. The gnats are mostly an annoyance. But who wants gnats flying in their eyes or mouth? For biting flies, we may encounter enormous horse flies, deer flies, or three corner flies. Their bites are painful, and I appear to be allergic to them and swell up in unattractive and itchy, painful ways.

Because of these deterrents, we do most of our hiking in the fall, winter, and spring. There may be a few days we skip when it is dangerously icy, but when it is just cold, we bundle up and go.

We take all five of our dogs with us. Until last fall when we lost little Nikki to old age, we had six dogs, but Nikki hadn’t been able to join us for the last couple of years. Miss Nikki Pouncer Pants: A Tribute We have been hiking with five dogs for some time. About the time Nikki began staying home, we added Claire to our pack, so we still hike with five dogs. Don’t worry, any time the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, we put coats on our two shorthaired dogs. Hiking gives the dogs exercise and mental stimulation, so they are better behaved in general. I guess it does the same for us.

Our hiking route options had become more limited lately due to multiple heavy snows which later turned to ice. Most of our normal haunts developed unsafe footing. That’s why we were excited when we discovered some new options. Most of our hiking is done at West Branch State Park (Ohio) in the winter which is near our home. The park has areas that receive less use in the winter, and we found that some of the dedicated park roads are a good option for walking. They are plowed, but not salted. The road surface is good for walking most of the time and melts off quickly when there is sun or milder temperatures.

West Branch Reservoir

Above is the view from one of our walks. The reservoir is iced over, and you can see tracks from cross country skiers along with footsteps. This is a popular place for ice fishing. Sometimes you see people fishing from a chair and others put up portable ice shanties and make an afternoon of it. Visible in the distance is the marina.

West Branch Dam

Here is another view from one of our recent walks at West Branch State Park. This is the view from the back side of the dam. You can see the gatehouse on the far shore. We do sometimes walk on the dam access road that is off in the distance. We tend to avoid it in colder weather because the winds are so strong and cold coming off the water.

We have logged 50.54 miles in the past 30 days and 615 in the last year. I am rather proud of this because we do it with five dogs, and that includes very few miles between the months of June through August. We still get plenty of summer exercise. We spend many hours gardening, in both our vegetable and flower gardens and maintaining our various fruit crops. The dogs spend lots of time in our fenced pasture. They have fun sniffing things, playing frisbee, and barking at items of interest.

If you have any fun winter activities, feel free to share them.

Winter Storm Prep

4 dogs
(Claire, Cassius, Zekie, and Baxter)
This photo reminds me of the meme that says, “I have never wanted to belong to a gang as much as this one”. Lucky me, I do belong to this one!

We have been preparing for and waiting for winter storm Landon to hit as has most of the eastern half of our country. Living in the countryside in a house that is 192 years old poses its own challenges. My husband did most of the outdoor prep. This involves shoveling snow off the roof and removing ice. Clearing piles of snow away from paths and driveway, so there will be room for more snow. And hauling more wood to the house to feed the woodburning stove.

Two dogs
Zekie and Baxter waiting for the frisbee.

We knew that our daily walks were not likely to happen for a day or two, so we made sure to get the dogs some exercise as well. They went out to the fenced pasture and put in some frisbee and ball time. They made a few laps around the paths my husband made for them with the snowblower for good measure.

Greyhound
Cassius plays with his ball.

Cassius (and sometimes Baxter) wear a coat when we go for walks. For pasture time they aren’t out long enough to need them, plus they are running around like fools. Not to mention Baxter is prone to pulling coats off of other dogs when left on his own. He seems to get a chuckle out of us calling out “Baxter, now he’s naked”. I imagine the neighbors must get a laugh out of this too.

Sheltie
Claire enjoys the snow.

Claire never catches the frisbee. Not because she can’t, but she doesn’t seem to want to. She enjoys running after it and barking with the other dogs. She even reaches the frisbee first, many a time. She just doesn’t like to pick it up. She still gets in plenty of exercise, and we have other dogs to bring the frisbee back, so we don’t mind.

Sheltie
Shelby staying indoors.

Shelby goes on walks with us, but when I asked her if she wanted to go out to the pasture, she declined, giving me a look that said, “Surely you jest”. Shelby will be 12 years old in a couple of weeks. Since last summer she has decided that hanging out with “dogs” in the pasture is beneath her. She prefers to stay inside and guard the house. I don’t know how she explains the fact that Baxter will be 13 in the spring, and he is out there catching frisbees. We do restrict how long he plays and use lower tosses these days. If we stopped playing altogether it would break his heart.

wheat bread
Bread fresh from the oven!

I did some indoor storm prep too. The weather forecasters were calling for ice storms, so I made some foods to have on hand that could be eaten cold in case we lost power. Homemade pizza and some homemade bread for sandwiches. I also made sure all our electronic devices were charged up and that we had candles ready.

The storm began last night and the potential ice that was predicted appears to have missed us. We are getting snow, but so far it is only about four inches. Continued snow is predicted through tomorrow morning, so who knows how much will come down in total.

cat and dog
Jasper and Cassius.

After all that play, the dogs are tired out. Jasper kitten and Cassius sleep in what reminds me of a yin-yang symbol. Raising kittens from a young age does have its benefits. Jasper is a well-adjusted kitten. He does not mind any of the dogs coming up to him and sniffing him or barking or running near him. He does not mind the vacuum cleaner. He does not even move for it. He naps on one or the other of us every evening. He usually splits up his time so we both get to enjoy his company. He’s an equal opportunity napper. The Animal Protective League called yesterday. They put Jasper on the intake waiting list back in September to bring him into the shelter so they could find him a new home. They finally had room for him, and it was his turn. I told them “Thank you, but he is mine.” I shared a laugh with the shelter worker and then assured her that Jasper is now neutered.

Stay warm and safe my friends!

Hiking on a Cold Winter’s Day

The reservoir is frozen!

A couple days ago we hiked the trail at the West Branch State Park Dam. We usually save this walk for warmer weather since it is always windy. However, we are having trouble finding places to walk. Most of our usual haunts are snow covered or too icy. Some, we can’t access because the parking lots aren’t plowed and there is no place to park. So, when we saw that the parking lot at the Dam was cleared, we decided to give it a try.

Stand of pines along the trail.

It turned out to be a very nice hike. The sun was shining and a park vehicle finished plowing the path as we were getting started. This is normally a well used spot, but we didn’t encounter many other walkers either since it was so cold. Always a plus when walking a reactive dog like Zekie.

Gatehouse at West Branch Dam

The path here is paved. It’s actually an access road for the dam’s gatehouse. Workers need access to open and close the gates that release or hold back water from downstream. The reservoir was built to help with flood control. It is a large enough body of water that I enjoy this three mile walk to be able to listen to the sound of the waves. That did not happen this time because the water is frozen over. We did see people ice fishing with their colorful tents dotting the ice.

Snowy view while walking.

It is also a good place to see birds. There are often gulls, hawks, swallows, turkey vultures, and sometimes blue herons in the shallows. On the other side of the reservoir, I have seen an occasional bald eagle.

I would highly recommend this walk. It is easy, level terrain that is even handicapped accessible. You may want to wait for a warmer day though!

Snow Dogs on a New Trail!

Sheltie dog and friend on a winter hike
Zekie and Claire on the trail.

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.

Rocks at West Branch State Park
Rock view on the Bit O’ Honey Trail, West Branch State Park, Ohio.

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!

Dogs hiking, West Branch State Park, Ohio
Cassius and Baxter hiking with daddy.

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.

Two dogs hiking at West Branch State Park, Ohio
Baxter and Claire ready to get in the SUV after hiking.

Luckily, Baxter looks quite handsome in his coat. Of course, I am biased and think Baxter looks quite dapper all the time!

Winter Trail Hiking Again!

Hiking at West Branch State Park, on the trail.
Hiking again, on the trail.

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.

Trail side, West Branch State Park
Trail side, West Branch State Park.

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.

Sheltie profile
Shelby watching out the window.

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.

That Shelby is one smart, and tough, cookie!

Hiking In Winter

Hiking with dogs
Shelby takes in the trail scents

We are on a roll. Today is our 18th day in a row of hiking. We have been hiking religiously since the fall, but this is the longest stretch without a day off. We are eager to see how long we can keep it going. My husband carefully checks the forecast, and sometimes the weather radar, to find times during the day to go when it is not raining or snowing heavily. Given that it is January, our hikes have been pleasant and not overly cold.

I hate to think what the dogs’ reaction will be on the first day we are unable to go. Dogs appreciate routine and ours’ come to expect that if we do something two days in a row, it is now part of our schedules. Most days we depart near 2:00 pm for our outings. The dogs start pestering us starting about 1:50 now. They stare at us and begin to pace in anticipation for the fun to begin.

Hiking with dogs in Ohio
A snowy, winter hike with the dogs

We vary our choice of hiking location depending on weather, day of the week, upcoming plans, or maybe just on a whim. The day’s pick may be at a State Park, a County Park, a local cemetery, a Hike and Bike Trail, or just up the road and back. We even have a walking trail around our property to use in a pinch. You have to go around the loop about 5 times to make a mile though. Here is a link to a walk in our woods during the spring. Woods Walk

Most of our hikes are not extremely long. The average length is somewhere between 2.5 to 3.5 miles. The amount of exertion does not always correspond with the length of the walk though. If the terrain is especially hilly, rocky, or swampy, that 2.5 miles can seem far longer than a 3.5 mile walk.

I track all of our outings with the Walk For A Dog App to raise money for Northeast Ohio Shetland Sheepdog Rescue. It doesn’t raise a lot of funds but every little bit helps. (Many other non-profit rescues are available as beneficiaries on this App too!) I like the App because aside from being a fundraiser, it lets me know how far we have walked, the miles per hour, and the time each walk took us. You can also look back at the historical information to see how many miles you have walked over the past 30 days. When we get up over 50 miles a month, I start feeling really good about it!

We enjoy our hikes for multiple reasons. Of course getting exercise and spending time with the dogs are the obvious rewards. We also get to see what birds are in the woods at this time of year. We see what plants and bushes stay green late in the season and throughout the winter. It is easier to locate side trails and see the paths that streams take without all the undergrowth obscuring the view. The sounds of the winter woods are different from other seasons too. Each season has its own beauty and can be appreciated in different ways.

So, here’s to Hike #19. Onward and upward!

The Olive Tree

Even in the off season for gardening, we have things growing. These are future olives. We have an olive tree that my daughter gifted my husband with for Father’s Day last year. It resides in our spare bedroom right now, along with a gardenia that we are wintering over.

We don’t know whether these are flower buds or actual olives. Either way, they will eventually result in olives. It was an exciting day when we found these little orbs. Gardeners can go through a form of withdrawal when nothing is green or growing outside. These indoor plants help.

As for myself, I am happy in the spring when plants resume growing again. But I am also happy (relieved) when frost comes. After a spring and summer’s worth of planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting, I am tired. I enjoy the best of both these worlds.

So, will we get olives? Only time will tell.

The Long Winter

Throw the ball, dad!

Winter can be long and boring for the dogs. Between all the snow, cold, rain, and ice, they don’t get as many walks or as much outside time as they would like.

The snow is not too bad. They can still go out in the fenced pasture and run around playing with toys or sniff things.

In the cold they can be out for limited amounts of time. Cassis, the greyhound, stays out for lesser lengths of time than the others.

During the winter rains the dogs don’t go out to play because, well…mud.

And the ice makes things too slippery. I am especially leery of it since I slid, tripped on a hunk of frozen ice/snow and landed on my shoulder a month ago. It is slowly recovering.

Sometimes it’s just better to hang out inside!

Zekie!

Time for a Zekie update. As long as one of us is home, he is a happy boy. Today was unseasonably warm for February in Ohio, 71 degrees. Of course after the snows melted off and then the rains came, it is quite muddy. See evidence above!

Zeke was quite happy running through the mud and playing with all the dogs on such a fine day.

He even took a turn bringing the frisbee back to daddy. All this running through the mud means that the boys came in the house one by one and got rinsed off in the bathtub and then dried with a towel. Zeke is so good. He jumps in the tub on command and stands while I rinse him off. He then jumps out of the tub and onto a towel on command then waits while I dry him.

It was so nice today and I was off work so we then went for a walk at a nearby state park. The water was still frozen but the weather was warm. It was interesting to see the patterns the ice made as the thawing began.

Zekie got to spend his first time off leash today. And he did great. He was nearly as proud as I was! I thought it unlikely that he would go very far since he becomes traumatized if he is not with one of us at all times. After a bit of freedom I leashed him back up so as not to give him too much temptation on his first time off leash with us. Two of our other dogs can be loose and are very reliable while alas, our greyhound must be leashed always. See how happy this outing made Zeke in the brief video below.

So as you can see, Zeke is doing well!