With less than an hour left before the Cubs first World Series game since 1945, I give you this…
To my friends who don’t quite understand us,
Explaining the emotion of Cubs fans is nearly impossible. It’s similar to being a kid and believing in your heart that the Easter Bunny exists and if you stay up late enough or wake up early enough, you might get a glimpse of that cotton-tailed wonder. Years come and go and sometimes you are teased with doors that are ajar, knowing you just missed seeing that bunny. And though the naysayers tell you the EB isn’t real, you still want to believe. In your heart you know it is still possible (after all, your Dad caught a glimpse of that bunny in 1945). And then all of a sudden, along with thousands of others who have been in search of that rabbit, holding out hope, a giant bunny comes bounding into the room sharing treats and joy and hope in the guise of a Montero pinch hit grand slam, a Contreras 2-6 pick off, an “Ice in his veins” Lester shutout, and a ridiculously acrobatic Baez defensive maneuver.
I’ve seen several pictures of fans immediately after the final outs of the NLCS who did something similar to my reaction. We cheered in victory, followed by tears of joy and bewilderment of what transpired before our very eyes. Most of us continue to be flooded with memories of family and friends and all the magical stuff that comes along with following the Cubs, and that alone, is extraordinary.
Whatever happens in this next week, I can assure you of one thing. The Easter Bunny is REAL and seeing that bunny for the first time ever is absolutely magnificent.
When he was but a few weeks old, I promised Norbert a life of outdoor adventures. His older sister, Earhart, discovered the joy of trail running a bit later in life just as I had, and though she only had a few good years on the trail with me, they were some of our best together. I wanted the same for Norbert… and, for me.
Last year, after sustaining a couple semi-serious injuries while trail running, I started thinking of other outdoor activities I could do with my canine companion. I had seen some pictures of dogs on kayaks in an outdoors magazine so I began researching when I came across information about Stand Up Paddleboarding with your dog. A SUP seemed to be an easier (and more stable) option with a dog than a kayak, and the fact that modern day paddleboarding has its roots in Hawaii where my mother grew up, this new activity seemed like the obvious choice.
After much Googling about various boards and “how tos” with your dog, I came across a book by Maria Christina Schultz called How to SUP with your PUP: A guide to stand up paddleboarding with your dog. While researching and reading the author’s blog and webpage, I then came across some classes on SUPing with your dog that she taught. I immediately reached out to her to see if there were going to be any more classes as it was already late in the summer. There weren’t any more for the season, plus I hadn’t even bought a board yet, nor, um, had I ever paddleboarded…
So, I bought Maria’s book and began teaching Norbert “dryland” training in my living room using an old wakeboard as his platform. I also delved into YouTube instructional videos to teach myself how to paddle and finally dumped some cash on an inflatable SUP, which Maria had suggested in an email exchange. After several trips to the lake on my own, I found my sea legs, and figured out how to maneuver myself around, followed by trips with Norbert on the water. All in all, he did fairly well thanks to Maria’s book and the assistance of my dog trainer, but Norbert was still spending more time in the water (and/or putting me in the drink) than he was on the board.
When Spring came around and vacation plans with a friend didn’t pan out, I began to think of other options when I remembered the “SUP with your PUP” classes. I hopped online and found the season’s first classes were the same week I had originally planned vacation, so without hesitancy, I signed up.
It wasn’t until after clicking away at the registration that I read the not so fine print about a prerequisite beginners’ class. Given I was YouTube trained, I thought I better contact the instructor and see if I could get in a class prior to the weekend-long SUP PUP course. Maria was fantastic! She worked with my schedule so I could take a private lesson the night before the two-day course and provided me with some great information on travel locales which included a gorgeous trail on my final leg of the trip in Shenandoah National Park (I saw my first bear there!).
As I was planning my trip, I considered tent or hammock camping, but wasn’t sure I wanted to try that solo with Norbert on a cross-country trip. I had only hammock camped with him once in my backyard and though he slept soundly in the hammock with me, I did not, and figured since I’d be doing all the driving, I needed solid nights of sleep.
I started researching “dog friendly” hotels and Airbnbs. The Airbnbs were either too far, too expensive, or too sketchy for the liking and the hotels all wanted to charge extra fees to have my dog stay with me while others decided he was outside of an acceptable weight limit (Really? A weight limit on a dog? Most big dogs I know are much more chill than many of their smaller counterparts). Since I knew I wanted to include Norbert in my outdoor adventures now, and well into the future, I began looking at travel vans and small RVs when I came across the Taxa Cricket Trek, a lightweight travel trailer designed by a former NASA engineer (Yay, geeks!).
Next thing I know, I’m heading east with Norbert and the Cricket (now aptly named “The Doghouse”) and spending our first night in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Morehead, KY. I set up the RV about ten minutes before the skies unleashed a torrential downpour and hailstorm. Norbert looked at me wide-eyed as the thunder exploded overhead and the hail pounded the aluminum shelter. I looked at him and calmly told him it was just a little storm. He sighed and snuggled up next to me for the night.
The next day we made our way on the long trek to the Fredericksburg, VA area and quickly learned the pluses to stopping at rest stops rather than gas stations to let Norbert do his business. The clean bathrooms and well-manicured grass sans broken glass and garbage at most gas stations made for a much more pleasant stop. Plus, I felt a sense of safety pulling up alongside the truckers. Their huge semis dwarfed The Doghouse but it felt a bit like my big brothers were watching out for me whenever I pulled up next to them.
I arrived a day before my lesson in hopes of finding my way around the area and getting out to the state park for some hiking and trail running with the boy. The weather didn’t abide with the trail plans so Norby and I spent some time in downtown Fredericksburg where we found a great little farm to table restaurant, Foode, where we shared a burger, hotdog, and some fries.
Since the state park was full, I opted for a KOA near Fredericksburg which turned out to be surprisingly nice. It wasn’t exactly hardcore camping, but I did get a nice site along a small lake and met some interesting folks on my three-day stay there. Both Norbert and the Cricket seemed to attract some interest so I was able to get my fill of people interaction (this introvert doesn’t need much). This is one of the pluses I’ve found with traveling alone. I tend to meet people who otherwise wouldn’t interact with me, nor me with them, and learn a bit of their stories in crossing paths.
I met up with Maria later that afternoon at a city park along the Rappahannock River not long after the skies cleared from a day of rain. She taught me the SUP basics which included putting me in the drink when my lack of balance exposed itself (one of many times I found myself overboard that weekend, mostly with the help of my canine). Maria was a phenomenal instructor – clear, patient, and positive. It was so good to get a chance to meet her before the class. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to have Norbert meet her as well.
Norbert can be a bit wary of strangers at first (both people and canines) so I was a bit dumbfounded when, after exchanging a couple of butt sniffs with Kona, Maria’s sweet, tri-colored Aussie, Norbert immediately went over to Maria and melted himself into her lap. I’m not sure if Kona’s butt told him that this was her mom and she was a good one, or if Norbert just sensed it himself. Regardless, I knew at that moment I had made the right decision to travel across the country for this adventure.
As for the SUP with your PUP class… it was fantastic! The class was well organized with short lectures/discussions and various drills on land and then on water that were mixed in with plenty of play breaks for the dogs to splash around and chase their toys. Each part built on the other and all of us received personal instruction from Maria and her assistant, Amy.
Though I try to go into any new endeavor with an open mind and do my best not to have any expectations, at first, I was a bit nervous about the class. Norbert is a fairly young dog who has a whole LOT of energy. When I arrived, it seemed like most of the dogs in the class were very regal full breeds or designer dogs with excellent pedigrees/training/manners. And then I show up… the Indiana gal, with Norbert, the muttley hound with gangly limbs and loud bark. Every time I had him on the board that first day, he would see some plant life popping out of the water and would jump at it as if it were a squirrel or rabbit in the backyard. I lost track of how many times he dumped me in the lake that first day…
Nevertheless, I was having a blast and loved meeting everyone and their beloved canines. This was two days filled with the joy of people connecting with their furry beasts. For the weekend class, Maria brought along her beautiful Red Merle Aussie, Riley, who was our canine instructor. He demonstrated everything perfectly on queue – the connection he had with Maria was palpable; the two were so in tune with each other and seemed to read each other with a look. Though Riley was the most obedient and attentive dog when directed, he was also the sneakiest little guy who could sniff out a single Zukes treat in your hand when you had your back turned. I swear he had a gleam in his eye when he’d get caught!
On day two, Norbert threw a fit after I left him on shore while trying to do some water drills on the board without him. I returned and was close to hanging my Hoosier head in shame when the little man rallied. In a matter of minutes, he perfected “Peek-a-boo” with me on the edge of the water (“Peek-a-boo” was a move our instructor showed us to get Riley to move up on the board between her legs and sit). The real test came when I took him back out on the paddleboard. For some reason, he suddenly decided to listen and stay put while I paddled all around the lake. It was a first! I think I may have even heard him utter, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.” It was truly wonderful.
EPILOGUE: I’ve now traveled solo with Norbert on two different long road trips plus a third trip to the Upper Peninsula with friends who took a mountain biking class while Norbert and I paddled. One thing that has enhanced my journeys, particularly when traveling alone with Norbert, is having the right technology on hand. Though I don’t entirely depend on it – I keep paper maps, have some practical survival training in the outdoors, and have a strong “street sense” when traveling alone – using apps such as Waze and Google Maps and having friends to check in with via cell, has given me the confidence to take roads less traveled which in turn provides me with the opportunity to take scenic roads rather than always sticking to Interstates. Various apps have also led me to some lesser known trails where Norbert and I can explore without the crowds. Yes, guidebooks have been around for a long time, but when traveling alone, it’s nice to have something on hand that helps guide you from point A to point B in a not so necessarily straight line.
Before any other, there was Peanuts, a beastly Malamute/German Shepherd mix from my Hammond, Indiana neighborhood. With a fierce teeth-bearing bark and a heavy chain hooked between him and a maple tree in front of his house, he was feared by most in the late 1960s/early 1970s blue-collar neighborhood.
The furry beast had gotten loose one day and interrupted a game of frozen tag. All the bigger kids had run off when they saw him approach. Frozen in fear, I offered up my hand to Peanuts in hopes that he would sniff and let me pass. Instead, he opened his mouth and took my hand into his carnivorous chamber, halfway to my elbow. I half-expected to find a nub at the end of my arm when he was done, but instead, he licked and licked.
In retrospect, it may have been the remnants of the Dreamcicle I had earlier that afternoon that encouraged this greeting. Regardless of the reason, we had an understanding from that point on, and he became my trusted friend that day. There were countless times in my early youth, I would sit under that maple with him and share my deepest secrets, sometimes soaking his fur with my tears and a falling asleep curled up next to him. Without judgment and with the utmost compassion, he would listen and made me feel safe in a world I was quickly learning wasn’t always kind.
To this day, he still visits me in my dreams and visions, bringing comfort.
It wasn’t until adulthood, I finally brought a dog into my everyday life. The first was Achates, a gregarious chocolate lab who would balance any item on his head for as long as the human required. He saw me through my first act of dog motherhood in all its grandeur and error.
Scout, the broken-legged puppy found off the highway that my vet pawned off on me with the expectation that she may limp and never be particularly mobile. Wrong. Scout made a habit of jumping our three-foot fence in a single leap several times before we figured out how she escaped the backyard.
Doc, the one not quite wired right. His Weimaraner energy was endless. He ate two couches and was constantly counter surfing no matter of how much he was exercised. A day after emergency surgery from a burst spleen, he tried to go for a run. If I had to come up with one word to describe him, it would be “Go!”
Then there was Earhart, the quiet, stoic and protective one who had more dogonality than any other I’ve known. She would wait for the right opportunity to grab a piece of food off the table when you left the room, would turn her back to you when she didn’t get her way, and learned in her senior years, the joy of unraveling toilet paper rolls… Though she was never overtly affectionate, she would show her love by finding a spot next to you and lean in with all her weight.
During my Doc and Earhart years, I was also joined by Tucker and Maddie, my step-dogs, who were as much a part of my family as any other. Maddie had the spirit of a youth. When we’d take her hiking in her elder years, she would fearlessly bound up and down the hollers leaving herself nearly lame for a day or two afterwards, but always with a glint in her eyes. And Tucker, a giant yellow lab, who I’m fairly certain was the Buddha incarnate.
Also, in October 2005, there were the hundreds who touched my heart during a 10 day recovery effort in Tylertown, MS, post-Hurricane Katrina. In particular, those big canines in the Back 40 at the Best Friends Animal Rescue sanctuary will always be embedded in my soul. I learned more about trust, forgiveness, resilience, and love from these beautiful beasts than any human ever could.
My home (yellow tent) amongst my pack
Will never look at a blue tarp in the same way again
And then there is, of course, Norbert the Miracle Mutt, who my same vet of 25 years who brought Scout into my life, brought Doc back from near death, and has cared for all my fur companions through the years (it’s no wonder her birthday falls on National Dog Day), brought this little man into my life. Even at five weeks, his eyes would study my every move and there is no doubt, we imprinted on each other at a critical time in both our lives.
Words cannot truly describe what dog is; what “dog” brings to our lives. Yet I know that many understand, even without the words.
So, I’ll go get a baked dog treat and dip it in some organic peanut butter and present it to Norbert and tell him he is the best boy in the world and he will look at me and say, “OMG! It’s peanut butter AND a treat! PEANUT BUTTER ON A TREAT!!! YES! This is the best thing in the world ever!!!!!!!”
Fall of ’83, my senior year in high school, our basketball coach took us to South Bend to watch the Notre Dame Classic. We excitedly ran down at halftime of the Tennessee/USC game to collect autographs of the McGee twins and Cheryl Miller. After collecting those and other USC players’ scrawls, our coach pointed out Pat Summitt (then going by Pat Head Summitt) who was named the ’84 U.S Women’s Olympic basketball coach so we all ran over to the Tennessee bench for her autograph.
She was already eagle-eyeing her team warming up for the second half but one of her assistants tapped her to sign our programs. She signed a friend’s and then mine, and then said with a command in her voice that prompted both admiration and a little bit of fear, “That’s all ladies. I need to get back to work here. We have a game to play.” I spent the rest of the game watching her coach more than watching the game. She was someone you imagined owned a room when she walked into it.
Norbert and I are back home after taking The Doghouse on its maiden voyage! We trekked three hours south to the Lonestar Preserve in Bonnieville, KY where Speleofest 2016 took place this weekend. Arriving just before sunset on Friday night, the 77-acre campground was already in full motion with a live band playing beside a carefully architectured giant stack of wood, awaiting nightfall to be lit ablaze. After checking in, we started our way on the gravel road to find a quiet area to setup camp. Being in an unfamiliar place and with dusk falling, it was hard to see which paths were the best ones to take to find an open space. The rains earlier in the week had made for a muddy traverse which is where the adventure (and early lessons for a green RV owner) began.
Long story, short, with the help of a number of fellow campers and a man with a large tractor (Lee, I believe, was his name), the Subaru and Cricket were both successfully pulled out of the mud and into the most perfectly private little space in the campground. Though we weren’t there to cave, the trip gave me the opportunity to drive a few hours with the camper, experience the setup in both rain and shine, and see how Norbert did at a campground (he was a natural and did 100x better than I could have ever imagined!). Though the trailer is small, it offered plenty of space, especially when hooking up the fridge/freezer outside to allow for more floor room. In our final evening, we were able to comfortably sit six of us plus Norbert in the trailer, enjoying a few brews and and plenty of laughs.
Checking out the views
Norby loves his Aunt Doodah!
The caving community truly lives up to its reputation of being filled with great people. Not only did they jump in to help in our mudfest when we arrived (not to mention helping maneuver the Cricket back around and down the hill on Sunday – shout out to Lynn Marona!), but after spending just a small amount of time with them, one can see they are a close-knit family. Everyone we met were friendly, passionate about their exploration of caves, and all-around good folks.
Black rat snake who didn’t appreciate our presence #hiss
Some lessons learned:
Review the map of the campground before searching for a space. If the grounds are wet and you are hauling an 1800lb trailer, DON’T opt for the campground named “Hilltop” (AWD or not…)
When the man in charge of the tractor is hooking up a chain under your vehicle and saying, “I won’t hook it on Blah nor hook it on Blah. Instead, I’ll hook it on Blah-Blah so if it breaks you’ll still be able to drive”, just go along with it. You have no other choice.
When off grid, conserve your batteries. Turn off the water heater and water pump until you need to use them so you don’t lose power in a day.
Thankful I made the decision to purchase the compatible solar panels. It was easy to get power back and the portable panels made it easy to move them around to the sunniest spots. Plus, it is so cool to run things off of the sun!!!
When it does rain, enjoy the spacious room of the Cricket to relax and read with a precious pup snoozing at your side.
Black rat snakes may very well be good to have around, but they do not appreciate your dog taking a dump near their tree. When they hiss at you, you may only note their unhappy face, only to later realize just how large they are when looking back at photos.
The portable toilet was a nice convenience and the clean-up wasn’t too terrible; however, if I had a campsite near a stall, I’d likely opt for that (or, if it wasn’t a tick-infested area, would have no problem going in the woods).
Duct tape a large piece of cardboard to the bottom of the plastic tray before installing it in the dog crate (I cut out a piece from the box the crate came in). Having replaced many a broken tray from an excitable dog, I learned simply taping a piece of cardboard to the bottom offers enough cushioning between the bottom of the crate and the plastic tray to keep it from cracking. This can be a huge money saver!
A few weeks ago, I read an article in Outside magazine about a company out west that turns vans into campers and rents them at the cost of a basic car rental. This prompted a few Google searches on the topic and landed me on a number of Do-It-Yourself sleeping platform sites.
My 2011 Subaru Outback fit the bill and I thought this would be a great way to get in some outdoor adventures without having to always worry about finding that perfect campsite or popping up a tent in the darkness of the night. Plus, I thought it would make for a quieter and more restful night with my 5-month old Blue Heeler mix and adventure buddy, Norbert.
Having spent countless hours reading other people’s attempts and successes with sleeping platforms, brainstorming with the assistance of my friends Sara, Eleanor, and Tymme, and thinking through elaborate possibilities (e.g. under platform drawers, cut to fit platforms to utilize all the space which would have included some folding pieces, etc), I decided to follow the KISS rule (Keep It Simple Stupid). Additionally, the more I read, the more I learned that most people were frustrated by the lack of headroom when building up platforms which allow for space underneath for storage of camping supplies, clothing, etc…
When it came down to it, I decided on the following,
Use as few pieces as possible for a more stable and even sleeping surface and less weight in the vehicle
Keep the platform as low as possible to maximize headroom (I don’t tend to pack a lot for camping so I can use the vehicle floor and the space on each side of the wheel wells. If I need more space, I can use my Yakima Rocket roof carrier or get a cargo carrier for the hitch)
I decided on creating the platform with two pieces – one that fit in the back of the Outback with the back seats up, the other that would slide out over the back seats when they are down. The back section of the Subaru is flat so that piece would sit on the frame. The head section would sit on the edge of the frame and I would put a support under it to make it level (with the seats down, the head section is not completely flat).
One 3/4″ piece of 4×8′ untreated plywood (birch)
One 2x4x12 (I already had some scrap pieces so used those to make three 36″ pieces)
2-1/2″ wood screws
Scrap carpet (found a large roll that had some cuts in it at Lowe’s for $9 that would have otherwise cost $80)
Can of carpet adhesive (found at automotive parts shop)
9/16″ staples (for the staple gun)
Two simple hooks and eyelets
Four-pack of surface anchors
I cut the 2x4s into three 36″ pieces and the plywood into two pieces – one 35″x42″ (foot piece) and the other 37″ x 42″ (head piece). I also used a jigsaw to round the corners at the foot and head (I did this for the foot end to make the most of my space and to match the curves of the hatchback. I also decided to do the same with the head piece to remove the sharp corners).
Next, I attached the foot piece to the 2x4s with the wood screws. I left about 1-1/2″ of the 2×4″ sticking out to later hold the head piece in place.
I cut the carpet into pieces that would more than adequately fit the top of the foot piece and enough to completely cover the head piece (not necessary, but I had enough carpet and having that piece completely covered seemed like a better idea since it will get moved around the most). Using the adhesive spray (followed the directions on the can) and stretching the carpet as much as possible (I used some of the scrap plywood and some clamps to assist), and using a roller pin to get out the air bubbles, I then stapled the carpet along the back sides of each piece and trimmed as needed. I then laid them both face down and let them dry overnight.
Next, I cut out small areas of the carpet on the bottom of the head piece to align with the jutting portions of the 2x4s on the back piece so that the two pieces would lie flat.
I attached a hook on each side of the head piece and the eyelet on each side of the foot piece so that when the two pieces were put together they would stay in place.
I was going to use another piece of 2×4 (any scrap piece of wood should do) to place under the head piece to keep it level (or cut two legs to hold it up from the floor), but as it turns out, the extra carpeting made it perfectly level. I’ll probably still throw something extra in the car in case the seats sag a bit but anything could be used to lift that piece up a bit, if needed.
I still need to attach the surface anchors to the 2x4s and hook to the four tie downs in the back (just in case I have an accident, I don’t want the platform to become a projectile).