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.