2016 Travels with Norbert

With the temperatures warming, the urge to hook up The Doghouse to the Outback and head down the road with my favorite traveling partner in toe, grows.  While prepping for some new adventures, here’s a pictorial year in review of my travels with Norbert!

 

April – HDI (Help Desk Institute) Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida with a stop in Central, South Carolina:

Norbert and I trekked down to Orlando for one of my work conferences where he landed us a free upgrade to a business suite that included a full bar and lounge.  Along the way we made a stop in South Carolina where we stayed with a friend’s friend and were treated to some great food, conversation, drink, and a beautiful day hike.

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The Norbert Upgrade – a business suite I was able to share with some of my HDI colleagues

 

May – Bonnieville, KY for Speleofest weekend

This rookie RV’er learned some good lessons during this first trek out with The Doghouse which included knowing ahead of time where you are heading in a campground and not taking 1600 lb trailer up a muddy hill even if you have all-wheel drive, accepting help from strangers when needed, and understanding that a place in Kentucky called Lonestar has nothing to do with Texas and everything to do with its abundance of ticks. The best part of the trip was hanging out in The Doghouse during a rainy night, drinking cold brews and exchanging laughs with friends.

 

June – SUP with your Pup class and Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

All of my travels have had their significance, but this trip east was a decision I made unlike any other. It was the result of a culmination of events in my life and in the world around me that tipped the scales (we’ll save that for another blog post though).

Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, but call it what you will. I came to the realization that I had spent too many years trying to live up to others’ expectations or waiting for abc to happen, or for xyz to come along… When another trip with friends changed too many times, I decided it was time to walk away and do something for me. I had read a book the year before to teach Norbert how to standup paddle board with me and had found a class back east that the author taught. I hopped online, found an upcoming class, and before I knew it, I had signed up for a class in Virgina.

I searched for places to stay with Norbert and nothing was appealing or particularly cheap (I paid an extra $50/night in Orlando during my conference to have Norbert in the hotel with me). Long story short, I bought a Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket Trek, now dubbed The Doghouse, so my boy and I could travel with ease.  My second trip with it would be a cross country trip to this class as well as a campground in Shenandoah National Park where I met up with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in about 20yrs (NOTE: This IS the year the Cubs won the World Series)

 

July-August – Copper Harbor, MI

We traveled north to Copper Harbor with some friends where the boy and I paddled everyday in walking distance from our campground while my pals took a mountain bike class. The waters of Lake Superior (north of the Lake Fanny Hooe, where we paddled) was crystal clear (and cold!)  It definitely made me think more about what we do to our environment and the abundance of potable water that Americans take for granted.

 

September – Colorado

Longest road trip to date. I went to Colorado for several reasons. I had been thinking of joining a Cricket Rally in Eagle in mid-September. Then, I received a wedding invitation from a friend who I wasn’t particularly close to but felt a strong kindred spirit connection. Maybe it was the mountains, but something drew me, and I knew I needed to go and be present. It was a long drive, but I was able to keep Norbert entertained with my singing.

Norbert and I made our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Steamboat Lake State Park, Carbondale (where I took a day trip to the Maroon Bells and another to Delta where I saw another dear friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years), and then to Sylvan Lake State Park. After my two-week trip, I can say with certainty that I’m in love with Colorado.

Trips in the Great Sand Dunes, Carbondale, and Sylvan Lake State Park (Norbert w/ Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket founder and architect, Garrett Finney)

Trip to beautiful Maroon Bells and to Delta to see and old friend and one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.

 

My first planned trip in 2017 had to be cancelled due to some unexpected events, but I worry not.  As I get more comfortable going off the beaten path and off grid with Norbert, I know new adventures await.

Perhaps it’s time to pull out a map and toss some darts…

 

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The Doghouse

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…

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Norbert’s initial training at home on my old wakeboard

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.

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Travels with Norbert

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.

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Rest stop with the big rigs

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.

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Enroute to the Fredericksburg campground

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.

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Kona and Norbert after my beginner’s  SUP class

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.

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Norbert the Miracle Mutt

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.

Speleofest 2016

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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.

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.

 

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.
  • There is a reason the Lonestar Preserve is named Lonestar. It is NOT because it is in Texas. See http://www.tickinfo.com/lonestartick.htm
  • 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).
  • The caving community is truly the best!!!

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