Paying it forward (updated 09/02/2018)

Hoo-hoo-hoo Hoosiers!!!
Hoo-hoo-hoo Hoosiers!!!

I spend quite a bit of time searching for good travel spots with my pup Norbert.  After all, I purchased a Cricket trailer for him (okay, for both of us, but really for the ease of traveling with my BFF along).  With the trailer, I can easily find places to stay, but I can’t always find the best dog friendly stops.

I often want to find a town where I can stop, go to stores (usually some sort of Outfitters), a restaurant or brew pub.  Trying to find places that are “dog friendly” is not as easy as one would expect in this day and age of split second Google searches.  Big cities usually have listings but not every moderately populated town does.

So, as I search through areas for my next trip, I realize I happen to live in a place that is often a destination for travelers. Bloomington is a college town in southcentral Indiana with a population of 80K.  The 46K students turn this town from a busting mid-sized city to a smaller town during the summer.  In addition to all the many IU attractions, Bloomington is also a summer mecca for many who travel to spend time on our large Monroe Lake or one of the many smaller lakes in the area, camp at nearby campgrounds, or visit Bloomington for all its many attractions.

I’m lucky to live in a very dog friendly community.  We have several hiking/running trails where one can bring their dog along for a day hike or several days of backpacking; a number of forests and recreational areas for camping; lakes for paddleboarding, kayaking, and motorboating; and restaurants and breweries that have plenty of outdoor seating where your canine companions are welcome.

As a consumer, it is time for me to give back to the dog-loving community and list out some of my favorite venues in the Bloomington, Indiana vicinity.  Below is the start of my list which I have no doubt will be updated as friends will remind me of places I forget to mention.  If you find this list useful, please pay it forward by posting (on your own blog or in a comment below) your favorite local dog friendly places or findings in areas you’ve traveled.

Pate Hollow trail (Paynetown)
Pate Hollow trail (Paynetown)

Restaurants/Brew Pubs (dogs welcome in outdoor seating and indoor at non-food serving locales; notes include Norbert’s favorite meals):

  • Scenic View http://scenicviewbloomington.com/ (outdoor patio with a view overlooking Lake Monroe; Norbert always looks forward to an order of the thick cut bacon; humans love the Sunday half-priced Bacon Bloody Mary)
  • Upland http://www.uplandbeer.com/
    • Upland Brew Pub (outdoor garden area; Norbert loves the local Fischer farms hamburger, plain and cooked rare; humans are fans of their sours, but there is a brew for all tastes here; if the pooch isn’t with you, stop by the Wood Shop next door for a sours extravaganza)
    • Upland West (great dog locale! No food, but you can bring your own. Dogs are welcome inside or out on the patio; humans say you can’t beat their $2 Sunday pints)
  • Big Woods no longer allows dogs at their outdoor locations.  I’m not sure whu but was told during the Summer 2018 that their corporate office changed their policy. Big Woodshttp://quaffon.com/
    • Big Woods Bloomington – formerly Quaff On! in the heart of Bloomington has a small outdoor deck and a new garden area (Norbert has been known to coerce a few bites of the Soft Pretzel sticks w/ Beer Cheese; humans swear by the pulled pork bbq nachos)
    • Big Woods The Original – this one is again, in nearby Brown County (Nashville, IN) and has a small deck where you can bring your pup; there is also a Big Woods Pizza a couple blocks over though I’m not sure about outdoor seating for your dog
  • Oddball Fermentables http://www.oddballcyser.com/ (a unique drinking experience open on the weekends that is a labor of love between some local friends who created a variety of cysers (cider-mead hybrids) that you can taste individually or in a homemade concoction. This house turned into a cysery has a small outdoor seating area in the back and a food truck that brings some extraordinary tastes for the foodie in you. Like Big Woods West, Oddball Fermentables is not a restaurant so I believe you can bring your pup inside as well – call first to make sure though!)
  • The Tap Bloomington http://www.thetapbeerbar.com/ (yet one more craft brewery in Btown along with a plethora of other rotating craft brews on tap with a small strip of outdoor seating where your Fido can accompany you)
  • Function Brewing http://www.functionbrewing.com/ (another local craft brewery with a small outdoor seating area where Norbert has been welcomed that is worth a stop)
  • Switchyard Brewing http://www.switchyardbrewing.com/ (the newest brewery in town that welcomes dogs inside their premises. Like Upland West, they do not offer food, but you can bring your own or have something delivered)
  • The Inkwell Bakery & Cafe https://www.facebook.com/inkwellbtown/ (great little local bakery with breakfast and lunch options. There’s two tables outside where they welcome dogs. If you go, I highly recommend their homemade pop-tarts, especially the FROG tart, when available – fig, raspberry, orange, and ginger)
  • Laughing Planet Cafe http://www.thelaughingplanetcafe.com/ (restaurant that features locally-farmed foods in burritos of the week with a large outdoor deck where you can dine with your buddy)
  • Story Inn http://www.storyinn.com/ (a bit off the beaten path in our neighboring Brown County, but if you are visiting Brown County State Park, it is well worth the trip; check and make sure the outdoor area is open; Norbert still hasn’t made a visit there, but his older brother Tucker swore by the bacon and eggs)
  • Bruster’s Real Ice Cream https://www.facebook.com/BloomingtonIndianaBrustersRealIceCream/ (this is entirely outside but I mention it because when you get your treat, you can also get a free Pup Cup that is a small vanilla scoop with a dog biscuit in the middle for your pal)
  • There are many other restaurants in Bloomington that have outdoor seating so I imagine many/most/maybe all, allow you to have your pooch alongside.

Stores where my pups have been welcome:

Outdoor activities:

Vacationing at home!
Vacationing at home!
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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…

 

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.

IMG_8529
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.

Project Sleeping Platform

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 inspiration for this project
My inspiration for this project

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,

  1. Use as few pieces as possible for a more stable and even sleeping surface and less weight in the vehicle
  2. 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).

Parts:

  • 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
Making sure the pieces fit with room to add carpeting around each piece.
Making sure the pieces fit with room to add carpeting around each piece.
Rounded out the edges with a jigsaw
Rounded out the edges with a jigsaw

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.

Tapped in four wood screws for each 2x4
Tapped in four wood screws for each 2×4
Marked the screw locations, leaving about 1-1/2
Marked the screw locations, leaving about 1-1/2″ exposed toward the head piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Cut a larger piece than needed
Cut a larger piece than needed
Completed foot piece
Completed foot piece
Underside of both pieces
Underside of both pieces

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.

Notched out underside of the head piece to align with foot piece
Notched out underside of the head piece to align with foot piece
2x4s jutting out for base of the head piece
2x4s jutting out for base of the head piece

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Added a hook on the head piece
Added a hook on the head piece
Added an eyelet on the foot piece and hooked on each side of platform
Added an eyelet on the foot piece and hooked on each side of platform

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Both pieces stored in the back with back seats up (just fits!)
Both pieces stored in the back with back seats up (just fits!)
Platform installed in Outback
Platform installed in Outback

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

Will install surface anchors to 2x4s and attach to
Will install surface anchors to 2x4s and hook to tie downs

I hope to test it out this weekend or next!

References and thanks: