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 (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
    • 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 Woods
    • 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 (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 (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 (another local craft brewery with a small outdoor seating area where Norbert has been welcomed that is worth a stop)
  • Switchyard Brewing (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 (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 (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 (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 (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!

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.

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…


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).


  • 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: