Adventures in Hiking

We live in a beautiful area with easy access to lots of outdoors activities. Fifteen minutes from our door is a gorgeous National Recreation area with spectacular fishing, biking and hiking. For the last several months, weather permitting, we’ve been taking Woo on hikes through the woods. Woo seems to really love getting out and being able to run along the trails. We take the dogs, and as long as no one else is around, we let them off leash to go run with the kid.

Frankly, the dogs are as much a utility as companions. We know there are things that lurk in those mountains that could (and would) eat us, given the right circumstances. We figure at a minimum, the dogs would alert to something with bad intent. At the absolute worst, they are canaries in our little coal mine, a first line of defense between us and the evil that lurks in the forest.

So far we haven’t had much of a problem. The worst that has happened so far is Beau Hunk hearing a bear off the side of a very popular (and populated) trail. A few weeks later we were on the same trail and ran into a man who was walking with his dogs, going the opposite direction on the trail. He warned us that he had just seen the bear – he had come around a corner with the dogs, and there it was, standing in the middle of the trail. That was pretty much the point where we turned around and hotfooted it back to the car. That was a little freaky, but lacked the visual factor, so there was a certain surreal quality.

Many of these hikes are physically challenging to me and absolutely kick my ass. Beau Hunk and Woo drag me over hill and dale, across streams and what feel like small rivers. One hike we went on had three stream crossings where there were no civilized rock-trail crossings – you just waded in. Which wasn’t as serene and refreshing as it may sound, considering that the water was mid-calf depth, ice cold, and I was in Goretex boots. Did you know that Goretex boots keep water in as well as they keep it out? I ended up walking for four miles with my boots full of water. Yippee. That was one of the less comfortable experiences, but that’s the way it goes.

Yesterday’s hike started out absolutely gorgeous. It wasn’t very strenuous, the views were lovely, and the weather rocked. A short distance from the car we ran into another hiker and his dog. Woo was busy petting the dog and didn’t notice he had his hands in the weeds. Since the poison oak here is in full bloom and all over the place, we took a minute to douse him down with Tecnu, which we keep in our daypack, for just this purpose. No biggie.

We continued on our way, hiking a narrow trail on a steep hillside. My dog was out front, the red dog behind him. Woo came after the dogs, but leading the humans, followed by Beau Hunk, and (as usual) I was bringing up the rear.

Suddenly the dogs barked, Beau Hunk yelled something, and in the midst of the chaos I became chillingly aware of a sound. A very distinct sound. A sound that is instantly familiar, even if you’ve never heard it before. A loud, dry, hissing rattle. Oh fuck, a rattlesnake. A very close rattlesnake.

Beau Hunk screamed at Woo to freeze. I screamed at the dogs to come. Miraculously, all involved followed the commands instantly and perfectly. The dogs ran to me, and Beau Hunk lunged forward to scoop up Woo and make sure he stayed well out of harm’s way. The snake continued its journey across the trail, rattling its way down the hillside. Beau Hunk threw rocks in the general direction of the snake to encourage it to continue its journey down the hill, and to put any thoughts of return out of its poisonous little head.

As a general rule, I’m not entirely freaked out by snakes. I can look at them in captivity, I can stroke and hold pet snakes, and seeing them on TV is the big “so what”. But a rattlesnake in the wild, mere feet from my dogs and my kid? Holy fuck.

For reasons I can’t explain, we kept going forward on the trail. We went another mile or so and decided to take a rest and have a snack. I sat down on a log to rest and eat my snack, which of course brought the dogs over to beg for food. I glanced over and saw they both were covered in ticks. I could see at least half a dozen clearly visible on each dog. As fast as I would pick them off, more would appear. That wasn’t the best meal break I’ve ever had. I think the final straw was when I looked down and saw a big honkin tick on my shirt. That pretty much sent me off the emotional cliff. Snakes are bad enough, but bugs? On me?? Forget it!

We headed home with a much closer formation, and this time with Woo walking between Beau Hunk and me. Wouldn’t you know that we managed to encounter two more snakes. Luckily they were Gartner snakes, but it still freaked us the fuck out, because they look startlingly similar to rattle snakes. So on first glance you just about shit your pants because you think you’ve come upon a rattlesnake that didn’t rattle. Both times we didn’t see the snake until our little group was right on top of it. The second time Beau Hunk didn’t even see the stupid beast until he and Woo had already gone by it and I was right next to it.

At that point we were completely fucking freaked, so Woo rode the rest of the way home on Daddy’s shoulders and I hauled the backpack home. Between the poison oak run-in, the horde of ticks, and the snakes, I had had quite enough for one day. I was very happy to get back to the car.

We thoroughly inspected each other and the kid for ticks, then loaded up the gang. When we got home, we didn’t go any farther than the garage before we peeled off our clothes and put them in the washer. Woo was checked for ticks that might have been lurking under his clothes, then immediately bathed. We followed and bathed too. The dogs have been dosed with Frontline and have been banished to the outside for a few days, just in case their newly acquired ticks are still hopping off. We also want to make sure they have a good chance to get rid of any lingering poison oak voodoo they are carrying. That’s usually solved by time and a few good rolls around the grass.

On the way home Beau Hunk made an admission – he used to have the name “Rattlesnake”, because every time he went off in the woods with his friends, he would find a rattlesnake. Why am I just now finding out about this?? I’m thinking this should have been a mandatory admission prior to marriage. Suddenly I’m a little less excited about out next adventure in the woods.

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