Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Northern Ontario. We were coming off of a week of rain and so the shining sun was very welcome. I got up early as usual and Dad was in the midst of preparing bacon and french toast. We chatted a bit and then he asked me what I wanted to do for the day. I'm leaving this beautiful part of the country on Wednesday to return to SC, so I said I wanted to go for a hike. I love the wilderness up here and I don't know when I'll get to enjoy it again since Mr. K and I are moving to Scotland. So, after Mom got up, we had breakfast, packed water and a dish for the dogs, we hopped in my mom's SUV and headed out to a local park.
This park is particularly gorgeous with its own waterfall, lake, streams and rolling hills. The greenery is incredible with four different types of trees growing right on top of each other. There are blueberry bushes growing amongst purple irises and various types of mosses. There are several trails weaving in and out of the forested areas which are used for hiking, running and biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter. I am sure there are maps that a person could get to see where each trail leads, but we didn't think that far ahead and just struck out.
The first trail was a bit of a bust as it was a long boardwalk like thing that lead to a set of stairs that went up to the falls. I didn't want to go up there as our walk would have only been about five minutes, so we turned around. The boards were a bit unstable and I think they kept pinching Glacier's toes. He was pulling like a mad man and my shoulder was aching by the time we had turned around. We turned left and took another trail, traversing a bridge that spanned one of the many streams. We stopped to do some doggie push-ups (you ask the dog to "sit" and "down" in rapid succession in order to get the dog's attention back on you) and continued along. He was still pulling, but at least he was watching where he was going now.
We followed a wide, gravel trail for a while. There were not any ground obstacles for Glacier to watch for, but he had to pay attention to over hanging branches. There were a few people out with their dogs on and off leash, but Glacier minded his own business and guided me along quite well. We took another left at an intersecting path to avoid another two off leash dogs and the trail got narrower. It was now just packed earth that was cleared of under brush. It was just wide enough for Glacier and I to walk on, with the over grown grass on the sides swiping my ankles. We walked along for a while and then ran into a few steep hills. Part of the reason I wanted to go out and hike was because of my triathlon training. I am not a good runner and the last leg of the triathlon is a 10 kilometre run. I wanted to see if walking 10 kilometres was possible and how I would feel after that.
Despite the steep climbs, I felt pretty good and left my parents in my dust. The mosquitoes were horrible along this trail and apparently they chewed up Jetta pretty good. She was walking back with my dad and at one point, Mom and I lost them. Mom looked back, but if you stopped moving you turned into a buffet, so we kept moving. Mom figured Dad and Jetta had found a path out and headed back to the truck so that Jetta wouldn't be eaten alive.
We continued weaving our way along the narrow path. Glacier successfully navigated tangled roots, fallen branches and rocks. Whenever we came to the top of a hill he would slow down and pause slightly. He would pick his way down carefully and would patiently wait for me if a rock went rolling out from under my foot. I never fell or tripped for the whole hour we were out.
We found another path that we thought would take us back towards the parking lot and turned down it, Glacier leading the way. Spider webs clung to my face and legs and sticky mosquito carcasses stuck to my sweaty chest where I had squished them, but I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Challenging my muscles, my brain and mine and Glacier's working relationship was exciting. Before I ever had a guide dog, I would have to lumber along hiking trails attached to someone's sweaty elbow. It was slow moving and sometimes quite clumsy. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, but I didn't know what hiking was like with a guide dog. Moving with Glacier through the woods is much more fluid and after his puppy push-ups he was fantastic. It is almost a freeing feeling.
Our new trail was a bit more treacherous with more downhills with steep angles and more dislodged, rolling stones. Glacier did very well though and it was a great exercise in trust and reading is body language. If this dog can guide me through a forest and keep me safe, his obstacle work on the streets will be stellar.
As we neared the bottom of a particularly steep hill, Mom realised we were at the top of the waterfall that we had walked to down our first dead end trail. There was a bridge that past over the top of the waterfall and after Glacier put his front paws up on the thigh high step up on to the bridge, we were off. I wondered how he would do being up so high and the water thundering below us, but he wasn't even phased. He walked confidently across the bridge, paused at the other end where there was another three foot drop down and waited without sniffing or eating greenery while I scrambled down.
If the mosquitoes had not been so bad, that would have been a beautiful place for a picnic. There were weather smoothed rocks that you could sit on and the sun was shining through the trees' branches. The sound of the waterfalls could have put me to sleep, but as I said before, stopping meant you were bug food.
Mom went ahead at this part as it was incredibly rocky and was more of a small rock face than a hill to climb down. There were roots as steps and rocks as well. We even had a few sturdy trees to grab on to if we needed. I put Glacier on "long leash," which means I extended it from its normal three feet to six feet and let him climb down slowly in front of me. He's so long and big that if I had used his harness or held onto his "short leash" it could have injured him. He needed the extra length to maneuver himself. That said, He would wait for me at each little flat spot and for me to tell him to go ahead. He would let me place my hand on his back for stability and stared up curiously at me as I came scooting down the rocks on my bum. Actually, I was in more of a squat position: dropping my centre of gravity down low to the ground made getting down a lot safer. Plus, I see with my hands and I was able to explore the ground behind and a bit in front of me before I slid down. It takes a lot of core and leg strength to scoot down a rock face, but we made it down with no problems. Glacier was incredibly patient and quite calm, which is amazing for him, since usually he is brimming with excitement and enthusiasm.
After our little journey down, we came to a set of rickety, wooden stairs that Glacier guided me down. He paused at each platform letting me know there was another set of stairs in front of me and was not nervous despite the stairs being open. At the bottom of the flight of stairs we hung a right and made our way back up the boardwalk that we had originally walked down. It was quite narrow and Glacier did an excellent job of pulling me away from some oncoming pedestrian traffic. He kept his nose to himself and got me back to the car where we found Dad and Jetta waiting for us.
I don't know if Glacier's puppy raiser ever did anything like that with him. I know it's a first for us and I was very impressed with how he handled himself. We've walked trails before where he's been off leash, but I wanted him to work yesterday and I couldn't have asked for a better performance. When there were roots sticking up he knew just how much to move me so that I would not trip, but also made sure I didn't step off the path into the over grown under brush. When walking down steep hills, he paid attention to my body language and would brace himself if one of my feet slid on a loose rock. When I was moving down the rock face in a squat position, he would patiently wait and only move on when he was told to. With all of the good smells of the forest and sounds of the waterfall that is a feat in itself. He didn't even falter when being bombarded by the vampiric, whining, black horde that followed us relentlessly.
Glacier was given a lot of praise and a nice cool drink upon reaching the vehicle. Then we loaded Jetta and Glacier up and took them for a swim at the dog park as a reward. They were hot and needed to cool down. Besides, if you have just guided your handler over rough terrain and she came out in one piece, you deserve a nice swim. That said, Glacier only goes up to his belly and was too busy playing with two Shelty puppies to really swim, but he still enjoyed himself. :)