Category Archives: Outdoor Adventures

Island Lake State Park: Yellow Trail

islandlake-november2013-6449It has been a few months since we packed up the dogs and gear and made ourselves at home within Mother Nature’s splendor.  After a particularly rough week, it was decided that a relaxing day trip into the wilds of the state park was just what the doctor had in mind for the cruddy week blues.  It didn’t take long to single out Island Lake’s trails as our destination.  It was, after all, new and relatively close location for us.

Island Lake State park offered two natural turf (dirt) trails for hikers and mountain bikers to enjoy.  My husband and I opted for the slightly shorter Yellow Trail because it was later in the day and we didn’t want to be on an unfamiliar trail in unfamiliar territory well into the night.  I wasn’t willing to be that brave this go around.

Once we arrived at the trail head, we reviewed the trail map and marked any particular issues – which were pleasantly few in number for such a long trail!  Next, we loaded our pack and the packs the dogs would carry (which was primarily our water, portable bowls and other dog needs for them and first aid kit, snacks, camera and other gear in ours).  Onceislandlake-november2013-6369 everything was packed up, we checked the packs for comfort and security on dog and human alike before we hit the trail.

I was happy to find it was a well-marked and even had distance markers every half mile or so.  After we separated from the Blue Trail, we were granted relative peace and quiet from the plethora of bikers and finally had a moment to give the dogs their head on the trails, which they had been itching to do since we got there.

Ryker and Mika had been testing their leads until we were finally clear of the bikers because they’re used to hitting the trails and getting some much needed and desired freedom to romp.  Thankfully, we’ve worked on trail etiquette with them for quite some time and the experience has served well.  They stayed within visual range and checked back in often.  Every so often, we would have to move ourselves off the trail to accommodate a biker or two but for the most part, they were able to enjoy their freedom.

The whole 4.91 mile trek went off with only one hitch – a very dog reactive black German Shepherd who caused a bit of a scene after we had moved off the trail with Mika’s alert that we had company.  Other than a nasty threat displace and an issuance to the owner of the dog to get his dog under control, we were well on our way once


more with both dogs having been phenomenal about handling the nasty behavior.

We arrived back at the trail head after the sun had set with two very tired and happy dogs and two utterly relaxed and rejuvenated people.  It really was perfect medicine for the cruddy week blues and I, for one, cannot wait to repeat that awesome time on another set of trails with my dogs and other half at my side in the near future!

The River Trail & Marsh Trail

Being on vacation for a couple of weeks has allowed for some exploration of local hiking trails.  We proudlakestaterec-rivertrail-july2013-5806much prefer the state parks because they allow for more freedom on dirt hiking trails for us and the dogs but we’ve been known to hit a few metroparks as well. This time around, we had decided to scope out Proud Lake State Recreation.  We’d opted for the River Trail which is rated as easy despite the 5.75 mile loop it boasts and ended up doing a combination of the River Trail and Marsh Trail due poor trail markings from construction/maintenance going on.

We went on an early morning and a week day hoping to avoid some of the more prominent crowds with the 4th of July celebrations that were set to be on their way in just a couple of short days and we weren’t disappointed.  We saw a group of hikers on our way in and one gentleman with a very rude Labrador while out on the trails but other than that, it was pretty peaceful.  Mika and Ryker enjoyed romping ahead of us a bit and were good about checking in and returning when we asked because of a human or canine visitor approaching.  (It’s a pet peeve of mine to be rushed by rude dogs and I make sure my crew follows the same etiquette I’d want from other hikers with their dogs who are on or off leash but that’s a tale for another time.)proudlakestaterec-rivertrail-july2013-5821

The sights and sounds of this particular trail were pretty amazing.  We saw a variety of wildlife from the usual cottontail rabbits and deer to a few amphibians (leopard and bullfrogs) and snakes.  The dogs were particularly enthralled with a juvenile garter snake that slithered right across our path since neither had really experienced one that up close and personal before.

The dam on the trail was amazing as well.  There was a nice wooded dock-type area that had a shallow area that the dogs enjoyed splashing about in half way through our walk.  This enabled them to cool down as well as us while watching a few kids leap into the water.

All in all, it was a very fun day and I took a LOT of photos (all of which can be seen here).  The trails weren’t as well marked as we’d hoped but it was worth wandering and getting slightly lost.  Now that we have a more accurate map, we’ll be hitting that trail again in the future and hoping to do the entire length instead of only 3 miles of it. 

Quit Bugging Me!


With the weather having warmed up, those of us outdoor lovin’ dog owners are venturing out onto trails, walking paths or anything else we can do with our dogs in Mother Nature’s glory.  Unfortunately, a few of our eight-legged creepy crawly friends are joining us on our adventures and with them they bring all sorts of nasty health and welfare concerns too.

In Michigan, we’ve seen a massive explosion in tick populations statewide.  Experts are linking these growth spurts to a variety of factors including the following:

  • Warmer winters;
  • Suburbanization (bringing wildlife and people in closer proximity);
  • A boom in the white-tailed deer population;
  • Migratory birds transporting ticks and other parasites to new areas;
  • The use of fewer insecticides.

An increase in the tick population means a far greater risk of tick-borne diseases like Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Babesiosis.  These diseases can be viral, bacterial or parasitic in nature and each is dangerous in their own rite. Thankfully, there are many easily performed actions that will reduce or prevent these nasty monsters from wrecking havoc on your adventures into Mother Nature’s abode.

To reduce the chances of encountering  disease carrying ticks on you or your pets, make sure you adhere to these simple solutions:

  • Check your pets and yourself for ticks daily, especially after spending time outdoors.
  • Remove any ticks found immediately.
  • Have your vet perform a flea and tick check at each exam.
  • Become informed about tick-borne diseases and species in your area.  (Click here for species identification.)
  • Talk to your veterinarian about using flea and tick preventatives on your pet(s).
  • Reduce the tick habitat in your yard.
  • If out hiking, wear light-colored clothing and check your gear.

While ticks are fast becoming a major problem, their effects on enjoying Mother Nature’s splendor is still fairly simple.  We personally follow most of the above suggestions like making sure we dose our dogs (and cats!) with Advantix 2, using an additional spray on us and the dogs (Off! Deep Woods for us and UltraShield EX for the dogs) and following the check and remove (highly recommend this tick remover!) procedure.  We still deal with a few ticks here and there but not nearly as bad as they possibly could be (and have been!).

Here’s to a happy and safe tick season (hopefully tick-free!) from our pack to yours on your outdoor adventures.



K9 Explorers

With spring finally starting to actually happen, the world is starting to blossom and the urge to get out and do things is finally starting to creep in and set fast.  Winter is always a tough season for me (and the dogs) because I have to drag myself out to do things because I hate the extreme colds it produces.  Yeah, we weight pulls in the winter months but it was indoors but that was pretty much the extent of it.  (No snow pulls this year for us!  Brr!)

My husband and I have been looking into doing other things with the dogs outside of competing.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have my competitive “We can do this!” spirit with the dogs but I’m settling down a bit and just want to spend time with the dogs and do things in time.  That is what brought us to finally biting the bullet and looking into joining K9 Explorers.  It’s a really awesome group of people who get together just to DO things with their dogs and even help the community with different projects too.  I’d been following them for a couple of years but it really never kicked that it was something I wanted to do seriously until this year when I got the guts to as the founder, Heather, if I could tag along on one of the hikes.

We had a blast.  The dogs were tired.  We were tired.  We got to hang out with like-minded people who thoroughly enjoyed their dogs and their company.  These were people who enjoyed doing things with their dogs for the heck of it.  Sure, there were a few dog sport competitors in the group like Abby and Therese from Team Puggle (seriously awesome team, by the way!) but for the most part it these were folks who just genuinely loved their pets.  It was such a wonderful treat that we were hooked.

We’ve decided to make the plunge to join and enjoy ourselves and help out in the club to make sure things run smoothly.  It’s going to be a blast earning badges like we could have in Dog Scouts of America since they wouldn’t accept a couple of our dogs for not being particularly doggie friendly, helping the community and enjoying doing things with the dogs outside of the normal competitive setting and I highly recommend the group for anyone in the Metro Detroit area too! (If you’re interested, you can find out more about them here.)


Ryker playing on some of the agility equipment at the first meeting of the year.

Dog Park Dangers

Many years ago this article would have never been written.  I used to firmly believe that dog parks were an excellent way to expend the energy of a drivey, happy-go-lucky dog – more specifically, our pit bull Luna.  (No, folks, I do NOT encourage bully breeds in dog parks and we lucked out with having a pretty dog social pit bull but they aren’t all like that.  BAD RAP has a GREAT article on dog parks for bully breed owners.) The allure that they were a great place for dog-dog socialization was there and perhaps the initial purpose behind dog parks had this thought but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We used to attend one of the many in the Metro Detroit area like it was going out of fashion – we’re talking about nearly every single day no matter what.  Luna loved it.  She would romp with her doggie friends and we’d chat with other dog owners while they frolicked.

When Luna was about eighteen months old we stopped going to the park.  Our work schedules had changed and we were unable to go to the park with any real frequency and started looking into other options for exercising her – like dog sport classes and hiking.  I didn’t think much of it until I went back with a friend’s dog a couple of months back – a cute little lab mix with boundless energy.  Let me tell you, I was absolutely shocked at what had changed.

  • The amount of feces that was left behind after a dog pottied.  Owners just seemed to walk around it or ignore the fact that their dog had just left a pile behind.  I silently worried about things like coccidia or other parasites that a dog could be shedding in those piles.
  • The owners all gathered in one spot near the entrance despite the fact that there was an acre and a half completely open an unsupervised with dogs running amok.  Many were chatting or on their cell phones(!) and not paying any attention to their canine charge.
  • There were TONS of out-of-control dogs with no manners, no recall and no direction.  Many of them often bullied other dogs and their owners thought it was adorable or were completely indifferent about what was happening – like the intact pair of male Labradors that humped everything they could wrap their paws around and the more the other dog fought back the worse it got.
  • Those same out-of-control dogs seemed to be attached to equally out-of-control owners (I got a taste of that when I pulled the two labs off of my friend’s young dog for the millionth time and got told NOT to touch his dogs.  My reply wasn’t very politically correct, to be honest, because I was sick of seeing this happy, exuberant dog get shoved to the ground by two jerk dogs but I got the point across and those dogs left soon afterward, thankfully!)
  • The wrong type of equipment was being left on dogs (pinch collars, harnesses, choke chains, etc.) that could have caused severe injury or even death to a dog if a fight broke out or a dog’s jaw got caught while grabbing a hold of another dog in play.

We spent a total of about 45 minutes there and I have to admit, it sucked.  I couldn’t believe how much things had changed and while some dogs may be phenomenal at a dog park because they have been well-socialized and have owners who are on top of everything and not about being social divas, I personally don’t think they’re really a good thing for the vast majority of dogs out there – especially since most people sadly use dog parks as a way to cheat the system and not take their dog for a walk to expend energy.

There are a plethora of other options out there instead of visiting your local dog park to expend that boundless energy – especially if you have a bull breed like training classes, hikes or even a fenced in baseball diamond or tennis court with just you and your dog or a couple of like-minded owners and their dog-social dogs.

Snowpocalypse 2012

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly the worst snow storm in the planet and barely created a fuss for most of Michigan but you’d think that the way the news channels were panicking that it was going to be some sort of major to do – you know, like it was the end of the world or something.  Other than a few short hours where five sissy bulls absolutely refused to set foot outside because they might get flurries up their derriere it amounted to nothing more than eight inches of cold, non-snowman making snow pile up that gave the dogs an opportunity to romp like madmen (and women!) around their Nana and Papa’s yard (since that’s where we were for the first part of this week).

Imagine that, romping around 2.5 acres like little snow piranhas while beating one another up with frozen Kong Wubbas and Jolly Balls.  It was all rather amusing but I seriously froze my fingers off (because I couldn’t find my gloves and said “oh, well!” like an idiot!) watching them be little nimrods and merrily photographed the whole thing.  This, of course, amounted to waaaaaaay to many photographs to sort through and process but it was worth it.

Now that they’re all edited and ready to go, I’ll post them here for your enjoyment.  Did you survive the Snowpocalypse of 2012 or are you an abominable snow zombie like I felt after a few hours in the sub zero temperatures? (You can view the whole album here.)

Luna gets a good roll in the snow.


Lyric likes to sass me when she doesn’t get the toy NOW.


Ryker and Lyric nag at their Poppa to THROW THE BALL!


Mika mid-shake with her Wubba.


The chase is on!

Home Away from Home: Fort Custer State Park

My husband and I try and take a mini vacation every once in a while to just get away from it all.  This kind of trip typically involves the outdoors and the dogs.  Since we’d planned to use up the rest of our vacation time from work for the week of Thanksgiving we figured this was ample opportunity to ‘just get away’ for a little while and what better way to do that than to hit the trails?

We planned for weeks on where we wanted to go.  We researched the various trails, distances and locations that we wanted to check out since we had already thoroughly abused the local parks and recreation areas close to home.  At the suggestion of our friend Cindy from The Nut House, we checked out the deal on Fort Custer State Park.  That was it.  We had found our spot and the wait began – which was mercifully short.

We headed toward Kalamazoo on Sunday evening after attending the NWDA weight pull that was being hosted that weekend (more on that later) and settled into our hotel room (after an awesome dinner at Mongolian BBQ!) for the evening since we were going to hit the trails first thing in the morning on Monday with the pack and the addition of Peanut and Cindy.

Left to Right: Peanut, Lyric, Ryker, Mika & Luna

We hit the trails around 11am the following morning after packing our backpacks with the supplies for the trip and harnessing up the dogs and got lost in the woods for four hours.  We made a few stops throughout since my knees aren’t always the greatest on hikes (and for a picnic lunch!).  We seemed to be alone to enjoy the wilderness with our pack of pit bulls other than a pair of mountain bikers who were stopped due to one of them wiping out and messing up his bike pretty badly (he was uninjured, thankfully!).

All in all, it was a wonderful set of trails despite the fact that they were pretty poorly marked.  I can’t wait to head back there in the spring when the weather is a touch better to do it all again.

Here are a few more shots from our trip.  The rest can be viewed here.

Crooked Lake Trail

Life has unfortunately gotten in the way of doing one of my favorite things in the world – hiking.  Yesterday we were finally able, after running a mountain of errands, to get some trail time.  My husband, Bruce, and I have been checking out new places to explore for a few weeks now and settled on Pinckney State Recreation Area. We took the Crooked Lake Trail after so many weeks off – not the smartest idea we’ve had in a while.  Oh, well!  We had a blast.  The dogs are exhausted and my husband is exhausted.  (I should seriously get bonus points for that!)

One of many position stops on the hike.

Despite the extreme heat of 98°-ish or higher with the heat index it wasn’t so bad in the trails since they’re covered by the lush overgrowth of the forest.  We kept ourselves and the dogs well hydrated with Gatorade and bottled water and rested frequently to prevent serious distress on the chance it could occur.  The trails themselves were pretty awesome.  There were quite a few steep areas that I had a bit of difficulty getting up with my knee issues but I had help from my awesome husband and canine trail companions who made sure I didn’t lag too far behind.

Notice how Lyric is checking back to make sure I’m there? Ha!

The biggest bonus to the whole hike though was being able to do it all in my Vibram FiveFingers barefoot shoes.  It was an absolutely amazing time feeling everything below my feet and not falling over because I misjudged something in a traditional hiking shoe – which I’ve done FAR too often on previous hikes.

At the end of the day, I’m tired and I’m sore but I feel accomplished.  It’s a feeling that I absolutely love having – especially when it’s involved in something as simple and joyous as enjoying nature with my awesome dogs and my wonderful husband.  Below are a few photos from the hike.  The rest can be viewed here.

The crew waiting to head out again.

Beautiful view during our hike.

Getting Back to Nature

We went on a little nature walk at a local park.  Normally, we’d bring the whole pack but since we headed out shortly after attending an NWDA weight pull, we only had three of the five with us – Luna, Mika and Ryker.  We had an absolute blast and the dogs got to sniff and bounce and get out and about for a few hours with not a care in the world.

Luna watches a couple of squirrels play.

Ryker can’t decide if he’d rather pee or watch nearby birds flittering around.

Mika telling us what she thinks of pictures.

Ready to hit the trails. [Left to Right: Ryker, Luna & Mika]