Semper Doggy

mia and marc dog mt

I am a “Dogfather”. It is a common error with folks with dyslexia.  My charge is a noble black beast named after fierce competitor Mia Hamm. It seems that Mia does not play well with others. Like her namesake, she keeps her mind on the mission. Then again, how many of us put on our better self all the time. Who is to say what is the better self any way? There seems to be expectations put upon dogs that some dogs just do not want to buy into. For example, Mia is fiercely loyal. I appreciated that trait. If Mia were a member of the armed forces, she would be a Marine. Standing by my side, I feared no evil for I had Uncle Sam’s misguided canine.

So in an effort for some mutual attitude adjustment, I took Mia out for a hike on a trail that runs out from Mt Seymour in North Vancouver. The trail is called “Dog Mountain”. Mia and I arrived at Mt Seymour with little hope of seeing anything. A fog had capped the summit and tourist were disappointed that Mother Nature had once again pulled some form of moisture from her bag of trick. After finding the parking lot and applauding crazed cyclist that were pedaling up to this ski resort, I started asking folks which way the trail was and was thankfully given direction by a great guy who had inherited two rescue dogs. He had referred to his hound as “Mutts” but I looked at the two pups and said, “These are not mutts. They are universal dogs. This is what you would get from a great combination of most of the dogs on the planet!” One hound amazed his owner and licked my hand. A dog knows when it is appreciated even though it has been labeled as shy and abused. The man’s wife, who was distinctly pregnant, seemed to like that. No longer “Mutts” but an elite hybrid..the universal dog. Gold and shorthaired, with strong legs and a lean body of a cross between a grey hound and a golden Labrador , with happy floppy ears and a curled up tail, yes these dogs were the product and a fast and frisky mating. As heart warming as this little interaction was, Mia was not going to be part of this love feast. She looked out the window of my truck and startled to snarl.

So with leash, walking stick (possibly to fend off that one crazed Doberman) the mission was a foot. In local hiking guidebooks and a North shore website, the Dog Mountain trail is rated as an “easy” trail. There are some side comments about the possible challenges of mud on exposed roots. With this in mind, Mia and I marched into the woods, our shoes and paws crunching gravel with a solid cadence and a simple intent to set off and test our social skills.

Prior to this hike, I only wanted to rediscover a joy of my own youth. As a moody thirteen-year-old New England, I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a scoutmaster who had just returned from Viet Nam. He was a Marine and some how the whole Kumbaya scout lore and merit badges got prioritized to focus on survival and a simple code of honour, courage and commitment. At the time, colour TVs were telecasting fresh footage from the rice patties and all my scout master wanted to do was make sure we would not become a statistic. So we hiked. Actually, we marched. We spent several weeks on the Appalachian Trail doing a fifty-mile hike that evolved into many more miles just for the sake of doing patrols. We learned to survive on dehydrated food and the stray bullfrogs that ended up on spears we made. For an imaginative and fit teenager, I thrived with the intense training. I also found the woods as a place of solitude to get away from the madness of being a teen.

My other mentors were my own hound “Mike” and a Irish setter, who we named “Red”. I was later to find out his name was Lancelot, which seemed gallant and Arthurian but the name did not match his goofy ways. Like Mia, my dog “Mike” was a natural fighter and loyal. Hiking with a hound in those days was less demanding. The dog bag was not yet invented and the leash was something you had just in case a pack of joggers or bicycles went by. Let’s be honest here, what dog can ignore a mass flock of moving objects? Be it a bunch of geese or a flock of sheep, the primal urges kick in. Dogs like to chase things, just like kids like to play. It is a way to create joy and it does not need to be muzzled nor drugged into stoic silence. So it was, that a mindful Marine and malicious mutts oddly fostered my joy of hiking.

Well, Mia’s primal urges to protect instilled a new role for me. Gone were my previous intended meditative reflections, I was loud and proud, “oorah!”. I was like a knight’s errant shouting into the crowd. “Behold the brave knight Mia, please put your dogs on a leash!”. “Move aside maggots”, there is no time for mental hamburger, remember “Heartbreak Ridge” and get your arses up this mountain. At one point in our journey, a German Sheppard made a lunge on Mia. Instincts kicked in and I fell to the mud to cover Mia from the attack as if a hand grenade had just come rolling down the hill. Covered in mud, I wrestled with Mia to protect her from locking jaws with this beast. Notes to self, this was a breed to remember. There was definitely no happy wagging of tails nor polite sniffing of hindquarters. Marines have a selective memory and so do dogs.

I must confess that Mia was quite patient with me. We went over narrow logs and she just looked at me and jumped off and traveled through the mud. Like I said, she is a Marine. We scrambled up inclines of vines after I announced to the woods that any stay dog should be on a leash. Several hounds passed by. Owners looked at me like I was crazed. Some applauded my intents to domesticate an obviously aggressive dog. There were several hesitant looks and smug stares that seemed to say “How dare you bring that uncivilized hound into our humble environs”. I began to understand Mia’s reluctance to become that calm dog on the leash.

I wondered what would happen to these folks if some stray bear or cougar came wandering down the hill. Then what? I could hear Jack in my head..”you want the truth! You cannot handle the truth! Secretly you want us on this trail. You want us because we can guard you against those wild thing you fear? Yes.. you.. in your luluman yoga pants and fricking Birkenstocks. Where the hell did you think you were going this morning? Thought you were off for a quick latte and a pop into the mall? Half awake and buried deep down in your designer clothes filled, custom made, Cherry wood multilevel Bauhaus closets, you hide and cower each morning at the fear of being uncoordinated and not politically correct. Truth, you cannot handle the truth!”. With a paw to the left and a walking stick to the right, Mia and I quietly (with an occasional snarl) pasted the oddly adorned “hikers” and soldiered on through the now thicken mud and slippery vines.

So Mia and I were both now on a mission to “improvise, adapt, and over come” this whole North Shore hiking thing with a happy tune in our heads. With each meeting of muzzle to muzzle encounters, I looked at Mia and said..”you are getting better” and like wise as I manage to quicken up my pace and climb up woody inclines, Mia looked at me like a Drill Instructor and gave my a modicum of hope that I would actually get out of these woods without teeth marks in my arms or a broken ankle.

Together, man and hound, we traveled along the contours to a final point where an amazing view of Vancouver was promised and then we humped back to the truck. There wasn’t one dogfight and Mia managed not to snarl at three dogs. Due to the fog, we saw less than more. What we did see were many dogs and owners out on the trail enjoying a day away from the city. I learned that I could head off onto any trail no matter the level and that I always had a back up if there were reports of cougars or bears. I was gaining more confidence and the simple act of walking in the woods was now a source of physical and mental challenges. Though I questioned my own intents and many folks empathized and supported my training of Mia’s “aggressive behavior”. I just grinned and realized that I would rather walk four miles in a Marine’s paws than listen to some hipster’s meaning of life conversations. I was here to let go..to “improvise, adapt and overcome” all the excuses I had used for too long. Oddly enough, I was on a jarhead path toward finding peace within the stillness of these fog coated woods.

lake one dog mt.

Kind of tippy..

It was my sixth time on an introductory board and I was feeling confident. I had not fallen into the water yet! I asked the folks at Ecomarine if I should up the bar and try a new board. “Well you are thinking of getting a Red Paddle Explorer”..said Peter..”why not try a twelve foot touring board”. “What is the difference” I asked and Peter looked me in the eye and with an Irish smirk said..”well it it is a thinner board so it is kind of tippy”.

My initial instructor Dave took me down to the dock and noticed that I was wearing less insulated gear. “So do you want to stand on the board and see how it feels first?” he asked as we both went down to the dock. I got the PFD, leash and paddle and David took the board off the rack. The board was narrow..eight inches narrower and as it went into the water, I considered how cold the water might be today.

I jumped..who am I kidding..I cautiously climbed on and did a few side to side bear dance moves. “Hmm..yup..less stable.”..I said to David as he gave me my paddle and said..”try it out”..I did three paddles. “You ok?” I heard Dave ask and with a feeble “yup” and with a wobbly drunken sailor stance, I navigated around the end of the dock with all of the confidence of well lubricated New Year’s eve party goer!

For a novice paddler, False Creek has three key obstacles to test a newbie paddler. The first is the wind, which seems to magically increase just several minutes after you have made the choice to go down the creek and see if you can make the nearby bridge. The second obstacle is the numerous water taxis, who..I believe..get a secret joy in sneaking up on SUP Paddlers from behind and sending a wake their way. The final obstacle is the resident cormorant population, who seem to surface at the oddest of times and just in front of your board or paddle. Being that this was my six time, I had adopted a few strategies. I signaled to the water taxis with my paddle. I started my paddle down wind and…I honestly enjoyed the antics of the local bird population.

I had made the Cambie Street bridge much faster than I thought I would. It was true that the board was much faster. Yet I was feeling as stable as a person with a full bladder doing a pee dance in a block long portapotty line at a concert. Each ferry produced a wake and I turned to go into it. “Ha, I dare you to tease me!” I quietly taunted the ferries. I successfully navigated the shallow low tide water at the bridge, enjoyed the voices of kids playing on the shore and played hide and go seek with four more ferries.

By now the wind was up and I decided to cut a diagonal across the creek and then work in what I hoped would be a wind shadow created by the Island’s cement factory. I was calming smiling at runners and stray tourist on shore. I was free on the water and muscling my way into the wind. I did not see the ferry pass behind me. Paddle boards are meant to surf and with just a small wave, I was now suddenly rocketing forward into the wind. Without even having the time to go “Cowabunga”, I noticed that my feet and board leash were going skyward.

Now in theory, to get back onto the board, there are several strategies. Having paddled canoes and kayaks, the first instinct kicked in. Stay calm. Float and point your board into the wind. Hold onto your board and your paddle. Ignore the fact that a lovely matronly woman is now on deck wondering if you are going to drown. Ignore the six monohull canoeist and some brawny hawaiin big kahuna in his outrigger. “You ok?”..”Oh yeah..just got too hot..wanted to cool down…!”. Bull shit..your board is heading for the nearby dock and the grand mum is now offering you the steps on the back of their boat..and you are actually thinking about it.

Happily, in my private lesson Dave and I had discussed this situation and in hindsight, I should have just jumped in a done a trial run. I was about three feet from the dock when I finally stood up and started to paddle to windward again. A kayaker looked over his shoulder and gave me this long look of discust… “Silly frickin Paddle boarder”..or so I thought. To show my confidence, I launched into some strong strokes. I was soaked. My legs were shaking not from cold but from exhaustion and I was yet to get to Granville Island.

When you shut off you thoughts and just paddle, the world seems to make more sense. It is just one stroke after the other. The fear of falling in was now over and with that there was also the private joy of getting back up and paddling to windward without showing any sign of being scared. How often do we actually challenge gravity in life? How often do we put our selves in situations that may be a little tippy? I wasn’t pondering these thoughts but a grin stayed on my face till I made the dock about twenty minutes later.

I changed and walked into the Granville Island market with a new swagger. I indulged and bought a monster lemon aid and went outside to see the dock I had just paddled by. Two guitarist were playing Pacabel’s Cannon and I looked over to the railing where three years ago I had met the woman who had inspired today’s antics. While she had moved, I could still see her first smile at me. The music was mixed with the cry’s of gulls and more ferry traffic. Either due to exhaustion or a poetic moment, I sat down and soaked it all in. Time and memories lyrically followed the melody of one of my favorite songs. Contently, I listened to the music as my legs  continued to vibrate. After the song, I slowly got up and went inside and got a Thai Chicken Special. The wise elderly lady behind the counter must have read my eyes and sun burned face and gave me a discount on another lemon aid.

So this is why I paddle. There is always going to be the daily challenge. There is always going to be the challenge of the unexpected. Yet the reward for my soggy time on water was this beatific state of mind of wandering around Granville Island full of life, alone and yet not alone. There is the knowing that while you may become overcomed with the life outside of you there is is also peace of mind inside of you. Life is good today; even though it is kind of tippy.

Why paddle board?

You look in the mirror and say..”How hard could it be?”

In the last two months you have shed more than 25 pounds. You stomach is actually flat and there is now a bounce in your step. You have regained the old swagger and you are now starting to ignore that old eeyore voice in the back of your head saying ..”you really are not able to do physical things any more..”

Do you argue your limitation or let an Irishman convince you that..heh..you paddled a canoe and a kayak..why not a paddleboard..and without even a drop of Guinness…the pixy dust begins to work.

More news to follow on this adventure and perhaps a “Attaboy” award to Ecomarine on Granville Island BC

When the goings get weird..the Weird turn pro

country western moab

 

So what if your life had just turned into a country western song and you realized this in Moab, Utah while you were in a store surrounded by cowboy boots and stetson hats?

Would you embrace that moment?

Would you let go of logic and throw caution to the wind or become  a wind dancer?

Would you let go of the love of your life and depend upon the possible spontaneous combustion of a tiny spark?

Would you..at the wise and pleasantly fermented age of 58…decide to reinvent your own self?

Not as something new but as the lost inner child that got waylaid many years ago.

What would it take..besides another quarter in the juke box?

Honour, Courage and Commitment..

Welcome aboard!