Tag Archives: Dogs

Life On Monument Hill

What does a dog lover do when they suddenly find themselves dogless?  Well, they gladly accept the opportunity to “dog-sit” for their friends when they leave town.

Those that have lost a pet before know the situation.  It is just too soon to get a new dog.  But, I had become accustomed to spending time with dogs.  It still feels sort of strange to come home and not see my dog waiting for me at the door.  So, sometimes the best thing to do at this point, while I am missing just hanging out with dogs, is to go somewhere and spend several days with someone else’s dogs.

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The first time I drove over what is referred to as the “Palmer Divide” it kind of caught me by surprise.  It was my first time driving from Denver to Colorado Springs.  As one who loves looking at maps, I knew there was a ridge between the two towns, and I knew it was referred to as the Palmer Divide.  I was, however, caught by surprise by how high in elevation I got to just simply driving along Interstate 25.  7,352 feet is over 2,000 feet higher in elevation than Denver, and around the same elevation as Lookout Mountain, a place people can go and overlook the City.  It’s way higher than I thought one could go without actually going into the mountains.

A most general simplification of Colorado’s geography slices the state into thirds.  The eastern third is essentially part of a larger region that extends nearly 1000 miles east called the “Great Plains”.  The central third is the Central Rockies, and the western third is often referred to as the “Western Slope”.  In this extremely simplistic model, Monument would technically be part of the eastern third, but it’s high elevation makes it significantly different than most other places referred to as part of the Great Plains.

In some ways, this town has the same look and feel of any fairly recently built suburb.  Although the town was incorporated in 1879, most of it’s population arrived since 1990.  Unlike in urban areas, the roads wind, and subdivisions are all disconnected from one another.

I actually spent the later half of my childhood (7th-12th grade) in a suburb with a similar layout.  My parents house (in which they still live) was in subdivision built during the 1980s.  The area is somewhat more densely populated than this, but the experience was actually quite similar.  Most suburban subdivisions are across the street from some sort of strip-mall.  At my parents house, we happened to be only four houses in from the main road, making the shops across the street quite close.

Over the course of that six year period, I had actually become quite accustomed to an experience that would be considered strange to most people.  Given how close all those shops were to home (the grocery store we always went to was less than a quarter of a mile from home), it seemed strange to me not to just walk there, as opposed to driving.  However, as anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in suburban areas built  in the later part of the 20th Century would attest to, these areas are quite car-centric.  For a lot of people who live in these areas, it doesn’t even cross their minds to walk somewhere.  Therefore, I would quite commonly be the only person walking anywhere in a place not built with pedestrians in mind.  This is an experience I had become accustomed to, but would likely seem strange to most people.

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The apartment complex I stayed at in Monument Valley is across the street from a fairly major shopping center, which includes Wal-Mart, the Home Depot, and several restaurants.  Theoretically, one could live in a place like that, and, other than whatever commute they have to work, be able to satisfy all the basic needs of life without having to drive anywhere.

As the weekend progressed, I walked back and forth across the street to shops and restaurants, the same way I did all those years ago.  I kept thinking to myself about what life is like for people in a place like this.  Obviously, most people don’t walk, even if they are just going across the street, but if I lived here, I most certainly would.  But, if I lived here, I wonder if I would get bored.  Being so close to the mountains (closer than Denver), there were some interesting cloud formations that I would see on a regular basis.  But, as much as I love the weather, and was blown away by this long flat cloud in front of the mountain range, that would not entertain me for an entire day.

For nearly all of my life I have been judging certain areas, where there aren’t any interesting bars, restaurants, or other fun places, as boring.  In fact, one of the strangest things about the Denver, is that there are sections, within the city limits, that do not have anything within walking distance.  When I saw these neighborhoods, I decided I would not want to live there.

But, I really thought long and hard about life in a town like this.  Would there theoretically be a way to make it work?  I mean, I know that I would miss a lot of urban entities, and taking Ubers, busses, trains, etc. to get around.  But, obviously a significant subset of the population does just fine in places like this.  They just do something else.  Maybe they go out to the park instead of going to a fancy brunch, or they have house parties instead of going to the bars.  I would definitely still prefer to live in areas with interesting entities around me, but I maybe I should not be as reliant on places within the neighborhood for entertainment.  After all, it does get expensive.  If experiencing life in a place like this for a few days can teach me anything, it is that sometimes we need to be creative and figure out something amazing to do with our time on our own, using limited resource.

A Tribute to a Companion

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October has been a crazy emotional month.  Most of what I write about in this blog pertains to specific experiences.  This past summer was certainly filled with activities of all kinds, trips to various interesting places, and new experiences.  It is what I love doing.  I started writing this travel blog to catalog my experiences.  However, this month, I feels like all I have been writing about is heavy emotional types stuff.

For an experience is not just simply the place one visits.  It is also about what one does at that specific place.  It is often about the company one keeps, and who that experience is shared with.  It is the thoughts and feelings we all experience when in various places.  It is the revelations we come to, about life, about the people around us, and about ourselves.  It is also the connections we make, or the connections we deepen on these trips.  I often have some of the deepest conversations with others on lengthy road trips.

On the evening of Tuesday, October 27th, 2015, last night at the time of writing, I unexpectedly had to say goodbye to not only a travel companion, but also a companion in life- my dog Juno.

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It is nearly impossible to fully describe how it feels to have lost a companion an wonderful as Juno.  Not only did we share a ton of adventures together, but we also shared a lot of aspects of day-to-day life.  As one can see by looking through the pictures on this blog, Juno would accompany me on quite a few adventures, from hiking, to camping, and so much more.  As a cold weather dog (Siberian Husky), she particularly loved the mountains.  In fact, I remember the look on her face when we departed from one of our weekend camping trips in the mountains.  She knew we were headed back to Denver, and the look on her face said, clearly, “Why don’t we live here (in the mountains) instead of there”.

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But not only was she around through all of the fun times and adventures, she was also present for my day-to-day life, the ups and the downs, and well, the part of our lives that is not always as glamorous.  One thing we as human beings in the 21st Century tend to do, when we invite others into our lives, is only invite them for the good part, the fun part, the adventurous part.  This comes, obviously, out of the desire to be liked.  So, we present the portion of ourselves that we feel is most likely to be desired by others.  But, it is when those around us see the part of us that is not so great, the part of us that deals with discomfort, pain, disappointment, and heartbreak, that we build deeper connections.  Juno saw me in all parts of life; the night, as well as the morning after, when the consequences often come.

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It is really impossible to replace a companion like this.  A friend, whether it be a two-legged friend, or a four-legged one, simply cannot be replaced.  There is no substitute for the experiences we have had together.  There is no substitute for the way we interacted with one another.  And there is no substitute for the joy we had brought into each other’s lives.  Experiences cannot be replicated by design.  One can only hope to find something similar, or to happily move on to a new and positive experience when one is done.

I will miss the way Juno greets people in the neighborhood, almost invariantly getting a positive response from anyone we would walk by.

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I will miss the way Juno problem solves her way through the rocky sections of hiking trails.

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I will miss the way Juno would always give me a facial expression that made me feel confident in knowing that she was happy to see me.

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I will miss the way Juno often sits on the ground in a manner that makes her look like a three-legged-dog.

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I will miss the way Juno would alternate between sticking her head in front of the head rest on the drivers and passenger seat sides on car rides.

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I will even miss the way Juno found sneaky ways to pull random chicken wing bones off the ground on walks, particularly on Sundays, without me noticing.

Most of all, I will just miss the happiness she would always bring.  I guess there is no better way to describe how I feel right now that simply with the word sad.  Sure, there are thousands of other ways to complexify the emotion.

I know I took care of Juno responsibly, but was I responsible enough?  Juno started acting strangely roughly a couple of weeks ago.  The main thing I noticed was that she was kind of lethargic, moving slower than normal, and drinking a lot of water.  This felt to me like someone who has a bad cold, something which people can usually recover from with rest and plenty of fluids.  It was not until Monday, when Juno did not appear to be recovering, that I brought her into the Vet.  Still, I was not prepared to lose Juno this quickly.  I was just perplexed by why she had not been recovering and still seemed to be acting strangely.  We had brought Juno home from an animal shelter in 2011, four years ago.  At the time, the shelter told us she was five years old.  Some of the vets we had brought her to had subsequently estimated her age to be less than five.  So, at most she had been nine years old.  And, although she had EPI, a disease that renders a dog’s pancreas as useless (we had to mix her food with enzymes to get her to absorb it properly), I still seriously had expected to have her for at least several more years.

I took Juno on adventures, but did I take her on enough of them?  Did I really give her the life she deserved?  A look through this travel blog, which covers much of what I had done for a large portion of the time I had her, shows many adventures she was a part of, but also many adventures in which she was not included.  Additionally, as someone who has had to work standard M-F 9-5 types jobs for much of life, she has spent a good number of weekdays home alone for more than eight hours.  I know this is typical in today’s society, but does that make it right?  I wonder how she felt all those days.

Mostly, I just hope I gave Juno the best life I could have given her.  Because, as many animal lovers will attest to, a dog is not just a pet, it is part of the family.  I remember how strange it would feel to come home to an apartment without a dog anytime I would be out of town for the weekend and have brought Juno somewhere else.  The coming weeks will not only feel strange, but sad.  There are some sad events where one reach deep down inside and find a way to take comfort.  Many people can find a way to come to view a lost job as “for the best”, or see something like the not-quite world series bound Chicago Cubs as still having had a “great season” that “exceeded expectations”.  But, when it comes to something like this, I dig down, deep inside my heart, and all I see is a hole, for I know that I had a great pet and a great companion, she is gone, and there is nothing I can do about it.

Hiking With Dogs at Vedauwoo

My Memorial Day weekend has been pretty standard up until today. I got to spend some time out by the pool, went to the park for some games and grilling, and rode my bike a bit. You know, the standard kind of stuff someone is expected to do on Memorial Day Weekend. I stayed in town. Everything in town was more crowded than normal. But, the roads to get in and out of town were also more crowded than normal. What gives? More people going out of town, but also more people doing stuff in town. Where are all these people coming from? And, most significantly, where are all these people on an average summer weekend? Could they be doing nothing? That sounds weird to me.

Anyways, on Monday we decided to make a trip up to Wyoming to go to Vedauwoo. For those not familiar, Vedauwoo is a place between Cheyenne and Laramie with some unique rock formations. It is popular for Wyoming standards for both hiking and climbing.  Both the hiking and the climbing here are kind of moderate, as in, if you are looking for a really challenging hike or a really challenging climb, this is not the place to go.

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I like to bring my dog on some hikes.  To be honest, I do feel somewhat bad that a large majority of the activities I love do not involve the dog, and she usually ends up sitting at home alone all day.  Specifically, there are some places that fit a dog profile better than a human profile and visa versa.

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Vedauwoo is the kind of place where although the hikes are not physically challenging, there are some off-trail places you can go where the technical aspect of the hike gets kind of rough, specifically because of the rock formations.  While hiking up these rock formations, there were definitely some paths that we did not follow because they would be too hard for the dogs.  Three were also some places the dogs went that were tougher for humans.  Let’s just say that whatever limbo skills I do have definitely came in handy.

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The apex of the trails reach elevations of only about 8500 feet.  However, this was definitely more than enough to wear out the dogs, who are pictured here completely worn out.  Dogs simply do not have the stamina that humans have, and most people who are very serious about their activities tend to prefer to leave their dogs at home.  However, today was not about accomplishing the greatest hike of all time, or even doing any hard core training.  It was much more of a fun hike.  I mean, we did not leave Denver until 9 A.M., which in the hard core hiking world is a no-no.  But, the amazing thing about this place is how good of a view I got from relatively little effort.  Only 600-700 feet of vertical, and I was able to kind of feel on top of the world.  It actually reminds me of a place in Wisconsin I used to go to in my graduate school days called Devil’s Lake.  The hiking there is actually the best hiking I have ever done in the Midwest, but then again, there are no mountains there.   But the climbing distance and rockiness is somewhat similar.

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Overall, I think the amazing thing about this particular hike was that I was able to do this hike in an hour or so, even after I drank last night.  I am not an alcoholic, or someone that needs to drink, but I do enjoy going out and letting loose from time to time.  And, I would never do so if I was hoping to climb a 14er or something serious the next day, it is really nice to know that there are places out there where I can get in a satisfying hiking experience without having to give up the previous night, not bring the dog, etc.  While I plan to hike some more major places this summer, I think there is room for the challenging hikes as well as the lighter and more recreational activities.  In fact, the same can be said for any activity.  Sometimes we want to push ourselves to the limits and come away worn out, but sometimes we just want to have some fun, laugh a little, and enjoy our surroundings.

That kind of sums up the entire Memorial Day Weekend for me.  I went for a bike ride, but it was only 31 miles.  I spent some time at the pool, chilling with friends, dancing, etc.  I drank a little, but did not go out of control.  I spent some time at a park playing some games, and enjoying some good company as well.  And, well, also this hike.  I could have used this weekend to do a challenging 3-day ride, or go out of town somewhere that is hard to get to on a standard 2-day weekend.  In fact, I will probably use some subsequent weekends for the purpose of pushing myself to the limit on one particular activity I enjoy.  But, sometimes in life, you want the sampler platter.