As I start writing this post it is May 15, 2020. Here is a bit of trivia for you. Seventy-eight years ago today, May 15, 1942, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) was created by Congress. A year later on July 3, 1943, the WAAC was converted to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), and instead of just working with the Army, women became part of the Regular Army. From the beginning, all WAAC and WAC recruits had to participate in physical training (PT) and attain top physical and health standards. In 1976, 33 years later, the first perfect score on the PT test was awarded to a private in WAC basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. In 1978, the WAC was disbanded and absorbed into the Regular Army. I don’t know for sure, but maybe my record still stands.
Well, that was a long time ago. Two husbands, three pregnancies, divorce and widowhood, teenagers, grandchildren, and a climb up the proverbial career ladder of success a long time ago. It’s no secret I am not in top physical shape any longer, but I have no regrets…and no secrets. I love DQ Peanut Buster Parfaits, rhubarb pie, margaritas, black licorice, chocolate cake, creme brulee… well, almost any dessert… and I love reading and watching movies and traveling cross country by car… pretty much all sedentary activities. All those years I was working, though, I managed to stay somewhat fit, walking around in heels, chasing a new job opportunity, schlepping boxes from one house to another, cheering at kids’ sports activities. You probably know what I mean. Occasionally, I would get on a kick and join a gym or ride a bicycle or geocache at a campground. Mostly, though, I didn’t. And then came a pandemic and plenty of nothing else to do but watch Netflix and Prime Video, right?
I saw Emilio Estevez’s movie The Way, and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Bill Bryson’s A Walk In the Woods. Provocative, fun… but then: I watched the British drama called Edie, a movie about an 80-something widow deciding it’s never too late to climb the mountain of her dreams. I was inspired! The very next day I contacted three of my nieces and asked about one of their favorite pastimes, hiking. Then I started researching necessary gear (a.k.a. online browsing Eddie Bauer and L.L.Bean and Merrell, etc.) and asking about local trails that were open during the Stay-At-Home orders. I learned a lot, but interestingly, no one I talked to had much useful to say about hiking with dogs or other tidbits that would prove relevant to me. Movies can somehow pretend certain things don’t really happen. Well, let me tell you about my experiences over the past few weeks as I have discovered walking and hiking.
Here are 6 lessons that I have learned so far.
1. Collapsible water bowls for dogs are a good idea in theory. They can be squished into a back pocket of jeans and weigh almost nothing. In reality, though, they are a stupid idea. Dogs -even small 9-month-old Shih-Tzu puppies- can easily flatten them in their eagerness to be refreshed, sacrificing all the valuable water you have lugged along. Lesson: don’t fill the bowl, and make them wait turns to drink. Hold the bowl if you can, or get a stainless steel one, drill a hole in it, and hang it on a carabiner clip.
2. It doesn’t matter if your dog went poop at home before you got in the car for the 2-minute drive to the sports complex. He will wait until you are far enough away from the car so you won’t want to go back and too far from a trash can to quickly dispose of a bag. He will need to do his thing, and do it now. Also, one bag is never enough. One per dog is not enough either. On average, 3 dogs will poop a total of 5 times on a 3-mile walk. Lesson: bring a bag to put the bags in until you reach the trash can at the end of the trail.
3. Going earlier is better than later. You won’t want to do it later, for one thing. And earlier is usually cooler than later. Fewer people are out earlier, and I mean fewer people with their dogs your dogs want to sniff and TALK to. Fewer people to see what you look like with a Covid-style hair length and ‘do, too. Just fewer people. This will be important when you get to Lesson #6. Lesson: go before you have time to find something else to do.
4. Size matters. I’m talking leashes here. Too short and you could get your shoulder pulled out of the socket when there is good pee-mail to sniff or a worm that needs eating. Too long and you could get your shoulder pulled out of the socket when there is someone else and her dog heading your way, or a squirrel nearby, or a tree that needs to be marked. Also, a long leash can get wrapped around your legs quicker than you can untangle the straps, which will stop you in your tracks or propel you forward in a hop at an alarming speed. A leash pulled against the back of your knees is as effective as doing squats in yoga class you didn’t know you could hold that long. Lesson: Like in The Three Bears, find the just-right size that works for you. The dogs will adjust accordingly.
5. Chafing is so no fun. This applies to thighs, as you already know from summer dresses, but I learned when riding a motorcycle that you can be rubbed the wrong way by the hem of a shirt on your back above your belt line, or under your girls when the elastic band traps sweat (regardless of the size of your girls) and starts to itch. Regular baby powder isn’t effective, but Lady Anti-Monkey Butt anti-friction powder does the job. Trust me on this. Whether you opt-out of the bra or not, you are still going to sweat on a warm day walking a fair distance. Lesson: dust yourself before you leave home.
6. Go Girl and Kula Cloths are real things. Sorry to be indelicate here, but did you know girls can now stand up and pee, and carry their stylish pee rag (a.k.a. reusable toilet paper for #1) proudly displayed on their backpack? I haven’t tried either of them … yet … but after this morning, I am ready to jump off this fence and make a purchase. Here’s why.
I’m a mom. I know you go before you get in the car, whether you need to or not. So, I “went” home before we left. I can hardly get upset at the dogs for having to go again right away if I haven’t set a good example, can I? And it’s the age of isolation and no open public bathrooms anyway. But I am 61.97 years old, with a 61.97-year-old bladder. My new self-imposed “healthier me” rules include one where I drink 8 glasses of water a day, plus one before my first cup of coffee in the morning. So I had had my first water and my first coffee before we went for our hike.
My Fitbit previously told me it is .9 miles from where I park to the point where we will enter the trail today. With the dogs walking me (really, I don’t walk them), we manage about a 20-25 minute mile, less than 3 mph. It was a full 20-minute walk today on an asphalt path, across the road from a small lake, past a grasslands area, down a slight hill. It was already about 68* at 7:45 this morning. We had a pretty good pace going so we could get into the shade of the trees on the trail. I sorta had to go pee, but obviously, there were no facilities, and I ignored that signal. The trail section we were taking is only about 1.75 miles or around 35-40 minutes ’til we are back at the car.
We hiked along the trail, crossing not one but two little streams, by a wetlands area. The sound of trickling water is so peaceful, don’t you agree? Unless you have to pee. A bicyclist passed us. A jogger passed us. We were in about a mile when we came to another small lake, this one with a bench. We stopped for a break, and I gave the dogs some water but did not partake myself like I usually do. I rested and gazed and continued to ignore my somewhat fuller bladder. The bicyclist rode by again from the other direction. A woman with a German Shepherd walked by. We got back up to finish our walk. I figured we were a little more than halfway to the end of the trail.
We headed down a hill and around a bend to the left. Off to the right, there was what looked like a path, and I thought about making a nature call. But there were houses on that side of the woods not too far away. We kept walking, but the downward pressure of the hill put some pressure on me if you know what I mean. The trees are many and tall but I didn’t think I could hide behind one and be discreet. Plus, I didn’t know how I could hold three leashes and a tree and not lose my balance in the position I would need to assume. I saw a few dangling branches overhead I thought I could hold on to, but there was still the issue of the dogs. And poison ivy to watch out for.
scene of the crime
I hadn’t seen anyone in a while. And here was a perfect log to sit on and “rest” on the side of the trail! Did I dare? Would someone come along? Could I wait? I looked ahead where the trail went left, but the bend prevented me from seeing anyone, or them seeing me. Behind me, the trail also had a curve after a short straight stretch. I decided I just had to do it. I hastily dropped my drawers, sat forward on the edge of the log, and tinkled. Ah, sweet relief! And of course, before I was done, I was alarmed by a muffled kind of rustling sound, a faint thud, like footsteps.
Like a drunk needing to sober up, because the red lights are flashing, I was done and on my feet. I nearly did a face-plant as I tried to get my britches up and my shirt down to cover my unbuttoned fly. I would be hard to miss, or to forget — silver hair, bright pink shirt, 3 dogs. (Next time I’m wearing camo.) I picked up the leashes that I had previously secured under my foot, and as I straightened up, a man in blue shorts and a green windbreaker came into view up ahead, coming around the bend. I don’t know if I looked put together, but I didn’t even have time to worry about that. “Come on, dogs,” I said before he could identify the wet spot where I had been standing. He passed us at a good clip; I was lucky to be upright when he got to us, given his power walking style. He was quickly out of sight again so I sneaked back and snapped a picture. Why do criminals do that…return to the scene of their crime? I don’t know. I’m not sure I even want to know now.
Anyway, we walked on, and around that same bend that guy had come from I could see the clearing and the end of the trail about 100 yards ahead. If I had waited just two or three or five more minutes, I could have changed my strategy. But wait; I still would have needed to water the dogs again at the car, dispose of doo-doo bags, hustle them into the car, and drive 2 miles home to unload the dogs and unlock the door and get to the loo in time.
It’s just another thing that is tricky to finesse when you have to (or choose to) go it alone in this life. If a friend had been along, I would have had someone to hold the dogs and keep a lookout while I tended to my business. But I really think I’m gonna try the Go Girl, or the Shewee, or Freshette, or something. ‘Cuz I plan to keep on hiking. At my age, I have no delusions about now achieving a fitness level that will win any awards, but I admit I do feel better after even just a couple of weeks. It has become a meditation for me. I breathe deep when I enter the trail, taking in the smells of earth and pine and fresh air. I have nowhere else to be for the next hour, and I’m learning to Be In The Moment. Even sitting on a log with my pants scrunched down.
A tired dog is a happy mom!
So there you have it. Hiking 101 in 6 easy lessons!. If you have a story to tell about hiking, or walking or notable nature calls of your own, I’d love to hear them! And if you’re really feeling generous, I have a birthday in a few days. You could gift me a kula cloth.