After a few quiet days by the pool soaking up sunshine and eating we decided to take a drive to Punta Gorda, Fl and check out the bike trails, village and sunsets. Punta Gorda is a nice area with a bit of history and a lot of condos. This is a popular spot for snow birds. The bike trail winds through the parks and is a bit bumpy, but nothing a puppy in a basket can’t handle.
February brings the most awful cold weather to Canada forcing us to gather our puppies and hightail it south. Brent and I aren’t fond of the cold and neither are Taz, Poco and Jackson. This year we decided to take it easy and not haul down our travel trailer. After “The Trailer Fiasco of 2012” we wanted to simplify and just take the canyonario. Even the bikes were stored inside the vehicle. The first order of business before we departed on our southern adventure was to find and secure a farm sitter. My best friend Billy offered to leave the big city of Toronto and come take care of the farm while we were away. How will a city boy handle the feeding, watering and cleaning of our horses, pigs, duck, dog and cats? I’m hoping Billy will write a guest spot and tell us how he made out while we enjoyed the 80F and sunshine of south western coastal Florida. One of our big concerns is our thoroughbred Turtle, as he’s a handful and Billy doesn’t have much experience with horses. We solved this problem by sending Turtle to a boarding facility for the month. He’ll be pampered at the horse spa while we’re away and Billy will be left to care for two of the most easy going mares in all of Ontario. Autumn and Splash won’t cause any trouble, but our goat Nelly might be a handful.
Mom was busy packing the car yesterday right before we all piled in and drove for a really really long time. I spent most of the drive napping in my favourite orange bed, while Taz napped beside me and Poco rode shot gun.
We departed the cold North on Monday January 23 and started south chasing weather. At least we got to see the only snow storm of the season before we left.
It was very windy as we travelled down the I90 towards Erie, PA. We were towing our 32 foot travel trailer with our Ford Excursion we had purchased the Wednesday before our departure date because our F350 was having some issues with a leak in the fuel rail and was currently in pieces.
It was already an adventure of epic proportions taking a twelve year old “new to us truck” on a 3000 mile journey, but of all the things we thought might happen, didn’t, and things we didn’t count on did.
We were two hours into our trip when the thirty foot protective plastic under belly of the trailer was partially ripped off by the high winds. We pulled over onto the side of the I90 and Brent pulled the flapping black material off and away from the truck.
The New York State Trooper was kind enough to stop and ask if we needed a tow. In my best Canadian accent I gave the thumbs up “not yet eh?” He laughed as he walked back to his cruiser and drove away.
We climbed into the truck and drove for a few minutes in silence before Brent said “I didn’t see that happening”. Yeah, me neither.
A few hours later on the I77 south near Canton, Ohio I heard a horrible scraping sound and Brent pulled over at a most dangerous spot in the middle of a wide sweeping right hand turn just before a bridge. I jumped out of the passengers seat and ran to the back of the trailer. I wish I’d had my camera!
We had loaded our three bicycles onto the back of the trailer, but the straps had come lose and we were dragging the three bikes down the interstate. It looked like we were trolling, but for what?
It took several minutes to untangle the bikes and get them back up on the back of the trailer. Two quick straps and we were heading towards an exit and a safer spot to secure the bikes.
We pulled into the parking lot of a Fireworks store to survey the damage. Yikes. Metal handlebars were shaved down to nothing, two seats were missing part of themselves and a rear carrier was gone. Much to our surprise the core of the bikes seemed solid.
After so many difficulties in getting this trip off the ground I turned and asked “Do you think we should head home?” There was no hesitation in Brent’s voice as he said “no” and climbed into the driver’s seat like a man possessed.
We drove in silence for a long time before I broached a discussion about turning north. It wasn’t much of a discussion. Brent was set: we were going south.
We got as far as Charleston, WV the first night. Not as far as we’d planned, but given our troubles we were happy to crash out in the hotel room and get some sleep. The dogs loved the hotel. They slept all day during the drive and were ready to play. We walked and played ball until they finally settled down to sleep around midnight.
Excitement woke me at 630am and I woke everyone else. We gathered, collected, re-organized and prepared to hit the mountains of West Virginia.
We took it slow and did our best not push the transmission on our Excursion. Thanks to the wisdom of a friend we decided to call her the Canyonaro due to the cavernous interior space and Simpson reference. Thanks Justin.
The dogs had five dog beds to chose from, a food and water station and an area where I could go and have a nap. There was still another five feet in the back.
There seemed to be a lot of bounce to the truck and trailer combo that made it difficult to drive and Brent recalled some information on packing. We stopped at the welcome centre in South Carolina to re-arrange our load. We were learning.
Once we put all the weight in the front of the trailer the driving improved ten fold. We were cruising at sixty-five miles an hour as we pulled into Savannah, GA for our second night in a hotel.
The first thing we noticed in the morning was the sunshine and the warmth. It was sixty degrees at eight am. We were on the second floor of the hotel and I let the dogs run around the upstairs hallway. They chased each other and the ball with excitement.
We didn’t have too far to drive to make it to our first state park for three days. Just north of Orlando is a park called Wekiwa Springs State Park in Orange County. Wekiwa is best know for it’s spring which maintains a constant temperature of seventy-two degrees all year round. There’s also fifteen miles of paddling and a fifteen mile hiking trail.
After unpacking the food I realized I’d left the burgers in Canada. We found some processed food to consume for dinner and decided after a short walk with the dogs to watch a move from the eighties.
I pushed the VHS tape into the player and relaxed as the player hummed and the first cords from Beetlejuice started.
A few glasses of wine and we both were asleep long before the end of the movie. I woke at two am a little confused and very thirsty. I opened the door to the trailer to let the dogs out and heard a big sound coming from the forest. Black bears were common at this park. I wondered? I did ask the park ranger what the biggest danger to my dogs was: alligators, bears, snakes or eagles? He said the leashes were for their protection. I turned several shades of pale.
After letting the dogs out for a potty break I settled into bed with an old book. There was a moment when the puppies were sleeping all around me and the quiet was peaceful. I was glad we made it.
The morning came around eight o’clock and we took it slow. We drank tea, read books and talked a good game about what we were doing today. We had to get some supplies and perhaps a little internet which meant a trip to town. I really needed a shower.
State park showers are usually excellent. Good water pressure, lots of hot water and very clean. This park was no exception. Brent and I take turns leaving the camp site, so one of use is always with the puppies.
The sun is warm on my back and the puppies have all settled in for a mid-morning nap. I’m feeling lazy today and I imagine it’s going to be some time before we hit the big town of Apopka, Florida in search of BBQ food and Internet.
We relaxed and enjoyed our first three day stay just north of Orlando with temperatures pushing 80F. Brent and I took long walks with the puppies and a dip in the spring fed water before packing up on January 28 to head south to Collier Seminole State Park near Naples, Florida.
It seems we still had lots to learn about packing because we dragged the bikes again down the I4 west of Orlando. Another bad spot on the interstate with a blind curve before a bridge that left us a little breathless. With the damaged bikes secured we continued off the interstate and onto some lovely country roads that had us listening to all american country music.
We were happily singing along when we heard that familiar noise again. After hours of screwing the protective cover back into place it had fallen off again. It took nearly an hour to pull it off and stuff it into the trailer before we were on our way.
We were tired and dirty when we pulled into the park, but still had enough energy to register the shock of seeing the trailers packed tightly together. The one thing Brent and I had always found about state parks was the spacious sites, but Collier Seminole seemed to be the exception to the rule.
We squeezed into our narrow spot and set up our trailer in the fading light of night. We were pulling the kayaks off the truck when the mosquitos began their ruthless attack. I had fifteen bites that first night and ten more in the morning when I took the dogs for a walk. I never leave the trailer without a quick spray of deet 40. The mosquitos make Taz look like small.
It was several days of relaxing, booking reading, shopping, hiking and kayaking before we really found our relax.
The next morning poor Poco got stung by a wasp on his front paw. He limped around whining until I gave him some painkillers and benadryl. Luckily, he’s not allergic and was perfectly fine for hiking the next day.
On Monday, February 6 and we had a nice day trying to bike, but the rain kept driving us back inside. Violent downpours of the tropical nature pushed us to watch movies and read books instead.
Brent’s folks had rented a place on Marco Island for a month. We met for dinner at a fun restaurant in Goodland called Mile Maker Eight. They welcomed the puppies and served up some tasty fresh ocean caught treats.
After a lovely meal we drove back to our park under the glow of a full moon. It was so beautiful we stopped by the water to walk the dogs and reflect of the beautiful night. Super Taz was nosing around a bush when she suddenly ran towards the truck in a panic.
What the heck? We got her under the light and I could see one red ant crawling on her paw while she was rubbing and digging into the seat. We drove back to the trailer and Taz became increasingly agitated. After a few minutes the facial swelling became apparent.
Taz is severely anaphylactic to bees, it is wasn’t surprising that she’d react to other biting insect venom, or so the lady at the Vet Emerge Clinic told us in Naples.
Taz’s face swelled up so we could barely see her eyes as we rushed into Naples to the Vet Emerge Clinic at eleven that night. After a couple of shots of benadryl and dexamethazone the swelling was starting to recede. She wasn’t having an anaphylactic reaction, but they called it a severe allergic reaction due to the massive facial swelling.
Super Taz looked like she had big fat face.
We got back to camp at one in the morning and had to have a sip of wine to relax. We’re grateful Taz survived her run in with the ant hill and hope she choses to pee on things that won’t sting her in future.
Tomorrow brings new and exciting adventures, but hopefully we can stay out ofthe emergency room. Kayaking seems like a good plan. What a beautiful place to kayak.
On February 8th we spent the day on dog beach with Brian and Ellen. I love letting the dogs run through the surf and sand with tails flying and tongues out in delight. Jackson became so caught up in a solid game of chase that he was chest deep in salt water before he realized his paws were uncharacteristically wet.
February 9th we cycled around Marco Island with Brent’s folks and investigated the off leash dog park. We weren’t aware of the dress coat for the dog park on Marco Island and were immediately identified off as out of towners. It seems the biggest thing at the dog park is having matching outfits. Shoes, bag, shorts, hat, tee and even poop bags.
We even saw one dog who’s paws and tail were dyed pink matching her owner’s shoes. I was impressed, but slightly embarrassed as we were only wearing tees and shorts suitable for biking – not the dog park.
The thing that impressed me the most was each dog was impeccably groomed. Perfectly fluffy tails with nails polished and a jaunty spotted bows in both ears. Clearly, my dogs had been camping. Poco’s tail looks stringy from swimming in the ocean.
February 11, 2012 we departed Collier Seminole State Park at 10 am this morning and the GPS says we should arrive at Paynes Prairie State Park at around three o’clock. We were on the road for all of an hour when we blew a tire on the trailer while driving on the I75 north in Fort Myers.
We managed to change the tire and then decided to find a tire shop to get another spare. It took about an hour before we were on the road again heading in our least favourite direction – north.
About twenty miles south of Sarasota we came to a complete stop on the I75 and watched as the air ambulance helicopter landed on the highway. We can’t see the crash, but imagine it must be horrific. We count our blessings that we haven’t needed anything more than a few repairs.
The helicopter was on scene for about ten minutes while and as we watched it lift off we figured the traffic would get moving. Boy, were we wrong. We were suppose to stop at a friend’s place, but now we’re just hoping to get to Gainesville before dark time to set up camp. It’s so much easier during the day.
As entertainment Brent is throwing his orange peels at cars that are trying to squeeze by on the shoulder. He’s hit five out of seven. Not bad. He says he throws apples in WNY. After thirty minutes at a stand still we’re finally moving at 110 p.m. and it’s a good thing because Brent is out of orange peels.
February 13 – Monday Paynes Prarie State Park
Lost power. No water. Temperature below 27F. Packed up and left around 6pm and headed north out of Florida and into Georgia. Stopped in Valdala, Georgia in a beautiful La Quinta.
February 14 – Happy Valentine’s Day!
We were planning on stopping in Lexington, KY, but only made it as far as Knoxville, TN as we had another tire explode along the I75. We stopped, switched the tire and got the old one fixed in under 2 hours. We’re getting good at changing tires. It was one of the new tires that blew. I know you’re asking yourself why so many blown tires? We don’t know. We’ve checked tire pressures and bearings.
We stayed at a cheap Super 8 in Knoxville, TN where the front desk clerk advised us where to park so the trailer would be under the security camera. There were no locks on the exterior doors of the motel, but we did have a dead bolt on our room door.
February 15 we made it eight miles north of Mansfield, OH when we had a massive bearing hub interface failure on the passenger’s side of the trailer causing the tire to fly off – luckily into the ditch. Nobody was injured, but we were stuck on the side of I75 for two hours waiting for AAA to tow us to their garage where they promised they could fix it for about $600 depending on the damage.
We found a new La Quinta Inn and Suites and are hoping to make it to the hotel in time for happy hour which lasts from six till eight. It’s 6:13 right now and I’m sitting in the back of the Canyonaero with Jackson trying to get some of this crazy adventure on paper.
We’ve had some crazy times and feel a little lucky that nobody has been injured in all the tire failures.
It’s 616pm and the tow truck just arrived. I hope we don’t get screwed. We’re really over a barrel.
As the tow truck drove away without any lights on the trailer into the dark night on the I71 heading north Brent and I both had mild heart attacks. No lights as it disappeared into the dark. We watched several transport trucks brake hard to avoid hitting the trailer at the last minute and we can only hope the drive ends up uninjured.
I upgraded our hotel room for tonight for an extra $15 and it’s the best money I’ve spent. We have a king bed with soft quality sheets. A couch and chair where we enjoyed our take out chinese. I play hotel hallway ball with the dogs for about ten minutes where Taz stood at the hotel room door begging to get in to lay down.
Still enjoying the adventure.
February 16, 2012
We made it home just as the sun set. The puppies were delerious with excitement and ran around the farm greeting every tree, blade of grass and stone. They raced around the kitchen and ate kibble right off the floor. Happy puppies.
Armed with flashlights we went out and checked on all the farm animals. Horse, goat goat seemed very happy in their shelter with fresh water and plenty of hay. The pigs only rolled over in greeting before snoring loudly and the ducks seemed more put out than anything by our intrusion.
Everything in the farm house seemed to be in working order. From water, to pump to furnace and hydro. Everything was working just fine. Brent and I unpacked the canyonario and sat heavily down at the kitchen table for some left over spagetti that had traveled to Florida to back. With a glass of red wine held loosely in his hand Brent asked “If you knew then what you knew now… would you still have gone to Florida?” I smiled as I considered my answer and after a few moments of consideration I say “No. I’d have stayed home”. He laughed and said “Damn. Me too”.
We’re one week into March and the trailer repair has been delayed as the makes of the axel have been on shut down for a few weeks. Just our luck. It’s okay, because the black truck is still not done. At least we’ve got each other and our puppies.
As of March 20th the trailer is still in Ohio. Sigh.
Bottom Line: I’ve already booked for next year! Saturday – Day 1 Canine Club Getaway
Taz woke me at 0630 as though she knew it was an exciting and important day. After giving her some belly rubs I crawled out of bed and headed downstairs. With each step I woke up and WOKE up. Today was the big day! Today was the real start of Canine Club Getaway!
By the time I fed all the farm animals and got the four of us ready it was 0800 when we hit the road. I was anxious as I crossed the border, but the female officer was more interested in Poco’s mohawk and what breed of dogs I carried in my little Smart car.
People pointed and smiled as I roared at seventy miles an hour down the I90 towards Lake George. I made one quick stop for fuel and my wallet didn’t groan as I pulled out the sixteen dollars it took to fill the tank. It was a peaceful ride as I sang with the radio and felt mellow.
I might have become too mellow when I found my self shedding a few tears over a sappy country song. Nearly six hours later I reached my destination before I started having true conversations with myself. We were met in the parking lot by a lady with a big camera who took Poco’s picture before I’d even turned off the engine. Popular.
The four of us walked, well three walked and Gizmo was carried, to the main registration lodge. It was a bit hectic, but it was nice to see all the dogs and their crazy owners. I got my room number and drove my car up to one of the three separate lodges. It’s older, a little rustic, but very spacious. Two double beds and one single. Gizmo has already claimed the single.
Taz sits on the table watching all the arrivals while Poco joins Gizmo to catch up on some naps. It’s almost time for orientation. I better get going! Arf. Here’s to the dogs!
Orientation was late and a little disorganized, but we got through it and celebrated afterwards with grape juice. Yeah. Grape Juice.
We played a few games including the hot dog game which entails you holding your dog at one end of the room and throwing a piece of hot dog to the other end. The dog has to go get it and bring it back without eating it. You’ll never guess who won? Out of sixty dogs Gizmo was the only one to bring back a piece of hot dog untouched. I’ve never been prouder. This was a gold moment!
We played a few other games and then we had an hour break before dinner. Time for a shower and perhaps a beverage to celebrate Gizmo’s first place. Never in a million did I think Gizmo would be the first of my three, yet alone the first of sixty, to win first place.
People are friendly, but everyone seems to go back to their hotel room for a well deserved rest. Gizmo is exhausted after his big win.
I’m meeting some interesting people. Dinner was good and satisfying, but not nearly enough if I was a two hundred pound man. I was full, but could have eaten more. Met some wonderful women from New York. When I say New York I mean Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens. I imagine they’re as different as Niagara Falls and Ottawa, but all the same to me: East Coast. How offensive!
Nice people who love their dogs. I heard a presentation about getting your dog into show business. I decided that I couldn’t put my dogs in the hands of a person who said she’d do what it took to get the dog to work. Get the shot. It sounded crass to a room full of true, hard core animal lovers. Making money off our dogs isn’t why most of us came to this conference. We love our dogs.
I think the staff should be positive and engaging. I think they should light up a room with their presence. I find most dog trainers treat you as though you were slightly stunted mentally until you proved otherwise. I’d like the benefit of the doubt and an open mind to see other possibilities.
The best part of the evening was talking with the two young vets about Gizmos and Pocos problems. They made some interesting suggestions that Gizmo’s eye issues might be helped by more lubrication because he doesn’t blink all the way and has dry eyes. Poco’s problems are in his hips and not his knees. He swings them out, but seems in little pain. He’s still moving and enjoying life. When Brent and I decided to adopt Poco we said we’d make his life as happy as possible for as long as possible without doing anything extreme. The vet suggested three things: keep his weight down, exercise to keep good muscle mass and glucosomine. This seems like common sense to me, but I will start the supplements.
It’s 11pm and I’m sitting in my hotel room with my three dogs watching TV and having a final glass of wine. I’m feeling a little lonely. I love my dogs and I miss my husband.
Day 2 – Sunday CCG
Woke up at 0530am ready to party! I’m excited to do some of the courses and play in the pool, but first breakfast. I feel great physically, but might nap by the pool later today. I don’t imagine I’ll make the day without a bit of sleep. Gizmo already on his second morning nap.
Breakfast was bacon and eggs, but there was a choice of pancakes and french toast too. I’m waiting to try the lure course and I plan on taking a video. Off I go!
So, the lure went too fast for my little guys and the woman who ran the talent portion stated that she didn’t have any confidence in dogs under ten pounds as their brains were too small and they were stupid. Not a great morning, but like every vacation there are bound to be ups and downs. Not everyone agrees on training methods, feeding, health, fitness and all the other myriad of dog related issues. There is lots to learn.
I left Poco napping in the car and took Gizmo and Taz to agility. Taz rocked the course like a pro and Gizmo watched from the wooden deck (often looking in the wrong direction) to cheer his sister on. Taz was excited about doing agility. I didn’t need food or punishment to get her to play, but her ball and having fun was a great motivator.
We went to an obedience class next and listened to Frank talk about training. The e-collar is the popular choice for training these days. It’s not something I’d get behind, but there’s lots of ideas to be learned.
We hit the fly ball course next. Taz was a natural and even Gizmo did great. Poco had a hard time with the jumps because of his hips and a hard time with making the turn at the ball box because of his vision. Poco had most of his fun by the pool and in the room playing ball. I guess he’s just a simple guy.
We hung out at the pool after trying to get involved with agility. The staff were focused on a woman with two dogs who already had agility training. I guess that is more fun than working with beginners. The pool was much better.
I ran into a lovely lady from New York City who was a blast. We went to Yappy Hour and had few drinks and told stories. After dinner I took the dogs back to the room for their dinner and a little relax.
I’m keeping an open mind as I head to the seminar tonight regarding what vaccinations are important for your dog. It was an interesting seminar and I look forward to bit of my own research.
Tomorrow is a new day and I’m going to start with some gentle stuff. Sleeping in. Relaxing by the pool and maybe some more theory. I don’t agree with some of the training methods, but I’m still learning new things. I’m going to learn all I can to give my dogs the best life possible.
Day 3 – Monday CCG
Slept till 630am. Not sure why I’m waking up so early. Super Taz is sleeping with her nose on my computer. How cute. I love spending time with my dogs and this is a wonderful location to chill with the pups.
Taz was bumped up to advanced agility after her first class. She’s a natural – fear does not exist for Super Taz. She’s already learned the names of the obstacles and does the course like a pro. I have more trouble than she does while running, directing and then tripping over my own feet. It’s a good experience and I’m planning to see if Gizmo will give it a shot. He likes to jump.
We went to a course called Prep class for Canine Good Citizen & Therapy Dog International Testing to become registered therapy dogs. I’m going to see if Taz and Gizmo can pass the course on Wednesday morning. They did great for the prep. Poco wasn’t really a candidate because he’s not all that fond of being touched by strangers.
For barks and crafts we made a tee shirt with our dog’s paw prints all over the shirt. We dipped their paws in paint and then I let my little guys walk all over it. Turned out dirty cool.
Sat by the pool this afternoon and everyone enjoyed some off leash time. Had a brief photo session with the photographer while the puppies wore their wedding garb. Way too cute in the little red wagon.
Post dinner: costume parade. Poco is going as biker and Taz is going as Carrie from Sex in The City. Gizmo refuses to participate, but I have his tee shirt that spells out “STUD” in red rhinestones at the ready.
We lost to a golden retriever with a hard hat.
Day 4 – Tuesday CCG
Woke up at 0700 and felt a little tired, until breakfast and then I felt better. I drank a lot of tea. We went for an hour and half hike this morning through the pine trees. I chatted with Tara the crazy lady with the border collie cross who is a sweetie. She’s sarcastic and funny and likes to have a few cocktails. We get along very well.
After the hike I took the pups for another pre class for the Canine Good Citizenship and Therapy Dog Certification. The tester was there and said I could test Taz and Gizmo individually and then together. They could be team therapy dogs. They’re both very good at the testing process. The test is tonight at 6pm. This is exciting.
I looked at some pictures and brought Brent a tee shirt telling everyone he’s the world’s best dad – just ask his dogs. Since I missed the important bath time yesterday I went back to my room for a shower and the dogs are completely passed out.
A lovely lady gave Poco a plush toy that looks like a cheeseburger and he loves it almost as much as he loves his ball.
Taz passed her test! She received the Canine Good Citizenship Award and is a Registered Therapy Dog. She’s did fantastic and looked like she had fun. Gizmo wasn’t tested because we learned that he doesn’t know how to lay down. It wasn’t taught in the prep course and I didn’t think of it until they asked Taz to do a sit and down stay. Oh dear. Gizmo doesn’t know how to lay down. I’ve been trying to teach him for the past few hours with some success, but he’s not reliable.
The tester agreed to test him in the morning. We’ll keep working on it, but I’m not making any promises. They want to test them as a team as well, which won’t work if Gizmo can’t learn the down command by tomorrow.
I spent the afternoon doing barks and crafts, lounging by the pool and dog trivia. We won a new toy and a flashy collar.
Dinner was good and the lecture afterwards was about natural medicine. Interesting perspectives. I’m pretty tired and it’s time to head to bed. We go home tomorrow.
Day 5 – The Last Day. Wednesday.
With the help of Frank, one of the trainers we managed to teach Gizmo to lay down long enough to pass the test. The tester then tested Taz and Gizmo together as a team. They passed! It’s an extensive testing process and I’m so proud of how they listened, learned and acted like themselves. Sweethearts.
A few minutes of agility and then I spent a good hour packing the Smart car to full capacity. By 1230 we’d grabbed our boxed lunch and head home. I look forward to seeing my new friends next year. CCG 2012 here we come.
I don’t get excited about many things anymore. Mom was the engine that brought the excitement to the holidays. Christmas anticipation, Easter egg fun, Halloween spookiness and even Canada Day. My sister and I became apathetic about the holidays after she died, no longer worried that mom might be upset if we weren’t super excited. For the first few years it was a relief, but now it seems a little sad.
I’ve tried to muster up some excitement for Christmas, but deep down I don’t feel the magic of the one-of-a-kind snowflake. I’m not a grinch and I’ll happily watch other people get excited, but rarely do I feel it where it counts. I was excited to marry Brent, but that’s a once in lifetime thing.
I live a calmer, more content life where there aren’t as many ups and downs. I live more in the middle of the road rather than swerving all over with my foot to the floor and white knuckles gripping the wheel. Now I drive a Smart car in every sense of the word. I am not disappointed.
I am deep down happy. I feel lucky everyday. I feel blessed. I am joyful. I am not excited, at least not until I heard about the Canine Club Getaway. I can hear your eyes rolling, but hear me out.
I love my dogs. It’s the thing I’m into. I love them, have fun with them and it rarely feels like work. Some people drive all over to watch NASCAR, football, hike the mountains, knit, read, smoke weed, race bicycles, motorcycles and dirt cars. People spend thousands on soccer, baseball, dance, karate, piano, riding lessons and lacrosse for their kids. Me? I love my dogs.
When I heard about the Getaway back in February I was excited. Five days to spend doing fun things with dogs. Fly ball, agility, luring, obedience and doggie crafts. There are seminars on pet first aid, behaviour training and a one on one with a vet. This sounds like heaven.
I booked my early bird special and then waited – not patiently – for several months. Then June came and it was a whirlwind. I’ve barely had time to sleep, yet alone spend any quality time with my computer. Woofstock was fantastic and after that amazing weekend I encountered some personal issues that kept me so busy I didn’t realize it was nearly time to go.
I was disappointed that I didn’t get crazy excited. I didn’t have time, but it’s the night before and I’m excited. The dogs are groomed, my Smart car is packed to the limit and I can’t wait to hit the road at 7am.
Just me and my three dogs for five days spending time with a hundred other people who love dogs like I love dogs. I have a five and a half hour drive to Lake George, NY before I register at Roaring Brook Ranch and Resort, but my adventure started today. I carefully picked out dog clothes for pictures and costume parties. I packed some fun clothes for me and all the toys and treats I could find.
I gathered things to donate to the rescue fund silent auction and found myself daydreaming about tomorrow and now tomorrow is nearly here.
I’m glad I feel excited again. Its extra special because it’s not replacing anything. There were many dark clouds throughout my life and they seem to gather like giant thunderheads pounding me down. Even into adult life I’ve had to endure some dark realities, but I’ve continued forward until I found the life I wanted.
I used to get excited to cover up loneliness, grief or sadness. This time I feel happy, loved, joyful and excited. I am lucky. This is the sun breaking through my clouds and giving me a little silver lining.
You can mock my love of dogs and that I’d spend a week at the Canine Club Getaway in the beautiful Catskill Mountains taking a course called “Power Pool Lounging” but how bad does it really sound?
This is the first day this year we’ve managed to get up to the beach. It’s been an extra long winter and the spring of 2011 has been incredibly wet. I walked across my front lawn today and my feet were soaking from pools and pools of standing water.
It was scorching hot at the farm as we left around noon to hit Long Beach in Wainfleet where Brent and his family have cottages. We’re lucky enough to land in a cottage for as many nights as we can until it’s rented the end of June. The end of June is coming quickly.
We meandered out to the beach and then wandered down the lake to visit with friends: Chuck & Jill. We wandered back and sat on the back deck with Brent’s parents and talked for the first time in ages. We’d planned a quick pre-dinner kayak, but spent our time visiting instead. With a glass of wine in one hand and delicate piece of savory cheese in the other I enjoyed our pre-dinner cocktails.
My dad showed up around 6 pm and we all had dinner together with the sound of waves lapping the shore as our dinner music. There was much discussion about not over cooking pork tenderloin and Brian did a marvelous job with the BBQ that evening. After a few bottles of wine and some good family time we headed to our cottage to rest in bed with the waves outside our window.
Poco had me up at 3am to go out and as I stepped outside I marveled at the steady hum of the waves and rock of the ground. I stood and drew the night in letting the sounds of beach soothe all my worries and aches. I was slightly chilled as I crawled back into bed, but I drew Brent’s warmth around me and fell into a deep happy sleep with the drum of the steady earth in my head.
We woke early the next morning and dragged Brent’s VW Thing out of storage. We had to move an entire house of furniture to get to the vehicle at the back of the sea container.
We rolled the Thing out of it’s six year isolation into the beautiful sunshine and I was impressed. It is the definition of fun and relaxation. The tires were good and rolled happily along as Brent towed us back to the beach side where we put on the battery charger and admired it frequently throughout the day.
The rest of the day we did some projects around the beach and didn’t head home until late evening where the wind storm had destroyed both of our outdoor patio tents. One was in the pond and the other had given up and fell into itself. We did our best to salvage, but it doesn’t look good for the tents.
Shortly after getting home we hurried to bed as our next adventure was starting the very next day at 6am. An early morning cruise to get new tires for my motorcycle. I am grateful for heated motorcycle gear.
We planned ahead! Woohoo! We booked our Florida digs for next year already and it’s aweseome. It took us three years to get it all figured out, but once we did … what a deal!
The secret to a cheap Florida Vacation: State Parks. Twenty-two dollars a night. USD.
State Parks are beautifully maintained, huge and spacious. They’re also booked eleven months to the day and the hour in advance. On the first day of the eleventh month you must be on the internet before eight am. You must know which park you want to stay at and which site. You must research which site is available. At 0759 you must start clicking the “book now” button and do so until 0801. You may get the spot or you may not depending on who else is clicking on the button at the same time as you.
Next year we have two weeks booked at the Collier-Seminole State Park near Naples Florida. You can only spend a maximum of two weeks at any one state park. We are so excited.
One of the things that disappointed us about the Florida Keys was the lack of hiking, which is not really surprising given the lack of land. Next year we wanted to stay in a place that had our three favorite thing: hiking, biking and kayaking. Collier-Seminole has all these things on a 7000 acre park that backs onto the everglades.
Maybe we’ll stay mid-state for a few days on our way out. I hear central Florida is amazing for trees, oranges and cattle. I know… cattle. Who knew?
These are the laws that must be followed while on vacation. Updated edited version 7.9:
1. Go to thebeach 2. Take walks at all the local dog parks 3. Shop at the localfarmer’s markets for groceries. 4. Make freshlemonade or iced tea 5. Garden. Even if it’s not your garden. Plant a flower on vacation and if you return you can check it out. 6. Get up early and drink coffee outside with the birds 7. Do one project a week. A puzzle. Finishing a forty of rye. 8. Finish a novel by reading in the early morning 9. Make homemade frozen drinks 10. Drink wine on the patio in the evenings 11. Paint your toes and nails. 12. Obtain a nice healthy “glow” 13. Eat hard shelled crabs at least once 14. Eat local food. Especially seafood that you BBQ. 15. Touch your toes to water. Ocean, lake, river or stream. 16. Drink when you’re thirsty regardless of the time. 17. Take an afternoon nap. 18. Go to bed at ten and get up at seven. 19. Have snacks. All day long. 20. Have some quality time with the toilet every morning. 21. Walk the dogs twice a day around the neighbourhood. 22. Go to an open house. 23. Make a special purchase. 24. Stop at the local fair or art show 25. Ride the trolley. 26. Listen to Country music. It’s a great story. 27. Sleep in. 28. Make love with the one you love. Feel it. Really. 29. Soak in a bathtub. 30. Stop for ten seconds and breathe. Then laugh.
These are some of the thing I learned on my annual Florida Vacation:
1. Never. Never put gasoline into a diesel vehicle. Brent and I lost hours of our vacation and more than a few bucks sucking gas out of our diesel truck. There was also a homeless guy who kept asking us for money as Brent was trying to get the siphon going. I finally advised the gentleman that perhaps now was not the best time.
2. Driving to Florida is better than flying. No, wait! Hear me out. Not only does it allow you to adjust more naturally to the season change, but you finally have the time to talk to each other. Brent and I have the most amazing conversations while driving. We talk about everything – including you.
3. Traveling with my dogs is a fantastic experience. The dogs not only bring us hours of comfort, joy and love; but they help us meet new people. Strangers often approach us with exclamations of adoration, questions about their breed, traveling with dogs or how much they miss the pup they had to leave at home. The dogs are great in the car. We never had trouble finding a hotel since the pet friendly trend has gripped North American. We rarely eat inside a restaurant, but who wants to when it’s 80 F outside? The dogs enjoy the adventure just as much as we do, although I’m certain there are times when Gizmo would rather nap than go kayaking.
4. Give yourself enough time. This is the first year that we took a month. It meant using nearly all my vacation and leaving the farm animals for a long period of time, but it was worth it. Our vacation was leisurely. We could unpack and settle into our digs. We could spend days reading and not feel like we should rush out to see things.
5. Returning to the same place year after year is good. This is our fourth annual trip to Florida and we felt a sense of comfort knowing where our favorite restaurant was in Key West. We recognized milestones as we passed the big bridge and harbour in Jacksonville that heralds our entrance into Florida. Each year we watch as winter becomes fall, spring and finally wonderful summer as we drive south.
6. Pack heavy. Finally, someone said what we all wanted to hear. We take everything, but the kitchen sink. We took kayaks, bikes, puppy carriers, multiple suitcases, tools, books and entertainment.
7. Make at lease one special buy. You’ll always remember the adventure of the purchase. Every time you see that piece you’ll say “I remember when we bought that!” triggering a warm syrupy feeling. This year it was a 47″ TV. Normally our purchase isn’t that big, but we couldn’t possibly watch the Green Bay Packers play the Superbowl on a 27″ TV! Big thanks to dad for picking it up at a big box store and bringing it down to southern Keys in time for Superbowl.
8. Eat. Eat local food. Look for off the beaten path local dives to try. They often have the best food and even better people. They usually have a special drink. We’ve gone to small places that welcome the dogs right into the restaurant off leash, free to roam. We’ve had conversations with salty seaman who tell us stories of the ocean. Often the stories start with: “I remember back during the 1935 hurricane when I rode out the storm by putting my boat deep into the mangrove trees and hoping for the best (while clutching a bottle of moonshine to his hairy chest).” There was a big hurricane in 1935 that struck the Florida Keys as a category five that killed over four hundred people. It’s considered the worst hurricane to ever strike the United States. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1935_Labor_Day_hurricane
9. Listen to your gut. If it looks like a place you shouldn’t stop for fuel deep in Georgia, then don’t stop. If it looks dirty, it probably is – don’t touch it. Fine a new place and pay that ten cents a gallon extra in good fuel, rather than risk a loss of time, anxiety and truck troubles. Not to mention getting shot in the parking lot.
10. Unless you have an iron gut: don’t eat gas station hot dogs. I don’t care if you can get 2 dogs for $1 with free liquid cheese. Your body will hate you. Mind did. Same goes for gas station pizza, unless it’s brought in from a pizzeria. That can be a delicious find.
11. Never speed in any state with the word Virginia. They will pull you over for even the slightest infraction. If you see one cop another one isn’t far away. Set your cruise control at 65 mph and enjoy the mountains. Even if the speed limit is 70 mpg – go 65 mpg.
12. Cook your own meals with local foods. Stop at the “good” fish market and get grouper. You’d be surprised how good it is and don’t be afraid to BBQ everything. Including your vegetables.
13. Rent a house rather than stay in a hotel or resort. You get all the luxuries for less money and can make your own coffee in the morning. I’d like to advocate the sites I use, but they really disappointed me this time around, so I’d be wary. With hesitation I say look at www.homeaway.com or www.vrbo.com to investigate a potential property rental. We’ve had one bad rental out of seven. Two were excellent, the rest were average and the last place in Cudjoe Key was horrible.
14. Jacksonville, Florida is not as frightening as everyone says. We stayed there once and didn’t have anything stolen.
15. Next year we’re going to take our trailer. A home on wheels. I can’t wait to never unpack. We’re booking our state parks a year in advance because it’s the only way to get a state park in lower Florida.
16. Don’t worry what time it is when you crack your first beer. Vacation laws apply (coming soon).
17. Don’t plan everything because you never know when a side road will lead to incredible adventure. We got off the I95 to avoid a traffic accident and ended up driving through a small Georgia town. The recession had hit this town hard and there were people selling their possession in the parking lot of the shut down grocery store. It was sad. It was real and made us grateful.
18. Don’t be embarrassed to do things that you love. I pushed my dogs in a stroller all over Key West. There were some people who make negative comments, but most people were delighted. It’s impossible to ask a little dog to walk for hours through crowds in Key West and it’s impossible to carry them. Even at eight pounds they get heavy. The stroller is a great option. If you are one of those people who feel the need to make a derogatory comment make it a good one. For example: a man walking two big dogs walk by and saw Taz and Gizmo resting in the stroller and said, “mmmm… dim sum cart”. That’s a good one.
19. Yes. I have a pink faux leather Sex in the City raincoat for Taz and a black faux leather biker jacket for Gizmo. What of it? Friends of Key West love that stuff. Bring it. Use it. Wear it with pride. I also have an orange pair of prada sneakers that I love.
20. Fort Lauderdale Flea Market is the best place in the world. This is not a place for amateurs. You could walk all day and not see it all. There are some great deals and some bad deals. This is the place you want to eat hot dogs without fear, bargain with the locals and push the dogs around in the stroller. It’s a great place and I miss it.
21. Don’t eat at the Buffet. It’s not that great of a deal.
22. In Key West eat at the Blue Heaven. Live roosters and cats wander the outdoor patio that is littered with old signs and giant trees that offer shade. The food is incredible and the servers are always friendly and entertaining. Reasonably priced and said to be the “most pet friendly place on earth”.
23. Brave the crowds and watch the sunset from Mallory Square. Paddle out into the ocean and watch the sunset. Decide for yourself which one you like best.
24. You can’t get lost in the Florida Keys. There’s only one highway. Drive the whole thing. Top to bottom. Next year we’re hoping to take motorcycles. I’m excited already.
25. Learn to love not having a Walmart for over 100 miles.
26. Shop at Bealls. You must buy one piece of clothing with a blue sticker. Blue stickers mean 95% off tagged price. I’ve gotten summer blouses for less than seventy-five cents. It’s the hunt and the thrill of the find rather than the clothing. Pink stickers are also acceptable and mean 70% off, but nothing is better than a blue.
27. Take your bikes if you like to ride. One year we used the bikes at the rental and thought “I wish we had our bikes”. We ride more with our own bikes and it has that great puppy trailer attachment!
28. Take pictures and video. Share them.
29. Don’t be afraid of the locals. Most of the time. I find people in the US tend to travel and live all over. On this trip we only met one kid from the Keys. He went to school in the Keys and moved away to go to school. He was now working at a local fish market and restaurant, because he’d rather be a waiter in the Keys than a professional in Minnesota.
30. Sunblock. Use it. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than burnt flesh.