You've looked up the trail. You've packed your backpack. The gas tank is full, you're ready and excited for a hike! This is me, literally every time we get ready to hit the trails. My most recent hike started out just like this; we were ready for a fun day of hiking in the Ozark's, but this turned out to be the most frustrating hike I've been on in a very long time.
It was just two weekends ago; my wife and I loaded up our two dogs into the back of my 4Runner and took off for a trail we know very well. The weather was beautiful, we were ready to enjoy the cool, crisp fall afternoon. Upon arrival at Busiek State Park, we quickly realized we were NOT the only ones who had the itch to hike this weekend. I found a parking spot past all the horse trailers and squeezed my SUV in between two trucks. We started unloading our gear and left the doors slightly open in the process. That was where we first went wrong.
Doors left open is a no-no. Emily watched as a giant hornet flew into my car. We flailed our arms trying to wave it out, looking like fools in the process. We alternated who's door was open trying to herd the thing out through just one door. People's eyes gazed our direction, wondering what in the world we were doing. Meanwhile, our dogs are confused watching the commotion from the back of the vehicle. After 10 minutes or so, the hornet made its way out through my front drivers door. Phew. Crisis averted.
We began the ascent to the trails, passing all the slower folks along the way. Not even 10 minutes after beginning, I saw something out of the corner of my eye move, and I jumped quickly to the side. I nearly stepped on a snake! He was an adorable snake, a bright green garden variety. Our dogs didn't even notice the creature while we stopped for photos of the little guy. We watched him slither away, leaving him to be at peace in the wild. I would have felt so guilty had I have actually stepped on him. Luckily, we were able to press on.
The next segment of the trail lead us up to the river. We trekked through the woods until we reached the banks. On this occasion, I happened to be wearing my brand new Columbia hiking boots. This was our next mistake. Neither my wife nor I considered the river given all the recent rain... So when we got to the water and realized it was too high to cross without getting wet, we were upset. I was not about to get my brand new boots soaking wet.
Instead of crossing the river, we stayed on the banks to play fetch and snap a few photos. I nearly lost my cell phone in the water when Ruby jumped after a ball, but that one is on me. I'll take the fall for that.
We were soon greeted by another group of hikers with two dogs of their own. Not one, but BOTH of our dogs started barking their heads off. It was so embarrassing, and they wouldn't stop! The other two dogs barked in return as we pulled our dogs into woods trying to distract them from the fiasco. Our commands to stop barking didn't work, and we ended up leaving the river banks with our heads down. Talk about frustrating.
Now deciding it was time to try a different trail (we still wanted to get a good hike in the books), we headed back the way we came. After all the excitement by the river, Rosie's stomach was upset and she had a BLOWOUT! I kid you not, there was poop smeared all over her hind end. Emily grabbed a leaf to try and clean her up before proceeding down the trail, while I stood aside trying for the life of me to remember whether I had wet wipes in my car or not.
About this moment, we decided today was just not our day. Rather than take the turn for the other trails, we headed back to the vehicle instead. Near the end of the trailhead, there's a bridge used to cross a section of the river; It's about 2 stories tall with stairs on either end. When we reached this bridge, Ruby lunged up the stairs, re-injuring her leg in the process. She laid down at the top to catch her breath, and we stopped there for a minute before we were able to lead the pups back to my car.
I started loading up our gear with extreme disappointment. Fortunately, I did have ONE wet wipe left to use on Rosie... she may not have made it home otherwise. We got the dogs into the back (air lifting Ruby to prevent her from jumping again) and quietly began the drive back home.
When we reached the highway, two things happened:
1) Emily and I both expressed our frustration with how the day had gone. The short excursion was not at all what we had in mind.
2) We looked at each other and almost simultaneously, we said "At least we got to enjoy the nice weather."
That was it. That moment was when I realized, not every hike is going to be a good one, and that's okay! It was a beautiful Fall afternoon and we got some fresh air, vitamin D, and unplugged with nature. We spent quality time together and focused on our little family. After we got home, I started thinking about this a little bit more.
Without going on that hike, I wouldn't have thought to add "wet wipes" to my hiking gear packing list.
Without going on that hike, I wouldn't have gotten those ADORABLE photos of the little green snake I nearly stepped on.
Without going on that hike, I wouldn't have known that I needed to take a step back and revisit some areas of training with my dogs.
Not only did I have those tidbits to focus on, but hiking also has some amazing health benefits, even for just the small amount of time we were outdoors. Some of these benefits include lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, weight control, and a lower cholesterol. So, even at just an hour long hike, we did get something out of it.
I didn't sit down and write this blog to share how I failed as a pet parent, nor did I write to express my frustration at the overall experience. I wanted to let you know that it is perfectly okay to have a bad hike.
It's okay if your dog misbehaves a little; it gives you something to work on, something to focus your training on.
Maybe the hike location was incredibly frustrating, but you wouldn't have seen that beautiful snake, or bird, or moose if you had not gotten out to explore nature.
Perhaps you didn't have what you needed this time, but you'll always remember to pack it from here on out.
All I'm saying is this: Not everything will go according to plan, it never does. Not every trail you attempt will live up to your expectations. You or your dog may have an off day, so take a break. Don't let these things stop you from getting back out there again. Everyone faces a bad hike here and there. The fact is, you got out and you did something. You did more than a lot of people can say on that day, so be proud of yourself and accept that not every hike will be a great one, but that is totally okay.