Thursday, July 5, 2018

New Ways to Bond with One's Guide

The campground has many pluses. First there are few foxtails or burs. It's frequently used by cub scouts and brownies so the park service sweeps it free of forest debris.

It is surrounded by towering redwoods, keeping it shady and cool. We are several miles mostly straight up overlooking the rowdy Pacific ocean, so we have all the fog 'er' mist that comes with being on the central California coast. That means warm afternoons and chilly nights, and a tent covered with moisture upon awakening.

We have a large fire ring where we are allowed to roast our wieners and marshmallows. The barrier is over a yard high so the forest is protected from flying embers, a big concern in this fire-ravaged state. And we have friendships. About twenty of us, mostly women in their fifties and sixties comprise the local dog scout troop.

Dog scouts is just what you think, people who loved scouts and since the kids grew up and moved out we do the same thing with preparedness and patches minus kids but with dogs. You can get a community service badge, a therapy badge, a backpacking and of course a camping badge.

All these pooches love adventure and are comfortable doing things with humans. We go on ranger-lead nature hikes, visit outdoor concerts and cafes and just hang out on restaurant patios with our canines. I am the only member with a service dog.

The campground is also a preserved Native American relic. It has numerous small pits where the Indians ground acorns. These were hollowed out and lined with sharp rocks centuries ago by native tribes. A naturalist painted vivid pictures for us of Indian women squatting before these holes, chatting, singing and grinding. This, the naturalist tells us is the first factory for stone-ground grain.

Maxwell, my golden guide knows immediately to avoid the pits. He loves hiking and is careful to insure I never sprain an ankle. I feel safe running around camp holding his harness. We also have to navigate around numerous concrete picnic tables as well as coolers, stoves, the fire ring and lots of portable chairs, tents and tables brought by my friends. But Max happily powers through all the obstacles, his bushy flag-tail sweeping back and forth, his nose alive to the scents of the woods.

Now when I was a kid, a campground had an outhouse. The smell actually assisted me in finding it. But here, we have a row of huge, green wheel-chair accessible plastic porta-potties. Totally sanitary they have almost no scent. And because we are Scouts we just naturally keep them clean.

The potties are about a quarter of a mile away from the campground and due to a leaking faucet which the forest service plans to fix, the route directly to the potty is a muddy quagmire. So my friends advise me to take a circuitous route, circumventing yet more tables, coolers and chairs.

Max doesn't like mud either, which is good, because he's happy to tramp farther to get to the human toilet. But teaching him to find it on his own is another thing.

"Good potty," I croon, sliding a treat in to his eager mouth. "Find the potty," I request later, hopefully as he snuffles through the forest until a helpful friend rescues us.

Max continues to find more stoves and tables to guide around and the potty just isn't a destination for him.

At bedtime my friends suggest I wake them if I have to go. I assure them we won't have any trouble finding the potty in the middle of the night, and besides, I lie, I almost never get up in the night to go anyway. All the food has been locked in cars due to the occasional threat of bears and the regular visits of raccoons so there will be nothing yummy to distract Max, I tell my friends.

I carefully avoid drinking water before bed, spitting out the toothpaste when I brush. At 1 A.M. I awake parched, and take the tiniest little sip from my water bottle.

At 3 AM I wake with a bladder the size of Texas. I can barely move it feels so full. The more I try to stop thinking about it, the more I have to go.

Finally I pile on the warm layers, I harness Max and we slip out of the tent. It is pitch dark, and though I don't really see enough for light to help, I notice the moon is absent so I wonder how well Max can see.

"Find the potty," I whisper and rattle the food pouch, promising him a treat to come.

He charges off happily, nose in full gear. I hear my friends snoring and we encounter no obstacles so I know Max can tell where he's going. I smell the fire ring as we pass, hear the wind rattling a pot lid on one of our camp stoves. But is he going where I want to go? And speaking of going, do I ever have to.

We are climbing a slope. Oops, I know there is no slope to the potty. And suddenly we are on an asphalt road. It's deathly quiet. Following his training, Max takes me to the road shoulder, with bushes on the left and the road stretching ahead of us on the right. I think about retracing my steps, but can't remember where the road we drove on was. And I can't remember if there are two roads out of this campground or if it's on a dead end.

I halt max and pick up some small rocks and throw them experimentally to my left. I hear them cascade down what seems to be a fairly steep slope. Then I hear a large splash as they land in a pond below the road. We continue because frankly I'm not sure what to do.

Another quarter mile I toss some pebbles again. This time the slope seems less steep and I realize there are no tents below us. I hear my pebbles finally come to rest in shallow water, maybe fifty feet below. Good, I think, it is indeed safe here.

I squat on the edge of the road and make it quick. I have done this many times backpacking but never when car camping. I hope I am really far away enough from people.

Max bounces up and down. He's gotten to relieve himself with other dogs, but now his pack leader is urinating in the woods where he likes to go. The joy of over marking my spot makes him snort and spin with uncontained fervor. As soon as I pull up my pants, Max indicates he needs to go too. Off with the harness and he's circling and wagging and urinating a gallon. Why I wonder, did he save that up instead of going at bedtime like he usually does? Did he hope for a chance like this, bonding like dogs do but with his very own human in the woods?

Max is practically dancing up the road as we retrace our steps, walking on the other side, hoping we won't miss the campground. About half a mile later, Max begins pulling me frantically across the road and through a lot of very squishy mud. And guess what he's found -- the potty!

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