We stayed farther down the Shore this time, near Palisade Head. The whole trip had a different feel; instead of Grand Marais and Lutsen as our points of commerce, it was Silver Bay and Finland, an hour south. The trails were different. The parks were different. And because of Boscoe's aging back legs, the hikes were different. They were shorter--four to five miles, instead of six to eight. (That's still pretty good, I think, for a dog that is one month away from thirteen.)
The cabin is one that Doug found on the Interweb and rented, sight unseen, in March, when he realized that our previous choices weren't available. He was a little dubious, but it turned out to be wonderful--a small log cabin, perched right on the cliffs above Lake Superior. We were on three piney-and-birchy acres, set back from a quiet dirt road. There were other cabins nearby, but no people.
The cabin was nice inside, and comfortable, but the view! That view was everything. I sat in the big leather club chair every morning and stared out the window. Sometimes we'd take our coffee and sit in the green chairs near the water and read the paper and look out. It was chilly and windy, so I usually wrapped myself in a blanket, first. (That's Palisade Head you see off in the distance; we hiked there one day and saw rock climbers, coming up from the rocks below.)
But despite the great view, the comfortable cabin, and the time away from work, our trip was suffused with anxiety. It came the first day, Sunday, when we took the boys hiking at George Crosby Manitou State Park just up county road 7 from Finland. We picked a bad trail--it was very up-and-down, steep and rocky and not well-maintained. There had been bad storms, and we had to keep stopping to haul branches and logs and rocks out of the way. Boscoe was struggling a bit; we should have picked something flatter.
And then we got to Hell Ditch. That's what I named it, anyway; a big section of trail that looked like a gully wash had come through, depositing hundreds of giant rocks and boulders all over the trail and on either side deep into the brush. (Click on any picture to enlarge.)
Riley skipped over the rocks in his agile way, but Boscoe couldn't get through.
I didn't realize it at first--Doug and Riley had picked their way across, and Boscoe had gone off to the left, looking for a way around. But he panicked, seeing Riley take off away from him, and he tried to cross the rocks himself. And he fell. And, for a few moments, he couldn't get up.
My heart stopped in my chest. I yelled for Doug. Boscoe flailed, trying to find purchase on the slick and rounded boulders.
He managed to get to his feet, but he could not get across. He slipped again, and fell. His back legs have little muscle anymore, and his mended back leg is weak and turns in when he walks. I had not noticed before this trip how much he compensates with his front legs--pushes off with his front legs to stand, instead of his back. Pulls himself up the stairs. (And, sometimes, he turns around and goes up the stairs backwards, pushing off with his front legs.)
When he trots along on flat ground he does fine, but hills are hard. And fields of boulders are, we have now learned, impossible. Doug came back and spent 15 minutes hauling logs and downed trees, trying to make a little corduroy road for him. But it was too tippy, and the wood was rotten.
I got Boscoe off the rocks and back to the trail. "Maybe he can go around," Doug said, and Boscoe gave it a try, but the underbrush was too dense and the rocks continued for too far. It just wasn't possible.
Riley kept skipping back and forth between us, barely skimming the rocks with his speed. What's wrong?
Boscoe trembled on the trail. "We'll have to go back," I said, and at that a look of sheer relief crossed Boscoe's face, and he turned and immediately began trotting back up the way we came.
"We're so close to the end," Doug said. "If we can just get him past this..."
We pondered our options. We could carry him. But you all know how much he hates being carried. And if he thrashed in Doug's arms, and Doug dropped him on the boulders? No, we had no choice but to hike back out again.
On the trail, we hike like this: Riley first, zipping around, chasing squirrels and the occasional deer, leading the way. Doug next, keeping an eye on Riley in case he needs to call him back. Boscoe next, waiting for me, and then hurrying to catch up with Doug, and then waiting for me again. I hike last. The worrier of the group. Watching Boscoe. Oh, watching Boscoe.
All week, I hiked five feet behind him and watched every slip he made, every stop, every wobble. Are we pushing him too hard? Is he limping? Is he tired? Can he make it? Are we hurting him? Can he get over that log? Are there too many rocks? What if he collapses right here, in the forest?
That Sunday, we made it away from Hell Ditch and out of George Crosby Manitou park just fine. Boscoe fell one more time, going up a very steep stretch; I think he lost his momentum and just toppled over a bit. We rested, and had water, and when we got back to the truck I thought we'd have to lift him in, but no, he hopped in just fine.
For the rest of the week, we shortened our hikes and picked flatter trails. He did just fine. That was my mantra, all week. He's doing just fine.
He was happy; he walked slowly hiking in, but I think he was pacing himself. At the midway point we'd stop and have sandwiches and water, and then when one of us said, "Shall we go back?" he'd brighten up and pick up the pace and sometimes he'd end up out of my sight, up ahead with Riley and Doug. And then, and only then, could I relax and lose myself in the rhythm of the hike.
5 hours ago