Weekend of random trail encounters

Finn and I did our usual weekend thing: running at Cougar Mountain on Saturday morning, at Tiger Mountain this morning. My usual running companions were out of town or doing other runs, but I'm always happy to head into the woods with just Finn, seeing who and what we encounter.


Early in our Cougar run, we meet Rocky, who looks like a husky-Shepherd mix, and his human, a distinguished gray-bearded gentleman of about 60. They're out for a walk. We talk about good vs bad encounters with other dogs on these trails. The man warns of a Russian family with a very mean Rottweiler, which morphs into tales of encounters with wildlife. Rocky has come upon coyotes and a bobcat, but no bear, for which the man is grateful. I share the story of Finn's encounter with an opossum the previous weekend, and the man immediately asks, "Did he play dead?" Honestly, I never even wondered why that wasn't the case, since that is one of their traits. Perhaps the 'possum had tried that, Finn poked him with his nose like only a determined Aussie can, leaving the 'possum no choice but to show Finn some teeth.

A mile later, we're alongside a pond that I think was part of the mining operation that once called Cougar Mountain home. There are old mine shafts, and a clay pit still there. I've always asked the dogs to avoid this particular pond, as I don't believe the water is safe to drink. The bottom and edges of the pond are unnaturally mucky. Once Finn realized he enjoyed water, though, I had to become more vigilant at this spot to keep him from jumping in. Today he not only jumps in, but I'm astounded to see him paddling out toward the middle! I call him back, and he seems happy to comply since he really isn't a good swimmer, splashing himself in the face as he tries to see where he's going. After shaking excess water off himself and onto me, he dashes down the trail and then jumps into the pond again and starts swimming across it! This time, I spy a pair of mallards on the far side, watching Finn warily. "Finn, you are not a duck toller!" I teased him. "Come!" He did.

Later, we see a few hikers and runners, then eventually cross paths with a woman runner and her very friendly Rhodesian Ridgeback. We've met once before. While the woman asks about the running pack I'm wearing, the dogs start playing. The Rhodesian, daring Finn to chase him, speeds back and forth along the trail while the woman and I try to converse, keeping a sharp eye on the dogs so they don't knock us off our feet!

Just as Finn and I return to the parking lot, it starts to sprinkle. By the time we get home, the wind is blustery and gaining strength. By the time I awake from my post-run nap, it's blowing and raining hard, a relatively rare combo here in mild Seattle. Lights flicker inside. Windows rattle against strong gusts. Tall trees are bending all around us outside. The girls don't get their usual long Saturday afternoon walk. They don't seem to mind, though; they don't like walking in the rain. We all huddle inside for the evening.


By morning, the weather system has moved through and the sun is again shining, albeit weakly. Finn and I head to Tiger for our usual Sunday morning trail run. Shortly after starting, we bump into someone I think of as The Aussie because of his accent. He's a fellow runner. I've seen him here a few times over the past two years. He has two duck tolling retrievers, a breed I'd never heard of until twice in one week, during the spring of 2009, I was asked if Finn was a duck toller. I had to Google the breed to find pictures. While Finn is about the same size, duck tollers have tails, so I'm not sure why we got that query. Duck tollers are originally from Nova Scotia, bred to toll - lure - and retrieve water fowl. They do look a little like Finn - color, ears, size. But they have tails! Here's a photo:

(Now you understand my teasing Finn yesterday, telling him he's not a duck toller, as he tried vainly to swim for those mallards. He certainly wasn't luring them!)

Anyway, the first time I saw this man and his two dogs in the parking lot at Tiger, a light bulb went on in my brain and I asked him what breed they were. Sure enough - duck tolling retrievers. The dogs and the man are friendly, so each time we bump into each other on the trail, we stop briefly to say hello. I hadn't seen them in months, so today, when I see the man and one dog running toward us, I don't immediately recognize them. As he gets closer - and because, like many dog people, I never get around to asking the human's name so I don't know his, nor do I remember the dogs' names - I say, "What? Only one duck toller?"

He laughs, stops, and says the other is home asleep on her bed. Puzzled, I ask, "But, she's young, isn't she?"

"Yeah," he replies [in a lovely Aussie accent; he's very easy on the eyes as well], "she wanted to come along today, but she's got a chafing issue."

"Oh," I said, "that I can understand." We runners can chafe in ways that makes running painful. He heads back to the parking lot to finish his run while Finn and I venture down the trail. But the more I think about it, I can't figure out how a dog can have chafing, unless it's in her armpits. Meadow would sometimes get a mat under her arms and if I didn't discover it and cut it out, it could cause some discomfort. Or, maybe that's how an Aussie describes a foot pad abrasion.

A bit later, Finn and I are making our way along the shore of Round Lake on a narrow, winding section of trail through thick trees. I can hear, from a distance, a woman calling a dog's name, something like "Carlo!" Repeatedly, in a worried tone, as if the dog has vanished. I think to myself, "I know that awful feeling." Suddenly, a big, gorgeous Golden retriever comes barreling down the trail right at us, hardly taking note of Finn, or me, except to figure out the best way to pass us without slowing down. "Aha! Finn, I bet that's Carlo!" I said. Sure enough, after the big dog flew past us, I didn't hear the woman's voice again.

Finally, as we ran the last mile back to the car, we overtake a group of hikers with dogs - five humans, three dogs, all very friendly. As Finn and I pass, one of the men says to our backs, "Next week! Next week, we'll be running, too!"

"I'm holding you to that promise!" I yell back over my shoulder as we disappear around a bend.

I love running with my friends and their dogs. But I also love running trails alone with my dog because of all these random, fun encounters we have with people and dogs. I can stop to chat, or run on by, depending on my mood and the reception of the people we encounter, without worrying that my running companions will get impatient.

Life - running in the woods - is good.