• Danielle St. Louis

Governor Dodge - Expectation vs Reality

Updated: Jun 3

Luck on Pine Cliff Trail, Governor Dodge State Park

I should know better.

For some reason, I keep on thinking Lucky and I are going to have the kinds of idyllic adventures that strengthen our bond as woman and woman’s best friend. When I started thinking about taking Lucky to Governor Dodge State Park last week, this is how our visit was going to go in my head:

I’d wrap up work a little early and pack up our gear for a nice late afternoon visit. It was hot and humid out, and I was starting to feel cooped up. I knew a walk around the neighborhood wasn’t going to cut it. I figured if I was feeling that way, Lucky probably was feeling that way too. On the way, I’d stop for some snacks and special treats at HyVee so we could have a picnic at the dog beach. We’d get to Governor Dodge, and to escape the heat, we’d head down to Stephen’s Falls for a leisurely hike along the stream. I knew the ferns and moss would be lush and green and the water clear and cool. We’d meander along, both of us occasionally dipping our toes in the water. After going out and back along Stephens Falls Trail, we head back to the car and relocate to the dog beach for some swimming and our picnic. We’d both cool off by wading in the water and then we’d settle down on a beach towel and enjoy the special snacks. And oh boy would Lucky be excited and grateful for the treats I brought! We’d snack and maybe wade a bit more until we tired, and then we’d pack up and head come, both tired, happy and closer than ever.

This is how the visit actually went:

I wrapped up work a little early and packed up our gear. We get in the car, and I give Lucky one of three peanut butter coated distractions to keep him busy (and not whining and barking) while I’m driving. I stop at Hyvee and pick up some picnic snacks for me and some watermelon slices for us to share because I’m a super thoughtful and considerate dog mom. I get back to the car and give him the two other peanut butter coated distractions, and we get back on the road. Ten minutes later Lucky has licked all distractions clean of peanut butter (so much for marketing promises that these would keep him engaged for hours) and is back to his standard car behavior of high-pitched whining and barking. I wish I knew how to ignore it or tune it out, but his car behavior is my kryptonite. It grates on my soul and makes me never want to take him on any adventures EVER AGAIN. I miss my turn.

I finally find a place to turn around on this country highway, and we make it to the park. I drive through the gate and head towards Stephens Falls only to be confronted by blockades. WHAT?

I should know better.

Why didn’t I check the website before I left the house? Considering the parks have only recently returned to a normal-ish schedule and are still trying to control crowds, I should have checked on the current state of affairs at Governor Dodge. Hell, even if the park wasn’t just reopening from a pandemic shut down, I should have checked the website. That’s just basic pre park visit preparation.

Now I’m bummed, but I’m going to salvage this visit. My brain immediately rewrites the scene along Stephens Falls Trail. Now, we’re on our other favorite, Pine Cliff Trail, and instead of dipping our toes in the stream, we’re having a mini picnic on top of the rocks overlooking the lake, relaxing under the pines. We park at the Enee Point lot, and I pour more treats into the snack sack. This trail is more strenuous than I’d like for Lucky considering the heat, but I figure we’ll take our time, stop often for water, and take a long leisurely break on top of the rocks before heading back down. So off we go.

Lucky is GO. GO. GO. I guess he was feeling as cooped up as I was. He’s tearing up the trail, and I’m just trying to keep pace behind him; the overstuffed snack sack is bouncing off my hip and occasionally releasing stray treats onto the trail. We stop at the second footbridge – it’s a tiny one that’s not very high off the ground – and Lucky looks for an entry into the water. He makes his way along the side of the bridge but the water from the creek is stagnant and shallow. He looks disappointed. We keep going up the long flights of stairs to the bridge that spans another tributary that has carved out a shallow cave in the hillside. The water drips down the face of the cave, and again Lucky looks at the water, contemplating how to get to it. As a consolation prize I offer him some water in his bowl, and he drinks it. We continue our way up Pine Cliff.

We only passed three other people on the trail – a group of tweens a short distance from the trailhead. So, when we get to the apex of Pine Cliff Trail, I’m fairly sure we’ll have the outlook to ourselves. We scramble up the rocks to the plateau that juts out into Cox Hollow Lake and offers obstructed but still decent panoramic views. We don’t initially see them, but as we get closer to the actual overlook point, we discover we aren’t alone on top of the rocks. Three angsty teens are standing on the overlook as if they are points on an equilateral triangle. I can’t tell if they are adhering to social distancing guidelines or preparing for a wiccan ritual. Lucky and I hang out for a bit – you know, the awkward length of time it takes to find out if the other party is going to succeed the territory to you or if they are going to stand their ground. I offered Lucky some more water from his bowl. I considered taking out my snacks and sitting down, but they weren’t budging from their equidistant positions and my idyllic adventure with my dog didn’t include three angsty teens. So, I offered Lucky the rest of the water from his bowl, strapped my backpack on, and turned back to the trail.

The return trip down Pine Cliff Trail is mostly downhill, except for a short and janky flight of stairs. Lucky took some coaxing to get up the stairs, so I decided to stop again for some water. The last thing I need is Lucky getting heat exhaustion – that’s not part of this perfect visit to a state park with my dog. But now I’m lazy and I try to get the water from my backpack without unbuckling my waste strap. While awkwardly contorting to retrieve the water bottle – OUCH! – I get bit by a bug (mosquito???) on my thigh. The bite stung with the sting of the first bite of the season, turned angry red and swelled to twice its size. I’m annoyed with the bite, but I remind myself it comes with the territory. We continue down Pine Cliff.

When we get back to the parking lot, I decide to try to use the Travel Wisconsin selfie station to get a picture of Lucky and I with the sandstone cliff in the background. At many of these selfie stations it’s hard to get a shot with both Lucky and me both in the frame because we need a deep field to be on the same level and both be in the shot. But this selfie station has a deep field! We approach the selfie station and I realize the area hasn’t been mowed in . . . . a while. I get closer and my feet start sinking into the grass. The soil is super saturated – the deep field is more like a bog – but I’m gonna try to get the shot anyway! I set Lucky in position and tell him to stay, I flip the camera, set the timer, put it on the holder, press the shutter and hustle back as fast as I can in bog like conditions to where Lucky’s positioned. I crouch to his level and try to get him to look towards the camera. The count down ends, the phone takes a burst of photos, and instantly I know the shots aren’t going to be great. But the conditions aren’t great either, so I decide whatever we got is good enough. We escape the bog with wet feet and head to the dog beach.

Travel Wisconsin Selfie Station at Enee Picnic Area

I park the car and work on loading all of our “beach gear” into my backpack and the cooler bag. We walk down the road to the dog beach, and Lucky starts pulling. HARD. He sees that water and wants to be in it. We finally get to the beach and with my arms still full of bags, I release Lucky into the portion of clear water. He swims straight out into the lake and looks happy. And I’m happy because he’s happy. And then he makes a hard right and starts swimming parallel to the beach into the nasty water. You know the water that’s murky and has all sorts of stuff floating in and on it. I call him back to the clean water, but he’s not listening. He emerges from the water down the beach, and it’s not a big beach, but I’m hustling to get down there with bags on my arms and my phone in my hand because I was taking pictures of him swimming. I see him scoop up something in his mouth. As I get closer, I hear it before I can visually make out what it is. CRONCH CRONCH CRONCH. A tail. Little fish lips and an eyeball.

I yell DROP IT!! I yell it again and again. But I’m not prepared to offer something of higher value – he knows the treats are at the bottom of one of the bags in my arms and there’s no way he’s waiting for me to fish them out instead of finishing that fish. The fish is gone now. And while he’s happy, I am not. I releash him and sulk off to find a spot of ground not covered in goose shit. I didn’t see it initially, but I’m now discovering that 90% of the dog beach is covered in goose shit and the grassy area immediately by the beach is also a bog. So, I drag Lucky away from the goose shit and lay out the beach towel on some grass in the shade farther from the beach. I’m cranky. Lucky wants to be close to me on the towel but his breath stinks like dead fish. Now, I’m imagining Lucky puking up dead fish on the car ride home. I’m pissed at him and don’t want to share the special watermelon treat with him.

But I’m also pissed at myself for being so delusional. My life with Lucky has never been idyllic – that’s not him and it’s not me either. But I realize that our misadventures are probably more memorable than if everything were to go according to the Normal Rockwell knockoff I have in my head. So, I take out the watermelon and offer him a slice. We sit next to each other on a towel, swatting away bugs with hands and headshakes, and eat snacks until we’re tired.

Want to know more about taking your dog to Governor Dodge State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Hiking Wisconsin's State Parks now!

#GovernorDodgeStatePark #dogbeach

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