Just a Girl and Her Dog – Bigelow Range Traverse

For a number of years, I have looked out over the Bigelow Range from various mountain tops that I have hiked, and thought, I need to cross that range someday.

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The Bigelows at sunrise from Pleasant Pond Mountain
Beth McLaughlin photo

While I had once hiked up its second highest peak, Avery, I had never traversed the entire range.

This range includes Cranberry Peak (3,194 ft), The Horns (3,805 ft), West Peak (4,145 ft), Avery Peak (4,088 ft), and Little Bigelow (3,070 ft) - a total of ~ 17 miles across with about 10,000 ft of elevation gain (according to Backpacker Magazine.)

I can tell you it is a lot of up and down.

I thought it was the perfect place to take Porter on a multi-day adventure.  It would be a hike for a cure, a way of making great memories with my best buddy, telling stupid cancer to kiss our butts.

So I filled my pack with a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pads for both Porter and I, food for us both, and some other various gear, and got a ride from my Mom to the trailhead (Thanks Mom!)

Day 1:  Stratton to Horns Pond

WARNING!!! This is going to be a long post with lots of pictures!

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We are off!

Bear season had started, and while the chances of us and bear hunters crossing paths was pretty low, my dog looks very bearish, so I dressed Porter in hunter orange.

So off we went, climbing up the Bigelow Range Trail toward Cranberry Peak.

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About 5 miles to the AT!

The trail up to Cranberry is probably moderate with a day pack on, but I found it to be a little more challenging with a full 30 lb pack on my back.   I want to come back someday this fall and do this as a day hike.

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I am not sure what this sign means

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Porter waiting patiently for me to catch up

Porter always has been an amazing climber – I would think he might need a boost over a section and he would just get himself up.  At challenging sections he would go back and forth, looking, pick his line and go for it.  It was pretty cool to watch him work it out.

Before too long, we were at the top - our first of 5 mountains in the range to climb.

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As always, Porter beat me there

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Our first look at The Horns, where we are heading

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Porter chilling on top (honest, that is not a cliff)

We took a little break, enjoyed the view, drank some water, had a snack, and started our descent down toward Cranberry Pond, near where we would hook up with the Appalachian Trail, about 3 miles away.

Once at Cranberry Pond, I noticed our water was getting low, not dangerously so, but still, low…but it looked very bogish to me.  I have a water filter, but after seeing the signs that Giardia is definitely present, I decided to make what water I had last.

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Cranberry Pond

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Oh goody

I was happy to see this sign:

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Finally on the AT!

I decided that we would stay at Horns Pond, which would give us only 7 miles for the day, but I have always wanted to camp there, so that became our plan.

This allowed us to linger in the various view points that I would have to pass by if I was pushing for miles instead of memories.  The day was gorgeous, and we just had fun hanging out together and eating snacks (snacks are an important part of backpacking!)

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Porter looking at Horns Pond with The Horns looming in the background

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Porter taking a break with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background

Once down at Horns Pond, we picked a campsite and set up camp.   Porter was excited for the tent to get set up, his tail spinning in clock-wise and counter clock-wise motions as the poles clinked together.

There is a great water source near the caretakers camp, so we filled up.  Before dinner we walked out to the pond to check it out (no camera, sorry).

Dinner was dog food (for Porter) and Mac N Cheese with dehydrated veggies for me.

We were there early by hiker standards, it was about 3pm, but within an hour or so, AT thru hikers and section hikers started coming into the campsite, Porter greeted them all with a circle wag (sometimes he woofed a little).

By the end of the night the campground was pretty full of AT hikers, college groups, and overnight folks.

Day 2: Horns Pond To Little Bigelow Campsite

We were up early, around 5:30 am, Porter and I snuggled in the warm sleeping bag with cold noses when the thought hit me that it might be really cool to climb up South Horn for the sunrise.

I scarfed down a pop tart and then spent sometime re-stuffing my backpack and scratching my head (it all fit in so well the first time…)

Fine. South Horn close to sunrise.  We made the steep .6 mile climb up.

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Porter waiting on the steps up South Horn

To freaking breathtaking views, with clouds floating over all of the mountains around us like waterfalls.

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North Horn from South Horn

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It was hard to capture on camera, you will have to trust me on this, it was freaking awesome.

Given our tough day ahead, we choose not to do the hike over to North Horn.   That baby is on my list though (it is just another excuse to camp at Horns Pond again).

It was cold, my camera froze up after 3 pictures.  I put it in my pocket and hoped it came back to life for the rest of the day.

We climbed down from South Horn, and before long we were making the steep climb up to West Peak.

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Porter on the climb up (see the 1 ear salute?)

My camera came back to life, and so I took a few quick pictures, but the wind was really blowing and I was freezing.

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#Proof

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Looking at Avery Peak and Flagstaff Lake

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Avery Peak and Little Bigelow – where we are heading

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The Horns peaking up in the background

As we looked back from where we just came (The Horns) and looked toward where we were going (Avery Peak & Little Bigelow) it was pretty amazing the amount of ground we had covered, and still had to cover.  It was about 10am when we descended down West Peak into the col between West Peak and Avery Peak, into the very awesome Avery Memorial Campsite.

We didn’t linger, we had miles to walk, so I grabbed some water and kept moving.  We bumped into a very nice guy named Jim, who was out for a day hike of Avery.  We let him by and then climbed up Avery ourselves, and met him up there sitting on the summit with a big smile on his face.

Porter of course became fast friends with him.

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Porter’s New Friend

We had a snack, filtered our water, and spent some time on the top.  It wasn’t freezing like when we were on West Peak an hour or so earlier.  The views were amazing.

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Porter checking out Flagstaff Lake

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Porter with Little Bigelow in background

We walked a little past the summit to the old tower and a memorial that honors Myron Avery, a man from Lubec, Maine, whose hard work very much made the Appalachian Trail what it is today.   A man of few words, when he was to give a dedication for a sign that marked the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a trail he and others spent years and years working, mapping, negotiating, (and some say bullying) to create a footpath that connected Maine to Georgia, his speech was simply, “Nail it up.”

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Old tower and site of Avery’s memorial

 

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Thank you Mr. Avery

We regretfully said goodbye to Avery Peak and turned towards Little Bigelow.  First we had to descent Avery Peak (I must mention, going down is as hard, or harder than climbing if you ask me).

As we started the easy climb up Little Bigelow, I realized that we were not going to make Flagstaff Lake today.  We had spent a lot of time hanging around on the summits, enjoying the day.  I do not regret this for a minute, but it just changed our plan a little, and in the end, changed our entire trips end point.

Little Bigelow was a blur.  My legs were tired, I just put my head down and slogged forward, up and down over the undulating terrain.  My shoulders started hurting, my feet, everything.

So Porter and I stopped and had a snack, because snacks make everything better.

We got up, and started hiking again, meeting a few folks, getting passed by the speedy thru hikers on a mission, with 2000 miles behind them and under 200 to go to reach their goal.

I thought I took some pictures but apparently didn’t.   I wish I did because looking back at all we did that day was pretty impressive, and a photo would have captured it well.

But my next photo after leaving Avery Peak is this:

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Porter in bed

Bigelow Traverse, DONE!

We camped that night at the Little Bigelow Lean-to/Campsite.  There was a great water source there, as well as a great swimming hole called “The Tubs” which I was too cold to jump into.  I ran into a section hiker who had stayed at Horns the previous night, we talked about the day, and how gorgeous and tough it was.

That night, the campsite filled with thru and section hikers – both northbound and southbound.  It was fun listening to their stories as we fell asleep under the cloudless night.

Day 3: Home

Our original plan was to walk back to Caratunk – for this to happen in the time frame I gave myself, we would have to hike 17 miles to Pierce Pond.

This seemed kind of not smart to do with Porter.  He would follow me to the end of the earth, but we are doing this for fun and to be together, not to make him lame.  I texted my Mom for a pick-up at a pre-planned location on the Long Falls Dam Road.

We had to walk 4 miles of trail to get to the road, and it was a gorgeous walk along Flagstaff Lake.

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Porter Taking Flagstaff Lake in from lake level

What is cool is that we can get dropped off here some afternoon and do an easy 2 night overnight to finish this section of AT.

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to our Hike for a Cure – we are going to continue to fight Porter’s cancer with all we have.  Mostly we do that by living in the moment, and doing what we love to do.

And I must say, to quote a friend of mine, “Nothing.  NOTHING, is better than being in the woods with your dog.”

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

 

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A Little Scare and Some Big Plans…

As many of you know who have been following us, my friend Porter is fighting stage 3 Mast Cell Cancer.

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Porter and I at work

He is really a champ, this is his 8th week on Palladia, and the lymph nodes have all shrunk to normal size and he is his normal peppy self.

Quite a big change from thinking we had 2-4 weeks left with him.

We hike a lot, and at least according to some people, we hike too much (don’t get me started).   It is something that we have done together since he was a pup…

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Baby Porter taking a break on top of Moxie Bald Mountain

…and someday (in like 100 years) when he is gone I will walk those same trails and think of him and maybe smile through the tears.

He woke up having trouble walking one morning 2 weeks ago, and together we made it down the stairs.  I noticed it was his right front leg that he was having issues with.

It was so hard seeing him so confused and in pain, and being able to do nothing to help him.

When you are dealing with a complex medical condition such as cancer, you think everything that happens is because of the cancer.  This isn’t necessarily so, but still, when the problem your buddy is having is on the same side of the cancer – the place you know it is likely to spread – you can’t help but worry.

What bothered me was that we hadn’t hiked or done anything to speak of for almost 2 weeks.  If he hurt himself hiking, it would have shown up before then – which is exactly what freaked me out.

So we went to the vet, did x-rays, and determined that it was thankfully not cancer causing the problem, it was something else, likely a soft tissue injury or some sort.

I felt like we dodged a bullet.  Since our vet wasn’t sure what exactly was causing his pain, she prescribed rest, pain medicine, and an anti inflammatory.

Within 2 days, he was back to himself.  I kept him rested for another week or so, going on a few easy walks along the river/Wyman Lake.

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Kennebec River near Wyman Lake

Yesterday we went back up to Moxie Bald Mountain (and forgot our camera, but trust me, it is a freaking cool place).

Porter and I had big plans to do this epic back packing trip this fall to help increase awareness about canine cancer and to raise money for the National Canine Cancer Foundation, who funds grants to cancer researchers to help find better cures, treatments, and to find find more accurate, cost effective ways to diagnose canine cancer.

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Well, in light of Porter’s mystery injury, we amended our plans.

We now have a trip planned that is a little less epic, but still very cool!  We are going to hike from Rt. 27 in Stratton/Eustis, across the Bigelow Range, and then home to Caratunk – 37 miles.

We are still going to work to raise money to help fund canine cancer research, in hopes it will help others facing the same issues as we are (see the banner on the right of my blog, or click HERE to donate).

We are saving the epic trip for next year – we are going to celebrate him beating the odds.  I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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For Right Now…

I know it has been a few weeks, but not a lot has changed…and we have been busy discovering new things.

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Labyrinth on North Peak, Moxie Bald Mountain

Porter is still on Palladia (a chemo drug specifically for certain types of Mast Cell Cancer) and still is handling it well – he has experienced none of the side effects.

If you didn’t know better, you would say he is just a normal, happy, healthy dog with not a problem in the world.

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Happy Boy!

I am pretty sure that is what he thinks too.  That is alright with me.

This drug will not cure the cancer, but it has shrunk the tumor in his lymph node significantly.  What it has done is it has given us more quality time.

We are choosing not to focus on how long we have or don’t have, we are focusing on right here, right now.

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Porter taking in the view

Because right now, Porter is feeling great.

He is strong and active and happy.

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White Cap Mountain Summit

So we spend our days off together exploring and not worrying about what the future might hold.

We found a new favorite mountain…

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White Cap Mountain

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White Cap Mountain

Revisited an old favorite with some good friends…

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Porter and Cooper, Mosquito Mountain

We traveled some familiar ground…

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Moxie Bald Mountain

 

…and started wandering from there and discovered a whole new and amazing place…

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Umm, why haven’t we checked this out yet Mom?

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Heading toward North Peak

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Porter looking toward Moxie Bald

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North Peak, Moxie Bald Mountain (Mosquito Mountain in the background)

So for right now, we are good.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

 

 

 

 

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The Bucket List

As always, I am overwhelmed with the support that has been given to me and Porter – I thank you all for the gifts, the well wishes, the hopes, the prayers, and the love for my buddy Porter.

A quick Porter update:

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Hello everyone!

Currently he is on Palladia (a chemo drug specifically for certain types of Mast Cell Cancer) and seems to be handling it well.  This drug kind of…pauses the growth of the cancer.

That is totally my term, the pause, because that isn’t really what it does but close enough for me to explain it to everyone.

Since he has been on it, the cancer in the lymph node has shrunk, he has had none of the possible side effects, and his blood results have been good.  He really is his normal self, except he has a rather large medicine cabinet.   Palladia will not cure the cancer, he will be on this for as long as his quality of life is good while on it.  Then…

Then we take him off of it and, well, the cancer comes back and our time becomes very, very short.

So far, so good.  My hope is we get to have a 4th birthday blowout for him on June 14.

My vet Julie is understandably very guarded when I say this, saying, “We will see what we can do, I certainly hope so.”

Me too, Julie.  Me too.

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Me and my boy (Beth McLaughlin Photo)

SO…

We have a bucket list.

Sort of.  It kind of forms as we go, I don’t have it written down or anything.

It isn’t too fancy, we are pretty simple.

It includes things like…

…catching a sunset on Pleasant Pond Mountain with one of your best friends…

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4am, hiking by head lamp

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Pleasant Pond Mountain Sunrise
Beth McLaughlin Photo

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Porter resting at the top

 

…laughing your head off on top of a mountain at 6am…

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Family Photo on top of Pleasant Pond Mountain

…spending a lazy day watching rafts go through the crib

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Watching the show

 

…spending a weekend camping…

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Home sweet home

 

…discovering a new favorite mountain and hiking a (very, very small) part of the 100 Mile Wilderness…

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Porter and I on Barren Ledges

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Barren Mountain Summit

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Porter smiling on Barren Mountain Summit

 

…and enjoying a boat ride on Wyman Lake…

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All smiles

 

He also wants to eat a steak dinner at a restaurant and put his paws in the ocean among other things.  We will probably hike a few more new mountains, take a few more boat rides, and see some more sunrises and sunsets from mountain tops.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

 

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Borrowed Time

I know it has been a little while since I posted an update on Porter.

I guess things were going so well, I didn’t feel like posting.

His 5th chemo treatment came and went and he seemed so good…I found a lymph node on him that seemed a little large to me. But I had it aspirated and there were no mast cells present.

When my vet, Julie, told me that things were OK, I think I didn’t believe her. I didn’t celebrate like I should have, because I had this gut feeling there was more to it.

But we moved on, living our lives like he wasn’t sick and I was just paranoid.

All this week I felt that lymph node as he laid across my console.  To me it was changing…it now felt like a goose egg – large and hard. My gut twisted every time I touched it.

When we went to Julie, and I showed her the lymph node, she touched it and then made that face that I have come to know as the “bad news face”.

It is this smile is covering up a grimace.

“Well, let’s aspirate it again. That is the only way to know.”

Porter and I waited for what seemed like hours for the results. It was probably like 20 minutes.

Julie and Ashley (the vet tech) came down the hall, and Julie waved me into the room.

Julie had her “bad news face” on.

She had me sit down. She sat next to me, took a deep breath, and put her arm around me.

“I am so sorry Mandy. There are mast cells present, along with…blah blah blah…”

I didn’t hear what else she said. Tears poured down my face and I dropped to the floor and hugged Porter. He put his chin on my shoulder and pressed down.

That sweet gesture shattered me. I breathed him in and he licked my ear.

The cancer wasn’t responding to the chemotherapy. In fact, it was spreading.

I remember back in April, when I read the oncologist’s report to Julie state, “What a wonderful dog and wonderful owner. This is truly a heartbreaking case.”

Heartbreaking? I didn’t know why she said that.

With my blinders of hope on, we were going to fix him and maybe she was heartbroken because he had to be sick at all.

It was because she knew that this was a nasty form of mast cell cancer that rarely is cured.

Anything we do now is buying time, an extra few months maybe. I will do anything to give him a good quality life for as long as possible.

If we are really lucky he might see his 4th birthday, but that isn’t likely.

I pulled myself together. Sort of.

Julie and Ashley hugged me and said they were so so sorry. To call them tomorrow and we can make a plan.

I walked up to the receptionist to pay. She very kindly said, “I am sorry for your bad news.” I burst into tears and handed her my card to pay for the aspirate.

I sobbed the entire way home.

My sweet, loving boy, who wouldn’t even hurt a fawn:

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Can you find the fawn?

Has terminal cancer.

Heartbroken doesn’t even cover it. Picture impact proof glass when it is hit by a rock, it shatters but some thin film of something you can’t see seems to hold it all together.

Something like that.

The next day happened to be Friday, and I needed some time with just Porter. So after work, I packed up a bunch of camping stuff and dog food and headed to Greenville to camp at Big Moose Pond for the night.

It is about a mile walk in, and I figured even on a summer weekend, there was a pretty good chance at a nabbing a site.

I was right.

Porter ran around in the pond and drank and drank:

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Big Moose Pond

Sat in the tent away from the bugs and looked at the lake:

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Less buggy view

He chased squirrels through the spruce:

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Squirrel!

Then we got up the next morning and drove up to Rockwood to hike Mt. Kineo.

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Kineo from Rockwood Dock

We took a ferry across (everyone on the ferry noted how well-behaved and handsome Porter is), and made our way to the top of the rocky cliffy mountain.

Porter stopped at all of the overlooks and took in the view as the sweet wind blew in his face:

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Overlooking Moosehead Lake

I love that he does that.

He waited patiently for me as I climbed the fire tower.

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He looks very little down there!

The views were awesome:

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And then we made our way down, stopping to have a snack along the shores of Moosehead Lake.

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Break time

We stepped on the ferry home, and a whole new group of people loved on Porter. One pointed out to me that he was a very special dog.

“I know, thanks.” I said with a very tight throat and tears stinging the corners of my eyes.

Watching Porter appreciate all of these things with gusto (and no worries about the future) reminded me – that was exactly what I needed to be doing right now.

I am no less heartbroken, trust me. But I can’t control what is going to happen, I can only control how I handle each moment as it comes. I plan on grabbing onto each one that we have and living it to the fullest.

We really should be doing that anyway, because in the end, we are all on borrowed time.

Thank you everyone for your support and kindness. Porter is doing well and we are going to be starting Palladia this week – this is a drug that could shrink the tumor, keep him comfortable, and maybe buy us some precious time. Our primary concern is his quality of life, so as long as he is happy and comfortable, we will do treatments.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

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A Bit of a Scare…

The day before his 3rd chemo treatment, I was on the lawn with Porter sitting in my lap (he does that).  As I scratched behind his ears, I felt something that stopped my heart.

No…No….nonono…

It can’t be.

I found a new bump. 

It was just like the first one when it started, it looked completely insignificant.

It was on the same side as the ear that had cancer. 

I was crushed.  How can he be getting new bumps when he is going through chemo??? Isn’t chemo supposed to be killing cancer?

My friend Suzie pulled in as I was trying to look at it, and I showed it to her.   She hugged me and I could tell she was as worried about it as I was. 

I didn’t sleep much that night.   If it was cancer, that would mean…what?

3rd Chemo Treatment

The next day, we went to the vet. 

I just said, “I need to see Dr. Keene.  I found another lump, I need it aspirated.”

Michael, the vet tech that I had been working with, felt it and said, “Aww..buddy…” and went to get Dr. Keene.

While waiting for her, they did blood work on him to make sure his system was OK to take the chemo.  Those results were good, and his white blood cell count had even gone up.

Dr. Keene came in and I showed her the bump behind his ear. 

She just took a deep breath. 

I told her “I want this to be a bug bite or a cyst please.” 

She nodded and said, “Me too.  I really hope so too.”

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

What is all the fuss about?

My heart was beating a million miles an hour, and while we were waiting for those results, Porter went off for his chemo treatment.

Dr. Keene came in with a big smile on her face. 

Not cancer. 

OMG.  YEAH!!! I felt like I drank a bottle of wine. 

We hugged and she told me she was so happy to give me good news for a change, I could tell that she was probably as relieved as I was to find out the good news. 

Then she sat and talked with me while I waited for Porter to finish his treatment.  

She is pretty freaking awesome. 

When he was done, he came in wiggling and smiling, happy as could be.  I gave him a giant hug.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

3 down, 5 to go!

Dr. Keene warned me that sometimes after 3 weeks in a row of chemo, that the side effects often get worse.   

Crap.  I was really hoping for things to stay the same.

They did. 

If I didn’t know Porter was going through chemo treatments, well, I wouldn’t know it (very Yogi Berra of me to say, huh?)

I know it seems a little like what I did last week, showing you all the ways in which he is acting like his normal self, but I am really am amazed at how well he is doing, and I really want to show anyone who is going through this that your buddy can have a normal life even while undergoing some pretty heavy duty treatment.

I mean, look at all he did!!!

Porter worked in the woods…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Checking my flagging

He played in the rain…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Drying off

Went for walks…Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Went swimming…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Pleasant Pond

And he hogged the bed…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Bed hog

He still seems to be his happy little self.  I will take every one of these happy moments I can get.

Next week is the last “every week” chemo.  Then he goes every other week 4 times. 

Then we are done.  I freaking hope.

I say this every week – but I really am so thankful to you all for all  again for the thoughtful comments, messages, the prayers, the support.  We are almost half way through (9 weeks/5 more treatments to go) and so we appreciate it more than I can say.  

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

Posted in Canine Cancer, Porter | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Just A Little More Special…

I want to thank everyone for the amazing support, kind words, healing energy, good thoughts, prayers, and overall love that has been sent our way regarding Porter’s fight with Mast Cell Cancer.

As I said last week – I want to share our story so that it might help others who are going through something similar. If I can do anything to help anyone going through this, I want to do it.  If anyone has questions on the specifics of what we are going through do not hesitate to send me an email (button top right of this page), comment below, or find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. 

2nd Chemo Treatment

So the second treatment was last Tuesday.

I hated the idea of bringing my sweet, happy boy back to the freaking vet to put more of that stupid poison into him when he was doing so well.

I feared that the second time, he would have harsher side effects since the first time the effects were practically non-existent.

Before going to the vet, I took Porter to a pet store and told him he could pick out anything he wanted.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

I will hug him and kiss him and…

I guess I should have been more specific.

No, he didn’t get a Guinea Pig.

We went to the vet and I was fortunate enough to be visited by Louise (check out her blog HERE) -  I was very thankful as it made the time fly by much more quickly, and it was really great to spend some time with her. 

But let me tell you - sending him off to the chemo room does not get any easier.  But he went off, brave as could be, wagging that little stub tail of his in a circle.

He came back, happy to see me.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Honest, he isn’t that big…

The vet tech told me he was one of the best chemo patients they had (I bet they say that to all the doggie moms).  They added that he was very well-behaved, and that he laid down when they asked him to, and just let them give him the chemo.

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

My little trooper!

Sob.

I paid the bill and got the heck out of there. 

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Porter paying the bills…

I cried the entire way home.  I hate that he has to go through this at all.

What Does a Dog on Chemo Feel Like?

Everyone has asked me about how Porter is doing (thank you!) and really are curious about how a dog on chemo feels…Honestly, until now, I had no idea.  While I can’t speak for every dog, I feel I can speak for Porter.

A dog on chemo feels like…

…running around in the mud on the shores of a river…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Muddy Paws

A dog on chemo feels like…

…sitting with his owner next to his stream while she scratches his ear and a half…

 

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Ahhh…nice relaxing evening

A dog on chemo feels like…

…going for a hike (and leading the way)…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Heading into Moxie Falls

A dog on chemo feels like…

…watching over his yard…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

King of his domain…

A dog on chemo feels like…

…digging in the flower beds to find nice cool soil to lay down on…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Helping me dig my flower beds…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

What? Were you doing something here?

A dog on chemo feels like…

…swimming in the river…

Porter, dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mast Cell, Mast Cell Tumor, Cancer, Canine Cancer

Happy Boy!

In short, what I have learned that a dog on chemo acts like…

…he did before chemo.  He is just a little more special, he holds a little bit more of your heart than maybe he did before.

Thank you for all  again for the amazing kind, comments, messages, the prayers, the support.  We are really at the beginning of this road (10 weeks/6 more treatments to go) and so we appreciate it more than I can say.   I plan on posting again next week with his progress.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy & Porter

Posted in Canine Cancer, Porter, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Prayers for Porter

Hey there!

I know it has been way to freaking long since I have blogged.  Work and life have been crazy, and my focus has been shifted elsewhere lately. 

Spring has finally arrived in Caratunk.

Maine, spring, crocus, caratunk

Wooohooo!

Very soon I will again be writing about the long rides, runs, and swims that I do for fun in the big city.  No Ironman this year, I am actually pretty light on the racing this year – but I have plans for some good, long, endurance adventures that I can’t wait to share.

I am even buying a new bike! Bike porn coming soon!

For the moment though, something different has my complete attention.

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Porter having an office day

Many of you know this, maybe some don’t – Porter has Mast Cell cancer.  

His 3rd birthday is June 14.  Yes.  That is really young.  I have done the kicking screaming over this more than a few times.

When I first found out about this, I was lost in a haze of Google searches, medical terms, and fear of what might happen to my buddy.  

The short version is that Porter is going through chemotherapy right now to fight this cancer. 

The how’s and why’s are below – this is a long entry but feel I need to get this out there.  I would have loved to read a story of someone else who went through this in my search for options, so I hope that by sharing our experience, it might help someone else.

How it started…

Back in mid-February, I noticed a little lump smaller than a pea on Porter’s right ear.  It looked kind of like a simple sebaceous cyst (Bailey used to get those often).  Within a few weeks though, it developed a more wart-like appearance and started growing.  It became really gross really fast – within a week it went from a unsuspicious looking pea to a dime sized scary thing.

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

This is just before surgery.

 My vet took one look at his ear and said, “Let’s aspirate that.” 

And so we did.  She walked back into the room with this funny look on her face.   I didn’t ask her anything, because I assumed nothing serious could be wrong. We just spent the winter working in the woods together; my boy was in tip-top shape.

But she said, “If it is OK, I would like to send this into an oncologist to be 100% sure of what it is, I see some…cells in there that seem suspicious.  An oncologist can tell with certainty if it is a benign cyst or a type of cancer.”

Oncologist???  Cancer???  

Porter having cancer was the last possible thing on my mind. 

I nodded my head and hugged Porter.  They said we would know Friday or Monday. 

Mast Cell Cancer

Early Friday afternoon, I called the Veterinarian’s office hoping for some results from the test.  The woman who answered the phone said, ”Ah… Hi Mandy.  Dr. Keene would like to discuss the results with you.  What is the best number for her to reach you at?”

Crap.  That means it is bad news.  They can just give you good news.

I paced a hole in the floor waiting for that phone call back.

My vet called me back later that night, she sadly told me Porter has Mast Cell cancer, which she suspected that it was pretty aggressive and high stage but couldn’t be sure until the tissue was tested further.  

Sob.

She patiently talked me through what the cancer was, and then told me there was…more I needed to know.  The first step in treatment is surgery, and with this particular cancer the best way to get clean margins is to – cut off the ear above the tumor, at which point it could be sent to a lab for staging.

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Ice Cream therapy

The surgery was scheduled for the following week.   That night I fell asleep googling “Mast Cell Cancer” and learning the one thing I didn’t want was Stage 3 because it seemed to have a pretty poor prognosis.

Surgery

The worst thing I ever saw was my sweet boy happily walking down the hallway wagging his cute little stub tail to go into surgery.   My heart imploded as he walked away.

The vet asked me aesthetically what I wanted with his ear, and I said, “Aesthetics??  I want the cancer gone.  Do what you have to do to get clean margins.”

I had in my head that it was Stage 1 cancer, and this surgery would get rid of it.  Once he healed up we could just get on with our normal lives.

Surgery was successful – the lower part of his ear was removed with laser surgery.   We found out later that the margins were clean – great news.

He came out with the cone of shame on his head, looking completely confused but happy to see me.  All I could do was hold him and hope the cancer was low stage.

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Post operation

The staging results took about a week to get back. 

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Brooding over cone of shame

By now, Dr. Keene and I were getting to know each other pretty well.  I could tell she had her “bad news voice” on.  I braced myself. 

The cancer was Stage 3.   

I couldn’t hold back the tears.  How on earth could this be?  It was there for 2 months, tops.

She told me the next step was to see whether or not it was in the lymphnodes, and that once we see what we are dealing with, we could decide what to do.  She mentioned chemotherapy as an option.

Chemotherapy????  Pictures of my grandfather and my sister-in-law and my friends who had been through it flashed though my head.

No.  No. No.

So, I went back to Google.  Everything I learned online was horror stories about stage 3 Mast Cell Cancer.  

I asked the vet for copies of all the lab work to be emailed to me so I could see them.   I wanted the details – I believe Doctors of all types tell people what they need to know, not sure they want the details or even would understand them.  

Me, I wanted the details and figured I could teach myself to understand them.

And what I learned wasn’t encouraging.  It was heartbreaking.

The Mitotic Index was 32 of 10 (this is the measurement of how quickly the cells are dividing, you want like, less than 5 of 10), there were a lot of big words that Google and I figured out boiled down to bad, nasty, aggressive, invasive cancer.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

This is when I decided that I was not going to focus on the cancer – I was just going to appreciate every moment I have with him and be thankful he is in my life. 

Something we should do with everyone we love anyway.

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Best water dish ever

Good News and Chemotherapy

We got some good news…finally.   His lymphnodes were clear.   X-rays showed no evidence of cancer in his body.

The issue is – with Stage 3…Cancer cells have likely been released into his body.  We just can’t see them yet.  Our options?

1)      Gamble.  Do nothing and hope it doesn’t show up in 3-6 months.  The downside of this is if it shows up, by the time we notice it, it will most likely very advanced, severely limiting treatment options.

2)      Chemotherapy.  This should kill those cancer cells in his body – and also do all the bad things chemo does: affect rapidly dividing cells, suppress immune system, & cause nausea or diarrhea.  They type of chemo is called Vinblastine, and it is 8 treatments – 4x every week, then 4x every other week.

Prognosis without chemotherapy isn’t good.  With chemotherapy, it is much much better, with a chance of getting rid of the cancer and him having a normal life later. 

So. 

With some prodding, I got a second opinion from an oncologist in Portland, 3 hours away.  She said the same exact thing – except she suggested a much more aggressive type of chemo that would require 6 months of treatment. 

I felt like she would have started treatment that day if I would have agreed to it. 

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Waiting for second opinion

I left there feeling judged.  As if I wasted time trying to decide what to do (from his surgery to this point was 2 weeks, and one of those weeks were waiting for grading results, so I wasn’t exactly dragging my feet).

I knew I was doing the best I could, but this was like a kick in the gut to me.  I walked out of there feeling anxious, in a hurry to do…something…feeling like I had failed Porter…and was even more confused about what really was best for him. 

I wanted to go running back to Veazie Vet – who didn’t judge me at all, they kindly gave me my options and the time and space to think about them.  I scheduled his first chemo treatment, going with Dr. Keene’s suggested Vinblastine protocol. 

First Chemo Treatment 4/30/14

I was a mess.

Porter and I did some work in the woods before his treatment, putting in some boundary lines for a landowner that lived fairly close to the vet’s office.  The whole time I was thinking of pulling the plug.  I hated the idea of chemo for him, of him possibly being sick. 

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Porter at work day of 1st chemo treatment

But I hated even more the idea of doing nothing and wishing I had. 

When I got to the clinic, Dr. Keene was waiting for me.  She sat with me and we talked about more test results that had come in (more not great news) and we talked about my experience in Portland and about what Porter’s chemo would consist of. 

She spent a good 30 minutes with me, and that time was much appreciated.  I felt like I was doing the best I could for Porter, and knew that he was in the best possible hands with her.

He had some blood tests taken, and then it was time for him to go in for his first treatment.  I hugged him and held back tears as he wiggled his little tail into the chemo room.  I sat and impatiently waited for him. 

It took about 20 minutes and he was back out, his happy little self.

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Porter after 1st chemo treatment

Effects of Chemo            

So far – Porter is his normal sweet, friendly, happy self – we are about a week out from his first chemo treatment.  He is a little more tired than normal and a bit fussy eating.   

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Screwing around at the office post chemo

The vet gave us Cerina for nausea for the first few days, and I have him on Fish oil (Omega-3’s), Turkey Tail Mushrooms, and probiotics daily.  I have changed his diet to Evo, a very low carb high protein food.

I am not sure what to expect from the future, but I hope that this continues.   I plan on updating his progress weekly in hopes that this helps anyone else facing something similar.

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Chilling on his couch

#PrayersforPorter. Bernese Mountain dog, BMD, cancer, canine, canine cancer, chemotherapy, dog, mast cell, mast cell cancer, vinblastine

Loving the last of the river ice

One last thing – I want to thank all of my friends and family for their tremendous support, gifts, love, and kind words.   On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram I was overwhelmed with the response and the many #PrayersforPorter.   Thank you Thank you Thank you.  A million times thank you. 

Veazie Vet and Dr. Keene – you are all phenominal, patient, and understanding.  Thank you.

In addition to all of that goodness- I found tremendous support and insight from the Bernese Mountain Dog community through various Facebook Pages, Yahoo Groups, Porter’s breeders (the 2 different owners of his Mom and Dad).   I do not have enough words of gratitude to everyone.  Thank you Thank you Thank you.

I am by no means an expert, I am just a girl who loves her dog.  This is all my interpretation of what I have read and been told by veterinarians, books, articles, and veterinary websites.  Please consult your veterinarian on any and all health issues with your 4-legged friend. 

Posted in Canine Cancer, Dogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Great Vegan Experiment

Things have been really crazy for me lately.  Work has basically taken over my life to the point that by the time Friday rolls around, I am a complete zombie, basically useless to family and friends.

First – I don’t hate my job, I just have way too much to do.

It isn’t like I don’t try to let it go, but after spending the day frantically snowshoeing in rotten snow to get layout* done for a machine that is harvesting on the block I am working in, I arrive back into cell service to get 3 text messages from my boss if I got something done in 2 different places 2 hours from where I am, 5 messages from various landowners and contractors needing me where they are, and a message or two from the office wondering where some paperwork is that I was supposed to get in.

*layout is basically using flagging tape to communicate the harvest plan to the guys cutting the wood.  I talk with them, make them maps, and the maps match what I have layed out in the woods.

This all has me considering getting a pilot’s license and a plane to get around the state (except I really HATE to fly).  

I have traded trying to fit training in around my 5am-6-7pm work day for eating and sleeping. 

And quite frankly, the thought of anything regimented on the weekend after the weeks I have been having sounds just horrible to me at this point. 

I am lucky – I have an active job that lets me work outside and see all kinds of wildlife.

maine, forestry, dog, bernese mountain dog, wildlife

Peeking around the tree

I can take my friend Porter to work with me.

maine, forestry, dog, bernese mountain dog

Porter on the job

But still, I miss training. 

I miss the long runs and rides and swims that seem to set my head straight. 

But that just isn’t happening.  Not with this schedule, this level of burn-out that I am feeling. 

And to top it off, my diet was becoming way cheese and meat focused.  Mostly cheese.  Because that is fast and easy and you can pound that stuff down on the go.

This lack of control over my time, the stress, the lack of training, had (ok has) me feeling very much like I was spiraling into hell.  

I thought about what I could control. 

I decided to do a little mix-up to my diet. 

For the past 2 weeks, I have eaten vegan, and keeping up with the no sugar, no grains (NSNG).

Ok wait, I did have cheese the other night in a veggie quesadilla.  But except for that, I have eaten vegan and NSNG.

The funny thing is, eating NSNG actually made me eat way more veggie-focused, I ate many of my meals vegetarian or even vegan unintentionally.  This is kind of just another step. 

What got me was that immediately, just like after I posted on Facebook about Ironman training, after posting about eating vegan for 2 weeks, I immediately got some negative responses, people concerned for my health -  as if I am some bumbling idiot wandering off the edge of a cliff.  

People brag about tons of unhealthy crap that they do, and I get crap for eating plant-based for 2 weeks? Really?

vgan1 

Anyway, I was lucky enough to find the Oh She Glows blog (thanks to my friend Tam).   It didn’t take me too long looking around the blog to realize I could make this work for me even better than I thought.

Also, my Vitamix has completely been getting a workout since I have been eating this way.

So what do I eat?  LOTS!

But here is an example from a day last week:

Breakfast:

Green smoothie.  I like this one as a basic smoothie, but I have mixed it up quite a lot based on what I have.  The basics for me are the almond butter, spinach, chia, and almond milk.  The rest I add what I feel like or have.  I made a yummy blueberry ginger one the other day. 

*GASP* 

After 2 days of this, I just didn’t want coffee anymore.   I am drinking caffine-free tea or green tea in the mornings now.

This is kind of a big deal.

Snack:

Veggies (pre-cut on Sunday) and humus (sometimes homemade)

Lunch:

 

Homemade NSNG crackers & Almond Tuna Salad - this makes enough for 3 lunches and is freaking incredible. 

Dinner:

Sloppy Lentils over Sweet Potato - I made the lentils on Sunday (see below), took them out in the morning so they would defrost, and microwaved the sweet potato, then heated up the lentils.  Pour heated lentils over the sweet potato.  I sprinkled some Nutritional Yeast on it.  It was freaking awesome.

The best thing I did I learned from Elisa - I make a large soup or chili on the weekend and freeze them in ball jars (covers off, once frozen, I put the covers on).  This way when I get home late during the week, I just pick out what I want, throw it in the microwave and chow down. 

It is pretty sweet.  I now have quite a few different options too.

The thing is – I feel great.   Better than I did before this experiment, so I am extending it indefinitely.

I have tons of energy.  Yes work still mentally drains me.  But like I said, I feel better than I did before this I started eating vegan - and while I am not training, I AM very active at work, walking on snowshoes all day, walking trails all day.  I put on a lot of miles, just not on the pavement and my energy for that sort of thing is better than it has been in a while. 

I feel so great I just don’t want to go back.  For now anyway, I am sticking with the vegan focused eating,  moving back and forth between vegetarian and vegan as situations arise.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

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Mosquito Mountain Winter Hike

I am so lucky to have a friend like Beth…

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Just another day at the Caratunk Country Club

She is a dog lover like me, and is one of the few friends I have that would not even bat an eyelash when I asked her about breaking trail up to Mosquito Mountain. 

I even told her it was probably going to be kinda hard.  She said, “That’s OK! It will be awesome!”

Anyway, the whole way driving to the trailhead we talked about what a nice day it was yesterday and that SOMEBODY MUST have snowshoed up already.  I mean, really, who wouldn’t have done it yesterday? 

We had ourselves pretty much convinced that we wouldn’t have to break trail because some nice, adventurous person already did it for us. 

AAANNNDDD…we got to the trailhead and there was no sign of anyone else.

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Nice, clean, unbroken trail

We strapped on our snowshoes and laughed. Ah well. How bad could it be anyway?

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Trail markers on way to top of Mosquito Mountain

It wasn’t too bad actually, except for the crust on top that wouldn’t quite hold you up, but was happy to hold you for a second, then crumble beneath you, and then somehow manage to grab your shoe and make you fall on your head.

I was pretty entertaining. 

Porter entertained himself by chasing squirrels through the trees…

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Porter hunting squirrels

We finally got to the place we call “The Rock” – we are not all that creative.  It is, well, a rock.

But it isn’t like any old rock, it is a giant rock that you can climb on and is somewhere around halfway up the trail. 

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Looking at Beth from The Rock

 

Maine, hike, winter, mosquito mountain, caratunk, the forks, moxie, moxie pond

Porter and Blythe hanging out on The Rock

The snow underneath the thin crust was kind of like dust.  All powdery and crumbly, you just couldn’t get a grip on it, and so it made climbing fairly challenging.  But we kept at it and eventually made it to the first overlook.

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Making our way to the flag that marks the overlook

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Porter chillin at the overlook

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Looking toward Moosehead Lake and Kineo

It was beautiful up there, it isn’t often you can stand on top of a mountain in Maine in February for more than 30 seconds without wanting to get moving again.  But we were able to hang around and take pictures for almost 10 minutes before we started getting cold. 

I asked Beth if she was up for heading to the summit (this means breaking trail another 1/2 mile), and she was all for it.  Sweet!

Maine, Mosquito Mountain, winter, hike, winter hike, caratunk, the forks, moxie, moxie pond

The trail was a little steep in places

We made it up there and the wind had really picked up.  You can tell that is the side of the mountain that gets the most wind (the west side of course) because there was very little snow and a lot of ice. 

But it was gorgeous…

Maine, Mosquito Mountain, winter, hike, winter hike, caratunk, the forks, moxie, moxie pond

Sugarloaf and Bigelow Mountains from the summit

Maine, Mosquito Mountain, winter, hike, winter hike, caratunk, the forks, moxie, moxie pond

View from the top

Maine, Mosquito Mountain, winter, hike, winter hike, caratunk, the forks, moxie, moxie pond

Porter hanging out on the top

This time we got cold much faster, so we snapped some photos and heading down the mountain. 

It is so much fun going down a mountain in the winter, you basically slide until you get to areas that are not steep enough and then you just have to walk.  Which is decidedly less fun than sliding.

We eventually made our way back to the truck, laughing at how much fun it was to slide down, and feeling really great about our day.

Thanks for reading!

Mandy

 

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