Monday 18th September – Cleo Finally Got One!

When I woke up, I was too excited to lay there any longer. I was a little bit cold and the prospect of warming myself up by a fire was too good to stay in bed. Me and Cleo got up while Dan snoozed. Cleo seemed perfectly happy running around in her jumper and she’d slept soundly all night so her new garb officially became a win. She ate her breakfast while I arranged some cardboard and sticks over the warm ashes of last night. With a few puffs of air, I had fire. I sat in my comfy chair and watched the sun hit the trees in front of me, reading my book and enjoying myself in general.

When I heard Dan stirring, I fancied another go at cooking breakfast on the fire and so got started. There was no wind this morning so there was no need to protect the pan from ash as I fried up banana pancakes, bacon and eggs. Dan had emerged when I was about halfway through and took over cooking duties, flipping the pancakes like a pro and getting the eggs just perfect. He was happy with such a good wake up.

After breakfast, we packed it up and drove away from the lake. Not the way we’d come in, but on a nicer road that took us back into town. Since we’d gotten up fairly early, we had plenty of time to do the 9 mile hike we did have planned for yesterday. Dan had found the Rocky Ridge Loop trail on Hiking Project and picked it since it was a featured hike according to the app. The trail followed a mountain biking trail I’d been told about called Schulz Creek so I was keen to check it out.

We parked at the Schulz Creek trailhead and Dan packed a bag full of snacks and water for the hike while I made a couple of wraps for lunch. Cleo was excited, she knew an adventure was coming. Off leash and leading the way, we followed her into the forest. In the time it had taken us to get ready, we’d seen a few hikers and riders come and go so we expected to have company on the trail.

We walked out into a meadow and after a half mile or so, figured out we’d gone the wrong way thanks to my brilliant navigating. We veered off path then and did a bit of bush bashing to get back on track, finding what looked more like a hiking trail instead of a mountain bike path. The going was pretty easy but there were plenty of rocks to clamber over. We were climbing steadily, but this was not a strenuous activity since the loop was going to take us around the peaks instead of over them.

After an hour or walking, I called for a food stop and we shared one of the wraps while Cleo gulped down some water. We carried on through the forest, finding a few errant tents and following a path that went closer to the road than we would have liked. When we came across a sign informing us that the trail ahead was closed due to logging operations, we decided to ignore it and found no more evidence that men might be at work so we didn’t feel too bad.

The hiking continued up a more strenuous hill, at the top of which we were happy to find the rest of our hike would take us downhill. Good thing too, my toes were rubbing in my Tevas which was surprising considering what they’d taken me through on Half Dome without issue.

We’d reached an open meadow and followed the trail that wound through it. Cleo was happy to see a small dam and got herself right into it, drinking and standing in the water to cool down. We’d taken our shirts off for the climb, but the wind up here was cold enough to make us want to put them back on. When we saw little bugs in the water that looked like oversized tics, we got Cleo out of the dam and carried on.

We followed some fireroad now, eating the second of our wraps as we walked, happy to be on the downhill trek. At the base of the road, we came to the Schulz Creek trailhead. It was all singletrack from here and we saw plenty of mountain bikers coming at us from behind and in front. Cleo did her best to stand right in the middle of the path despite our calls for her to get out of the way, but none of the riders seemed to mind.

As we meandered along a dip in the singletrack, Dan and I both noticed a squirrel sitting at the base of the tree, totally vulnerable to an attack. We told Cleo as much and after struggling to figure out what we were on about, she saw it and went into full hunting mode. The squirrel was slow to react, jumping one way, then deciding to flip another, cutting across the trail. What he should have done was raced straight up the tree. This was to be his fatal mistake. After another change of direction, Dan and I both gaped in disbelief as she caught the body fluffy squirrel between her teeth. One clamp down of her jaw and the squirrels life was over. We couldn’t believe it. All this time, she’d chased and chased and chased, seemingly incapable of ever making a kill and now, right in front of us, she’d done it.

Dan told her to leave the creature be and she loyally let the squirrel drop from her mouth. He was well and truly dead. At least she’d granted the poor thing that – a quick death. Still in disbelief, we walked away from the scene of the crime, thinking that maybe Cleo would give up her chase of squirrels now that she’d finally got one, but this wasn’t the case. She was as alert as ever, ducking into the bushes and racing through the scrub. Even when she copped a prickle in her front paw, she ran on three legs to catch whatever moved until Dan finally caught up to her and pulled the sharp needle out of her foot.

On all fours again, we continued our meander along singletrack that would have been much more fun on two wheel. More riders passed us, all happy to be out on the trails during the week, and most happy to see a beautiful pitbull. The hike had been good, but we were both happy to see the Cabana parked at the trailhead. Woo! It hadn’t been the most exciting hike in the world, but Cleo’s escapades had made it worthwhile.

We opened all the doors of the Cabana and I flopped down on the bed, legs hanging out and Dan did surgery on my blistered toe so I could go on wearing my Tevas the rest of the day. When the surgeon was done, we both lounged on the bed then, just letting our legs rest and watching the shirtless trail runners in the carpark, commenting mostly on one guy who had a man bun.

Sipping on cold beers from the esky, we stayed in the carpark since the weather was nice and we were nestled in the forest. We played cards on the bed for an hour or so, enjoying our recovery and waving to the comers and goers from the trailhead. Even Cleo, resting outside, made a friend in a spotty sheep dog. When happy hour came around, we decided it was time to go play some pool.

Back to the Collins Irish Pub, we parked round the corner and sauntered in so I could have another go at maybe beating Dan. We got ourselves a pitcher of beer and feeling like a nibble, ordered a plate of mini nachos as an appetiser to our dinner. As I kept losing, we had a couple of well drinks for something different but it didn’t help my pool abilities. I was getting smashes left, right and centre. It only took us three games to decide I wasn’t going to have any luck so we called it a night.

Dan drove us towards the Snowbowl for yet another Flagstaff camp. We figured that by the end of our time here we’d have sussed out most of them. When the road in we were looking for was closed, we weren’t phased and took another route that led us to a choice spot away from everything. We pretended not to see the “no fires” sign at the forest entrance and utilised the fire ring and huge pile of dead wood nearby to get a fire going. Another perfect camp for the happy vanners.

To complement our nachos as entrée, Dan cooked up burgers for our main using the coals of the fire to make the patties sizzle. It never gets old, they were delicious. Cleo was back in her jumper for a second night to protect her from the cold and the warmth from the fire was essential to keep us humans warm until we retired for the night.

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