Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Travvy and I Go Camping

October 04, 2010

Trav and I had one helluva great weekend. It started when we left home in the pitch dark on Friday in order to catch the 6 a.m. boat. We finished Travvy's Rally Advanced title in Taunton, then struck out for western Mass. and Camp N Pack, an annual event organized by AMRONE, Alaskan Malamute Rescue of New England. Up I-495 and west on the Mass Pike the rain was heavy, occasionally torrential. By the time we exited the pike at West Springfield and headed south, it had let up enough that I could read the signs: state Route 5 to I-91, which we were probably on for about 15 seconds before I spotted the first sign for Route 57, which was going to take us to where we were going: Camp Timber Trails, a Girl Scout camp in Tolland, Mass. Take us it did, but at the price of constant vigilance: it bore left here, turned right there, joined another road and then diverged from it . . . Each 57 West sign was like a prize in a treasure hunt.

Tolland isn't far from the Connecticut state line. Tolland is rural. I'd forgotten how rural some parts of Massachusetts still are -- those lucky enough to be a long way from the nearest interstate. Southwick, Mass., probably the nearest town of any size, i.e., big enough for gas stations, library, schools, small shopping malls, and the like, is 20 miles away. The advance instructions for Camp N Pack counseled us to stock up on gas and groceries in Southwick, Lee, or Winsted (Conn.), each of which was about the same distance from Tolland but in different directions.

Despite the weather and the novelty of it all, we got there in good time, by 3:45 or so, having left Taunton about three hours earlier. I checked in at the main building and was assigned to Windy Pines I -- the cabins are arranged in clearings in various parts of the extensive and very wooded grounds (someone said they cover 1,100 acres) Windy Pines is one of the clearings. Others have names like Bending Trees and Watercrest. Danny, driving an ATV with a trailer attached, transported our stuff -- my overnight bag, Travvy's two kit bags, small cooler, smallrubber containercontaining kibble and Charlee Bears, my sleeping bag, and Travvy's wire crate --to the cabin while I followed a shortcut path through the trees and up the hill. Danny spent most of the (rainy) afternoon ferrying gear to cabins and campsites, and whenever I saw him he had at least two kids riding along.

That's my cabin on the right, and Travvy waiting at the foot of the stairs on the left. Each cabin has eight cots, but for Camp N Pack the maximum human capacity is four, to leave room for dog crates. There was no electricity (I brought my flashlight, Trav's Puplight, and a battery-powered clock), and the windows were screened and covered by those yellow slickers. Experienced campers knew enough to skip the (saggy) cots and just lay the mattresses on the floor. Next year I will do that too. Maybe I will even treat myself to a new camp bag. The one I used was a comforter for about 30 years before I turned it into a floor cover for Malvina Forester's cargo area. Its zipper is shot, but it kept me warm anyway.

The building on the left was the center of all indoor activity, including eating. The sign on the front door said WELCOME TO HOWLING MALAMUTE RANCH. Inside is a big multi-purpose space with a circular fireplace in the middle. Arranged around the perimeter were the registration area, AMRONE store (I lost no time buying a green Camp N Pack sweatshirt, a 2011 malamute calendar, and some other stuff), a display of raffle prizes, another display of silent-auction items (I scored a set of practice agility weave poles), and a big bulletin board with schedules, announcements, and sheets to sign up for chores on. Camp is run youth hostel style, with campers volunteering for various tasks, like food prep, serving at the cafeteria-style meals, and tending to the washroom and shower areas. The food, three squares a day,was wonderful and plentiful, especially the Saturday night banquet, which had a cowboy theme. The chefs volunteer their time. Believe it or not, the cost of the whole weekend, including meals, was $60.

On the right is the dog parking area, which faces the front of the main building. Each open-sided tent had several crates under it, and the ones with red tape on them could be used by anybody while they went into the main building. (Dogs were not allowed in the main building except for particular activities, like massage on Saturday morning and CGC [Canine Good Citizen] testing on Sunday morning.) Yes, that is Travvy parked in one of the public crates. Neither Trav nor I had ever seen that many malamutes all at once -- not to mention Siberian huskies, husky and mal mixes, and representatives of various other breeds and crosses -- and I was thrilled that he could chill out in a crate with dogs close by and lots of activity going on around him.

Here Travvy and I take advantage of one of the many scheduled activities: a sledding demo and workshop. Travvy is pulling a sort of wheeled sled and bragging about what a hard worker he is. For sure this was more exciting than pulling the wheelbarrow tire he practices with at home.

The photo was taken by camp photographer Barry Millman, who roamed around camp taking candids and (by request) portraits of dogs and people. Athis table in the main building, his laptop ran anearly continuous slide show of photos. You could pick your favorites, he'd crop or adjust them to suit, and the finished prints were ready by the time you checked out on Sunday. Like everyone else, Barry was volunteering his time, and 100% of all photo proceeds went to AMRONE.

Down at the stable area, the three riding rings were put to good use. One was set up for Rally-O with amega-course of about two dozen stations.Travvy and I did several practice runs at various times on Saturday, each better than the last as he got used to the considerable distractions. The last one we actually did off-leash! A major distraction was the nearby "Playpen": the post-and-rail fence was reinforced with snow fencing to make it (almost) malamute-proof, so the dogs could run around off-leash. While Trav and I were in there playing, a woman asked if she could bring her Sibe in. Trav has just about zero opportunities to play loose with other dogs, so I was a little apprehensive but said sure, let's see how it goes. We introduced Trav and Ranger, they got along, so we let them go. They had a ball chasing each other around. Then we added Kuma (sp?), cautiously because he's not as outgoing as Ranger. The three got along pretty well, though you could tell Ranger and Kuma were already a pack of two. When Trav and Kuma showed signs of getting a little edgy with each other, we decided to quit while everyone was still friends. This was probably the highlight of Trav's weekend, and it was one of mine too.

That's the Playpen on the right. To the left is one of the fair-weather stables -- some enterprising campers set up their tents in the stable aisles or in a run-in shed, all of which provided good shelter from Friday's rain and the sodden ground. The left-hand photo shows Travvy coming out of the tunnel on the agility course, whose perimeter fence was likewise reinforced with snow fencing. I tried to get shots of him doing other obstacles, but managing him and taking decent pictures were mutually exclusive. Neither of the two experienced agility instructors who've come to Camp N Pack in previous years were able to attend this year, so there were no scheduled workshops or demos, but it was fun to let Trav reacquainted with some of the equipment -- and to get in a little weave pole practice. I volunteered to help strike the agility course Sunday before lunch. Rolling up the snow fencing was the hard part!

Camp Timber Trails is on Ward's Pond. Camp N Pack's activities didn't involve the waterfront, but Trav and I explored it on our walks.

Top left is a view from a knoll looking down on the pond. Bottom left is a boathouse in the small-craft area. On the right are some of the small craft: Travvy with dinghies, or a study in grays.

On Sunday morning, Camp N Pack offered Canine Good Citizen (CGC) testing. This is a basic obedience program offered by the American Kennel Club (AKC). It measures various skills a dog needs to go out in public, like meeting a stranger, passing another dog, staying when told and coming when called, coping with distractions, and behaving himself with a friendly stranger when his owner goes out of sight for three minutes. Trav was ready to give it a try, and I'm happy to report that he passed. He came home from our weekend adventures Masasyu's Fellow Traveller RA, CGC.He's more interested in cookies than in letters or certificates, but I'm pretty proud of the two of us.

Camp N Pack was an amazing weekend put on by a wonderful and dedicated bunch of people. You bet we're making plans to return next year. AMRONE's URL is www.amrone.org, and thephotographer,Barry Millman, can be reached at Threepairs Photography, www.threepairsphoto.com, where you can see literally hundreds of photos from Camp N Pack 2010. For some reason, when I tried to add hot links to the text a couple of the photos disappeared. Maybe Travvy can figure it out and earn his CCG (Canine Cyber Geek) title.

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