Been camping? Great, you’re prepared for a hurricane!

Been camping? Great, you’re prepared for a hurricane!

You don’t have to be a skilled survivalist to survive mother nature’s tropical fury. And you don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom with a Suburban to pile mountains of water bottles into either.

 

If you’ve ever been camping, then there is a good chance you already own the gear and skills you need to ride out the storm.

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Problem: NO WATER
Solution: If you have a back country first aid kit, there is a good chance it includes iodine tablets. Water purification iodine tablets are used to kill dangerous bacteria in water. Experienced backpackers use them on trails to kill nastiness in river, stream and lake water. The casual camper may not realize they often come in those ready-to-go first aid kits.

If you are an experienced backpacker, then there is a good chance you may also own a water filtration system like a Lifestraw. You can also fill any portable bladders like a Camelbak with fresh water before the storm hits.

Problem: NO POWER
Solution: Most modern camping enthusiasts own at least one solar powered charging option, but don’t worry if you don’t, this just means you will have to spend your post-hurricane days living off the grid. Isn’t that part of what makes camping fun?

Dig through your camping gear to find items you may have forgotten about like:
– Headlamps and extra flashlights
– Portable fans (I have one for my luxury tent)
– Lanterns
– Extra batteries
– Sun shade

Problem: I’M HUNGRY AND I DIDN’T STOCK UP
Solution: The food in your fridge will start to go bad if the power stays out for any length of time. If you didn’t make it to the grocery store before the hoards of people took all of the dry goods off the shelves, then take a peak at your camping supplies.
– Camp stove: Almost everyone buys one of these before their first camping trip and probably has an extra can or two of fuel to go with it. WARNING: Do not cook with a propane or butane stove indoors!
– Can opener: Remember the old fashioned kind you twist around the top of a can? You probably have one of these from the last time you ate Campbell’s soup on a camping trip.
– Matches/Lighter/Firestarter: If you aren’t a regular camper you may have to dig for this one, but most first aid kits do include matches, so check there first.
– Fishing gear: If worst comes to worst, you can pull out the bait & tackle box and try to catch some bass or catfish from a neighborhood lake or pond (or your living room, God forbid). You won’t go hungry!
– MREs: Experienced backpackers can probably dig in their pack and find an unopened Mountain House meal, but even if you are inexperienced it is possible you grabbed some MREs while grabbing stuff from Bass Pro Shop before your first big adventure. They don’t taste the best, but hey, if you’re hungry?

Other useful items you may find in your camping gear: 
– Tent: can be used as a tarp to block rain if necessary. It can also serve as shelter.
– Bug spray: You are going to need this post-hurricane. No question.
– Raft: If you have a fancy emergency kit it may even include an emergency raft.
– Hatchet and/or machete: If you don’t own a chainsaw or don’t have fuel for a chainsaw, this could become a critical tool if you get trapped.

Where to buy: Almost all of these items are available on Amazon, most outfitters, and many Walmart stores (depending on the season and where you live).

Of course, the best thing to do if you find yourself in the path of a hurricane is evacuate. Take shelter in a safe, dry location. My tips do not take into account risks like storm surge and massive amounts of flooding like people saw after Hurricane Harvey or Katrina.

Did I forget something? Please share your wisdom!

 

 

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I took my toddler 4,033 miles away from home and this is how it turned out.

Fine. Perfectly fine. Fun, even. Of course there were challenges, but isn’t that always the case with a 20-month-old? We had an amazing adventure in the U.K.

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Isle of Skye, Scotland, U.K.

I asked for suggestions on what to write about. The most popular responses: “how did he do on the plane?” “how did you handle naps?” and “what if someone gets sick?” I’m going to answer those questions in a series of posts.

Disclaimer: Konnor is an extremely chill toddler. He’s easy going and adapts well to new surroundings. I recognize that I am incredibly blessed.

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Learning about planes

Question 1: The plane.
We flew British Airways from Orlando, FL to London, U.K., and then another short plane ride from Gatwick Airport to Edinburgh, Scotland. Total time in the air: roughly 9 hours.

If you haven’t flown overseas before there are a couple of things you should know.

1.) If you have a lap baby, he will not receive meals on the plane. We didn’t know this and we didn’t pack meals for Konnor, but fortunately the staff had a leftover chicken curry. A hungry toddler would have been the worst! Pack snacks and meals!

2.) Choose a seat with an infant pull down. We did this, but didn’t realize what that meant. If you have one of these seats you can ask the flight attendant for a small bouncer for your child to sleep in. Keep in mind, if the fasten seat-belt sign goes on you have to move the sleeping baby and buckle him back in with you. We hit quite a bit of turbulence on the way out, but fortunately Konnor slept through all of the movement.

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The infant seat

3.) Be smart when buying your tickets. If at all possible, select a time of day that coincides with bedtime. We booked an evening flight to keep him as close to his regular routine as possible. We changed him into pajamas as soon as we got onto the plane and read him a book before “night night” as we would at home. He was in his bouncer seat as soon as the fasten seat-belt sign was off. He slept for pretty much the entire flight. (I can’t say the same for the return flight, but that’s another story.)

4.) We read some advice that said to buy a couple of small, new toys for your toddler to play with on the plane. I’m glad we did this! Konnor appreciated something new to play with. We didn’t want to bring a ton of toys with us on the trip. He carried his toys himself in his blue monster backpack (that doubled as his pillow.) He carried:

  • Two small board books
  • A toy cell phone
  • His favorite lion
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Konnor carrying his blue monster in the airport

We packed minimally for the plane ride, but did bring an extra pair of clothes along just in case we needed them. Since it was an overnight flight and Konnor is a toddler, we didn’t need more than a handful of diapers and wipes. We brought baby Tylenol as an emergency item. I also bought him toddler friendly headphones that he could wear while watching in-flight entertainment without having to worry about the volume being too loud for his ears. Oh, and of course, we brought a pacifier so that he would have something to suck on during takeoff and landing. It is the change in pressure that often makes babies cry on planes. Chewing/swallowing helps with that.

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Sitting in mommy’s seat before takeoff.

That’s pretty much it. The flight was uneventful. Kevin & I tried to sleep (although we didn’t because, well, planes.) And Konnor was a trooper! The return flight was a lot rougher because it was a daytime flight. He didn’t want to nap and he was bored. I saw other parents walking their toddlers up and down the aisle of the plane. That seemed to help some with the boredom, but Konnor wasn’t particularly interested in doing that.

I want to share our beautiful pictures, plus answer other questions that new parents have asked me, so consider the U.K. a series of posts. I’ll get to the rest soon!

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Family plane selfie

Why quitting my career was the most grown up decision I’ve ever made.

Nearly one month ago I took a leap off a cliff with no rope and no safety net. I quit my career. And everything is okay.

I fell in love with the TV industry when I was twelve years old.  I crawled, fought and sacrificed to make my dream come true. At 19-years-old I began working in a newsroom. It didn’t take me long to land the “dream job” of news producer in a top 20 TV market. I made a huge mistake though. I let my career become my identity. “Producer” is how I described myself. I was obsessed with ratings, my writing, my “vision”, my show. I took failure personally.

I worked crazy long hours, overnights, weekends, last-minute additional shifts… whatever was necessary because, hey, that’s the news business and I loved it. I missed birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, holidays and family emergencies because I had to work. When I wasn’t working I was tired from working. At first I didn’t mind, in fact I really did love it! But my career was slowly draining me.

I shouldn’t quit, right? Because this was the dream. This was what I worked for. This “real world job” is what being an adult is all about, right? I made myself sick debating this internally. After my son was born, I tried to make it work. I fought to make everyone happy, but I began to lose myself completely. I wasn’t “producer,” I wasn’t “mom,” I wasn’t “Amanda,” I wasn’t anybody!

There wasn’t a specific moment that made me say, “I’ve had enough.” I think it was a combination of things. I blamed work for my struggles with breastfeeding my son. I started to feel emotionally attached to stories like the Pulse tragedy that happened here in Orlando. Slowly I began to notice moments that used to give me an excited high, like breaking news hurricane coverage for example, now just made me sad. My dream was turning into a nightmare.

So, I quit. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I felt like I was giving up my identity, like I was losing everything I had worked for since I was a teenager. Part of me felt like I was letting my family down. They relied on my income and benefits. I felt like a failure and told myself I was quitting because I wasn’t good enough to make it in the TV industry.

Lies. All lies.

I was a damn good producer, an amazing journalist. I thought back to why I wanted to get into the TV business in the first place. I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to make a difference. Silly me, I didn’t have to work in the news business to make that happen. There is a little boy at home who needs his mother and he is my impact on the world.

I wasn’t being selfish by quitting my job. I was being selfish by keeping it.

That was my grown up realization. Being an adult doesn’t mean holding down the dream job. It doesn’t mean working long hours. It doesn’t mean bringing home a bigger paycheck. Being an adult is about hard decisions, about making the right sacrifices at the right time.

As it turns out, sacrificing my career wasn’t much of a sacrifice at all. I’ve gained so much in these three short weeks. I exercise with my husband. We eat dinner together as a family almost every night. I research doctors for my mother. I have ice cream with my sister. I read bedtime stories to my son. I kiss his boo-boos and hug him when he’s sad.

I found another job and I actually really enjoy it. It’s flexible enough that it allows me to work from home and juggle my schedule when necessary. As a family, we are dealing with some budgetary changes, but we are making it work and the pros severely outweigh the cons.

I guess I’m writing this in part for my own peace-of-mind,  but I also hope I can inspire someone else who may feel trapped to get out of their situation. YOU are not your career. I promise you can leave and make it work. Take a leap. It will be okay.

Done: 574 Bucket List Miles

Vibrant reds and rich yellows hang from the forest ceiling. A few small leaves flutter slowly to the ground. A dream becomes reality. I am experiencing Fall for the first time.

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A quick history lesson: On August 25th, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a law establishing the National Park Service. That means this year the agency is celebrating its Centennial. There are a total of 410 sites managed by the National Park Service.  Last week, I chose to explore the most popular one of all. My husband and I drove the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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We started on Skyline Drive in Virginia and drove all the way to Cherokee, NC. That’s a total of 574 miles of winding, breezy, romantic, scenic roadway.  And we chose to take the trip during the peak season of color, Autumn. We don’t have colorful seasonal changes in Florida, so I could only imagine what kind of brilliance I would be met with once we hit the road. The Blue Ridge Mountains did not disappoint.

 

Our journey started in Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is every bit as beautiful as the Blue Ridge Parkway, but unlike its neighbor to the south Skyline is a backpacker’s paradise.  Squiggly trails, including the famous AT, crisscross the highway several times and thru hikers trudge up and down the hills carrying heavy packs. The forest is thick and the leaves are mostly golden. The views from the road are breathtaking and its tempting to stop at every pullout.

Unfortunately, because of a six hour Amtrak delay, we had to rush through this part of our trip. We hiked one short trail in the southern end of Shenandoah Park before hurrying onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. 574 miles doesn’t seem that long until you start to drive it.

I started to get excited about fall leaves around the time we hit the North Carolina line. I thought the yellows and oranges we saw in Virginia would be the best of the trip, but by the time we reached Linville Falls we were in peak color. Crimson red and brilliant gold flanked the roadway with a backdrop of cool gray and blue layers of mountains.

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My soul came alive. And for once all of my stress began to dissipate. Our original plan had us spending the night at a hotel in Asheville, but we decided to camp. I wanted to spend the night in the mountains and wake up to the crisp Autumn air. We stayed at the Linville Falls campground off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We arrived late, but fortunately they had a tents-only site available right next to the river. It was the perfect setting to begin a more relaxed second half of our vacation.

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Linville turned out to be the prettiest part of our trip. We hiked to the falls the next morning before heading south to Asheville. We visited Mount Mitchell, Mount Pisgah, Craggy Gardens and the Asheville area of the Parkway on several previous trips so we mostly drove through that zone this time around. As we got closer to Asheville it became clear we are not the only people obsessed with fall color. Leaf peepers clogged the Parkway at every lookout point. At some points-of-interest were so congested that it was nearly impossible to enjoy the view. I didn’t mind the crowds because we saw plenty of fall color further north that was even more beautiful.

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We took a break to re-adjust our schedules. A co-worker graciously agreed to work a shift for me so we could get an extra day of vacation. We spent two nights in Asheville as a result (more on that later.) On our final day of driving the BRP we visited the North Carolina Arboretum. In all of our trips to the Smokies, I can’t believe we never explored the facility before. The gardens are beautiful and the 3.5 mile nature trail allowed us to learn about the trees and insects in the area.

One of my favorite parts of the Parkway actually occurred by accident. We got to mile 0 and took a wrong turn. It turned out to be the best mistake ever because we saw a field full of elk!

All in all, a perfect ending to a very exciting adventure.

Overnight on Amtrak

It’s October, which means Autumn has arrived in places that are not Florida. I’ve never experienced the crisp fall air, the brightly colored leaves, or any of the other environmental pleasures that people who live north of the I-75/I-10 intersection brag about between September and December. So, this week we decided to pack our bags and head north. 

I’ve always wanted to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway and I imagine it is gorgeous in the Fall, but with only four days off from work and a one-year-old who requires a lot of rest area breaks during road trips, it sounded stressful to make this adventure happen this year. 

That’s where Amtrak comes in. The Auto Train runs daily from Sanford, FL to Lorton, VA. It is a roughly 16-hour train ride (allegedly – more about that later) that allows you to bring your car on the train. We decided to book a roomette for our family of three and ride the rails. 

Logistics: 

When we arrived at the Amtrak station in Sanford we were directed to leave the keys in our car and pull it forward. Some people came by to inspect our vehicle before driving it onto a two-level train car. (Note: You do not have access to your car once it is on board. It is in a completely separate part of the train.) 

We grabbed our carry-on bags and headed into the train station to check-in and wait for boarding. I carried Konnor in the Tula to prevent him from crawling around on the dirty floor. We had about a one hour wait from the time we arrived until we were allowed to board, so I was  glad that we brought lunch to occupy the three of us. 

We knew from the description of the roomette that it would be cramped quarters, but we didn’t realize how cramped until we arrived. We like each other a lot, so we made it work, but Konnor is right at the border of being comfortable in such a confined space. If your child is walking or likes to have a lot of personal space you should book a full-sized sleeper cabin rather than a roomette. The room is 3’6 by 6’6. Two comfortable chairs are pressed between the wall and the sliding door. An attendant stops by in the evening to turn the chairs into a 24″ wide bed. A storage area in the top of the roomette also folds down to become a 20″ wide bed. Needless to say, the roomette is not designed for large people.

Kevin took the top bunk because it was too chilly for me thanks to an air conditioning vent on the ceiling, I took the bottom bunk and Konnor slept on a pallet on the floor. Amtrak provides sheets and blankets, but we were glad we brought extras. We brought Konnor’s sleeping bag as one of our carry-on items, which gave him a comfortable place to sleep on the floor. 

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Cramped quarters! This is how Konnor slept.

Two meals are automatically included on the Sanford to Lorton Auto Train. Dinner had a small menu of four entrees to choose from. Kevin had lamb, Konnor had cod and I had pasta. There is also a lounge car where you can get alcohol. ($8 for a bottle of Sam Adams, OUCH!) Breakfast consisted of Continental basics: cereal, banana, muffin/bagel, orange juice and coffee. 

When we arrived in Lorton, VA the next day the train was SIX HOURS late arriving. This had a huge impact on our vacation since we only had four days to do drive the Blue Ridge. We basically lost an entire day and now have to choose whether to skip most of the parkway or forfeit hiking and camping. Anyway, I’ll complain more about that later. When we disembarked the train we stood on the platform to watch them begin to unload the cars. It look about an hour for us to be reunited with my Suburu. It was a cool process to watch. Basically, a parade of drivers show up and drive all of the automobiles off of the train cars.

Overall, the Auto Train is an interesting blend of cruise ship and airplane. The service reminds me of a cruise ship, but the quarters are more like an airplane. There is no entertainment, but you do get sit-down meals. You sleep in a cramped space, but there is turn-down service.  I would definitely do this again, but with some changes. 

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Why I recommend taking the train: 

The Auto Train is not quicker than driving. In fact, in our experience, it took nearly twice as long because of debris on the rails left by Hurricane Matthew. We were on the first Auto Train to travel since the storm pummeled the coast one week ago. However, it is worth it to not have to stress about traffic and potty breaks. Also, we had a good night’s sleep and have the energy to enjoy the rest of our trip. I got to walk around and stretch my legs, read a book, write a blog, take conference calls, watch Netflix, and let Konnor crawl around instead of being trapped in a car seat. Konnor enjoyed looking out the windows and exploring the train. It also taught him a good lesson about adventure and how to deal with bedtime and meals away from home. I feel relaxed, happy and excited for leg two of our journey. 

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Onto the Blue Ridge Parkway… 

 

Yes, I am concerned about Zika

 

mosuitoToday, Governor Rick Scott confirmed the first case of locally transmitted Zika to be reported outside of South Florida. The patient is in Pinellas County, which for those of you unfamiliar with Florida, is just outside the Tampa area. I live in the Orlando area. The new “hot zone” is roughly 125 miles from my house.

The World Health Organization reports the mosquitoes that carry Zika can only travel 0.2 miles. So, why would I be worried about it in Orlando? Mostly, my concern is due to the fact that I am an outdoors enthusiast and I am a woman of childbearing age. I am not pregnant, nor am I trying to get pregnant, but scientists have yet to reign in this virus. I know they are working hard on researching a vaccine at the CDC in Atlanta, but until it is proven effective and becomes widely available we are stuck relying on good old fashioned bug repellent and DEET to protect ourselves against Zika.

I am a mosquito magnet. I swear, no amount of DEET or citronella candles can keep the bugs off of me. My husband can testify that mosquitoes frequently chew on my limbs leaving large welts all over my body even when nobody else in our group has a single bite. I feel like I cannot protect myself in the Zika environment.

Fact is, scientists don’t know a lot about Zika. They are still researching its side-effects, not only in unborn children and newborns, but also in adults. Microcephaly is just one of many potential birth defects caused by Zika. A study published earlier this month in the British Medical Journal reported on research in Brazil that links severe joint deformities to Zika. The babies also had calcifications on their brain. The study was small and the cause and effect is unclear, but it is the perfect example of how little scientists really understand about the disease. Other studies have related Zika to infant blindness and trouble swallowing.

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of Zika in adults are fever, rash, joint pain and pink-eye. But its longterm effects are unknown. A study published last week that was conducted by Stanford University researchers and scientists in Brazil suggests Zika may damage adult brain cells as well, potentially causing memory loss. The study was conducted in mice, so it obviously needs more research, but these potentially unknown factors are downright scary to a healthy, outdoors loving adult like myself.

I’m definately not “freaked out” over Zika. But I admit, I do worry. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how long Zika stays in an adult body, so I have to wonder if a baby I concieve three years from now could be impacted by a mosquito that bites me today. In the meantime, I will continue my current lifestyle and the threat of Zika will not keep me out of the woods.

I encourage everyone to contact their local and state lawmakers and ask them to provide more federal and state funding to research and fight Zika. Also, please keep a close eye on standing water. We can’t do much about the swamps and puddles that nature provides, but we can dump out our bird feeders, trash bins, and other items that may be collecting rain water around our homes.

This Florida girl can’t afford to worry about a stupid bug.

The Dog Days of Summer: Hike the Heat with your Hound

The UV Index has soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit almost every day this month. If I dress correctly, get an early start, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water I can still enjoy a hike. I know that I need to pace myself because of the heat. My dog, Arthur, doesn’t seem to make the same observation about the weather.

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Arthur loves the freedom he receives on the trail and I can’t bare to leave him at home. If you feel the same way about your pet, here is some really important advice from two dog behavioral experts and outdoor enthusiasts.

Weather can be dangerous. 
Dean Milenkovic knew this when he took his two American Labrador Retrievers, Blue & Indigo on a 40-mile, 4-day through hike on the Appalachian Trail. Dean is a professional photographer and outdoors enthusiast who also happens to hike a lot with his pets. “During colder months  we go as often as 3 times a week with 2 moderate hikes of 3-6 miles and one longer hike 8-12 miles.  During the summer, we go once or twice a week.  We supplement this with trips to the beach and long morning walks.” The heat is the primary reason why his summer hikes run short. And for good reason. It is estimated that several hundred dogs die from heat stroke in the U.S. each year.

 

Early signs of heat stroke in dogs:
– panting
– hyper-salivation (excessive production of saliva)
– dry mucous membranes (nose is not wet)
– higher heart rate
– dogs may appear hyperactive & excitable
– American Kennel Association

Some dogs are more at risk than others, so it is important to recognize early warning signs before the condition becomes serious and to talk to your veterinarian if you have a dog with thick coat or medical issues.

Teena Patel, a dog behaviorist who owns the University of Doglando, stresses the importance of “heat checks” when spending a lot of time outdoors with your pets. She recommends checking a dog’s temperature and hydration by touching their ears, gums and paws every two hours during the afternoon heat. She also recommends choosing your trails wisely. “We pick trails that have shade canopies and we keep our hikes very short in the summer.  If we are in Georgia or North Carolina or someplace we don’t have to worry about gators, we intentionally choose trails with ponds or lakes so the dogs can swim and cool off.”

Water, Water, Water

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That brings us to our next point: water. Dogs need about an ounce of water for every 10 pounds of body weight each day (Translation: a 50 lb. dog needs between 43 and 85 oz. of water per  day.)

Personally, I try to avoid letting my dog drink stagnant water for the same reasons we don’t drink it. Dogs are also prone to illnesses and parasites. Not to mention, some ponds and streams can be downright nasty. Patel reminds pet owners that no natural water sources can automatically be deemed safe. “We must be very careful of letting dogs drink out of lakes because many lakes have houses around them and people treat their yards with pesticides. When it rains the run off from their lawns go into the lake.” She allows her dogs to drink from fresh rain puddles, but even that is not for everyone. A dog with a poor immune system could be susceptible to anything.

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Arthur enjoying some cool water in the mountains of North Carolina

There are several options for easy-to-carry pet water bowls. I use something like this:

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Arthur’s Water Bottle

Always stay alert: 

Arthur goes insane when we are on a trail, especially if I allow him to run around off-leash. Once I started writing this blog it was brought to my attention that I should probably carry a better first aid kit for him. Milenkovic always carries an AKC First Aid Kit

He also establishes boundaries at the beginning of the hike and encourages his dogs to do voluntary check-ins and recalls by handing out high value treats. He says, “This can come in handy if the dog tries to take off after a deer, bird or a squirrel.  Leaping into tall grass or bushes after a deer can cause numerous cuts to both body and paws. Leaping into water to chase a bird can draw nearby alligators to investigate and pulling the dog by his tail out of the water with gator heading for you is not fun.”

Have a plan:

You never know what can happen on the trail. Write down the address and phone number for the closest emergency veterinarians, and make sure you are not hiking during hunting season. If you do hike in a location where hunting is a possibility,  get your dog a brightly colored vest.

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Hunters will be able to see Arthur better when he wears this vest.

You can also visit your state’s forestry website to find out which locations are open to hunters. For the state of Florida you can check here. It can be safe and fun to hike with your dog in the summer as long as you keep them hydrated, know the warning signs, and know who to call.

The Experts:

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Teena Patel is the founder and owner of the University of Doglando in Orlando, FL. She has more than a decade of experience in dog training and behavioral science. She has traveled the world observing how different cultures interact with canines. Read more about her here.

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Dean Milenkovic is the a professional photographer and outdoors enthusiast. He is the owner of two American Labrador Retrievers, Blue & Indigo. He and his dogs have taken numerous trips to the Carolinas. The longest being a 40 mile, 4-day through hike on the Appalachian Trail. Read more about Dean and his photography here.