No Dog Left Behind

Molly’s First Ski Trip

by Danielle Hanna

Snow scene

It would just make sense, the first time you try cross-country skiing, to maybe leave your new dog at home, right?


When I brought Molly home from the shelter three years ago, I adopted her with the promise that she was going to be my constant companion. We were so much like each other. In our prime, athletic, adventurous, and head-over-paws in love with each other. Plus she gives me THAT look anytime I so much as SUGGEST I’m going somewhere without her.

“But I thought I was your furever dog?” she cries with her head drooping and her eyes sad.

But I had a problem. No, two problems. First, I didn’t know what the dickens I was doing on a pair of skis, and second Molly didn’t know what the dickens she was doing with a human on a pair of skis.

It would have been so easy to let her off the leash. Then she could run and play and I could concentrate on the five-foot boards strapped to my feet. However, at that time Molly was my new dog and we were still perfecting certain niceties like “come” and “stay.” So off-leash really wasn’t an option.

But her leash wasn’t an option, either. At four feet long, I would have choked her with every swing of the ski poles. Under those conditions, Molly would have quickly understood skiing to be a form of punishment–and would never have gone skiing with me again.

There had to be another option. I wasn’t leaving her behind. She was my adventure dog. My furever companion.

I eyed her thirty-foot leash. Great tool for long-distance training. We’d been using it to begin teaching her off-leash walking. She could roam up to thirty feet … but if she didn’t come back when I called, I could reel her in. A literal safety-rope to show her I really meant “come” when I said “come.”

But would I be able to wrangle a thirty-foot line with sticks strapped to both my hands and feet? I saw visions of Molly running circles around me, wrapping me up mummy-style, and giving one final jerk to lay me out in the snow with my ski tips pointing toward the sky.

I didn’t have any faith that the thirty-foot lead would work any better than the other options. But it was the only option. I wasn’t leaving my adventure dog behind.

I put on my ski shoes, grabbed my scarf and mittens, and headed out the door with Molly to our favorite park.

At the head of the trail, I switched Molly from her four-foot leash to the thirty-foot. Played out the line. Shook out the tangles. Took a moment to envision how hopelessly tangled it was about to become around my legs. I stepped into my skis and locked the clamps down over my shoes. Planted my ski poles. Focused my gaze over the horizon. Reviewed my strategy one last time.

Plan A: Roll with the punches. Plan B: Roll with the punches.

“Let’s go!” I said to Molly.

She was off like a shot. Me a little less industriously, trying to find the elusive swing and glide that looked so easy in my head. After ungracefully stepping over my own skis several times, I fell into something resembling a cadence.

In two minutes flat, though still stiff and awkward, I realized I was having fun. I felt the snow rushing beneath my skis. I was gliding over the drifts twice as fast as I could have tromped through them in a pair of boots. The world was white and crisp and energizing.

Suddenly Molly zagged across my path. Like a thirty-foot snake, the leash slithered in front of me. I grit my teeth. My skis slid uncontrollably toward the black line. How did you stop these things? In a matter of seconds, that rope would be across my ankles, and in a brilliant moment of slapstick comedy, I’d be flying head-first into the snow.


My skis glided gracefully over the lead line.

Well THAT was easy.

Molly jogged in front of me again, bringing the line with her.


Another graceful pass. This was beginning to resemble a scientific principle.


I relaxed. I had somehow envisioned the need to stop every time Molly crossed in front of me and adjust the lead. It never occurred to me that I’d be able to ski right over the top of it.

That was a triumphant day. Molly had a blast. I learned to cross-country ski. And we started a tradition we’ve honored ever since. No matter what new thing we’re trying … we’re going to do it together.

So … where can we find a kayak?

Pawnotes from Molly

Molly in the snowWhen my girl and I go walking, we see a lot of dogs sitting in little chain link dog runs, barking at us and everything else that goes by. And I often wonder, Why aren’t they with their humans? Don’t their humans ever take them on adventures?

My girl says most dogs don’t get to go on adventures cuz they don’t have manners and their humans get frustrated with them. So the humans go have their adventures and the dogs end up with something called a “sitter” or a “boarding kennel,” and basically get to go out to pee, then come back inside.

I don’t know how I got so lucky, getting ‘dopted by MY girl!

Best of 2013

By Danielle Hanna

Molly & Seaman

One of Molly’s most popular pictures, posing with Seaman, the dog from the Lewis & Clark Expedition

It’s the end of the year, and Embark On Adventure has been live for just shy of six months. The vision Molly and I had for this blog has morphed over time in response to what you, our readers, seemed to really enjoy–and you said you enjoyed a good story about a girl and her dog.

So with that in mind, here are five popular posts to ring out the old year and bring in the new.

Wish I could say these favorites were based on your actual votes, but I only just put up the cool thingy that counts how many times each post is read. So I’m going based by a combination of things, such as response on our Facebook page, the uber-cool Google Analytics tool, and (shameless selfishness) my own personal favorites (and Molly’s).

The first-place winner, however, was clearly our most popular post, based on YOUR response, so that one’s for you!

In reverse order, then … (drum roll, please) …

5. Dog Traveling Theory – A Post by Molly

This is the first time I let Molly have the stage, and she was so well received that “Pawnotes from Molly” became a standard feature on our travel posts. Now she wants the blog’s byline to read “Adventures of a Dog and Her Girl” …

4. Campfire Cooking: The art, the nostalgia, the pain in the neck …

It looks so simple, right? This was one of my favorite posts. BTW, I did get the hatchet sharpened and actually learned how to use it.

3. It Took Me 138 Years to Get to the Christmas Party 

When my car wouldn’t start, I thought I’d never make it to my favorite Christmas event. But I beat all the odds and sub-zero weather to get there.

2. Epic Fail: Three-Mile Ski 

Admit it. You guys enjoy laughing at me. It’s okay–I do, too. But I still don’t get what was up with the giant, car-sized holes on my ski trail.

1. The Day I Drove a Patrol Car

What a memorable way to end the year. Apparently, you guys thought so, too, because this one got a good number of shares on Facebook and drove my new view count feature higher than I anticipated. Dog rescue, small town adjustment shock, and (the kicker) driving a sheriff’s car. I’m going to have a hard time topping this one.

Thanks for sharing all these memorable events with me, Molly, and our new friend Juliean. I can’t wait to see what happens to us next year! In the meantime, check out our Best Photos of 2013.

BTW, if you know anyone who would enjoy these true-life stories and a bit of a laugh, then share! Your friends are welcome here.

It Took Me 138 Years to Get to the Christmas Party

The reconstructed Custer House at Fort Abraham Lincoln

The reconstructed Custer House at Fort Abraham Lincoln




No, literally.

At Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the year is 1875. Soldiers in historic uniforms still drill on the parade grounds and army laundresses still hang the wash out to dry in the prairie wind. The reconstructed frontier fort commemorates the last home of General George A. Custer. Montana may go down in history as the place where Custer died, but North Dakota is the place where Custer lived.

I’ve been doing living history re-enactments at this site for the past twelve seasons. (I call your attention to the above-mentioned laundresses.) And when Molly came into my life … why, she signed right up.

Molly at the Fort Abraham Lincoln recruiting station, 1875

Molly signing up at the Fort Abraham Lincoln recruiting station

Fort Lincoln grows quiet when the snows come in. But it wakes up again for one weekend in December. My favorite Christmas event–anywhere–is Custer Christmas. The Custer House is decorated for a frontier Victorian Christmas, visitors are welcome to string popcorn and frost cookies, the kids can build all sorts of old-fashioned crafts, and the house is full of caroling musicians–such as yours truly. Did I ever mention I play a banjo?

Tumbleweed Christmas Tree

The rare tumbleweed Christmas tree. True story: A detachment of soldiers sent out to find a Christmas tree discovered that evergreens don’t grown in northern Dakota Territory. So they came back with tumbleweeds.

It’s been some pretty blue Christmases the past few years because Custer Christmas was canceled. Attendance had been scanty, and it seemed pretty certain the event was retired for good. But at the tail-end of November this year, I heard Custer Christmas was back on. It was the best present ever.

The morning of the event, it was a frigid ten below zero. I rolled out of bed, grabbed my already-packed period attire and the banjo, threw everything into the car, and turned the key.

Click! Gri-i-i-i-i-ind.

Something told me an extension cord for my block heater would have made a lot of difference. I’d just moved to a new apartment in a small town, and an extension cord was one of the things I didn’t have yet.

There was an auto parts store a few blocks away. I pulled on my heavy gloves and jogged down the ice-covered streets. Bought an extension cord. Ran home. Wouldn’t you know? The cord was barely too short. Jogged back to the auto store. Bought a longer cord. Ran home again. Did I mention it was ten below?

I spent the next two hours trying to coax my engine to life. Two, long, torturous hours, while I knew all my friends were down at the Fort, caroling and telling stories and laughing.

I texted my friend Nancy. Everybody needs a friend you can text when you’re having a pound-head-on-wall day. “Car won’t start,” I said. “MAD!!!”

She came back with her brand of half motherly, half weird advice: “Look for redneck in pickup. Stand by car with hood open.”

In that temperature, in a small town this quiet, I would have frozen before anybody drove by. So I tried a different tactic. I decided to knock door-to-door in my apartment building until I found somebody with a jumper cable.

You’d never guess. Turns out two rednecks with a pickup live right across the hall from me. In a matter of five minutes, they jumped my car. How does Nancy know these things?

Finally I was on my way to Custer Christmas. I arrived about four hours late, but I made it! (My eternal gratitude to Nancy and my new redneck neighbors.) The rest of the afternoon and the next day were filled with music, dancing, and Christmas spirit. But in the back of my mind I did find myself asking, What possessed me to work so hard for this?

General Custer's parlor, decorated for Christmas

General Custer’s parlor, decorated for Christmas

Nineteenth century entertainment

Nineteenth century entertainment: music and popcorn strings

First Sergeant and Buffalo Trophy

First Sergeant Johnson, highly decorated for 20 years military service, poses in front of the buffalo that ran through the wall. (Or so the story goes.)

Officer's lady at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Custer Christmas 2014

For the first time in twelve seasons of living history, I came as a member of the officer’s class, the upper crust of frontier military society. Photo credit: Naomi Fuehrer

General Custer and First Sergeant Johnson

Our Christmas celebration wouldn’t be complete without our host, General Custer.

I’ll be the first to admit–that was a lot of work to get to an event. Why couldn’t I just let it go? My usual stubborn determination to achieve a goal certainly played in. But I think First Sergeant Johnson said it best while we were shivering outside eating sausage fresh off the campfire.

Sausage cooked on the campfire

Steaming-hot sausage on a frigid day. Mmmm.

He looked across the parade ground. The Fort was so quiet, buried in snow. The smoke from the campfires smelled warm and reminded me of summer camping. But the spicy steam from the sausages almost froze as it curled through the air. Down on the banks of the Missouri, flocks of Canada geese came in for a landing. The geese talking was the only sound.

“Doesn’t this just recharge you?” the First Sergeant asked.

I smiled and nodded.

It seems none of us can escape a certain level of monotony in life. But we can take a weekend to pursue something meaningful. Enjoying the silence of a winterscape. Experiencing the simple pleasures of a by-gone era. Freezing your fingers eating sausage with a friend at ten below zero.

“It seems every time I come out here,” General Custer said later, “I make new memories.”

Another good reason to fight every obstacle to make it to Fort Lincoln. Custer Christmas 1875 (it’s always 1875) was the year the General danced the Virginia Reel with a group of re-enactors and tourists. I strummed at my banjo till the strings almost ripped, and First Sergeant Johnson jumped in with his fiddle. I died and went to Fezziwig’s, it was that much fun.

This is the kind of stuff that recharges me. These are the moments I live for and will always remember. Yes, it was worth all the work.

Sunset near Fort Lincoln State Park

The perfect end to a perfect day.

See the full photo album! Like Molly and me on Facebook.

8 Places I Really Want to See in North Dakota

Just because my camper broke down doesn’t mean all adventures are called off. Some people might call me “stuck in North Dakota.” I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m thrilled to still be in North Dakota. (So is Molly. She loves snow.) I wasn’t leaving my home state for lack of adventure, but because I didn’t think my campering skills were equal to winter camping in the frigid north.

But with the camper retired, and my top ten currently put on hold, I’m casting my eye closer to home. So here are eight destinations I want to see in North Dakota.

Audubon National Wildlife Refuge

Yes, THAT Audubon–the famous bird painter and naturalist. He spent the summer of 1843 right here in what’s now North Dakota, painting our native bird species. He now has a wildlife refuge on the banks of Lake Sakakawea named in his honor, complete with a stunning interpretive center, nature programs, and walking and driving trails.

The Garrison Dam

Garrison Dam, North DakotaShe ain’t no small fry. Two and a half miles long, she’s one of the largest dams in the country. The Garrison Dam controls the flow of the Missouri River and created massive Lake Sakakawea at her back, the third-largest man-made lake in the U.S. President Eisenhower himself dedicated the dam. However, this impressive engineering feat has a tragic history, as well. The creation of Lake Sakakawea flooded the former Fort Berthold Reservation belonging to the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, the Hidatsa, and the Arikara. These people had to evacuate their homes against their will, in a modern-day echo of the U.S. government breaking treaty with Native peoples.

Icelandic State Park

Yes, I’m still talking about North Dakota. Interestingly, in addition to all those Norwegians and Germans from Russia, North Dakota has a population of Icelandic immigrants as well. Icelandic State Park has an interpretive center all about the settlement of northeastern North Dakota–and features forested hiking trails, too. (Forests? Yes, this really is still North Dakota.) Plus it’s near the little town of Walhalla. Any town named after the Viking after world has gotta be worth visiting.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National ParkPresident Theodore Roosevelt established two ranches in this beautiful place. The landscapes are not to be missed! At the drop of a hat, the grassy rolling hills turn into an arid, painted rockscape. The area is famous for buffalo, prairie dogs, and wild horses–all of which ought to be added to Molly’s database of smells. I’ve never been to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in winter, and snow gives me an added advantage when introducing Molly to new wildlife species–I can see their prints in the snow before she smells them, and teach her how we respond to, say, buffalo. (AVOID.) Plus it would just be a real treat to see the Badlands under snow.

Lake Metigoshe State Park

Welcome to the land of French fur trappers. Up here by the Canadian border, you’ll find a lot of French influence. This park is another rare forested area of North Dakota, and with a packed winter activity list, it doesn’t know the meaning of “hibernation.” Of particular interest is Lake Metigoshe State Park‘s Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshops. Their winter activities include programs in cross country skiing, tracking, winter survival, and (get this) dog sledding. I am so tempted.

Cross Ranch State Park

Situated on the banks of the Missouri, this park has walking trails galore. (They also host a smash Bluegrass camp and music festival in the summer.) Like Theodore Roosevelt State Park, I’ve never explored Cross Ranch in winter. Why not scout out their summer camping opportunities while enjoying views of the frozen Missouri?

Gingras Trading Post

Before the pioneers, there were the fur trappers and Indian traders. As one of the oldest extant buildings in the state of North Dakota, the Gingras Trading Post is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built by Antoine Blanc Gingras in the 1840s as part of a string of trading posts across northern North Dakota and southern Manitoba.

Fort Clark

Yet another trading post, this one in central North Dakota. Not much here these days except some walking trails and dents in the ground that were once Mandan and Arikara earth lodges. Mainly I want to go there because I never knew the place existed until I saw a road sign. And I thought I was familiar with all the forts in North Dakota! My pride is hurt. Now I have to go see it.

Can’t Wait to Hit the Trail …

My brother and I have been involved in local history and tourism for many years, so I know first-hand how amazing North Dakota is. It’s the state that the tourist agencies forgot–and it’s their loss. North Dakota has some of the best history, wildlife, and outdoor attractions in the country, and it’s our little secret.

I’m not planning on hibernating this winter. I want to get out and explore! Specifically, I’m thinking about getting into a pair of cross country skis again …

Pawnotes from Molly

I don’t know what “Grand Canyon” is, and I don’t know what “Florida” and “California” are, but I know one thing: snow! I’ll follow my girl anywhere, but I’m so happy we’ll be in North Dakota during snow season. All that cold fluffy stuff is the best. Cross-country skiing? Take me with!