Saturday, February 27, 2010

What's the penalty to the tracking roll?

We have a 40' line that sometimes we put Socks out on so she can romp around the front yard since she gets bored with the fenced-in backyard area she can always go out into, and because the front yard is better suited for her playing with her neighbor-friend Holly. The other end attaches to an eye-bolt mounted in the end of our deck. Yesterday morning I put her out on it, at her request, and as usual, she went out to some trees and got tangled around them, so I had to put my boots on and go out through the 2' deep snowdrifts to free her. While doing so I noticed that the eye-bolt was a little bent and noted I should probably replace it soon -- I already intended to add a few more.

I'm not sure how much later it was when I noticed I hadn't heard or seen her in a while and went out to check, figuring she was just tangled up again. She doesn't bark much when she's tangled, she just waits for rescue. But when I went out to check, there was no sign of her, or the line, or the eye-bolt.

Figuring time might be of the essence, I didn't wait to get dressed, but just put my boots on and went out looking for her, but there was no sign of her. The thought that she was trailing a 40' red line suggested it might not be too hard to find her if she wasn't gone far. However, I barely even tried to find her trail because the whole area around her line is completely trampled from her rambunctious play with Holly, and the area around that is rumpled from the snowplowing and the fact that it's been melting and snowing again. So I decided to go for the most likely places, the neighbor's houses, where she usually wants to go.

It was very, very hard going. Trudging up a moderately steep hill on snow and ice, in wind and snow, in shorts and boots, is exhausting. I went up and down a few times, until I was out of breath, shouting for her and getting no response. (A few times there was some barking, but I couldn't be sure if it was her since there are many dogs of the same type of breed, and I couldn't pin down a direction.)

By this point I figured she could have gone pretty far as she might have been loose for a while, so I tried walking up and down the road, but I couldn't get very far on foot, in such terrible weather. I was getting exhausted, chilled, and a bit soaked. I tried using my electric-assist bike but the battery was very discharged, so I dug out the other bike, but the tires were mostly flat since it hadn't been being used or maintained all winter, and tires always get flat over winter. Still, it was just barely usable. I dragged it down to the main road, which was clear enough to ride on (our road was way too snowy and icy) and forced my way up the hill, then down, covering about a mile. It took forever on flat tires and it was so exhausting, but there was no sign of her. Coming back up the hill, I couldn't keep it moving, I was too sore, the hill was too steep, and the tires were too flat, so I got off and walked the last stretch. And during that stretch was when the weather changed to a hailstorm. Just because I wasn't already cold, wet, tired, sore, and unhappy enough.

By this point I was shaking not just from the cold and exhaustion and the pain in my knee but also with that distinctive flutter that reminds me of hypoglycemia, so I went back to the house, stoked the fire back to life, and made something to eat. Around this time Siobhan decided to come home early and help with the search (since having a car would certainly make it easier to cover more ground).

While she was on her way home, I rested and ate and warmed up, then I went back out to make another try at finding her trail, mostly because Tyler mentioned it in IRC and I had explained why I couldn't find it, but that made me realize that maybe there were directions I hadn't checked. It was a really long long-shot, but I decided to give it a try. In shorts and a T-shirt and wearing boots, I trudged around the edge of the yard in the 2' snowdrifts, just to rule it out. And to my surprise, and by sheer luck, I happened to find her trail.

I just started following it, but about 15 minutes later, I'd gone about as far as I could with soaking-wet socks. It was through ground that is very hard going under ideal circumstances: lots of downed trees and big rocks, up and down hills, lots of roots. Only now it had snow drifts that ranged from mid-calf to above the knee. I kept feeling like I was too far in to turn back but eventually decided I had to.

Siobhan got home while I was coming back so she went out looking up and down the road in the car, while I got pants and fresh socks, and we got walkie-talkies. Went back out into the woods more suitably attired and kept following the trail. I'd commented about hoping I had a plot point to spend to make sure I rolled really good on my tracking roll, so I was particularly amused when, time and again, Socks's trail came right to the edge of a patch of road where if she went that way I'd lose the trail, but each time she veered the other way.

After about a half hour of tedious slogging up and down and over and through, her trail came out... about two feet away from where it went in. I'm not exaggerating, it was literally so close I can only explain missing it by the fact that I was focusing so closely on one spot at a time to find the trail that I didn't look around. She'd gone on a grand tour of the woods in front of the house and then returned to where she started. But this time she veered across the front yard a different direction, so I kept following the trail.

It was only about five minutes farther in that I got to a steep bit of hilly, heavily wooded ground not even a hundred feet from the house where I could see her. She'd probably only been running five or ten minutes before she'd gotten to this point and got her line tangled. If I had looked in precisely the right direction from the house and kept staring to watch for movement I might have spotted her without even leaving, but of course, I had no idea which way to look. If she'd barked for me when I called her, I might have found her straightaway, but to her, this was just another time being tangled, and she was just waiting for rescue quietly, as usual.

She was very happy to see me. I alerted Siobhan via walkie-talkie and then trudged around to find her and untangle her. Coming back the way I'd come would have been a lot harder than continuing over the hill, so I asked Siobhan to go to the neighbor's house to pick us up, and led Socks on the line into their backyard. (Actually, I was wrong at first about which neighbor it was.) The neighbors ignored us completely. Socks, however, was having a blast. We were going for a walk! How fun is that! She wanted to go meet those neighbors but I didn't let her go and they just got into a car and drove off, heedless of the stranger trudging into their backyard from the hills and then through it.

I thoroughly soaked three sets of socks and two full outfits during the three or four hours I spent trudging after her, and got myself sore, achey, cramped, and deeply chilled. A hot bath helped me wind down, and I spent the rest of the day lethargic and drained. Socks, on the other hand, thought it was the best day ever, even if I did take a long time to find her. She wants to go out and do it again.

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