Val Mallinson

Val Mallinson author of two "Dog Lover's Companion" books (Avalon Travel Publishing) lives in Seattle and travels frequently with her two Miniature Dachshunds.

Dog's Life: Travel
Super-Dog-Friendly Pacific Northwest
Washington & Oregon adventures

Every dog has his day, and in the Pacific Northwest, he also has nights and weekends. For endless and economical summer (and all season) fun, here are four favorites.

Beach-Town Fun. Manzanita (northern Oregon coast)—all beach resort and no pretense, this seaside escape is so dog-friendly we call it “Muttzanita.” Dig for treasure on a seven-mile strip of windy sand, hike Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain and stop in for treats at Four Paws on the Beach boutique. Hang out at a half-dozen outdoor eateries for chowder, pizza, Southwest-Mex and coffee. Another not-to-be-missed beach town—Bandon-by-the-Sea in southern Oregon, on Oregon’s sunny “Gold Coast.”

An Island Getaway. Orcas Island (San Juans, Wash.)—the hilliest of the San Juans, Orcas offers unsurpassed mountain action. You can get happily lost for days in 5,000-acre Moran State Park, climbing to the 2,049-foot peak of Mount Constitution for some of the state’s best views. Stunning Turtleback Mountain Preserve has the newest trails, dedicated in July 2007. There’s an off-leash park in the village of Eastsound, also the best place to grab outdoor eats. Camp at Moran to keep it cheap, or splurge and stay at Pebble Cove Farm or Blue Heron B&B.

For a Warm Welcome. Old Fairhaven (Bellingham, Wash.)—the four square blocks of the Fairhaven Historic District take the cake (or the dog biscuit) for their welcoming ways. Go from Village Books through Paper Dreams to clothing boutiques LuLu2 and Four Starrs, and on to Pacific Chef, all with dog in tow. The boardwalk at Taylor Avenue and 10th takes in the scenic stroll along Bellingham Bay. From the custom doggie water fountain in the Village Green, you can access 80-plus miles of hiking in the Chuckanut Mountains nearby. Exercise is free, and leash-free, at Lake Padden Dog Park and Post Point Lagoon. Port Townsend (Olympic Peninsula, Wash.), a Victorian seaport town, also fills this bill.

Vintage Pleasures. Canine and Wine (Lake Chelan, Wash.)—there are no less than seven pet-friendly wineries dotting the hillsides of this summer playground. The patios at Balsamroot, Lake Chelan Winery, Tildio and Tunnel Hill welcome dogs. Tasting fees are minimal, and many have picnic food. The lawn at Vin du Lac and the tasting room at Nefarious Cellars are “must-sit” spots.” For a stroll, take to the Riverwalk, a one-mile path along the Chelan River through sleepy downtown. For serious miles, stay at Uncle Tim’s Cabins and walk out your door onto the 30-mile Echo Ridge Trail System.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Five Boys and a Bear (and a Bag)
Who knew the wilderness could be so ... wild?

Not long after the Great Mummy Bag Incident, I begin the search for a new sleeping bag. I want one that doesn’t taper. One that isn’t form-fitted like my mother’s Playtex 18-hour girdle. One in which I and my two Miniature Dachshunds, Cooper and Isis, can sleep without starring in an M.C. Escher puzzle.

There it is! Right there on page nine of REI’s Memorial Day Closeout Catalog, the “Bark”-o-lounger of bags, among a graveyard of retail goods no self-respecting outdoor enthusiast would be caught dead buying. It’s bright green, rectangular, and zips open to lie flat. It’s 29 bucks. I call ahead to reserve one for pickup in Seattle.

An impossibly fit kid greets me in Customer Service—his spiky hair looks like even it gets a regular workout. He hauls out a box the size of a dorm-room fridge, hefts it onto the counter and scowls at me from around it.

“Before I sell this to you,” he warns, “promise me you’re not going hiking with this … thing.” He’s doing mental exercises, imagining what it would take to haul this puppy up to base camp.

“Don’t worry,” I assure him. “It’ll never go farther than 10 feet from the trunk of the car to the tent.”

He hesitates. He needs proof.

“Seriously,” I say, “do we look like heavy-duty hikers to you?”

He elevates an eyebrow as if to say, Are “we” speaking in the royal we? He hasn’t noticed the attractive red and blue loops around my wrist, the leashes leading to color-coordinated harnesses and sweaters below. I point. He leans. The Wee Beasties are sitting politely at my feet. Well, not exactly. Isis is begging for freeze-dried ice cream from passersby, and Cooper is semi-sitting (how low can you go?) but not touching his tender weenie hindquarters to the cold concrete.

Fit Kid believes me now and sells me my sofa-slipcover-sized bag.

One June day later, the bag and the pups and I are in Florence, Ore. The Wonder Wieners have spent themselves on the coast, sniffing flotsam and rolling in jetsam. They stink of jellyfish and seaweed. They’re blissed out, sleeping it off in the backseat in their My Buddy double-dog lookout.

Meanwhile, I’m on the lookout for a place where I can sleep tonight. I know two rules for Oregon campground occupation: One, dogs must be on leash. Two, campground reservations are required. The former is rarely enforced. The latter, always. Do we have reservations? No. We have, as they say in the vernacular, screwed the pooch.

I stop into the Siuslaw National Forest Ranger Station to assess my options. A friendly ranger informs me there is hope for us yet. “Well, there’s that old horse camp, up to the woods at Devil’s Elbow. Hardly nobody ever uses it anymore. Turn up Forest Service Road 52, go ’bout three miles, there’ll be a clearing. There’s a fire ring up there and a vault toilet [translation: hole in the ground].” Good enough for me. Camp is free.

The first mile looks promising. We wind up into the hills on a newly paved and painted road. I catch the first glimpses of sunset in the rearview mirror. The second mile gets dicey. The road ends, becoming a washboard dirt trail that rises steeply into the mountains. I begin to doubt.

About 2.4 miles in, we round the corner and there sits a black bear, contentedly munching away on a blackberry bush. I brake to a sudden stop.

Rudely awoken, Isis gazes bleary-eyed out the window. Seeing said bear, she goes into full point: paw up, tail rigid, ears cocked, nose twitching. She is so excited, she gasps, sounding like something between the last wail of a slain squeak toy and the noise you make when trying to talk while breathing in. Cooper is clueless. He wags, once. What?

Unperturbed, the bear finishes his berries, licks his paw and ambles off into the thick underbrush. Cooper finally gets it. He barks, once. Look!

My doubt deepens. Is it safe to camp within a half-mile radius of a bear’s den? Why didn’t I bring bear bells to tie to the tent’s guy lines? Will the Dachsie Twins act as an early warning system, or will we become bear steak with hush puppies tonight? I imagine lying low in the tent. I hear the shuffling, the snuffling. I feel hot blackberry breath on my neck … trapped in a big bag as claws rip through rip-stop nylon!!!

Isis whines from the backseat. I thought I saw a bear! It pulls me out of my mental hysterics. Get real. That bear isn’t going to bother us. Screw it, we’re going on.

We make it to the campsite to find it already occupied by a woman and five boys between the ages of eight and 13. They’ve taken over the place, and it looks like they’re here to stay. The youngest gathers branches, the oldest chops wood with an ax and another stacks it. Two of the kids run around a crummy trailer parked on cinder blocks. Doubt is replaced by dread.

The woman wanders over. I roll down the window. I stumble through small talk as I try to picture the three of us fitting anywhere into this melee. Almost as an afterthought, I say to her, “By the way, I saw a bear down the road a ways. Just thought you’d like to know.”


“I ain’t worried. My boys got their .22s,” she drawls. Dread, meet despair.

My first thought: A .22 will do little more than sting the bear, sending him into a royally pissed-off rampage through camp, where our little one-person/two-dog tent is a much softer target than their trailer. My second revelation: An eight-year-old with a rifle is as likely to shoot me in the dark as he is to shoot the bear. My final realization: Come bear or boy wonder, there is no way in hell we’re sleeping at Devil’s Elbow tonight.

Sure enough, on our way back down the road, there’s the bear, resuming his berry meal by twilight. Seeing us, he huffs in annoyance and again ambles off. Isis has found her voice. I did, I did see a bear! Cooper barks, twice. Isn’t that—??

The sun dips into the ocean as we wind our way back down the road. Our last hope gone, we pull onto the side of the road somewhere in the middle of nowhere. That night, as the stinky, suction-cup pups and I cram into the backseat of the Toyota Prius, the comforts of our cushy bag are completely lost to us.

It isn’t long, however, before we are able to revel in its roominess. A few weeks later, back in Washington, we finally get to spread out in the sleeping bag and drift off to dreamland, ten legs intertwined, in the tent, as intended. It is every bit as spacious and glorious as I’d hoped, and the only bears around are Ursa Major and Minor, sparkling in the night sky.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Two Wieners and a Mummy
A camping trip with two Dachshunds is an exercise in futility

I buy a new tent, on sale, at REI’s flagship store in Seattle. I am going camping for the first time since I was 12, when my parents were in charge of setting up the tent. No, wait, I think I’ve been camping once since. My husband set up that tent.

I’m no dummy. My mother taught me, and told me often, that practice makes perfect. I read the instructions and set up and take down the tent in the store before I purchase it. Next, I set up the tent up in our living room. My two Miniature Dachshunds, Cooper and Isis, watch, captivated, from the couch, where they are perched on their Calvin Klein pillows. It takes me 20 minutes. Later that same morning, I set up the tent in the front yard. This time it only takes 10 minutes, including the process of putting stakes in the ground. I cut my time in half! Victory dance.

When I’m done, I put bits of freeze-dried chicken in the corners of the tent. I call my dogs by their nicknames, Pumpkin and Sweet Pea, and duck out of sight. Before long, I hear crunching sounds. Coop ‘n’ Isis now believe that magical things happen in this food-producing structure.

I’m not satisfied yet. In the afternoon, I set the tent up in our back yard. Seven minutes from bag to full glory. Yesssss! I put it away even faster when it starts to drizzle. I don’t want my waterproof tent to get wet and develop that musty eau-de-camp scent so soon.

A month and a half later, it’s time for the real deal. With plenty of daylight left, I get to the first campground in Port Townsend. It’s full for the night. All 88 sites are booked—in mid-March? Turns out there’s a Victorian Festival this weekend at the state park. Oka-ay.

By the time I get to Sequim, the next closest campsite, it is dark. That special kind of pitch-black dark that occurs only in the dense tree cover of the Olympic National Forest. Not to worry! I brought a powerful standing light that plugs into the cigarette lighter of the car.

Before I set up the tent, I put a chain stake in the ground and attach the dogs’ leashes to it, the kind of leashes that extend up to 16 feet. As I start to set up, Isis immediately decides she has to be in the tent. Throughout the process, she goes in and out.

In. It’s cold outside.

Out. What’s Mom doing?

In. It’s really cold.

Out. But this is fascinating!

In. Any chicken bits in here?

Out. Hey, Mom, where are the chicken bits?

In. That’s it. I zip the flap so she can’t get back out.

Up to this point, Cooper has amused himself by inspecting every fallen pine cone within leash radius for edibility. Now, he panics. His sister is in the tent and he is not. Surely he is missing out on chicken bits. He circles the tent, wrapping his leash around it, searching for a way in.

Meanwhile, I’ve gone to the trunk of the car to get the stakes. On my way, I trip over the cord to the light, plunging us into darkness. Cooper yelps. I open the car door. The roof light! Cooper lunges for the light, pulling the leash taut, collapsing the tent with Isis still inside. Isis yelps.

My precious darlings, once Pumpkin and Sweet Pea, are now Pestilence and Plague. I unclip Plague and toss him in the car. Plug in the light. Unearth Pestilence from the folds of the tent and toss her in after him. I look at the dash clock. Thirty-six minutes have passed.

I resurrect the tent and stake it down. Back to the trunk to get the waterproof shell. On the return trip, I trip. Over the light cord again. Darkness. Cursing. Open the car door. Tell the dogs to STAY. Plug in the light again.

The light is extinguished in this manner one more time, on my way from the car to the tent with my king size pillow; three wool blankets; one 400-thread count, cotton cover, Laura Ashley down blanket; and a sleeping bag, the kind they call a mummy bag, which is narrow at the foot and wider at the top. I layer the blankets, with the mummy bag underneath. Finally. Ready to bed down for the night.

Slowly and insidiously, my two burrowing hounds make their way to the bottom of the bag, tangling themselves in my feet. I lie on my back, but can’t sleep in that position. I turn to lie on my side, and one dog moves to the curve behind my legs, another to the curve in front of my stomach. They curl into donut-dog position. The arm I’m lying on hurts. I roll over on my stomach. The dogs adjust, flattening out into dog-logs on either side of me.

Because I don’t have a sleeping pad, the cold, hard ground seeps first into my flesh, then my bones. The only way I’ll be warm and comfortable is to have the mummy bag on top. I ruthlessly dump the dogs out of the depression at the bottom of the bag, re-layer the blankets, adjust the pillow and—at last, at last—lie down for the final time.

I look at the lighted screen of my cell phone, which displays the time. One hour and 49 minutes have passed since we pulled into the park. The dogs burrow in again, turn a few times, scratch, lick their paws, lie down and heave those profoundly contented dog sighs. My muscles unclench, my breathing slows. I am warm, comfortable, exhausted. I should sleep like a baby.

I have to pee.

POSTSCRIPT: A few months later, we stayed at a free national forest campground near Hebo, Ore., and set up camp in a field, near a black Lab sitting with an old-timer working a flintlock. We talked to the man—who turned out to be a retired forest service employee—the next morning. He said to me, “Well, I was watching you, and I thought to myself, ‘Now, there’s a gal who knows how to set up camp!’” What was that saying about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks?