Spotlight: Ben – my furry miracle

I thought I would take a moment today and introduce my handsome traveling companion who’s throwing his two cents in on my traveling posts. This is Benjamin Button (a.k.a. Ben, along with other more creative variations of his name including Ben Butt, Mr. Buttons, Ben-Ben, etc.). He’s a Papillion-who-knows-what mix (we kind of assume Border Collie, though let me tell you, he can howl with the best of them and he’s LOUD!). At this point, he’s about 3 years old and has been my constant companion for two of those.

About 2 and a half years ago, I had a seven-year-old Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie), Spirit. She was spunky and independent, an obsessive tuggy and fetch player, and all around wonderful dog. She was also my first puppy. Through a series of unfortunate events, I lost her in the fall of 2014 when her liver shut down in response to a medication. I was in the middle of student teaching at the time and discovered how much I missed having a happy face to great me when I got home. I made it two weeks before, with many tears, I started looking for a new puppy.

I ended up on Papillion Haven Rescue (paphaven.org), having wanted a Papillion since I was a very little girl. This was when I ran across the cutest puppy I had seen. Screenshot_2014-11-14-23-08-27Look at him. Isn’t he sweet?! I put in an application, called the next day, and set up a home visit with his foster home. She drove him up from Tucson a few days later. I sat down on the floor to greet him, he climbed into my lap and plopped down and…well the rest is history. Almost

He stayed, don’t worry. But about two weeks later, I ended up having a diabetic seizure (brought on by a severe drop in my blood sugars). I ended up with a concussion from the fall and some wicked drugs from the hospital, all of which made for a long recovery…longer than usual to be sure. So we started looking into solutions to help avoid this. One of the solutions was having a service dog. Ben was about 8 months old, still puppy aged, so we looked up an organization and took him in. They said he was right at the cut off of when they train puppies, but he showed aptitude (he crawled across the table to sniff the scent sample the lady was testing him with). We began about a year of classes to learn how to train him to alert to my high and low blood sugars and how to train him to function in public spaces.

To answer the most frequently asked questions: He can tell by smelling it. What they smell exactly, I’m not sure; no one has done the research. We train them using saliva samples from diabetics (or in my case, me) at the moment their blood sugar is too high or low: spit on a cotton ball, stuff it in an old test strip container, label it, and toss it in the freezer.

He’s now been training for about two years, and we definitely still have things to learn, but he’s been my miracle dog – silly and cuddly and lazy as all get out (we’re working on him being willing to give up on sleeping to alert…so far, no such luck), he makes sure that I’m healthy and he’s happy. He also runs agility (timed doggy obstacle courses) like a pro, despite his novice handler over here. His favorite things are fetch with the bumper, running full out in any large open grass space, hikes, being the center of attention, licking the ice cream bowl, and Saturday morning cuddles. His least favorite things are getting his toe-nails done, being left behind (despite his distaste of car rides), having his picture taken, and being made to wake up from a good sleep (his working hours are from 6AM-10PM if he has his way). But most of all, he worries about me in his own weird way and keeps me accountable. God knows we don’t deserve them, but I thank Him for my furry partner in crime every day.

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Sequoia National Park

If you have not been to Sequoia National Park, you need to know… it’s beautiful! I would go back whether I had done everything or not (and definitely plan to down the road). The Redwood trees alone are unlike anything anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, the drive is incredible – I suggest allowing for time to drive slowly and use the pull outs to stop and take in the views. Be prepared to take (and delete) a lot of photos. There is running water everywhere, views of the valley from so many places, animals, trees, and more.

Things we did:

1. General Sherman Tree:


Truthfully, it’s a big redwood tree; actually, it’s a fat redwood tree (thus why it’s famous). It’s very cool, but what I really enjoyed were the trails surrounding the tree. General Sherman Tree is probably worth the stop if you’re in the area and want to stop for lunch or something. It wasn’t too crowded the day we went, but I would suggest walking around the tree (away from the sign at the front) to get a picture. Otherwise you will be waiting in the make-shift lines that form of people waiting to take that iconic picture. The upside to waiting is that it’s probably the easiest spot to get a picture of you/your friends or family AND the entire tree in the background. From any other spot, you have to get creative with your photography.

2. Congress Trail


This is well worth the hour or so it takes to walk it. Congress Trail is a beautiful path through the forest surrounding the General Sherman Tree. There are entire stands of redwood trees, beautiful water-scapes, some old fire damage (which is truly stunning), and plenty of moments to stop and take photos or sit and enjoy where you are. We walked the full trail (there is a shorter option) and found that much of it was quiet and away from the General Sherman Tree crowd.

3. Moro Rock


Here’s my take on Moro Rock: if you like views from heights, then it’s worth the climb. If you are content with the views from the pull outs as you drive, then don’t worry about it. It’s 400 steps (according to the internet…I forgot to count) to the top and you’re already at high elevation. I promise, you will need to stop multiple times on your way up; it’s ok, so does everyone else! However, you can see all the way up and down the valley, and the mountain peaks still covered with snow are stunning. If you have time, it’s probably worth the stop; we did it on our way out of the park on our last day – it was a 20-30 minute stop all told. If you are running out of time, it’s ok to skip it.

4. Crystal CaveDSC_0426
We did this on our very first day in to the park. It’s a 3-4 hour endeavor. First, you MUST purchase tickets at one of the visitors’ centers on the way up (we stopped at the Foothills Visitor’s Center, but you can get them from the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center too). Then you make the drive to the parking lot by the caves; they will tell you to arrive half an hour early…I wouldn’t bother. We could have arrived 10 minutes early and been fine. Once you arrive, you and your tour group will get a little intro from the park staff. It’s then a half mile hike down to meet your tour guide, a 50-minute tour through the caves (which are stunning, but not shiny. The mountain is actually a large part marble, so be sure to look down into the water on your way in/out. The water has polished the marble and it’s beautiful), and then the half mile hike out (which is steep, and you will once again need to pace yourself or stop for breath). We also discovered that the BEST time to go is on the 1:30 tour. We had a small group compared to the tours before and after us which, in my opinion, heightened the experience.

5. Tunnel LogDSC_0616
It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s an old, fallen over tree that they carved a tunnel through. I learned that the iconic tree that people used to be able to drive through blew over in 1969 and was many miles north in the Mariposa Grove. Tunnel log is a different place and occurrence, but you can stop and get out or just drive the little loop to say you’ve done it; I wouldn’t say it was worth it, but what IS worth it on this short drive is the fallen tree (I unfortunately don’t remember it’s name) on your way in/out from Tunnel Log. Redwoods have the disadvantage of “losing their balance” and toppling over without warning. Because their root system is so shallow, the roots come right along with them and the result is incredible. Stopping to get out here made the drive well worth it. You can’t miss it; the tree is on your left and there is a pull out on the right to park in so you can get pictures.

Things I wish we’d been able to do:
1. Mineral King
2. High Sierra Trail
3. The Groves (both in Sequoia and some into Kings Canyon): https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/sequoiagroves.htm
4. Camping within the park

Top 5 Things to Try to Do (in my opinion):
I would tell you to spend at least a week inside the park, driving to all the sights and doing some of the hikes (grab a trail map from one of the visitor’s centers). However, if you only have a day or two, here is what I suggest you choose from:
1. Congress Trail/General Sherman’s Tree
2. Mineral King (I know I didn’t go, but I can’t find a reason not to)
3. Hiking (pick a hike, any hike that goes through an area you’re excited about, even Moro Rock. Stop at a visitor’s center and pick up a trail map)
4. The Groves/Giant Forest (again, go to the website and pick one, or plan the ones that make the best drive): https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/sequoiagroves.htm
5. Crystal Cave

Ben’s Two CentsDSC_0698
Sequoia National Park is not particularly dog friendly. Dogs are allowed in campsites/picnic areas and parking lots, but we aren’t allowed on any of the hiking trails. It was too hot to be left in the car, so I got left in the (air conditioned) trailer back at the KOA (2 hours away). Perhaps dogs should stay at home with family/a sitter while people go camp and explore in Sequoia National Park.

Welcome to the Mesch!

Hello! My name is Ashley Mescher (pronounced ‘mesh-er’…get it?) and I am so excited you’re here! It is a long standing saying in my family “you can’t travel with a Mescher without having an adventure.” “Adventure” is loosely translated to mean mishap, unexpected turn, or new discovery, so…welcome in to my adventures around the USA! My goal is simple: I want to explore as many corners as possible of this great country and give people an insider view on traveling it. I’m setting out with my wonderful service dog/best friend, Ben to see what we can find.

The posts may vary, but I hope to include my experiences, top things to do in various places, what the locals recommend, travel tips, and even some people spotlights as I meet people along the way! Every post will have a “Ben’s Two Cents” section to highlight an area from Ben (or any dog’s) point of view.

Come on in and join the adventure. Maybe you’ll even have one of your own..