When One Becomes Two – A Girl and Her Dog
A Game Changer
Today I received some pretty epic news, my dog might be hiking the Appalachian Trail next year. I was told that Hunter, my (almost) 8 year old border collie/retriever mix was too old to hike. (Soft violins playing sad music in the background). This dude has been on most of my adventures when it comes to back-country excursion and exploring. While at the vet today, my dog was deemed likely to be able to join me on trail!
The dog has a Facebook
So…Hunter is popular. He’s one of those dogs that has a facebook and people don’t even bat an eye when they find out because they think he’s a pretty rad dude. He has seen 18 states and hiked in more national parks and forest than most humans have. The dog is sort of a legend, he definitely has more notoriety than I do. He makes friends everywhere he goes and when I take him to breweries, he usually earns mom a few free brews (thanks, little man!)
What I’m getting at is that I think he will make a ton of friends along the AT. Having Hunter along will only increase my likelihood of getting to Katahdin being that I’ll have my biggest stress reliever next to me all the time! He wears a pack like a champ, has a good recall and enjoys warm cuddles on cold nights. This makes him a solid trail companion.
Does he have to go to doggy boot camp?
Hunter will be training with me. This is mainly just the same as we always do except, he will start wearing his pack for EVERY hike and we will start building that weight back up. He was also given an anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to take while we do this training since he is a little bit older. I will be increasing his joint supplements and adding more oil to diet to get his joints and muscles well lubricated and trail ready over the next 5 months!
Next step is to figure out where he will stay while I hike Great Smokey Mountain National Park and Katahdin. I figure this will take me 4-5 days to hike the 71 miles. I will board him or hopefully find a friend of a friend that lives close enough and wants to hang with him for a few days. Since he is a grain and chicken free diet sort of dude, I will have to switch to drops to get his food sent out. Specialty dog food isn’t going to be a frequent option at re-supply so I will be deciding on a dehydrated food. A high quality dehydrated food will keep him healthy with adequate nutrition on this strenuous daily activity.
What does this mean for mom?
Mom needs to plan. Resupplies will be much different. I need to start planning drops and getting my mom (Hunters grandma) ready to be a post office queen! This likely means I will send some food to myself too, since we will be paying for shipping anyways and to limit needs for resupply stops. This does put me on a schedule to make it to certain towns; it’s worth it. I know I can always falter to tuna and cheese and oil if we don’t make a stop in time and he needs food to tide him over.
Dehydrated food isn’t new to us, and he uses it for all backpacking trips we take now, and a few days before and after to aid in transition. He eats a grain/chicken free high quality kibble at home now.
This will also mean I need to make him a doggy sleeping bag that is lighter than what he uses now. I will likely cut one of my thermarest folding pads in half or thirds and use that for him. I will plan to find a down quilt (costco) and sew it in half to create sort of a pita shape for him to use as a sleeping bag. He can be my little pita pocket :).
I also know that there is the possibility that he needs a break from his pack, meaning I carry it. While my base weight is pretty low, I need to be able to comfortably add 10 pounds if he can’t carry his pack. For this, I plan to switch from my ultralight pack, back to an internal frame (likely my Osprey Ariel) to be able to support the extra weight, while keeping all my other ultralight gear to make up for it!
AND THE BIG ONE…
This means this hike is about him. If he needs a day, we take a day. We can’t push through because I want to make it somewhere quick. I need to let him guide the pace. Honestly, this might be the best thing for me. This might cause me to SLOW DOWN, enjoy the scenery and not race through life. Anxiety has ingrained a tendency in me to race to get A LOT of stuff done. To keep moving. To be motivated. Mostly, To do ALL OF IT. This is what I need, to really enjoy this thru hike because I don’t know if I’ll get another. I plan on 5.5 months but if it takes 6, so be it. We have an early start date and since I have a dog, I’ll get turned down from some hostels and hotels, meaning more nights in the tent which is free. It will also cut down on restaurant visits which is probably for the best to keep with a healthy diet. This is awesome. Hunter is awesome. Lets be honest, dogs are awesome! Dogs can teach us more than human will ever be able to.
Other things to consider…
I have a lot to think about and as with anything, things can change. I will always keep HIS best interest at heart. Dogs can’t verbalize pain, and generally hide it to avoid showing weakness which I’m very aware of. I understand canine behavior. Disclaimer: My veterinarian is a well known local vet with many years of experience under his belt. He works with two other vets in the office that both know about the AT and what it consists of. All three are working together to make final recommendations for Hunter. Also if he shows signs of distress on trail that last more than a few days, I have a plan to get him home and his granPAWents are more than happy to keep him for a few months while mom finishes her hike 🙂 His needs will always come first!
This news is very exciting to me and hopefully to my followers, friends and family! (I know it will ease my mothers worry about me being in the ‘big bad woods’ ;).
As always, I welcome your ideas and input.
Until next time,
Katie (and now) & Hunter
Hunter can be found on my instagram or on facebook
Should you decide to friend him, send a message to him from where you found him 🙂
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