A Tough Decision. I’m Not Taking My Dog

Or should I take her?

The months leading up to a thru-hike are filled with decision after decision.  Deciding on this gear and that gear, where to start, when to start, logistics post-hike, food to take, to resupply or not resupply, and really for me, the first and most important decision I’ve made (and some days am still going back and forth on) was whether or not I’m going to take my beloved furry companion, Lola.  (A five-year-old Norwegian Elkhound.)

I’m not a research junkie, so it was alarming how much time I spent poring over articles about thru-hiking with a dog.  Like most choices, one can take in all the research there is to be had, and still the choices have to be individualized and deliberate.  I already have a fair amount of experience backpacking with and without her; I’ve had her on-trail with my partner, I’ve had her on trail alone, and I’ve been on trail without her.  So with my research, my past experiences, and my gut instincts to guide me, here is my personal pro/con list:

Pros of Bringing Her

  • She’s an outdoor and adventure connoisseur, she’s built for intense exercise in the cold, and she would have the time of her life out there.
  • I’ve found that certain moments have been more fulfilling as a result of having her there to share them with.
  • Her scent is the best bear protection there is.
  • Warm and snuggly.
  • Cute.
  • Just companionship in general.
  • She is my protector in every way and is not cool with letting weirdos near me at all.

Cons of Bringing Her

  • I’m on a budget and can barely afford to get myself out there, let alone plan into the budget certain vaccines for her, more legit gear for her, plus expensive good food for her that would be crucial to our success.
  • I’m flip-flopping, which means once I finish Maine, I will have to fly back to WV, and I am exactly zero percent comfortable with putting Lola on an airplane.
  • More than likely, if her needs were my priority (which they should and would be), we would still be hiking way, way into December, which is something I would like to avoid.
  • She gets too hot in the summer.
  • I have very much enjoyed aspects of being totally alone on trail.
  • I usually end up keeping her on the leash more than I use my trekking poles when I have her with me, to the displeasure of my knees.
  • Once again, she’s a protector, so she barks at every stranger who approaches me until they can be trusted (which usually only takes one sniff, so is this actually a con? Maybe not, but nice strangers probably don’t appreciate this wolfy-looking dog in protector mode.).
  • Grocery shopping, post office going, and the occasional hotel, hostel, or all you can eat buffet would be much harder being just me in charge of her care (remember, I’m flip-flopping and the odds aren’t necessarily in my favor when it comes to the likelihood of finding a trusted trail family).

Ultimately, I believe most of the cons would work themselves out if I truly put my mind to it, but the thing I keep coming back to is flying with her.  I have read too many horror stories and just don’t feel comfortable at all.  (If you have positive experiences with flying with your dog, I would love to hear those.)

So my decision is to start without her.  I’ll be starting at the Mason-Dixon Line and heading north to Katahdin during the hottest months of the year (June to September). I’m nervous about the New England states anyway, so it’s just a whole bunch of “no, don’t bring her” in my book.  This part of the plan is not subject to change.

But the part of the plan I’m keeping open is maybe having her join me for the SOBO part of my trek from Harpers Ferry to Springer Mountain.  

We live in WV, so it seems perfect that Burt (my boyfriend and doggy-daddy) could meet me after my flight and Lola could hike through the “easier” states with me in weather she was built for (September to December). A few caveats to the plan are the facts that I will have to depend on Burt to keep getting her into shape during the first months of my hike, I would have to skip the Smokies because dogs aren’t allowed in the Smokies, and I don’t feel cool with boarding her, I would have to switch to a tent because I’m hammocking it, and I would still need to spend a whole bunch of money (that may or may not be available by that time) to get her better gear and food.

To Review

  • I’m not taking her NOBO from PA to ME.
  • I’m open to the idea of taking her SOBO from WV to GA, depending on many factors, including budget, and timing mostly.

I think it is equally important both that I go into this totally alone for my personal growth, and that I share the experience with her because she deserves a life full of adventure.  Maybe I could create a reality that is the best of both worlds?

Maybe I’m over-thinking it?



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Comments 4

  • Pony : Mar 15th

    I love dogs and have had a dog — for the last 25 years, multiple dogs — all my life (including an Elkhound named Juli when I was a kid). And I loved meeting dogs on the AT when I thru-hiked back in 2016.

    But I applaud your decision to start without Lola. For the right kind of dog, an AT thru-hike can be paradise. But not every dog is the right kind of dog, and I definitely met dogs who looked worn out and did not seem to be having much fun — especially in PA and up north; your instincts are definitely right on that.

    If she’s able to come along for the second half of your flip, excellent! But you are a good guardian for putting her safety and comfort first.

    ~Pony (CT’15; AT’16; Foothills Trail, Alabama Pinhoti Trail’18)

    • Sara Rollins : Mar 21st

      Thank you so much for being kind! I appreciate you sharing your insight and experience.

  • SA : Mar 15th

    I agree w/Pony…. and you as well. The South half is definitely more ‘dog friendly’. Come up w/a good section to do w/your pup (SOBO) and adjust accordingly, if you like. By that point you will be dialed in and better know what to expect as well as have a better idea in regards to doing part of the hike w/your dog…My 2 cents.
    Best of luck – Happy Trails !

    • Sara Rollins : Mar 21st

      I was thinking that extra experience for me will be a huge help when it comes time to decide! Thank you for sharing your advice!


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