My First Days on (and off) the Appalachian Trail

It couldn’t have started better.  Dixie and I departed Duluth via rental car and arrived in Kennesaw, Ga., the next day. My friend Patrick picked us up and brought us to his home.  We were welcomed by his wife, Brittany, and dogs Cash and Gracie.  For the rest of the evening the dogs played and the humans talked over pizza and beer.  My hosts couldn’t have been more welcoming or gracious.  The next morning Patrick drove us to Amicalola Falls.   Once there I registered — number 1,027 — received a briefing and a Snickers bar, then took some obligatory pictures at the arch.  It was clear but cold.  The butterflies were flying, and I couldn’t believe this long-awaited moment was at hand.  I could tell my fellow hikers had the same nervous excitement. Finally, with no special fanfare, we took the first steps on the approach trail and were on our way.

 

Days one to six: Amicalola Falls, approach trail (8.8 miles) to Top of Georgia Hostel (AT mile 69).

I loved my first six days on the AT, although I was in a constant state of disbelief that this was really happening.  Unfortunately, Dixie had the same feeling but her disbelief was from a different perspective.  More on that in a minute.

As I stated the weather was clear and cold. The falls and dreaded steps were absolutely gorgeous.  8.8 miles later, on Springer Mountain, I took a few pictures and started meeting my fellow hikers.  Everyone seemed to be in a similar mind-set: excited, nervous, and a little uneasy with declaring themselves thru-hikers.  I went with aspiring thru-hiker.  We continued another 2.8 miles, real AT miles, to the Stover Creek Shelter and our first night.

The next few days brought a mixture of warmth and rains. We camped at Gooch Mountain Shelter (15.8), Neal Gal (30.4), Low Gap Shelter (42.9), and Tray Mountain Shelter (58.3).  We met great people and experienced trail magic in the form of hiker feeds.  Dixie developed a real fan club. A lot of hikers miss their dogs and Dixie soaked up the love. Every time we met hikers they called out Dixie by name.

Unfortunately, the extra trail love wasn’t enough to keep her happy.  She made the miles without complaint, and slept fine in the tent. However, I couldn’t help but notice she wasn’t happy. Her tail wagged less, her big goofy smile faded.  If those clues weren’t enough the obvious indicator was that she stopped eating.  With a lot of time to deliberate I decided my dream wasn’t Dixie’s dream; she needed to go home.

A dog trail name is born: Day Hiker.

We arrived at Dicks Creek Gap (69.0) on the 19th and walked the half mile to Top of Georgia hostel where we had a reservation.  The staff  and guests were welcoming and poured on the dog love.  Dixie was indoors and finally happy.  She was given the name Day Hiker for her love of both hiking and hotels. I made arrangements for a shuttle to a rental car agency the next day.  Essentially I took a time out to drive her to “Grandma’s” — my in-laws home —  who had graciously offered to take her in.  Thank you Roberta, Al, and Dan.

Four zeros for Day Hiker.

If you read my post on taking Dixie I clearly stated I was responsible for her health, safety, and enjoyment.  I was ready for this possibility so I have no regrets at all for trying to take her.  I also have no bad feelings for having to return her. Except that I’ll miss her a lot.  I love my dog and wanted to share this experience with her.  She wasn’t happy or healthy on the trail so it was an easy decision to spend the time and money to return her.  In truth my hike will be much easier now.  I gave it a try and feel good about it.

I’m back and it’s game on!

This afternoon, March 23, I returned to Top of Georgia.  It’s good to be back.  Tomorrow my hike resumes and I couldn’t be happier.

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Comments 20

  • Smokebeard : Mar 23rd

    Kudos to you for being sensitive to what the dog needed.

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Mar 29th

      Thanks, i anticipated that she wouldn’t stay with me for the whole hike but thought she’d like it more. She didn’t and that’s ok. I was happy to get her to a safe, happy place. No regrets.

      Reply
  • Zach : Mar 24th

    It’s tough to lose your hiking partner, but good on you for making the right decision. Great write up.

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Mar 29th

      Thanks!

      Reply
  • Nadine : Mar 24th

    Thanks for sharing…heartfelt understanding and appreciation for your love and devotion to Dixie. She’ll be wagging when you return home…enjoy the trail!

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Mar 29th

      Dixie is doing great at “Grandmas’s”

      Reply
  • Sharon : Mar 24th

    🐕❤👍

    Reply
  • Mishelle : Mar 24th

    Sad for Dixie… my Chaz was a hiker since puppy days, loved the outdoors, we kayaked and did all sorts of challenging things but it took him all his life to be up to it.

    We would run 9Ks -> K9s Races he would try to cheat in the middle of the run and would walk instead… playing “TIRED” when no one was watching at times I would pull, or he’d take it easy… but, Lord behold, the guy would perk up and start pulling when he’d see a human!!! never mind the end line with all the “scratch my head humans!!! at the end mark.

    The guy, Chaz would pull on me as though rushing me to the end and I could barely keep up! and of course… you guessed! – the spectators would congratulate him for pulling me thru the run…. 😀 Can you believe that shameless guy!!

    😀 the Through Hike Through the AT has always been a DREAM of mine too, I can’t believe you are there!!! doing it!!!

    I’ll tell you all sorts of Chaz stories if you’d like 🙂 there are A LOT of them over 16 years of his life… 😀 my BFF

    Have fun you!
    Be safe, be brave, be sane!
    -Mishelle

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Mar 29th

      Thanks we definitely love our dogs. Dixie is a great dog and doing very well in her new temporary home. We are both happier for now but I can’t wait to see her again

      Reply
  • Chuck : Mar 25th

    Pete…you sound like an amazing man! Your journey really touches us out here! God bless you for all you’ve been through and about to go through on the AT! Prayers to you…Chuck (SoCal)

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Mar 29th

      Thank you it means a lot.

      Reply
  • Cheryl and Ray Galli : Mar 28th

    Hey Pete, I hear you met my husband, OneFoot, on Albert Mtn! I had so hoped he’d have the chance to meet you in person. Enjoying your blog, love the writing – & will follow your journey. Hopefully OneFoot will have the opportunity to walk with you again. Take care, Cheryl Galli

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Mar 29th

      Hi Cheryl! I did meet OneFoot, he is a great guy, very positive and fun to be around. He also gave me a trail name though he doesn’t know it yet. I hope we get to hike more together. Thanks for reaching out and following. Pete

      Reply
  • Bob Norton, Jr. : Mar 30th

    Pete – awesome writing and pics. First off, thank you for your service. Second, great write-up of your wonderful wife, and her bravery. You were incredible to be her care giver and stay by her so well, I’m sure you wouldn’t have it any other way, but it no doubt took a heavy toll on you as well. Third, I’m not in a position to do a through now with career, but my pup over the years have done sections. Over the past few years, my present Dalmatian and I have done day trail angle hikes, Boo carrying a pack with treats for pups on the trail. He does well with day hikes, and might be okay for a through, but I doubt I’d put him through it just like your decision for Dixie. That was awesome that you got to share the start with her, and now are letting her be pampered while you kick butt on the trail, thinking of her often. You both will have some awesome reunions coming up. I’m in CT, a ways from where the trail goes through, but hit me up if you need anything on the trial or sent to a stop. Best wishes, kick butt, keep safe, have fun! Keep writing!

    Reply
  • Kathryn Greer : Apr 1st

    I was on staff at Top of Gorgia when you and Dixie came in and when you decided to take her off the trail. I felt so much empathy for you making the call. I wish you save travels!!!

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Apr 7th

      I loved my stays there. You were all so kind and helpful.

      Reply
  • Carolyn : Apr 3rd

    Thank you for sharing! I’m an aspiring thru-hiker daydreamer. One day I hope to be on the trail! Until then I’m enjoying short hikes with my littles. Your story reminded me of a book I listened to last year and thoroughly enjoyed about a hiker named Apostle Paul – Paul Stutzman, his book is “Hiking Through.” Great gem of a book! He hiked the AT after he lost his wife to cancer also.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Sorry to hear Dixie had to retire from the trail, but I bet she’s enjoying the time off at Grandma’s. Looking forward to following your story!

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Apr 7th

      Thanks. I read Paul’s book, at a time when I didn’t know my story would be such a parallel. I enjoyed his account and now I have so much more empathy. Nature is a great healer/therapist.

      Reply
  • Andy Glazar : Apr 5th

    Bless her heart. Good for you for seeing she wasn’t happy and taking care of her. All the best!

    Reply
    • Pete Bromen : Apr 7th

      Thank you for reading and your comment. Dixie is doing great with “Grandma” and to be honest it’s best for both of us.

      Reply

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