Having “No Shame” has defined my trail experience
The trail is a beast of its own kind and I got brave and brought my own beast along.
Having “No Shame” (aka Star) with me for this journey has changed my entire hike. When I decided I was not only hiking the AT but doing so with a dog my game plan had to change. The idea of rolling onto town whenever I wanted was no longer an option, instead carefully planned food drops have outlined my trail to town time.
People are always asking, “what is it like hiking with a dog?” This question has so many different levels to it. Hiking with a dog is wonderful, challenging, rewarding, involved, entertaining, full of love and dog hair. I can’t imagine doing this hike without her.
She provides me with constant companionship and hours of laughter. Her antics leave me gasping for air as she chases chipmunks, gazelle leaps through tall grass and gets her head stuck in empty bags.
Hiking with a dog is not for everyone and not for every dog. I am blessed with a dog who couldn’t be happier then when she’s on trail with me, and not to float my own boat but she has me, someone whose hike is planned around her.
My time on trail has been filled with learning curves; the needs, wants and realities. No Shame has been a large part of that.
It’s important to be willing to speak up for your own needs on the trail. I love having my dog along and when it’s just the two of us it’s really easy. When you start adding in additional hikers, or people, things can get chaotic. My biggest pet peeve is having someone tell me what my dog is doing is fine. I have a set of rules for a reason. I don’t want my dog begging, stealing, intimidating, destroying or otherwise having a negative impact on someone else’s journey. No Shame is too smart for her own good and if I give her an inch she’ll take a mile – believe me she’s hiked solo for more then a mile. If I ask my dog to come back to me when she sees you on trail it is to prevent her from making a habit of rushing up to people.
If I tell her to settle in on her blanket during dinner it’s to keep her out of another hikers food. Hikers don’t take food lightly and I’m sure some would kill to protect theirs. PLEASE don’t tell me it’s ok for my dog to ignore me. I don’t tell your kids to ignore you. Honestly I’d love for No Shame to take time and hang out with you but only after she’s followed her instructions.
Town days started off as extremely stressful days for both of us. Have you ever handed your best friend to a stranger and walked off into a store? Probably not – and it may have to do with the fact you don’t leash your best friend. Trusting people I’d just met on the trail was challenging, I had to start trusting No Shame to find good people. We have gotten to the point where she knows I’ll be back for her and is happy to be tied to my pack chilling out in the grass under a tree or even in the shade of a Walmart. Now, people who see this may not be quite as understanding or realize some of the challenges she and I face. I have had people make remarks about how hungry she looks, that she’s to skinny, or question my ability to feed her properly on the trail.
I do my best not to take these remarks to heart as I realize most of these individuals have never seen a truly happy, healthy dog. At 38 pounds she has an extra three pounds on, and this was after she went on a trail diet because she was up over 42 pounds. Having a little extra weight is great but too much puts unnecessary strain on her joints. My life on the trail revolves around her package drops of high quality food.
No Shame lives for the here and now, she plays the starving pup and works her charm to get as many goodies as possible. Where as I get “trail magic” she gets “town magic.” I’ve had someone brave enough to walk up to her and our packs and leave a 5 lbs bag of dog food on top of them, she’s received dog bones from three different individuals, and one of the most amazing was a wonderful trail angel who provided her with The Honest Kitchen, so as to make sure we didn’t run out between towns.
There are differences I see in my beautiful pup. Things which become more apparent the longer we are on trail. No Shame is getting really good about trail manners, she is no longer one of those dogs who rushes past you knocking you into a tree or off a cliff. Instead she settles in behind you where you hear this constant ringing in your ears, almost as though she has the mind power to request passage, well it’s that or the antique bear bell attached to her harness, she’ll walk behind you until granted permission to pass. Her repitoir of commands has increased greatly, it’s almost as though she’s learned a new command for every 100 miles traveled.
Being in the woods brings out a primal nature in us, as thru hikers. We think in manner of survival; food, water, shelter. No Shame has also started going back to her roots. She relies on herself more and more, trusting that she knows what to do. I’ve watched her find water where there wasn’t any, cool herself in freshly dug dirt, and hide in hollow trees to escape the rain.
This journey will probably be a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so happy I have this precious pup to snuggle with and keep my world aligned.
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