A Last-Minute Change: My Hound Dog Joins Me
I introduced myself in my first post so now it’s time to introduce my hiking partner: Dixie, the hound dog referred to in the title.
There Was No Dog in My Hiking Plan
Before I go too far I have to acknowledge a few truths. There are many reasons not to hike the AT with a dog, and honestly, I agree with most of them. Furthermore, although I’ve dreamed of hiking the AT for decades, I never had the desire to bring my dog with me. I just never really gave it much thought. Obviously, my outlook has changed.
My original plan was that Dixie would stay home with Brenda while I hiked. If you read my first post you know that is impossible. My sons aren’t in a position to watch Dixie for five to six months due to college dormitory restrictions or living in a downtown Minneapolis apartment with a full-time job. I did receive a few kind and sincere offers to watch her and initially that is exactly what I planned to do.
Dixie has always been “my” dog even when the entire family was living together. She is a rescue, abandoned as puppy in a roadside ditch. She caught my eye because she looked like she’d develop into a great runner. We made a connection. I was looking for a running partner and she was looking for a home.
That was six years ago. I’m not exaggerating when I say we’ve walked, hiked, or run nearly every day since. She has also gone on a few backpacking trips and nearly every family camping trip and vacation we’ve taken. More importantly, she exhibits true signs of joy when she is outside and engaged in physical activity.
After Brenda died I started taking longer daily walks, sometimes multiple walks. Dixie was my constant companion as I spent time on the roads and trails sorting life out. She doesn’t say much but she listens well. It wouldn’t be literally true to say she saved my life, because I’d still be here without her. But my life is better with her and she eased the grieving process with her constant companionship and endless energy. I began to think I really don’t want to do this trail without at least starting with Dixie.
I Did a Lot of Homework
I found a lot of information, and strongly held opinions, about dogs on the AT. One of most helpful was a two-part article right here on The Trek, Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Dog (Parts 1 and 2), authored by “ATRAILLIFE,” or Minutes, Serial, and Rooney. You can read the articles https://thetrek.co/hiking-with-a-dog-part-1/ and https://thetrek.co/hiking-with-a-dog-part-2/
I appreciated and have used a lot of the specific information on gear, diet, costs, dog care, and regulations in these articles and other sources. Ultimately though it was the “attitudinal” questions that gave me the perspective I needed to make the final decision. Specifically in part two, under the heading “Is your dog ready for a long distance hike?” they laid out a series of questions and scenarios. Only when I was able to give an honest, well-thought-out “Yes” to these questions was I able to really get onboard and get excited about hiking with Dixie. I moved from “No way” to “Let’s go!”
In the end it didn’t come down to gear or money but what attitude I would adopt. Life is like that; skills are nice but our attitude will make or break us. In survival school they call it the “Will to Survive” and “Positive Mental Attitude.” What we carry in our minds is more important than what we carry in our packs.
My Plan to Maintain My Positive Attitude by Remembering…
–Dixie is my hiking partner because I want to share the trail with her. I have other options but we are both happier together.
–The nature of my hike will change. I won’t be as free as others might, but I’m OK and ready for that.
–The additional costs won’t break me; it’s just money and the experience is priceless.
–I am fully responsible for Dixie’s health, safety, and enjoyment but I’m also concerned with the health, safety, and enjoyment of those around us. She will always be under my control and leashed whenever required by regulations, her safety, or for the safety and consideration of other hikers (or wildlife).
–I believe she will thrive on the trail but if she doesn’t I have several bailout plans and will make other arrangements.
–I see many others benefits beyond companionship. Having a dog is an obvious conversation starter and shared bond. I look forward to meeting other hikers with dogs and helping each other out.
–LNT applies to both humans and dogs.
Only 12 days until we start our adventure. Thank you for your amazing response so far. I really appreciate the support. If you see us on the trail please stop and say hello. If you are following from home, send dog treats.
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