Is Karl, My Adventure Cat, Coming with Me on the Appalachian Trail?

HYOH: Hike Your Own Hike.

If you’re on The Trek’s website, you’re probably familiar with this phrase. Hike your own hike, people tell you. But do we really hike our own hike? I think yes and no. We try our best to do it, but it doesn’t always happen. We go hiking because we want to be outdoors and enjoy the freedom that nature offers us. However, sometimes we’re forced to do things that we don’t necessarily want to do on trail. For example, sometimes you may hike faster to keep up with a friend. You try and try to keep up, but you miss out on seeing things or get injured. Oftentimes, we unintentionally disregard HYOH simply because we wish to comply with others.

I’ve heard this phrase often as I’ve been preparing for my 2023 Appalachian Trail thru-hike. It has often felt like such a simple thing to do, but I’ve come to realize that it is not. Sometimes you need a lot of mental fortitude to HYOH. So when I began thinking about what I was going to do about my adventure kitty, Karl, while I was on the AT, I didn’t know what to do. It’s been done before, but was it the right decision for me?

Introducing Karl

Karl posing in Wayne National Forest.

Karl came into my life unexpectedly when my mom decided that he was too cute and that he needed a home. One of our three family cats had recently passed away and we were very heartbroken. Our home wasn’t the same without him. One of my mom’s friend’s cats ended up having a litter and as soon as my mom laid eyes on Karl, she fell in love. Aaaand as soon as she showed him to me, I also fell in love. However, with the recent death of our other cat, we didn’t think we were ready for another one just yet.

Fast forward a few months, I’m in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness on an archaeological expedition with zero cell service for 24 days. One day, I decide to check my Zoleo just to let my mom know that I’m okay and that there was nothing to worry about. A message comes flying in that she decided to get Karl for me. In an instant, I had become the pet owner of a kitty who was hundreds of miles away. Crazy? Yes. But was I also already madly in love with him? Also yes.

When I came home from Wyoming, I met Karl and immediately knew that he would be my best bud. He was a little rascal of a kitten. Clearly, he needed to get some energy out, so I started taking him outside. One thing led to another and then I started taking him on little hikes. He was crazy about going outside. Every chance I get, I take him outside, even if it’s just on a little walk.

But what about the AT?

One of Karl’s first adventures (yes, he fell into the water twice).

The Pros and Cons of Bringing Karl with Me

To be honest, I was freaked out about the idea of not bringing Karl with me on the AT. I had had the desire to go on a thru-hike for a couple of years at this point and now had the chance to do it. But I was also a new pet owner. What was I going to do?

In the end, I decided that it would be best for me and for Karl to leave him back home. The main reason is to hike my own hike.

Karl is obedient and is familiar with hiking on trails, but the AT isn’t just any trail. It’s a 2,198.4-mile trail. Wishful thinking told me that I could do it and that he could too. Realistic thinking told me that there were many reasons why I shouldn’t bring him along.

Karl, the tree hugger.

The pros of bringing Karl:

  • Always having a companion (that doesn’t talk)
  • Having a furry friend to cuddle with at night
  • Having a part of home with me while on trail
  • Being able to talk to him about anything
  • He makes me happy when I’m sad
  • He keeps me on my toes (I’m more aware of my surroundings when hiking with him)
  • Peace of mind at night by not being alone
  • Instant conversation piece with others (he helps bring me out of my shell and talk to others)
  • I won’t feel sad by leaving him at home
  • I won’t miss out on six months of his life (and him growing up – he’s nine months old as of this post)

To get Karl used to the outdoors, I started by letting him hang out on our front porch.

The cons of bringing Karl:

  • He isn’t used to long hiking days
  • He hikes at his own pace
  • Camping days on end in a tent would be hard for him
  • I would have to carry about a pound of food for him on top of my own food (plus water)
  • I would end up having to carry him on my pack when he gets tired (he’s a good ten pounds of kitten)
  • Dogs aren’t always friendly to cats
  • Worrying about bears or snakes attacking him
  • Worrying about ticks on him
  • Worrying about the weather
  • Logistics of areas on the AT where you can’t bring a pet

Just a girl and her kitten.

In Conclusion

As you can see, my pros and cons were split 50/50. What truly won out for me was my original list on why I wanted to hike the AT. I want to hike this trail for me, not for anyone else. I felt that if I brought Karl along with me, it wouldn’t be my own hike. I would spend more time worrying about him and less time enjoying nature. I would be paying lots of attention to him and not as much to making friends on trail. Sometimes it’s hard to hike your own hike, but I know that I’m making the right choice by leaving Karl at home.

My mom has promised to send me all the pictures and videos of him, and I will force her to FaceTime me when I’m in town so I can say hi to him (…and her). If you own a pet and are leaving them behind while hiking the AT, we should be friends. Because I know I’ll miss him and need someone who understands my pain in leaving him. It’ll be rough, but it’s the safest decision for him and for me.

Karl walking on a trail in Wayne National Forest.

Interested in getting to know Karl more and following along on his adventures? You can follow him on Instagram here: @karlthekrakenkitty

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Comments 7

  • Mikeycat : Feb 23rd

    I kinda associate as being a cat. I meow a lot when no one is looking and make a lot of song parodies about cats.
    Convince me to leave my 100k job, kids, and cat Leo for 6 months to pursue my 8 year dream of thru-hiking the AT.
    I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to “have time” to hike it. Life obligations…sigh.

    I’m still amazed at seeing cats on harnesses and a leash. lol
    Your kitty Karl reminds me of a couple of similar looking cats I had when growing up.

    • Alejandra May : Feb 24th

      Haha, my parents are waiting until they retire to do the AT. Right now they’re living through me though. Hopefully one day you get the chance too!

      Leash training has been a rocky road but Karl loves the outdoors so he’ll put up with the harness if he has to.

  • Old Soul : Feb 23rd

    I hiked with my fur baby Hannibal back in 1977. We were up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains near Twin Lakes, Independence Pass when a severe thunderstorm hit. He was in the tube tent with me, it collapsed and he freaked out and got out. Never saw him again although I spent four days looking for him and went back every weekend for a couple of months. Broke my heart. So don’t take your cat no matter what!

    • Alejandra May : Feb 24th

      Thank you for sharing that. I’m heartbroken for you. Definitely keeping your story in mind for future adventures.

  • Jabez : Feb 24th

    Hi. Tough decision to leave him behind but probably best. I thru hiked the AT in 2019 and saw one hiker with a cat around mile 300 or so. Always wondered how they did. Good luck to you!

    • Alejandra May : Feb 24th

      Thank you! I’ve heard a few successful stories of cats on trail, but my protective pet parent nature says it’s definitely the best to leave him behind.

  • Freddie Holeyfield : Feb 27th

    So sorry for Old Soul’s cat back in 1977. I imagine him joining another family. Karl though is a kitten and so may do well on a hike if he is tethered to you even in the tent or at least tethered to something.


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