Origin of the Thru Crew

Most people on the Appalachian Trail make a tramily. I just so happened to make a family. In the year since my 2019 thru-hike, I’ve gained a 1990 Toyota Dolphin, a tiny Husky, a lap-dog Great Dane, and a pretty great hiking buddy. Oh, and a gnarly thru-hiking bug.

After saving up through college, I started my thru-hike of the AT on February 24, 2019. I started with 20-mile days and after two weeks was grounded with Achilles tendinitis. After a few weeks of rest and rehab, I skipped a few hundred miles up the trail with the intention of coming back in the fall and picking up the section I had missed. It was close to my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, and I wanted to stay ahead of the bubble of hikers who started in March and April, so it worked out well for me.

A Successful Pink Blaze

Legs and I met at the halfway point of the trail, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. After a night of merriment with my tramily, I knew I wanted this guy to hike on with me. Or, at least let me mooch off the stove he was carrying, a gear choice I had opted out of. But man, that boy had some great freeze dried meals.

Legs and I crossed paths again in New York a few weeks later. Starting with the Stairway to Heaven, a climb whose difficultly was vastly overestimated by our fellow hikers who had hiked on the day before, we made it about 15 miles and crossed the border from New Jersey to New York, one state closer to the end of our trip. I remember nonstop conversation persisting, making the effort I was putting into trying to cover up my strained breaths worth it. Even with over a 1,000 miles under my belt, I still felt a need to impress my much faster and stronger hiking partner.

A few months later on July 20, we found ourselves atop Mount Katahdin with Woodchips, a small stuffed beaver we had carried for a few hundred miles after an impulse purchase in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Oh, and splitting the weight of the tent was definitely worth it.

A Husky in the Woods

In September 2019, a few months after reaching Katahdin, Legs and I started hiking SOBO to pick up the section I had skipped. A few days into the hike, we were about 20 miles south of Trent’s Grocery, a popular stop on trail simply because of the proximity to food. Give thru-hikers a half-mile hike for a burger, and you’ll draw a crowd. About midway through the day, I had sent Legs ahead of me up a small climb, with the familiar send off, “See you at the top!”

Not too long after, soon enough that I could still see my partner a half dozen switchbacks above me, I saw him stop to chat with a man who had multiple dogs with him. I quickly heard Legs’ shout, “Hey babe!! Do you want a dog??” I didn’t even think. “YES!!!”

Legs had the leash of the black one in his hand and in his other was a folded piece of paper and a block of cheese with a small amount of dog food. The paper was her purebred paperwork. “Her name’s Maggie, but she don’t know it,” he said, dismissively. The man started walking down the trail in the opposite direction. “Oh. And she’s a bit bowl aggressive. Watch out for that. Good luck!” And off he went, no love lost.

I bent down to immediately start loving on the small Husky. There were large patches of undercoat that were falling off her sides and rump, and a large, heavy, rusted carabiner was hanging from her neck. We hiked on to the next shelter, quickly realizing how exhausted she was. With no one else around, we tied her to our long bear line and gave her the run of the place. I spent the next half hour picking out the thick clumps of undercoat fur that she was desperately trying to shed, and the small comforting licks she gave me were a good trade in my book.

After finishing our hike (and a couple of days of brainstorming dog names), I took newly branded Thru to get all her shots and vaccinations and to test for heartworm or other parasites. She tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, a condition transmitted to dogs from ticks and one that thru-hikers live in fear of. “She really is the ultimate trail dog,” Legs said. “She even comes with Lyme disease!”

The Ultimate Mobile Home

You might be wondering… why the Dolphin? Better gas mileage, reliability, super rad vintage look, all available for a driver with a simple Class C license. On top of that, Legs and I already knew we could cohabitate in a 4 foot by 7 foot tent. How much space could two people really need? Turns out for us and our pups, a 21-foot Toyota Dolphin is perfect.

After a few full days of driving from Virginia, we arrived at a library parking lot a few hours outside of Austin, Texas. We approached our Dolphin right as John pulled up in his large truck (because, Texas). With the vague likeness of Leo from That 70s Show, he showed us around the Dolphin. I could see him smiling behind his face mask as we told him about our plans and mentioned the chickens in the back of our car. “Man, I lived in this thing for six years traveling full time,” he said. “I was hoping it would go to a couple like you guys. She’s got some adventure left in her.”

Despite the various leaks and blemishes, our 1990 Toyota Dolphin is the perfect new home. It came with a solar setup that can comfortably power enough fans to leave the dogs in the RV while we make quick shopping trips. We are still considering upgrades such as more batteries for the solar setup, a composting toilet, an outdoor shower, and repainting the interior.

Well, there’s the basic introduction to the Thru Crew and the family the AT gave me. The next updates for our Colorado Trail hike will include gear lists, shakedown hikes, and for sure some pictures of our pups. Stay healthy and happy hiking!

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Comments 12

  • catten252 : Jun 27th

    this brought tears to my eyes. very nice.

    • Katie Houston : Jun 27th

      Thank you for saying that, I’m glad the story touched you! I really do thank my lucky stars every day I’m exactly where I am right now.

  • Julie : Jun 27th

    What a fun thru crew to follow! I look forward to reading about your adventures! “You want a dog.” Immediate “Yes.” They have a dog. A very lucky, loved dog. 🥰

    • Katie Houston : Jun 27th

      Isn’t it just the most serendipitous thing?? And she really had turned into the sweetest pup. We have a little pack now 😁

  • Catherine : Jun 27th

    Hey Oats, do you remember Mary and me? We met in MA on the AT. Legs spent a lot of time and energy helping me get to the shelter that night. I will always remember that and what an awesome couple you were. I am glad to hear you two are still together ❤️ and still hiking. I hope he was able to use his Maranza hoodie or at least exchange it for one that was better. I just finished hiking the 48 four thousand footers in NH yesterday. Please say hello to Legs and let me know how you are doing..
    With deep gratitude and appreciation.

  • Katie Houston : Jun 27th

    Oh my goodness hello Catherine! Absolutely we both remember you, you started our Mele collection with your generous gift! We now have four or five between us and are actually stopping in Leadville soon to perhaps get another. Our gear list will be put put soon and Legs is taking his Mele on trail with him, we definitely still use it. It’s so nice to hear from you and I’m glad to hear you’re doing well and congrats on your accomplishment, that’s incredible!!!😁

    • Catherine : Jun 28th

      Thank you for your kind response. Glad you two are well and happy. I never did learn how to spell Melanzana Lol. Leadville looked like a great place to visit. We were there for a very short time. Good luck on your Colorado hiking and stay in touch. It is so good to hear from you!

  • Karen : Jun 28th

    Enjoyed reading your article. Stop by and say hi at the Salida Hostel. We’re about halfway. ask for Karen and we’ll get you some coffee and muffins.

    • Katie Houston : Jun 28th

      Oh we absolutely will! Thanks so much 🥰

  • Ruth Anne : Jun 28th

    Your story makes me so happy.

  • Dan : Jun 28th

    I lived with my partner and dog out of 20 year old 19′ Winnebago Warrior on a 1 ton Toyota chassis with a V6 for a couple of years while hiking and climbing in the late 90s. Toyota based RVs are the way to go, I miss that rig. Cannot beat the mileage and the easy maintenance. Much nicer ride than converted bread trucks and so much more space than a van. Good luck with your adventures.

  • Ken Lam : Jun 29th

    Gosh, such a great story! When does the Dane join the family?


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