So there's hiking, and then there's HIKING, aka, thru-hiking. Thru-hiking is backpacking a long distance trail end-to-end, like the Pacific Crest Trail (the PCT) that runs from Mexico to Canada, or the Appalachian Trail (the AT) that runs from Georgia to Maine. You'll rarely find a dog thru-hiking an entire trail because let's face it - that's a really long hike for anyone, let alone a pup who didn't make that choice.
Katie Houston is an avid thru-hiker, with a goal of hiking 10,000 miles by the time she turns 25. (She's already 2,900 miles in!).
While Katie was hiking the Appalachian Trail last year, a twist of fate left her with a new best furry friend in the middle of the trail. Read Katie's story here about how Thru the husky came to be...
Thru-hiking is an exercise in mental and physical endurance for adventurers that aren't quite satisfied by their weekend hiking trips alone. My partner "Legs" (Nick, for those not familiar with trail names) and I met during our respective thru-hikes of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail last year. Depending on the trail, a thru-hike can take anywhere from a few weeks to 6 months. Most hikers start solo, like Legs and I did, or with partners. On some special occasions you will encounter another smelly hiker that chose their furry best friend as their thru-hiking buddy. And even more rare... you may find your own soul mate on your journey.
A few months after we finished our northern progression, Legs and I returned to the trail to hike a section that I had missed due to injury... In September. In Virginia. In the middle of a terrible drought. Aside from the occasional water cache left by kind-hearted trail angels and local hostel owners, we found our mouths and bottles dry for the majority of the trip.
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, you’ll draw a crowd.) About midway through the day, Legs went ahead of me up a small climb, with the familiar send off, “See you at the top!”
Not too long after, while 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 should have stopped to think, "Wait, what, huh?", but instead “YES!!!” I shouted back up the climb. A few minutes later I found myself approaching Legs, the strange scruffy man, and three tired-looking huskies. There were two large ones with blue eyes and white fur and a much smaller one that was mostly black with white fur on her belly, chest, and the lower half of her face. The black fur surrounded her eyes which made her look even more like a small wolf.
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. “SIBERIAN HUSKY”, it read. “BLAND COUNTY, VA,” the county we were in. “BIRTH DATE: 2 DEC 2016”. She was almost 3 years old.
“Her name’s Maggie but she don’t know it,” he said, dismissively. “Yeah, I just can’t take care of all three of ’em anymore. Been runnin’ the finances. She was just going to the pound the next town I got to.” I looked at Legs excitedly. I knew whether or not we could keep her, we would at least be taking her out of this situation. “We’ll take her!” I practically shouted. 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 lifted it, and found her chest was a dark grey color. “I’m pretty sure she’s supposed to have white fur there… I wonder how long it’s been since she’s had that off.” Legs quickly dug in his pack and pulled out his bear line with a small carabiner attached to it. He switched the two out, putting the old one in his trash bag. “At least now she’ll be one pound lighter.”
We hiked on to our next camp site, 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.
Legs had put a notice out to his Instagram followers asking if anyone was interested in adopting her. “Oh good!” I said, already knowing full well this was going to be my dog.
Thru-hiking with a pup is not an easy decision to make. There are many factors to consider about the hike you've chosen and then comparing the demands of the trail to your own dog's needs and preferences. Some pups simply aren't capable or wouldn't enjoy the daily strain of a thru-hike. For instance, our Great Dane Flynn wouldn't be able to healthily sustain over 10 miles a day. A Siberian Husky though? As long as she isn't too hot she will still be pulling me up the trail as hard as she can at the end of the day.
The hazards of the trail are important to consider as well. Dangerous wildlife, heat exhaustion, adequate water sources with high frequency, terrain, and nutrition are all important to your dog's health and happiness on trail. An important aspect of bringing your pet also means you have to be prepared to put their needs before your hike. Being familiar with your dog's own signs of exhaustion and the symptoms of serious problems such as heat stroke or an infection is incredibly important on trail.
We unexpectedly gained a new member of the family in the middle of the Virginian backwoods. And she happened to come with a thick and unkempt fur coat in the middle of one of the hottest and driest hikes I've ever been on. Suffice to say, we got off trail within 100 miles and returned to our waiting Great Dane, unbeknownst to him, with his new sister.
I took Thru to get all of 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!”
I tell people the story of Thru and how we got her and I always hear how much luck must’ve been on her side. Not to get all bumper-sticker-reading “My rescue rescued me” levels of sentimental, but I know luck was on our side when we came across this dog that didn’t even know her name, how to sit, what belly rubs were, or how to eat until she’s full. Thru has pack-fulls of love to give and now she can finally show that to everyone who meets her.
Thank you, Katie for sharing your story of Thru! We wish you luck on your next 7,100 miles of trails. Follow along with Katie, Legs, Thru, and Flynn at https://www.thethrucrew.com/.