Big congrats to Nav and her Sheltie Arrow for a successful Northbound thru hike of the Appalachian Trail! It takes a very special dog to hike the entire (dog) AT and we want to know how Arrow did it! Here's our interview with Nav!
Nav's video blog is here: www.youtube.com/c/HikingWithArrow
And her Instagram is: @hikingwitharrow
What was your approach to bringing Arrow on the thru hike with you- did you think she'd do the entire trail or were you playing it by ear based on her energy level?
The very first time I ever backpacked was 3 years ago, and Arrow went with me (she was only 6 months at the time). On that trip, I saw a different side I had never seen — she just seemed so happy and free! She really came alive out there, and she behaved so well. When I decided to thru-hike, I felt like I just couldn’t do it without her. She is her absolute happiest and best self on trail. I did plan to take her for the entire hike, but I obviously had to keep in mind that her happiness came first, and if it ever seemed like she wasn’t enjoying it, she would go home.
Did Arrow do every section except for the off limits sections in the Smokys, Bear Mtn and Baxter S.P.?
For the most part, yes! There were a couple random days where we were staying with friends and I was slack-packing that I decided to give her the days off to rest. She also, unfortunately, got Lyme disease during our hike, so she did have to take a couple days off while I continued on. She joined me two days later, though!
What were the main factors that contributed to Arrow's success on the hike?
Well, for one, her breed. She is a Shetland Sheepdog, and this breed was literally created to run all day. Arrow is very much a working dog, so when we would be hiking every day, I really think that she thought she was working and it was her job to get my tramily and I down the trail every day! (So cute.) Our longest day was 32 miles, and I swear it didn’t even phase her. She is extremely athletic and motivated. I think another thing that really helped her was her attitude. This kind of feels silly to say, but I feel like Arrow is a very positive dog and is always ready for whatever. I could tell when we were going up long uphills that it would start to tire her out, but she’s smart and would slow down or take breaks to keep her going. Oh, and I can’t forget, the abundant amount of sticks she chewed on! I think that definitely kept her spirits high and kept her going.
What type of logistical and physical support did you get from folks at home?
Obviously hiking with a dog can be a little complicated, and my husband was so great with helping me. As you know, dogs aren’t allowed in the Smoky Mountains, so Arrow couldn’t do that section with me. My husband, Parker, came and met me before the Smokies to pick up Arrow, and then he also brought her back to me after I finished them! That was pretty much the only help I needed with her from home, as I was always able to get her dog food in towns and such. One other instance, when Arrow got Lyme she was able to stay with the parents of one of the guys I hiked with. The trail provides!
What are some things that came up during your hike bc you were hiking with a dog that maybe you hadn't thought of before-hand?
I’m not gonna lie, the whole Lyme disease thing really freaked me out. I was SO diligent about tick-checking her every single night, but I guess sometimes you just can’t help it. Thankfully, Lyme is much easier to treat in dogs than humans, so she just had to take a couple days off and she was back. Luckily we were staying at one of my tramily members’ houses during this time, so she was able to hang out with his parents while we were hiking.
Would you mind sharing about any particularly difficult days you and Arrow had?
The day we were supposed to hike into Harper’s Ferry, WV, Arrow started puking profusely that morning during our hike. We had about 11 miles to go that day, and she started doing that around mile 4. My hiking partner and I just kept stopping with her every time she would start to throw up, and then eventually we took turns carrying her. Thankfully there was a road 1 mile away when she started throwing up, so we very slowly got there and I got a hitch into town to a vet. After running tests and everything, the vet said she was totally healthy and that she probably just got into something or drank some weird water. That was a scary day, but everything turned out great!
What were some of your favorite things about having Arrow with you and/or what was your favorite memory from your hike?
Oh, man. I couldn’t imagine having hiked without her. She is such a loyal, fun little companion that always brought a smile to anyone’s face. Every morning she would cuddle with me, and then she would make her way around camp and snuggle with anyone else who wanted it. I always had people tell me what a mood lifter she was! There were times that I’d be on a tough uphill or just was feeling tired, and seeing her happy little face encouraged me so much and gave me the will power to keep going. One reason I love backpacking so much and got into it so heavily was because I knew how happy it made Arrow. It makes me happy to see her so happy!
What other advice would you like to give to prospective long distance hikers who would like to take their dog?
I could go on and on about this, but my biggest thing I always preach is just make sure it’s the right dog. The breed of your dog, what its intended purpose is, is so vitally important. Also, does your dog enjoy long hikes? Not just 5 or 10 miles, but 20 miles over tough terrain. It’s important to assess your dog’s ability to handle that kind of exertion and if they actually enjoy it. The physical safety and all around well-being of your dog is your number one priority! Another thing that is so important to think about is how well behaved is your dog, really? We all like to think our dogs are the best, but having a dog that runs up on other people, other dogs, gets into people’s stuff, etc., can be a real nuisance. You must consider the people you’re around and how your dog will come across to them. Also, having a dog that listens to you and minds is vital. There are so many exciting smells, sights, animals and other things that your dog may want to check out, but for your safety and theirs, it’s important that they listen when you tell them what to do. Some other things to think about are: When in town, you have to be sure to find dog-friendly places. Not all are! Also, not everyone is a dog person, so sometimes you may not be able to hang out with certain people if they have issues with dogs.
What's next for you and Arrow?
Well, we are about to move to Pittsburgh, PA, and we’ve got some future hiking plans in the works. :)
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