How can Jim and I NOT run almost every day? We have two
addicted running dogs who are most unhappy on days they don’t get to romp in the
woods with us. They may not like to be out in the rain or cold in our yard, but
they’ll go run with us under ANY weather conditions.
And they don’t whine about it like WE sometimes do!
I’ve always had dogs. My parents raised German shepherds
when I was growing up. The only time I haven’t had one or two dogs of my own was
when I was in college. Dogs are an extension of me. They make my life complete.
Jim did NOT grow up with dogs, but he learned to tolerate,
even enjoy, the two Labrador retrievers I brought with me into our marriage.
That’s love. And tolerance. Thank you, honey!
Labs can be terrific trail runners. I’ve had four so far,
and every one of them has been able and eager to do ultra distances with me on
trails. They go ballistic any time they see us getting ready to run – they know
all the signs. They love nothing more than to hop into the van or truck to go
run. Actually, they love to just go “run errands” with me, even if we don’t
It’s a very good thing they like to travel, as much as
we’ve done the last couple years (see
Tater is a yellow Lab who will be nine years old in August.
Psychologically she’s still a bouncy pup. Unfortunately, her body has let her down.
She’s got arthritis and hip dysplasia, but she’s still good to go for two or
three hours on a trail. She's a wild woman in the woods, putting in twice the
mileage we do because she's off on numerous forays.
When we have to leave her at home because the run is too
long or strenuous for her, it just breaks my heart to
see her sad eyes. "Goodbye" is a four-letter word to her. She slinks away dejected and I feel
sorry for her. She'll be with us all summer on our adventure run, though, and can go with Jim when
he's doing runs under three hours.
We have lots of fun with Tater's name. My ex-husband named
her. I have no clue where he got that name, but he's the same guy who named
another dog "Spoony" and a gray cat "Blu." Guess I
shouldn't talk, though. Some of the dog names I've come up with were "Bear," "Moose," and "Bubba!"
Anyway, when we got Tater she was a fluffy ball of yellow
fur. She quickly got the nickname "Tater-Tot." When she's being her normal sweet self, she's
"Sweet Tater." When she gets left behind, she's "Po Tater." Since Labs are one
of the most prevalent dog breeds, she's also "Common Tater." I need to
take a photo of her with sunglasses on so she can be "Spec Tater."
OK, I'll quit!!
MERGANSER'S KODIAK AKA "CODY"
Cody will be two on March 26. He’s the black Lab in the
chosen partly with this adventure run in mind.
After Tater’s doggie companion died in 2001, we had just her for a
couple years. She needed a new buddy - two dogs are usually better for each
other than one.
I also needed a new running companion for long training runs
and this trek. We looked for a litter that would be born in the
spring of 2003 so the dog would be two when I started the AT run. That way, he’d
have time to train up to long distances between age one and two, and be full of
energy during the adventure run (and the way he's going, for a long time after
Like Tater, Cody has been a joy to run with. His enthusiasm is
contagious. He’s even got a sense of humor, like when he does tangents and then
comes bouncing back toward me on the trail with a twinkle in his eyes, wanting
to play. He doesn’t run off into the woods like Tater does, tracking anything
that moves; he actually runs with me.
Best of all, Cody’s got an insatiable appetite for running,
mentally and physically. He lives to run, swim, and eat. He’s built tough, all muscle and bone.
We haven’t been
able to wear him out yet.
DOG RULES (DOGS RULE?) ON THE A.T.
Sturdy as Cody is, however, I won’t take him with me on the
Trail every day. There are some places, like the Smokies and Baxter State Park,
where dogs aren’t allowed on the trails because of bears and moose. Some places
will be too rocky or dangerous for him. Some days will be too hot for him (he
really absorbs heat with that black coat on all the time). Some spots are
notorious for rattlesnakes and porcupines.
And some days the little bugger WILL need to rest, whether
he wants to or not!
I’ve read the “rules” about having dogs on the AT and have
corresponded with some thru-hikers who’ve had their dogs along. Since we’ll be
using our camper every night and each day on the Trail will be a separate “long
run,” it’ll be easier to have Cody with me than for a thru-hiker to have a dog
One big advantage we have is that Cody doesn’t have to haul
much food. He’ll eat in the camper in the morning and evening. He’ll carry his
own snacks and water for one day only.
CANINE GEAR AND
Our old doggie backpack was uncomfortable for long runs;
one of the straps buckled right behind the dogs’ front legs where it rubbed
Cody's hair off on a long run one time. In true dog fashion, he didn't complain
and I didn't know there was a problem until we got home.
We got Cody a new, comfortable pack this winter. It's a Wolfpack
"Banzai" model made of ballistic nylon (see
www.wolfpacks.com.) One strap goes across the chest, and one goes under his
belly about 2/3 of the way back from his shoulder (small of his tummy). There is
nothing to rub against his “arm pits.”
I highly recommend other runners and hikers use a pack with
straps configured in this manner.
The pack rides very well, and Cody adjusted to it
quickly. I’m gradually increasing the weight and the time that he’s wearing it,
just like I’m adjusting to my own pack. I’d like to get a similar pack for
Cody will carry only his own supplies, not mine. I’m not
going to have him “mule” for me. Although he can carry one-fourth of his weight
(about 20 pounds), I don’t see any reason for him to carry that much.
I got Platypus bladders for his water because they are more
comfortable against his body than rigid water bottles and they collapse as they
He’ll also carry a lightweight collapsible/disposable water
bowl, snacks (dog bones, Power Bones, whatever digests easily), and a little
shovel so I can bury his waste (and mine) – one of the seven Leave No Trace
Like all my other Labs, Cody is a “chow” hound. He eats so
fast, we nicknamed him "Hoover." He’ll eat
almost anything, the more the better. Since he’s a stocky English-type Lab
(Tater is the slim, hunting dog version of a Lab), we limit the amount of food
he eats at home so he doesn't gain too much weight. He's about 82 pounds now.
On this adventure run, however, we may have to add a higher
calorie “performance” blend
dog food if he isn't able to eat enough regular food to keep up his energy.
I'll have to monitor his weight, energy level, and "look of lean-ness" along the
Trail like I do my own.
I really don’t think it’ll be hard for Cody to maintain his
weight since he normally inhales his food, but we’ll have to be sure he’s getting enough calories AND water every
day. Some thru-hikers’ dogs have died from dehydration and/or malnutrition.
Some other hazards for dogs on the Trail are sharp rocks
cutting up their paw pads, ticks (Frontline has been very effective against
fleas and ticks on our dogs), aggressive dogs, and wildlife (poisonous
snakes, porcupines, skunks, bears, moose, mountain lions, etc.).
So I not only
have to watch out for myself, but also my four-legged companion. I don’t mind
that extra responsibility because Cody is such a joy to run with.