Imagine thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or maybe the Tahoe Rim Trail. Day after day of logging high miles, setting up and tearing down camp, cooking food and navigating mile after mile of trail and wilderness. Then, imagine doing this blind. Solo. With all of your trust in your faithful companion and guide dog named Tennille. That is exactly what Trevor Thomas does. Trevor – AKA Zero/Zero (derived from his vision test scores) – has completed the AT, Pacific Crest Trail, Long Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail and Mountains to Sea Trail. Trevor and Tennille are currently thru-hiking the Colorado Trail and you can follow their progress on their Facebook page.
Before setting out on this latest trek, Trevor shared with us some advice on what it means to be in the backcountry with your dog, some tips for those interested in trying it, and a little about what makes his relationship with Tennille unique. We hope you enjoy his words and follow their progress on Facebook.
My name is Trevor Thomas, one of only a handful of professional long distance hikers and the only one who is blind. I have hiked 20,000 miles in my career on some of America’s most rugged and remote long trails. For the last 3 years have been hiking them alone with my guide dog, Tennille, as my partner. She has been with me for nearly 6,000 miles and is a veteran of 5 thru hikes. She has enabled me to thru hike many of the lesser traveled long trails which I was unable to attempt before receiving her. As we get ready to head out for our upcoming thru hike of the Colorado Trail, I wanted to answer some of the many questions I have gotten about hiking with her and offer some general advice on hiking with a dog.
Tennille, who I received from Guide Dogs for the Blind, is unique in the guide dog world. In addition to being my working guide, she has been trained to find signs, trail obstructions, and knows how tall I am so I no longer have to worry about things hitting me in the head. Hiking and navigating for us is a team effort. She finds the things I am looking for, and then it is up to me to decide what to do. The working life for a guide dog is between 5 to 7 years on average, so I take every precaution with her to keep her safe, healthy, and happy while we are on trail and am careful not to do anything that might shorten her working life with me. Some of what we do may be considered extreme, but much of what we do can be adapted to hiking with your own dog and will make the experience much more enjoyable for you and for your pet.
The first thing to remember is that hiking with a dog is nothing like going for a walk in the park with them. There are rules that you must follow. Check with the forest service before you head out. Second, hiking with a dog is not like hiking with a human partner. You are not only taking care of yourself, you have a responsibility for your dog’s safety and health. Before you make the decision to take your dog with you, make sure that you are capable of taking care of yourself and have an understanding of your dog’s moods so you can tell if they are having a good time. There are many things in the backcountry that can hurt them and it is your job to keep them safe. One thing that I have found is that an environment that a person is well suited for, may not be good for your dog.
When I started hiking with Tennille, I had to change the way I hike to accommodate her needs. She does not carry any of her food or water and I carry much of her gear. This is a choice that I make and is a small price I choose to pay for what she does for me. Keeping her healthy starts with food. We mail it to every resupply point since it is hard to find good quality food in many small towns. The same applies to her dietary supplements and medicine (i.e. Heart Guard and Frontline). Depending on where we are hiking, she has different gear that we take with us.
As I pack for the Colorado Trail, I thought it might be helpful to list the gear that I will be taking for Tennille to give readers an idea of what is involved. To begin, I have changed to a 2 person tent, mine happens to be a Big Agnes UL2, so Tennille can sleep inside with me. Granite Gear makes an Air Frame Backplate for their packs. Mine doubles as Tennille’s sleeping pad. She also has a sleeping bag, a custom Big Agnes Bellyache 35* waterproof down bag. I carry all of this gear. She carries a Ruffwear Palisade Pack with two water bladders. When the bladders are full, I carry them for her. In her pack, she has her Summit Trex Boots, a Ruffwear Quencher collapsible bowl, a Sun Shower rain shell, 1 cup Taste of the Wild Wetlands formula food (I use this for treats throughout the day), 1 days supply of Drool Fuel (dog Gatorade), and 1 day supply of In Clover supplements (Optagest, Connectin, and Glow). The supplements are for her joint health, her coat, and digestive health. The final thing in her pack is her elk antler toy. Her entire pack weight is about 3 lb., about the same weight as her harness she wears everyday in town. The remainder of her gear is in my pack. For cold nights she has a Ruffwear Quinzee micro puff jacket, a microfiber towel I picked up for her at REI, spare Ruffwear Knot a Leash, and ALL of her food while we are on trail. The additional weight added to my pack is 15 pounds. While I am on the subject of food, readers need to remember that your dog will need more calories while on trail than they do at home so you will need to take that into account when packing their food. Another thing to consider before heading out for a long hike with your dog is to train with them. Like a person, they need to be in shape for the journey. Finally, allow them to take lots of breaks, your hike will be more enjoyable.