Over Labor Day weekend I took Layla, my four year old dog, on what may be our last “solo” hike for a while. In this case I classify solo as a hike with just the two of us. I had hoped to make the trip a three day affair covering long distances, but went into it with an open mind that my plan may change. This is because she and I do no share hiking styles. Layla is generally happy to meander along the trail and sniff whatever crosses her path, and she likes to stop early with long breaks along the way. I know a lot of people think that this is how a trail should be enjoyed, but when I go solo, I usually get bored during long breaks, even taking my kindle, and prefer to hike til dark to limit my down time. That’s because hiking solo for me has always been a way to get out and accomplish a goal, generally something that challenges me physically. I’ve tried hiking with Layla solo a few times now and have found I just don’t enjoy myself, so she will probably get left with a sitter until my goals change in the future.
Anyway, we left from Woody Gap, hiking north toward Blood Mountain. With a late start on Friday, we only made it about two miles in before it got dark and I decided to find a place to camp. Another half hour or so later, I had munched on some peanut butter M&Ms, tossed up the bear bag and set up camp. Hiking Layla is what originally led me to use a mid for my shelter. I’ve found she seems a bit more comfortable to be in a fully enclosed shelter, so I pitched the mid, which also gave me some reprise from the brilliantly bright blue moon.
Come morning, I packed up Layla, collected my things and headed down the trail towards Blood Mountain. My hope for the day was to make it to the Duncan Ridge trail, and ultimately hike it back to the BMT, and connect back to the AT, creating a nice loop. After about four miles of hiking Saturday, I knew Layla was not up for that. So I changed my plans to simply make it to the DRT so that I could scout out the trail some for a future trip with Layla.
I passed Lance Creek early in the day, with plenty of water, so decided not to fill up. I came to find this was a poor decision later in the day. The hike from Lance Creek to the DRT, just south of Blood Mountain, was pretty uneventful. I did notice a bear canister requirement in place along the trail from Jerard Gap to Neels Gap, which I had not previously heard of. It was only necessary during the peak of summer, but it was still something to take note of for others hiking the area next year. Once I reached the DRT, I turned onto it. I traveled the first few miles of the DRT and noted that the trail is well marked up to this point, but a bit overgrown. I think the best plan will be to come back when it is cool enough that hiking in long pants is a viable option.
After the first few miles, I turned back because Layla was getting tired, and I had decided to just stay out on the trail one more night and leave early the next morning. As we were heading back, I noticed Layla started to shown signs of dehydration, and even though I was saving all of my water just for her, I couldn’t get her to drink enough water to stay hydrated. She was always too excited by all the sounds and smells around her to focus on the fact she needed water. And even more unfortunately, there was no stream, creek, lake or even puddle of water for her to drink from on her own until we reached Lance Creek. As I felt things were starting to get a bit dicey, I decided to take Layla’s pack off of her and carry it in my hand. Luckily, I had decided to not use my trekking poles while walking on this trip, so had free hands. Even better my knees still weren’t hurting.
When we finally arrived at Lance Creek, I decided to let Layla drink her fill and rest for an hour or so before we continued on. My new plan was to go back to the car and head home so that she could recover in a place she felt relaxed and comfortable. I laid down and took a nap, drank some water, read and had a snack, trying to enjoy the last sweltering heat of the summer (I can’t wait for fall to really get going).
We made it back to the car around 7:30PM, starting the day around 8:00AM. It was a good day of hiking, we covered some good miles, I was excited to get Layla home and rested, and mostly importantly, I had hiked all day without knee pains. This is the first time in over a year I have been able to say that. I think two things may have worked together to cause this: cycling and not using trekking poles. I plan to continue my cycling at home to strengthen my knees, and in the coming months (once I find a good dog sitter for Layla), I will test out hiking without poles more to see if that helps or hurts. Because of my shelter choices and hopes for the future, one pole will probably stay in my gearlist, but it may become a collapsible pole that I take out for river crossings (the Bob) and setting up one pole shelters.