Hiking the Appalachian Trail with my dog - a 2-part question
January 27, 2011 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Hiking the Appalachian Trail with my dog - a 2-part question

Part 1: I see from the AT Conservancy site that dogs are not allowed in the following areas:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Bear Mountain State Park, New York
Baxter State Park, Maine

I'm perfectly willing to skirt these areas, but what are transportation options for getting to & from the trail with a dog in tow?

Part 2: Is my idea half-baked? I'm thinking of ditching my worldly possessions & quitting my job to do this. In fact, I am entirely considering dropping out of society altogether with this trip, partly to escape from soul-crushing debt.

I'm not asking about the morality of this decision - I know right from wrong. But I only see my economic circumstances worsening with time. I don't mind living a shorter lifespan, but I sure would like to breathe more easily during time I have left.
posted by PepperMax to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
As a means of escaping from soul-crushing debt, yes, it's a half-baked idea. At some point you'll have hiked all you want to hike, and then you'll still be under soul-crushing debt, but with less ability to deal with it, and without a job or material possessions.
posted by fatbird at 12:11 PM on January 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm perfectly willing to skirt these areas, but what are transportation options for getting to & from the trail with a dog in tow?

In many places, they may be limited to your feet. Or a kind person who picks up hitchhikers with dogs, who will take you to the nearest town with a taxi service that will take dogs. I strongly advise you to head to an outdoor retailer and take a good look at some AT maps - a trailhead that lets you out on a road before you get to the no-dogs-allowed part of the trail may be many dozens of miles from a town with a taxi service, and may not see much traffic.
posted by rtha at 12:17 PM on January 27, 2011


I wouldn't worry too much about finding someone willing to drive you and your dog. There are a lot of people that make money shuttling people too and from the trail in all the nearby towns. You may have to pay quite a bit to get them to drive you long distances to skip the no dog sections though.

A couple of things to keep in mind if you do this. Most dogs aren't cut out for 15+ miles day in and day out so I hope you have a dog that can handle the miles. You probably won't be able to use the shelters with a dog if they are even a little crowded, so be prepared to tent every night, which is especially frustrating when it is pouring out.

When I thru-hiked a few people had dogs and it just seemed like a huge hassle. It's mostly a problem when you want to go into town and kick back in a hotel room for a night, or go grab some food and beers with other hikers.
posted by meta87 at 12:17 PM on January 27, 2011


In my experience the no-dog bit is a pretty often violated rule, don't know how you feel about that or how likely you are to be caught.

Regarding part 2: I don't know that I would call it half baked but you know your debt will follow you if you ever again want to live a "normal", in-society life. Your last sentence is worrisome. You might be under a cloud now, but that's no reason to dig yourself a hole too deep to climb out of in terms of your health and well-being. It's fine to drop out for a while to clear your head but as bad as your debt may be nobody is going to throw you in jail or hurt you physically for it, dealing with it is better than dieing on the streets or in the woods.
posted by ghharr at 12:21 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hiking the AT is awesome but very difficult and requires much planning. But still a good thing to accomplish.

Running away from things is rarely the answer. Things will be there waiting when you finish the hike. I agree with fatbird that this is a half-baked idea.
posted by JayRwv at 12:22 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is my idea half-baked? I'm thinking of ditching my worldly possessions & quitting my job to do this. In fact, I am entirely considering dropping out of society altogether with this trip, partly to escape from soul-crushing debt.
Have you thought about what you will do after you're done hiking? For example, have you thought about how you will obtain food and shelter, for the rest of your life?

Your soul-crushing debt is not going to get tired of waiting for you to finish the trail. If anything, it will be more soul-crushing at the end than it was at the beginning.

If you have not thought about this sort of thing, then yes, I'm sorry, but your idea sure sounds half-baked to me. If you have thought about it, and have concluded "I'll just be homeless", then it still sounds half-baked to me.

Have you perhaps considered looking into filing bankruptcy?
posted by Flunkie at 12:25 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone who is about to unethically get out from under a lot of debt you seem to care a great deal about the (comparatively much less serious) policies pertaining to our park system and dogs... (I am not judging you for being unethical, I am judging the juxtaposition).

The truth is that policies like dog policies aren't going to be very enforceable in your situation. You can just keep walking and say that you are leaving and that is the way you came in.

In general, I suspect that if you are going to drop off the grid, you will have to build a bit of intuition about which rules matter and which do not (because you will almost certainly be breaking them from time to time).
posted by milqman at 12:25 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


IANAATTH( I Am Not An AT Thru-Hiker) but I am a hiker, I have friends who have thru-hiked, and I have talked to a lot of thru-hikers.

Right off the bat I can tell you that the finish line, Katahdin, is in Baxter, so if you have your dog with you you won't be able to hike the last few miles of the trail with him/her. This may or may not matter to you. You'll probably meet enough people on the trail that by the time you get to Baxter one of them will be willing to spend a day with your dog while you hit the finish line. This is assuming you're going south to north.

As for transportation, there are a lot of hiker-friendly people around the trail used to giving rides to smelly hikers so I can't imagine they'll have a problem with a dog. Some will, of course, but I don't think most will.

As for part 2, it's hard to say. Have you ever hiked before? Have you ever hiked 20 miles in a day? With a full pack? Have you hiked 20 miles day after day after day? Have you ever spent two weeks hiking in the rain? Some would say any plans to thru-hike the AT are half baked, as it is quite the endeavor and (more than half, I think) a lot of those who start don't finish it.

It's not something to take lightly. Do you know if your knees and feet can handle it? Your mind? You'll never be lonely and you'll make a lot of friends on the trail, but it does take a lot of willpower.

You actually could sort of "drop out" of society while you're on the trail. Pick a trail name (or have someone pick it for you) and go by it. That's what most folks do. Eventually, though, you'll have to re-enter society. You also might need your real name to register in state parks or wherever else the trail brings you. You'll also need a support system (or a credit card, which given your debt might not be a good idea) to feed you and send you supplies.

The only way to truly escape from any debt is to pay it off. One way or another, it will catch up to you.

Hike the trail to hike the trail. Hike it because you want to experience it, not to escape something else. Hiking the trail might clear your mind enough so that you come to terms with what you have to do, but most likely it will only postpone the inevitable and put you deeper in debt.
posted by bondcliff at 12:26 PM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


This just sounds ass-backwards. You're under "soul crushing" debt, and yet you want to give up the major (if not only) thing that can help you fix it? And aside from the morality of giving up something that 20-million-plus Americans would love to have in order to worsen the problem, you also sound kind of like you want to commit suicide (definitely socially, likely physically), friends and family be damned, and take an innocent animal with you.

Even assuming that's not your goal, your reasoning is flawed. If you're having financial problems, there are a ton of questions on AskMe and elsewhere (for example, Get Rich Slowly or Mint.com's blog) that give you concrete advice on how to try and fix it. Running away from your problem only makes it worse.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:27 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Though not common, this is a frequent question on the thru-hiker forums. I don't know the forums off the top of my head but the problem is solveable.

As mentioned, you end up coordinating someone to leapfrog your dog. But since they can drive much faster than you can hike, you have to decide whether you're going to jump ahead with your dog or arrange for someone local to dog sit while you hike those sections. This of course will cost money, as will the hike itself. While hiking is cheaper than regular city living, it's still far from free. Again, the thru-hiker forums will have more information about actual costs.

This requires a lot more coordination and timing than normal.

Also, even in dog-allowed areas most thru hikers hitchhike to & from remote trailheads. The locals are used to this, but having a dog with you will definitely reduce the chances of getting a ride. You'll end up waiting much longer or hiking that extra 10mi into town along the side of the highway.

And since you mentioned it first...have you looked into help from a genuine debt management co. or financial counselor? People have dug themselves out quite deep holes before, given some discipline and perseverance. Otherwise you'll be entering the life of a migrant worker, which is not that glorious.
posted by jpeacock at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2011


Err..neither glorious nor glamorous.
posted by jpeacock at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2011


Yeah, this is a bad idea, regardless of the morality.

I don't understand the logic behind it, either. Ditching unnecessary possessions is a good way to help pay off your debt, but it would be totally canceled out by losing your only source of income.

I don't mind living a shorter lifespan, but I sure would like to breathe more easily during time I have left.

This is in general not a totally bad philosophy, but it sounds pretty fatalistic. How about having a longer life and breathing more easily? You could file for bankruptcy, and there are tons of books out there about how to pay off debt. Instead of trying to escape it all, how about tackling it head-on? It will be a great growth experience and you'll feel so much better about yourself after you've confronted it, and you'll have a whole long rest of your life ahead of you in which you can breathe easily.
posted by Tin Man at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2011


I wouldn't worry too much about finding someone willing to drive you and your dog. There are a lot of people that make money shuttling people too and from the trail in all the nearby towns. You may have to pay quite a bit to get them to drive you long distances to skip the no dog sections though.

This is definitely true. I used to live in western NC near the AT, and occasionally I would shuttle drivers. I never shuttled drivers with a dog, but I definitely would have since I have dogs myself and wouldn't have minded a dog in my car.

To get an idea of how much it costs to do this: call Nantahala Outdoor Center and ask about hiker shuttles. They don't organize them, but they will connect you to people who do. They are just before the Great Smokies as you hike north.

I do know of people who have been kicked out of the Park while hiking with dogs, so I wouldn't take this lightly, especially since thru-hikers tend to be on the same parts of the trail all at about the same time (it's like two giant communities, one moving north from Georgia and one moving south from Maine), as there are limited windows when thru-hikers can begin in order to avoid the worst weather.

Working in western NC, I also met plenty of 'thru-hikers' who got a few weeks in and then stopped. Many people don't end up walking the whole trail.

And I do think your idea is a bit half-baked. Your debt isn't going to go away while you're on the trail. It's more like a six-month vacation. Unless you already have all the equipment, you'll need to spend quite a bit of money to get outfitted to do this (including a pack for your dog). And once you're on the trail, you'll need more money--to replace the boots that blew out, to buy dog food and people food at shops along the way, to get other supplies you need, and so on. It's not a cheap proposition.

And when you get off the trail, what then?

I'm not saying don't hike the trail. But it's completely grueling and you won't be off the grid completely.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:48 PM on January 27, 2011


The funny thing about embarking on a big adventure to find oneself/escape is that it doesn't work because the underlying stimulus can't be ditched like a piece of furniture. I know a bit about it - I moved several thousand miles to the middle of nowhere. One can blame the possessions or the debt or the drudgery, but those are just symptoms. If you go on the adventure, eventually it will have to end and you will have to return to a stable life pattern, for health care reasons if nothing else, and your problems will come back. You can accomplish the same soul searching while keeping your life intact, with some care. It's not a matter of other forces trapping you, it's a matter of your own personal habits trapping yourself. Learning to fix those in the midst of dumb everyday chaos can't be avoided.

There's lots of internet information on becoming minimalist, and that might be a good place to start. Getting rid of stuff does create a sense of freedom and tranquility (especially if it frees up money to lessen your debt). If you continue and still feel the hunger for a big adventure, do it. Seriously jump on it. If you go hungry and have some miserable nights, that's probably good. As long as you don't die, it's good. Moving to the middle of nowhere was one of the best things I ever did for myself, even if it didn't work out how I wanted at all. I have some stories about how I almost froze to death I can never tell my mother.

I don't know anything about the Appalachian trail.
posted by griselda at 12:54 PM on January 27, 2011


Metatalk
posted by Jahaza at 1:08 PM on January 27, 2011


I came to say what was already posted by bondcliff and I just thought it should be restated as its own point.

Hike the trail to hike the trail. Hike it because you want to experience it, not to escape something else. Hiking the trail might clear your mind enough so that you come to terms with what you have to do, but most likely it will only postpone the inevitable and put you deeper in debt.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:11 PM on January 27, 2011


I don't know anything about the Appalachian Trail either, but I know half-baked when I see it, and your idea is less than a quarter-baked, hasn't even hit the oven yet. It sounds as if you're desperate. Please don't make such a big decision in such a state of mind. If I'm wrong about that, feel free to ignore my half-baked advice.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:17 PM on January 27, 2011


The only way to truly escape from any debt is to pay it off.

Bankruptcy is a real option, and will not end your life, and is easier to go through than you probably think.
posted by empath at 1:39 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking of ditching my worldly possessions & quitting my job to do this. In fact, I am entirely considering dropping out of society altogether with this trip, partly to escape from soul-crushing debt.

I'm not asking about the morality of this decision - I know right from wrong. But I only see my economic circumstances worsening with time. I don't mind living a shorter lifespan, but I sure would like to breathe more easily during time I have left.


I kind of think if you're already willing to shorten your life, you could declare bankruptcy and not be too broken up about the years of inconvenience. So it sort of seems like if you talk to a lawyer or someone who knows what they're talking about, and they recommend it, it wouldn't be a terrible idea.

And you could probably declare bankruptcy and then hit the trail with your few possessions, having dropped out of society, and you'll have already turned the hourglass over for an eventual entrance back into it. (And people who declare bankruptcy aren't shoved over to the outskirts of society -- bad credit is no fun, and ironically costly, but it's not like your life would be nothing but misery.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:50 PM on January 27, 2011


Most dogs aren't cut out for 15+ miles day in and day out so I hope you have a dog that can handle the miles.

I think this is really a huge deal. You don't say much about the dog (age, size, condition) but for a lot of dogs the risk of lameness or illness would be really high. If you're as cut off from things as you plan, you'd have a hard time getting veterinary care if anything happened.
posted by BibiRose at 2:00 PM on January 27, 2011


You're going about this backwards. First, file bankruptcy, then do the hike to take stock of how to re-start you life. I re-set about 3 years ago, and while I have exactly fuck-all credit, I also have exactly fuck-all debt. Rather than being humiliating, it was, in fact liberating and I got to think a lot about what mattered.

Just shrug it off through the courts, if you legally can. That's what they're there for.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:12 PM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've hiked the AT in NJ, NY, and Massachusetts. I WISH I could thru-hike the whole thing... Good for you!

I've also declared bankruptcy*.


In short, I suggest you do both.




*I don't know your situation, but declaring bankruptcy can be pretty easy and inexpensive, IMHO. When considering this option myself, I read a factoid that said most people don't declare bankruptcy because they feel they owe the money, they feel guilty. I declared bankruptcy because of a default judgement plus heaps of interest resulting from credit fraud which I was unable to negotiate and going back to court to overturn the judgement would have been mucho expensive... basically, when I finally pulled the trigger, I didn't feel guilty.

I was in a unique position at the time of my bankruptcy and I don't know the circumstances of your current debt. But even if you feel like you owe it all, you can declare bankruptcy and get your debt structured so you can pay at least part of it back. If you feel you need to do that. See? No guilt involved.

I do know that if you are considering dropping out of society, bankruptcy is a way better option.
posted by jbenben at 2:21 PM on January 27, 2011


Just wondering if, as you say, you have a massive amount of debt, how are you going to afford this trip? At the least you will need to buy about five month's worth of food for both you and your dog. Not to mention other expenses (gear, transportation, the random emergency medical problem, etc). So while the idea of checking out for a while seems like something that will be helpful, you don't want to be stuck on the AT penniless.
posted by MsKim at 2:39 PM on January 27, 2011


As long as you have your dog with you, you're not "out of society" because you two have a social relationship, and indeed, you have a social (and moral) responsibility to provide food, shelter, care, safety, and companionship for the dog.

If you are certain you have the means to provide a reasonable level of those things on your hike, fine. But unless you have a stockpile of cash to fall back on, ditching your job when you have a dog to feed and take care of seems unwise.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:45 PM on January 27, 2011


Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful answers. Quite honestly, I did file for bankruptcy a couple of years ago, but with the economic downturn have been unable to keep up with the bankruptcy payments. That means all of the prior debt is reinstated! (This is only one aspect of my financial woes.)

I am sincerely appreciative for all of the practical feedback about moving about the AT with a dog. This is the sort of input that is difficult to winnow from the thousands of AT forum postings & will be invaluable in determining a plan.

And for the record, I have plans neither for suicide nor animal abandonment. Yes, I realize that the AT is not the end-all & be-all. Perhaps I should have thought out the format of my Part 2 question better as more "How do I drop off the grid?" than the only obvious answer to whether it's a half-baked notion.
posted by PepperMax at 2:58 PM on January 27, 2011


I know pretty much nothing about the Appalachian trail but as to dropping out of society: Have you considered maybe living in a trailer or motorhome (new or used). It can be a very inexpensive way to live - you can get seasonal temporary work or perhaps start your own business. And obviously, it lends itself very well to outdoorsy activities. You'd get a lot of the freedom and still have that little bit of safety and security. There is a nice community of people who live this way and most of them (from their blogs anyway) seem extremely happy doing it. MeMail me if you'd like links. I have a ton.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:33 PM on January 27, 2011


Flee to Belize.
posted by flabdablet at 5:15 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]



Flee to Belize.


note to self


Otherwise, you'll make it work. It won't cost you that much. The trail teaches you to take one step at a time. Train your dog, plan ahead, transpo ends up to be less of a problem once you're out there. You will find a way. Be discerning with who you hang out with. Keep an eye on the bears. Imma memail you with some other stories about this, but the main things to consider are:

-can you train the dog? The dog will need distraction training, and the dog will need to have the frame, strength, and temperament to carry their own food. The dog cannot be a total barking machine or else you will find yourself without a lot of support from your fellow hikers.

-vet care. Are you good in an emergency? Can you or are you willing to invest in or look into guidebooks that can tell you where and how to seek help if something happens? Can you grok some basic first aid techniques? You'll need that for both of you. The AT is rough, and expect some downtime.

-What happens if one of you gets injured and you have to get off the trail? Are you prepared to go back and face what you are running from? If you want to go on the lam, there may be better choices than the AT.

Dropping off the grid is not necessarily a half-baked notion unless you are the half-baked factor in the plan.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:13 PM on January 27, 2011


Can you please give us a ballpark figure or idea of scale of this "soul-crushing" debt? That makes a pretty big difference as to whether it's reasonably possible for you to ever get out from under it or if you're already so fucked that you might as well give up on paying it and let your credit to go hell because you have nothing to lose.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:08 PM on January 27, 2011


I've been under debt in the realm of many tens of thousands of dollars, but shy of the hundreds, myself. It wasn't easy - it took me almost fifteen years of long, hard hours at jobs I didn't always love or even like. It took a lot of going without things that everyone around me wasn't going without - a lot of learning to say "no."

But I can tell you this much: sending that last check for that final outstanding loan payment? That's a feeling the rich never get to have.

I guess what I'm saying is that if you can tough it out, in the end I think you'll find it was worth it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:20 PM on January 30, 2011


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