Pet Travel Thursday
Destination: The Appalachian Trail, Northeast United States Book: The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trail: A Memoir of Discovery, Endurance and a Lazy Dog (2010) by Kevin Runolfson
By Pamela Douglas Webster
In 2001, Kevin Runolfson took his dog for a walk. He finished it six months later, with his new girlfriend, after traveling more than 2100 miles through 14 states.
After leaving the Marine Corps and an unhappy marriage, Kevin Runolfson needed to clear his head. He decided to thru-hike (complete in one season) the Appalachian Trial with his newly-adopted dog, Rufus. The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trail: A Memoir of Discovery, Endurance and a Lazy Dog is based on Runolfson’s trail journal.
Despite the life changes that spurred his trip, Runolfson doesn’t use the memoir to discuss the minutiae of his failed relationship or to process life after the Marines. Rather, the book recounts day-to-day life on the trail. If I could use only one phrase to describe Runolfson’s tale, I’d say it had a very masculine energy. And that’s a good thing, and it’s what I most enjoyed about the book. Kevin Runolfson is a guy. A nice guy. And reading The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trailmade me feel like I was on a fishing trip with a favorite uncle or college buddy.
I was totally charmed by his awkward attempts to figure out if fellow-hiker Teresa was interested in more than friendship. And by his matter-of-fact view toward almost everything else, including his neurotic dog.
The year-old, Shar-Pei/Lab mix kept Runolfson company and provided comic relief, if not occasional frustration. Rufus isn’t the star of a “noble dog and his boy” story. Runolfson calls him
a lazy bundle of fear wrapped in fur. …Rufus is afraid of bridges, fire, rain, thunder, lightning, and most wildlife. He also doesn’t like to walk when it’s too hot, too cold, too early, too late, daytime or nighttime. A rock would make a better hiking partner.
When describing Rufus, Runolfson’s writing is most vivid. His description of helping the dog over a fence crossing the trail in Virginia got me laughing. After climbing a slippery log ladder with Rufus in his arms, Runolfson has to get his dog and himself to a soft landing on the other side.
Lifting Rufus up to my chest, I slowly begin to lean over the fence, lowering my upper body down the other side. Once I’m bent over the fence it’s only a two-foot drop to the ground for Rufus, so I let him go. Good idea, bad execution. As soon as Rufus leaves my arms, I slip, and before I can raise my arms to catch myself, I’m up and over the fence, crashing headfirst into the wet, manure-enriched grass on the other side.
Rufus discovers his inner hero on the trail. He learns to cross bridges, walk through streams, and jump over fallen trees—three things he avoided when they set out. Unfortunately, the dog’s heart was stouter than his paws. After Rufus’s pads began to crack in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Runolfson arranged for a friend to pick up the injured dog. Rufus enjoyed all the comforts of home while Runolfson completed the trail.
The Appalachian Trail is a fascinating juxtaposition between the wild and the developed. The trail is managed but not always civilized.
The Appalachian Trail passes through densely populated states. In places, it comes very close to major highways. For instance, in the Delaware Water Gap, the trail nearly kisses Federal Route 80, a prime route to the New York metro area. Access to the trail from major roads draws frequent day visitors.
Runolfson vividly describes the odd encounters between people whose only experience with the trail is driving up to a view (and don’t even know there is an Appalachian Trail, much less that they’re standing on it) and those who carry pieces of it all over their shoes, clothes, and pack. And yet Runolfson encounters poisonous copperhead snakes on the trail and even witnesses a wolf taking down a deer—uncommon sights on most East Coast hiking paths.
When I’ve been on the Appalachian Trail, the only wildlife I’ve encountered were ubiquitous chipmunks, glorious trillium, and an occasional thru-hiker. (Only someone who has never smelled a hiker on the trail for months would object to my use of the term “wildlife.”) But each step on the trail promises the possibility of something new.
Take a Hike
The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trail is not meant to be a travel guide. But it gives a fine flavor of hiking the trail with vivid descriptions of nature as well as the real challenges of replacing gear, finding food, and doing laundry.
Runolfson’s achievement is that he manages to keep his story interesting whether he’s slogging through the rain with his dog or begging for junk food Yogi Bear style from a picnicking family. If you’re curious about hiking the trail, whether for a few hours or a few months, you can find other inspiring memoirs along with trail guides and maps at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website. The Appalachian Trail is accessible to almost anyone wanting an adventure. But it still provides beauty and solitude. And a great place to walk your dog. Just ask Kevin Runolfson. And Rufus.
Disclaimers: The publisher sent me a PDF of this book at my request. They also sent me a copy of the paperback which I am giving away at Something Wagging This Way Comes. All the pictures here are from Flickr, and you can learn more about the photographers by clicking on each picture. Links to Amazon provide a handy way for you to shop, and they are also affiliate links, meaning when shop at Amazon through these links, I earn a few cents. Thank you for your support.