Anyone who has ever walked with an unleashed dog knows it covers two to three times as much distance as its owner — always running ahead, scrambling off the trail to investigate interesting smells and coming back to encourage its master to hurry up.
So when Trevor Pellinen took his boxer Blue along on his 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail hike last year, does that mean Blue walked more than 4,400 miles? Maybe.
“He was so ripped at the end,” Pellinen said. “He was buff.”
Road less traveled
Pellinen began his hike on Aug. 3 taking what’s known as the “anti-social” route, trekking from the north to the south. Most AT hikers start in Georgia in the spring, following the warmer weather north and finishing in Maine in the fall. Pellinen decided to take the less popular direction to avoid crowds, hence the name “anti-social.”
Pellinen’s reverse route had other advantages, too.
“I had a lot of interesting conversations with my dog,” he said.
Blue trotted along on most of the 150-day jaunt. On some sections dogs aren’t allowed, so Blue would be boarded and then hauled ahead. Few dogs have completed the trail with their masters, making Blue’s feat rarer than Pellinen’s.
“Dogs don’t make it,” he said. “A lot of people end up sending them home.”
It’s no wonder. The Appalachian Trail wends across 14 states along the East Coast mountain range, over rocks, up steel ladders bolted into boulders and across numerous streams. Along the way, Blue suffered a cut that got infected and swelled his front shoulder, and he tore a paw pad that Pellinen glued together.
High school athlete
Mickey Pellinen, Trevor’s father, was surprised when he learned of his son’s plan to hike the AT. He said his son wasn’t too outdoorsy as a child because of allergies, but he was athletic. A 1999 graduate of Senior High, Pellinen played guard on the basketball team. The same long, lean frame that helped him rebound and run the hardwood allowed him to rack up 20-mile days in the woods.
He decided to take the trek after graduating from MSU Billings with a degree in environmental studies and with no immediate prospects for a job during the economic downturn. What’s more, he figured a hike down the AT could make his resumé stand out.
“He couldn’t have timed it any better,” Mickey Pellinen said. “He’ll probably get more job offers with that on his resumé. That will tell people he sticks to it to the end. I know I would have given up before the snow flew.”
Late to backpacking
Pellinen said he made the decision to attempt the trek in January 2009.
“I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years,” he said. “It just sounded like a dream, wanderlust. And I’d never been east of Chicago, so that was interesting, too.”
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Pellinen had a lifetime of camping and hiking under his belt, but it wasn’t until six years ago that he began backpacking seriously. Calling Blue his best friend, he took the route specifically because he thought it would be the easiest long hike to take with his 3-year-old dog.
“I didn’t want to go on an adventure like that without him,” Pellinen said.
That reminded his parents of the 1970s soft rock song by Lobo, lyrically modified here: “Me and you and a dog named Blue, traveling and living off the land. Me and you and a dog named Blue, how I love being a free man.”
Since Blue doesn’t like the rain, concessions had to be made. Pellinen’s mother, Allie, sewed the dog a small rain poncho that fit over his saddlebags.
“It was a big hit when people would see him with his poncho on,” Pellinen said, a guaranteed conversation starter.
Inside the saddlebags, Blue carried his own lunch and a bowl.
Pellinen couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic trail partner. In the morning when he’d awaken, Pellinen would ask Blue, “Do you want to go hiking?” Instead of harrumphing and rolling over to go back to sleep, Blue would get excited and still does when Pellinen says “hike.”
Pellinen finished his trek on Dec. 31, often hiking in snow as deep as 10 inches as his water bottle froze solid.
Despite the hardships, Pellinen said, “If I had the funds I might have turned around and gone the other way.”
When Pellinen’s parents arrived in Georgia to drive the hikers home, Pellinen was looking a bit weathered and had a full, brown beard.
“When we first saw him when we picked him up, he looked a little rough,” Mickey Pellinen said.
And then a different trip awaited the dog and his master — making the transition back to a sedentary life. At first, Pellinen and Blue slept and ate a lot, enjoying the short hikes to the stocked refrigerator and dog dish. But after resting up, Pellinen became restless.
“I just didn’t know what to do every day,” he said. “I found myself antsy. No matter what I did it didn’t seem like I was getting anything done. I’d wander.”
Now working at Costco, Pellinen is already planning his next trip with Blue: hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail from Canada to Mexico. The trail travels through five Western states, including Montana and Wyoming. The trip will be Blue’s last long hike, Pellinen said. But Pellinen hopes to complete what’s known as the “triple crown” and hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail without his four-legged compadre.
“I didn’t think I’d be into the super long trips, but I’d recommend it for everyone,” Pellinen said. “You get to find out who you are.”
Contact Brett French at email@example.com or at 657-1387.