Wednesday, October 30, 2013


An unfortunate result from our overnight on the Florida Trail was that Sheila the dog got ticks. Lots of ticks. Hundreds of them! She was just completely infested, and her hair is so long and thick it was really almost impossible to pick them all off. Not to mention they were in the larval portion of their life-stage, so they were no bigger than the tip of a pencil. So we spent Sunday afternoon at the vet getting her treated and online trying to figure out what to do about ticks on the trail. I've learned a lot about ticks and preventative measures in that time, so I wanted to share the knowledge I aggregated for anyone else looking for this information.

What is a tick and why are they bad?
Ticks are a member of the arachnid family, a relative of spiders. There are many different species of ticks found across the country and there are a few that are known to spread disease. These are the ticks that we humans worry about the most. These hard-bodied ticks include the blacklegged or deer tick, the american dog tick, the brown dog tick, Gulf Coast tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, Pacific Coast tick, and the lone star tick. These ticks can carry a wide array of diseases, most notably Lyme disease, rocky mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. The most common symptoms of tick-borne disease are fevers/chills, aches and pains, and sometimes a distinctive rash (a bulls-eye or spots).
"Bulls-eye" rash most commonly associated with Lyme disease. Curtesy of the CDC
Ticks undergo a complex lifecycle. Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. Ticks that require this many hosts can take up to three years to complete their full life cycle, and most will die because they don't find a host for their next feeding. This infographic from the CDC illustrates the lifecycle of a typical deer tick.

Lifecycle of a blacklegged tick
Now, we were hiking in early fall/late summer in Central Florida, which means that almost every species of hard-bodied tick could have been crawling around the forest floor. I did manage to pick a few off of her and identify the species of tick. Each had six legs, and a light colored area on the abdomen. I have decided that the ticks that covered Sheila's legs and belly were larval Lone Star ticks. Here is what just a small section of her foreleg with ticks attached to get a better idea of what we were dealing with. Below that is a shot of the alcohol container we used to preserve some of the ticks in, just in case any tick-born illness developed. Note that this many ticks came from just one of her forelegs.

Each black dot is a tick

Larval stage Lone Star ticks that I pulled off of Sheila
I did find a few nymph stage ticks on the bottom of her paws, but I wasn't able to get a good shot of them.

When your dog is infested after a hike, what do you do?
Me? I panicked. I felt like such an awful dog-mom. I made the mistake of thinking that her Trifexis protected her from ticks, so coming home Sunday evening was a harsh reality to face. We stopped by the Tractor Supply and picked up a kennel dip (17% pemethrin, interestingly enough!) and some tick shampoo that would be a bit more gentle on her sensitive skin. I gave her bath and tried to soothe her worried look. I then decided that I couldn't take chances and brought her to our local Banfield Pet Hospital inside of Petsmart. After a few suggestions of having to shave the dog, which I was adamantly against, the vet suggested we use the Preventic collar. He suggested that some studies have shown that the Preventic collar starts killing ticks within 48 hours which would help minimize any risk of disease transmission. At $18.99 this was the option for us! We also opted to have her vaccinated against Lyme and put on a cycle of doxicylin to further protect against infection.

A note about the dose of doxi… we found out later through Tick Encounter Resource from the University of Rhode Island, that larval Lone Star ticks do not transmit disease, though nymph stage ticks may transmit disease. This was mainly a preventative measure because I am a worrier.

The Preventic collar did seem to kill all of her ticks within about 48-72 hours, though it left the ticks dead bodies attached to her which fell off easily after a good brushing. After reading more about the different tick preventatives, we decided that Preventic isn't our best bet while actually hiking the trail.

Types of tick preventative
There are so many types of tick preventative out there, it can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully, a few sites out there have done all of the hard work and summed up each product including active ingredient, application type and even what treatments are effective against which ticks!

Information gathered from

Information gathered from
What's the best tick protection for dogs on a thru-hike?
The answer to this varies, as no two dogs are the same. For us, topical treatments do not work well due to the nature of Sheila's thick coat. We are personally going to be using a Seresto collar, which isn't listed above. This collar's main ingredients are imidacloprid and flumethrin, it's safe for dogs and cats, it lasts 8 months,  it is water resistant, reaches 97% effectiveness in 48 hours against deer and lone star ticks, and is also effective against fleas. It is a relatively expensive collar. We were quoted around $50 from a local vet.

We are mainly interested in this collar because of the 8 month effectiveness, that way we can put it on her early and keep it on well after the hike. I was leaning toward the Scalibor collar, but it doesn't seem to be offered in the states anymore.

A week and a half later, Sheila is happy and healthy with no symptoms of tick-borne illness. Our little incident really opened up my eyes to the dangers of ticks on the trail. I just hope that our good luck will continue as we set out on the AT early next year!

I hope this is helpful to anyone looking for this sort of information. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to submit them below! Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Florida Trail Overnight

This weekend's overnight on the Florida Trail was great. We hiked from the Pat's Island Parking Area to Juniper Springs, which is about 10 miles. This was Sheila's first official hike and campout, so we were anxious to see how she might do.

The original plan was to leave Friday night and do a bit of night hiking and to make our hike longer. The logistics of this didn't really work out, as Chase and his dad had to work late. So we set our alarms for 3:45am and tried our damnedest to get a good night sleep. Of course that night we were up until 11:30pm packing and getting things together, so when 4am came and went, we were still sleeping. I finally coaxed Chase out of bed at 4:15am and we started loading the car and making our finally adjustments. Chase remembered at the last minute to pack our mess kit, so we spent 45 minutes searching every nook and cranny in the house. When we finally found it, it was just after 5am and we knew we had to book it to St. Augustine to meet Mason, Chase's dad. We left St. Augustine at just about 7:00am and checked in at Juniper Springs around 9 to claim our campsite and drop off one of the cars. We then drove to the trailhead at Pat's Island and set off!

Chase leads and Sheila follows.

I first thought I would keep Sheila on the leash and just attach it to my pack. That got old really fast and by the time we got to Hidden Pond, I was letting Sheila run free. She learned very quickly that she was not permitted to go first, so she tended to run back and forth between the leader and whoever was in the middle. She probably hiked twice as far as the rest of us!

At Hidden Pond (mile 3.5), we took a welcome break to cool off and eat a light snack. I dipped by Buff and my Patagonia Capilene 1 shirt in the cool waters and relished the sensation of 72 degree water on my forehead and back. Sheila took a dip as well and seemed grateful for the opportunity to cool down. Feeling energized, we set off again through the soft sugar sand. We stopped to lunch on bagels, cheese, and apples just past Whisky Creek (mile 6). Again, it was great to take a break and sit in the shade for a moment or two. I always feel crappy after eating a heavy lunch, and this was no exception. As we packed up and set off again, my spirits were dampened as we heading into the most exposed patch yet.

It was a hot day with no cloud cover. The high was 91 at 2pm, which put us in the hottest part of the day on the most exposed section of trail. This was absolutely miserable. With feet starting to swell and my shoulder beginning to ache, I longed for road that would lead us into Juniper Springs. We ended up stopping for a break at about mile 8 in the middle of a desert. There was no shade, but we were thirsty and needed to rest our feet. Sheila found the only patch of shade and drank a few gulps a water before wanting to set off again. The clouds were beginning to roll in, so we pressed on and made it back to the campsite at about 3:30pm.

Sheila did absolutely wonderful. She pushed on harder than we did and STILL had energy left at the end of the day. I couldn't be more proud of her.

Sheila, Mason, and Chase after the hike.

Chase and his dad went to pick up the car back at Pat's Island, and I hung about camp with the dog. We both laid on top of the picnic table and relaxed. I began searching Sheila over for ticks when all of a sudden it started to get darker. I checked the radar, and sure enough, a great globule of rain was heading my way. I was prepared to throw Chase's rain jacket on Sheila and to hunker down, but thankfully none of that was necessary as the guys pulled up just in time.

They were both skeptical about the rain, even though the radar clearly indicated that it was going to be more than a brief shower. Chase and Mason began setting up the tents and right on cue the sky opened up. We were able to get the rainfly on the tent within a minute and Sheila hunkered down in the vestibule to wait it out. We waited out the rain under an umbrella (me in my rain gear, being the only reasonable one) and as soon as the rain quit, we wiped down the inside of the tent and pat down the dog.

Mason wasn't as fortunate. His old MSR Hubba Hubba has had it! The rainfly is no longer waterproof, so he ended up with a couple of gallons of water in his tent. We shook it out the best we could and rigged up a set up to help the rain fly do its job. We used some guy line and some hiking poles to keep the rain fly off of the mesh, which would hopefully help if it decided to rain in the middle of the night.

We decided to make a trip down to the spring to take a dip before sunset. Dogs aren't allowed in the day use area of Juniper Springs, so we took a trail from behind the campsite down to the boardwalk that leads to the spring swimming area, hoping Sheila would be quiet. She was very well behaved and we didn't meet anyone on the trail, so Chase held her while Mason and I went for a quick dip. Mason chickened out when he was only in up to his knees, but I was brave enough to submerge myself in the refreshing 72 degree water. I sat content while the minnows nibbled at my legs and feet. It felt so amazing. If you've never been in a Florida spring, I highly suggest you make a trip, before these ecological wonders are ruined or disappear.

Copyright SunyFLx4 Photography

We took a walk along the boardwalk that parallels Juniper Creek as the sun was setting and enjoyed a nice night "hike" back to camp. After a dinner of Ramen noodles and carrots, we cleaned up and got ready for bed. This would be the true test to see if Sheila could be trusted to actually sleep in the tent. She did great. She only woke up a few times throughout the night and only kicked me off of my sleeping pad for about an hour. The weather was nice and cool after the sunset, so we weren't kept awake by her incessant panting.

All in all, I think we've got ourselves a trail dog!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Finding a Dog Pack

This was a really sore subject for me, and I think Chase was getting a little annoyed with me about it. The very first thing we bought when REI opened here in Jacksonville, was their REI Ultra Dog Pack. We used our opening day gift cards and barely paid anything for it, so we were happy with the purchase. Until we got it home and put it on her.

She didn’t seem to mind it being on her, but the belly strap was just a little too tight in my opinion. Chase insisted that it should be snug, but i just wasn’t comfortable with it. So I set off to the Internet to find a better option.

I immediately found the RuffWear Palisades Pack and thought that it would be a good option. There was only one problem. Sheila is an Australian Shepherd, so she has a very deep chest, a narrow waist, and a fairly long body. The instructions for fitting on RuffWear’s website are to measure around the deepest part of the chest. And of course, Sheila is 27 inches, right between medium and small. We held off on this purchase for a few months (actually until after we got back from our Nantahala Shakedown) and we ended up going with the small, based on RuffWear’s recommendation.

Sheila, again, didn’t seem phased by the pack, and it fit a lot better than the REI pack. We went for a walk around our neighborhood with just a bit of water in each side pocket. I decided after a lap and a half that this wasn’t my ideal pack either. It tended to slide to one side or another based on which side of me she was walking on. I tried tightening the chest and belly straps more, but it still tended to one side or another. The REI pack did this as well, so I’m thinking it had something to do with all of her fur.

So it was back on the Internet. I have been following along with Jill at A Trail Life for a few months now and reading about their hiking adventure with Rooney, so I decided to try out the Granite Gear Long Howl Pack.


This has so far been my favorite pack for her. The design is quite different from the Palisades and the REI, and I think it works better for her over all. It is a bit smaller (capacity wise) and it’s a bit more difficult to put on and take off, but the weight is much more evenly distributed. I think we will be able to deal with the decreased capacity, as we are only planning on her carrying two days of food at a time. Our first chance to really test it out is coming up this weekend on our overnight in the Ocala National Forest along the Florida Trail. I’ll be sure to update when we get back.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sheila's Gear update

We’ve been doing a lot of shopping around since we decided to bring the dog along for our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. We’ve bought 3 different packs for her, multiple bowls, debated on doggie footwear, and even talked about getting her a raincoat and an insulated jacket. Well after all that, this is what we’ve decided we need for surviving this trip with the dog.

Dog Pack

I'll be making a separate post about Sheila's dog pack. Stay tuned!

Foot Protection

I knew from the beginning that keeping Sheila’s feet happy was going to be key to successfully completing this hike with her. I thought boots would be the best option at first, but the more I read about them, the more I didn’t like the idea of her wearing boots. Nevertheless, Chase insisted we at least try them out, so we purchased some Granite Gear Dog Clogs when we ordered her pack. We ordered both medium and small sizes, because again she was between sizes. The medium boots were too big, and the small boots were really difficult to get on because her foot seems too long for them. They also just didn’t seem that sturdy. I couldn’t imagine how they were supposed to help her grip on slippery rocks or help her climb up jagged edges. If anything, I felt they were more of a hazard.

I took another cue from Jill at A Trail Life and purchased some Musher’s Secret. This seems to be the perfect solution. You just rub a little wax on their paws before heading out into the snow or sand, and reportedly helps them keep their grip on slippery surfaces. The wax is meant to protect sensitive pads and there is added Vitamin E to keep them from blistering and cracking as well. I’m excited to test it out this weekend.


At the REI in Atlanta (another side story from our Nantahala Shakedown Trip) they had these Guyot Designs Might Bowls on sale. We picked up the only one they had left (a 48oz monster!) because I really liked the idea of a squishy, silicon food and water bowl. It’s light, super bendable, and it will pack just about any where. I am hoping to pick up a smaller one to cut down on weight a little further. Amazon has the small one on sale for about $12.


We are planning on carrying regular dog food. She’s on about 2 cups of food per day now, so I’m guessing that’s going to go up to about 4-5 cups per day (2 in the morning, 3 at night) and with silicon, I don’t really see the reason to purchase a separate bowl.


We are still deciding on the contents of her first aid kit and debating whether or not to bring a ball (her favorite toy in the whole world). For sure we are going to be bringing at least two of her four brushes.

This might seem absurd, but for an Australian Shepherd it is extremely important to keep their coat thoroughly brushed. I’m not planning on shaving her because her coat actually functions to keep her cool in the summer and warm in the winter. And besides, it can ruin her coat permanently if it isn’t done properly. So brushes are an essential part of her gear. She has a general comb for getting knots out and a FURminator which has been great for cutting down the amount of shedding in the house. Even though its heavy, I’m thinking it will be really useful for finding and weeding out ticks before they attach.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hi Blogger. Long time, no post.

I’ve been crazy busy trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life regarding grad school and spending a lot of time studying for the GRE. I took the test yesterday, and I did fairly well. I wanted to do better on the math section, but I ran out of time and didn’t have a chance to check my answers. I had 10+ minutes at the end of each verbal section, and I wish I could have used that extra time on the math. Oh well, though, there is no use dwelling on things you cannot change.

I’m supposed to be spending this week mulling over grad schools and narrowing down professors, and I’m sure I’ll start on that in a little while. I wanted to take the chance to make a proper blog update. I’ll probably load a few things into the queue and let it be for the rest of the week.

I’ve got a few updates on what gear we’ve switched out and why, a whole new gear list for Sheila the Aussie Dog, and even a little bit of insight on our budget situation and how we plan to return from Maine. I hope they will be insightful and entertaining!

Feel free to ask me any questions about us or our hike! I’d be happy for a little human interaction. :)