L-29 member hikes 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail

Holland and Miss Kay take a break along the trail.

Adventure takes more than five months

IF YOU EVER plan to hike the 2,186-mile Appalachian Trail, Dola Holland has some advice. Pack light. Bring rain gear. Plan on cold weather, even in the South.

Holland, a member of Local 29 (Boston) and his 4-year-old black lab, Miss Kay, made the five-and-a-half-month trek in 2013, starting in Maine on June 11 and ending in Georgia on November 23. It was a trip that had captured his imagination for some time, especially as the trail meanders close to his home near Plymouth, Vermont.

After getting hooked on some weekend hikes, Holland began planning in earnest.

“My girlfriend probably got sick of me ordering things online and trying them out at home,” he said.

But Holland’s intense preparations were important. Only one in five people who start the grueling hike complete it. And 95 percent of those who bring a dog along fail to finish.

Things started out badly in Maine, Holland recalled, with unusually wet weather and hordes of insects. In Pennsylvania, he almost stepped on a copperhead. In Shenandoah National Park, a black bear approached to within 20 feet before leaving the trail. At elevations over 5,000 feet, temperatures got downright frigid. But he and Miss Kay persevered, stopping at “trail towns” to replenish supplies (the dog carried her own food in a backpack) and occasionally spending the night at a hostel or pet-friendly motel.

“Most of the time we stayed in our tent,” Holland said.

Passing other hikers was not uncommon, but occasionally he would go a week without seeing anyone. “I’m glad I decided to bring my dog. The companionship was important,” he said.

Holland was able to keep in touch with his girlfriend by cell phone, using a solar recharger, although the signal often dropped on parts of the trail.

Thinking back on the adventure, Holland said, “I mostly did it for the challenge. I really wanted to prove to myself that I could finish the trip. It was the toughest thing I've ever done. The highlight was sharing the joy of finishing with my parents and girlfriend, who met me at the trail’s end in Georgia. I'll never forget how great it was to see them.”