Wednesday, January 15, 2014

151. Bizarre Trail Pets

I have always had a conflictual relationship with rodents. When I was in 3rd grade, I convinced my mom to let me babysit the classroom guinea pig babies over Christmas break. My sister and I spent hours constructing mazes out of blocks to see if we could train the fuzzy mobile golf balls to find treats. They found the food approximately 50% of the time, which was scientifically intriguing by our standards. They pooped everywhere 100% of the time, but we could not decipher the statistical significance of that. They would make and equal amount of squeaky-toy noises when they found the food or when they were relieving themselves on the carpet. This was puzzling, and completely threw off our findings.

My general understanding of having a rodent as a pet was that one would have to resign oneself to the smell. I have nothing against rodents at all, but I only tried to own them once, and it ended in a terrible disaster, so I've never tried since then. Some are admittedly cuter than others (e.g., chinchilla, capybara, chupacabra, (oh no, I just started listing strange creatures that start with the letter "C" (Sorry about that (HOW DO I GET OUT OF THESE PARENTHESES?!)))), but all of them carry a certain musk. In general, I think that they are meant to live outside, and being in a cage is just generally troublesome. As it goes with most creatures. Especially if you have a dwarf hamster that has figured out how to pry open the bars of her cage, and will wake you up in the middle of the night by crawling all over your face. Don't worry, when I accidentally thwacked her off my face in my sleep, sending her sailing across the room, she landed on a pillow on my roommate's bed. Unfortunately that pillow was currently being occupied by my roommate's head.

At Sassafras Gap Shelter we met a hiker named Domino. He had a ferret. This ferret's non-hiker name was Splinter, but his trail name was alternately Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner, depending on the time of day. Domino was a pretty hardcore ex-army guy built like a brick privy, and it was pretty endearing that he took very gentle care of his furry little friend. Splinter would ride on the top of Domino's pack throughout the day, and would sleep with him, curled in his sleeping bag. 

I have heard that ferrets are a bit ornery in general, and that they might be more likely to try and eat your nose hairs than give you a hug. But apparently some of them are quite sweet and cuddly. Splinter was one of the latter breeds. Not only did he sleep in my lap while Domino and other hikers were making dinner, he also would drink water out of a bottle cap and very gently take proffered food out of people's hands.

Basically, Splinter/Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner was perfect for the trail because he was outside all the time, which meant that he was never stinky. He was trained to wake Domino up in the night when he had to do his business, and Domino would open the tent, let him do his thing, and then Splinter would crawl back inside. Domino never had to deal with most common and unfun side effect of owning a rodent: cleaning out the cage. Ferrets were more or less the perfect trail pet. Not only was Splinter a solid gold chick magnet, he also scared all the resident food-stealing mice out of the shelter. The only "problem" was when he snuck out of Domino's sleeping bag in the middle of the night and went prancing across several other hikers, causing a wave of startled screaming and general flailing.

I immediately wanted a trail ferret, but Dumptruck talked me out of it, and I appreciate that. I wouldn't have known what to do when I returned to real life and would have to introduce my ferret to my cats. They wouldn't have been friends. There would have been a lot of civil debates and accusations of political tomfoolery and questioning of each others' moral character and such. That, in addition to the hissing and slapping one another about. Heavens. I say!

I met another hiker briefly that had a rat as a pet. Furthermore, there are several tales of people having trail cats that ride on folks' backpacks. It always pleased me to no end when I would hear about these bizarre trail pets. People and their weirdo animals, traveling the globe together. I always wished I could have had a trail pet.

At least I had Whistle.

Clever Girl


  1. At your average rate so far, you should be finished with this list in about a year. I sure hope there's a book deal. Sign me up! :-)

    1. Thanks so much! I have toyed with the idea of a book, but I never really liked the idea of making folks pay for a book when I'm happy just to have the material here on the blog. Maybe I'll go on some other adventure and write a book for that! Or maybe I'll cave and try for an AT book. :)

    2. Love your writing. I'm sure there's a great book in you somewhere. :-)

  2. Apologies in advance but could you please contact us privately concerning some new menu restrictions placed on us by the Park Service relating to Newfound Gap. We need seasoned input. At your convenience or course. Thanks, Bern

    1. Hey guys! I tried to find your email but I can't put my finger on it. Email me at
      I'll do whatever I can do help!

  3. Ferrets are not rodents, just saying, like, as similar to rodents as we are to felines. They actually are closer to felines...

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