Of course Kyle Rohrig knew the risks of bringing Katana, his 8 year old Shiba Inu, to the Florida Trail. Not only was Katana blind, but the hike was 1,100 mile long. He knew it was going take a long of patience and reassurance to complete this journey.
“When I brought Katana out here it was either to sink or swim,” Rohrig said. “The only catch being, I wasn’t going to let her sink.”
But there were some things that Katana had on her side. She was an experienced hiker before she starting having problems with her vision. Her CV includes hiking through the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail and finishing half of 2,650-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail–a hike she couldn’t complete because glaucoma started causing issues in her left eye.
Katana was with Rohrig during both of these hikes. But they had to leave during their later journey because Katana needed immediate surgery and care. But the moment the hospital cleared her of issues, they headed back to finish the hike.
But the sad part came two years later when Katana completely lost the vision in her right eye. Since then, things haven’t been the same. “At first she was very cautious and timid about doing anything,” Rohrig said. “She seemed unsure of herself.”
While Katana can memorize the layout of a house and live comfortably there, Rohrig couldn’t convince himself that all of their adventures were done forever. Rohrig started forming plans to help his lovely animal companion get her confidence back as she began getting used to the utter darkness.
View this post on Instagram
Working through the obstacles . . . . #thruhiker #thruhiking #hikertrash #travel #nature #adventure #wanderlust #photooftheday #picoftheday #keepitwild #lifeofadventure #beautifuldestinations #exploringtheworld #welltravelled #outdoorliving #Getoutside #hiking #backpacking #natureaddict #walk #mountains #campinglife #outdoor #outdoorslife #outdoorstyle #exploreeverything #awesome #amazing #amongthewild #adventuretravel
“I had my eye on the Florida Trail for a couple of years, but never made any official plans to hike it,” Rohrig said. “After Katana went blind, I thought it would be the perfect trail to help her really come to terms with her new circumstances.”
“We’d been eating and sleeping her blindness for months,” he added, “but out there on the trail, we’d be breathing it as well.”
On January 8, the two set off on the trail beginning at Big Cypress, in Everglades. His first estimation on the length of their journey was two to three months. Their final destination would be to Fort Pickens.
The only good thing about the trail was that it was flat. “It was very wet, muddy, buggy and at times we were wading through water, mud or swamp for miles … sometimes up to my waist,” Rohrig said. “It was a tough, wet year to hike this trail.”
And then came the alligators, snakes, busy highways, fallen trees and overgrown trails.“The Florida Trail was about as monotonous and grueling as it comes,” Rohrig said. But the two continued on.
View this post on Instagram
As the layman might call them… Danger noodles and Nope Nope logs. . . . . #thruhiker #thruhiking #floridatrail #travel #nature #adventure #wanderlust #photooftheday #picoftheday #keepitwild #lifeofadventure #beautifuldestinations #exploringtheworld #welltravelled #outdoorliving #Getoutside #hiking #backpacking #natureaddict #walk #mountains #campinglife #outdoor #outdoorslife #outdoorstyle #exploreeverything #awesome #amazing #amongthewild #adventuretravel
Even when she was alone, Katana kept hiking everyday, but that was only for a mile or two. When things got difficult, Rohrig would carry Katana over his shoulders. The 21 pound pup would then rest on him patiently. “It was a great system that worked incredibly well.” He said.
“She loved every second of the freedom out there and getting to explore new places,” Rohrig added. “I truly think that’s every dog’s dream.”
Looking back, Rohrig carried the pup for more than 800 miles while the remaining 200 miles were completed by Katana herself.
When they reached state line in late March, he could see the change in Katana. Not only was she more self-assured, but she was also strong and confident in herself.
“I don’t know exactly how she did it, but she could lead me down the trail perfectly, without hitting a single obstacle while accounting for every twist and turn in the trail,” Rohrig said. “Katana went from cautious and timid to confident and curious.”
The experience was life-changing for Rohrig as well. “It was emotional seeing her do so well,” he said, “as if nothing had changed since our nostalgic days when first getting into long-distance hiking.”
Right now, the lovely creature is back home with her father, living the good life. Sometimes she applies all the skill she learned in her day to day life, running around the large backyard and jumping from one couch to another without hesitation.
“She’s not just dealing with her new circumstances — she’s thriving, and she’s thriving wherever she goes,” Rohrig said. “We have many more adventures planned, and I’m going to keep taking her until she ceases to enjoy them. We’re both living the dream.”