Hiking herself back to normal | Ozaukee Co. Business News

CEDARBURG — Launching a new business can be an uphill battle, but for Trail Dog & Company, that exact challenge is what defines its brand.

Trail Dog, owned and founded by Cedarburg native Liz Pfeifer, offers a multitude of guided hiking experiences for people of any age and skill level. Pfeifer opened the business a little more than a year ago and has hit the ground running ever since.

Pfeifer organizes a wide menu of hikes, both within Wisconsin and beyond its borders. The idea of operating a guided hiking business came to Pfeifer after she finished a women’s backpacking trip through the Appalachian Trail in June 2022. Pfeifer had recently left her job after nearly 20 years in pharmaceutical sales, and was searching for what her next chapter could bring.

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“After I quit my job and got out of the corporate craziness, I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself,” Pfeifer said. “It was the first time in my life where I didn’t have a plan. But it was ok. I really just started hiking myself back to normal. We were out in the backcountry for five days, and at the end of it I didn’t want to go back to civilization. It’s just this amazing sense of community. I was just drawn to it.”

After enough poking and prodding from friends and family to explore starting a business, Pfeifer gained certifications in key skill areas, including becoming a wilderness first responder and mental health first aid. With those in hand, along with the necessary paperwork and strategies to get operations off the ground, Trail Dog quickly became a reality.

“I was just someone who liked to be outside and was trying to figure out my future,” she said. “Then I started to think about it more and decided why not? I started this as a passion project and it grew from there. The hiking portion of it is easy. I love being outside and empowering hikers so they feel comfortable being out there.”

Pfeifer organizes and participates in all excursions herself. Trail Dog offers guided day hikes in places like the Ice Age Trail, Door County and Devil’s Lake, as well as corporate teambuilding hikes. Trail Dog can also accommodate custom location hikes and group trips. Pfeifer is guiding a women’s hiking retreat next month to the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail, which she proclaims is her favorite region of her favorite trail.

Trail Dog’s expertise comes in the form of ensuring safety — that’s where Pfeifer’s certifications can be useful — as well as emphasizing education about the trails themselves. Pfeifer enjoys explaining the history of the places her groups visit and weaves in some trivia when she can.

But Pfeifer is aware she also needs to be aware of her own well-being; she knows one slip may quickly complicate the business.

“It’s always at the back of your mind,” Pfeifer said. “But one thing I am very mindful of is always protecting my body and health. It’s all about being cognizant of every move out there. It’s important not only to me, but also for the safety of others.”

Pfeifer is pleased to see so many people taking an interest in the outdoors, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. She saw hiking as a liberating experience after being sequestered indoors and facing burnout at her job. She is excited to be a facilitator for those seeking to connect with nature.

“With the pandemic, I think so many of us craved being outside because it symbolized freedom,” she said. “My love of hiking just kind of took off because it was a way to have freedom and a way to have something to do.”

Pfeifer will be wrapping up her season next month and will spend the winter plotting itineraries and scouting locations for future hikes. Going out to the trails and noting essential features like elevation gains, bathroom stops, ground conditions and signs of potential danger can be invaluable in the planning process. Trail Dog will begin its hiking season again in March or April.

“I spend a lot of time figuring out the logistics for next year,” Pfeifer said. “It’s just me, myself, and I. There are tons of apps which can tell you these things, but until you get out there and experience it for yourself, you don’t know how to put together the best itinerary that you can.”

Pfeifer is focusing on Trail Dog’s growth for its first two years. Pfeifer’s dream would be to one day own a lodge along the Appalachian Trail as a new base for the business. For now, much like one of Trail Dog’s hikes, she is taking it one step at a time.

“Some people say to me how cool it is for a woman-owned business to be in this industry as a historically guys-oriented sport,” she said. “It’s great to see people give you those accolades, but in my mind, I’m just doing something I love. I’m just out here pursuing my passion, and I consider myself lucky to do it.”

Visit www.traildogandcompany.com or go to @traildogcompanyllc on Instagram or www.facebook.com/traildogandcompany to learn more about its offerings.

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