So how is this goal coming along after three hiking excursions?
Fun: I’m enjoying it as much or more than I’d expected, a feeling that fully rushes in as I near completion on another trail. However, just before each trip and even prior to each hike for that matter, I still get a bit anxious. Apparently, I’ve not yet totally convinced myself that I am actually up to this challenge. Without a hiking buddy, this anxiety is naturally a bit higher. That said though, I’m even more enthralled with this beautiful park than ever and look forward to the next trip.
Pace: The pace is much slower thus far than I’d tentatively mapped out. The original idea of getting 50 new miles hiked per visit is something of a joke at this juncture. Snow, closed roads and other impediments have impacted planned hikes and further reduced more modest mileage goals set in February and April. At this rate, it will take far more than the 3 years discussed in the first blog post.
Stamina: I now know I can do at least 12 miles. Early starts on warm days are necessary. Drinking plenty of fluids the day BEFORE I hike is also critical. Beginning a trail already under-hydrated just doesn’t work. Heat and humidity will be a factor when climbing a trail and will likely limit mileage. Maintaining a strong exercise regimen between trips is important. I may even add hikes at state parks and other places just to keep legs and lungs in shape. So far, however, body parts are cooperating surprisingly well.
Impediments: None so far…the snow and road closures only affect the trails I can start. I’ve yet to encounter any difficulties in the middle of a hike – high stream crossings, downed trees, washed out trails, sprains or other injuries. These possibilities account for most of my pre-hike anxieties. Since I really don’t relish hikes much longer than 12 to 15 miles, I will need to backpack one to two or three nights in order to hike some trails. Learning to backpack is my next task, and lifelong backpacker and friend Annette Ranger has agreed to mentor me. More on this adventure soon.
Buddies: Another potential impediment is schedule logistics when arranging a hiking buddy either for company, safety, or a shuttle. I enjoy solo hikes. I can set my own pace and concentrate on my surroundings and observations without the nagging feeling that I’m hindering or ignoring someone. On the other hand, a buddy provides another set of eyes to spot cool things along the trail. Certain trails demand a buddy for safety and security as well as practical reasons. Most of my trails have been solo to date, and as I check off more of the easier and shorter trails, the need to coordinate my trips and hikes around others’ itineraries will increase dramatically.
Equipment: My back was killing me at the end of each trail in April. Am I packing my backpack wrong, or do I need to adjust the straps? I also want to reevaluate what is in my pack. Is it all critical? Can it be organized more efficiently? I have a comfortable neck strap for my camera, but could that be adding to my back woes? To reach the next level, overnight stays at backcountry camp sites will become essential. What equipment do I need? What will work best for me? To hold down costs, I can substitute a campground for a hotel room during the week. What additional items will I need for this? And the decision to take or leave behind my tripod on each hike is wrenching. Photos are better with it, but it is a royal pain to wag around and it takes time to set up and adjust.
Procedures: I must get firmly in the habit of checking with the Backcountry Office on conditions in the park before each outing, and in the absence of a hiking buddy, make sure Nick knows what trail I’m doing and when he should expect to hear from me. I should also be more alert for wildlife encounters. Most of my previous Smokies experiences have been in early spring, so snakes and hornets haven’t been that big an issue. Take nothing for granted, and do not become complacent. This is a wilderness.
Blogging: Thanks to my daughter Kate’s old MacBook, I can now post blogs in a much more timely fashion provided I can access the internet, and the next goal is to get photographs up just as quickly. I am working through software and workflow issues now and hope to have that process in place by the next trip. In between trips, I plan to write informative pieces on the Smokies’ natural history in order to provide a more consistent rate of posts.