I’ve just completed my second full year of Smokies hikes. Whenever I mention the fact I’m hiking all the park’s trails, people inevitably ask, “How many have you done?” or “What’s your mileage?” Taking the time to calculate this hasn’t been a high priority, but I guess it is time to check the numbers and gauge my progress. To date, I’ve completed more than a third of the trails and 30% of the miles needed to gain entry into the 900 Mile Club. Here are the specifics.
Trails Completed – 55
Partial Trails – 8 (Little Greenbrier, Bote Mountain, Hyatt Ridge, Hughes Ridge, AT, Beech Gap, Mt. Sterling, Low Gap)
Total New Trail Miles – 251
Total Miles – 374
2009 – 7.7 new miles, 11.5 total miles, 3 trails complete
2010 – 98.1 new miles, 148.7 total miles, 22 trails complete
2011 – 145.2 new miles, 213.8 total miles, 30 trails complete
A look back at the first few posts on this blog reveals the blind optimism of a clueless hiker. I thought I could hike 300 miles a year and complete this project in about three years. HA, HA, HA, HA, HA!! Now that I’ve had a good laugh and a strong dose of reality, it is obvious that I could triple that original time estimate. The positive news is I logged over 200 miles in 2011 alone, a feat accomplished without setting foot in the mountains until late April when I recorded a paltry 9.3 trail miles. The real hiking began in late May with five trips through October.
I can take heart from this accomplishment for several reasons. First, it means I’m genuinely getting the hang of it. I love hiking. When I began this journey in 2009, it was mostly a leap of faith to pursue a growing interest. I had no real experience and no gear. Things could just as easily have gone poorly, but here I am 374 miles further down the road and loving every minute of it.
Another reason to celebrate is my deepening love and understanding of the Smokies. I am not well traveled, but I doubt there is a place on earth I would find any more beautiful, challenging, or fascinating than these mountains. Discovering new (to me) plants, insects, fungi, and animals and learning their ecological roles is a personally rewarding and even ennobling pursuit. It is such a great feeling when little puzzle pieces fall into place and a sense of the totality of this rich slice of biological life begins to take shape.
Finally, this accomplishment comes amid what has arguably been the worst year of my life. Nick’s sudden death turned everything upside down and left me struggling to comprehend and adapt. My survival is due to three things — my family, especially my children Kate and Sam, my friends, especially my hiking buddies, and these mountains. The one thing, the only thing really, I have managed to do these last 12 months is organize trips to the mountains. I have found no energy for or interest in anything else.
These trips have been my salvation, and for that I need to recognize two special friends — Mary McCord and Clarence Mayo. Mary has been nothing short of a lifeline for me. When I needed the mountains, I could count on Mary to join me. Her intrepid spirit is always ready for any trail, any time, and without her not only would my mileage for 2011 be significantly lower, my spirits would be as well. I am truly indebted, Mary; thank you!
Clarence’s generous support has enabled me to go further, faster. His detailed gear advice prepared me for the practicalities of hiking mountain trails and made the experience a heck of a lot more enjoyable. Like Mary, Clarence exhibits energetic enthusiasm for any hike and is an indispensable partner as the trails get more difficult and remote. Most of all, his steady encouragement guided me through initial doubts, fears, and errors and is now helping me focus on new challenges with confidence. Onward and upward, CE!
These two never complain when hiking with me, though it’s got to be irritating at times. I am usually playing ‘catch up’ on the trail when we hike together, yet I will find them patiently waiting for me. They even point out interesting things they know will only delay me further. I could not hike these trails without them. This blog is much better because of them. Such friends are priceless. Other Smokies pals like Susan (my confidante) and Allen Sweetser, Pat Cox (Momma Pat – we are the same age, but she is much wiser), Annette Ranger, Randy Small, Ken McFarland, Linda Phillips, and the Fern Frondlers have all been there for me, ready to hike or lend a supportive shoulder and comforting hug.
And then there’s this blog…Wordpress sent me a year wrap up and you might be interested to know that my blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2011. Wow! Little Cataloochee Trail post got the most hits in a day at 108. I made 40 posts with 237 photos. Most visitors came from my book website, Randy Small’s hiking blog, and Google and Yahoo searches. The top search topic is Blue Ghost Fireflies, followed by Porter’s Creek Trail, Mt. LeConte Shelter, Balsam Mountain Campground, and believe it or not, Black Rat Snake! Most of the visitors were from the U.S., but quite a few hailed from Canada and the United Kingdom. Garrulous Scott Ranger made the most comments, surprise, surprise! I also heard from Randy and my Nashville buddy Paul Moore. I’ve made some new friends too. Sharon and Dwight (the distracted fly fisherman) have commented on several occasions, and others have been moved to leave a note as well.
My heartfelt thanks to all of you! I am actively planning an even greater 2012 with hiking trips in late January, March, and mid-May on the books thus far, plus the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in April. So please stay tuned. Sharing this with you is a true joy!