Completing park trails was secondary to my main objective for the Smokemont trip. I needed to assess my ability under the triple threat of weight, mileage, and elevation change in preparation for the A.T. My performance was solid, but it did reveal a few concerns.
— I start strong each day, but weaken physically and mentally by late afternoon. While an occasional 15-mile day is doable, these need to be well-spaced among lower mileage days, at least until I harden to the routine and get a better idea of what my body can handle.
— Poorly timed or missed snacks contribute to these mid to late afternoon slumps. How often and when I fuel my body throughout the day will be a critical factor.
— Food aside, I must find ways to lighten my load. Two grueling, back-to-back days are no indication of how I’ll be feeling after two grueling weeks. I may do just fine, but there is no current proof that I can sustain such demands over time, especially given my size and the known vulnerabilities of my knees and feet. A lighter load could save me and the trip. One big advantage to my section-hike plan is the opportunity for regular pack adjustments, from minor tweaks to a complete overhaul, as needs and conditions change.
— Coming off the trail every few weeks will give me a chance for rest and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, it will also take the edge off any endurance I’ve acquired. What I gain from the respite will come with a penalty the first few days back on the trail. It won’t be as brutal as the Smokemont shock following four months off, yet I cannot sit on my butt during the down time.
Physical issues like these have ready solutions. A trickier aspect of the hike is the mind game. There will be difficult and challenging moments, from weather and terrain to annoying hikers and loneliness. I’m one tough cookie. Success is the only outcome I can envision. I expect to thrive and do well on the trail. I do not doubt this trip or my commitment to it. It has become something I must do. Nonetheless, there are many times when I am scared.
Leaving Smokemont January 30, heavy rain follows me through Cherokee and Maggie Valley on my way to I-40. Due to my A.T. plans, it will be September or later before I can return to tackle new park trails, and this makes me sad. The sky and rain lighten a bit as I approach the interstate. Just beyond the Tennessee-North Carolina border is Exit 451 Waterville, leading over the Pigeon River and back to Big Creek. The Appalachian Trail crosses under the interstate at this exit. I think back just a few short months. Mary, Clarence, and I have finished our A.T. thru-hike of the park and crossed the river. Clarence and I walked to the I-40 sign and took each other’s picture.
Just as my car reaches this exit, the sun emerges, and a large rainbow appears across the sky right in front of me. It is beautiful. Each color is clear and distinct. The sun and rainbow remain for a couple of minutes then disappear. Clouds darken and torrential rain pours on me for most of the next 250 miles, but for that moment, as my car crosses the A.T. where I stopped last May and made the determination to hike this trail, the morning sun’s rays slip past heavy clouds, bend through droplets of rain, and shimmer as prismatic color arcing northeastward.
I’ve never been a big believer in signs. If, however, I desire some positive indication that what I’m about to do is a good thing and I should go forward with it, I couldn’t ask for better.