615.7 miles. Serious hikers wouldn’t blink. A.T. thru-hikers would laugh. My friends and family shake their heads in disbelief. I’m rather proud, and I could have done more. Two long section hikes on the A.T. totaled 515.3 of those miles.
Only 100.4 miles occurred in the Smokies during three brief visits, January, July, and October. I notched 13 new trails and completed a previous partial trail (Hughes Ridge), adding 59.7 new miles. My current Smokies stats are 519 miles (62%) and 101 trails (67%) with a total mileage of 836.1. Not much progress compared to previous years, but work on the 900 Mile Club had to take a backseat to other pressing issues.
There was a lot more behind the A.T. trips than just a desire to hike. Internal motivations were complex and emotional, and those emotions surfaced regularly. I’m certain however, that my six weeks on the A.T. saved me from far worse. In March and late May, I came off the trail exhausted, physically depleted, and happy to be home cuddling with my kitties and sprawling in a comfy bed. It was as though some safety valve had been opened and pressure released. Confidence and calm replaced anxiety and uncertainty.
Loading the front end of 2013 with such demands allowed me to relax and embrace new activities during the summer and fall. It pushed me over a hump that I couldn’t seem to surmount any other way. To put it in art terms, I went from Fuseli with The Nightmare beast sitting on my chest to Gauguin wrestling Jacob’s angel, a struggle but a successful one.
I will continue hiking big sections of the A.T. annually and finish the trail. The journey, sights, and people are too compelling to give up. The motivation is now more pure — strap on the pack and walk for the adventure. Next up: Shenandoah to Pennsylvania.
There are plans for these beautiful Smoky Mountains too. I’ve mapped six multi-day backpacking trips that will tackle a majority of the long, remote trails in North Carolina. I plan to get at least two of these done next year and hopefully pick up some other odd trails along the way.
As always, I thank those of you who read this blog. Even when I hike alone, it seems as though you are with me, and I appreciate your company. Several new people joined to follow the A.T. posts, and I hope you aren’t disappointed in the slower pace. If you plan your own A.T. journey next year, the best of luck. No blog can really prepare you, but perhaps you’ve picked up a few tips from my limited experiences.
By the way, “Oaks” and “Sweet Pea” stopped by for a visit during Thanksgiving. They finished the entire trail, arriving at Mt. Katahdin the end of September. “Oaks” suffered a bout with Lyme Disease, but everything else went smoothly. They both look fantastic, and it was wonderful to see them and learn of their success.
I welcome 2014. It will be a good year.