Forgiveness on the AT

Great Smoky Mountains NP

Week 3

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Forgiveness on the AT, Great Smoky Mountains NP

Week 3

10/2/18 – 10/8/18

I spent a week in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and I came away with more questions than answers, more unseen than seen and a feeling of unfinished business.  I posted a story on my Facebook page my last night in the mountains and I’m struggling to follow that up which is the reason for the delay in this post. I will include part of that post within this.

A friend suggested I return to the Smoky’s on the backside of my 1 year road trip/adventure and use that as a gauge for lessons learned and if I accomplished what I set out to do. I had a loose set of plans, general direction and destinations when I set off on this adventure and that has already been modified within my internal itinerary. Everything was always subject to change and that remains’, I’m giving that suggestion serious consideration.

This area is like an onion and offers many opportunity’s and experiences for all people. There is a reason it’s the most visited national park in the US. Just outside of the park in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg you have the tourist traps, amusement attractions, restaurants, 5 star accommodations, fancy vehicle and ATV rentals and on and on. At the foothills in Gatlinburg you have the trendy shopping, souvenirs, more restaurants and accommodations. None of this appeals to me and although I did spend some time in Gatlinburg it was at the fly-fishing shop for info, fly’s and a license at the backpacking store because I left my backcountry stove in Michigan, a quick bit and grocery’s. The traffic in this area is bad on a slow day, will give you murderous thoughts on a normal weekend, and on a holiday don’t do it. There are other ways into the park all of which I did not check out but found Townsend, Tn to offer everything I needed including a RV park with a shower for $5 and a laundromat. After I washed and my clothes were in the process I ran into town, 500 yards down the road, for a bite at a restaurant recommended by the RV resort lady. Small world the owners of the restaurant have been there 2 years and were from a town one over from my home town. His and my previous offices were just down the road from each, 500 yards. The next layer is the easy access with breath taking views layer, the places the paved roads lead to. You then have the day hikes from these parking lots, what constitutes a good day hike is all in your prospective, for some a mile out and back or less maybe, for me a good half day/6 hours or longer. Beyond the day hikes you have the backcountry multi-day camping and of course the Appalachian Trail which runs roughly East/West across the top of the park.

The Appalachian Trail/AT what it is: The AT runs from Maine to Georgia, if you thru-hike it in a season you will encore and endure 2,181 miles, 5500 calories a day intake to maintain weight (good luck), cover 14 states, spend 5-7 months average hike time, hike 12-16 miles a day,  Hiking its entire length in a lifetime is an accomplishment and if you complete it or thru-hike it in a season you’re an F’in Rockstar. I ran into and shared some chat time with 2 such people doing this vary thing. V and Disco, their trail names and everyone who spends time on the AT and nights in the shelters will get one. V was in her late twenty’s maybe early 30’s and from Texas, she had started in the middle of the AT, hiked to Maine, flew back to her starting point and started south. She started mid-May and had another 6-8 weeks to wrap up her trip. This girl was tough as nails and on a mission I knew it when I passed her in the opposite direction on my way out in the morning and we gave each other a courteous good morning. Disco was a man either my age or 10 years younger or older Between 45 and 65 is my best guess. Disco had what I call an alcoholics red nose, recovering no doubt in his case, he was a slight man and had all he could do to keep up with V and admitted as much. I don’t recall seeing Disco on the way out.  I caught up with V on my way back as she was eating on the trailside by a spring running out of a rock face at a slow trickle the hikers used to fill water bottles. I asked if she was thru-hiking and when she responded yes I asked if I could sit with her and chat which she accepted. Disco showed up later looking like I stole his lunch, V told me they met on trail a couple weeks back. I asked if they would finish together and Disco responded “I’m going to try and keep up” V said nothing and gave me a casual smirk. We talked about her adventure and I shared with her mine. She was in awe by what I was setting out to do and couldn’t comprehend how it could be pulled off, she was envious and said as much. I on the other hand sat in awe of her and she had no idea how F’in sexy I thought she was right down to her hairy trail ravaged legs. Its funny how we both sat there admiring each other for setting out to fulfill a dream and wondering “how the hell would I do that” about the other. Some people make the hard look easy but and I hate to sound cliché 90% of it is showing up. I could live her adventure and she mine as well its simply a matter of setting your mind to it “All things are possible”.

I spent a week hiking in these mountains, 2 days with a 35lb pack, 1 day I covered 8 miles in waders and the rest of the days with a day pack, camera gear and water and I was only passed 3 times on trail. Once by a young overachieving Asian man and I complimented him as he passed and by V and Disco with Disco struggling to keep up. I asked disco as he passed “Are you following that all the way to Georgia?” He replied “If she doesn’t kill me first”. These two were truly Rockstar’s, V on a mission leading the way into the unknown and Disco struggling to keep up and not wanting to return to whatever he left behind.

What makes the Smoky’s so “Great” and yes they are GREAT? Its hard to explain as my perspective and gauge for a successful experience differs from many that will read this. I have no desire to sleep under the roof of a 5 star hotel preferring to sleep under 5 million stars. The goal is the journey, the reward the experience, if achieved the destination is irrelevant. This differs not in many pursuits by motivated people, the first time marathoner after completing the race reflecting on all the work it took to get there and then the question “what next ?”. The hunter with the empty feeling after the kill reflecting back on all the work he or she put into the preparation, it’s never about the kill.  The experience I had to me was a total success, it left me wanting more, more wild, more interaction with like minded people and more adventure.

It left me wanting to meet more Melody’s. Let me introduce you now to my friend Melody who I will most likely never see again and first introduced you to in my previous Facebook post I mentioned. You will find the entire story on my Facebook page wishUwerehere.

Meet Melody: GSMNP October, 7th 2018, Clingmans Dome, Appalachian Trail

I planned to leave at daylight this morning and hike from Clingman’s Dome trailhead to the Double Springs Gap shelter on the Appalachian Trail to leave supply’s for the thru-hikers, about a 6 mile round trip. A local had told me this was a common thing so I loaded a small pack the night before with 8 rolls of toilet paper in zip locks, 4 tubes of tooth paste, 2 jars of peanut butter and 1 tube of sunscreen the night before. Rising before sunset as the early birds started to roll in to catch the “perfect sunrise” picture and set up shop, today they would be disappointed and find out why it’s called the smokies just as the clouds rolled in for the morning. I’ve been here a week and I already feel like a local.

I opened the van and made coffee and started to prepare for my departure when I got in a conversation with two twenty something young ladies who drove up from a lower campground for the sunrise as they left I got into a conversation with a couple and then another husband and wife, Because the van is so unique when I open the doors it draws a tremendous amount of attention especially in a park and the questions follow. This is my life now, the guy on the trip with the cool van.

All of this delayed my departure by several hours again this is now my life in this van, my OneLife. I hiked up the ½ mile paved steep as hell trail from the parking lot to the observation tower at a quick pace with no breaks my “morning workout”. This area also intersected with the Appalachian Trail or AT as experienced hikers refer to it. I paused at the intersection to recheck the map and the distance and this young blonde lady stepped in front of me and then paused, she had the look of being on the trail overnight or longer. I asked “did you come from Maine” the northern end of the AT with the southern end being in Georgia. She mumbled something which neither of us know for sure what she said and then I asked “where are you going?” as she stood there confused. Her reply and I’ll never forget this was “I’m trying to figure out if I’m done punishing myself” “I’ve been walking around in the woods for four days and I don’t know what to do next”. I replied “can I walk with you?” and she said yes.

Getting lost in the wild to find yourself is nothing new, she isn’t the first one to do it and she will not be the last to which I’m on a bit of that journey myself. The Native Americans called it a Vision Quest, Aussies a Walk About, and Yankees Took a Hike. “I’m going outside to clear my head hunny” you may have heard your father say.

We hiked and talked for 5 hours and she instead of returning to her vehicle as planned continued on with me to the shelter. She shared her story usually starting out when changing subjects “I’m going to be honest with you” as if there was any reason to be otherwise she didn’t know me or would ever see me again and I shared mine. In hind sight after reflecting on it I believe her statement of “being honest” was her way of giving herself permission to do so. A mother of two, widowed 9 years ago but still had a smile that would light up the woods after 4 days and 3 nights in the backcountry. She had hiked and backpacked many times but this was her first time alone overnight. 

For those that don’t completely get it by backcountry you are on your own, no cell service usually or spotty at best, miles from help, in the wild with wild animals. If shit hits the fan there is no 911 and any help if its an option can be hours or a day away or more. If you want a gut check throw a pack on hike a few hours away from civilization, no communication, in bear country and here’s the important part ALONE and spend a night or two in the wilderness. You will learn something about yourself I guarantee it.

Melody knew this and learning something about herself was her goal, her vision quest and it wasn’t coming together until she met me, her words later. I listened mostly, asked questions and offered some suggestions and by the time we returned to our parked vehicles 5 hours plus later she had a plan. She thanked me, I gave her my contact information and asked her to keep me posted knowing it was unlikely she would. I truly hope her plan works out.

I’m once again reminded of the quote I recently shared “People will forget what you say, people will forget what you do, but people will NEVER forget how you make them feel.

Melody where ever you are I will never forget you and yes it’s time to stop punishing yourself and I promise to try and do the same.

I will return to the GSMNP and AT again someday, when and in what form to be determined. It may be next September/October or it may be passing through on my way to Maine or Georgia. When I do I hope to meet a thousand Melody’s, V’s and Disco’s and I hope to hear all their story’s, share their struggles, challenges and victory’s. I can think of no other way to experience this breath taking place full of wonder, danger and life changing opportunity’s. To do it any other way would be a disservice to Teddy Roosevelt creator of the National Parks, the wilderness and above all yourself. I challenge you to challenge yourself, get a little lost, step outside your comfort zone, scare yourself, breath the fresh air, take in the breath taking scenery and live your OneLife!!!