Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Meanderings: She Hikes and She Hikes

The most comfortable pair of shoes I own!!
February 5, 2013

The National Park website for The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will tell you that there are three main entrances to the park, but those of us who really KNOW the park will tell you that there are at least nine with countless others than only us "locals" know about and rest assured, we are not telling...............  

I have loved this park from the time I was brought here as a tiny child (my mom has pictures to prove it that she refuses to part with) until now and count myself truly fortunate to have lived most of my life at its doorstep!  I have gone to these mountains to celebrate the happiest days of my life and run to them during the darkest.  

Within the park boundaries, there are 900 miles of officially maintained trails, but one doesn't have to look far to see evidence of many hundreds more.  It doesn't take long to sit on a rock in the solitude and almost see the lives and hardships of those who built their homes among these hills many of whom were displaced by the park service.  But that is a story for another day.

Becoming a member of the 900 Mile Club by hiking all 900 miles is quite a feat because one has to hike somewhere around 1500 miles in order to access all 900 miles.  That makes more sense by looking at a trail map, but a simple explanation is that many of the trails are "internal" trails which means either end can only be reached by hiking another trail.  In other words, there is no road access.  Some have done it, but it is almost impossible to hike all 900 miles without backpacking overnight.  To do so, you'd have to hike some 25-30 mile days which is beyond most people's capability.

Realistically, I have always known there are trails I'd never see because I do not backpack and even in my healthier days, 14 miles was about my limit.  I long ago accepted that fact and simply set out to hike every trail I could.  Every trail is unique and most of us will tell you that there is no bad day when you are hiking in the Smokies.  I have favorite trails and I have trails which I laughingly say I'd probably never do again unless someone needs me to accompany them in order to help them "color their map," which is hiker jargon for marking off a trail you've completed.   Sadly, I do not know exactly how many miles of trail I've completed because I only began keeping records in 2010.  One of these days, I'll get around to tallying up that number, but I do know that since January 1, 2010, I have hiked 178 miles of trail I'd never done before.  

But I have some favorites.  And those are the ones I return to year after year after year.  They are ones I know every turn, every hill and every rock.  I know what the vistas look like in every season and I can tell by the amount of water in the seeps whether the mountains need rain or not.  One of those trails is the West Prong Trail and it is there that I made my way two days after returning from Florida.

Easy to see from the pictures why this might be a favorite place.....................

On a gorgeous Saturday, Bill and I hiked from the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area to one of the most well preserved cabins in the Smokies, the Walker Sisters Cabin.  Two days later, I hiked back to the cabin from the opposite direction via the Little Greenbrier Trail completing the hike we'd begun.  On that day, I spent over an hour at the cabin eating lunch, thinking about the hardships of the lives of those who lived in that cabin and simply being grateful that I could enjoy it on that day. 


Last Monday, after what seemed like forever, I was able to hike with my friends, Gene and Judi, whom I met two years ago through this blog and who have become friends as well as wonderful hiking partners.  We hiked the Schoolhouse Gap and Chestnut Top trails on a wonderful winter day with snow capped mountain views off in the distance.

 Then to cap off a wonderful week, Becca and I hiked to Indian Flats Falls, a "secret" waterfall that is about a tenth of a mile off-trail and you have to know where to find it.  You can read her account of that day HERE because her pictures are much better than mine and you gotta see the one of me in my bright orange down jacket drinking coffee.  You know a girl is serious about her coffee when she's willing to carry it four miles into the backcountry.

And when you read this on Monday morning, I'll be off again with Gene and Judi to conquer the Jakes Creek Trail with a little off-trail adventure to the summit of Blanket Mountain.  It isn't new trail for me, but one I love and am looking forward to a great day.

So I leave you with a story of friendship and kindness.  We hikers hike for the love of the trail and the joy it brings to our souls.  I take not one step for granted because with a progressive chronic illness like Rheumatoid Arthritis, I am always painfully aware that my hiking days will likely come to an end.  And it's a thought I can't even begin to comprehend or imagine.   After a month off the trail while in Florida, I realized that the constant pain in my neck and shoulders was 100% gone leading me to understand it had to be caused or aggravated by carrying the heavy backpack.  Water is HEAVY and when you hike eight to ten miles, you HAVE to carry appropriate amounts of water.

But the thermos of coffee????  Nice on a cold, 23 degree morning, but not essential.  So imagine my surprise last Wednesday morning when, as we strapped on our packs, Becca sticks her hand out and says, "give me your water and while you're at it, hand me the thermos of coffee I know you have hidden in that backpack.  I'm carrying it for you."  And despite my protests, she insisted on carrying one of my water bottles AND my coffee. 

Now, granted, Becca is MUCH younger than me (a fact I forget as she is so settled and mature, she never SEEMS that much younger to me) and does backpack so is conditioned to carry a much heavier pack, but even so, hiking protocol dictates that each person is responsible for their own equipment and safety.  This was above and beyond, a gesture which meant the world to me and one I'll never forget!  This blog brought me Becca, a friendship I truly treasure!
Has someone done something for you lately that was totally unexpected, but will never be forgotten?


  1. I appreciate that you can hike in that beautiful park. I live in Tenn. and have enjoyed those mountains all my life. I cant walk without pain these days, so I get to enjoy your treks here! Love the pictures.

  2. That is very thoughtful of Becca. Liquid is so heavy! I know when we start our long rides and the water bottles are full and the food and gear in the bag it probably adds 5 - 8 pounds of weight.

    I love that cabin. I wonder what made them settle right in that spot, don't you?

  3. Thanks for the links! Of course I had to check out the hidden waterfall, and I loved the story of the Walker sisters.

    I wish you many more years of hiking with good friends and good coffee!

  4. Don't know if this will help, but I carry my water at my waist. Maybe that will help with your neck and back problems... We love the Smokies also --and enjoy hiking. However, we are usually hiking in search of a waterfall. AND--of course we stop a million times to take pictures. For a 'hiker' like you--you would hate hiking with us (since we mostly meander--and don't do the distances you do). BUT--be that as it may, we love the Smokies also.

    Indian Flats is on our list --but it's a little far for us... One day, we may make it. I will check out Becca's blog post... Glad she helped you with the coffee and water.


  5. How very kind (and insightful) of Becca!

    And now I'm going to go buy a lottery ticket so that I can come to the mountains for a long visit, buy some hiking accoutrements, and eat pancakes. :)

  6. Aw, friend... I will carry your water AND coffee any time if it will prevent you hurting that evening or the next day. You're right, I have age on my side as well as the backpacking experience. I truely value and treasure my friendship with you!

    You are one of the few people I know that is from here and is really invested in and truely still enjoys hiking in the mountains. I think the majority of locals take it for granted, or feel they've "been there and done that", and don't enjoy going to the Smokies any more. I'm so glad you still do!

  7. What a feel good story. I have a feeling you're the kind of person who does special things for people all the time. I'm back...having gained most of the 94 pounds I lost back. To see you maintain, keep on track and keep hiking gives me hope! Dawne

  8. I love to read about your hiking adventures

  9. Great hike! And a nice friendship you have got going there! :)

  10. I'm glad to hear you've been out hiking. And what a great friend you have that offers to carry your coffee and water! Once ski season winds down, I'll be back on the trails too. But for now, the mountain beckons and I must bring my skis. :)

  11. We wanted to do the West Prong last year but it was still closed so I will put it on my to-do list for the next trip.
    I love your hiking posts because it gives me a little Smoky Mountain fix until I can go again.
    I would do about anything to be able to live there and hike all the trails.

  12. I'm so glad you have laced up your hiking boots again. What a good friend you have in Becca! I haven't done West Prong yet, so your comments about it are exciting. Happy trails!

  13. Great hiking stories. Love that area!


  14. What a wonderful friend and hiking partner! I can really feel the the extra weight of my backpack on my post surgery foot. I have tried to scale back on what I carry to lighten my load. We use Osprey hydra form water reservoirs that help to evenly distribute the weight of the water in our packs. Once I got fitted for a backpack at REI I was amazed at how it took the weight and pressure off my shoulders and neck and instead the weight rests on my hips.

    I'm so glad you are back on the trails and posting about it!

  15. I'm so happy you've been able to do all that hiking, Sharon. I do so wish I lived close enough to hike with you (although I must admit to being a little wimpy about winter hiking since I have a touch of cold-weather asthma). It was so kind of Becca to carry your water and coffee--a good friend indeed. Keep on hikin'!

  16. By the way, I was wondering what kind of shoes those are? I have wide, wide feet and have such trouble finding comfortable shoes. The best ones, by far, I've ever found were New Balance. We were beside ourselves with joy the other day when Tom found some nearly new New Balance shoes at the Goodwill! (He has wide feet, too---poor thing).

  17. Great to have something in your life you are passionate about! Mine is related to hiking, because I paint on hiking trails. Painting always wins with me! A good friend is a treasure!