I did it!
I wasn’t sure there for a little while if I’d be able to. But I did it, and honestly, don’t feel too worse for wear physically because of it. And mentally, I feel awesome!
What did I do?
I hiked an overnighter on the Appalachian Trail.
Yes, THAT Appalachian Trail. The one that stretches from Georgia to Maine.
In 2012 the dream was born. We were visiting Tennessee and took a trip into Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We passed the Appalachian Trail on our walk up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT.
I took a picture of one of my brothers on the trail and dreamed of one day coming back to hike at least a portion of that iconic pathway.
That picture stayed with me for years. And then we planned a family reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, right at the foot of the Smokies, and just 45 minutes from Clingman’s Dome.
I knew what I just had to do.
January 2019 – I make a plan of getting in shape. I start hiking around our property.
February 2019 – I’m out for the count with a broken rib.
March & April 2019 – back in training mode. 3-4 mile hikes in the hills behind our house happen several times a week.
May & June 2019 – we start a busy time on our house build and I basically stop all hikes as it’s too tiring and takes too much time.
And that’s when I started to doubt if I’d be able to do the hike I had chosen.I decided that we were going to start at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT since that was the easiest access from where we were staying in Gatlinburg. We would be dropped off at the parking lot and hike approximately 5 miles to one of the huts in the afternoon, then back to the parking lot for pickup the next morning. I had even purchased our reservation (required in the national park).
But would I be able to do 5 miles with a pack? And then 5 miles again the next day, mostly up hill? That was way more than I’d done since starting training, and I hadn’t been training for 2 months. And what about my 6 year old daughter? And my sister-in-law who’d never been backpacking before? I swallowed my fears and kept moving forward with our plans.
As we packed for our two week family vacation, I tried to figure out if I could pack everything we would need into our packs, that way we wouldn’t need extra luggage. Turns out I could.
When we got to our cabin in Gatlinburg, I took out everything I wasn’t taking on the hiking trip and repacked my bag.
And we started paying closer attention to the weather forecast. Something about rain and thunderstorms. Great.
Most everyone encouraged us to stay with the rest of the family. My 13 year old daughter actually opted out.
But I had already purchased the permits, and I was still really excited to give it a go. I had that itch and it needed to be scratched.
My sister-in-law and my 6year old were also still excited to go.And so we went.
It was chilly up there at 6,600′, in the rain and the fog. But we were prepared.
And so we kissed our family goodbye, and we were off. It was 4:00pm and we had roughly 5 miles to hike.
These Nevadan gals loved the warm rain and fog and spooky, mystical look of the woods.
We marveled at all the flowers and mushrooms, and especially the bees and wasps taking shelter from the rain.
The beauty in God’s creation is hard to miss in that part of the world.
We were just loving it!
And I was so excited to be following the white blazes on a trail I’ve heard and read and studied and watched so much about.
Around mile 3, Baby Bird started getting very tired. I was worried about making it to camp before dark and did not let us rest very often. But her Auntie came to the rescue and started a game of 20 questions. I’m not sure exactly how many rounds we played that evening as we hiked, but I’m sure the questions numbered in the hundreds!
Right at sunset, the skies cleared just enough to get some beautiful views of the Great Smokey Mountains.
But we were still a ways from camp and the light was fading fast.
And suddenly it was dark, and we were still a ¼ mile from the hut. We broke out a head lamp for the kiddo, but the Sis and I could still see a bit and didn’t want to take the time to dig out our headlamps. Probably not the wisest decision. But I’m happy to say we made it into camp without any injuries from tripping on roots or falling off rocks we could not see in the trail.
When we pulled into Siler’s Bald hut at 9:15pm, there were a couple guys making their dinner and they quietly let us know that there were people already asleep in the shelter. The next 30 minutes or so was taken up with quietly stuffing food in our mouths and setting out our bed rolls on the upper “bunk” of the shelter.
I’m proud to say that none of our sleeping bags got wet in the rain, and that we managed to keep the kiddo quiet while we set up. Definitely a first for that trip! (Probably helped that she was dead tired.)
I had to ask one of the gentlemen where the bear cables were since I could not find them in the dark. The national park requires that everyone hang their packs on the bear cables. Good thing I had watched videos about how to use them so I didn’t have to study everyone else’s bags in the dark to figure it out.
And then I crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep.
Ahhh, that’s funny. In a sarcastic and sadistic sort of way.
Sleep. Yeeeeaaaahhh. I don’t think I got more than about an hour of sleep that night. Let’s just say that before I go backpacking again, I’ll be getting a new sleeping pad. I feel bad for the other people in the shelter who had to listen to me toss and turn all night.
That’s what you get when you’re 40 years old, haven’t slept on the hard ground in years, and have arthritic hips. I finally had to get up around 2:30am to lower my pack off the cables and dig out some ibuprofen. I should have taken it before bed, but forgot.
And finally it was morning.We met the other people sharing our temporary home, and shared some of our trail experiences.
I made us some hot water for coffee and hot chocolate. We stuffed some food in our faces again and packed everything back into our packs.
Baby Bird was not feeling it though. She was not looking forward to the hike back. Her shoes and pants were still wet from the day before, her mosquito bites from the other day were bugging her again, and she was tired.
But, like a trooper, she put her pack back on and we took off…45 minutes later than I wanted to.
It had taken us just over 5 hours the day before to get to the hut. And that was mostly downhill.We had a plan to meet up with the family at the Clingman’s Dome parking lot at noon. I wanted to leave the hut at 7am.
*Sigh* well, it is what it is, and I knew from checking my phone periodically the day before where I could expect to have service, so I could keep my hubby updated.
And I was shocked. As we headed out, we actually made better time going back up the trail than we did coming down the day before. Part of that, though, is that Baby Bird just wanted to be done.
My Sis and I had taken a bit of the weight out of her pack, so that is another reason she was able to hike faster, but, really, she was just ready to be not hiking and knew the faster she got there, the sooner she could be done.
And then an amazing thing happened.We made it back to Double Springs Gap hut that we had passed the night before. There were a couple ladies there and they just raved over B and how awesome she was doing, and how amazed they were. I literally saw her straighten up and, after a short break there, when we took off again, she had a new confidence. And suddenly her attitude was 100% better.
From then on out, she slowed down a bit, but she was happily finding centipedes (we called them huffle-pedes because they are the colors of the Hufflepuff house from Harry Potter 😉), mushrooms (“fairy umbrellas and pools”) and other magical sites and creatures.
I was looking at my watch, tempted to tell her to hurry. But I knew I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take away that little bit of joy that she was finding in the midst of a hard trial.
And the sun started to peak out a bit more that morning.
For my part, I was amazed at how well my knees and hips were actually doing, even with a heavier pack this second day (from taking on B’s sleeping bag).
Laying in bed the night before, worrying about not sleeping and how long the hike out would take that next day, I just kept remembering all those steps we had come down the evening before. All those steps that I would then have to go up with already tired and hurting legs. I envisioned stopping at each one, barely able to haul myself up it. But while I was tired, I was hiking very well. Even up all those steps.
And then we caught up with one of the ladies from the hut. She had overtaken us a while ago, but then kept stopping on the ridges to try to get cell service to contact her husband. After we caught up to her, she gave up on trying to get service and we hiked together for a while. That helped to pass the time admirably as we chatted, getting to know each other.
She took this picture for us since the Sis was on up ahead on the trail.
And then, finally, we were done!
My hubby was waiting for us at the very end of the trail. We were 45 minutes late, the exact amount of time we were late in leaving the hut earlier that morning.
But it was a God thing, because of we had left on time, we would not have gotten to hike and become fast friends with our hiking companion.
And we would not have been able to give her a ride down into Gatlinburg, which I loved being able to do.
And just like that, our trip was officially over.
I will never forget this trip. It has definitely been a highlight of this family vacation.
I learned a lot on this trip. Some things were good (my new pack and sleeping bag rocked!) and some not so good (I don’t think I would have been able to go much faster even without the 6 year old with me – which means a measly mile an hour hiking speed! And, my sleeping pad does not work at all for my particular body issues.)
Overall though, it was a very successful, and to me, enjoyable trip.
We got to see some amazing views, awesome vistas, and magical scenes, and that was without getting to see very much of the actual Smokies.
I thank God for an amazingly beautiful and wonderful, and safe trip. And I can’t wait to go backpacking again!