Hiking the Smokies

On our first trip to the  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we picked up a booklet called Hike the Smokies for Families. Basically, the goal is for the entire family to hike 50 miles together. Once you have completed your first 10 miles, you get a sticker in your booklet, then at 25 miles you get a pin. Another sticker gets added at 40 miles and then the final pin at 50. Since our kids are all so high energy and we all enjoy getting outside, we thought this would be the perfect challenge for us.

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We completed our first hike in the park on March 9, and since then we have hiked a total of 32.4 miles. We originally thought we would have the entire summer to complete the mileage, but since Rob will be working for the park service come June, we will have to complete the final 17.6 miles within the next month.

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We are trying to get our miles in without overdoing it so we are doing a mixture of short and long trails and are trying to split up hiking days. Yesterday was a beautiful day for a drive, but neither Rob or I were up for a long hike, so we went to Clingmans Dome instead, which is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is a steep half-mile trail that leads up to spectacular views from the top.

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At the top, we ran into some Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, since the trail crosses right by the dome. They were already 200 miles into their 2200 mile journey and I found myself wanting to jump on the trail with them. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is on our list, but it will not happen for several years. We need time to plan and train and the kids need to be big enough to carry their own gear. If all goes as planned, Rob will celebrate his 50th birthday somewhere along the trail, and a short four days later, I will celebrate my 40th.

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The drive through the park was amazing. The trees are green, wildflowers are blooming. It is spectacular. The trees in the higher elevations are a little slower, but with the beautiful sunshine, I know they will not be too far behind. I am so grateful that we are living close enough to the park to be able to experience all of the changes and to have time to explore as much of it as possible. Normally it is into a park one day and out the next and you leave feeling as though there was still so much to see, but I think that when the time comes for us to leave the Smokies, we will feel pretty good about all we were able to see and do.

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Word of the Day: Surprise!

Surprise n 1. unexpected or astonishing event or circumstance

Today, after driving a surprising 14 miles of dirt, mountainous, narrow, twisty crazy roads, we finally arrived at the trail head of the hike we wanted to do. Boogerman, it was called, which seemed fitting for us. We parked the car, grabbed our packs and headed a few yards back down the road to the trail.

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Surprise! The foot bridge was gone, so the only way to begin the trail was to cross the creek. Rob studied it for a minute, and decided that not only was it indeed crossable, but that we were just crazy enough to do so. The water was very, very cold, but we slowly made our way across.

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It was supposed to be warm today, so we figured we would dry out while we were hiking. We made our way down the trail and soon came upon a bridge. The best thing I can say about this bridge was that at least it existed. But the winter had been hard on it and it had been beaten down by many logs.

Surprise!  This bridge was more of an obstacle course. It was almost completely sideways from all the logs that had piled up against it, so we crossed it like bears, so some other woodland critter.

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Once we all made our way safely across, we continued on down the trail. The loop we were heading on ventured away from the creek, so it gave us time to dry out. We were actually on the lookout for bears because there were signs everywhere. Hair, scat, multiple trees with obvious bear scratches. But between our 10 feet, crunchy leaves and two little boys who like to talk, we couldn’t sneak up on anything, which I suppose was a good thing, but we would really like to see a bear.

Eventually our loop led us back to the creek, and while everything started out fine, it didn’t stay that way for very long.

Surprise! All the rain that had fallen over the last month had flooded the trail, so while we were almost dry, it was time to get wet once again. All except Catheryn, who clung like a monkey to her daddy’s back.

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It was not too far past here when William came running at me with… something. After the venomous snake encounter yesterday, I was a little gun-shy.

Surprise! At least it wasn’t a snake!

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We had all but given up the hope of ever being dry again. It just didn’t seem to be in the cards today. The trail made its way back out of the creek and we continued on our merry, although somewhat sloshy, way.

Surprise! Are you kidding me? Another missing bridge??

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We were trying to decide the best place to cross when we came upon a little trail someone had marked. It led to a tree that had fallen across the creek. Rob crossed first and then went downstream in case anyone fell in trying to cross it. Luckily, nobody did.

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7.4 miles and 5.5 hours later, we arrived back at the beginning. We had to cross the main creek again in order to get back to the car, but we were already wet so it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time across. Unfortunately, Rob twisted his ankle a couple miles from the finish. It is sore, but hopefully it won’t take too long to heal up.

Overall, it was a great day full of… surprises. Lessons of the day: expect the unexpected, be grateful for bridges, and don’t be afraid to get your feet wet.

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Great Smoky Mountains

Rob begins his white-water training on Monday, so we are enjoying our last weekend of freedom. It was such a beautiful day today that we decided a drive was in order. About 25 miles down the road is the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hadn’t been there yet, and it was about time we added a new stamp in out National Parks Passport.

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While there are miles and miles of trails we plan to hike over the course of the summer, hiking was not on the menu today. Our main goal was simply to check out the area. Much to our surprise, there is no entrance fee to get into the park. Instead, it is run off of donations and sales from the gift shops.

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Some of the roads are still closed because of snow and ice, but we were able to drive up to the top for a scenic overlook. It does not look like much now, mostly because of the large number of deciduous trees, but in a few weeks time, it will come to life with about 50 (or perhaps even more) shades of green and will be absolutely beautiful.

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After a stop into the visitor’s center for our customary sticker and pin, and information on the trails, we took a nature trail that led to a small waterfall. Many other people had the same idea today because of the warm and inviting sunshine. As we were driving home through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, we were amazed at how many people were walking the streets! If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was the middle of summer and not mid-March.

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Tomorrow is supposed to be another sunny day, and who knows what it will bring. Hope you are enjoying beautiful weather in your neck of the woods!