Saturday, February 4, 2012

The GSMNP 900?!? No promises; NEW miles!

Ok, so my little hiking group has a new goal (sort of)!  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 900 miles of official trails that are now calling our name.  Our hikes have taken on new direction, and new meaning.  Some of us have officially, Andrea and Kirsten, decided they want to try to hike all 900 miles over the coming years.  Because I want to do so many other things too, like Appalachian Trail hiking, bike riding, fly fishing--just to name a few, I haven't chosen to  accept that challenge at this time.
I will probably never do all 900, and that will be ok with me.  However, what I have undertaken as my challenge is to log as many new miles as possible on the hikes that I do in the Smokies now.  Currently, to the best of my ability, I have recreated my hiking adventures since moving back to Tennessee and have hiked 61.8 of the 900 miles of trails right here in my backyard.  I have hiked over a hundred total miles, but much of that was repeat mileage.  For instance, when I hiked to Grotto Falls and back, I covered 7 miles, but only 3.5 of those were new miles.  Same with Mt. Leconte--total of 10 miles, but only 5 new miles.

This past weekend our group did a loop hike that began about a couple miles down the mountain from the entrance to Cades Cove.  We hiked Finley Cane trail to Bote Mountain trail to Schoolhouse Gap trail and then traversed across Turkeypen Ridge, returning to our cars a total of 8.9 miles later.  On this day, we covered 7.8 new miles that none of us had ever hiked before.

Our hike was relaxing and not nearly as steep as climbing Chinquapin Ridge on the Walker Sisters hike a couple weeks earlier.  Our pace was quick though.  With only four hikers on this day, those who usually break out and end up waiting for the rest of us at waypoints along the hike stayed closer.  That challenged the older or less experienced members of the group to walk more briskly than usual to keep from hindering the youngsters.  I was proud of the pace I was able to sustain, but I don't feel like I get to see as much when I walk that quickly. Also, we never stopped to sit down for even a minute, so my conditioning is getting better, something that should serve me well this summer when, hopefully, we do another section of the AT.

This hike was characterized by several water crossings and since we've had a good bit of rain lately, they were challenges in the rock-hopping department.  In fact, the last one (thankfully it was the last or we'd have had wet feet all day) wasn't a rock hop at all.  It was just a wade on tiptoes and hope your boots are tall enough to keep the river out.  Mine were great! Only the top of my sock got wet on one foot, but one of our hikers had on low-cut hiking shoes and she was soaked.  That water was pretty cold too, seeing as we did the hike in January!  She was glad to get back to the car where we found her some dry socks.

One nice surprise on this hike though, due to all the rain, was an unexpected waterfall on the Turkeypen Ridge trail.  I'm not sure that it would be there at all on a day when weather had been dry for a while, so I felt privileged to stand and watch it's somewhat ethereal beauty.  It was quite pretty how it cascaded down the mountain, changing course when it hit a section of large rock outcroppings, veering off into what was almost a cave-like opening available to it as it rerouted around the boulders.

I find myself feeling very fortunate to have the camaraderie of such a wonderful group of ladies to hike with during this transition time in my life.  This is definitely helping to fill the void left by children who are growing up, moved out, and needing me less (or at least in different ways--seems like all they really need me for right now is money! And that's ok, too, for now).  I am sort of remaking myself, similar to the way they are finding their way into their futures.  I, too, feel like I'm finding new paths into mine.  And I'm liking it!

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