Thursday, March 15, 2012

On the brink of the deep Smokies

Today was a prelude. Try as I might to 'live for the moment', my mind was not on today's 14 mile hike. It was on tomorrow. You see, I have this challenge looming large over my head that is truly daunting: Four thirty mile day hikes, one of which I have to delay because the road to Clingman's Dome isn't open yet.

I hiked to the northern boundary of Great Smoky Mountain Park today (Wednesday, March 7th). And all I could do was look up that dark tunnel of trail as it plunges into the park and shudder. A sense of dread and trepidation coursed up and down my spine as I stood there at Davenport Gap. And it will not go away until I face the fear. I feel like Dr. Livingston, about to plunge into deepest, darkest Africa. Frankly I'm scared, worried, intimidated. Tomorrow could make or break my plans. Tomorrow I must be larger than life, hike farther than I've ever hiked in one day, and come back alive. It will be a 32 mile day, and the weather looks to be deteriorating - I could be finishing the day in the dark and in pouring rain.

Logically, I know I am capable of this. One step at a time. GSMNP is no trackless African jungle, it just feels that way standing on the brink, as I am tonight. It's actually advertised as well-graded trail, never more than 15%. And I won't have to hike the whole thing in the dark, although somehow that's how it feels.

Well, having set up tomorrow's challenge, I suppose I ought to get down to the business of describing today. It didn't seem to present a theme of its own, perhaps because I was so preoccupied with tomorrow, and also because I did not meet a single soul out on the trail. But it was still a nice hike.

One of the huge advantages of hiking the trail out-and-back every day is that you can pick turn-around points that you'd love to visit twice. Today that point was Snowbird Mountain, the one with the gleaming white navigation tower on top. As I returned today it was windier, and there were enough clouds to cover the highest peaks of the Smokies from view (that didn't help my frame of mind regarding tomorrow). I also got to look wistfully back to Max Patch one more time.

Then it was back south, under I-40 and on to Davenport Gap and my confrontation with the unknown. That southward leg featured a truly first-class walk beside a boldly cascading stream, the sort of trail setting that always delights me and will never get old no matter how far I hike.

Maybe that's the hook I can hang my hat on tonight -- The Smokies, after all, are a National Park. The scenery ought to be top notch. I know the vistas will please. With any luck there will be cascading streams as well. Time to set aside the feeling that this is a hazing - a gauntlet to be endured - and just soak up the beauty.

My trail name, 'Seeks It', partly derives from the widely distributed AT sticker, which says around its lower edge: "A footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness." Yes ... yes ... I am one who seeks that. I am here seeking the serenity of such deep and unreachable places. I am here on the brink of the Smokies precisely for that experience. Bring it on!


Here's the mapped route of today's hike, with link to many more photos:

AT Day 61 - To the edge of the Smokies at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Tennessee

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