There was something cosmic about deciding to take ‘A Walk in the Smokies’
Buzz Trexler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When I started hiking in 2010, one of my reporters came in one day and said, “I heard you talking about the Appalachian Trail. I just finished a book by a guy who hiked the trail with an out-of-shape friend. It had some funny parts in it.”
As she described the writing style, I said, “That sounds like something Bill Bryson would write.”
“I think that’s the author’s name,” she said. “It’s called ‘A Walk in the Woods.’”
Sure enough, Bryson was the author.
I first heard of Bill Bryson when my good friend Lytle Brown gave me “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” for Christmas one year.
It was bedtime reading, but I finally had to quit trying to read it at bedtime. Donna said I shook the bed while trying to stifle laughter and was keeping her awake.
Curiously enough, while “A Walk in the Woods” was first published in 1997, within weeks two other people mentioned this same book to me.
I considered it something cosmic, so I borrowed copy.
“A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” was humorous and an inspiration for someone like me who dreamed of through-hiking America’s 2,000-plus mile treasure.
Bryson and his trailmate, Katz, took off from Springer Mountain, Ga., March 9, 1996, for the south-to-north trek. And as Katz huffed and puffed, and griped and moaned, I did so along with him, knowing what it’s like to be weighed down with too much pack and too much flab.
But a little more than 30 miles into the Smokies — in other words, about one-third of the way through the Park — I put down the book and nearly didn’t pick it back up after reading these words:
“By the third day, Katz and I both had nothing dry and were shivering constantly. We slopped up to the summit of Clingmans Dome, a high point of the trip, by all accounts, with views in clear weather to make the heart take wing and saw nothing, nothing whatever but the dim shapes of dying trees in a swirling fog.
“We were soaked and filthy, desperately needed a launderette, clean, dry clothes, a square meal, and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. It was time to go to Gatlinburg.”
Granted, I’ve been a short-term hiker, at best. But I could only think, “What did you miss when you jumped off of the AT to head for the tourist mob of Myrtle Beach in the mountains?”
At first, Bryson and Katz were going to jump back on the AT at Spivey Gap, near Ernestville, N.C., which at least would have led them into Roan Highlands, a segment I’ve hike through. Instead, they opted for catching a ride to Roanoke, Va., which means they didn’t even hit “Trail Town,” Damascus, Va., nor Grayson Highlands, which was just beyond that point.
Again, they’ve still hiked way more of the AT than I have at this point, but I had to wonder: What did they miss in the Smokies?
Perhaps, even with my bad feet and crepitus creeping up on my right knee, I thought, “Well, Stumpfinder (an affectionate appellation bestowed upon me by my trailmates), why not find out?”
It was around Christmas when I first approached Steven “Griz” Gilreath about it, but we didn’t settle on a date until a few weeks later. He and Karen came through earlier this year and they were breaking bread with us at Texas Roadhouse in Alcoa.
“Well, I think I’ve gotten things together at work so I can do the Smokies hike,” I said.
“Let’s do it!” he said.
I could have said, “Griz, why not hit Springer Mountain when the trail thaws in March and head for Katahdin,” and he’d probably have said, “I’m ready!”
So, it was no surprise.
We broke out the calendars and started working on a date to begin what will be about a weeklong hike of nearly 60 miles, settling on April 26.
The plan: Put in at Clingmans Dome and take out at Max Patch, just outside of the Park boundaries – the very place where I first set foot on the Appalachian Trail in the late 1980s when my Sunday School class was staying at Sterchi Lodge.
The hope: To find enough Verizon hotspots along the way to post updates using my iPad, so others can join in the journey.
The outcome: As with all journeys, we won’t know until we get there – but at least we will have taken a “A Walk in the Smokies,” and perhaps learn whether a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail is in the future.
Buzz Trexler is managing editor at
The Daily Times. You can email him at (email@example.com)