Connecting with Fellow Adventurers on the Trail

I recently came back from a short backpacking trip in the Smoky Mountain National Park. The smokies are my favorite place to hike, and with it only being 3.5 hours from Atlanta, it feels like a second home to me. If you get the chance to visit the smokies, you won’t regret it. There is so much to do in and around the park boundary, but we’ll save that for a different time. Roughly 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through the boundary of the park, hitting some of the most scenic spots in the park. A good friend and I decided to hike a portion of the AT from the north eastern park boundary to the middle, about 32 miles. We started our hike during the peak of northbound thru hiking season, where hundreds of hikers begin their journey from the peak of Springer Mountain in GA, trekking 2,190 miles all the way up to the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. We didn’t plan it out this way, but I’m so grateful that it was a part of our experience.

Our first day on trail, we met so many incredible people. Our shelter mates were all headed northbound that day, and it was intriguing to hear their stories of how many miles they had hiked the day before, what their favorite experience has been from the last few weeks on trail, and the kinds of relationships they had formed with other people. One of the hikers said that he usually pushes about 20-25 miles in a single day! He had hiked all of the major trails in the US and this was his second go around on the AT. Our second night on trail was filled with exciting stories from the backcountry horseman who stayed next to our camp. They had traveled voluntarily from California with their horses and mules in order to take care of the backcountry privy’s. The horses loved climbing up into the smokies and their riders loved to bring them up there. There was wonderful music performed by a thru hiker who had brought a guitar along with him, and a moment of fear when a few hikers came into camp severely dehydrated and underprepared for the day’s hike. Watching everyone rally around these two hikers to supply them with any need they were lacking was incredibly inspiring, a reminder that we are truly all in this together. 

Over the next few days, we connected with many different kinds of people. Everyone sharing different stories and perspectives about life. We met a couple who would stay with us the next night as well, and we spent time getting to know them, listening to the inspiring story of how one of them survived a car explosion that burned 75% of his body. This was his first backpacking trip and he was going to cover 70 miles over 6 days! As we continued on our journey, we enjoyed several encounters with day hikers hoping to catch photos with the sweeping views of the mountains, and an incredibly fun pack of older women on their way toward a 25 mile day in order to join the 900 Miler Club. The energy radiating from these ladies was truly contagious. I was so inspired to hear about their love for the mountains and for each other as friends. There is so much to learn from the people you meet while wandering in the woods. Everyone is experiencing life in their own way, and it was a breath of fresh air to hear the way lives have changed and hearts have mended from spending time in the outdoors. These are the memories that will stick with me forever. Whenever you get the chance, take some time to connect with the people you’re sharing the trail with. You never know what you’re going to learn.