Welcome back to #TravelThursday. Last week I wrote about my visit exactly 30 years ago to Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The 2,194-mile Appalachian Trail (#AT) straddles the Tennessee / North Carolina state line for over 200 miles through the park. It reaches its highest point just below the summit of Clingmans Dome at 6,625 feet. (The summit is 18 feet higher.) The summit is the highest point I’ve set foot on land in my lifetime. From south to north the #AT runs from northwestern Georgia to central Maine.
Flashback to the late-1970s when I lived in Lanham Maryland (a suburb of Washington D.C.). I was a Cub Scout, a Webelos Scout, and a Boy Scout. I think I was 10½-years-old when I moved from the Webelos to the Boy Scouts late in 1977. I remember we had Troop meetings every week at the local VFW. I enjoyed it a lot. We had classroom-like training. We made things. We played games. We planned weekend trips up in the nearby Appalachian Mountains of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. This was fellowship before I ever knew what fellowship was. I was with the Boy Scouts for about 3 years until my family moved away late in 1980.
Most of our weekend trips were in the wintertime (weather-permitting) up in the Appalachians. Our leaders mapped-out a portion of the #AT with camping sites along the way, and we commenced our adventure. I think we hiked up to 10 miles per day wearing heavy backpacks, so we’d cover 20 to 30 miles during an average 2 to 3 day hike. I remember that we’d all start each new morning together (as a Troop), but then with all of our different paces of hiking we’d all start to scatter on the #AT almost immediately in groups of no less than 2. We weren’t allowed to hike solo. I had a good buddy at the time. His name was Eddie. He and I were the shy ones of the Troop. Nobody ever suspected us of doing bad things. So we got away with doing bad things. He and I were friends outside of Scouting. 45 years later I often wonder whatever happened to him. He was probably my best childhood friend ever.
The camping sites after a long day of hiking were wonderful. We erected our own tents. We setup our own fires – usually one big one (for warmth) and a whole bunch of little ones (for cooking). As a Troop we talked about our day on the #AT – people we met along the way, wild animals we saw, things we found, etc. It was a time of talking and laughing and even telling scary stories by the campfire.
Fun Fact: One time me and my buddy Eddie accidently burned our tent down !
Wearing heavy backpacks was quite the experience. We always tried to pack lightly, but you surely didn’t want to forget something (like heavy clothing) for those cold days and colder nights up on the #AT. Some of those nights were bitter cold and windy in the single digits and teens.
And then there’s the hiking shoes. No matter how perfect those shoes fit. No matter how “high-quality” those insulated socks were. You always got blisters on your ankles. They were reminders of the 20 to 30 miles of weekend hiking for the next week (or more) to come.
It was a fun 3 years with the Boy Scouts. I probably would’ve stayed with them well into my teen years had we never moved away.
Some day in the future I hope to return to the Appalachian Trail somewhere in Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia. I want to hike a few miles up there on a nice sunny summertime day – sans backpack and hiking shoes. Maybe start at Harpers Ferry West Virginia – the start of many of our hikes from those fun Boy Scout trips.
From the mountains to the sea – next #TravelThursday. Let’s keep traveling together.
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