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Appalachian Trail

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.

All rights reserved (c) 2022 Christopher M. Day, CountUp

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Skyline Drive + Blue Ridge Parkway

#TravelThursday continues, and in this edition we visit 574 miles of scenic roadway up in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.

Several years ago I planned (via Excel spreadsheet) a road-trip that encompassed both Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a very ambitious itinerary that – looking back upon it – is almost undoable. It had me flying-in to Washington Dulles International Airport and renting a car there. I’d get on the I-66 westbound, and I’d take that to Front Royal where I’d spend the night.

On the morning of Day 2 I’d begin my mountain adventure and embark on Skyline Drive – the 105½-mile slow and curvy road that runs near the top of the entire length of Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I’d visit Luray Caverns on this day. It’s 11 miles off Skyline Drive. I remember a long time ago – sometime in the mid-1970s – visiting this place as a little kid with my parents. I need to visit it again to enjoy it as an older adult. The area has grown-up a lot since then, and the caverns are surrounded by other museums and attractions.

I’d spend my 2ND night of this road-trip in Fishersville Virginia – located in-between the south-end of Skyline Drive and the north-end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Days 3, 4, and 5 were quite ambitious in that I would drive the entire length of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia into North Carolina (with various attraction and hotel stops along the way). At the end of the 5TH day I’d end-up in Gatlinburg Tennessee on the other side of the Great Smoky Mountains. I suppose I would’ve spent several days and nights in Gatlinburg exploring the area. After that I would’ve turned-in my rental car, and flown back home to sea level in Miami.

So while I extensively planned that road-trip – I never took it. I’ve not lost interest in taking that trip, and I probably will take it in the next several years – early-on in the next chapter of my life – post-retirement. I think I’d eliminate the Gatlinburg Tennessee portion of the future trip, as that’s worthy of its own trip by itself. Me and my little brother visited Gatlinburg for several hours back in August of 1992 – a few weeks after a horrible fire consumed a portion of the downtown attractions district. I remember that it still reeked of smoke some 3 weeks after the fire. I’d really like to spend about 4 days and 3 nights in and around Gatlinburg enjoying all that the area has to offer. I’d really like to visit Gatlinburg with my family (who live in North Texas), but I don’t think that it’s a destination that my brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces would find as much fun as me. They are not “mountain people”. They are “beach people”.

Now the Skyline Drive + Blue Ridge Parkway road-trip – that’s definitely a solo trip. Perhaps I’ll do it in reverse – from south to north – over the course of maybe 10 days instead of 5 – adding more stops for sightseeing, photography, attractions, and good mountain dining and lodging. Of course I’d drive my own car for the road-trip. It’s about 830 miles to drive from my current home in South Florida to the south-end of the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina. Once I hit Front Royal Virginia (at the north-end of the 574-mile parkway adventure) I’d take more traditional roads back southward, and the Andy Griffith Museum and the Billy Graham Library would be key stops along the way through the foothills of North Carolina.

I think it’s time to start redoing that itinerary (via Excel spreadsheet) so that it’s ready to implement in about 3 to 5 years. I’ll have over 2,500 miles to cover !

Join me next #TravelThursday as we visit another location on the face of this earth.

They keep you safe on your way, and your feet will not stumble. You can go to bed without fear. You will lie down and sleep soundly. You need not be afraid of sudden disaster or the destruction that comes upon the wicked, for the LORD is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. (Proverbs 3:23-26 NLT)

All rights reserved (c) 2021 Christopher M. Day, CountUp Ministries