Walking to the Smoky Mountains Day 1, May 29
Day 1 Amicalola Visitors Center to Three Forks 15.1 miles (Approach Trail, then 6.1 on BMT)
Walt Whitman opens his “Song of the Open Road” with enthusiasm that is hard to match:
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
I aspire to light-hearted, healthy and free. Like so many finally crawling out of the husk of pandemic solitude (much like the 17 year cicadas emerging in the woods, dazed by the open), light-hearted is probably not the operant mood. And the joyful sort of health Whitman describes will only result from working hard to transition into a post covid world. Which is just to say, I look forward to feeling light-hearted and light-footed, soon I hope.
I have chosen “a long brown path.” The Benton Mackaye, named after one of the founders of the Appalachian Trail, is a 286 mile footpath beginning on Springer Mountain (the point of commencement for the AT) winding its way northwest through the North Georgia Appalachians crossing into Tennessee then touching North Carolina before traversing the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, ending near Davenport Gap. Unlike the AT, the Benton Mackaye, though well-maintained, is uncrowded, often remote, with little of the support system enjoyed by hikers of the Appalachian Trail.
In true trekker fashion, I included the approach trail up from Amicalola falls (which added 9 miles to the trek—a lot on the first day, a mere whisper on the last). There the path mingled day hikers, weekenders, and some AT section hikers. I think I was the only one heading off on the BMT. There was a large contingent of Boy Scouts on a preparatory hike before leaving for Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. Confident, exuberant, and loud, I was happy to be walking a different trail (though we did camp together at Three Forks, a point where the two trails cross).
I think I come at this trek in a mode different from all those others documented in this blog (and the many I took before starting WalkingHome). The need to flush away what has felt like some kind of pandemic-induced fugue state is front of mind, so I find myself desiring more from this saunter than I expected from others. In the spirit of Whitman’s “Open Road”:
Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
I have to admit that today I unable to leave behind lecture rooms, unwritten papers, and books on shelves. Throughout the walk I was preoccupied with life back in the flatlands. And I have to further admit that, even though my gear set-up performed well (see Inventory), my body did not. 15 months of the same thing, day in and day out, have clearly taken their toll, and I suspect it will take some time to get back to trekking fitness (mental and physical).
But, for a sense of optimism, I turn once again to Walt:
The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
T. Hugh Crawford