The first guest post of my “maternity leave” is from my pal, Traveling Ted. He shares a sometimes scary story of how a hiking, traveling family comes together during a rough time on the trail.
What was supposed to be a six-mile hike to an Appalachian Trail shelter in Great Smoky Mountains National Park turned into a nightmare when we were stuck in the pitch dark with lame flashlights. It was at a time of year when most families were planning on sitting around a table with relatives eating turkey dinner; my family and I were on a three-night hiking trip in the great outdoors. I was only 9 years old and on a hike with my mom and dad and my brother Rich with two other experienced hikers. The other hikers had left us, and my family and I were alone on the mountain. We were not even sure if we were on the right trail.
The trouble began early in the day when we hit a ford on the Little River. Apparently a recent flood must have taken out the bridge over the river. The river was flowing fast and waist deep with no bridge or tree to easily cross. It was not an easy crossing for adults, much less for two kids aged 9 and 12.
My parents and the other adults scouted up and down the river for over an hour looking for an easier crossing. We finally just forged straight across as no easier spot was found. We crossed with the help of ropes and walking sticks.
We all made it across successfully, but by the time we had lunch and got our shoes back on, we had squandered over two hours on this crossing. These two hours turned out to be critical. It was November and there was not sufficient light to finish the day. We then had two more river crossings, which did not take up as much time, but still delayed us further.
Anyone familiar with trails up to the Appalachian crest knows that they are not easy. They usually consist of two to three hours of hell for even experienced, fit hikers. The Goshen Prong Trail was no exception and we moved slowly up the never ending switch backs – up, up, and up.
Soon night fell, and we were stuck halfway up the mountain in the pitch dark. It was wet, we were tired, and we had horrible flashlights. As if it could not get possibly any worse, we all of a sudden heard loud charging footsteps coming down the trail. My dad dropped, put his arms up in defense and yelled, completely startled.
A charging white-tailed deer came down the mountain and appeared out of the fog. It was November and rutting season and apparently this guy must have thought we were a competitor male deer. He charged twice more, but each time he stopped when he realized we were humans and turned around.
We slowly made our way up the mountain – my dad in front, my brother and I in the middle, and my mom in the back. We took baby steps up the trail. I slipped and fell one time and started to cry. My brother helped me up and comforted me.
Despite the fear, the bad equipment, charging wildlife, fatigue, and the elevation climb, we slowly made our way up the mountain. Just when we debated stopping and getting in our sleeping bags (we did not have tents as we planned to stay in the shelters) we came to the Appalachian Trail. We now knew exactly where we were. We knew the Double-Springs Gap shelter was only .2 miles from the Goshen Prong Trail and Appalachian Trail junction.
Our spirits lifted, and we sailed down the rest of the trail exhilarated that we found the trail and the shelter. We took everything Mother Nature could throw our way, but bonded as a family and made it to our destination.
Traveling Ted started hiking when he was 9 years old, over 30 years ago. Although his adventure may take him where families fear to tread, he does remember being a 9 year old hiker. In fact, his maturity level in some cases has stayed at 9 years old: adventure travel keeps you young.
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