I was literally above the clouds. I could just make out the ant-sized city of Gatlinburg below me, and the mountains seemed to go on forever. This view, from Charles’ Bunion on the Appalachian Trail, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. My third hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail with my dad in June of 2011 would be 34 miles and no walk in the park. The Appalachian Trail has you scaling mountains and jumping across streams all while carrying a thirty pound backpack.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
We woke up early on the first day of our hike to get a head start on the ten mile hike ahead of us and arrived at Newfound Gap at 7:00 in the morning. I always feel like a camera-happy tourist on the trail snapping pictures at whatever I see. Wildlife on the trail is ignorant of human existence. As I tried to take a picture of a tiny, furry mouse, it ran straight into my hiking boot. After an exhausting day involving the escalation of several mountains, my dad and I settled into camp at Peck’s Corner; a cabin consisting of three wooden walls, a roof, and a plank of wood creating two levels for sleeping. Looking forward to a goodnight’s sleep, we ate our delicious dehydrated meal and rolled out in our sleeping bags. Unfortunately, I slept next to a fellow hiker whose snoring sounded like he was imitating a bear’s growl.
Needless to say, I got little sleep and woke up feeling ill. I felt especially unlucky since our second day of the hike was 13 miles long and began with a few particularly steep mountains. Then it started pouring rain. I pushed through the pain and eventually began to feel better. Along the trail later that day, we spotted what could only be a large amount of bear poop. As we hiked the last few miles of the day all uphill, we heard a small tree crash to the ground. Unable to see what caused the crash, we assumed the worst – a bear! We sped up the mountain, talking loudly in order to make the bear aware of our presence. This was our fastest section of the hike, and the most talkative. We made it to the shelter unscathed and finally got some sleep.
Day three, we woke up again to the sound of heavy rain, but continued on our way. Throughout our hike we were surrounded by rhododendrons. The beautiful flowers smelled heavenly and added a beautiful pink color to the trail. The motivation of hot showers and home-cooked meals in the future quickened our pace, and we set record time as we barreled down the mountain. Our decent from the perfect sixty degree temperature of the mountains to the ninety degrees of Gatlinburg was miserable. As we finally approached the car at the close of our hike, I looked back at the glorious mountains and cried. After 34 miles filled with aching muscles and non-stop hiking, I didn’t want to leave. No picture will ever measure up to the views I saw. Hiking may seem like it requires only physical strength, but it requires mental strength as well. When I was in pain, I learned the only thing I could do was to persevere. In the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, I had no choice, but to continue one step at a time. Hiking the Appalachian Trail made me a stronger person. Not only do I have newly toned legs, but I have the knowledge that I can overcome obstacles and achieve my goals.
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