Thursday, December 31, 2015

Just a few hours remain in the year 2015 and I can't think of a better way than wrapping it up than to tell a hiking story. Tonight's entry actually was a year in the making and the culmination of a goal I set on this day in 2014. In that year, I hiked 386 miles and decided that I surely could manage 400 miles in 2015 but after wrestling with it in my mind, I rounded it up to 500. I made a Facebook page to mark my progress and headed out for a night of darts and drinks with friends to ring in the new year.
Charlie's Bunion. New Year's Day 2015.
Shows up an hour early. Shovels out two parking places for hiking in knee deep snow.

The following morning I was up early and on the road to the Smokies for a hike to Charlie's Bunion with a group of friends, and after one day I had eight miles. I hiked again on January 4th and netted four miles, and again on the 7th, and slowly the miles started to pile up. At the end of January I had already hiked 70 miles and felt like my goal was well in hand but February had other plans. The weather took a turn for the worse and I worked the majority of the month limiting my production. A slip at Buckeye Falls resulted in a torn ligament in my ankle and suddenly I was behind of the pace needed to meet my goal. With the arrival of March came better weather and a healing ankle helping me get back on pace and exceed the 44 miles needed to stay on pace for the month. The April showers did little to dampen my spirits and more miles piled up and I spotted my first ever bobcat in the wild and fished a drowning friend out of the Devil's Bathtub.  In May, I marveled at the wildflowers and the little things along the way and I started seeing a change from my frantic pace to truly savoring the experience, but another mishap caused me to break my toe while solo hiking at Monkeyhead Rocks in Erwin. The diagnosis was to take four weeks off to allow it to heal, as I write the blog tonight, It's more crooked than ever and still sore.

Josiah Falls with Amy and (not pictured) Mike Castle.

Behind an off trail waterfall in Jefferson National Forest with Shane and Halley.

Hanging with the girl scouts behind Little Stony Falls.

and Fund Raising for JDRF on the Sand Cave hike.
Warmer weather and the month of June had me craving the water and I gave up several hiking opportunities to float the river instead. However, I did pass the halfway point of my goal at mile 250 with Amber in the Grayson Highlands and a play date with the wild ponies. Bouncing from town to town on work assignment I spent many evenings hiking alone but as the calendar flipped to July, I reunited with one of my former coworkers on a memorable race against dark hike in the hills of Appalachia and then at the end of the month I even got Mike Castle out on the trail for a hike with Halley and I to Devil's Creek and a refreshing swim at dusk to celebrate mile 300.
All smiles at Devil's Creek.
Amber decided it was this pony's birthday.
Refreshing and recharging. Mile 300 at Devil's Creek Falls.

Feeling confident in my efforts and mileage, I eased into August with a more relaxed pace......just kidding. Having reconnected with my childhood nemesis Amy Hall, I discovered her love for long hikes and marched her through the Roan Highlands and a fifteen mile day in the sweltering heat of dog days. To celebrate my anniversary I revisited Chimney Tops with Amber and Jeff Forrester since he was the one who led us to that awful climb over four years ago.  As August faded and September arrived I entered the month knowing mile 400 was well within my grasp and my overconfidence about put me in the ground. In the Linville Gorge while hiking alone, I ran out of water, fainted, and later encountered bears at dusk. It made for a great story but also served as a harsh lesson and it was my last long mileage solo hike of the year.
South Carolina waterfall huntin'
So that's how the Roan Highlands keep their balds.

Shane peeled away from work and Chattanooga long enough to take one of the best hikes of the year from Low Gap to Damascus and the craft beer at the end of the day never tasted better. Back in Virginia, I spent an evening hiking with Henry, Becky, and Jon to the Killing Rock near Pound, Virginia and nearly laughed myself to death when Henry realized he parked in human feces. Near the end of the month I marked the 400 mile mark with my Godchild on a trip to Laurel Falls near Hampton, Tennessee.
Poor Josh. Hiked straight up a mountain in work clothes and boots that weigh more than me.
Baize and I were excited to see mile 400 fall in the Laurel Fork Gorge.

October is by far my favorite month to hike and I did plenty of it with a vacation purposely scheduled to coincide with peak leaf season. A visit to the Talus Fields with Halley, a hike to Buzzard Rock with Amy, and a special father and son day in the Unaka Mountains helped me reel in the dream of mile 500. As the leaves faded and the calendar turned to my least favorite month of the year I was only a few miles shy of my goal. I couldn't think of a better person to let choose the finale than Shane Estep. Shane had hiked with me as much as anyone throughout the year and when he suggested the Pinnacle in Abingdon I happily agreed.
Dad climbing to Pinnacle Tower.
The mighty Talus Fields and my favorite four legged hiker, Sallie Gator.

The Pinnacle is a really short hike at a little over a mile round trip, so I took a few short hikes to get to mile 499 and the celebration hike with some of my friends. On a crisp Sunday morning, I met with eight of my friends in Abingdon for the short ride over to the trail head to the Pinnacle. It was a perfect collection of hikers with Amber, Shane, Halley, Kinlee, Amy, Steve, and John braving the chill to spend a day playing among the unique boulders in the shadow of Brumley Mountain. The hike may be short but it's a leg burner and we all gasped for air throughout the climb. When we mercifully reached the top, we shared hugs and laughs as everyone spread out to explore. Sitting here thinking about it now, all I can do is smile.
Window of opportunity from Buzzard Rock.
Mile 500! Pinnacle Rock, Abingdon, Va.

Having achieved my goal, I can now look back on one of the better years of my life. As the year progressed, I learned that it was less about the miles and the goal as it was the friendships formed along the way. Shane and Halley stuck with me through tough terrain and all kinds of weather while Amy and John may have arrived late to the party, but piled on some long days of rough hiking with me while laughing the entire way. Finally I would be foolish not to mention how much Amber's patience and understanding played in helping me achieve my goal. She wasn't always as excited to go hiking with me but always willing to listen to my story when I got home. I couldn't have done this without her. Until next time...happy trails
Mission Accomplished...

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