Last week Amy and I decided to go hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains. On Wednesday's, they close down the Cades Cove Driving Loop to vehicle traffic and open it up to walkers and bicyclists. Mind you that this is an 11-mile paved loop that is not for the faint of heart if you are walking it (Electric bikes don't count). Most people do not walk a mile a day, not to mention 11 miles. I have been walking 5 miles a day pretty consistently, so I knew that I was conditioned with endurance to endure until the end. However, I knew to have the right shoes on, have a day pack with snacks, and bottles of water. Along the road, there are two separate "escape routes" that you can take if you don't want to do the whole 11 miles. One by one we saw people that started off walking bail out early. Please don't feel that I am besmirching them or their character, as I give them credit for being out there in nature and exercising. However, my point to this blog is that you have to be prepared. Most of the people I saw walking were visibly not prepared. They were wearing flip flops, did not have any snacks or bottles of water with them, and just thought that they could tackle an 11 mile walk on their own while pushing a baby stroller. Others yet were not visibly unprepared, but were not used to walking, and therefore started to cramp up and get blisters on their feet soon after starting. It was a long 5 hours (we stopped along the way to see the historical buildings) but we were tuckered out at the end.
Two days later, we decided to drive the Cades Cove Loop, and stopped at the Abrams Falls Trail to hike. Once again, I saw the same things as I saw just two days before, but this was not a paved road. This was a 2.5 mile "Moderately Difficult" hike that takes 3-4 hours. Do you know how I know that? BECAUSE IT IS ON THE SIGN!!! That is right, the sign at the beginning of the trail. As Amy and I started off on our hike with our hiking shoes, 3 bottles of water each, extra pair of socks, hand towel to dry feet at the falls, and ample snacks; we started off on the trail. I should mention that we sat out in the parking lot eating some salad, sushi, and dates, all while hydrating with a bottle of water before walking to the trail head. We wanted to make sure that we were well nourished and hydrated prior to starting the hike. Once again, I smiled and kept my comments to myself as we passed people wearing flip flops, crocs, bleach white tennis shoes, barefoot, pushing baby strollers, no water bottles, carrying plastic bags with swimming gear.
They would make the argument that they were prepared to swim in the falls upon their arrival at the end of the trail. However, that is not really what is important, is it? Some turned back and didn't even make it to the falls at the top, as they realized that the protruding rocks on the trail and serpent like tree roots were no competition to their flippy flops. Still others would put down their plastic bags filled with swimsuits, in exasperation of their thirst and lack of hydration preparation. Once we got to the falls, I witnessed a girl walking down the trail barefoot holding her shoes, while holding a bottle filled with murky creek water. I can only surmise that she went swimming with her only pair of shoes and realized that walking in wet shoes the 2.5 miles on the return trip was causing blisters. I am also guessing that she made it up on one bottle of water, but realized she had none for the return trip, and risked all of the dangers of drinking murky creek water. As we left on the return trip, I kept coming across people complaining asking if they were there yet, and I would honestly tell them, "No, you are still a ways away." I was not trying to discourage them, I was just being honest that they had a ways to go, and maybe weren't prepared for the trip, or return trip.
You can surmise what you would like out of this blog, but I just felt it too ironic not to write about. There were 3 different types of people that I saw on these hikes:
1) The person who saw an Instagram photo of the Falls and thought that would be something fun to do with the family and took no thought of whether they or their kids were prepared for a 5-mile round trip "Moderately Difficult" hike. All they saw were the beautiful refreshing pictures and didn't count the cost as to what it would take. They only saw the 2,5 miles on the sign and didn't think that was doubled for round trip. They also might not have had any recollection of what distance 5 miles is walking up and down mountains, as let's face it, that whizzes by pretty fast in their minivan.
2) The other type of person was somewhat prepared in that they had their swimsuit and maybe 1 bottle of water. They thought that it would be sufficient, but as they got going, they realized how out of shape they were, and guzzled all of their water in the first mile and had nothing left for the other 4 miles. Maybe they made it to the falls in order to go swimming but realized that they had no energy or supplies for the return trip. Heat Exhaustion is a terrible thing.
3) Then there was the prepared hiker who took a picture of the sign at the beginning. They had a day pack on their back with just the amount of snacks needed and a minimum of 3 bottles of water. They had an extra pair of socks just in case, and a hand towel to wipe their feet off after getting them wet in the watering hole. They also might have walking sticks, because experience has shown them that those rocks and roots on the trail can tend to trip the best hiker, and it is no fun face-planting. By the time they got to the Falls after 2.5 miles, they were ready to relax and eat a snack and hydrate, all while enjoying and taking in the sites. When it was time to leave, they were complaining about the return trip, but rather realizing from the start that the Falls was only the halfway mark. At the end of the 5 miles, they rewarded themselves with a nice cold ice bath in the mountain stream. Geez, that sounds a lot like Amy and me.
I am not trying to say that I have always been prepared in life. As a matter of fact, the only way I know to be prepared on hiking trips, is because I was that guy who started off years ago not realizing I needed to pack water, snacks, extra socks, etc. We learn from trial and error in life. It is a whole lot easier if we are open to learning from others who have maybe already walked that section of the path of life that you are on.
BE PREPARED!!! I concede that means something different for each person, but again eliminate the risk that you can out of life. If you expect the unexpected, then you won't be so frazzled when things don't go your way. We have heard it said that it is important to finish well in life. In other words, if you hike a section of this journey of life you are on with aplomb, but give up on the rest, that is not finishing well. We must prepare ourselves with and for endurance until the end. This comes into play physically, spiritually, psychologically, etc.