342 miles on the AT – Erwin, TN

Mile 342, and what a whirlwind it has been.

The last few weeks have been up and down, both literally and figuratively.

The Smokies

The Great Smoky National Park had it all. Spring flowers, rain, blizzards, views, sunburns.

My first day was particularly beautiful. After accomplishing the first major ascent, I was greeted by spring flowers covering the floor. They almost seemed to sparkle. It was the most magnificent display of spring I’ve ever seen.

In the days that followed, the weather turned sour and it began to rain. I hiked in my first thunderstorm of the trail and it was terrifying and magical, all at the same time.

Blizzard? No thanks.

The rain was followed by a blizzard and I was reminded, once again, that none of my gear is rated for freezing temps.

Winter wonderland in the Smokies

I decided I would hike to Clingman’s Dome asap (the highest point on the entire AT sitting at 6,644 ft in elevation) and then hitch a ride to Gatlinburg, TN to wait out the storm.

I got all the way to Clingmans (no view, of course), and it was bitter cold. The wind was howling and I couldn’t feel my face or hands. I spent all of 30 seconds at the top.

Clingman's Dome


The trail down to the parking lot (not the AT) had no footprints. This should have been my first red flag.

Yet I continued on down to the parking lot, shivering. When I got there, the Visitor Center was closed and there was only one car in the parking lot.

With the wind still blowing and our hands still frozen, I hid in a public restroom while I called around for a ride. They all said the same thing:

The road up to Clingmans is closed.

I had to decide between hiking back up to the trail then completing the next 8 miles to the gap, or hiking 7 miles down the closed road. In my shivering delusion, I chose to walk down the closed road.

Those 7 miles were long. About 1 mile from the bottom, a ranger came by and picked me up.

He dropped me off at Newfound Gap where I immediately snagged a ride into town.

I took a zero in Gatlinburg.

Moonshine tasting!

Back at it.

When I finally got back out on the trail, the snow was still piled up but the skies were clear.

The second half of the Smokies was beautiful. Between the snow and the views, I was at an all-time high. I had lunches in the sun and took my time scrambling over ridge lines.

Scenes of the Smokies



The trail provides.

The trail does that. Just when you think you’ve had enough, the trail gives you a glorious moment that reminds you of why you’re doing this. Similarly, when you’ve had an amazing day, the trail has a funny way of humbling you.

It gives you what you need.


Life after the Smokies.

In the last two weeks, I’ve been experiencing some serious homesickness.

I re-twisted my ankle and even twisted my other ankle. I fell 6 feet off a rock face and somehow didn’t break anything (except my ego, I’m sure), and slipped in mud more times than I’d like to admit. My trail family is ahead of me and I’m unlikely to catch up to them anytime soon – back to solo hiking for now.

I’m almost certain this trail is trying to break me.

But it hasn’t yet.

I’m still here.

Because, really, there is still so much good!

I’ve received amazing generosity from perfect strangers (burritos, candy, hot dogs, and even a Chinese restaurant lunch special!) and have met so many wonderful people (thru-hikers and non-thru-hikers alike). I’ve also received an astounding amount of support from friends and family back home, whether it be phone calls, messages, care packages, instagram comments.

Not every day out here can be a good one, and these things keep me afloat when things get rough.

And, in spite of all of the injuries, I’m getting stronger, breathing easier, hiking longer.

I’m now more than 300 miles into this and I’m still having the time of my life.


Life after the Smokies













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Comments 6

  • Jonah "Powerade" Wagan : Apr 22nd

    So great to read and glad you are still tricking on. Also I totally imagined you falling the 6 feet, getting back up, looking around in disbelief and totally being okay after and it made me chuckle a little.

    What is your ETA to Damascus? I don’t think you are too far behind and hope to run into you/join back up!

  • Grace Miller : Apr 23rd

    Hi Steph,
    Enjoying all of your posts. You are amazing. Are you hiking through Damascus, MD? That’s not too far from where I live. If you give me the exact location I would drive there and maybe we could meet up and have a meal. My phone number is 240-994-7243. Let me know if you are coming up this way.

  • John Corbitt : Apr 23rd

    Great writing and photo skills Stephanie. I can imagine you might have connected with ‘consciousness’ when you were at the top of Clingman’s Dome. Keep on treking girl!

  • Frances : Apr 24th

    Steph! Wow! Great attitude! Thanks for trekking on, girl! We all think of you daily as your name still comes up on BearBuy emails at work. Go figure. You are a part of us. (You get my prayers each time, little sister!) I love that you still go on despite literal twists and turns. Hope you have a good brace for your ankle. Arnica too (its light in pellet form).

    So, one of Les Benet’s old employees, Tom Lockwood, is following you now. I couldn’t help telling him, his son Reed did it many years back, solo. So, Tom says and I quote, “. If Stephanie makes it to New Hampshire, I have a hot shower and bedroom for her. Something to look forward to. I make the offer to encourage her.” He is the nicest! Les was pleased with his Trail Angel spirit too. Ok, New Hampshire! I’m keeping that in mind for you too!

    Go forth, Conquerer! You can do this!!!

    Love, hugs, prayers and smiles at your amazing photo skills and writing style.
    Frances trapped at the desk in Fog City

  • Lisa : Apr 25th

    Wow! Amazing photos!

  • Mash : Apr 25th

    You got this! One step in front of the other. Besides it’s obvious you are loving it, shows in your pictures. Even if it’s type ii fun some (most) of the time


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