Day 21 – Guess What I Found In The Smokies?

It could just be I’m in the holiday spirit, but I have an inkling that trail legs are coming. Wasn’t I just whining yesterday about my knee, (shhhhhhhh) yes absolutely. But I just can’t get the image out of my head, of a little girl going to sleep at night, saying her prayers and somebody answering them. “Yes Virginia there are trail legs.” Thus far they’ve been elusive, much like a mythical creature. Mythical trail legs like Bigfoot or Loch Ness. Just needing someone to believe them into existence. So I think (knock on wood) I found those trail legs today.

Oh yeah, Clingmans dome was in the Smokies too. Found that one today as well. Also the Amish were here (they could also be Mennonite, idk?)


I was secretly hoping for Trail Magic at Clingmans Dome. I envisioned Dolly Parton herself with jugs of orange juice for every thru-hiker.

So what happened to my knee from yesterday? The majority of problems in my life come from my own creation. As often is the case with many of our problems. Problems that needn’t be problems in the first place, but alas, we create them all the same. Like any good Aries will tell you, stubbornness is the root of many of my problems. A change in footwear has made all the difference.

As badass as it would have been to post an update with the title saying “hiker does entire 70 mile stretch in the smokies wearing sandals,” just getting to the finish line is more important. That’s why I decided to switch back to shoes for today. While it hasn’t eliminated my knee pain, it’s significantly better today than it was yesterday.

I am learning, slowly but surely, through experience on the trail. I’ve learned the weight of the crown weighs heavy upon the head. In this instance, the weight of what you carry in your pack, truly is king. The lighter tent is noticeable. Carrying just enough food to make it to the next resupply. Carrying just enough water it make it to the next stream. It’s odd how after 3 weeks you notice just a 1 lb difference on what’s on your back.

The approach in the Clingmans dome is more akin to a moss carpeted forest floor, then being over 6000 feet in elevation. The pine trees and moss covered logs are welcome change in scenery. The views from the top were unmatched.

On the way down from Clingmans dome, the knee felt much better. Wasn’t sure if it was the change in footwear, or if I’m just trusting my Achilles more to take some of the load off my knee.  Whether the change in gait is by necessity or preference? I don’t care. Things just felt a little bit better. I was practically skipping down the rocks, which reminded me of when I was in high school, hopping from rock to rock along the rivers in Paradise, CA. But then, my ever wondering, mind turned to “don’t put too much pressure on your toes and develop a new compensation in your already injured Achilles.” My ADHD mind can’t win.

I made fairly quick work of the 3 miles left to Mt Collins Shelter. We’ve had a pretty consistent group the last couple shelters and I’m starting to learn some of the names and faces. Today I met a couple of Vanderbilt grad students (Stone and Mooch). The shelters along the Smokies actually have fireplaces and I made a pretty legit fire if I do say so myself (people were impressed). Overall today went better than expected. And we’re over 9% complete on the Appalachian Trail!

Stow away in my pack and stay tuned for my next mental break down. Maybe on Day 22 on the Appalachian Trail.

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Comments 8

  • thetentman : May 7th

    The beard looks good. Mental breakdowns are fun in print. I can’t wait. Thx for the post.

    And it was the shoes.


  • Bobby : May 7th

    Awesome Job Doc. I live near by and live this time of year when the through hikers venture this way. I really need to take a Saturday and deliver some trail magic . I have hiked maybe 15% of the AT and would love to do it all. My consolation is I have ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway end to end on my bicycle. I love the Smokies and hope you enjoy them too. Good luck and nay the hiking force be with you.

    • Derek Witteman : May 10th

      Hey Bobby, they’ve been a favorite this far. Thanks for the kind words and the support

  • Martin J Camp : May 7th

    Author: Your Dolly Parton comment was sexist and crude, and of course completely unnecessary. Shame on you, and your Editor too.

    • Derek Witteman : May 10th

      All jokes Mr Camp. I don’t have a mean spirited bone in my body. Humor is the spice of life and the beautiful thing about it is we have the freedoms to choose what we find amusing and what we get offended by. I wish you the best and take care

  • Misty : May 8th

    Hey are you here in Virginia? You look like a hiker that stopped buy our store and got food yesterday. If not maybe we will see you on your journey through! Best of wishes and safety.

    • Derek Witteman : May 10th

      Nope I’m in TN. I do have one of those familiar looking faces I’m told. Thanks for reading!

  • CB : May 8th

    You got me again! This time with the Dolly Parton reference. I’ve met her and had a very brief conversation with her and believe she would have laughed. Funny. Good writing! I was just going to give you a quick compliment on the joke, but then saw the above comment from ‘Martin J Camp’ and now am forced to call him out for being a douche nozzle! Yes, that’s funny too.


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