Day 22 – Holy Smokies

To say today was spiritual would be putting it lightly. I feel like I say this every other day now but today was by far my most favorite part of the Appalachian Trail.


It started off like any other. I’m one of the last people up. There’s mild commotion inside the shelter as people are talking, and eating breakfast, and packing up their gear.

It starts to rain a little around 8AM so people linger longer. I drag myself from my sleeping bag. I didn’t sleep as well as I’d of preferred.

After a little stretching, a leisurely breakfast, and packing up I’m ready to go. The first 5 miles are easy enough. The knee is still not 100% but hiking is still a positive experience rather than a negative one. I meet Mooch and Stone at Icewater Spring Shelter around 2pm. It’s roughly 8 miles from where I started the day. I decided I have more in the tank and can push it another 8 miles to Pecks Corner Shelter.

I’m glad I did. I said goodbyes to Mooch and Stone and proceeded to walk the next 6 miles. That 6 mile stroll was undulating along the peak of the ridge line, circumnavigating the smoky mountains. Each mile had a new view and a new perspective, similar but interestingly different from the last. The walk matched perfectly with the rest of the audiobook I was listening to (Outlive by Peter Attia).

The last chapter of the book was unique from the rest as it dealt with behavioral and mental health. It had me diving inside my own demons, shame, and traumas. Admittedly I’ve lead a privileged and “easy” life by most comparisons, of this I’m well aware. But each of our experiences are our own and I, like others, have a lot left to unpack and improve upon.

It was a heavenly experience to be high up in the Smokey Mountains, working both physically and mentally on uniquely different challenges in an effort to better oneself. To add to the coincidence of it all 2 other things happened. I got a text message from my buddy (let’s call him Brent), who is a Psychologist and I met at guy at the shelter here who used to work as a Behavioral Health Nurse Practitioner.

Today also made me think of a practice I’ve been doing for the last year or two. I have an alarm set on my phone to send a message to an old friend/aquantence/schoolmate/etc each day. It serves the purpose of keeping me in contact with people who we end up going years or decades without speaking to.

Why is that? In school and my former military life you meet so many people, many of them I’d consider great friends. There’s no good reason for those relationships to end. There’s also no good reason (not even lack of cell service) for me to not still practice that out here. So each day (or when I remember) I’m going to include a paragraph directed at an influential person in my life. The names may be changed or abbreviated for anonymity, but it’ll be a personal message to that person (for everyone to read, lol). It’ll be at the end so as to not interrupt the flow of the days post.

In medicine, the patients I see each day seem to randomly follow a theme. Most patients one day will smokers, or they’ll all have birthdays in July. Todays theme was mental health for sure. I got some good book ideas to dive further into that realm from today also.

I had a great FaceTime with my girlfriend along one of the peaks I encountered which added to the experience. Cellular service in the Smokies has been awful at best. I’m surprised I’ve found anywhere to post these updates to be honest. There’s about 21 miles left in the Smokies. It won’t be finished tomorrow but that’s ok. I’m enjoying it all the same.

No fire tonight, but I’m happy with where I’m at and the people I’m with.

Stow away in my pack and stay tuned for Day 23 on the Appalachian Trail.



Your great friendship is only matched by your ability to Irish Goodbye. Thanks for always being a trusted confidant and person I can lean to for sound perspective and ADHD ramblings. I truly hope our friendship endures for years to come.

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Comments 10

  • thetentman : May 8th

    Nice post. Thank you.

    Hope the knee works out.

    • Derek Witteman : May 10th

      So far so good! Thanks for following

  • David Groce : May 8th

    Very thoughtful. Thanks for letting us stow away in your pack day after day.

    • Derek Witteman : May 10th

      Thanks David, stow away with me to Maine 🙂

  • Dreamer : May 8th

    Your writing is always enjoyable. keep it up

    • Allen : May 8th

      Stunning photos, enjoying your thoughts, admiring your honesty. Keep on trucking!

      • Derek Witteman : May 10th

        Thanks Allen! Much appreciated

    • Derek Witteman : May 10th

      Glad you enjoy it! Thanks Dreamer 🙂

  • CB : May 8th

    Excellent writing as usual and stunning photography. Love the idea to keep up with old friends.

    • Derek Witteman : May 10th

      Thanks CB. I appreciate the follow and your kind words!


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