Wednesday, March 23, 2011

8 Things I Now Know About Hiking

While in Gatlinburg last weekend, Kristi and I decided to try something new and go hiking. I googled the words "Gatlinburg" and "hiking" and it led us to Rainbow Falls. I learned a lot that day. So instead of hoarding all this knowledge to myself here are...

8 Things I Now Know About Hiking

1.) If you see someone else on the hiking trail, you must speak. It’s like a law or something.
Every group of people we passed felt compelled to say something, anything. Kind of like being on an elevator. The problem is that both parties are moving in different directions. So talking is like Twitter, limited to 140 characters or less. As people pass they’ll say something very quick like “You’ve only got 1 more hour to the top.” Or “Watch out for the creek ahead.” Or one of the oddest ”When they say don’t feed the bears, they mean it!” (I’m not sure what that was all about. It was more creepy than funny when the guy said it.) I would have been fine with just a smile or friendly nod, but for some reason everyone wanted to chat for 3 seconds as we passed. (Now, when I say passed, I mean we were heading up on the same trail that they were heading down. If you think that we were walking faster than someone and passed them on the way up, then you clearly don’t know me well.) Strangers on the trail might even try to find something you have in common with them and briefly discuss that. Kristi and I accidently both wore shirts that day proudly displaying our support of the University of Alabama. While walking the streets of Gatlinburg and hiking the mtn, we got at least 20 shouts of “Roll Tide!” But the best had to be from a group of Asian students who looked happy when they saw our shirts. They spoke in another language to each other, pointing at us the whole time. Then one of them said to us “We’re from UA.” It took me a minute to realize what he said through his very thick accent. Then he exclaimed. “Row the Tide!!” We gave them a friendly “Roll Tide” in return and walked at least 10 feet away before we started laughing.


2.) Accessorize
Walking sticks change from “something to make of” to “something you wish you had” the further up the mountain you go. The first hiker we saw on the trail looked something like this... I almost laughed out loud. It was as if he stepped out of an outdoor catalog. I spent a little while making fun of these people. But the higher we went, the rockier the terrain got, and I started to slip and slide around the trail. I finally admitted at one point. I wish I had a walking stick. It was a sad moment.

3.)One important question to ask.
Why am I doing this? Is the view of an 80’ waterfall worth a 3 mile uphill hike?
In a word... no.
Here’s what we saw.

I’ve just saved you a 4 hour walk in the woods.
You’re welcome.

4.) How many days will a heavy guy in bad shape be sore after a 6 mile hike?
The Answer: 5.
Starting with the feet that first day.
Then the pain makes it way up to his calves and camps there for a few days.

5.) What not to wear.
You should carefully consider what you wear before hiking. I started off with a long sleeve pullover, but lost it when I got sweaty. Then put it back on when we reached snowy areas. I guess that wasn’t so bad. The problem I had was with shoes. I don’t think my New Balance tennis shoes were designed for the Rainbow falls trail. So the real question is “Do you need hiking boots for hiking?” If you like muddy tennis shoes, twisting your ankles, and ending the day walking in wet shoes and socks (AKA: “six flags” style.) then no. You don’t need hiking boots.

6.) Rations
As you can see, we went on this hike without any real planning. We didn’t even bring a single bottle of water. This came to our attention about 1 hour into the uphill journey. By the 90 minute point we started talking a lot about how good water would be right then. We even got so thirsty that suddenly a small stream flowing down a mountain looked like a great source of refreshment. It didn’t take long at all for me to talk my lovely wife into doing this...
It was only afterward that we began to doubt our decision and she mentioned that we might get sick because of the possible amoebas we just ingested. Luckily though, neither of us got sick and we were glad we took that drink.

7.) Know the difficulty of the hike before beginning.
My wonderful Google search, led me to many trails we could have hiked that day.
Some were marked “Easy”. Easy trails had things like, paved paths, stroller & wheelchair accessible. I could just imagine us walking through the woods and having to pass Grandmaw Moses on her scooter, so I kept looking.
“Moderate” trails listed slight inclines, rocky terrains. Not recommended for small children. That sounded pretty good to me.
Then the “Difficult” trails said things like very steep, mountain climbing, and were very long paths. So I knew “moderate” was the way to go.
A 2.7 mile hike to a waterfall sounded like a good idea. It seemed to be a great way to spend 2.5 hours in Gatlinburg. But that was not the case for us. It took us a little longer. As this video will show, our 4 hour moderate hike was a little more difficult that we expected. Good luck understanding the big guy as he tries to talk while winded.

8.) Have a buddy
It’s a good idea to have a buddy when hiking. There were times I would have stopped and said, “That’s it! Forget it, I’m heading back down.” But Kristi encouraged me by saying things like “we’ve come this far, let’s keep going.” And I did the same for her. We walked for a while with a nice young couple and it was obvious the whole time that he wanted to keep going, but she was done about half way up. But at least they were together. But the most interesting group we encountered was Baljeet and his girlfriend. Both of them were of Indian decent or at least it appears that way based on how they looked and talked. (Wait.. is this sounding racist?) We never officially met them, so I began referring to them as “Baljeet and his girlfriend”. (Baljeet is an Indian character on the cartoon Phineas & Ferb. He is hilarious.) So that seemed like a nice nickname for this young man to me. (Yep, this sounds racist for sure.) Anyway, this couple was very nice. We passed each other on the trail a couple of times as they would take breaks and so would we. They seemed nice enough. But they were very annoying. You see, they were both thin and in good shape and just seemed so happy to be moseying up and down the mountain holding hands. I didn’t see any sweat on them. They never appeared to get winded. I began to dislike Baljeet and his girlfriend by the time we both reached the top simply because they remained so giddy as I grew more fatigued and ready to be done.

That about sums up our hike and lessons learned. I’ll probably hike again someday. But I assure you I’ll be more prepared for the terrain. I’ll have better accessories, rations, and clothing. And I’ll try to stay far away from annoying, happy, friendly, fit people like Baljeet and his girlfriend.

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