My friend of sixty years (if you’re doing the math, we met as infants in a church nursery) David Chandler and I recently spent five days on the trail named after one of my heroes — Benton MacKaye. The BMT begins at Springer Mountain and goes hundreds of miles through Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina to the far side of the Great Smokies.
David took the photo above which gets a little squashed in this blog format. It shows me with a copy of THRU at a place called Three Forks, just a few hiking miles from Springer. David and I hiked 10-11 miles per day to eventually come out a little south of Blue Ridge, Ga. During those days we never saw another backpacker.
For the most part, the trail is as I remember from hiking on it years ago — harder than the AT. It tends to have steeper climbs which apparently follow old logging road beds. However, there are many stretches where trail crews have rerouted to include switchbacks and portions that slab gradually beside ridges. The trail is phenomenally well marked, and in five days of hiking, I never recall taking a wrong turn or having serious problems finding our way. I tip my hat to the Benton MacKaye Trail Association as well as to the author of the trail guide, Sargent Rock.
David and I are retired guys. We took great pleasure in knowing that when we returned to the real world, there would not be tons of emails, phone messages and eager co-workers banding together to drive us nuts. It makes the time off much more enjoyable.
Plus there’s this: One afternoon, David and I knew we were going to have sixty mph wind and lots of rain. We could set up tents in the mayhem or call a B&B listed in the trail guide and seek luxury. David had three bars on his smart phone, so he was able to call Bear Rock Ridge Inn and connect with a trail angel named Joe. Joe met us later in the afternoon — two drowned rat-like people — and took us to his ridge-top palace where he dried our clothes, provided palatial accommodations and fixed a great breakfast before driving us back to the sunny trail the next morning. I’ll never forget my response when David looked up from the phone and asked me how much I was willing to pay. My reply: “$3,000!” I may be getting older, but I’m not stupid.
The Benton MacKaye Trail is a nice new challenge. I can imagine knocking off stretches from time to time and eventually completing it. In an era when our beloved AT is becoming more a cultural phenomenon than a wilderness experience, the BMT is a parallel dimension that starts where the AT starts but heads in a much quieter direction. Try it, you’ll hike it.