Ep. 71 – I’m Back Again and Night Hiking

SHOW #71  July 10, 2016

Intro

This week on Episode 71 Smoky Mountains Radio, Where have you been?!?, the world has gone crazy, a trip to the movies, and night hiking! It’s good to be back! Let’s go!

Post-Intro

It is Sunday, July 10, 2016 and this is Episode 71 of Smoky Mountains Radio.  I am Mike and I am your host here on SMR. I felt I needed to reintroduce myself considering  it has been about six months since my last episode. In fact, I don’t even know how many of you are still out there, but here I am regardless!

Yes, it has been a long time! Life just doesn’t know when to get out of my way so I can do a show. Between a career move and a new baby, there has been no time. I have no doubt all of you can relate to that! In fact, I haven’t set foot in my beloved mountains in far, far too long!

I want to thank all of you that reached out via Facebook, Twitter, email, and text to say hello. Some of you reached out with well wishes, shared a story, asked a question, and more than a couple told me to get my big butt back to the microphone. I know I took forever to get back with everyone, but it was good to have conversations with you guys. That has been the best part of doing this show from the beginning.

My wife has been after me to get the show back on the road, so I guess I gotta listen to that! Anyway…as always I do invite everyone to check out our website SmokyMountainsRadio.com to get all the information you need about your trip to the Smokies. You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on the site .  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time. Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com.  Finally, if you like the show, let your friends know we’re back and give the show a review in iTunes.

Now, let’s get on with the show!

The World’s Gone Crazy

During my absence, a lot of crazy stuff happened in and around the mountains. There was a suicide from the top of the Space Needle, a helicopter crash, a new opening and immediate closing of a roller coaster, trail closures (and openings), camping got more expensive, wildfires were burning, and roads close due to insects (no, really). Wow. If this is what happens when I am away, i’ve got to do better! I got several emails from you guys about some of this stuff, so let’s dive right in.

The space needle around center town in Gatlinburg is a great place to take in some views. You can see the city below, mountains off in the distance, and much, much more. We covered this in depth back in episode 12, so check that out if you want more info. Unfortunately, a man jumped to his death from here a couple months back. Luckily, no one on the ground was killed. That in itself is a miracle. So many of these kinds of towers around the U.S. have glass or fencing placed high along the platforms to prevent this kind of thing, but it hasn’t been an issue until now. There is a railing of course, but it won’t prevent someone that wants to make the jump. Personally, I like that it is open. It makes the views incredible and you get the breeze and helps keep things from feeling claustrophobic. I had a listener Pam write in and ask if I still think that it is safe up there. I still think it is safe. Unless you want to fall off, are seriously horsing around, or are drunk, it is going to be very difficult to fall. It is still not to be missed in my opinion, despite that really sad situation.

Staying on the sad theme for just a moment, there was a helicopter crash on the outskirts of Pigeon Forge back in April. We discussed the helicopter rides offered all around the Smokies back in Episode 64. That was a truly sad affair. I know that every activity carries some kind of risk, but I really feel for that poor family. Needless to say, that industry seems to be dying quickly now. I had hoped to get my wife on one eventually, but that is off the table as you might expect. I had twelve messages about that crash, and almost all of them asked if it was safe to go. This was the first incident I know about, but I would personally wait until the final report is out until I did it again. Just my two cents.

And yes, while I was away, the world was literally on fire! Okay, not the whole world, but there was a large wildfire in the park past Cades Cove and close to the Townsend area. It didn’t last too long and they got it surrounded to get it put out, but a few roads closed along the way. It has been dry for quite a bit this summer, so I am glad that it didn’t turn out worse. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Dollywood unveiled it’s new large wooden coaster, Lightning Rod….well, sort of. It was supposed to have it’s shining debut back in March, but was set back over and over. After it finally did open, it closed indefinitely the same day. There were worries about parts and structural issues associated with the coaster. It has been up and down many times since then. If they ever get it figured out, it looks like a great one. I’m looking forward to trying it out! Let me know if you’ve gotten to ride this one.

If camping in the front country campground areas are your thing, it just got a lot more expensive. The Smokies are proposing a 25% increase on fees for a campsite. Fees are already 14-23 dollars a night depending on where and when you stay. The increase only amounts to an average of 5 bucks a night more, but that is a large percentage in one go. If you listened to the show previously, I have spoken many times about how underfunded the Smokies is. However, I don’t like this move. Fees rise over time and that is understandable. It is the same reason that I pay more now for a snickers bar than I did twenty years ago. Still, Snickers bars did not go up 25% over night. I think it is too steep at one time. When you consider what you actually get get, I am afraid they are going to price themselves out and end up robbing people of what is a great experience. You have a spot, a place to park your car or RV, a tent platform, grill, and restroom access with cold water. That’s about it. I’m not complaining. I would want them to be completely modern. I just think they need to be smart about it. I can get a motel room in the off season for the same price. Granted, it is one of the fleabag motels, but the point remains. What worries me is if this becomes habitual. Price increases this high on a yearly basis will put them into pricing with decent hotels in town. Luckily, at this time they are not planning on increasing the backcountry fees for campsites along the trails. Hopefully that holds. We shall see.

And finally, to the most bizarre story during my absence, there was a road closure. I know what you’re thinking. Road closures happen all the time. What if I told you it was Parson’s Branch Road in Cades Cove? Okay, that road closes all the time anyway! Big deal! Well, here is the bizarre part. The road is closed because of an insect. You heard that right! The same insect that invaded the park decades ago and caused the horrific damage to the trees at Clingmans Dome (among other areas) has seriously affected the trees in several areas along Parson’s branch road. It is causing the trees to get weak and die and branches and trees are falling all over. They have been unable to keep the road clear on a consistent basis and so are closing the road. That road is a nightmare under normal conditions, but is positively awful with any issues. So, if you planned to use that route to go to Gregory Bald or get to Bryson City, you’ll have to find another route.

And that will do it for this installment of the world’s gone crazy! Moving on!

I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on smokymountainsradio.com

Movie Review

I mentioned last year that the movie “A Walk in the Woods” had come to the theaters starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. It is based on the book of the same name by Bill Bryson, which is probably the most well known book about long distance hiking ever written. For you hiking purists, I know a Walk With Spring by Earl Shaffer was around well before this one and more respected among hikers, but this book was huge when it came out and still sells well today among hiking and non-hiking folks alike.

Okay, so it is not my favorite book on hiking or the Appalachian Trail, but it is a good one. The writing style and imagery truly can’t be beat by any other book, and it lends itself well to a movie. So, it was finally released on HBO, so I checked it out. My impression? Well…

It is a movie, so you know the adaptation is going to take some creative license. That goes without saying. If you have read the book, you will be scratching your head in some of the places in the movie. Without spoilers, there is a life and death scenario in the movie that does not even come close to what was written in the book. Ah, it happens I guess.

The scenery is gorgeous. There are several familiar stops along the way that you might recognize if you hike at all along the AT. Much of the movie is spent with novice hikers, especially Katz, trying to figure out how to use gear and do the most trivial task in the woods. The most compelling aspect from the books is the relationship between the author and Katz. They try very hard to recreate this on the screen, but it falls pretty flat in my opinion.

The majority of the movie is watching them getting into a bad situation and getting out of it. Unfortunately, most of these situations do not even revolve around hiking. They occur off the trail and often have nothing to do with hiking. Some of the most interesting part of a hike is experiencing the trail towns, personalities you meet along the way, and the journey that forever changes you. But it felt to me like the trail was an afterthought. This was the biggest shortcoming of the movie “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon about the PCT as well, though they spent more time on trail in that movie.

All in all, it was okay. I got bored in several places, enough to pause the movie to see how much was left. The acting was a little bit over the top and predictable. But, if you’ve got some time to kill, I say give it a whirl if it is on TV or Netflix. Even though it was not my favorite movie, I am glad that a movie like this was made. It was a movie about the great outdoors and hiking America’s greatest trail, 70 miles of which is right in the Smoky Mountains. Even though it was not a home run movie, it will introduce even more people to hiking. I am told that the amount of people attempting to thru hike the trail skyrocketed last year after the movie came out. That is pretty cool indeed!

I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on smokymountainsradio.com

Night Hiking

With the weather in Tennessee right now in the 90’s with heat indexes over 100 almost every day, you may want to find a way to cool off on the trail. High altitudes out in the open are hot and you end up sunburnt. Areas canopied with trees are shaded, but extremely humid. Is there a solution for this?

While you can’t do anything about the temperatures, you CAN adjust when you get on the trails. Obviously the most pleasant temperatures are going to be in the morning and night hours. And since I like some peace and quite on my hikes, today we are going to talk about night hiking.

Night hiking is awesome. I had never hiked at night until I was in my late twenties, and after the first time, I was hooked! Okay, honestly I was scared to death the first time, but it was great! Low heat, low humidity, and no crowds! What could be better? There is definitely more planning for night hiking, but I think it is well worth it. You might have a natural question: Why hike at night? There are no views! Well, you would be right. If you are doing a hike for the views, do not hike at night. However, I love doing a waterfall at night or just hiking to nowhere. I have jumped on a trail several times with no destination in mind. I just hike until I am done and come home or set up the tent at a campsite. Either way, it is great.

It is likely that you won’t see a single person on a night hike. The crowds on the trails fall off greatly just before sunset. At the latest, after 6, even in the summer, the only people you are likely to see on the trail are on the way down.  If you want solitude on hikes such as Laurel Falls, Alum Cave, or Grotto Falls, this is about the only way to achieve it short of going on a weekday in February. That being said, there are some things to keep in mind.

Some roads close. The park is open 24/7. That part is not an issue. But some access roads close at night such as the cades cove loop. Those are very few and far between. But if your trailhead is in a picnic area, there is a good chance it closes at sunset. Either choose a different hike, or park a little ways down the road.

Obviously, it is going to be harder to see. A headlamp is a must. You don’t want to have a flashlight. They are cumbersome, tend to be temperamental, and takes away a free hand. Their field of light tends to be narrow, so you will have a hard time seeing the entire footpath in front of you. A headlamp fixes this. You can get headlamps anywhere now. I have even seen them at Walmart and Lowes. I admit, I have used my headlamp several times if I am working in the crawlspace at home, but I didn’t but it there. You want a headlamp you can count on. After all, if it falls off your head, hits the trail, and dies, then what are you going to do? So as tempting as it is to spend 10 bucks on the one at the Wally World, spend between 30-60 on a Petzel or Black Diamond. Those are trusted brands that last forever. I got mine at REI, but you can find them at many sporting goods stores, Amazon, and lots of other places.

When you are buying a headlamp, there are a ton of features that change how much it costs. Lumen output, variable lights and outputs, and much more. Unless you are doing a lot of hiking, I say keep it simple. I do not buy rechargeable lamps. Traditional batteries are heavier, but far more reliable. I’ve only met one hiker that had a rechargeable headlamp. It died on the trail. It’s not for me. Along those lines, carry an extra set of batteries, just in case. Most headlamps will have a brightness setting. I like this because I like it bright on bad terrain so I can see better, and lower on normal conditions so that I can enjoy the night sky without the headlamp obscuring the view.

Outside of that, planning is more important simply because you likely won’t see other people on the trail. Let someone know your plans in case you take a bad fall or get stuck in bad weather. Always better safe than sorry. We’ve also talked about parking at the trailheads before. Break-ins are not nearly as big as they were several years back, but it goes without saying not to leave valuables in the car, especially in sight. Best to leave food out of the car as well. Bear thieves are the worst.

The last thing to consider is safety. Since you won’t have the field of vision you do during the day time, you have to be more careful and deliberate with your foot placement. It is easy to twist an ankle and take a fall during full sun. That gets multiplied many times over in the dark. Also, keep an eye out for snakes. They linger off trail near rocks and brush or sometimes end up sitting right in the middle of the trail. Truly, that is about it. The first time you do it, if you are a sissy like me, you will probably get a flood of those childhood fears in the dark. Every noise makes you jump. But honestly, after a while it is the coolest thing in the world.

The best part is, the temps are cooler, you don’t struggle so much, and you can relax and enjoy your hike. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

POST:

Its been good being back with you all this week. I’ve missed it immensely. Thanks to everyone that still subscribes to the show and has liked us on Facebook and follows us on twitter. Hope to have a new episode for you real soon. Next up, hiking with a baby. That’s a subject that has suddenly become front and center for me. Thanks for checking in on me everyone, and of course, thanks for listening. If you are just finding the show, I invite you to head over to SmokyMountainsRadio.com and check out all the previous episodes. I have descriptions and ratings for hikes and the surrounding areas, so there is a ton of info right there at your fingertips. To my man Randy, it has been a crazy week and I have thought of you many times. Stay safe out there my friend. To everyone else, thanks again for listening, and until next time, GO TAKE A HIKE!!

SmokyMountainsRadio.com

mike@smokymountainsradio.com

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