Life after 50

6 Lessons from a Hike in the Smokies

Years ago, there used to be an organization in Rockford, Illinois, called the Blackhawk Trails Club. It took life in 1926 with six men on the first hike, February 6, 1926. Records indicate that Blackhawk Trails Club is (according to research) still active, but in the 56 years I lived in Rockford, I only heard about it in the past as my mother and father hiked on many occasion with them.

I think, like many other aspects of my personality, that hiking is in my blood and DNA, as is exploring.

My desire to hike was ignited one summer when I volunteered at Angelic Organics, Northern Illinois CSA (Community Supported Agricultural) Farm. One a week, I drove up to the farm and helped pack CSA vegetable boxes. Depending what was being harvested, I added a different item to the vegetable box each week: lettuces, herbs, beets, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, a wide variety of squash. There were usually some 10 volunteers in addition to the paid help on packing days. The people and their stories varied, but one of the packer’s stories one day caught my attention. She talked about her experience the previous summer hiking the Appalachian Trail, and that she was planning to hike the Pacific Coast Trail within 5 years. This coupled with our travels one summer to Franklin, North Carolina and waking each morning to watch the Great Smoky Mountains appear as the smoky fog settled intrigued me.


Late April, early May 2018, my husband and I ventured across Tennessee to Gatlinburg. While he attended the Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts, I camped and hiked Gatlinburg’s main parkway and some of the Smoky Mountain trails.

I ventured along four different trails: three to different waterfalls and one to a historic cabin. As I passed people along the trails, many were amazed that I was hiking alone, but I never felt alone. There was always someone on the trail to pass or that passed me (and this was the off season), and the park ranger had assured me that the trails I planned on hiking were well-traveled.

It was on my fourth hike back to see some waterfalls that I realized some of the lessons these hikes had been teaching me.


As I was hiking to Laurel Falls, one of the park rangers or attendants in teasing said, “It’s just waterfalls. Seen one, you’ve seen them all. You might as well go back to your car.”


I had a destination. I had a plan. Maybe they were just waterfalls to this guy, but to me it was something I had set as my destination for that day. I was not disappointed.

THE LESSON? Don’t let others tell you your journey is not worth it, or that you ought to turn back or stop now. You be the master of your own destiny.


After my second hike to the historic cabin on the nature trail, I decided that it was going to be necessary to purchase a walking stick. While the path to Cataract Falls had been semi-paved and void of really rough patches, the trail to the cabin was uneven and peppered with speed bumps. 

On the hike to Grotto Falls, I found the need to switch hands as I traversed one set of roots that came at me from the left and, soon after, another set of roots from the right.

Then, of course, the walking stick was a necessary friend who helped me determine the stable rocks to step on as I traversed the streams that crossed the path.

THE LESSON? Be ambidextrous. When one arm gets tired, let the other one handle the work.


I have a fear of heights, but not the kind normal people think about. I have no problem climbing. I usually have no problem looking down from heights. BUT the problem comes when I must return to the ground. I have begun not letting this stop me.

I had streams to cross going up the mountain to the falls and coming down the mountain from the falls. AND I MADE IT.

I made it to each of the falls I set out for.

THE LESSON? Keep your eye on your goal because it is easy to get overwhelmed and turn back.


The path I took to Cataract Falls was fairly flat and in some places it was even paved. It was an easy path, too easy. It gave me a false sense of my out-of-shape / haven’t-exercised-in-months ability to hike for distances.

I wasn’t winded; I wasn’t tired; My muscles didn’t realize I had been hiking.

Most of the time, we are tempted to take the easy path to get where we want to be. For example, I am working to lose weight and I could use one of those “drop the meal off at your door – no cooking – no calorie counting – no learning about the food I am eating” diet programs. It would be the easiest way to lose weight, but I know that once I have achieved my goal and stopped the programs, I have learned nothing, and I will most likely return to the pre-program eating and cooking that brought on the extra pounds I lost.


The hike I took to Grotto Falls took effort: in some places roots covered the path, in some places I had to cross rocky streams, in some places the path was rocky and pitted, in some places the path was narrow, and in some places the path felt quite steep.

About half-way up the mountain, I could feel the effort in this hike: I finished both bottles of water; I gobbled the protein bar I had brought with; I found myself a bit winded in places; and my muscles and joints knew I was hiking.

THE LESSON? Most paths that get you somewhere are easy, and you get where you are destined quickly; but it is the path that takes effort and is somewhat difficult that teaches you about yourself and about life.


At the trailhead of The Grotto Falls, hikers are alerted by this sign that llama may or may not be on the trail.

What it should also warn hikers about is that they might encounter the excrement of the llama pack (as well as other animals).

In fact, the morning I was on the trail, the llamas had made their trek up the mountain before I had. One llama, in particular, had relieved himself in a massive pile of excrement that nearly covered the trail. It wasn’t until I had ventured beyond the pile of dung that I learned that the pack string had brought in supplies earlier that morning, and the pile had been from the llama.

THE LESSON? Someone may crap on your path and/or your journey, but that’s no reason to stop until you get where you want to be.


It was on my way back down the mountain from Grotto Falls when I took a close look at the roots that covered the trail. These roots were still sending out shoots, they were still growing and searching.

As I meandered the rest of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (a one way narrow road that leads to the trailhead of the falls), one of the things that fascinated me was how quickly much of the forest had recovered from last years massive fire. The charred tree was evidence of how devastating the fire was, but the green growth around the area proved the resilience of nature. It was one of the most encouraging things I observed that week.

THE LESSON? The forest never stops growing. Why should we?

Thanks for reading.


As you move through your day-to-day activities and responsibilities, please remember to

Live Life –

Keep Things Simple –

Look for the Positive –



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