The Prowler

Former Panther hikes Appalachian Trail

Bobby Joe Smith starting out his long journey in the mountains of north Georgia with his 45-pound backpack. Smith started his journey in north Georgia and finished the journey in Maine.

Bobby Joe Smith starting out his long journey in the mountains of north Georgia with his 45-pound backpack. Smith started his journey in north Georgia and finished the journey in Maine.

Courtesy of Bobby Joe Smith

Courtesy of Bobby Joe Smith

Bobby Joe Smith starting out his long journey in the mountains of north Georgia with his 45-pound backpack. Smith started his journey in north Georgia and finished the journey in Maine.

Luke Bennett, Staff Writer

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Slowly climbing, holding onto ropes attached to the side of the mountain, Bobby Joe Smith, a 67-year-old retired teacher and coach, finally scales the final part of his year-long journey. Reaching the top of Mount Katahdin, overwhelming joy washes over him. He finally reached his destination, the northbound terminus of the Appalachian Trail, something few can say to have accomplished. At the very top of the mountain, views only people can dream of were visible. People around him break down in tears with those whom they have spent so many months walking for so many miles.

Courtesy of Bobby Joe Smith
Former Panther Bobby Joe Smith on a mountain top in Maine reunited with one of his former students and soccer players. Smith, former teacher and coach at Starr’s Mill, finished the Appalachian Trail earlier this fall.

Earlier this fall, Bobby Joe Smith, a former teacher at Starr’s Mill high school, finished the Appalachian trail, a 2,175-mile endeavor. Smith was a math teacher at Starr’s Mill for two years as well as the boys’ junior varsity soccer coach for seven years. Smith is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys hunting and camping in retirement. It was once he was in retirement that he realized he wanted to walk the trail.

“[Smith walking the trail] is not surprising to me since I knew he like the outdoors,” Roman Castillo, a former student of Smith, said.

He had always wanted to walk the trail ever since he was an adult and just hiked a part of it with his sons in boy scouts.

“I took my three sons up [to the trail] for spring break. I didn’t even know that it existed until we went up there. I ended up getting to the other end [of the trail] and my truck was supposed to be there and it wasn’t. That was my first every day walking on the trail,” Smith said

Once Smith retired he decided it was the perfect time to walk the trail. Smith’s wife was nervous but supportive of her husband. She, however, insisted that he walked with someone as she did not want him to be alone.

“It was my first time hiking in 15 years,” Smith said.

Smith did not have a lot of preparations for his journey. In fact, Smith bought some of his materials the night before his departure. At the start of the journey, he was accompanied by a friend of one of his sons. They were together at first but were eventually separated because of the different walking paces of the two men. Different walking paces were a big deal with hikers on the trail. Those who started off together tended to drift off throughout the journey.

Smith started out walking around 10 miles each day. The person he started out with stayed with him but eventually slowed down. Walking those 10 miles each day was no easy feat. His backpack he carried with him weighed about 45 pounds. Despite having the heavy pack, Smith eventually worked up to sometimes 20 mile days. It was exhausting for him. Smith soon learned about slackpacking.

Courtesy of Bobby Joe Smith
One of the great sights on the Appalachian Trail, McAfee’s Knob in Virginia. One of Smith’s favorite parts about his journey was being at McAfee’s Knob.

“You have a choice carrying this 45-pound back for 10 miles or you can put it in someone’s truck, and you get a day pack which is only about 5 or 10 pounds and he’ll meet you at the other side wherever you set up camp,” Smith said.

This saved Smith a lot of time. Instead of walking painful 10 to 20 mile days, he was able to almost work up to 25 to 30 mile days with slackpacking. It was helpful, though some traditional hikers saw it as cheating. Most of the time Smith hiked alone. He would hike for 3 to 5 days straight, eating a hot breakfast that consisted of oatmeal and hot chocolate, and then a hot dinner that night which was usually chicken and noodles with instant mashed potatoes. After that 3 to 5 days he would head into town and restock on his food. Throughout the day if Smith began to get hungry he had granola bars and Snickers bars to snack on for the calories. With the constant walking, Smith lost about 10 pounds on the trip.

“Out on the trail you start to crave [restaurant food],” Smith said.

Around 600 miles in Smith began to start hiking with other people. Up to that point, he was usually by himself hiking, though he would occasionally see people and walk with them. Sometimes he hiked with a man known as “graybeard.” He is the oldest person to walk the trail in under a year at 82 years old. Sometimes he met up with a group of hikers led by Warren Doyle. Doyle has hiked the trail 17 times. With Doyle’s group, they had a large van, the hikers would put their packs in it, the van would be driven to wherever they were going to stop, and the group would hike toward the van that was waiting for them with their gear. Smith walked with Doyle’s group throughout New Hampshire and Maine.

“No matter how much you plan or prepare, or think you are ready, you never know what’s going to go on,” Smith said.

On the trail, Smith experienced his fair share of setbacks. On March 18, Smith hurt his ankle while walking. Thinking that it was just a sprain, he kept walking the 18 miles to the nearest town. Once in the town, he learned that it was not just a sprain but ,in fact, a broken foot.

“Instead of an injury that should have taken about two weeks to heal, I had to take off about two months,” Smith said.

Smith also had to take off two weeks while hiking through New York due to illness. None of this stopped him from his goal of finishing the Appalachian Trail.

His favorite part of the trail was the solitude and the scenery. He loved hiking through the “Green Tunnel,” and looking out from McAfee’s Knob and other mountain tops. He enjoyed none more so than Mount Katahdin, the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. In order to reach the top of Mount Katahdin, one has to climb the slippery slope. There is steel implanted in the rocks so that it is easier for people to climb up the slope. Once at the top the journey has come to an end.

“This is the way a trail should finish. You got a spectacular view … you can see for miles. It was just a gorgeous day,” Smith said.

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