Sowing Seeds of Adventure in a New Generation

“When Jason is old enough to say ‘Appalachian,’ I’m gonna take you boys to the Smoky Mountains.”

I can still hear my late grandfather’s Tennessee drawl echo these words 35 years later as if he’d just said them yesterday. He painted the southern Appalachian Mountains as a grand and wondrous place – ­they may as well have been the Swiss Alps or even the Himalaya in the mind of a 6-year-old boy who had never ventured much above 1,000 feet of elevation.

And true to his word, when my kid brother Jason was able to say Appalachian, a trip was planned for the coming fall to the Great Smoky Mountains. My grandfather loaded his wife, daughter and two grandsons into my mother’s station wagon, and off we went to Alpine utopia: Cherokee, North Carolina.

Cherokee was in the late 1970s a cheap self-exploitation of the eastern band of Cherokee Indians and their culture. The town was a cluttered mess of T-shirt shops full of gaudy fake tomahawks and moccasins. Scattered about were brightly colored teepees guarded by bloated men, each adorned in full headdress, war paint and a loincloth (even though the Cherokee lived in cabins and did not dress in the regalia of the western tribes).

The tackiness appalls me now, but as a young boy I saw a land of wonder, of wild Indians and massive mist-cloaked mountains. In our days there, we drove across the crest of the Smokies at Newfound Gap and hiked to the summit of Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the state of Tennessee. In no way could I possibly fathom then how important a seed was sown on that trip.

The seed grew and blossomed abruptly in 1993. During my first semester of graduate school in College Station, Texas, I was overwhelmed one November night with an epiphany to hike the Appalachian Trail. The impulse was all-consuming – I spent nearly all my free time researching, planning, saving money and purchasing equipment for my hike.

In 1995, a week after submitting the final draft of my Masters’ thesis, I began my thru-hike of the AT. I have since thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, ridden a bicycle across the length of the U.S., and have ascended to the highest mountain in 39 of the 50 United States. From the seed planted long ago, nature and adventure grew to be major forces that shaped my adult life.

One of the great moments of my thru-hike in ’95 was the day I reached the top of Max Patch, a 4,600-foot peak just north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Max Patch is one of the southern Appalachians’ mysterious “balds” – high mountains denuded of trees and covered only in tall grasses. With a 360-degree, uninterrupted view, my friends and I contemplated this mystery as we lounged at the top for hours – snacking, chatting, writing in journals – smelling the roses. My vivid memories of that day have faded little over the past 16 years.

Maddie flying her kite on the peak of Max Patch

I recently returned from a vacation with my young family at a remote cabin near Max Patch. Even though my 3-year-old daughter Maddie can only say “Appen-latchen,” I saw no reason not to indulge on a first trip to the Smokies. She hiked with me one afternoon on her own power to the summit of Max Patch. Together, we snacked at the top, flew her kite, and basked in the warmth of a late spring afternoon for an hour or more.

I watched the wonder in her face, and I know some of the emotion she must have felt – absorbing the awe, enormity and novelty of seeing such a unique and beautiful place the first time.

A child’s mind distorts mountains like this, much like mine did so many years ago, to grand and glorious scales. She was proud of climbing the mountain, the successful ascent of her kite, and hiking with her daddy. I’ve shared many stories of my 1995 thru-hike, and now she’s capable of making her own stories, in the same places where I’ve trodden and adventured.

I recall that brilliant early June afternoon and my lovely daughter’s look of merriment and wonder in her eyes. I am left to contemplate how much this first trip could mean for my daughter, as her young mind is now capable of deliberate thought and the formation of lasting memories.

I am also saddled with a realization of the enormous parental responsibility I have to expose my children to as many different experiences as possible.  Am I planting good seeds, and enough of them? It will take years and perhaps decades, but I wait with great anticipation to see which seeds take root in her precious mind, and to what levels of greatness she takes them.

Andy Somers lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife Karen and two daughters, and works there as a civil engineer. Andy has hiked the full length of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, and has ridden a bicycle across the United States. In addition to his long distance hiking and cycling pursuits, he’s climbed the highest mountain in 39 of the 50 United States, including Washington’s Mount Rainer.

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Steve October 23, 2011 Reply

Andy, Not only well written but done so with from a perspective of a father’s legacy; the touch-points along the path of life that leave the deepest in-prints. Lasting memories with your daughter that become mileposts along her life and a foundation for the same love & respect of the great outdoors that you have, perhaps to be passed along to the next generation. Godspeed, sl

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