Some people will walk 5 or 10 miles, or maybe do a 50 or 100 mile bike ride in order to raise money for a certain cause. Sharon McCarthy, also known as Smoky Scout, has taken it upon herself to do something slightly more ambitious.
She’s currently in the process of hiking all of the trails in the Smoky Mountains. In case you’re not familiar with the trail system in the Smokies, there are roughly 800 miles in the Park. Completing all 800 miles will require her to hike roughly 1000 miles!
So why has she decided to hike every single mile of trails in the Smokies? Ultimately, her goal is to raise $20,000 to help support the Girl Scouts Hornets' Nest Council in North Carolina.
I recently caught up with Smoky Scout to find out how she’s progressing with both her hiking and fund raising goals. Here’s a Q and A discussion I had with her:
HikingintheSmokys: How long have you been involved with the Girl Scouts?
Smoky Scout: 3 years as a girl and 18 years as an adult volunteer.
HITS: Why did you choose to set a goal of hiking all the trails in the Smokies to raise money for the Girl Scouts? What inspired you to undertake this quest?
Smoky Scout: The hiking goal came first, somewhat selfishly, for four reasons: One, my mom passed away in January of 2007 after a brief but terrible fight with lung cancer and I began to think, as probably most people do, about what my life looked like and if there was anything I would not want to leave undone. Two, I was looking down the tracks as my 50th birthday approached. Three, my husband and I were about to become empty nesters. Hiking all of the trails in my lifetime had been an idea in the back of my head for a few years but it seemed like a giant puzzle on how to accomplish it. Then along came Four, Elizabeth Etnier’s Book, “Day Hiker’s Guide to All the Trails in the Smoky Mountains”. I realized that I now had a blueprint and that setting this goal would help me deal with Reasons 1 through 3.
The fundraising portion came second. I knew that many people hike the AT for fundraising and there are many athletic events for charity, including bike rides, marathons, walks, etc. And the Girl Scouts is an amazing organization that I have been connected with for many years and I have seen the good work that they do. It is the premiere organization for the whole girl, not just one aspect or skill. I have seen many an ah-ha moment with girls in the outdoors and I want to see the opportunities expand.
HITS: Are you the only person raising money for the Girl Scouts, Hornets'Nest Council, or are there other people involved in this effort?
Smoky Scout: There are no other hikers soliciting donations for my project but there are other people keeping me company on the trails. Of course, Girl Scouts has other ways of fundraising, including family campaigns and – of course – cookies! But my project’s fundraising will go directly towards outdoor programming.
HITS: So far, you’ve hiked 172 out of the roughly 800 miles in the park, and have raised $1113 out of your goal of raising $20,000. Are you happy with your progress?
Smoky Scout: When I began to plan my hiking I knew that I would not do it in a consistently steady manner, i.e., an equal number of miles per month. My youngest child was getting ready to enter college in August and I knew I wanted to be around home as much as possible until then. So I planned most of my hiking for the fall and winter. As for the progress with the fundraising, I set an extremely ambitious goal to show girls that I think they are worth a lot! I expect that the donations will increase more rapidly as I get closer to my mileage goal.
HITS: In what ways will the funds you raise help the Girl Scouts?
Smoky Scout: Most of that will be determined when we see what the total amount is. We did not want to set our sights on a specific project (such as buildings at a summer camp) and have the funds possibly be too low to make it happen; conversely, we did not want to set our sights too low on a specific project (such as backpacking equipment) and have way more than that would require. My personal hope is to fund several different things, including summer camp scholarships for girls with financial needs, some hiking/camping weekends for older girls, and perhaps elements for a challenge ropes course, etc.
HITS: Have you been a hiker your whole life?
Smoky Scout: As a kid I played in the woods behind my house but I did not really experience hiking until I was in college at Virginia Tech, and then only to local waterfalls. Once I had a family we discovered the county and state parks as a way to spend family time. As an adult in Girl Scouts I learned to camp and cook outdoors and hike – and just kept going.
HITS: Were you familiar with the Smokies prior to your quest, and have you spent a lot of time there?
Smoky Scout: My husband and I have been going to the Smokies both with and without our kids for many years, camping and doing popular short hikes like Chimney Tops, Kephart Prong, Deep Creek, Charlies Bunion, and then stretching out some to Mt. LeConte and Shuckstack.
HITS: Did you realize in doing this you will become a member of the select 900 Miler Club which is reserved only for people who hike all of the trails in the Smokies?
Smoky Scout: Oh yes!
HITS: So far, what is your overall favorite trail in the Smokies and why?
Smoky Scout: So far – who doesn’t love Gregory Bald and Hemphill Bald? Both of those hikes were on beautiful clear days.
HITS: What trail do you look most forward to hiking?
Smoky Scout: I am looking forward with anticipation and anxiety to going over Thunderhead Mountain on the AT.
HITS: Will you be doing a lot of backpacking or will you be doing mostly day hikes?
Smoky Scout: Mostly dayhikes, but probably several backpack trips with some partners who are also completing their maps.
HITS: How do you plan on tackling the AT?
Smoky Scout: Not in one straight shot all the way through, but bit by bit combined with routes going up to and down from it. Ms. Etnier’s book is really an excellent method for tackling every trail in the Park including the AT.
HITS: Have you had any close calls or have you run into any dangerous situations; such as with aggressive bears, wild boars, bad storms, an injury, etc..?
Smoky Scout: People who read my blog will know about my “bear phobia” and I have met one mama bear who huffed and clacked her teeth quite a bit to get us backing up out of her jurisdiction. She had two cubs up a tree no more than 20 feet from the trail and we walked right up alongside of her before we noticed her. It put a fine point on how quickly you can come upon bears in the Smokies.
HITS: Do you have any advice for someone considering tackling such a feat?
Smoky Scout: Choose a reasonable time frame (a year is pretty tight!) and be flexible. If you choose a short time frame, think about winter road closings as you plan your hikes. Always be ready with a Plan B and Plan C because of weather, high water crossings, or just being too tired to do another 15 miles on Day 4. Join a local hiking group like the Carolina Mountain Club or Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Talk to everyone about what you are doing and people will come from all over to help. I even have little “contact cards” like a business card that I sometimes give to people I meet in the Park. Hikers are a pretty terrific bunch of people and you will be surprised where your biggest supporters come from.
If you would like to help Sharon achieve her fund raising goals, or would just like to follow along with her in cyberspace as she accomplishes this worthy goal, you can visit her web site at:
HikingintheSmokys.com Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.