16 years, 16,515 miles: Hiker’s dream is complete

Friday, October 17, 2008

On October 1, 2008, Bart Smith took his final steps up to Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park. This marked the end of a very long journey in which he hiked 16,515 miles over the course of 16 years. During his incredible journey, Smith took more than 37 million steps through 34 states and shot nearly 100,000 photographs during his quest to complete all of the National Scenic Trails.

During his quest, Smith became the first person to hike each of the eight National Scenic Trails: Natchez Trace, Potomac Heritage, Ice Age, Florida, Appalachian, Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and the North Country Trail.

Smith's quest began in 1991 after leaving a "good career job" to explore the world for a year. Upon his return, he and wife agreed that he would hike and photograph the notoriously difficult Pacific Crest Trail, with the goal of having a photo coffee table book published.

Because Bart is color-blind, that first project took about 5 years as he spent time honing his photography skills. Four days after submitting an unsolicited book proposal, with no writer involved - just his slides, the owner of the publishing company called offering him a contract to publish his first book, Along the Pacific Crest Trail. Based on that success, Bart decided to hike and photograph the Appalachian Trail. Then on a whim, he convinced Earl Shaffer, the legendary long distance hiker, who in 1948 became the first person to complete the Appalachian Trail in one year, to join forces for his second book, The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills. It covered Earl’s historic 50th Anniversary Hike of 1998, which he completed just shy of his 80th birthday.

Half-way through the Florida Trail, Bart decided that he was going to hike and photograph all eight of the National Scenic Trails with the goal of finishing on 40th Anniversary of the enactment of the National Trails System Act. He dubbed his mission "Walking Down A Dream", which he hoped would inspire legions of Americans and tourists alike to explore the diverse natural wonders on the nation's wilderness trails.

Beyond the physical, Smith said he was touched by the kindness shown by people all across the United States. “America is filled with lots of really interesting people. But I didn’t run into a mean person. I think there is a bit of a disconnect. People think there are all these dangerous looneys running around, but I haven’t seen it. The American people all along the way have been so kind and generous.”

Smith said there’s a sense of elation now that he’s finished his trek. “But it’s almost hard to take in, in a sense.”

“I miss television, music, driving,” he said. “Being with my wife will be nice. It will be fun just to come home and not have to do anything for a day or two, just kick back and relax.”

I highly recommend that you check out the photo gallery on his website. He has some absolutely spectacular pictures that are grouped by each of the trails he hiked.

Bart has now published four coffee table books of trail photography to date, with another to be released in March of 2009 called " Along the Pony Express Trail ". His photography has also appeared on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine.

Here are two of his books:

The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills
In 1948, young WWII veteran Earl Shaffer did what many people said couldn't be done: He trekked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one continuous journey ... walking into the history books as the Trail's first thru-hiker. In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of that hike, 79-year-old Earl did it again. In The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills, Earl recalls his 1998 anniversary trip and pays homage to the Appalachian Trail through his prose and poetry, enhanced by dozens of Bart Smith's stunning photographs.

Along the Pacific Crest Trail
Bart Smith explains that he hiked the PCT intending to photograph it along the way, and soon discovered that thru-hiking and serious photography are simply incompatible. Bart returned to the trail over a period of 5 years to capture outstanding images of the spectacular backcountry, and then asked Karen Berger to write the accompanying narrative from her own thru-hike experience. In Along the Pacific Crest Trail, Karen's narrative describes the challenges, joys, highlights, and process of walking 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. The PCT runs from the sere chaparral-covered mountains of southern California to the snowy heights of the Sierra Nevada to the towering volcanoes of the Cascades to the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, national treasures such as Yosemite, Crater Lake, and Mount Rainier make this one of the premier hiking destination in the world.

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.

1 comment

smoky scout said...

Thanks for this article, Jeff. The AT photographs are extraordinary and I have bookmarked the gallery to look at further.