Jerky Mike's Last Mile in the Smokies


Here Mike is seen celebrating his magnificent accomplishment.  In the short span of 7 years and at the ripe old age of 65, Mike  McMurray knocked off his final miles on Martin's Gap above Baumgardner Branch between Deep Creek and Sunkota.  I was proud to have been with my friend on his first mile 7 years ago and follow in his footsteps on the last one.

Here Mike is seen with his commemorative plaque certifying his miles that were confirmed by Highlander counsel comprised in part by the guy to his left, Sally Dumplin.  You see, Sally was the second Highlander to achieve this milestone way back in 2009.  At the time we didn't have a plaque so the group decided it was high time we retroactively acknowledged the achievement of  Dave, who was also with Mike that first walk seven years ago.


And it rained like the dickens, again.  How many weekends must I endure the freaking rain?  A few more?  I'm over it!   Good gosh, in 8 miles down Deep Creek on Saturday it poured for a good hour.  Just enough to soak us and raise the stream sufficiently.  In hiking from Newfound Gap to Bryson City, I am reminded of how folks must have navigated in the old days through this passage.  It is 16-20 miles from the TN/NC border down into the big city of Bryson.   I felt as if the mountains must have appeared to those settlers hundreds of years ago.  Nothing much had changed except I was navigating a second growth forest and footpaths.  There were blowdowns and we stopped halfway down to camp.  That is true Smokies backcountry and as remote an experience as one could wish in the area.

By the time I got to campsite 57, these two were in good form.  Grady was also with us on Mike's first trip.  Grady decided to come up Stone Pile Gap because he thought it was called Stone Pile Crap, and he is a student of the defecatory arts.  He needed that leg but got more than he bargained for.  Upon encountering a snake, he didn't see the rattlesnake behind him.  In all, he saw two rattlers on Deep Creek coming up from Bryson City.  I only saw one.  And speaking of Grady, I owe him a HUUGE favor.  He was kind enough to shuttle me back up to my car on Sunday morning at the top of Newfound Gap.  He hadn't planned to go that way, instead thinking he would go around on the interstate.  Turns out he wishes that had been the case.  There was a rod run in Pigeon Forge and we got stuck in that mess for several hours.  No good deed goes unpunished, huh Grady?  Very sorry my friend.  But that is the kind of guy my friend Clark has always been.   Rod runs are a good reason to avoid the park entirely.

And that was after I stepped squarely on his head.  I almost killed him accidentally.  But he managed to move along.  Sorry little guy.  It was getting late and I was anxious to be in camp after 3.5 hrs down Deep Creek.  By the way, didn't see a soul the entire trip.  Not a single person was in any of the four campsites I passed nor was anyone hiking the trails.  The backcountry is virtually empty, most of the time.  I suppose the fee has really decreased the backcountry numbers.  We have data that shows it is near %30.

We still managed to get a fire going and swap tales about Mikes first run in the park.  We laughed when he spoke of  getting stuck in a "suck muck".  Then he said a possum defecated in his mouth during the night.  I don't know about that one.

After Grady and Mike departed Saturday morning, I had a visitor join me for coffee.  Soon I had to make the ascent up Martin Gap to Sunkota.  I needed Sunkota for my new miles.

A lot of money goes to maintaining roads and repairing horse trails.  But what about backcountry items?  All but forgotten here in the land where Horace last lived in the Smokies.

Sunkota was also a pretty good climb at first.  I believe that day was about 8 miles as well and I got a few blisters since I was wearing the boots.  The boots were handy coming down Deep Creek in the deluge but not so comfortable walking in the heat Saturday.  It made my dream of walking straight into the creek more than I imagined when we got there.  It was the best Smokies bath I've had but I take no responsibility for the fish that floated to the surface.


I believe that we had about 20 people show up for Mike's party.  Cameos include Super Dave, Wesley, Will and Jenny.  And our own Slapnuts has returned from his completion of the Colorado Trail.  He knocked of 500 miles in 29 days of high altitude backpacking.  That is something else.  He is 20 lbs lighter and brought a little traveler in the form of intestinal parasites but otherwise, he is in good health.  Congrats to Slap for that one.  Bill and Sara arrived.  Bill is close approaching completion of his own map.  And we will have a shindig then too!

We even had a recreation of the original saw dance by Jerky Mike a few years back.  If you don't recall it, HERE is a reminder.



I think Mike is an inspiration to all folks who think it may be too late to embark upon physical goals.  I am proud of the way that he has chosen to undertake his miles, the SouthernHighlander way.  That means backpacking.  You may find a few folks who have finished their maps, but hardly any who do so with a full pack.  To complete Smokies miles, some has estimated you must walk 1500 to get 850.  I believe it.  So Mike and our gang has done so with everything they need to survive and thrive in the Smokies backcountry.   That is what makes SouthernHighlander miles so different.   Congrats Jerky Mike!   You earned every one.

If you wish to congratulate Mike, leave him a note in our Highlander Guestbook.


And finally, if you need some comic relief, check out Great Smoky Mtns Association representative Gary Wilson's epic meltdown on NPT comments thread last week.  I would almost be embarrased for him if I weren't.