It’s not a “been there, done that,” kind of event. It’s more of a “Wow.”
On May 17, avid hiker and longtime Alcoa Mayor Don Mull accomplished something twice that many never get around to doing once. The 73-year-old retired banker hiked every trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a second time.
What surprised him was how close he came to finishing all the trails almost four years to the exact day he first hiked them.
“The ironic thing about this is I completed the first trail set on May 16, 2004. I completed this second set on May 17, one day and four years difference. I didn’t even realize it,” he said.
Mull started hiking in 1996 when friend and fellow banker Tommy Small asked if he was interested in hiking with him. “I hiked some but wasn’t hiking regularly. (Tommy) said, ‘Go on a hike with us.’ The first hike he took me on was 17 miles. I had blisters,” said Mull.
From there he began hiking more often. “I started enjoying it, and it’s good for your health, keeps your heart going,” he said. “You develop a camaraderie with people you hike with and you start to look forward to Saturdays.”
Mull said he and his hiking buddies marked off trails as they did them each Saturday. “You can’t stack trails,” he explained of the way you count trails if you’re trying to hike them all. “If you hike the trail up and down, you can’t count it twice.”
In 2004 when he completed all 900-plus miles of trails in the park, he sent his information in to the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club’s 900 Miler Club. “In ’04, there were 140 members of the club. You send information in, and they’ll certify you as a 900 member. It is 937 miles, but, in order to get that hiked, you have to do 2,200 miles, because you’re going up and coming back,” he said.
On May 17, the day he finished the last trail, Mull woke at 2 a.m., picked up one of his hiking buddies at 3 a.m. and picked up a third hiking buddy at 3:45 a.m. They were at Newfound Gap at 4:30 a.m.
“It was foggy, windy and 34 degrees,” he said. “We never plan our hikes with the weather. If it’s 100 percent rain, we certainly don’t go, but they say if you plan your hikes according to the weather you’ll never go.”
Mull said the day turned out pretty. “The sun came out, and it was cool. It was a nice day to hike by the time we got through Peck’s Corner and Tri Corner Knob and had come over to Snake Den Ridge along the Appalachian Trail - it’s 5.3 miles, 4,800 feet of elevation and goes to 2,100 feet at Cosby,” he said.
“I picked the hardest trail in the park to do last,” Mull admits. “I put it off to the last. It was from Newfound Gap to Cosby -- 24.7 miles, and we did it in 15 and half hours,” he said.
When they finished up in Cosby, the temperature had risen to 48 degrees. “We finished up at 8 o’clock at night. Our feet were pretty raw, pretty tender. The first thing I wanted was a great big milkshake. I was dehydrated,” he said.
Mull said he comes prepared with good equipment that makes hiking a little easier. “My pack has a mesh back so your back doesn’t get wet. You’ve got air circulating. The equipment we use today is breathable. It’s lighter,” he said.
The mayor said the biggest problem in a long hike is the weight of water. When someone is hiking cross-country, they can find a couple of locations such as creeks or springs where water is available and can be purified. Mull also uses a water purifier so he doesn’t have to lug so much water throughout the hike. “It does taste salty, but in 10 minutes you can drink the water,” he said.
The mayor said hiking gives him a greater appreciation of the Great Smoky Mountains.
“We live here and look at them and take them for granted. I’ve lived in Blount County all my life, and I think we all become accustomed to mountains and don’t appreciate them for their beauty,” he said.
“When you get up in the mountains and see streams and wildlife, it’s beautiful, and you have a greater appreciation of the beauty of your backyard.”