Benton Mackaye Trail – Spring Time Has Arrived! | Average Hiker

sam and shy on the colorado trail

The Benton MacKaye Trail is my first backpacking trip this year, and I’ll be leaving shortly. I can’t wait to get back to the long green tunnels of the East Coast trails! The smell of Spring in the southern Appalachians is unrivaled.

I love the western trails, but if you really want to experience Spring come alive, then immerse yourself in the rich, green forests of the south. You can literally feel the trees awaken as the mountain’s exit their winter slumber.

This year, due to work constraints, I’ll be hiking shorter trails. I have a shorter one planned for this summer and one for early fall, but the Pacific Northwest is still whispering my name, so we will see how things go.

Benton Mackaye Trail Map

The Benton Mackaye Trail is what some call the little sibling to the Appalachian Trail. As a matter of fact, it starts at the same southern terminus. I’m even hiking the famous “Approach Trail” to Springer Mountain – because I’m a glutton for punishment like that.

The Trail starts at Springer Mountain and travels through GA, NC, and TN to end 286 miles later at Baxter Creek Trailhead on the other side of the Smokeys.

As it is commonly called, the BMT spends about 1/3 of its time in the Great Smokey National Park, which also happens to have one of the country’s densest Black Bear Populations.

I’m not worried about Bears, though, since Sam is apparently bringing a large machete given to her by her mother. I guess she read about the bears.

I’ll make sure not to startle her.

Not Hiking Solo

This year I’m not hiking Solo on the BMT. This will be the first time I have started a trail with another hiker, but I know Samantha’s (Sam’s) hiking style, and we should get along just fine. She and Shy are in the picture at the top of this blog.

I met Sam last year on the Colorado Trail and instantly bonded with her dog (Shyla). We ended up hiking together for a couple of weeks before Shyla got hurt, and they had to leave the trail near Cottonwood Pass.

We kept in touch over the winter, and Sam has a little time to spare before school, so before she follows her BF to the Dakotas, we are going backpacking where it is fairly warm and green (limited in North Dakota). Unfortunately, Shy will not come since she is not allowed in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.

Benton Mackaye Trail Gear

My Benton Mackaye Gear list has a few new items. I’ve attached the complete list below if you would like to take a peek.

Since the Appalachians are pretty volatile during the Spring, and it is not uncommon to have snow at higher elevations in March, I’ll be taking an additional mid-layer.

I’ll also be carrying my umbrella since I HATE cold rain and definitely stay warmer with an umbrella. I know the BMT can be a little “wild and brushy,” but my umbrella served me well on the AT.

I will admit that I was the only hiker I saw on the AT with an umbrella, but during the downpours in the Fall, I did see a few jealous expressions. Rain down south is NO JOKE!

New Gear on the List

The gear listed below is really the only major new pieces I’ll be testing. The pad and pack might have a new home if all goes well, but I suspect the Aeon Li will be looking for a new home, so let me know if you are interested before I put it in the store when I get home.

  • Aeon Li Tarptent – The Aeon Li is a new shelter. It is similar in style to my Zpack Hexamid, but I like that the sides angle to a bottom section that is about 6 inches above the ground. My hope is this keeps the condensation-prone Dyneema fabric off my quilt.
  • Nemo Insulated Tensor Pad – This pad is about 4 ounces heavier than my old Neoair Ultralite. It is much wider and supposed to be much more comfortable. I have only tried it out once, and the jury is still out.
  • Hyperlite Junction – My Hyperlite is not necessarily “new,” but it will be the first trip it has gone on over a week. I want to give it a good shakedown and see how it performs.
Hyperlite Junction Backpack on the Benton Mackaye Trail

Food on the Trail

My food won’t change much, but I am watching what I eat more closely since it appears years of hiking may finally be catching up with me.

A few months ago, I went to bed with what I assumed was a “Charlie Horse” in my left thigh, kind of near my hip. I remember frowning and wondering at the pain caused by seemingly nothing as I gimped my way to bed.

The night was miserable as I tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position as my hip began to radiate waves of pain. I finally rolled out of bed around 4 AM, put my feet on the floor, and cried out in surprise as I could put ZERO weight on my left hip.

By that evening, the only way I could tolerate the pain in my hip was to elevate my foot while I sat on the sofa alternating between cold and heat. Forget about walking! I almost went to the emergency room the pain was so bad, but instead waited for an appointment with an Orthopedist on Monday.

It was 4 days before I could put weight on my hip and three weeks before I was back to walking normally. The Doctor gave me cortisone, told me it was inflammation, and sent me on my way. A second opinion came to the same conclusion – INFLAMMATION!

Food Now Kinda Stinks

That was crazy! I can’t be 100 miles into the middle of the wilderness and suddenly not be able to walk, so I did my research. I mean, I LOVE food!

So what did I learn? Stay away from processed foods and a lot of meat protein – like red meat protein. No steaks, crappy snacks, processed sugars, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, Butter, ice cream. ALL THE THINGS I EAT ON LONG DISTANCE HIKES!

I had already scaled back on the junk and been eating much less meat. I was even a vegetarian for a while, but that did not work out so well for my energy levels on long-distance hikes.

So I’ve been scouring recipes and learning a lot from BackcountryFoodie.com, but I’m still nervous.

The inflammation is always lurking, waiting for me to cheat. I’ve had a couple of mild flare-ups, and that was while I was behaving. Ok, fine, it flared up after the six cupcakes – that I only had once!

Foods I’ll Actually Take

My breakfasts will be mostly cereals. I’ve tried to stick to healthy, whole grain cereals, but I’ve still sprinkled a little powdered NIDO on them. I’ve also loaded up the little cardboard bits with plenty of freeze-dried fruits. There has to be some taste!

Snacks consist of dried fruits, nuts, and chips and crackers made from things like hummus and whole grains. Gone are the younger years of Snickers, Fritos, M&M’s, and other youthful treats.

I’m taking Lance crackers with peanut butter, but they are wholegrain, so hopefully, that off-sets some of the “processedness.” Is that even a word? It should be.

Lunch is just the same snacks. Everything else included too much bread, which turns to sugar, which my hips don’t like. It’s only 3 weeks. I can go a little hungry for 3 weeks. I need to lose my “winter layer” anyway.

Dinner will probably be a little touch and go. I’m taking Stowaway Gourmet meals – SO GOOD! I hope to make BackcountryFoodie recipes for my next hike, but I did not have enough time on this one.

My favorite is the Wild Boar and Bean Stew. You can’t find much more processed food than a good store-bought dehydrated meal, and this one does have some ham, but it is a minimal amount – I think – damnit!

Anywho, I have warned Sam. There is NO WAY I’m pushing the button on my InReach because my hip hurts. Trying to explain that emergency to a SAR Rescue team would be absolutely humiliating!

I’ll hop down the mountain on one leg first!

Benton Mackaye Trail is On!

Aside from my old woman issues, I am ready to go!

Fingers crossed on my upcoming menu, and I’ll ONLY eat salads at my resupply towns to offset the “processedness” of my trail foods.

If I do “go down” while hiking, I at least have a young whippersnapper to carry my pack or sprint for help while I hold off the bears with her borrowed machete.

I will try to blog, but it’s tough on this platform. The best way to follow is via social media. I post regularly on Twitter (lots of pictures) since it has the best reception for uploading. I’m also at IG and FB, where I try to post when in town or more often if I have a signal.

You can access all of these social platforms through the icons at the very top of the page in the dark green bar, and thanks a lot for following along!

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Ellie Thomas

I've hiked thousands of miles and still love the unknown of the journeys. Trails hiked include the AT, PCT, CDT, CT, AZT, NET, BMT White Mountains, and numerous blue-blazed trails around the country.