Three days before Christmas, hikers Sharon “MamaGoose” Smith and Craig “JetLag” Smith reached the summit of their thru-hike of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks.
The Smiths’ (no relation) journey had taken them from Clingmans Dome in the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. It was journey of 64 days and 1,150 miles, accomplished one step at a time.
“We took one day off during the entire 64 days, and that was because of freezing weather when we passed through Linville,” said Sharon Smith (MamaGoose is Smith’s “trail handle”).
The two hikers passed through the Blowing Rock section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in early November.
“We hiked between eight and 10 hours each day and averaged 17.5 miles a day," said Smith. "On the longest day we hiked 26 miles and on the shortest day we hiked eight miles.”
In hiking the entire length of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, including new sections on the Outer Banks, MamaGoose and JetLag became the first hikers to hike the entire 1,150 miles of the trail from west to east. The new section of the trail includes 81 miles of beach walking.
“Because of the time of year we were walking on the beach, we saw maybe three people along the whole beach trip,” Smith said. “It was awesome. It was windy, but the skies were gorgeous and the sound of the ocean just lulled me into a meditative state.”
During the beach section of the trek, Smith found conch shells near the Oregon Inlet and saw wild horses at Ocracoke.
But the journey wasn’t all idyllic strolls along the seashore. Along the way, Smith endured a sprained ankle in the mountains, blisters on her feet, a lost big toenail, snarling dogs and duck hunters in eastern North Carolina and the possibility of bears.
“We were camping in Bladen County and saw hundreds of bear tracks,” Smith said. “That area has the highest population of bears in North Carolina. Fortunately, we didn’t see one.
“We heard a lot of hunters in the distance, so we made sure we wore blaze orange hats.”
“But it was an incredible journey and most everything about it was positive,” she said.
“In Onslow County, a woman named Theresa, who was head of tourism, treated us like we were royalty. At Camp Lejeune, we saw the Memorial Garden that is made up of three memorials: A Vietnam War Memorial, The 911 Memorial and the Beirut Memorial. They’re getting ready to add a memorial for black soldiers. We attended a special veterans dinner with a bunch of veterans. It was all very moving,” she said.
Smith, who is a veteran of the Air Force, is the leader of the Warrior Hike program, an organization that provides funding and support for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are interested in hiking sections of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Appalachian Trail and other scenic trails in the United States.
“For many of these veterans, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will be better suited for them than the Appalachian Trail,” Smith said. “There is just so much solitude on the MST.”
Smith is currently organizing a Warrior Hike event on the MST in conjunction with Warrior Ride, an organization that provides rides for veterans.
“We hope to have 10 to 15 hikers-bikers participate in the event,” she said. “It would start in September in the mountains and end at the beach in October.”
According to Smith, the trip would begin as a hike on the MST and then switch to a bike ride for 500 miles, switching back to a hike at the Ocracoke Ferry for the final leg on the Outer Banks.
“I don’t think I will ever leave North Carolina,” she said. “From the mountains to the ocean, it really has everything.
“I loved visiting the people and places of rural North Carolina and their small towns. In Kelly, N.C., an old guy gave us some blueberry cobbler that his wife had made. Kelly is just a little town at a crossroads and we stayed inside the building that is a combination church and museum there,” she said.
“I discovered that people in the small towns are very patriotic. When they found out we were doing this for the Warrior Hike program, they were incredibly supportive. People paid for our lunches and let us camp in their yards. It was wonderful.”
Smith and her hiking buddy, JetLag, plan on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail this spring.
“He’s going to be 70 this year, so it might be his last chance to thru-hike it,” Smith said. “It will probably take us about four and a half months. We’re very disciplined hikers. During the Mountains-to-Sea hike, he lost nine pounds and I lost 15 and a half pounds. But I’m healthy, and I feel great,” she said.
Smith and Smith will attend a special event held by the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on Feb. 7 honoring all the people who thru-hiked it in 2014.
“I think four or five people thru-hiked the MST last year, but JetLag and I were the first to thru-hike it from west to east,” Smith said.
Smith added that she hopes that the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the North Carolina State Park system can work in cooperation to gain easements for the trail and make it safer.
“We have to work together,” she said. “The new route is wonderful. The small towns are proud to be part of it, and I enjoyed meeting all of the people, seeing all of the cotton fields, sweet potato farms and old tobacco barns.
“Every time we stopped in diners, the old-timers would tell us about the history of their area. This new route really helps to preserve and share the history of North Carolina.”
For more information on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, visit www.ncmst.org.
For more information on the Warrior Hike Program, visit www.warriorhike.org.