Unfortunately my thinly clad feet soon began turning into painful mush, and from then on it was a struggle to just keep moving at all. I also greatly underestimated the amount of food and water I would need and probably descended into fairly serious dehydration. After struggling the last 11 miles just to keep moving, and taking special care not to tumble off the precipitous cliffs of Charley’s Bunion in my now delicate condition, but actually taking a painful tumble onto the trail itself when I tried to run the last couple hundred yards, I limped into the parking lot about 7 hours 20 minutes after I had started and probably 1.5 – 2 hours after my teammates expected to see me there. They were justifiably ticked off and I was mightily humbled, having averaged only about 4.3 mph.
But wait! There’s more to the story . . . A couple days later the Knox News-Sentinel (or maybe it was the now defunct Knox Journal) ran a big story with photos on two brave guys on horseback, who traversed the exact same route that same weekend (we never saw each other), in 9 hours and change, about two hours longer than my fast walking the same route in about 7:20. Needless to say, one foot-sore Vol runner felt just a hint of vindication when he realized he had just beaten two horses and riders in an inadvertent 31-mile race across almost half of the Great Smokies. But if only I had just worn good hiking boots and arranged for adequate food and water, I might not have endured the humiliation of keeping my ticked-off teammates waiting at Newfound Gap.
About five years later (1972), as a graduate student, I finally did break Flynn’s GSMNP crossing record in a time of 24:29 (with Flynn’s totally unsolicited and unexpected help when I needed it most!), but was sorely disappointed not to become the first to break the 24-Hour barrier, thanks in part to painful Achilles tendonitis in both heels, a drove of mean-spirited wild boar, and one very angry mama bear who stole the supplies a friend had brought up to Spence Field to get me to the finish line at Fontana Dam. She also charged me when we tried to get the pack back from her, thereby precipitating a possible world record 50-yard dash after already speed-hiking more than 51 miles over some of the ruggedest territory in America.
So, thirteen years later, on my 39th birthday, I finally broke my own record with a new time of 23:38:07, the first traverse of the entire Great Smoky Mountains in less than a 24-hour day. I’m proud to note that, nearly two generations later, another Vol runner now holds that record.