A Finally of Epic Proportions(A Great Smoky Mountains National Park Thru-Hike) Week 4 to Finish #fastestgsmnp900miler2

#mybeardedself pointing out a spot to Jeff Benefield of jbensblog 📷 Dewey Slusher

With the first three weeks going about as good as they could possible go with me coming straight off the couch. And with me slowly recovering from rolling my right ankle. I was ready to put those days behind me and focus on getting this hike done.

I was starting to see my mileage increase by week 4 and finally getting my trail legs back. Now that made me happy. I was able to do the miles that I had been doing prier to me getting Planter Fasciitis (PF). Now I still had the PF in my left foot, but leg wise I was able to do the miles I once had done.

The Feet

As for the PF, it hurt every single day. I took lots of ibuprofen to try to dull the pain a little bit and I soaked my feet in the cool mountain streams every chance I got. It was a routine I repeated daily. But when it would rain and the trail would fill with water, it worked as cold therapy which felt amazingly great. It was the only time my feet wouldn’t hurt. So I always looked forward to the days I had rain forecasted which was only about 4 days or so.

During my 43 day hike I didn’t get a single blister, but my feet had to build up since I hadn’t hiked in months. In the beginning I used KT Tape and Mole Skin as a preventive measure. But after about two weeks I was actually able to phase out the Mole Skin and eventually the KT Tape. By week four (4) I was tape free.

I wore a single pair of Brooks Running Caldera’s. I chose to wear a size bigger (size 11 1/2) to compensate for the feet swelling. It was a decision that I mistakingly did not make during my 1st map back during the winter. And this time it would be my saving grace. My feet had plenty of room and were much more comfy than back during the winter when I chose to wear my Brooks Running Cascadia 9’s in size 11. And in case you were wondering, I didnt get a single blister with the Cascadia 9’s back during the winter, but my feet didn’t have as much room then either. By the end of this map, my Caldera’s would have over 1000 miles on them with plenty of life an tred left in them.

The Food I Ate

Zpacks Food Blast Bag

I found #mybeardedself not eating as much as I had thought I would. I also ended up eating more trail mix with peanut M&M’s than I did anything else. But the truth is I simply wasnt that hungry on the trail. But when I would come into town to do laundry and stay overnight with friends, I would eat pizza or burgers and have a beer or chocolate milk. And let’s not forget coffee. But I also would store bananas, apples, almonds and almond butter along with canned chicken in my truck (which I had access to every other day or so. I was also taking vitamins and drinking electrolyte mixes, whey protein shakes and BCAA’s which helped with my daily recovery.

Anthony’s Pizza 📷 By Dewey Slusher

So where were my favorite places to eat? If I was on the North Carolina side I absolutely had to eat at Anthony’s Pizza in Bryson City. I would always get a 14″ pizza, Alfredo base, grilled chicken, broccoli and bacon. My friend Renè Williams got me hooked on it. Every time I was near there and able to, I was going to Anthony’s.

Three Jimmy’s burger & YeeHaw Brewing Eighty 📷 By Dewey Slusher

Now as for the Tennessee side, it has to be Three Jimmy’s in Gatlinburg. Jeremy from YeeHaw Brewing took me there during my last week on the trail. He bought me a burger and fries which was served up with a nice cold YeeHaw Eighty beer. Jeremy interviewed me for their blog and we also talked about me becoming an ambassador for YeeHaw. But from that point on I ate at Three Jimmy’s for the next few days till I finished on that Saturday. And it was there where I had my celebration meal and a celebratory beer which was a YeeHaw Eighty (my favorite).

Yeehaw Eighty

The Gear I Used
· Zpacks (technical support)

Zpacks Nero Backpack on top of Mt LeConte, GSMNP

Nero Backpack

Duplex Tent (Camo)

Trekking Poles

30° Sleeping Bag

Vertice Rain Jacket

Vertice Rain Pants

Bear Bagging Kit

Tent Stakes

Trucker Hat

Stuff Sacks & Dry Bags

On this map I used a new backpack that I had never used before. I chose to go with a Zpacks Nero Backpack which is a frameless backpack made of the same Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) as my Zpacks Arc Blast and Zero packs were made of. This pack worked perfect. It weighed a mere 10.9 oz and carried comfortably whether I was backpacking or just doing a long day hike. I carried on average 13 lbs in it. My base weight (not including food or water) was around 4 lbs. I honestly love this pack, but after my hike was over I discovered it was rubbing the garmats such as my t-shirts, my Goosefeet Gear down jacket, my Zpacks Vertice rain jacket and my Patagonia capilene thermal weight hoody severly. It had rubbed Vertice abrasion marks into the fabric over the kidneys areas and the upper back. It was the webbing sewn in place for the hipbelt attachment points that was doing the rubbing. When Zpacks sent me this pack it came with a foam cushion pad strapped to the back of the pack. It was held in place with shock cord. I didn’t like this option so I removed it immediately. At the time I had no idea that this was going to be a bad decision and nor did Zpacks. The pad was in place to provide comfort and stability to the pack. After I made the discovery, I contacted Zpacks and made them aware of the problem. They advised me that they would be looking into possibly trying to redesign that better. I’m still using this awesome pack, but this time I’m using it with the foam pad that came with it. #neveraltergear #ultralightbackpacking #teamzpacks #zpacks

· Goosefeet Gear (sponsor)

Goosefeet Gear Down Jacket 📷 By Jeff Benefield

Down Jacket

Down Pants

Down Socks

My Goosefeet Gear down jacket worked perfectly. It was provided to me as part of my sponsorship by Goosefeet Gear. This jacket was perfect for what I needed it for. I sent Ben Smith (owner) my measurements and my specs I chose. When completed, it weighed only 7 oz and was made with 3.5 oz down fill with 900 Fill power of Drytech down. The outer shell was made of Royal Blue 20d and the inner liner was Balck 10d. Once again, being lightweight, warm and durable were my main criteria. Ben met all of those. I also paid Ben to make me a pair of down paints as well. They met the same specs as my jacket except I had them made with an outer shell of Black 20d and an inner liner of 10d. I also used my down socks as well on the cooler nights at camp or at the shelter.

I also want to be clear too. With Goosefeet Gear, BlackRock Gear as with Zpacks and most of the other companies that sponsored me or assisted me. I was a long time customer before I was ever sponsored by them.
· BlackRock Gear (sponsor)

Down Beanie

Foldback Down Mittens

I used my BlackRock Gear down beanie a lot. There were many nights and morning that I absolutely depended on my down beanie to keep my head warm. It was like having a down sleeping bag for my head. And the great thing about this beanie was that it was SUPER lightweight (weighing less than 1 oz), it was compact so that I could just stuff it into my pocket when I didn’t need it and it was made to fit my head (which is a medium-short). I also used my Foldback Mittens a few times to keep my hands warm, but still have access to fingers when I needed to take a photo with my smartphone or check my downloaded park map.

· Brooks Running (not a sponsor)

Calderas Trail Runner

I used my Brooks Running Caldera’s on this hike every single day. They provided great support, soft sole, great traction, breathability and lightweight. I ended up keeping them in for 80 % of my stream crossing which were over 80 crossings. When I got them wet, they would dry out quickly. I wore them several days in heavy rains well. Each time the shoe dried quickly and didn’t do any damage to my feet.

I absolutely fell in love with these shoes which I wear as my everyday shoes (the same pair I hiked in). It has well over 1200 miles on them and counting. Since my hike I also have purchased several pairs of the Caldera’s. It is definitely my go to show now.
· Darn Tough (not a sponsor)

I used a single pair of light cushioned Darn Tough socks. They worked great for me. Last year I completely switched to Darn Tough’s and I haven’t looked back since. Occationally I wear a pair of Injinji toe sock liners to help If my toes start getting hateful with each other. Also, I didn’t get the first blister on this hike or any other hike I’ve been on since I started using Darn Tough’s.

· Patagonia (not a sponsor)

Capilene Thermal Weight Hoody

Capilene Thermal Weight Beanie

I have to be honest here. This is one of my favorite pieces of gear. I picked it up from BackCountry last year and I absolutely love this thing. It weighs only 7 oz and is super warm. I only wish it had a kangaroo pocket then it would be perfect.

· Outdoor Research (not a sponsor)

PL150 Gloves

I used these gloves about 30% of my hike. It honestly didn’t get that cold where I needed anything on my hands, but maybe an hour or so during the morning. And it wasn’t to the point that I needed my BlackRock Gear Foldback Mittens other than at night when I was in camp. But they worked great and did what they were supposed to do.

· Vargo Outdoors (sponsor)

700 ml Titanium BOT pot

Titanium Spork

Titanium Dig Tool

Vargo Outdoors sent me a 700 ml titanium BOT, a titanium Spork and a titanium Dig Tool. They all worked great. I really enjoyed the BOT (weighing 4 oz) a lot more than my old Snow Peak 700 ml titanium pot. I also love that the BOT has a sealable lid so if I need to carry water in it I can. The Dig Tool (weighing under 1 oz) did it’s job. It made digging my “cat holes” easy.

· Katadyn (not a sponsor)

BeFree Water Filter

Now this item gave me problems. I loved the weight (only 2 oz) and the flow rate on this item when it worked, but it didn’t work well for me. I used it maybe 5 time (max) and it clogged up on me twice. And I only filtered clear water so I’m not sure what the issue was. It was a good thing I usually don’t filter water cause this filter was very unreliable for me. I would not recommend this item. I’ll be going back to my Sawyer Squeeze which weighs 3 oz.

· Therm-a-rest

Neo Air X-Lite

I’ve used this sleeping pad for the last couple of years. Its worked very well for me, providing enough comfort to get a great nights rest and the regular size only weighs 12 oz.

I use this pad every single time I go into the backcountry.
· Sea To Summit (not a sponsor)

Aeros Lightweight Air Pillow

I actually used this same pillow for well over a year now. And after using several different types in the past several years I would have to say I like this one the most.

Weighing in at only 2 oz, this pillow is soft and very comfortable.

· Black Diamond (not a sponsor)

2017 Spot Headlamp

This is by far my favorite version of this headlamp by Black Diamond. At 300 lumens, easy to operate and weighing at 3 oz, it’s perfect for what I do. I actually own several of these headlamps. I like them that much.

· Mogix (not a sponsor)

▪ This battery pack is rated at 10,000 mAh and weighs in at 6 oz. I can charge my LG G5 2 times and my GoPro Hero 5 Session 4 times.

Now this pack has a few years of use on it so I’m currently looking to upgrade to an Anker 10,000 mAh soon.
· GoPro (not a sponsor)

Hero 5 Session

I used this camera to document my hike. I shot video everyday while I was on trail. It was lightweight and easy to use.

Memorable Moments

#mybeardedself and my “Beautiful Bride” Ashley

Hiking with my friends and spending Thanksgiving hiking Brushy Mt with my buddy Dewey Slusher will be something I’ll never forget. But the most memorable moment will be hiking with my beautiful bride Ashley the day before I finished which was our anniversary. We hiked 10.3 miles that day and it was Ashley’s biggest mileage day. We were tired afterwards, but she wasn’t too tired to surprise me the next day when she and our friend Dana Parish hiked in 3.5 miles to meet us so they could hike that last few miles with us. That meant the world to me.

Areas Completed

☑ Deep Creek

☑ Cataloochie

☑ Hazel Creek

☑ Balsam Mt

☑ Smokemont

☑ Twentymile

☑ Cases Cove

☑ Cosby

☑ Big Creek

☑ Elkmont

☑ Tremont

☑ Greenbrier

☑ Sugerlands

The first ever “Glow Tunnel”

GSMNP 900-Miler Club

So in summary, I hiked all the open trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fastest known time….. again. I finished my 2nd map around 9:30 PM at the Old Sugarlands Trailhead at Newfound Gap Rd under the “Glow Tunnel” on Nov. 25, 2017. The hikers wrapped their trekking poles with battery operated Christmas lights. It was an amazing sight. My ending mileage and time was 924.3 miles in 43 days.


Here’s a link to my YouTube Channel and the videos from this hike.


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