The Ageless Adventurer Walks from Arles

Chris and Carroll
Chris and Carroll

“I don’t think I’m lost but I don’t know where I am.”
That’s a good indication how Carroll got along in rural France-without speaking much French.

At Monday’s Camino meeting, Carroll Koepplinger, the ageless hiker, gave a presentation on his walk from Arles to Oloron Sainte-Marie in Southern France.

The Arles route is one of several Chemin through France that eventually lead to the Pyrenees and into Spain.

Though the Camino Francais that takes you to Santiago is the most popular route, drawing thousands and thousands of walkers, you can walk from almost anywhere in Europe to Santiago where the remains of the prophet St. James are supposed to be buried.

20160201Caminomeeting 001AThe Arles route, GR 653, isn’t as popular as the Le Puy route that I took in 2013. Carroll said that he saw maybe ten to fifteen hikers a day while I must have bumped into almost a hundred.

Like me, Carroll stayed in gites (hostels) and some Bed and Breakfasts. Each gite was different and charming in its own way. He reported that the gites were clean, simple and most important, friendly. He loved picking and eating grapes along the way. It’s amazing that he didn’t get caught.

Carroll is known as the ageless adventurer because he just keeps going. At 86 years old, (yes, 86 – it’s not a typo), he walked up to 21 miles a day, with an average of 13 over 26 days. Like any real adventure, he had some challenges. He got lost. He found himself in tiny villages with only a can of sardines and a day-old roll for dinner. It was very hot when he first started in September.

“But whatever problem I had, I knew that people could help me out.” That’s the secret to Carroll’s success on the trail. He enjoys meeting people and they enjoy talking to him.

After a while, Carroll became “world-famous” on the trail. People would come up to him and ask:
“Are you the older guy?” “Are you Carroll?”

I wonder where Carroll will go this year.

The WNC chapter of the American Pilgrims meets the first Monday of the month. Come on out and dream!


2016 Friends of the Smokies hikes

Cabin in Little Cataloochee
Cabin in Little Cataloochee

So it’s Groundhog Day (February 2).

But it’s also time to sign up for our Friends of the Smokies hikes for 2016 – the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service.

This year, Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes Series totals 100 miles in celebration of the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016. The hikes feature trail interpretation, history and how Friends support park projects.

I’m always so excited to be leading the hikes but Anna Lee Zanetti and the Friends staff do all the organization. If you hike a 100 miles this centennial year, you’ll get a pin and an invitation to the Superintendent’s Hike 100 Celebration. Of course, you don’t have to do all the 100 miles with Friends of the Smokies to get your pin, but we make it so easy and fun.

View from Mt. Le Conte
View from Mt. Le Conte

The hikes are always the second Tuesday of the month, staring in March. We have an exciting lineup including  Little Cataloochee, Porters Creek, Hyatt Ridge, Charlies Bunion, Mt. Sterling, overnight at Mount Le Conte, Mt. Cammerer, Deep Creek, Double Springs Gap, Noland Creek and Grotto Falls.

And did you catch Mount Le Conte? We’re going to Mount Le Conte again… Yippee! Look at the whole series!.

The first Classic Hike of 2016 is Tuesday, March 8th to Little Cataloochee. This hike is 6.6 miles round trip and is moderate in difficulty with a total elevation gain of 1,450 feet. Participants will visit a historic chapel, cemetery and cabin on this hike. See the picture above.

So how do you sign up? Go to  or contact Anna Lee (of course).

To sign up for the whole series,  mail a check to Friends of the Smokies 160 S. Main Street Waynesville 28786 for $160.

Trusting a Smokies License Plate

20160127viewIMG_1806AIf you have a Smokies license plate, it usually signifies that you support and love Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But yesterday, it meant a lot more to me.

I planned to go on a Carolina Mountain Club (CMC) hike. It was going to be a short walk on the Appalachian Trail from Sams Gap going south. I drove directly to the trailhead. Through a comedy of errors, and it was a comedy, there was no one at the trailhead, just one other (empty) car with a NC Smokies license tag. After waiting a while, I decided to do the hike by myself.

Now, I’m not too crazy about hiking by myself in the winter, though I’m fine with it the other seasons.20160127frostIMG_1808A As soon as I got on the trail, I saw snowshoe footprints. I’m not much of a tracker, not like Crocodile Dundee, so I couldn’t figure out how fresh the tracks were. Were there one or more hikers on the trail?

But walking in someone else’s snowshoe prints is so great. It’s easy because they’ve done all the work but you can still enjoy the snow. Blue sky, frost on white pine needles and quiet, white all around. It’s easy to be a solo adventurer under these conditions. I wondered who walked ahead of me. Would I meet them? And whose car was in the parking lot? They could have gone north, the other way, or be on a multi-day backpack.

I thought about the Smokies license plate again and realized that the automobile car owner is probably a trustworthy person.

Having a Smokies plate means that the owner is a stable member of the community. You don’t get a specialty plate on the fly. You have to fill out a form at least the first time and pay a little extra

It means that the car owner has ties to their area. And it doesn’t matter if they live in Asheville or clear across the state in New Bern. The license plate is statewide and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a national park.

A specialty plate as a character reference? And all this for $30. Can you beat this bargain? Why haven’t automobile insurance companies thought of this? What if they gave a small reduction in their fees if you had a specialty license plate supporting a nonprofit organization? Maybe not the first year that you get the plate, but the subsequent years. Hey, State Farm, think about it.

After a couple of miles of snow heaven, I found the owner of the car and snowshoes along with his hiking partner. It turned out to be a CMC member, after all. He would laugh if I thought of him as trustworthy but he is.

Huckleberry Finch
Huckleberry Finch

As an added bonus, on the way back, we met an A.T. southbound thru-hiker from Indiana–Huckleberry Finch. He was slackpacking today and heading back to Irwin, TN. He has a lot to walk before he gets to Springer Mountain, including the Smokies.

I hope he comes back to the area in better weather.