Jim Walters, 64, and Frank Potter, 67, became the 15th and 16th people ever to hike from the Great Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina border to the Outer Banks. They hiked the trail in sections, one weekend a month, for 22 months.
You weren’t avid hikers before hiking the MST. What inspired you to tackle such an adventure?
I learned about the trail while day hiking with my daughter. I’m a native North Carolinian and I figured there was no better way to see my home state. To train, we walked on treadmills with full packs on. That got us funny looks at the gym.
I understand you had some navigation problems.
We got lost numerous times—sometimes severely. We did a lot of sections as day hikes, so we didn’t take food or bags to spend the night. Once we were hiking through the Middle Prong Wilderness during the fall with leaves covering the trail. The trail blazes are white, but in the mountains there’s also a fungus that grows white on the trees. We took a wrong turn and had to bushwhack down the mountain in the dark. We made it to a road and convinced a coon hunter in a pickup truck to drive us out of the woods.
How were the road sections?
We biked all the road sections after Raleigh, because there’s nothing fun about walking on a road. You’ve got to watch out for country dogs. They’re not on leashes and they travel in packs. I learned to squirt them in the face with my Camelbak as soon as they were within range. That usually stopped them long enough to give us a lead.
How was the big beach finale?
The beach hike was amazing. We took a week off to walk the 100 miles on the Outer Banks. We walked on the beach, and through maritime forests, and into quaint little towns like Buxton and Avon.
What’s next for the Walker/Potter hiking duo?
As soon as I’m finished with the chores my wife has built up for me over the last two years, we’re looking at the South Beyond 6000 Challenge.
Upcoming Hikes on the Mountains to Sea Trail
October 4: Black Balsam Loop Hike. Summit Tennant Mountain and Black Balsam on this breathtaking six-mile hike.
October 15: Four-Day Backpack from Mount Mitchell. This free backpacking trip will be led by a park ranger, with hikes averaging 6 to 12 miles.
October 17: Falls Lake Hike and Paddle. Choose from a day hike or an overnight camping trip with a paddle across Falls Lake.
October 23-25: Smokies Backpack. This three-day backpacking trip will follow the MST from Clingmans Dome to Mingus Mill.
October 24: Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. Hike seven miles to an observation tower with panoramic views.
For more info, visit Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail: ncmst.org.