Turtle Hikers have covered thousands of miles

Susan EspirituFountain City, North Knoxville, Our Town Neighbors, West Knoxville

The patch on their backpacks

This hiking group absolutely amazes me at every turn, literally. They are affectionately known as the Turtle Hikers because they have slowed down with age, but they are true hikers in every sense of the word with most of the group being in their 70s.

Having met in different locations, some on pews at church and others by mutual acquaintance, these six trekkers have combined to hike thousands of miles throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Norris Dam State Park.

The original Turtles, Dottie Montgomery and Gail Giffin, started together in 2008, hiking Mount LeConte. Kay Pilkay and Cindy Warmak made it a foursome two years later and when Mary Margaret Eckhardt moved to Knoxville in 2012, the group expanded to five. The youngest to join is Karmen Sharpe rounding out the Turtles to a sextet.

Cindy said, “That stump looks black enough to be a bear.” Then the STUMP moved! (Dorothy and Kay watching said stump. )

Don’t let the name fool you as these Turtles aren’t just lollygagging around Cades Cove as I might do even if I put on tennis shoes instead of flip flops. Not these Turtles! These women are really hiking. Their average hike is 8-10 miles a day. Many days they have hiked 18-22 miles which involves cars or shuttles in which they enlist husband help for shuttling. Gail says, “We have climbed mountains, rocks, over downed trees across the trail, crossed creeks, and crawled on our knees and belly. We always had each other to help. We have gotten ourselves in some predicaments on the trail but we always laugh our way through.”

They have notched up the accomplishments too. Dottie has completed every trail in the Smokies twice so she is definitely earned leader of the group in my estimation. However, Cindy and Gail are 90% finished with all the trails. Through the years only one member had a fall that required a few stitches. Gail continues, “We all have a great appreciation and love of God’s creation. We feel so blessed to have good health and be able to hike. We all would agree that we feel closer to God while out in nature than anywhere else. All our problems and world problems seem to disappear when you are in woods and on the trail.”

She shares about the bond created, “We have shared so many laughs and tears together. We have faced many challenges but always persevered, because we had each other to push us and encourage. This is not only true just on the trail but in our private life also.”

Someone said that there is a special bond between friends who hike together and these women agree that some of the best times of their lives have been spent on the trail.

All of us have a story and I want to tell yours! Send them to susan@knoxtntoday.com


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