Rain or shine, Benny Braden of Harriman has relentlessly slogged his way up and down the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains. The 44-year-old is just a couple of days away from completing every trail in the national park at a blistering pace.
"For anyone to hike 900 miles is a big deal, but to do it in 2 months and 19 days, that's pretty awesome," said hiking blogger Jessica Grooms. "To me, that makes you a beast."
Grooms is one of thousands of people following online as Braden plows through all the paths in the park. Braden chronicles the journey he began New Year's Eve by posting plenty of photographic evidence on his Facebook page.
"Normally, it takes a really dedicated person two or three years to hike every trail. He is going to do it in less than three months," said Grooms. "The record before now was more than four months. He originally was not going for a record, but got started and covered a lot of miles quickly. He's obviously an excellent hiker. It has taken a lot of sacrifice and days away from work and his family. You see the support his wife has posted for him on Facebook. We're all pulling for him."
Grooms said the speed of the hike may be the main thing that grabs your attention, but for her the inspiration is how Braden has approached all the peaks and valleys.
"He has had to go through high water in very cold temperatures. He has an injured Achilles tendon, which is something really painful that forced me to stop hiking for several months," she said. "The miles are great, but just the fact he's not giving up and he has pushed through every mountain he has come to is what impresses me. We all have mountains in our life. He's climbing those mountains."
Grooms said Braden decided to hike all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains while on Mount LeConte shortly after the wildfires in Sevier County.
Braden spent Thursday hiking in North Carolina. He's set to finish Saturday at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. A crowd of hikers will be there to celebrate Saturday at 2 p.m.
"He will walk through what is known as 'the hiker tunnel.' Hikers will hold up their sticks and form a tunnel and just cheer for him, celebrating him and the journey he has had," said Grooms.