Made to Be Broken: Karl Meltzer's journey

Mackenzie Moore • Jun 24, 2018 at 4:07 PM

The Appalachian Trail sneaks up the eastern coast of the United States, extending through 14 states with a total of 2,174 miles. Although 94 miles run directly through Tennessee, there are an additional 160 miles on the Tennessee-North Carolina border that feature the highest peaks of the trail from Georgia to Maine.

These peaks reach beyond 6,000 feet above sea level with Clingman’s Dome on the border extending to 6,643 feet.

Adventure-seekers who hike the trail in its entirety are known as thru-hikers.

Two years ago, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, 50, broke the thru-hike’s fastest known time with a record of 45 days, 22 hours and 38 minutes. Since then, Netflix released a 40-minute documentary of his struggles, perseverance and victory titled “Karl Meltzer: Made to Be Broken.”

The title took a new meaning when another thru-hiker beat Meltzer’s time by 10 hours; however, the new record didn’t undermine Meltzer’s determination and hardship caught on camera. 

“Tennessee, the state of many ‘needles’ (steep, short climbs to small summits) and the mighty Smoky Mountains National Park,” Meltzer said. “This state is the longest non-supported section on the entire Appalachian Trail, a truly challenging portion of the trail. I knew if I could make it through Tennessee, I had a good shot at the record.”

To thru-hike the Smoky Mountains National Park, hikers must obtain an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker permit, which requires hikers to both begin and end their hike 50 miles outside of the park — that’s more than 100 miles total.

The Smokies permit website warns aspiring backpackers that hiking through the Smoky Mountains National Park is a strenuous endeavor and also alerts that black bears reside in the park. Although every season differs, on average, there are 1,500 bears freely roaming, equating to two bears per square mile. 

Meltzer’s documentary captured his journey throughout Tennessee and allows viewers to trek the trails with him -— from the comfort of the couch, of course.


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