The idea to start hiking for Cindy Stelzman happened just after she retired from Jefferson County Schools as a school psychologist.
“I actually got started with the Jefferson County Hiking Club about six or seven years ago,” she says.
The hobby has turned into a passion and adventures that have led her to make new friends and hike the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
She has hiked every trail in the park, putting her in the “900-miler club,” not once – but twice.
Every week she tries to get out on a trail somewhere, whether it be the Smokies or Panther Creek State Park, to enjoy the outdoors. The reason for it is simple, she says. It’s because she loves to be outdoors. When she’s outdoors, she feels closer to God and can see his handprint on his creation, she says.
Stelzman grew up in Oak Ridge. She said when she was young she hiked with her family.
But, as adulthood came, life took over. She went to college. She started a career. She started a family.
She has earned three degrees, the last as an education specialist or ED.S. She and her husband, Ralph, moved to Morristown in 1980. They have three grown children together who all live within 100 miles.
Ralph was a manager of the Pick n’ Pay Shoe Store back then.
Now she laughs as she talks about how Ralph is now the one who shuttles her and her friends around on hikes.
She fell in love with hiking.
“Now that I’m retired, there’s time to go hiking,” she says.
Stelzman won’t reveal her age, but laughs about it.
“I carry my Medicare card on hikes,” Stelzman says.
The list of hikes she has gone on is extensive. She lists off trails in the Smokies on a moment’s notice, talking about one hike after another. She hikes in every season and speaks about how a trail can change every season and even by the hour due to the light. A trail can also change in perception if you hike it a different way, she says.
Stelzman and her friends have section hiked the Appalachian Trail from Fontana Lake to Damascus, Virginia. They are now conquering the southern end of the Appalachian Trail on the North Carolina side.
One of her most memorable hikes came when she and friends hiked to Hughe’s Ridge in the Smokies a few years ago during March. As they hiked, all of a sudden snow started falling.
About six inches of white powder fell onto the trail and she put on spikes to make sure she didn’t slip off the trail.
“It was beautiful, all that snow,” she said.
There was one mishap, though. She lost one of her spikes that came off while hiking the trail. She had to buy another pair.
“They don’t sell them in singles,” she says, laughing. “They only sell them in pairs.”
She says she has some dream hikes planned. One is to go to Springer Mountain in Georgia, which is the southern start of the Appalachian Trail. Another is to hike the Fiery Gizzard Trail, a nationally known trail near Monteagle, Tennessee, known as being one of the roughest hikes in the Southeast.
The big thing is she keeps active and keeps on the trail.
“It’s what puts a smile on my face,” she says.