This Hiking Life Blog
This Hiking Life is a mix of my hiking trips in the Southern Appalachians and outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the mountains of North and South Carolina. Hope to meet on the trail! Danny
I am outraged by the media's response to the major accident at the Appalachian Trail Days in Damascus.
About 60 people were injured Saturday when a car plowed into participants and spectators at the Appalachian Trail Days parade in Damascus, Va., sending hundreds of people scattering amid shouts and screams. Nine people were taken to hospitals after the incident at the annual trail festival.
It seems that an old man with a medical condition just lost control of the car he was driving in the parade and hit the walkers in front of him.
They haven't released his name and I wonder why. The most likely reason is that he lives in the Damascus community and locals are trying to protect him from prosecution, lawsuits and, yes, outrage.
No one is saying that he did this on purpose. Yet, most road accidents are not done on purpose. Still, the perpetrator is known and prosecuted. By the time they think about prosecuting him, it will out of the public eye, except for those who were hurt.
Most of the people injured have lost their dream of continuing the A.T. For many, it is a once-in-a lifetime dream. They save their money, quit their jobs, plan and prepare physically and mentally for their 2,185 mile trek.
I haven't read any discussion of this aspect of the tragedy, as if hikers aren't important. The only information on the web repeats all the same facts. The mayor encouraged hikers to participate in the events on Sunday. Would that have happened in a larger city?
Here's the most complete article on the incident. Still no name of the perp and I am outraged.
The last day in Coastal Plains, I gave a talk to the Carteret County Wildlife Club in Morehead City. I had been invited by Terry Smith, the president of the club. Terry is also on the board of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and on the North Carolina Trails Committee--and a lot more. This guy is involved.
Oh, and he's also a docent at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. That was our first stop. The shark teeth were interesting but the big attraction was the artifacts being brought up from Queen Ann's Revenge, Blackbeard's boat. Yes, Blackbeard was real and he met his end on the coast here. Queen Anne’s Revenge was discovered by divers in the present Beaufort inlet between Shackleford Banks and Bogue Banks.
Terry had made a list of all the retail outlets that might carry my book. And I was amazed how many bookstores and other stores sold new books. The Rocking Chair in Beaufort, Dee Gee's in Morehead City and Beach Book Mart in Atlantic City all sold new books. We went into each place. I introduced myself, shook hands and told them about The Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina. I felt like a door-to-door saleswoman.
But wait, we had missed the Burial Grounds in Beaufort. So back across the bridge we went to catch that. It's an old, old cemetery. Well, the town dates back to 1709. At least one British officer is buried here. Upper crust families of the Coastal Plains are also here together.
But everyone wants to see the gravesite of the girl in a barrel of rum. Kids bring trinkets to decorate the grave.
Here's the story from the cemetery brochure.
In the 1700s an English family, including an infant daughter, came to Beaufort. The girl grew up with a desire to see her homeland, and finally persuaded her mother to allow her to make the voyage. Her father promised his wife he would return the girl safely. The girl enjoyed her visit to London, but died on the voyage home. She would have been buried at sea, but her father could not bear to break his promise. He purchased a barrel of rum from the captain, placed her body in it, and brought it to Beaufort for burial.
I actually sang (or talked) for my supper.
Carteret County Wildlife Club starts its meeting with a pot luck dinner. Then the talk--that was me-- and finished with a short business meeting. They meet every month.
But most of their business is on the trail. They maintain the Neusoik Trail, about 22 miles of the MST, among others.
I'm now back in the mountains, but not for long. The MST is a state trail and I'm going all over the state to promote it.
Go through all your National Parks photos and enter the Share the Experience photo contest.
The Department of the Interior has announced the start of the 2013 "Share the Experience" contest.
The "Share the Experience" photo contest showcases our nation's public lands, including national wildlife refuges, forests, recreation areas and our national parks and draws entries from all across the United States. It is the largest national park and public land photo contest for amateur photographers.
The winning photograph will appear on the 2015 America the Beautiful pass for entrance to 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests. All entries have the chance to be featured on the Interior Department’s popular Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts.
The "Share the Experience" begins May 10, 2013 and runs through December 31, 2013. Amateur photographers can participate by uploading photos on www.sharetheexperience.org.
Remember to think about all our federal lands, including the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
You've heard the joke that ends in "With all that poop, there's got to be a pony somewhere." At Shackleford Banks at Cape Lookout National Seashore, it's literally true. Follow the poop and you might see horses.
Shackleford Banks is an island in the National Seashore to the west of Cape Lookout lighthouse. You can't go from one to the other, unless you swim. Today, I took a ferry from Beaufort to Shackleford Banks.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. You could swim in the Sound or collect shells but I really wanted to see the horses. About 110 horses are spread over the nine-mile long Banks. They are the descendants of Spanish horses that were brought over to the U.S. and somehow were thrown overboard or escaped. No one is really sure how they got to the Banks.
The ferry captain gave us some tips. "Walk up about a half-mile and look for a water hole. They should congregate there." Great advice but no one told the horses. Once I got to the water hole, I had to cut cross-country through the trees and grasses.
I got steered right by a young family who had seen them. And the horses were there, munching the new green grass. These feral horses are organized into a harem of 4-6 females. I didn't know when the male was. As they say, "you don't want to get between the man and his woman." I stayed a respectful distance away, so the pictures are not that great.
I am still amazed by what the National Park Service protects. These horses are wild. They are not fed or given any medications but some males are on birth control. Unlike the horses on the Appalachian Trail, these horses do not come up to visitors and nuzzle them. These Banker horses ignore you.
I've now seen all the National Parks in North Carolina.
When I'm on a book tour, I take the opportunity to visit new places. On this trip, I went to Cape Lookout National Seashore in bits and pieces.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail goes right up Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I feel I have seen every bit of it and understand this park unit. But Cape Lookout, located south of Cape Hatteras, is not easy to get to. The island consists of 56 miles of beach, dunes and salt marsh alongside the sound. You need to take a commercial ferry. In addition, the budget cuts affected my plans.
The CALO Visitor Center is on the mainland on Harkers Island, off US 70 east of Beauford, NC - a long way from anyplace else I needed to be. Right now, the CALO Visitor Center is closed on weekends. So I had to see it on Friday. It's a small place. Though I read all the exhibits, even I was finished with it in less than an hour.
Then I took the ferry to the Cape Lookout lighthouse. This must be the most popular part of the national seashore. People congregate where they're dropped off to walk the beach, wade, fish and check out the keepers quarters under the lighthouse. The lighthouse doesn't open until Wednesday and I won't be in the area by then. Grrr! By the way, all that information is on their website. None of it was a surprise.
I walked to the Cape Lookout Historic Village, about two miles away, a 45 minute walk. The guy who sold me a ticket for the ferry tried to discourage me from the walk, saying it would leave me exhausted. He didn't know how long the walk was. He obviously had never done it. I got the distance from the NPS website.
No, I didn't tell him that I walked 1,000 miles across North Carolina. I just thanked him for his advice but it left me angry. What about the visitors who are not as confident? I try to encourage everyone to walk--you can't call two miles on the beach, hiking. Maybe I should have said something. By the time, I got back to his little store, he was off-duty.
Cape Hatteras Village is now deserted and fascinating. Houses stand forlorn and empty, a former shell of themselves. Coast guard personnel and their families lived here along with seasonal fishermen. I walked the streets,now in sand, though I doubt if they were ever paved. I saw no one.
Cape Lookout Village is a historic district. The National Park Service has had a plan in place for several years to restore these houses but no money. After a while, these houses may just collapse.
But wait, what about the horses? That's on another island. If you don't have your own boat, you have to see the seashore in pieces.
I love New Bern!
Today I spent some time sitting in front of the Tryon Palace gift store, talking about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Frankly, I expected it to be a waste of time. I was not giving a specific program so it meant catching people as they entered the gift shop. My publicist at the History Press arranged the "meet and greet" and I was going to be there.
I was pleasantly wrong. Though there wasn't a huge crowd at Tryon Palace, the people who were there were interested in a trail across North Carolina. Few people had heard of the MST that goes right past the Palace. But they were full of questions.
John Jaskolka, a past president of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, lives in New Bern and he came by to say hello. When he saw his friend pass by, he said "You have to buy this book", and the friend did, without even flipping through it. Talk about word of mouth advertising!
New Bern was the first capital of North Carolina and a colonial capital before that. I'm not going to retell the story of New Bern that I have in my book but it's a wonderful place to visit, whether you're walking the MST or just driving here.
In a way, it reminds me of Asheville on the Trent and Neuse Rivers with its history, culture and arts. The restaurants are fantastic, just like Asheville. MST hikers need a break from trail food from their packs and fast food from gas stations on the road.
New Bern is the biggest city that the MST goes through. Of course, there's a local farmer's market. Here's the British hat lady on the left.
I even had the opportunity to test out my French outside of French class. A couple from Quebec approached my table and it was obvious that they were struggling with English. As soon as I started talking French, they relaxed and chatted. The guy even told me that his sister was on the French El Camino right now. When I told them that that was going to be my next hiking project, they assured me that my French was ready for the trail.
I love New Bern. Did I say that already?
I'm on a book tour through the Coastal Plains. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina does go through the Coastal Plains, and therefore I'm going as well.
After an evening at REI in Raleigh, I drove down to Kinston to talk at their Visitor Center. I took several small roads and felt I was now back on the MST. Well, I was except this time, I was driving.
The towns sounded so familiar - Zebulon, Black Creek, Goldsboro. Some towns, I walked through, others were signs on the highway. I drove down NC 58 and did a double take. What was this shiny metal monument? It wasn't there a couple of years ago.
It turned out to be a recent addition to the landscape in Snow Hill on the way to Kinston. The monument was to remember the battle between colonists and the Tuscarora Nation that lived in Eastern North Carolina. The Tuscaroras who were left after the battle moved to upper New York State. For this commemoration, a group came down and after the events, walked more than 600 miles back to the Tuscarora Reservation.
In Kinston, I gave a presentation at the Visitor Center to a small but enthusiastic group.
From left to right, we have Lucy who runs the Visitor Center on US 70, me, and Dr. Brantley Briley, President of Lenoir Community College and my host.
People asked good questions and were very involved. A few more folks now know about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Onto New Bern.
The toughest part was deciding if we should go. The forecast was awful. It had rained hard all day Sunday and was still raining when we woke up. But by 6:30 am, (decision time), it had stopped raining for an instant and we decided to go. It was the right decision. Again, just like on Saturday, there wasn't a drop of rain on the trail.
This time, the A.T. Challenge foursome went southbound from Devils Fork Gap to Fork Ridge Trail - 11 miles, 2,600 feet. New piece of trail for this year, new flowers.
Most of the white trilliums were gone but the painted trilliums had replaced them. Also trout lilies were abundant. Trout lilies are difficult to photograph since their heads droop.
This was a two-shelter day: Flint Mountain Shelter and Jerry's Cabin. We also passed the gravesites for a couple of victims of the Shelton Laurel massacre during the Civil War. See the top picture.
Men are brutal in war time. Some historians still attribute the isolation of Madison County on the massacre which happened over 150 years ago. The graves and the meadows were definitely the highlight of the day.
We also passed a single grave of a man who walked the A.T. in 1968. Obviously, he wanted to be buried on the trail.
A few A.T. thru-hikers are still moving through the area.
One man, with his red shirt and red pack cover, contrasted so well with the meadow. The flat areas were beautiful. All they needed were a few cows. I feel that this area rivals Max Patch in its beauty and serenity. But Max Patch is popular because you can get there in a 1/4 mile from the parking lot. This lovely spot requires a lot more walking.
Just before turning down Fork Ridge Trail, we hit Jerry's Cabin. Hikers were still drying out their gear. Packs, sleeping bags and shirts were hanging from trees and make-shift lines. It looked like a slum.
We only have two more hikes. Wow!
I'm preparing for my next adventure, a pilgrimage. At least, that's what the world calls the El Camino de Santiago. But I'm not going to Spain. I will be walking from Le Puy-en-Velay to St. Jean de Port in France just before the Pyrenees. You've probably heard of the more famous, more crowded Spanish section which ends at the cathedral.
I've been reading about the 440 mile trek and reviving my French. And I've also been attending meetings of the Western North Carolina chapter of the American Pilgrims of the Camino.
Last night, Lisa Signori of the College of Charleston and Carlos Mentley of Lander University talked about their trek through the section I'm going to do. They're college professors so they gave a lecture on the history and geography of the Camino and showed slides of the hike. Churches, abbeys, convents ... Wow, how was I ever going to absorb all of this so I knew what I was looking at when I passed it. How did they ever do it?
The route is on the GR 65 (Grande Route 65). Officially, it is a French hiking trail but it's not the A.T. or the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It goes through forests and tiny villages--sort of like the North Carolina Coastal Plains but with accommodations. Over 50,000 people start from Le Puy every year.
While Lisa and Carlos talked about the history and the importance of pilgrimages, the audience had other questions on their minds.
* How much money did you spend each day? Carlos could only give one number-$40 a day for food. They ate lunch out a lot and probably drank a lot more than I'm going to.
* Did you need reservations at gites (hostels) or Chambre d'Hotes (B&B)? Yes, they recommended that you make reservations and not just show up.
* Do stores take credit cards? Cash is better, and there are lots of ATMs.
If we treat each day as a day hike - rain gear, food and water for the day and low boots - we'll do fine. Most pilgrims are not hikers. They seem surprised when it rains or when they get bitten by bugs. It's not the A.T. but it's still a trek.
More next month. Meanwhile back to my French homework.
Mountains-to_Sea Trail Day in the Smokies on May 4, 2013
Sometimes all the publicity in the world can't top a forecast of rain. Yesterday was Mountains-to-Sea Trail day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was sponsored by the park and the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Even National Parks Traveler did a very complementary story about the hike and talk.
But the forecast was for possible rain. The skies were dark and the ranger at Oconaluftee Visitor Center told people that according to the weather forecast, it was going to start raining at 11 am. That gave people an excuse not to hike.
Still five active, enthusiastic visitors came to hike. We didn't have a drop of rain. I always say that "Whoever shows up, shows up. I'm going to hike anyway."
We started at Mingus Mill and walked to the Mingus cemetery and back.
Flowers were everywhere. I don't think that the hikers appreciated the diversity of flowers in the Smokies. We saw foam flowers, Solomon seal and Solomon plume, several types of violets, and, my first showy orchis of the year.
Since most were not local, we discussed that the Smokies is not untouched wilderness. People lived here until the area became a park. Nothing says past civilization like a cemetery. I had also taken them to the slave cemetery just off the parking lot as well.
They asked a lot of questions about the MST and I was able to hold off most of them until the afternoon. About a dozen people came to my MST presentation. It was held on the porch of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and we were cold. The group included four of the hikers and a bunch of locals who had heard of the MST. One couple from Sylva even knew about the two-trail options out of the the park.
It's not easy to convince visitors to hike in the park. A couple of trails are busy in the summer, mostly on the A.T. But in general, the trails are empty. Yesterday, There was traffic in the Mingus Mill parking lot. But our group didn't see any other hikers.
I wish Bill Bryson all the luck in the world. After writing several interesting but not best-selling books, he hit the jackpot with A Walk in the Woods. It was his supposed memoir of walking the Appalachian Trail. Well, he didn't hike it all - maybe a few hundred miles - and he annoyed all of us who did finish the trail.
It was only because he was Bill Bryson with several books under his belt that he was able to get the book published without finishing the trail. He wrote mostly about his drive paralleling the A.T. He only completed 870 miles out of (then) 2,174, but his book was funny and became a bestseller. It’s the book hikers love to hate.
It made the A.T. much more popular. For a few years after publication, many more hikers started the trail.
I remember getting on a ferry to a small island in New Zealand. I was wearing an A.T. shirt and a Kiwi looked at my t-shirt and said "Oh yes, the Appalachian Trail. I read the book." And you knew exactly which book he meant.
A few years later, Redford bought the movie rights to the book. He was going to make a movie with Paul Newman, their last buddy movie. There were lots and lots of time-wasting discussions on where the movie would be filmed, how it would affect the trail and the number of people starting the trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy liked the publicity but worried about unprepared hikers going into the woods. The last I read about the movie, it was all going to be filmed on private land.
Then Paul Newman retired, soon died afterwards and the project died with it.
Now the movie idea seems to be revived. Press releases are flying that Robert Redford is going to play Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte will depict Katz, his fictional sidekick. It will be a comedy on how not to "walk in the woods." Katz was the litterer who chucked his gear over the side of the mountain to lighten his load.
The problem is that Robert Redford is 77 years old and Nick Nolte is 71. Now there are plenty of hikers of both sexes in their 70s who have finished the A.T. However, that's not the book Bryson wrote. Bill Bryson attempted to walk the trail when he was 45 years old.
The problems and challenges are different. That's a generation apart. If you overemphasize how difficult the trail is (it's not), it won't be funny anymore.
I recently saw Redford in a movie where he was supposed to be about 60. It didn't work. He looked and acted much older. Bradley Cooper and Jack Black would make a much more appropriate pair.
But I have confidence that Redford will put out a funny, commercial movie. The question is "will it actually happen this time?"