Entries For: May 2010
Second day of training for me at Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Besides being a volunteer at the Visitor Center, I'm trying to qualify to give an interpretive hike. It isn't easy.
Today we concentrated on preparing and giving formal interpretive programs.
From the National Park Service website, interpretation is the process of providing each visitor an opportunity to personally connect with a place.
Mike Maslona, supervisory interpretive ranger at Cades Cove, shown on the right, is studying a finger puppet. Mike enjoys acronyms. To start, he had EIEIO. In another order, EIEIO becomes
Orient the visitor - Where is the bathroom?
Inform the visitor - How many bears are there in the park?
Educate - More deeply than just inform with the facts?
Enlighten - beyond education
Instill - Instill stewartship
This concept of stewardship "To preserve and protect for future generations" is a holy word. We need to make visitors feel that these are their resources. So we need to inspire more than just educate. Mike sees mere education as just dry facts. Rather we need to imbue our programs with internal meanings so that visitors can see connections and want to protect the resources. This is a very optimistic view of the world - just educate and people will protect the parks and not litter, carve their names on a cabin or a tree or harass a bear.
Another acronym - a formula, really.
(Kr + Ka) * AT = IO
Kr - knowledge of the resources
Ka - knowledge of the audience - ask "where are you from? What do you expect from this program?"
IO - Interpretive Opportunity
AT - Appropriate techniques
So we go beyond a talk with appropriate techniques such as Q&A, pictures, quotes, audience participation, jokes and even silence. "When you get there, let the resource talk to the person".
Mike emphasized that you need to show passion for the program. You can start with a tangible item - thing, place or event.
A bell could be a dinner bell, cow bell, school, garden bell (to warn the gardener that a bear was in the garden)
Intangible (hidden) meaning
Old, utilitarian, home ...
Every program needs a conclusion. Here's mine
Every trail tells a story. When you hike on another trail, look for the stories.
Mike then introduced his wife's favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. From the characters, we can learn the various aspects of our program.
Scarecrow wanted a brain. So we need information
Tin Man wanted a heart. We have to have an emotional connection with our subject.
Lion wanted courage - We give visitors opportunities to do things they wouldn't do by themselves, like walk a trail.
Dorothy wanted home - connection between what the visitor knows (home) and what they experience in the park
Wizard - That's us presenting a program
We're providing interpretainment
Brad Free, shown on the left, took us on a walk to Cataract Falls, a program they offer several times a day in the summer. Though there was a bridge, he got a bunch of us to cross the creek through the water - see the picture above. I got several techniques from him.
Stand in such a way to make sure the sun is not in the visitors' eye.
Audience needs to be all on one side of the trail, especially when other visitors walk by. It's very off putting to go through with people on both sides.
I asked Brad about trail breaks and he suggested organized trail breaks. He proudly comes from LA, Lower Alabama, which gives him a license to make fun of people not born in the South. Everyone else is a Yankee. Do you know what a Yankee fern is?
Yankee fern - "because it pops up where it doesn't belong"
Then our presentations
Each of us had prepared a 3 - 5 min. presentation. The programs ranged from night sky to Cades Cove as a state of mind, fishing, the Mountain Farm Museum and, bird songs.
I did a 5 minute version of my Kephart Prong Walk, talking about the Civilian Conservation Corps. I put a water bottle on the outside of my pack, and wore a GSMA baseball cap. It seemed to go over well, though the only comment I got from Mike was "Did you have fun?"
Wooky, above, showed how a bear walks.
The presentations, in fact all the sessions, were really geared to seasonals and interns, the folks in college or right out of college. I was very impressed with the group. Putting aside my Park volunteer hat for a while and looking at them from the perspective of a college professor, I noticed that they were all prepared, eager and not afraid to show how excited they were about this opportunity to work in the park. They were not interested in mixing with volunteers, maybe because we were so much older than them. They were in their early 20s and most of us were past 50s and maybe we reminded them of their parents.
I also noticed that none had come from academically selective universities. I heard Western Carolina University, E. Stroudsburg Univ in Pennsylvania, Tuskegee in Alabama. University of Tennessee. But it didn't matter. Many had not majored in forestry or recreation, the subjects I associate with working for the National Park Service. The newcomers obviously had tremendous drive, ambition, and the willingness to plan ahead. And that will carry them forward more than a degree from Yale University. I wish them well!
The seasonal rangers have arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They're starting with a week of training, also open to volunteers. Most of the volunteers were leaders in the Elk Bugle Corps but there were also visitor center volunteers, like me.
I left Asheville before 7 A.M. to get to Sugarlands Visitor Center outside of Gatlinburg by 9 A.M.. I stopped just long enough to take an early morning picture on the Foothills Parkway.
Here are some of the highlights of the day.
Mike Meldrum, a ranger at Cades Cove, talked about enhancing the visitor experience.
The visitor wants to know "What's in it for me!" and that's what we have to answer.
Visitor contact is highly personalized. An interpreter (ranger or volunteer) must be able to evaluate the visitor and use a "well-crafted response", a visitor center approach. We need to:
1. Provide quality customer service
2. Exceed visitor expectation
3. Pay attention to detail.
Like Disneyworld, we're in the business of exceeding expectation. We heard several audio quotes from Michael Eisner, head of Disneyworld. Meldrum loves Disneyworld and goes there yearly.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for National Park Traveler on marketing the parks like Disneyworld and I got many heated responses but here Meldrum was applying Disney techniques to the park.
Also from Eisner, "you need to be committed and passionate. You're like a Jehovah's Witness with a day job."
- Make eye contact and smile
- Greet and welcome every visitor
- Seek out visitor "Can I help you?"
- appropriate body language
- Preserve the positive visitor experience
- Thank each visitor for coming to the park.
- No personal conversation with other park people when visitors are around. (I wish some of my Visitor Center coworkers would adhere to that, especially when they complain - about anything. That's not what visitors come to hear.)
Visitors are always watching you. So if you have a uniform, be careful. You're on stage.
Another Eisner truism
TEAM, get it.
Questions that some visitors ask.
What time do you feed the bears?
When do deer turn into elk?
What is there to do and see?
Kent Cave, Sugarlands Supervisory Interpretive Ranger, focused on stereotypes. Visitors may come to the park with stereotypes of Southern Appalachian residents.
Kent played a song about inbreeding which was exactly like "Shame and Scandal in the family. I first heard that song on our honeymoon in the Bahamas decades ago.
Ranger Kent played a video about a moonshiner called MOONSHINE. with Jim Tom Hendricks.
The two above examples were amusing. The next, The True Meaning of Pictures by Shelby Lee Adams was not funny but meant to be disturbing. I just added that video on my Netflix queue.
Adams is accused of perpetuating Eastern Kentucky Southern Appalachian stereotypes. The photographer and videographer goes to the houses at the top of a hollow to find the most isolated families. We saw just a little clip of an old woman smoking a pipe, a family with several handicapped children with the strong hint that these folks were inbred.
There's another stereotype of Southern Appalachian - the self-made man, the "Hell of a Fellow", the Daniel Boone mountain man type. We can see that in Sergeant York, with Gary Cooper, another addition to my Netflix list.
But I suggested that there's a third type of visitor. He and she come here thinking that since this is a national park, it was plopped here by the federal government and has nothing to do with the people around the park. They ask questions like:
- Why were so many battles fought in National Parks?
- Was the Cherokee reservation put here so they could benefit from tourists visiting the park?
Then we walked to the Ownby Cabin on a nature trail at the back of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Lisa Free, a ranger, was dressed as resident of the cabin over 100 years ago and weaving a basket.
We were supposed to find problems with her setting. Some were very easy: plastic water bottle, modern sneakers, modern scissors and screw driver with plastic handles.
Others were not so obvious. Look at the photograph at the top. Lisa has rolled up her sleeves above her elbows. Just like religious Jewish women, that's a no, no.
Ranger Lisa started out by doing first person interpretation, i.e. playing the character, also called Living History. But that's not done much in the Smokies. There's not enough training in that and it makes it tough to answer visitor questions when you can't break character.
Instead, Lisa quickly switched to third-person where she could talk about the owners of the house and the times. This way, it is easier to interact with visitors. Lisa feels a strong sense of responsibility for the people of who lived here.
Today they're discussing the natural resources. Tomorrow, I'll be back at Sugarlands to learn about formal programs. We'll have to give a two to five minute presentation on a topic we're passionate about. I'm going to talk about the Civilian Conservation Corps in the park. But I pity these newbies who are going to cram tonight to figure out what to talk about.
Yesterday, I helped my friend Janet get some more Smokies miles. She's very close to becoming a 900 miler. Her itinerary was:
This hike was16.5 miles and 4,000 ft. ascent. Janet, left, had arranged to get in at the Cooper Creek Trout Farm, which butts up against the park. When we arrived, the gate was locked and we couldn't get the rusty gate open. The owner came down and decided that it was time to open up for business.
The picture below is of Cooper Creek Trout Farm.
Cooper Creek Trail, in my opinion, is the worst and scariest trail in the park. It is lined by old, private shacks and trailers. This is my third time on this trail and each time, I expect dogs to run down and challenge my right to be on this trail. But no one was there, either first thing in the morning or when we walked out about 6 P.M.
These are Smokies miles so the hike was not as difficult as the numbers (mileage and ascent) would indicate. But I had an altercation with a root. I didn't see it coming out of the ground, tripped and almost fell on my face. Instead, my right hand and wrist took the brunt of the fall. I sprained it and it hurts.
I stayed in Cherokee last night and went into the Oconaluftee Visitor Center today. This is the busiest it's been since I started. We're getting a wider range of visitors. I designed a backpack for a guy in Hazel Creek. I sent a group of German hikers up to the Appalachian Trail and I sent others to the Mingus family cemetery.
Still, we had to field complaints about lack of signage for various attractions. One guy complained that he missed the turn to Cades Cove. His wife pointed out that he missed the sign to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. They found themselves at Oconaluftee before they stopped.
The guys above are the trail maintenance crew. Several of them just started today. They cleaned cemeteries and mounted graves.
I could have added "Smokies on Tuesday" to the title of this entry since I'm going to go to the Sugarlands site tomorrow for training. Then maybe, they'll let me take out visitors on a walk.
Starting with 285.4 miles, 40,850 ft. ascent
NC 151 to Sleepy Gap Overlook
9.9 miles, 1,500 ft. ascent
The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed from NC 151 to Bad Fork Valley Overlook. It's been closed since October because of a potential rock slide. So how are we going to continue our MST hike? The road is closed to everyone, including hikers and cyclists but the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is open.
Today, we're being treated to a ride so we don't have to pick up a car on NC 151 and have a potentially horrendous shuttle. Lenny (my husband) drops us off on the Parkway on NC151 and we started walking. He maintains a section of the MST that we'll go through today. and he proudly says that his section (MP 404 to MP 402) is perfect. And it is and so is the section west of his.
The trail is really shut-in with no views. Clintonia lilies (on left) are everywhere. Spider worts are in bloom and tall turks cap lilies are preparing to bloom in a month or so. Spring sped too fast and summer is sneaking in. We are slow and take pictures of flowers almost leisurely.
Sometimes I feel that naming all those flowers is like a parlor game. They make me feel smart but what does it mean? There are spring, summer and fall flowers. Altitude plays a big part of naming flowers. But how does it help to understand the environment to know the names of flowers? When I lived in New Jersey, I only knew white flowers, red flowers, blue flowers but there were so few wildflowers that it wasn't a topic of conversation. Here, everyone I hike with is taken up with knowing flowers so it was much easier for me to learn them.
At Beaver Dam Gap, with a picnic table and garbage cans, the Blue Ridge Parkway is really closed with a plastic fence and lots of warning signs. See above. The trail goes back up into the woods and we can't see or hear any sign of construction work on the road.
Climbing Ferrin Knob is the only challenge today. The Knob was the site of a fire tower, now long gone. At Wash Creek Rd., under the Parkway, we enter the Bent Creek Experimental Station. This is the oldest such experimental forest which conducts research on logged and abused land. Not much longer, we reach Sleepy Gap Overlook, our end point.
It's very early in the afternoon and we probably should have planned to continue another 5.5 miles to the end of our stretch.
We drive to the other closure at Bad Fork Valley Overlook where the Parkway is only closed half-hearterly. (See above.) Then we go out for ice cream at The Hop. Stick with me - I know all the good ice cream places in town.
Sleepy Gap to French Broad River Bridge
5.5 miles, 400 ft. ascent
We only have 5.5 miles to do but we're out of the house by 7:30 A.M., giving ourselves an extra half-hour of sleep - what a treat.
It's raining when I get up, raining when we pack up the car. It's a good thing that we only have 5.5 miles to go from where we left yesterday to the bridge over the French Broad.
"Are you putting on rain pants?" Sharon asks. "No, too hot".
But she puts them on anyway.
It may be raining in the outside world but the trail from Sleepy Gap Overlook is perfectly dry. Sharon soon takes off her rain pants and her rain jacket. We're walking on a section of the Shut-In trail, so shut in that we hardly feel the rain.
There's little uphill and we truck along, noticing the overwhelming vegetation. Lots of giant Solomon seal (above) and a small mystery flower with shamrock leaves. Maybe it's the shamrock flowers. We're in a temperate rainforest, obvious when everything is green, green and more green. But we're close to Asheville and invasive exotics like multi-flora rose and honeysuckle abound. Poison ivy covers the ground but that's our own nuisance plant.
We nearly blow past our first firepinks, another sure sign that summer is coming. Then we pass large mesh baskets, set out to collect mast and see how well the wildlife will be fed.
This is the end of our three-day stretch and I feel we're hurrying. Heh... It's not going to be as easy as this for a long, long time - let's slow down. But the conversation veers toward what we'll be doing next. Sharon is going straight from here to a Girl Scout camp for the weekend. She'll be teaching little girls camp songs and outdoor cooking. Tonight, I have a talk to give on the pleasures of hiking in the Blue Ridge Heritage Area. Then I'll turn my attention back to the Smokies. Aah... The challenges of section hiking.
Cumulative after Day 25 300.8 miles, 42,750 ft. ascent
Starting with 275.4 miles, 39,100 ft. ascent
US 276 to NC 151
10 miles, 1,750 ascent
Out of bed at 6 A.M. and out of the house at 7 A.M. Sharon and I are hiking another section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
We drive up NC 151 through the community of Hominy to the Blue Ridge Parkway. NC 151 is more twisty than NC 215 on our last section, if that's possible.
The trail starts downhill from US 276. Grasshoppers are hopping everywhere in the grass. This section is perfectly maintained, maybe because we're on our way to the Pisgah Inn. The Inn is one of several places that offer a sit-down meal and rooms on the Parkway.
Would MST hikers have trail names? I'm sticking with Danny. Sharon is already Smokyscout. She points out that camp counselors at resident scout camp choose a nickname, that they call a camp name. Campers may not even know the counselor's real name. When she was a scout leader, her troop called her by her last name, just like a teacher. So far, I've not heard of trail names for MST hikers, but why not?
Lots of small water crossings keep the area moist and full of flowers. We pass by Solomon seal and Solomon plume, Vasey's trillium, bluets, blue bead lilies, wild lilies of the valley, lots of wood betany, michaux saxifrage (considered an infrequent flower), bell wort, and a couple of clumps of lady slippers (on the left). There are vast clumps of cinnamon ferns with a red stick in the middle .
We reach the Inn and have our lunch outside on the porch. We tell everyone that we're walking the MST. We're spreading a little education here. One woman said "I wish I could do that." What can you say to that?
We meet three women, who had breakfast at the Inn and are now taking a short hike from the Inn. Since they live in Brevard, I plug Carolina Mountain Club. One said that she tried hiking with the club but didn't like it. "Too many people", she said.
We pass the Buckspring Lodge site, where George Vanderbilt had a hunting lodge. He and his hunting buddies rode 18 miles from the Biltmore Estate to the lodge. A few artifacts remain including a root cellar (below).
After lunch comes the big climb up to Little Pisgah Mountain. I've eaten too much lunch and I can feel it. It's only 300 feet up but it's a struggle - I shouldn't have put so much cheese in my sandwich.
The trail descents through white trilliums past their prime finally to Elk Pasture Gap. We're back at the car in the early afternoon. The Parkway is closed east from here for several miles. A middle-age motorcyclist, dressed impeccably in red leather, parks his bike on the side of the road and lays down on the grass for an afternoon nap.
We drive down US 276 to pick up the second car and finally a trip to Dolly's Ice Cream Bar. The last chance for Sharon.
Cumulative after Day 23 285.4 miles, 40,850 ft. ascent
Yesterday I got a brown ball cap to wear with my Smokies volunteer uniform. No more green hats. It's a further attempt to distinguish volunteers from National Park Service staff.
Uniforms are a big, big part of the whole National Park Service ethos, much like the military. What exactly constitute the proper uniform is dictated by the Superintendent. Volunteers got a directive from him yesterday.
So, again, how to tell a volunteer from an employee. NPS staff wear green pants, gray shirts and a "Smoky the Bear" hat with a wide brim. Their emblem is the arrowhead.
Volunteers wear UPS-color brown pants which we provide. We're lent a khaki button-down shirt with a name tag over the breast pocket. Our round patch says "volunteer" and so does our brown hat. No pins or other badges are approved, except for a Presidential Service Award pin. That pin is given for many, many volunteer hours. I'd have to get another lifetime to get one of those.
There are at least two types of volunteers.
Interns "volunteer" for college credit or in the hope of getting a NPS position. They get a stipend and usually work five days a week for a few months. Sometimes, they get housing in the park.
Then there are true volunteers like me who get nothing but the satisfaction of helping an underfunded park. Our uniforms are exactly the same but it's easy to tell interns from volunteers. Interns are much younger. I have yet to meet a true volunteer younger than 40 years old.
Interns also seem to get more responsibilities more quickly but that's harder to measure. Since they're working five days a week, if only for a few months, they don't spend much time at the visitor desk. An internship has to be an educational experience, so the park has to give them lots of meaningful work.
Mingus Creek Trail - two cemeteries
I roamed Mingus Creek Trail to check out if there was still a sign to the Mingus family cemetery. I want to recommend this easy hike to a destination in the future.
I walked 1.2 miles from the trail head and made a right turn on an unofficial trail with a sign that said "cemetery". Another 0.8 mile took me to another "cemetery" sign on the right. Then a little scramble up to the Mingus family cemetery.
It's a large flat area with stumps for grave sites. On several stumps, rocks have been placed to show that people have visited the cemetery, very much like the Jewish custom.
Coming back, I checked out the slave cemetery only a few feet from Mingus Mill Parking.
This cemetery was much smaller and had a few well-groomed mounted graves.
I suggested to a family that I met in the parking lot to check it out. I saw no one on the trail but that may soon change when I start suggesting Mingus Creek Trail as an alternative to the Kephart Prong Trail.
And the firepinks above? I saw them on the trail, my first summer flowers.
Today I got on the bike much earlier in the day. I was on the Athens bike path at 8:30 A.M. My goal was not just to ride but to try to remember some more advanced skills.
My granddaughter watched me ride back and forth a couple of times on the greenway before she went off to school. She told me that I needed to keep pedaling. She took a course on riding a bike given by the city and it stuck. She's seven, in case you're wondering, but that's the time to teach them biking skills and etiquette, beyond just balancing on a two-wheeler.
First, I practiced turning - could I turn 180 deg. without getting off the bike (yes, finally), and then smoothly in a tight turn? (not yet). Could I go down a hill without braking? I went up and down the little hills from the bike path to the campus several times.
Then finally the street. I rode on small, narrow residential streets and moved to the side when I heard a car. I definitely need a sideview mirror.
I could tell you my whole life story about my relationships with bikes but suffice to say that I used to be good and confident around traffic. The last couple of years in New Jersey, I got bumped (gently) a couple of times by slow-moving cars and I decided that I didn't need to fight traffic anymore. When I moved to Asheville with its mountains and 24/7 hiking opportunities, I did not see a need to get another bike.
But now that I'm doing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which still has 500 miles of "trail" on the road, I need to get my skills back. I need a bike course like my granddaughter.
I'm visiting my son and family in Athens, OH. Beyond doing Grandmother-type stuff, I've decided that it would be a perfect place to get on a bike again after many years. The town, home of Ohio University, has a wonderful 18 mile bike path. It's flat, paved and scenic.
I went to Athens Bike Shop and got outfitted by Pete, the owner. They rent mountain bikes but Pete changed the tires to street tires. A helmet, a few directions and out the door.
I wobbled and weaved through their busy parking lot. Not a good idea. Then I walked the bike a couple of blocks to the HockHocking Adena bike path.
It's true - "It's like riding a bike". The mechanics of riding came back to me after only a few minutes. But I held on to the handle bars so tightly that my hands went to sleep. Soon, I was at the edge of the OU campus and out of the business district. This greenway is so manicured that it has mileage posts and at least one bathroom and water stop.
I did 10 miles - not bad for the first day. After a while, I even enjoyed myself and got to look around a little, beyond the pavement in front of me. A little later, I was able to let go of one handlebar to scratch my nose.
But we all know that biking the road on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will be more challenging. There'll be cars and trucks on the NC bike trails. I'll have to deal with real ups and downs. So tomorrow, I'm going to try the streets of Athens.
I didn't feel like I used any energy while I was biking but a couple of hours later I could feel my thighs and knees. My thighs are huge and really muscular - what are they complaining about.
I know, I know... different muscles.
It's still quiet when I arrive at Oconaluftee Visitor Center at 10 A.M. and I wonder how I'll spend the next four hours. Then people trickle in and ask some tricky questions. Sometimes, they don't ask but in my conversations with them, I ask myself some questions.
At the desk, we have three stamps for visitors to stamp in their National Park stamp books. These stamp books, put together by Eastern National, help you to record where you've been within National Park units along with the current date. We have an Oconaluftee Visitor Center stamp in the Smokies which is where they are and a Blue Ridge Parkway stamp, only a couple of miles away. I kid some stampers that they can't stamp their book with a Parkway stamp unless they've been there.
But the third one is the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. This trail commemorates the forced march of Eastern Indian tribes to Oklahoma in 1838. The Cherokees were one of several tribes which were forced to move from their homeland in the southeast. Many lives were lost. About 1,000 Cherokee escaped in the Appalachian mountains. In 1868, they gained recognition and established their tribal government. We now know them as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Their reservation is just outside Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
That's the history. But where's the trail? The trail is not a walking path like the Appalachian Trail. It's a mix of auto and water routes that follow the historical trail - a trail in progress. The closest place that you can say you're on the Trail of Tears is in Murphy, North Carolina - I think.
I went to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the people at the desks said that they didn't have a clue. I couldn't get anyone on the phone either but I'll keep trying.
In the meantime, I won't tell stampers that they have to go on the Trail of Tears before getting a stamp. But I did kid some that to get a complete set, they'd have to go to the National Park of American Samoa - that's miles west of Hawaii.
I walked the Oconaluftee River Trail again to see if there were anymore spring flowers. They're dying and summer flowers have not yet come up.
What is coming up is the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center - we can now see some walls. See the picture above.
Starting with 265.1 miles, 37,200 ft. ascent
FS 816 to US 276
10.3 miles, 1,900 ft.
Look at that mileage - it was going to be an easy, peasy day - so I thought.
Sharon and I were no longer in the wilderness and were approaching the area that Carolina Mountain Club hikes regularly so the trail should be maintained better. A breeze and we'll have time to get an ice cream at Dolly's Dairy Bar before we head our separate ways - Sharon to a Girl Scout meeting in Charlotte, me to a CMC meeting. I had promised Sharon a Dolly ice cream stop for days now.
From FS 816, the trail is open. The views reminded me of Switzerland but with less civilization. Mt. Pisgah is the sentinel in the distance. Serviceberries dotted the landscape. However, the rocky footing was more like the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Even though we were going down, we were slow as we watched our steps carefully.
The trail skirts Graveyard Fields and Ridge and we had views of Dark Prong Falls. Jack-in-the-pulpit and foam flowers lined the trail. A middle-aged couple with a poodle followed us for a while as the trail descended toward Skinny Deep Falls. We thought the dog was named Chocolate, though I kept calling it Frou-Frou - maybe that was its trail name. Did they realize how fast the trail was dropping and were they prepared to go steeply back up?
Finally we reached Skinny Dip Falls, which I understand, will be renamed.
Beautiful cascades dropped several levels through rocks. It reminded me of Linville Falls though Skinny Dip Falls were wilder. CMC had built a major bridge to cross the Yellowstone Prong.
After that, the trail turned into a tree-strewn hell. We weren't bushwhacking - it was tree whacking. We went through smaller piles, around larger piles, always mindful to not lose the trail. The critical blaze could be on the tree that just came down.
This section of trail is maintained by the Brevard CMC crew - they just hadn't gotten around to clearing it. We discussed the best way to get around each pile. It was very time consuming. We knew we had a tough climb up to Green Knob coming up. Was it going to be this bad?
We crossed the Parkway twice to start the climb to Green Knob. To our delight, the trail was clear. Ordinarily we would have groaned about a climb so close to the end of the hike but we climbed eagerly. We came down just as eagerly to cross the Parkway again - I was confused and thought we should be at US 276 already. But no, we had about a mile and lots more blowdowns to get to the car.
My legs and arms are like a modern art painting, full of bloody scratches. No ice cream for us today. Maybe next time.
Cumulative after Day 22 275.4 miles, 39100 ft. ascent
Starting with 250.7 miles, 34,900 ft. ascent
Bearpen Gap MP 427.6 to FS 816 MP 420
14.4 miles, 2,300 ft. ascent
It was a long, long day on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, though the mileage was almost the same as yesterday - terrain makes all the difference.
As soon as Sharon and I arrived on the MST after walking the blue access trail, we saw mounds of rocks to keep out ATVs and maybe even trucks. Then the trail had been excavated with several large holes, perhaps to keep out bikes.
We reached Charlies Bald, a flat area popular with campers - campers, not backpackers. It's less than two miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway so people bring in large tents and car-camping equipment. The trail zigzagged to Haywood Gap where we crossed the Parkway.
Here the trail leaves Nantahala Forest to enter Middleprong Wilderness in Pisgah District.
But the Wilderness sign was placed about two miles from the Parkway, so it wouldn't get stolen. We met a hunter wearing camouflage and carrying a rifle or shotgun - a long weapon anyway. He was hunting for turkey but no luck. Most people think of hunting season as deer and bear season in the fall but you can hunt almost anything all year.
Though we had a long way to go, Sharon wanted to climb Mt. Hardy which would have added another mile. As if hiking the MST is not enough, Sharon is working on her South Beyond 6000 - the 40 mountains higher than 6,000 ft. in the south and Mt. Hardy is one of them. A metal marker is on top.
A shorter version of the hike we were doing today is in my book - Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage. I had climbed Mt. Hardy in August 2007 for the second time to include it in the book and I remember it as a confusing bushwhack. I wrote up the instructions while whacking bushes and blackberry canes.
But now someone had cleared a trail and though there were no signs - wilderness rules - it was easy to follow up. You can't count on this maintenance but it was convenient. This reminded me of bushwhacking in the Catskills for the Catskills 3500- one of several hiking challenges Lenny and I did while living in New Jersey. But on that challenge, there were canisters on all the trailless peaks so we knew we had gotten to the top.
After we got back on the MST, we met Jim, a fellow running through the woods toward us. Jim was flagging the route for a new race,the Smoky Mountain Relay, which he was organizing. Organizing challenging races or triathelon is a career choice, I guess. He came from Oregon and really had no idea where he was.
He called his race the "Smoky Mountains Relay" though his runners were going to be nowhere near the Great Smoky Mountains National park. He said that the "park was hard to deal with". I interpreted that to mean that they didn't automatically said "yes" to 50 runners through the Smokies but asked him to fill out a form.
I guess that I'm a little protective of the Smokies since I understand their rules. Jim also wanted to get Boy Scouts to paint "these white circles".
"These white circles", we informed him, "is for the MST but we are in the Wilderness and no signs are allowed." Groups can be no larger than 10 but we forgot to tell him that. I guess he figured no one official would find out - and in the national forest, that's probably true.
Once we crossed NC 215, we were out of the Wilderness. Lots of blazes now but the terrain was rocky and difficult. Painted trilliums (above) were everywhere but that didn't make up for the fact that the trail seemed to go on forever. Finally the MST joined the Art Loeb Trail and we knew that we were almost there. We finished at 4:45 P.M. and had to start shuttling cars for tomorrow. Who says that section hiking is easy?
After we got home and took a shower, we tried to get into a local restaurant. By this time, all the restaurants were packed and we made scrambled eggs at home. Much later, Sharon reminded me that it was Cinco de Mayo (May 5) a Mexican holiday. When you're in the woods, you forget about the outside world.
Cumulative after Day 21 265.1 miles, 37,200 ft. ascent