Entries For: December 2011
I want to wish everyone a happy hiking year!
If my mission is to get people out of their cars and hiking, it might be a good time to review what I did this year and where I hiked.
My big accomplishment this year was finishing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I hiked 500 miles of the MST and completed it in the Outer Banks in May. I wonder what I'll do in 2012 to top that.
Right now, I'm busy writing a book proposal for a travel adventure book on the MST, tentatively called The Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Walking 1000 miles through North Carolina. If you can suggest a better title, I'd love to hear it.
I took the opportunity to visit several National Park Units as I traveled -
the Washington Mall and Arlington House in DC and Manassas National Battlefield when we celebrated Lenny's birthday in Washington,
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh and Wright Brothers Memorial on the North Carolina Coast as I finished the MST,
Moore's Creek Battlefield on the way to a writing course in New Bern,
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the St. Louis arch) before taking my granddaughter to Family Nature Summits in Missouri,
Fort Frederica National Monument, De Soto National Memorial and Timucuan Preserve on our way to Florida.
Not bad. That's 11 parks without any of them being destination places for me. And that doesn't count Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my home park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I also hiked on the Appalachian Trail regularly and participated in Virginia 2011, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biannual Conference.
This year, I started volunteering to lead monthly hikes on the North Carolina side of the Smokies for Friends of the Smokies. The point of these hikes is to show North Carolinians the beauty and accessibility of the NC Smokies. The top picture is of Hannah E. who scouted one of the hikes with me.
I continue to hike and lead hikes for Carolina Mountain Club and do trail maintenance on our section of the Appalachian Trail.
Even though hiking (and writing about hiking) is what I do, Lenny and I took a hiking vacation in England. We walked the Cotswald Way (102 miles) and the Norfolk Coastal Path (47 miles). Very different hiking from the Smokies.
But it's not all hiking. I'm on the Board of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, the cooperating association that runs the bookstores in the Smokies. I write for National Parks Traveler, the best website on all this National Park and for other outlets on the outdoors.
And of course, there's blogging and editing the eNews for Carolina Mountain Club.
I have gotten involved in a couple of non-hiking activities but this is not a family newsletter.
So what's next? Keep reading this blog.
Sometimes what makes an impression on me is all about the people and not so much about the place I visit.
One more National Park Service Unit to visit on our way back from Florida. We stopped at Fort Caroline, east of Jacksonville. The fort was built in 1564 by a group of French Hughenots looking for a place to settle, for religious freedom but mostly for gold and riches. They settled on the St. Johns River and tried to get along with the local Indians, the Timucuans.
Things didn't go too well with the Indians. In addition, the Spanish thought that the French were trespassing on their lands and massacred most of them. The ones that survived left and sped back to France. Nothing is left of the fort or the settlement but again, the NPS does a great job of interpreting.
About a half-mile is the Ribault monument, named for the leader of the settlement. The first monument was erected by the Florida Daughters of the American Revolution to commemorate the first landing of Protestants on American soil. To the DAR, that was something to celebrate.
Across the street from the Fort is the Theodore Roosevelt Area. It's a large area with trails which was donated by the landowner, Willie Browne in order to preserve the wild nature of the site. We walked the trails and went to the birding platform. A beautiful view.
On the trail, we saw the two rangers above. They had retrieved a sweater that was forgotten by a visitor. "Hey, where's your flat hat?" I asked them.
"Oh no. Now we wear our winter hats." Winter? It was about 65 degrees but it's winter in Florida.
Hernando de Soto was not a very nice man. He brought over 700 men and two women over from Cuba to find gold in America. He was the ultimate entrepreneur, financing his operation himself and doing all the planning.
In 1539, he landed somewhere in Tampa Bay on the west coast of Florida. He went on a 4,000 mile trek, enslaving native Americans and killing them off when they didn't cooperate. He died a couple of years later and his men buried him in the Mississippi River. So that's the story in a nutshell.
But de Soto gets his own National Park memorial which I had to visit. There is nothing on the site left from de Soto's landing. It was centuries ago. But the Park Service did a great job of interpreting the meaning of de Soto's expedition.
There's a film and a living history area where volunteers show visitors the tools and clothes of the day. So Lenny tried on the chain maille, gauntlet (the metal gloves) and metal helmet. See above.
The site has several thatched huts, known as chickee which means house in Seminole with displays inside.
As usual, when I visit these National Park sites, the hardest information to get is how it all became a national park. The Colonial Dames of America organized to recognize this site but putting a commemorative stone on an Indian burial mound in 1939. It became a NPS site in 1948.
Still on the west coast of Florida with my son and his family.
We took our older granddaughter to J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. This is a birding paradise with a couple of short trails and a 8-mile driving tour. We walked the Indigo Trail for two miles and the road back for another two.
It was hot and humid but the birds were amazing. Anhingas were preening themselves on trees above large pools. Lakes attracted large numbers of pelicans, wood storks, egrets and herons. At one point, a whole group of horseshoe crabs had congregated, almost in military formation.
Then at the education center, we saw that children could get a badge for an activity at the Refuge. "Is there any recognition for a child who walked 4 miles and can tell you about the birds she saw?" I asked.
The volunteer explained that she could ride in a car and scan the stations along the way with a GPS that they were willing to lend you. Or she could do a worksheet indoors in the education center. Both would get her a badge - their version of a Junior Ranger badge. But for a child to actually walk several miles, that didn't get her any recognition from the Refuge officials.
They obviously have not heard of Michelle Obama's Let's Move program. And they certainly were not encouraging moving or walking. I was more outraged than Hannah, my granddaughter, was. She just had a good day with us.
Merry Christmas! Today is our wedding anniversary. What to do on Christmas Day, if you’re on vacation on the west coast of Florida?
We went to Corkscrew Sanctuary, formerly known as Corkscrew Swamp. Located southeast of Fort Myers, the land is owned by Audubon. I was surprised that it was open on Christmas Day but they pride themselves on being open 365 days a year. Even the gift shop is open.
The site has a 2.25 mile boardwalk over the swamp. And this is where all the action is. We saw a snake, two baby alligators and several large “mama” alligators. Swamp lilies (to the right) stuck to the swamp. But this is Audubon and the area was full of birds.
Forest birds such as warblers, woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers flittered from tree to tree. Anhingas and egrets preened themselves. Volunteer wardens helped us identify warblers high in the trees. These volunteers were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They carried binoculars and birdbooks.
By midday, we reached the end of the boardwalk and visitors were starting to come out. Most were not walking "all the way" but just ventured on the boardwalk to see the baby alligators.
I'm on a family vacation in Florida, about as far away from Southern Georgia as you can get culturally. But I just finished Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray.
"Cracker Childhood" was one of the first books I read when I moved to Asheville. It has nothing to do with the mountains but it was about the South and I was devouring anything. I reread it to study how a serious memoir can be a popular book.
Ray talks about her poor, religious childhood but she also has serious discussions about the environment of the coastal plains. Every other chapter is about loss of some kind - longleaf pines, red-cockaded woodpeckers, wiregrass, bachman sparrow ... Loggers took out as many longleaf pines as they could and upset the balance of nature, all dependent on longleaf pines.
She describes her background as coming from Oglethorpe's debtor prison folks. I sat up and took notice. A few days ago, I didn't even know about that history. But now that I visited Fort Frederica, I knew what she was talking about.
There's nature everywhere, even on Miami Beach. Now residents and visitors may not notice the natural environment but it's there.
I took a walk on the beach today. People were sunning themselves, playing frisbee, strolling and of course, playing on their phones. A few hardy ones were in the water. Were they paying attention to the environment around them?
There were terns and gulls dive bombing on the beach. Sandpipers ran like wind-up toys. A few pigeons added to the mix. And the pelicans. Nothing says South Florida to me like pelicans.
Pelicans don't worry about people. They hang around the fishing pier, waiting to steal fish from fishermen. They fly around boats going deep-sea fishing, also looking for loot. And all of this is happening around a beach lined with high-rise co-ops.
Even Bal Harbor, the fancy shopping center in North Miami Beach, has "nature". It has several fish ponds with koi fish and turtles. People stare in the pond. trying to figure out if the turtles are real. They're real!
We're driving down to Florida to spend time with Lenny's Mom but we're taking time to see a couple of National Park Service units.
Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simon Island in Georgia is a small unit in back of a posh island. I wonder how many people who live and vacation in their palacious homes know the battles that ensued here and the community that thrived here in the 1700s.
In the 1700s, Britain and Spain seemed to be fighting constantly. Spain controlled what is now Florida and tried to move north into Georgia. The Brits tried to move South. South Georgia was "debatable" land. Along came James Edward Oglethorpe who founded Savannah and created a colony for the deserving poor in 1734 here.
They built a fort around the town, which was a replica of an English village. The brick outline of many houses are still on the site. So is the magazine - see above - which stored gunpowder and other equipment. Two battles ensued here between the Brits and Spanish, which were won by the Brits, of course.
After the future of GA was set, the army disbanded and the community died. It took the Colonel Dames of North America to buy up the land and petition the National Park Service to preserve and protect the site. It became a National Monument in 1945.
The site is now a quiet grassy area with several sets of ruins, a museum and lots of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.
The small museum has several tableaus of colonials going about their daily lives, artifacts such as nails, bits of leather and chains.
This is the kind of history I was never taught in school - and if I was, I don't remember. But I'm making up for lost time by spending time in historic parks.
Yesterday, I went on a seven-mile hike, mostly on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and down to Bent Creek. Now you would think I would be tired of the MST, since I walked the whole trail and continue to do bits of it. But the MST is one of the closest trails to Asheville and there's always something to see and learn.
We started at the beginning of the Shut-In Trail close to the North Carolina Arboretum. But look at my companions. What's wrong with this picture? It's still hunting season - that's what - and I was the only one with an orange hat. We could hear gunfire down below, though someone in our group said that it was just target practice.
Dwight Mc., the guy on the right hand, is a retired Smokies ranger. He came from Gatlinburg, TN for this hike. He pointed out exotic plants and flowers that were confused about the weather and coming up too soon.
He also showed me that vines go around trees counterclock wise. I had never noticed this but now I noted every tree and every vine - and of course, he was right.
When I looked it up, I learned that not all vines go around counterclockwise. It does depend on the vine. But again it was a question of not noticing something until it's pointed out to me.
But I did notice every person who was wearing and not wearing orange. It's hunting season until January 2.
Friends of the MST just announced the winners of their first photography contest. I won third prize. That was a real surprise.
There's my winning entry. On Pea Island, in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, this painter had spread out his paints and palette. He was oblivious of the blazing sun.
If you look at the winning entries, you'll see that the photos are beautiful. Some are very professional. I have a Cannon Sureshot but I'm sure the others had more sophisticated equipment. I can't compete on beauty, only on quirky.
There should have been more winning entries on the MST sections in the Piedmont and Coastal Plains. Actually there should have been more entries in those sections. Maybe next year.
Keep taking those pictures. Winter scenes of the MST should be beautiful.
What is Jennifer Davis going to do after she became the fastest person on the Appalachian Trail? Go on tour and show others how to have a good experience on the A.T.
Jennifer (may I call her Jennifer?) is going on a winter Tour to help others get on the trail.
Her first stop is at Diamond Brand Outdoors on Sunday, January 8th from 1 pm - 5 pm
Here's what the press release says:
This comprehensive, one-day clinic will help aspiring Appalachian Trail hikers to better prepare for their time on the trail. Workshop topics will include: gear, trip planning, nutrition, physical and mental preparation. The class is geared toward aspiring thru-hikers, but is also recommended for those wanting to experience the trail through day hiking and section hiking.
What to Bring: Pen, paper, comfortable hiking shoes, warm clothes and snacks.
What's included: Snacks and a Diamond Brand coupon for 20% off your purchase (boats excluded)
Cost: $20/person, but buy a copy of Becoming Odyssa between now and January 8th and receive $10 off your ticket (a coupon will be provided)
1 pm - 2:30 pm: Hiking Overview and Gear Planning: Trail Specifics, Resupply Options, Nutrition, and Mental and Physical Preparation
2:30 pm - 4:30 pm: Field Trip. We will end the workshop by first making a quick stop by Ingles to talk about hiking foods and trail nutrition and then we will conclude with a 2 mile hike at Fletcher Park to physically test gear, and talk about training. This will give participants the chance to test new gear, learn some trail hiking tips, practice some beneficial hiking exercises, and GET OUTDOORS!!!
5 pm - until: Arrive back at the store before it closes to conclude workshop and allow participants to purchase gear. Brew Davis will talk about his new book coming out about their hike, and Jen will do a talk to launch her tour.
The day will be topped off with a Meet and Greet with Jennifer and Brew where they will be talking about hiking as a New Year's resolution and will tell stories from hikes around the globe as well as share their favorite local hikes. This free event starts at 5:00pm at Diamond Brand and is open to all. The more the merrier.
For more information or to register, contact Jennifer at email@example.com.