Sunday Lenny and I went out to do our first maintenance walkthru on out section of the Appalachian Trail. We maintain a section from Devils Fork Gap to Rice Gap - 4.9 miles.
The day started out sunny and warm but it soon started raining. We kept discussing if we should turn back or continue. As soon as we agreed that we should turn back, the sun came out. After a while, it didn't matter. We were soaked.
Several trees had come down over the winter and several more were still there from our fall walk thru. After the fifth tree, I stopped taking notes. The Carolina Mountain Club trail crew is probably going to have to walk our whole section to deal with all the trees.
We don't have a chain saw and the crew takes care of removing large trees.
This area, like all hiking sections in the East, was settled. There's even a two-grave cemetery right on the trail. The section also has a lot of barbed wire, from its grazing days. Most of the barbed wire is still up on posts.
But I walked into some low to the ground, which was hidden by leaves. I got scratched right through my heavy Thorlo socks. Scratched but not bleeding. Should I get a tetanus shot or not?
I went to the doctor first thing on Monday morning. Even though I had had a tetanus shot six years ago, I got another one yesterday. I really couldn't argue with the PA.
This barbed wire was rusty and the remains of a large pasture. In addition, the medical advice is to get a three-in-one - tetanus, diphteria and pertussis, if you're a "senior". So I did. A trail maintenance day that ended with a shot in the arm.
Today Lenny and I are giving away our snowshoes. I feel it's a passing of an era, though he thinks he's just emptying out a closet.
We bought these snowshoes in the late 1970s when we decided to hike the winter Catskills 3500. It's a hiking challenge that involves hiking to 35 peaks that are over 3,500 ft. in the Catskills in New York State.
We hiked all the 35 peaks - part of the challenge is that four specific ones have to be hiked in winter. Then for another patch, we had to hike all of them in the winter. So we bought snowshoes and full, 10-point crampons. On most hikes, we carried them most of the way until the snow was deep enough to need them.
I continued to use them for winter hiking until we moved to Asheville. We knew that there was never enough snow here to warrant them but I felt that if I left the winter equipment in New Jersey, I'd never buy new snowshoes and go snowshoeing again. After ten years here I still haven't used them
But several Carolina Mountain Club members are driving to Roan Mountain in the middle of winter and snowshoeing there. Driving all that distance in the snow just doesn't appeal to me and I'm giving them away to someone who could use them.
But I feel sad. An era has passed.
Carolina Mountain Club has discovered the Shope Creek area of Pisgah National Forest.
On Sunday, we went on a five-mile hike through the forest.
The area is located above Riceville near the Oteen area of Asheville. If you take Riceville Rd. past the VA Hospital, turn left on Bull Gap Rd. and right on Shope Rd., you'll eventually come to a dead end. That's the beginning of the Shope section.
The area doesn't have any public parking at this time, though that's in the works eventually.
The only way we got in was because Tim Forrest, a biology professor at UNCA, had the key. Tim does entomology research in the area and he came with us. When we passed the fall above, we named it after him: Forrest Falls.
The area has certainly been lived in and is now being logged by the Forest Service. That's the cadaver of a vehicle left here, years and years ago.
The trails are mostly old roads, which in spring, is supposed to have a display of showy orchis. But the primary purpose of the area is for logging. We passed bundles of large downed logs and walked through ground flattened by the saw.
Starting with 651.7 miles, 90,200 ft. ascent
West Point on the Eno to E. Geer St.
We drive past Durham so I can put my car at the end of E. Geer St. Janet has been very helpful in finding the way to E. Geer St. in Durham, my destination.
We drop my car at the end of E. Geer St. Janet takes me to West Point on the Eno where we finished yesterday and heads home back to Asheville.
I cross N. Roxboro Rd., a very busy street with many businesses, and walk briskly. Along with the gas stations, dry cleaners and fast food restaurants, there's still empty land. No indication of who owns this land.
I turn on Monk Rd., a residential street with small, poorly kept houses. Then past massive churches, small storefront churches and new apartment complexes.
This area is so fresh that Google Maps hasn't caught up with all the new street names.
The MST goes through a public housing project where I have a snack on a bench.
This is Durham, North Carolina so public housing consists of one-story houses, not the massive projects I lived in for a while as a child in Newark, New Jersey. Children are already in school for the day so the area is quiet.
When I turn onto E. Club Blvd., I pass a huge Mobil Station on the corner, which looks like Nirvana to me. It has outside tables and a well-stocked store and grill inside. With my hiking poles and backpack, I look, well, different and a middle-age man keeps eyeing me. He turns out to be the owner.
"You must be wondering what I'm doing," I say. "I'm walking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail which goes right past your gas station. A 1,000 miles through North Carolina".
And I hand him a card. When I started the MST project, I had taken book cards from my second hiking guide and on the address part, I stuck a label which reads:
From Clingmans Dome to Jockeys Ridge State Park
Walking 1,000 miles through North Carolina
It's a cheap solution which explains the MST, and even advertises my book.
I buy a cup of coffee but the owner waves my money away. "Would you like a piece of fried chicken?" He asks.
"No, thank you." But wait until Scot comes through here again. He'll take everything you offer him.
E. Club St. holds Durham's infrastructure. I pass a firefighter academy complete with a burned brick building which they use for practice. Then onto the transfer and recycling station and the Durham County Animal Shelter.
Finally E. Geer St.
I have 4.4 miles on this road but I feel the excitement of being close to my goal. Lots of small houses, tiny churches, and random businesses.
Two guys hanging around a tire store ask me if I'm lost, then offer me a Pepsi. I pass a Hell's Angels club with a fierce looking dog behind the fence. I had been fixated about possible dog encounters on E. Geer St. but I am pleasantly surprised. The few dogs barking obsessively are behind a fence or chained. Thank You!!
I pass the "dead end" sign as the road becomes more rural. I hear someone yelling out "Jungle Jane", from the front-yard of what will turn out to be the last house on the left on E. Geer St.
Don introduces himself and asks the usual trail questions - but with a twist. When he learns that the MST starts at Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he says "My wife's grandfather was John Davis. His house is at the Mountain Farm Museum in the Park."
"Wow! I know that name well since I volunteered at Oconaluftee Visitor Center this past year."
Don grins. "You have to meet my wife." Linda comes out. She's a lot shyer than her husband but is happy that I know all about her grandfather. Here we are outside of Durham - what are the chances of that?
He wants to show me all his history books about North Carolina. He's built a library off his garage chock full of books and memorabilia.
"You know the road ends right here," Don warns me.
"Yes, but if you walk past the road and around the fence, you'll continue on the MST. There's a trail there that goes around Falls Lake." I no longer feel foolish telling locals about trails right in their neighborhood.
A few more minutes of walking and I pass Lake Ridge Airport, a small airport, and get to my car. I take off my boots and realize how much my feet hurt. They are going to need serious attention and a rest.
Cumulative after Day 55, 662.5 miles, 90,700 ft. ascent
Starting with 636.2 miles, 89,200 ft. ascent
Hunt Rd. to West Point Park/Roxboro Rd.
15.5 miles/1,000 ft.
After the second day of walking on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for Janet, I asked her to write a blog entry. So this is Janet's view after two days of road walking.
You've heard reports of animal sightings on the trail? Bears, snakes, turkeys, wild hogs. Different species are encountered along the asphalt trail.
There is "roadkill." That's right. Where was the brown bird or the gray mouse headed when the log truck barreled toward it? What had that basketball size of black fur been before life ended on the center line?
Most animal life was behind fences. Actually, miles of meandering wooden fences surrounding rolling fields. In the countryside around Durham, homeowners have acres around their home for their horses. Not draft horses but saddle horses--coddled pets, actually. These handsome steeds and mares are passing their days basking in and running around sunny pastures with ample hay bales under a blue, cloudless sky.
What a life! No doubt, they are curried regularly and handed treats. And their stables!! Many barns appear larger than most town houses. We saw more than one three story barn.
A different type of fence enclosed several acres along one road. The three dozen creatures behind the fence were not Jersey, Holstein, or Guernsey. Definitely, beef cattle.
A medley of adults and calves over a three acre spread were munching on hay mounds and grass as well as from green plastic discs--supplemental feed or salt?
Each one stopped feeding, including some nursing calves, and intently watched us watch pass along the road. Each elongated face was covered with a kinky, curly mass. They stare silently, and continued to stare without a sound as though we were intruders. Had they never seen humans before? Probably not outside a vehicle.
Just then, a long, low, deep noise startled me and I sensed movement. Turning around to look at the opposite side of the road, a larger, very dark mass was approaching the fence.
Oh, my gosh, this must be the bull. Apparently, he does not want any one fooling around with his harem--at least, no creatures with bright orange on their backs.
Can't he read the "do not shoot, I'm a hiker?" He's nearly to the fence and snorting. Time to move along down the road. Oh, is that a hawk or a vulture gliding on a downdraft?
Back to me -
Our drives are getting longer and longer from Glencoe Mill. We should have stayed in Durham by now but the shuttles from Glencoe Mill Village were so inviting.
We find West Point on the Eno, a Durham City park and our end point for the day. I leave my car here. Then Hank shuttles us to the beginning of our section on Hunt Road. We walk from farm to farm but as soon as we turn on Schley Rd., we hit the horsy set. Large tracts of land with just a few horses.
The horse shown above is so unusual that we think it has ear muffs. But no, this is his or her coloring. The houses are large and set back but there are no menacing dogs or “Private Property – keep out” signs. The richer the area, the fewer warning signs we see.
After St. Mary Road, the road changes character again and the houses are smaller and wooded. The horses have disappeared. One corner house has a dummy with noise canceling earphones. Another spot has several wreaths made up of plastic flowers. Depending on how you count, there are almost ten memorials. We wonder if a full car of people swerved around the curve, hit a tree, and got killed.
We turn left on Cole Mill Rd. toward the eastern part of Eno River State Park. After we cross the bridge over the Eno River, we scramble down to the river and see the MST signs.
This brand new piece of trail was built by the Eno River Task Force to connect to Pump Station Trail. We're parallelling the Eno River, a languid river, not very impressive right now.
Pump Station Trail then joins Laurel Bluffs Trail which takes us out the park and on Guess Road.
We need to cross Guess Road and find the start of West Point on the Eno, a Durham City Park. It's a good thing we checked this out yesterday afternoon.
Several Eno River Task Force members had told me to go up the driveway of the Eno River Association where the trail starts. But which of the many houses is the Association? Yesterday, we crossed and recrossed Guess Road, a very busy road, trying to figure out the correct building.
I asked a couple of homeowners who didn't know what I was talking about. It turned out that they were living next door to the Association building; it's a small brick house just opposite where we came out of Laurel Bluffs Trail.
That's Janet crossing a small creek off the Eno River.
We zip through West Point Park on Eagle Trail on a well-blazed trail, cross the Eno River again on a huge metal bridge and find the car.
Cumulative after Day 54, 651.7 miles, 90,200 ft.
Starting with 621.5 miles, 88,700 ft. ascent
Allie May Rd. to Hunt Rd. in Orange County
14.7 miles, 500 ft. ascent
Another shift change on my Mountains-to-Sea Trail trek.
Lenny left and Janet came last night for three days of hiking. I was on day five but she was fresh.
Hank drops us off where I left off yesterday, so I thought. We walk on Pentecost Rd. and Scot Ward’s instructions says to turn right on Carr Store Rd. So by Gosh, I'm going to turn right.
“No,” Janet says. “We made a right turn to get here so we need to turn left.”
“Scot hasn’t steered me wrong yet,” I say. I want to turn right. But her suggestion nags at me. I pull out my compass and her direction has us going east.
“Oh boy,” I think. “If Scot is wrong this one time, why does it have to be the very first turn? Now she’s going to question every turn.”
And Janet thinks. “Well, Danny came here from Clingmans Dome with Scot’s instructions. I shouldn’t question it.”
We follow Janet’s instructions but it bothers me. I try to stop a car to find out if they crossed NC-86, the only highway a driver would know. I put my hand out but young and old just zip past me. Finally Charles, a guy driving a furniture delivery truck, stops.
“We are not hitching,” I say right away. “But have you passed NC-86?”
“Yes,” he says. Then he asks what we’re doing.
“The Mountains-to-Sea Trail,” I explain and give him a card. We all leave happy, except for me. Yes, I know we're going in the correct direction but why did Scot have to mess up now?
We pass a general store, Week in Treasures, and now I know we're going the right way.
We come into Cedar Grove, a ghostly town with old, abandoned buildings. We stop on a broken-down porch to have a snack. A little later, I buy an iced tea at Chambers mini mart, a down and out corner store.
Once we cross NC-57, we switch from Scot Ward's instructions to Ian's route. The MST route changes all the time as new sections of trail open up.
When Scot did the trail for the third time in October 2009, some of the trail around Falls River was not yet opened. When I did it with Kate last January 2010, I started at E. Geer St. in Durham to walk the the new route.
Ian, one of the most recent completers, figured out a new route using Google Maps that would take him through Eno River State Park. He passed his route onto Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST and that's how I got them. My goal this trip is to get to E. Geer St. where I started last January.
Back on the trail
We pass several large cattle farms. Is this a bull?
Mike, a UPS driver, stops to find out what we’re doing.
“The A.T. is that way,” Mike says pointing in the distance. And we explain about the MST.
"UPS drivers, letter carriers driving around and of course, the occasional sheriff car keep me safe. I love it when you folks stop," I tell Mike.
We get to our car on the side of Hunt Road at about 2 P.M. Walking was the easy part. Now we have to find the trails through Eno Park and West on the Eno for tomorrow.
We get back to our Barbershop home late. Still Janet pulls out the North Carolina Gazetteer to find that we were not dropped off exactly where we thought. Pentecost Rd. made an unexpected bend and we started a little north of where I stopped yesterday. That's why we had to make a left this morning. So Scot was right and so was Janet.
Cumulative after Day 53, 636.2 miles, 89,200 ft. ascent
Starting with 606.1 miles, 87,900 ft. ascent
Shak’s to Ally-Mae Road
15.4 miles, 800 ft. ascent
This is a very easy section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to follow. The area is rural with lots of tobacco barns, some with tobacco still hanging in them.
The low point is passing a farm with a pack of dogs. A group of aggressive dogs start barking and excite each other and me. My heart probably pumps harder now than any time on the trip so far. A couple of dogs get very close to my legs.
I swing my sticks around me to give me some extra space and have my pepper spray out of the pack, out of the plastic bag and in my hand. I don’t want to use it because there could be blowback, literally, if the wind was right.
Meanwhile Lenny tells them to go back home, if that's going to do any good. He shouts at them as I run on the other side of the road. This farm is located diagonally opposite Emily’s Cookies – they must have had seven or nine dogs. What is the matter with these people?
Lenny is going fast. His long legs carry him so much further than me. I’m used to having him stop and rest on uphills but here there are no uphills. So he keeps going and I need to ask for a break, or we’ll continue to walk forever.
No discussion of this section in Alamance County is complete without mentioning Emily's Cookie Mix Shoppe.
Debra Malchow owns the shop with her husband, in the proverbial "middle of nowhere" on Jeffries Cross Rd. north of Glencoe Mill Village. There are no other businesses around and unless you're walking the MST, there's not going to be any walk-in traffic.
Debra makes and sells cookies and other pastries, ice cream, coffee and a few gift items. She holds cookie decorating classes and bakes wedding cakes. She's been in business for ten years so she's doing it right. Debra has such an infectious warm personality that you know that she would be a success no matter what she did.
Emily was her daughter who died of a rare genetic ailment when she was two years old. Though Debra and Craig knew that Emily's days were limited, they were determined to care for her at home. They enlisted help from the local hospice, Kids Path and raise money for this charity now.
Lenny and I stop in and have a big snack at Emily's and I drop my change in the Kids Path collection jar.
Cumulative after Day 52, 621.5 miles, 88,700 ft. ascent
Starting with 592.4 miles, 86,900 ft. ascent
Sams Stop Shop to Shak's Grocery
13.7 miles 1,000 ft.
Shift change on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Sharon has gone home and Lenny, my husband, is going to walk the road with me for two days on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
By the time I get to Glencoe Mill Village, Lenny has already settled in at the Barbershop Guest House. This was going to be his first time walking the road. What would he think? Would he enjoy it? Would he even stay for the two days? Read his blog below.
The area is very rural and we pass several dairy farms. The most interesting is the Reedy Fork Organic Farm, connected with Organic Valley milk.
Most new house are the manufactured kind, the kind that unions were so opposed in the 1970s. But these cheap houses allow people to own their own homes maybe for the first time and move up from trailers.
One banner advertised “$850 down buys this house”. I don’t think this area has heard of the mortgage scandal.
We go through Ossipee and pass the Old Ski Lodge, a bar with many, many warning signs. They have several benches outside where we sit and have our own lunch. Two guys drive up at exactly noon on Sunday, when you can start selling alcohol in North Carolina. One brings out a beer because he needs a smoke.
The signs out front said:
“no club colors on premises”
“No id, no beer”
“all beer bought to go must leave premises”
“no smoking inside as of 01-0202010”
“No firearms allowed on premises”
On the side “door is bolted” and “Please use restrooms inside”. Well, I don’t mind if I do, Thank you. And I go in. Two bartenders, two customers and me.
We pass Haw River Falls where a guy is creating a stone path on the river by throwing in stepping stones ahead of him. This is the Paddling Trail that will eventually be part of the MST. But first the walking trail has to be built here. There seems to be a misunderstanding that the MST is now close to the Haw River – it’s not.
What did Lenny think about walking the road? Here's his entry.
Walking the Road
Today Danny and I did thirteen miles of road walk. Most hikers would consider such as day pure torture, but on the back roads of North Carolina’s Piedmont, it was enjoyable. The day started cold, 25 F according to the thermometer in Danny’s Subaru. We were layered up and spent the first hour of our walk unlayering.
Eventually it got up to 60. We had plenty of signs of spring to cheer us up after the miserable winter we’ve had so far – a forsythia in full bloom and trees with enough hint of green that you know they’ll start leafing out next week.
One of the great things about hiking is that you are moving slowly enough to notice details that you would miss, even at bicycling speed. It’s even truer when you’re walking the road.
The dead owl we saw by the side of the road was fascinating. Did it get hit by a car as it was swooping down on a poor, unsuspecting field mouse, or did it die of some disease?
And we passed what could only be described as a graveyard for old buildings.
A half dozen buildings in various states of decay had been moved to a lot in the town of Altamahaw. Some of them were still on the I-beams that had been used to support them for their trip. Why would anyone do that?
This is a relatively prosperous area. We passed only one house with the collection of wrecked or abandoned vehicles that is the hallmark of rural poverty, and only one kudzu covered abandoned cabin.
Most of the houses looked fairly new. Yes, many of them were manufactured, but they were well kept and surrounded by bits of landscaping. Some of them had pretentious touches, like the fairly modest house with an elaborate entrance way complete with two stone lions. Who did the owners think they were, British nobility?
Cumulative after Day 51 606.1 miles, 87,900 ft. ascent
I'm staying in the Barbershop, a small structure owned by Hank and Lynn Pownell. I met Hank at a Friends of the MST meeting last week. He had donated one night at the Barbershop for the silent auction. Most important his gift included shuttling within a 50-mile radius.
Glencoe was a water powered textile mill, built in 1880, on the Haw River. Besides the actual mill, the village encompassed worker houses, several churches, and an office and company store.
"I own my soul to the company store."
When the mill closed in 1954, people left the village. The whole site was bought from the heirs of the mill owners by Preservation North Carolina.
Hank and Lynn come from Minneapolis but had visited North Carolina many times. One day, she saw a tiny article about the restoration at Glencoe Mill Village.
Over drinks, Lynn explains their story.
"We drove here from the Triangle on one of our visits to North Carolina. I fell in love with the houses. We wanted a two-story house with a south facing porch. At the time, twenty houses in Glencoe St. were for sale. It took a lot longer to sell these houses than Preservation North Carolina anticipated. One house has still never sold."
“I think this is best house but everyone thinks that their house is the best."
Hank and I bought their dream house and started renovating in 1998. People had trashed the area. The house was last occupied in the 1940s. While Lynn still had several years before retirement, Hank lived in the Barbershop while the house was being redesigned and renovated."
Glencoe is one of the few mill villages that was not subdivided. The mill had closed but Sarah Rhyne, a part owner and heir of the mill, understood the historic significance of the place and kept the property intact.
Many textile mills in the South were started by northerners who came down here because of the cheap, nonunionized labor but this mill was started by a southerner, E.M. Holt. Their house was originally a four room house. Mill workers paid 25 cents per room per month as rent. The house was owned by the mill and rented to a mill worker.
Lynn continues. "It's a good place to live. I’m a weaver. The whole idea of using the detached kitchen as a studio was important. History of textile is really exciting. I'm involved in the Alamance Artisan Guild."
After this house was done, it took a period of adjustment. “Honey what do we talk about now?” but Lynn and Hank both agree that their house will never be finished.
The company office and company store is now the museum, filled chock full of pictures, mill equipment and paraphernalia. Jerrie Nall, Director of the Textile Museum Museum, explains the expression:
"How are you doing?"
"Fair to middling". That's a textile grading expression and she shows me the various grades of cotton.
The barbershop is a tiny building with one double bed and a small dining table in its main room. It holds a full kitchen and bathroom. It's small for two people. I brought my sleeping bag and mat and sleep on the floor. But the history, location, and shuttle are worth any inconvenience.
I didn't have time to walk along the Haw River but eventually the MST will swing down from its present route and follow the Haw River, giving it more trail miles.
Starting with 564.5 miles, 86,900 ft. ascent
Lake Brand Greenway to Peninsula Trail
12.1 miles, 900 ft.
I'm starting a seven-day stretch on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the longest piece that I've done on this trail in one shot. I stress "on this trail" since I've backpacked two to three week sections on the Appalachian Trail.
Though Sharon had decided to bike all the sections she can, she has to walk this piece around the Greensboro Watershed.
We meet at the beginning of the Lake Brandt Greenway in the Greensboro Watershed. Lake Brandt is an 816-acre municipal reservoir. The lake was originally built in 1925 and raised to its present level in 1958. It's part of a huge system of artificial lakes, paved and dirt trails just north of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.
The paved part doesn't last long. Soon we're walking Owl's Roost Trail which hugs Lake Brandt. But it seems to go on forever and I feel that we're going in a circle. We pass a side trail to a fire road three times. Are we going round and round? Why are we walking so slowly in this easy almost flat section?
"We're doing two miles an hour and that's OK," Sharon says. She figures out that we should indeed cross a fire road three times but I'm uncomfortable. The Lake is always on our left, which it should be. Finally we stop a runner who tells us that we are going the right way.
We finally get off Owl's Roost Trail unto an old paved railroad grade trail, the old Atlantic and Yadkin Railway. This line went to Wilmington on the coast to Mt. Airy, going through Greensboro. It was completed in 1887 and the last run lasted until 1974.
A modern bright blue picnic table was put up by Dasani, owned by the Coca-Cola Company. Plenty of walker and runners on this piece of trail.
We turn left on Nat Greene Trail and now we know exactly where we are. The trail was named for Nathanael Greene who commanded the Continental Army's Southern Department and fought against Lord Cornwallis at Guildford Courthouse. The trail sign misspelled Greene's first name - you would have thought they could have looked it up or checked with the military park.
We reach the Marina, cross the road and turn on Laurel Bluff Trail. It's a slow start because a trail post is down but we finally figure out that we have to turn right around a building. This area has not been cleaned up of artifacts and junk.
We pass a restored tobacco barn and climb up a bluff overlooking the lake.
Dogs, dogs, dogs - my nemesis.
Dogs are supposed to be leashed here but few are. Most owners put them on a leash after we call out and they see us. One man with three large dogs can't control them and keeps yelling at them. Finally we reach our car at 5 P.M. and decide to skip the car shuttle until tomorrow.
We're staying at the Battleground Inn, a modest nonchain motel. Greensboro on Friday evening is a busy place. An Outback restaurant is within walking distance and that's the obvious place for dinner.
Peninsula Trail to Sam's Stop Shop
15.8 miles 900 ft. ascent
We get an early start this morning, so early that Sharon is not happy. I think I woke her up.
“Should we get separate rooms?” She asks. I don’t think so - I'll be quieter, I promise.
We hadn’t set up yesterday because we didn’t want to deal with the Greensboro Friday night traffic. I had figured out where Sam's Shop was - our end point. We set up our cars today. Still, we're on the trail at 8 A.M.
We start on the Peninsula trail, and then back on the road to the Osprey Trail. There are lots of modern artifacts or junk on this trail.
It's Saturday and people are walking their dogs, or maybe the dogs are walking them.
Still most are not on a leash. The instructions at each trailhead are clear but the owners just ignore them.
This time, it was Sharon that gets indignant and asks dog owners to put their dog on a leash. A runner asks us if we had a leash.
Lake Townsend is always in view as we circumnavigate the edge of the lake with its Canada geese, mallards, and even a boat. The city has put in an elaborate system of boardwalks over the boggy bits. It's still icy and Sharon tests out the water.
We switch to Townsend Trail and walk out of the Greenway system through Bryan Park, on the road past a golf course. We have lunch on the grass at the edge of the golf course.
Sharon could have biked these few miles but we had to finish out the day. The route takes us through new housing developments.
Some obviously hadn't heard of the housing crisis and are still encouraging people to buy starter houses without a down payment.
When we arrive at Sam’s Stop, a gas station, we find several old men using the store as a hangout. I ask if I can take a picture and one says "Suit yourself." I take that as a "yes".
Sharon leaves for home while I move on to Glencoe Mill, my home for the next few days.
Cumulative after Day 50 - 592.4 miles, 86,900 ft. ascent
On Thursday, February 3, the North Carolina Senate took its first vote on fast-moving legislation that would gut two conservation trust funds. Senate Bill 13 would take $1.8 million from the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and $8.5 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants to local governments for parks and recreational projects to serve the public.
This legislation is moving quickly, so write your Representative and Senator today and ask them to oppose Senate Bill 13.
The legislation is part of an effort to shift money from this year's state budget into the next fiscal year. Legislators are facing a $3.7 billion budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, and are looking for ways to reduce the size of that shortfall.
Taking money from the state's conservation trust funds is the wrong way to close that gap. These trust funds leverage local dollars, protect farms and create jobs.
For more details, see Land for Tomorrow. The website can help you figure out who your representatives are, based on your zip code.
On: Tuesday February 8 at 6 P.M.
At: Diamond Brand Outdoors, 2623 Hendersonville Rd. Arden 828-684-6262
The MST travels 1,000 miles through North Carolina - about half is on small roads. We may be very familiar with the section around Asheville.
But what lies beyond that? See pictures of other outstanding places including Linville Gorge, OverMountain Victory Trail, Moses Cone Park, The Lump, Doughton Park and Stone Mountain.
Diamond Brand will offer $20 Gift cards to anyone who joins Friends of Mountains-to-Sea on the night of the program.
And there will be refreshments.
Is Newfound Gap Road open?
No need to make that phone call to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park anymore?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced that visitors may now sign-up to receive status updates about the Park’s most frequently used roads via text message or the Internet.
Those who wish to be notified of the status of the Park’s four most popular roads - Newfound Gap (U.S. 441), Little River Road, Laurel Creek Road, and Cades Cove Loop Road – can get text messages to their cell phones by texting: follow smokiesroadsnps to 40404.
But you can get the same information via the Internet by going to: www.twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps to read recent road notification postings. This is a Twitter website maintained by the Park, but anybody can access it at any time, without having to establish a Twitter account.
So before you go into the Smokies, check out http://twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps
It's not easy to get to a Friends of the MST meeting.
I had a Great Smoky Mountains Association meeting at Park Headquarters in Gatlinburg the day before. Instead of stopping at home in Asheville, I dropped off my rider, blew past Asheville and drove east another hour and a half to shorten the drive the next day.
I arrive at Haw River State Park northeast of Greensboro an hour early but there are already plenty of eager members drinking coffee and talking.Over 130 people had signed up, the largest number yet. I meet a lot of folks I had only previously emailed.
The Summit Center was built as a training center for state park employees but other groups can rent it out. The center can hold up to 180 overnight guests.
After the obligatory welcome from Kelley Thompson, Superintendent of the State Park, John Jaskolka, the past president of Friends of the MST, passes on a Pulaski, a trail digging tool, to Bill Sadler, the new board president.
Darrell McBane, NC State Trails Program Manager, summarizes all the bits and pieces of the trail that are being negotiated, bought, and worked on. It's a dizzying list and I can't keep up with the landmarks and county names.
Kate Dixon, Executive Director of FMST, offers highlights of the past year. The big one is that Pres. Obama and Michelle Obama walked a mile of the MST. We'll be talking about this for years to come. Kate also brings up the most popular question. When will the trail be done?
"The current trail is done now," is the answer. But the ultimate trail, the 1,000 miles all on a hiking trail, does not have a completion time. So if you're reading this, you might as well get going and walk the MST. There's no point for you to wait for the ultimate trail to be finished.
Three completers were recognized - from left to right - Ian Fraher, Cooper Brantley and Steve Hassenfelt.
With those three guys, the number of completers is a whopping 20. Compare this with 492 people who completed the Appalachian Trail in 2010. But the MST will get there.
While all of this was going on, Howard Lee, the Keynote Speaker, was waiting patiently. Allen de Hart introduced him at great length but I wanted to hear the speaker himself. The Honorable Howard N. Lee is a 77-year old African American with an amazing life. After getting a masters degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, he became the mayor of Chapel Hill, the first African American to be elected to that post in a mainly white city. He's been in public service ever since and he's still very active.
In 1977, Governor Jim Hunt appointed Lee as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, which he held until 1981.
In a National Trails meeting in 1977, Howard Lee proposed “that the time had come to consider the feasibility of establishing a state trail between the mountains and the seashore in North Carolina”.
He became the second father of the MST. The first was Jim Hallsey who worked in the department and actually looked at maps for the feasibility of the trail.
Lee quotes the poet Langston Hughes to make some of his points. The best is the following directed at de Hart's tenacity.
Looks like what drives me crazy
Don't have no effect on you--
But I'm gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.
Lee also has a great singing voice and Allen gets him to sing "Happy Trails to you," twice. The second time it's taped and will be on YouTube soon with the key players in back of Lee. See the top photo.
After lunch, the three completers plus Sharon and I give one of the workshops on "Learning about hiking the Trail." A slide show, then too many panelists in too short a time but I think it went well.
Many in the audience ask general hiking and backpacking questions, not specific to the MST. What to do about predators, worries about troublesome people, how much weight to carry. These issues apply just as well to any long distance trail.
We should have diverted the questions back to the special challenges of the MST and told them to go on a beginners backpack for all those general questions.
All this time, I'm networking. Remember the squirrel story.
Why is it impossible to keep a squirrel out of a bird feeder?
Because you think about it some of the time and the squirrel thinks about getting to that food all of the time.
I am that squirrel. I meet folks from various parts of the state that might be helpful to my continuing walk east. I get their contact information and they may be surprised when I actually call them.
It is exciting to be part of something forming and new. Right now I'm getting a lot of personal attention from Kate and members of the FMST family. When the ultimate trail gets to be popular, you'll have to read the guidebook and be on your own.
Starting with 554.4 miles, 86,600 ft. ascent
Stokesdale to start of Greensboro Greenway
10.1 miles, 300 ft. ascent
Gabriel picks me up at 7:30 again for my next day on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail but decides not to walk with me. I don't blame him; the sky is gray and there's a chance of rain.
"Call me anytime, if it starts raining and I'll pick you up," he says.
That's very sweet so I don't tell him that I've spent a lot of time, effort and money to get these miles so I'll walk through rain. He drops me off at the church in Stokesdale and I promise to let him know when I get back to my car.
Stokesdale has about 3,200 people, more than double that of Walnut Cove. Its main street is on the highway and not very attractive. I would not petition to make either town a "trail town". But the trail quickly turns from the highway to side roads. First the houses that I pass are set on flat, treeless lots. But another turn takes me to an attractive neighborhood on the outskirts of Stokesdale where I cross the Haw River.
Unlike the road walk last winter, the dogs here are not a problem. They are fenced in, or on a leash or just accepting of walkers and I am grateful.
The last stretch passes through Summerfield, which is a legitimate historic town.
I pass the memorial to Bugler Boy Gillies who died at the hands of the British during the Revolutionary War.
The plaque is small and almost hidden in the bushes, in front of a power plant. I would never have seen it if I wasn't walking. Then I realize how close we are to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, in the middle of Greensboro. There was a lot of American Revolution action in this corner of North Carolina.
As I get closer to the center of Summerfield, I pass a large plaque and cemetery for Charles Bruce (1733-1832), revolutionary leader and founder of Bruce's Crossroads, now Summerfield. Bruce is buried under these huge trees.
The memorial sits in front of a school and the cemetery is on the other side of the road. I would have blown right past that as well in a car.
In the distance, donkeys are grazing quietly and don't bother coming over to the fence.
I keep looking for that magical coffee shop, the one with a cappuccino and let me eat my sandwich discreetly. But there's nothing on this route. The town hall is the only interesting public building on this route along with several quirky houses.
I pass a sad looking shopping center with a CVS and a little later an antique furniture mall with a public rest room. With all those couches and easy chairs, what if I sat down and pulled out my lunch? Then I'd really look homeless.
Instead I continue walking. Historic Summerfield has turned poor and down at the heels. I find a piece of dry grass on a corner opposite the Circle M Mobile Trailer Park. A resident shuffles to his trailer, eyeing me. His dog is barking wildly and going nuts but he's on a leash - thank you sir!
The trailers here are in bad need of repairs and a good coat of paint. The trailer park has all the classic characteristics of a rural slum - on the edge of town, out of sight, no stores around other than that shopping center that didn't seem to have a supermarket. Trailers go on forever until I reach US 220. This highway which goes into Greensboro has serious traffic. But the wide grassy sides help. Here I don't wave and no one honks in solidarity. I just walk briskly and keep a careful eye for traffic.
Finally Strawberry Rd. where I turn in to find my car. It took me 4:40 hours, not bad. I call Gabriel. "I'm back at my car, safe and sound," I say.
The Greensboro Greenway starts here. Another piece of trail off the road which I'll savor on my next trip. But my day isn't done. I have to get the gist of the trails on the Greenway and find the end point for the first day on my next stretch. I pull out the North Carolina Gazetteer, state map, map of the watershed, map of Greensboro, and the directions which I worked out last night.
I do find the trail end, finally, and also find a Starbucks before heading home.
Cumulative after Day 48, 564.5 miles, 86,900 ft. ascent
I interrupt my Mountains-to-Sea travelogue to wonder about all the empty land I saw on my walk.
When I turn onto NC 65 from Walnut Cove and head toward Stokesdale, I'm walking in an area with a lot of undeveloped land.
Wait a minute – why doesn’t the MST go through here? Why am I walking on the road? The quick answer is that all this land is privately owned.
What are these owners doing with their land?
The first section I come to had been cleared and it looks terrible. See the picture above.
It's a flat mess of stumps and downed saplings. Maybe the owners had hoped to develop it and put up houses. And now the parcel is for sale. If no one wants to buy the land, it’s worthless or maybe it’s priceless.
Other areas are just tired, rough woods, full of small skinny trees. A collection of old farm equipment takes up an empty lot.
The land may have been logged in the past but the area has not been replanted. In between, there are a few neat houses with large lawns.
Why not give the MST a right of way or create a conservation easement or even better, just donate the land to the state?
Right now, as I see it from the ground, much of this land is full of garbage and old, abandoned barns about to fall down. A countless number of posted and private signs have been nailed to trees. It’s not used for farming, grazing, living on or playing.
No one is rushing to buy this acreage and build a house on it. And I don’t think you need to blame the economy. This is not an area that would attract vacationers or second-home owners. It’s not in the mountains and it’s too far from Greensboro.
I can picture the older generation having lived off this land and now they want to pass it on. They will need to divide it up, making it even less attractive to potential buyers.
Some people have tied up their land in so many legal wrangles that it would make a real estate lawyer cross eyed. And if you ask the children who may not be living in the area, they probably would say that they don’t want it. What are they going to do with it?
Even if they don’t want to let go of the land, the landowners could get together and build a trail, like the Sauratown trail. The Sauratown Trail between Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock is on private land but it’s open to hikers and maintained by the Sauratown Trail Association.
Duke Power created a boat access from some of their land but most of it is still posted “Private” in English and Spanish.
I pass several housing developments that are not very developed - lots of flat, cleared land in between.
And a "Under Contract" sign that had been thrown to the ground, maybe after the land deal didn't go through.
But giving away land is not that simple.
Some children may want to sell it, others to hold on to it and maybe others would consider giving it away.
Why not contact Conservation Trust for North Carolina and let them help you figure it out?
It may be time to reread A Thousand Acres.
Starting with 540.1 miles, 85,600 ft. ascent
Whickers Grocery to Stokesdale Christian Disciples of Christ
14.3 miles, 1,000 ft. ascent
The end of the golden weather. The morning is 38 degree, seasonally cold, with a chance of rain. Gabriel shows up at 7:20 and we’re on our way.
I start out at Whickers Grocers and talk to Jamie, Kala’s older sister. Kala had said that she might walk with me, today.
"Kala is a night owl," Jamie says. "She sleeps all day."
I didn’t really expect Kala to walk with me so I start out alone.
I’m walking so fast that I have time to stop for coffee at Hardees’s in Walnut Cove.
I buy a cup but the lid just doesn’t fit right. I try to walk and drink but coffee drips on my gloves and down my pants. These are cheap lids – there is a reason for Starbucks, but I don’t think I’ll see one until I get back to Asheville.
Walnut Cove is spread out, with many old, poorly maintained, or empty buildings. The gray weather has a lot to do with it but Walnut Cove is not an attractive town. The only effort they seemed to have made is Fowler Park, the small park in front of the library.
The ABC liquor store is next to the park. It’s 9:30 in the morning and there seems to be quite a bit of traffic in and out of the store. Armed with that knowledge, I stick a piece of chocolate in my mouth; another example of inappropriate consumption, so early in the morning.
The trail continues through town, passing many closed stores. Old does not equate to historic. Then the trail turns left on NC 65 toward Stokesdale. I’ve left the town and I’m walking through undeveloped land, punctuated by single family homes. It gets me thinking about what people are doing with their land.
I had woken up this morning with a pain in my right wrist. That’s the wrist I broke last summer but it’s strange that I’m feeling it now. Then I realize the cause. I’ve been waving to almost every vehicle that comes by.
Vigorous waves that say “See I’m here. I’m not in trouble; I’m not looking for a hitch; I’m walking for pleasure but please, know that I’m here.”
I make sure to wave extra energetically to patrol cars. I do wish they would stop so I could let them know about the MST but no officer does. To indicate that they should stop would be “wasting policeman’s time”, a very British expression that I’ve never heard here in the U.S. But I keep waving. And if I have to put my hand in a wrist splint after this trip, it will have been worth it.
This stretch is empty – few gas stations, stores, or restaurants. Only a couple of churches. When NC 65 turns left and I turn with it, it crosses Belews Lake (see the top picture) and passes Piney Bluff Access Area, an access point for boats, owned by Duke Energy. There’s a parking area and boat ramp – no picnic tables or port-o-Johns. But I eat lunch here, the only public place I’m going to pass.
I’m starting to feel my legs.
Walking on the road uses different muscles from walking on trails. My cardiovascular system doesn’t get much of a work out and probably neither do my quads. It’s just too flat around here. But my calves and ankles do a lot of work. I don’t really walk on the road; I’m in the grass on the side of the road most of the times, sometimes in a ditch. I run across the road depending on which side has more space or how the road bends. So I can feel these muscles.
I reach my car at 2 P.M. I could have done a couple of more miles but the point is not to see how many miles I can do on any particular day but to walk day after day.
I've parked in front of the Stokesdale Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, a majestic church with a beautiful steeple. I find the custodian and tell her that I’ve parked here and I thank her.
“Oh, it’s all right,” she says.
“I want to leave something in the collection plate,” I tell her. “And could I see the sanctuary?”
Collection plate, sanctuary - Those may not be the words she would use in this church but she takes me upstairs.
The altar is all wood with a picture of the baptismal waters. It's beautiful.
She turns on the lights so I can take pictures in the best circumstances. It’s worth the five dollars I drop in the plate, “for orphans,” she says.
Hey, I’d pay a lot more to see Notre Dame and I couldn't park there.
Cumulative after Day 47, 554.4 miles, 86,600 ft. ascent
Starting with 528.25 miles, 84,750 ft. ascent
Hanging Rock State Park to Meadows
11.9 miles, 850 ft. ascent
Egypt, Mubarek, Tunisia … All those problems swirl through my head as I drive to Danbury to walk another section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I start driving at 7 A.M. and first I hear BBC world Service, then NPR weekend edition. I go from station to station but it’s the same bad news.
But here on the MST, it all seems so far away and irrelevant. I know that people are suffering but they’ve accepted Mubarek for 23 years. Now Egyptian activists caught the bug from the Tunisians.
Sharon, my hiking partner, has decided to bike the road sections of the MST, so we've separated temporarily. I gave up on biking. Sorry - it didn't work out for me. I'm not too proud of that but I like my feet firmly on the ground. So I am on my own for a while. We plan to reunite for the beach section.
I called Wippoorwill Inn in Danbury and asked if they had someone who could shuttle me. Earl, who owns the inn with his wife, suggested Gabriel, his stepson. I get to the Inn at about 10:30 A.M. and Gabriel shuttles me to Hanging Rock State Park, where Sharon and I left off last March.
Gabriel is a naval reservist in his 20s. Right now, he’s waiting for an opportunity to train as an EMT but he doesn’t have a job. So he’s happy for the extra cash that shuttling will bring him.
We leave my car at a gas station on NC 89 and he drives me to Hanging Rock State Park Visitor Center. He leaves me in the parking lot close to the Indian Creek Trailhead.
I start down the trail past two shelters and a picnic area and follow the trail to Window Falls. See the photo above. There’s an overlook to the falls, then the trail continues to the bottom of the falls. Before I get to the falls, I pass a sign warning of serious injuries and death by waterfalls. It’s a standard State Park sign.
Warning This area contains hazards associated with water, rocks and cliff faces. Serious injury or death possible.
What if they said, “Welcome to your state park. Don’t climb up the waterfalls.”
The trail keeps descending and I meet several groups with dogs going up. It is a beautiful Sunday. The forecast is of 60 degrees. What a great start.
The trail ends in less than two miles. I walk out the park on Hanging Rock Rd. The road has steep ups and down. We’re in the Piedmonts, which means foothills in French, not on the flat.
The road winds up and down and I keep crossing the road so I can have some room to walk on the side of the road. I wave to everyone, not a one-finger wave popular in the Appalachians or a limp wave like the queen mother. My wave is hard and energetic, so that cars can see me.
The road enters Danbury and passes the bank, library, the county courthouse and several churches. The faded sign says:
Welcome to Danbury, established 1849. Gateway to the mountains. National Historic District.
Danbury is a one main street town, cute and very spread out. But historic? The churches are small and boxy, not the elaborate Catholic or Episcopalian churches that I associate with historic.
Walking out of town, I stop at the Danbury General Store and Grill with a couple of gas pumps in front. I buy an ice cream sandwich and show the clerk the listing for her store.
“I knew there was a trail but I didn’t realize that there was an actual route,” she says.
“You need a guidebook or you wouldn’t know where to go.”
If the last section west of Dobson, was a hike from church to church, this section takes me from gas station to gas station. Gas stations are useful on the road. They’re the place for trail breaks, occasional snacks and most luxurious, garbage cans. I throw my ice cream bar wrapper at the next gas station.
NC 89 is a mecca for motorcycles; two wheelers, three wheelers, riders alone, riders in packs. They pour out of side roads like creeks flowing into a river. Some riders honk at me in solidarity. They're taking advantage of the golden weather.
Clear Springs Primitive Baptist Church established about 1770 is a small white manufactured building with a huge cemetery. Obviously the building doesn’t date back from 1770. The congregation may have had a wooden building that burned down.
The road has an assortment of buildings from broken down wooden shacks and trailers to substantial manufactured homes and a few brick houses. Weeds cover up some small shops.
I arrive at Whickers Grocery where I left my car. Scot Ward, who wrote the guide book I'm following, called it a “must stop” with very cool people. So I introduce myself as an MST hiker to Kala, the owner’s daughter. She had met Scot and walked with him to the Walnut Cove library. She thought he was “cool” as well. I confess that I've spoken to him on the phone and emailed but have not yet met him.
“I’m not as cool as Scot,” I say, “but would you be interested in walking to Stokesdale with me tomorrow? It's about 14 miles.”
We exchange phone numbers and she says "I might.” I get this feeling that there’s not much to do in this area. Gabriel had told me that Winston-Salem is the place for young people.
Is this a dry county? I have not seen a bar. I wonder if Gabriel might want to walk with me one day. Maybe I should introduce Kala to him. They’re both attractive and look to be in the same age bracket.
Earl, the inn keeper, drives up as I get back to the Inn. He shows me around the Inn. The place is huge with a large sitting room, kitchen and dining room and two bedrooms.
The inn is on a small back street opposite an abandoned jail, the fire station and a “pretrial release and district resource center.” While I waited for Gabriel this morning, I saw two teenage boys and an older man go inside. It sounds like a detention center for wayward boys.
For dinner I drive up to the Dan River Family Restaurant, the only place in town. The menu is almost all fried food but I have spaghetti with meat sauce, cole slaw and pinto beans. It’s a lousy place but the only place that’s open in the evening. Is country cooking a code word for "fried"?
I settle down to watch Downton Abbey on PBS and discover that somehow, the TV at the Inn doesn’t have PBS. Can someone tell me what happened on Sunday evening?
Cumulative after Day 46, 540.1 miles, 85,600 ft. ascent
Every once in a while, I need to remind myself to look beyond the mountains of Western North Carolina. I live in the state of North Carolina and I try to keep up a little about the outdoor issues outside the mountains.
Two items are worthy of your time.
Land for Tomorrow is organizing North Carolina's first summit on the economics of conservation. It will be held on
February 23, 2011 from 11:30 am – 4:00 p.m at the
Raleigh Convention Center. Here's what they say about the importance of this topic.
Land and water conservation has created significant economic benefits in local communities, across the state and around the country. Join Land for Tomorrow to hear conservation challenges and success stories from key leaders in economic development, government, business and the military. A new economic impact study by the Trust for Public Land will be unveiled that will, for the first time, quantify the state’s return on its investments in conservation.
All the details are on the Land for Tomorrow website.
The second item is a report entitled Unfulfilled Promise
The Million Acres Initiative and the Need to
Protect North Carolina’s Open Spaces.
To summarize the executive summary: North Carolina’s
General Assembly established the Million Acre Initiative to protect one million acres of land between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2009. While many important and beautiful places were protected in the process, it is now clear that North Carolina has fallen short of this goal.
Read the report's executive summary, at least. It's an eye opener.
Of course, the best way of discovering North Carolina beyond the mountains is to walk the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I'll be doing another section real soon.
Yesterday (Sunday), I hiked up to Little Pisgah mountain in Hickory Nut Gorge.
We started in Florence Preserve, a small jewel of conservancy land, donated by the Florence family in the 1990s. We followed the blue trail to the top of the preserve and then hiked on Little Pisgah Road. It's a quiet, dirt road, though yesterday, it had snow and ice as well.
As we climbed, views opened up, the kind you rarely see in our mountains. It felt more like England, except for the long range views of the Blue Ridge.
We reached the top of the mountain at 4,500 feet. It was very windy and most of us tried to huddle under a large rock. This is not pristine wilderness. The reason for the road is a communications tower on top.
Lunch on top was a hurried affair. By the time, I got to the top, took a few pictures and pulled out my sandwich, Janet, our leader, started heading down. Janet took this picture on the left of some of the group under a boulder.
We were all cold and followed her down.
On the way back, we took the red trail back to the cars. We were amazed that we hiked about 10 miles in less than five hours. The combination of cold weather and a good road meant that we did the hike in record time, without feeling rushed.
A good winter hike!