16.1 miles, 350 ft. ascent
After our lobby day, I was eager to get back on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This was Kate’s last day on the trail with me.
We debriefed about Land for Tomorrow lobby day. Kate knows about every North Carolina legislator – their district, where they stand on various conservation issues, their pet projects and the conservation projects that have been funded in their district.
I know that it’s what she does but it’s still impressive. She filled me in on how the NC state legislature works. We never seem to run out of things to talk about. I’m going to miss her.
Today takes us from just off Lamm Road outside of Wilson to Eureka in Wake County. We pass large farms, some in winter crop, others freshly plowed. On this trip so far, the dogs seem to be under control. Some are chained or fenced but others just know to stop at their property lines. They’ve been well trained.
One quirk of this area are the polka dot mailboxes. You really have to be house proud to live in a rural area like this. Residents must spend a lot of time on their house and gardens.
We walk through Black Creek, established 1779, population 714. Unfortunately, the railroad came through the middle of town, bisecting the main street. There’s a small grocery store, a beauty shop with a very lonely owner sitting outside with her dog. The police station is also on the main street. And of course, a huge cemetery.
We stop in their town park to eat a snack. Kate says “I bet you they got a grant from one of the trust funds.”
And that’s true. Their website says “We have received 2 park grants to make the improvements to our town park. We are very proud of our park and would like to thank the PARTF (Parks and Recreation Trust Fund) committee for their support.”
Once out of Black Creek, we have lunch on the steps of a church, watching the mating rituals of two killdeer. On the gravel, in front of us, the male is tweeting and strutting. The female comes out from behind a tree. But a pickup truck roars by and the male flies up. He seems to have disappeared. But in a few minutes, he comes back and the courting continues. We leave them alone and walk on.
Kate seems preoccupied by all the Bradford pear trees that we’re passing. Bradford pear trees grow quickly and have a ball shape. They’re popular but have lots of problems….
We get to our end point, Eureka in Wake County, population 244, close to Goldsboro. Most of the businesses are closed. There’s a coffee shop that seems to thrive at breakfast time. The mini-mart has closed its gas stations.
Kate voted today as the prettiest section. So what did Kate think of the road walking? “I’ve enjoyed it. North Carolina is so beautiful.”
Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, planned to hike with me for five days.
But in the middle of our plans, Land for Tomorrow scheduled a Lobbying Day. What could I do but go back to Raleigh with Kate? I was eager to see how this is done.
Land for Tomorrow is a coalition of environmental and conservation groups in North Carolina that lobby for fully funding all the conservation trust funds. These include the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Natural Heritage Trust
Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Agricultural Development and
Farmland Preservation Trust. The people who showed up were experienced lobbyists from The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, various conservation groups from all over the state like Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
We got briefed by Debbie Crane, who works for The Nature Conservancy. The whole purpose of the day was to meet with various legislators besides our own. We were supposed to explain why conservation funding was important and helped the economy. For example,
Every dollar spent on conservation returns four dollars in the economy. Pretty good investment.
The "ask" was $50 million dollars for Clean Water and $2 million for Farmland Preservation. Two millions? That's nothing.
Still when we went to the legislators on our list, most of them moaned and groaned about the economy. "We're trying to balance the budget". But the whole conservation budget is 0.25 % of the economy. I think I have the decimal point in the right place. So they should not balance the budget by cutting out conservation funding.
Kate did most of the talking. She introduced me as a "hiker", who was hiking the trail. But most legislators were not available, even some with appointments with us. So we wrote hand-written notes saying we had stopped by. We also did a lot of waiting and talking to their assistants. We even had to wait for their assistants.
One exception was Susan Fisher, my state representative. She knew she had an appointment with us; she was on time, cheerful and very knowledgeable. She seemed interested in my MST hike. I was impressed.
A fun diversion from a busy day was an ice cream social. They had invited Maple View Farm to serve ice cream at lunch time.
Even though my feet got a rest, it was an exhausting day. We drove back to Wilson, eager for another day on the MST.
Pit Stop General Store to Shirley Rd.
15.8 miles, 300 ft. ascent
Today our Mountains-to-Sea Trek takes us into Wilson, North Carolina, or as close to Wilson that we’re going to get.
The MST starts rural with bigger farms and fewer rundown houses than the previous days. Cotton, vegetables and other crops about to be planted are in the fields.
Family cemeteries abound; some in the middle of a field under a solid oak tree, others right on the road.
Houses all show off their camellia bushes – a southern standard with big red flowers. As we turn on Lamm Rd., it turns to suburban Wilson.
Wilson is the home of Jim Hunt, former governor of North Carolina. He was governor from 1977 to 1985 and came back again from 1993 to 2001. He made education a big priority. The high school is named after him and so is part of an interstate around here.
Lamm Road passes through Wilson Corporate Park, LiveDo USA, an adult diaper company and the James Baxter Hunt Jr. high school.
We also pass by a large pond and a mansion whose windows are boarded up.
We had parked our car on the side of the road and reached it at 2:30 P.M. For some reason, we’re not having any luck finding a place to leave a car overnight so we’re moving both cars in the morning.
With all that extra time, I drove to downtown Wilson. It’s a sad few blocks that had its heyday. Bail bonding stores, a couple of gift stores, men’s flashy clothing shops and many empty storefronts.
Downtown also has the Wilson County Courthouse and a huge post office.
I drive back on Nash St. with lovely old houses, some well-kept, others not so much. But the shopping centers are thriving with all the box stores we know.
Starting with 684.9 miles, 91,700 ft. ascent
Jim Ray’s Crossroads R&R food mart to Pit Stop general store in Mt. Pleasant
16.2 miles, 400 ft. ascent
It's an unusually cool Sunday, around 41 deg., as we start out for our day on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.That's good since I'm still nursing my sunburn and blister.
The route takes us close to Zebulon, the big town here - 4,600 people - but heads down southeast toward Wilson.
First thing in the morning, we see a kingfisher, and later a great blue heron. We're starting to see swamps, now known as wetlands as we walk through Franklin and then Nash Counties. Large empty fields are about to be planted.
It's flat. Though my altimeter registers about 300 to 400 feet of ascent a day,it could just be the uplifts on the roads.
The roads are quiet because people haven't started their drive to church. A state trooper stops us and asks us about our walking.
“I saw you walking yesterday,” he says. We explain about the MST and Kate pulls out a Friends of the MST pamphlet.
“Oh yes,” he says “I saw it on PBS. But what do you do about dogs?” he asks. Very perceptive of him. It could be that only a state trooper would understand that the most dangerous aspect to what we're doing are dogs.'
"Well, I hope it's not against the law." I show him my pepper spray. He's a runner and uses it too.
This may be the only situation when I was happy to see an officer. I think they ought to know about the trail.
Churches abound here, of course. But so do small family cemeteries.
On the left is a gravestone from the Civil War, part of a small cemetery next to the road.
We pass Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church and can hear the minister shouting his sermon. He must be pounding on the pulpit.
As we get closer to our destination, "no Slaughterhouse" signs pop up in people's yards. What is that about?
I try to ask the staff at the convenience store but they can't articulate the problem well. So here's a summary from the web, put out by the ABC-TV affiliate in Wilson.
It's a fight that has some folks fuming, one that pits a city against a county. It's all about a chicken processing plant that could be built in Nash County.
A sign with the words "No Slaughterhouse" with a circle and a slash through it sat outside the Nash county Commissioners meeting. Residents at the meeting hope it sends a clear message.
The city of Wilson is pledging $1 million dollars to oppose the chicken processing plant. A spokesman for the city says they worry what it will do to the area's watershed. They asked the Nash County Commissioners to take more time to study the project, but the Wilson spokesman says they were told no.
Carolinas Gateway Partnership Chairman Frank Harrison said officials have gone out of their way to do their due diligence on Sanderson Farms and the plants they operate, visiting sites and talking with public officials.
“With the high unemployment in our area, the community has an obligation to work to create fair-paying jobs with health insurance,” Harrison said.
Starting with 668.9 miles, 91,350 ft. ascent
Holden Rd. to R&R Food Mart
15.9 miles, 350 ft. ascent
I spent the night in Raleigh with Kate Dixon, Executive Director of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. She's going to walk on the trail with me for several days. We drive back to where I stopped yesterday outside of Wake Forest and start walking on Holden Rd.
Soon we enter the community of Youngsville (population 650). The MST takes us on the main street, past stores and restaurants. We stop in the coffee shop at about 10 A.M. We're looking for coffee and a goodie while everyone else is having a full breakfast. The coffee turns out to be so-so and the goodies are not that interesting.
We walk out of town into rural Franklin. It's a beautiful, warm Saturday, getting warmer by the minute. Serious cyclists are out in a large group, riding bike route #2, generally the same route that we're walking.
Farms, modern development and some abandoned buildings, including an old gas pump. It's advertising 30 cent/a gallon gasoline, leaded of course.
We pass Hill Ridge Farm, a recreational farm - now that's a new term for me. They offer hayrides, train rides, playlands for children. Even though they were not going to open until next month, the place seemed like a lot of fun. It would be a good place to have a birthday party or spend an afternoon with children.
The sun is getting stronger but I don't notice that my arms and legs are getting sunburned. It's their first exposure this year to so much sun. We're walking in full sun. On the road, there's no shade.
In the middle of the afternoon, we get to our end point at a gas station. After picking up the car at our starting point, we drive to tomorrow's end point at another gas station. Out of courtesy, we ask if we can leave a car here overnight.
"I wouldn't do it," the woman behind the counter said. "Car windows have been smashed in." I don't want to ask her how long ago that was. Sometimes, one incident in a safe neighborhood stands out in a person's mind more than habitual crime. So we reluctantly decide to set up both cars tomorrow. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth about the area.
We drive to our motel. I realize that I have a blister on my heel. It is much too early on the trip to have a blister. I pierce the blister, pad it well and hope not to feel it too badly tomorrow.
Cumulative after Day 57, 684.9 miles, 91,700 ft. ascent
Starting with 662.5 miles, 90,700 ft. ascent
Falls of the Neuse to Holden Rd. SR-1147
8.4 miles, 650 ft. ascent
Finally starting the Mountains-to-Sea Trail trip that I had to cancel in January. This time, it is warm and sunny as I drive to Raleigh.
But since Sharon is biking this section, I'm on my own. So for today, I worked on getting a shuttler, someone who would help put my car at the end of the section and drive me back to the beginning.
I called PaddleCreek, who rents canoes and kayaks and knows about shuttling people. I talked to Pete Farmer two weeks ago and I was a little nervous as whether he would come through. I had a picture of a 20-year old with other plans.
But I get to the store and Peter turns out to be a 60 year old plus retired Canadian who works at Paddlecreek for fun. Very reliable. If you need a shuttler, call the store and ask for Pete.
The road out of Falls Lake is steep and narrow - not a pleasant place to walk. But it doesn't last long and soon I'm in McMansion land.
If we think we have outragiously large homes in Asheville, come out to the Raleigh suburbs - Wake Forest, actually.
I pass housing development after development with their big "private" signs, threatening prosecution if you step on their property.
But one street stands out as a friendly development without any threatening signs - just a bench inviting you to sit a while.
I pass a strange barn.
Its owner asks me what I want - I seem to look official with my orange vest.
So I tell him about the MST and he starts telling me that his grandparents owned the barn at the "old homeplace". He moved it here on his land.
Then who do I see but Scot Ward, the guy who wrote the MST book that I'm following step by step. He is doing the trail for the fourth time, this time east to west. Our trails intersect on Thompson Mill Rd. He seems to be staying in a lot of private homes; contacts he made on his previous trips. Though he still carries a backpack, it doesn't sound like he's sleeping out a lot. But that's fine. The MST is not a backpacking trail.
I reach my car at about 3:30 P.M., thinking I should have done more miles. It's too early to go down to Raleigh, so I go to check out my next destination.
Cumulative after Day 56, 668.9 miles, 91,350 ft. ascent
I'm moving ever eastward on my Mountains-to-Sea Trail hike and I'm now finely attuned to beach and coastal concerns.
Here's a new expression - at least for me. Terminal groins. It sounds positively painful or gross but it's not.
Terminal groins are structures that are perpendicular to the beach. They're designed to slow the rapid fluctuations of inlet shorelines.
North Carolina Conservation Network explains the issue.
Last week, after only 15 minutes of debate, the state Senate approved a bill that would allow hardened structures on our coastline. This is not good for our beaches and it will cost the North Carolina taxpayer a pretty penny.
A decades old ban on hardened structures on our coast has enabled North Carolina's beaches to remain healthy and natural. Weakening this ban commits taxpayers to a never-ending and escalating fight against the sea.
While hardened structures may capture sand directly in front of beach mansions, they also accelerate erosion further down the beach. Once one is in place, a domino effect will likely occur as our coastline is gobbled away by these structures.
The North Carolina legislature is considering spending this money as it proposes that our state parks close two days a week. Does that make sense?
In our current budget crisis, when our legislators are considering deep cuts across the board, how do legislators explain to their constituents that they are extending a multi-million dollar bailout to wealthy beachfront homeowners?
Yesterday, I led a hike in Montreat Wilderness.
OK, so it's not really very wild but it has 2,500 acres set aside in perpetuity for hiking and exploration. Though Montreat Conference Center is private, it allows the public to visit and hike on their land.
Our first destination was Lookout Rock - see me in the top picture.
It was a good climb from Lake Susan and the group wandered all over the rocks, admiring the views and taking pictures from its edge. They were being edgy.
That is the original and true meaning of the word, edgy.
On the edge doesn't mean being nude, using four letter words or getting high. On the edge means walking on a narrow precipice or cliff. I don't have fear of heights but I have to use all my concentration to negotiate this edge until the trail widens. That is risk taking behavior, not getting drunk or sitting at home smoking or inhaling some chemical.
The media has taken the word edgy and coopted it to mean outrageous, but physically very safe, behavior. Most people don't behave outrageously. They are content to sit on their couches, eating chips and dips and watch others having behave ridiculously.
Cooking shows are now using edgy chefs. As people cook less and less, they watch more cooking shows, not realizing that all the food is prepared ahead of time.
For most walkers, including the two other people on Lookout Rock, this is the extent of their Montreat hike. But we continued on the E. Ridge Trail and Mt. Mitchell Trail to Pot Cove Gap. After lunch, we went down to the Trestle Trail and walked on the new Greybeard Trail. The switchbacks on the new trail have been beautifully graded. For that, we have the Montreat trail crew to thank.
We had wonderful views of the mountains and crossed a minor waterfall. To my surprise, we saw three young men on dirt bikes come roaring on the trail - illegally, of course. They may have thought they were edgy but they couldn't cross the small waterfall that we had crossed handily, so they turned around as soon as they could maneuver their bikes.
Below is a picture of our Carolina Mountain Club group - none under 50 and some much, much older.
I'd love to take some of these passive folks, teens and adults, alike who watch edgy reality shows and take them on a short hike, just to Lookout Rock.
Almost all would be able to get to the rock eventually. But would they enjoy it? Would they be willing to go on to a full-day hike? Or would they want to go back to their edgy show?
For all outdoor people - hikers, climbers, mountain bikers and others, I reclaim the word edgy. Let's climb a mountain and walk on its edge.
Yesterday, I attended a board meeting for the Great Smoky Mountains Association. GSMA is the nonprofit that runs the bookstores in the visitor centers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition, it also publishes many of the books, maps, pamphlets and calendars that it sells.
The organization is now building the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center, just inside the park from Cherokee. I had the privilege of getting an insider's tour before our meeting. I put on a hard hat and walked past yellow tape, half-installed exhibits and smiling construction workers.
The building is awesome and bigger than the current one. The exhibits will emphasize the cultural history of the settlers. and will feature subjects like food, crafts, farming and, yes, moonshine.
The visitor center doesn't look quite ready for visitors now. But if all goes well, there will be a grand opening for the public on Friday April 15. The time has not yet been announced. But watch this spot in the next few weeks.
Put it on your calendar.
Land for Tomorrow has sent out this action alert.
Urge NC legislators to maintain current funding levels for the conservation trust funds.
The state’s four conservation trust funds are at serious risk in current budget discussions at the General Assembly. These trust funds (Clean Water Management, NC Natural Heritage Trust Fund, Parks and Recreation and Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation) have preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of family farms, forests, stream banks, game lands, parks, greenways and scenic vistas.
If these trust funds seem very theoretical to you, note that these cuts include the NC Parks that administer our beloved state parks.
State conservation funding has already been reduced by almost 50 percent.
Key legislators are considering zeroing out funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFPTF). Now is not the time for further reductions. We need to keep the conservation momentum going. Please contact your legislators today and urge them to maintain current funding levels for CWMTF and ADFPTF.
You can go to their action page and fill in their form. But a well-written letter in the mail is taken much more seriously.
Five Carolina Mountain Club members will discuss the pleasures and challenges of walking all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
But there's no need to walk all the trails to enjoy the Smokies. Find out why the trails in the Smokies are so comfortable and fascinating to hike.
(And where can you see this car?)
This program is sponsored by Friends of the Smokies and the Trails Forever Program.
Please join us at REI Asheville
DATE: Wednesday March 9
PLACE: REI Asheville, 31 Schenck Parkway Asheville - (828) 687-0918
If the website says that the program is full, come anyway. Not everyone who signs up shows up.
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.