Starting with 901.1miles, 94,350 ft. ascent
ORV ramp #4 to ORV ramp #2 and some extra
5 miles, 0 ascent
We drive to our next town – Rodanthe – and plan to work out where we’ll leave our cars the next couple of days.
We’re also curious about the Bonner Bridge which takes you from Hatteras Island to Bodie Island. It’s supposed to be a monster of a bridge to walk across.
We meet two US Fish and Wildlife Refuge Officers. They’re parked in the middle of Pea Island watching people.
We explain about walking the Bonner Bridge; it’s 2.5 miles according to Scot Ward’s book. DOT is talking about replacing the bridge and they had public hearings about it last summer but it will be a long time before they do it. I hope they put in a walking lane on the bridge as well.
The older officer looks at the younger one with a grim face.
“I wouldn’t do it,” the young one says. “It’s not safe. I’m a cyclist and I wouldn’t ride it either. Now I’m not talking for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, just for myself."
"I know that," I say. "But you're in uniform and you're local so your word carries a lot of weight with me."
"We’re just law enforcement for the Service. When they run a marathon, the organizations hire escorts and they close a bridge lane."
He seems a little put out that I’m taking notes but I don’t ask for his name, on purpose.
In for a penny, in for a pound - Sharon and I decide not to walk the bridge. We’ll do a few miles tomorrow and visit the Bodie Island lighthouse.
We’re staying in Rodanthe and I’m very disappointed in the town. I think I got taken by the movie A Night in Rodanthe. We’re staying in an adequate place; the only motel in town. There are no supermarkets in the three towns – Salvo, Waves and Rodanthe. There are a couple of restaurants and one good gallery. Avon was a lively place by comparison.
Happy Easter Sunday!
Sharon invited me to go to church with her. We end up at the Fairhaven Methodist Church in Rodanthe.
I know, I know, I completely ignored Passover this year and here I am at an Easter service. It’s an interesting cultural experience and unlike a Seder, it’s only an hour and in English.
We drive over the Bonner Bridge to see what it’s like. Traffic is zooming wildly both ways. Some joker tries to pass a slower car. There's a permanent wind advisory sign up - and that's just for vehicles.
Sharon says that if two RVs pass each other and we're on the side, we'll be squashed bugs or blown overblown.
Look at the top picture – any questions?
This is our rest day but we decide to walk a few miles anyway to shorten our last day together. We walk ORV #4 ramp to ORV #2 ramp. This is where Off-Road Vehicles can get on the beach. The rules and regulations on where and when they can do this has created a big controversy with fishermen. I won't try to summarize it here.
We start out on the road (NC 12) and the mosquitoes are fierce. Sharon pulls out her bug spray and sprays right into her eye. It’s very painful. She’s carrying a water bladder which just dribbles out and I only have a quart of Gatorade.
I’m hesitant about her getting sugar in her eyes as well as insect repellant but I offer her my bandanna and Gatorade water; it’s better than nothing. She swabs her eye with the liquid, though it still smarts.
After she feels a little better, we keep walking. In the excitement, we miss our turn off the road into the Bodie Lighthouse area. So we end up walking a mile up and a mile back down before we get on the Bodie Island Dike Trail.
It’s a short but beautiful walk through the maritime forest. A great white heron flies out of the pond.
We find three one-dollar bills that have been dropped, most probably out of someone’s back pocket. We pick up the “litter” and plan to put it in the Park donation box.
Soon we reach the Bodie Lighthouse, the third lighthouse in Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
You can’t climb the lighthouse so few people visit. Still, it’s an impressive lighthouse with a small house in front that used to hold the fuel for the lighthouse.
It’s hot and my feet are very cut up.
I’ve gotten a new blister every day. So if I have a new blister every day and I need to put band-aids on my old blisters as well, how many band-aids will I need?
Remember the Gaussian formula? N(N PLUS 1)/2. Who says that math is not needed after you leave school?
Cumulative after 72 days, 906.1miles, 94,350 ft. ascent
Starting with 873.0 miles, 94,050 ft. ascent
Village of Hatteras
13.75 miles 200 ft. ascent
Then the trail takes us on the beach where a solitary whimbrel feeds along with a large number of sandpipers and dowwitchers. A whimbrel has a long straight beak and then a little downward curve at the tip. But we’re not on the beach for long.
We walk through Frisco campground and we’re on a real trail, Open Ponds Trail, through a maritime forest.
The walking is not as easy as it sounds since the sand is so soft. Over four miles of slogging through sand giving our legs a real aerobic exercise.
We reach the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and Visitor Center. I have see replicas of this lighthouse in people's front yard since the Piedmont. It is an icon.
In 1999, they moved the lighthouse further from the ocean since it was about to get washed away by the sea. It took 23 days.
Hatteras Lighthouse is the only one of the three at Cape Hatteras National Seashore that visitors can climb. So we do - 257 stairs and 165 ft. up. The warnings from the rangers make it sound like you're walking up to Mt. Everest.
"Let's go up first," Sharon says, "so we don't get trapped by a lot of slower people." We're up in five minutes.
From the top, I can see Diamond Shoals, a point where the Greenland current meets the Caribbean Current - a very dangerous spot.
I had talked to Ranger Jennifer on the phone a couple of weeks ago.She was very friendly and helpful. Now I meet her. It turns out that she worked at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Smokies.
It's a small world after all.
Cumulative after 70 days, 886.8.miles, 94,250 ft. ascent
Through the town of Avon
14.3 miles 100 ft. ascent
The trail today takes us on the beach for several miles.
It's hard walking with Off-Road Vehicles tire tracks all over the sand. Do we walk on the level soft sand or do we go on a slant toward the water where the sand is firmer?
Two oystercatchers are digging in the sand. But it's the piping plover that I want to see. No luck so far but we have several more days on the beach.
Avon is a relief from the sand. The town is charming. So are the people.
We stop in a coffee shop and ask a customer to take our photo.
Dwayne and his wife treat us to coffee and we tell them about the trail. Then back to the beach.
We move onto Rodanthe, the town made famous by the movie A Night in Rodanthe. It sounds very posh.
Cumulative after 71 days, 901.1miles, 94,350 ft. ascent
Starting with 857.6 miles, 93,850 ft. ascent
Cedar Island Ferry to Ferry
15.4 miles, 200 ft. ascent
After getting off the Neusiok Trail so early, Sharon and I drove east to catch the ferry to Cedar Island to continue our Mountains-to-Sea Trail trek. If you're really familiar with the MST in this section, you'll note that I skipped about 45 miles on the road. Sharon biked that section and she certainly was not going to walk it with me. So I'll catch it later.
We took the ferry to Ocracoke on Cedar Island. Ocracoke is a small, upper -crust island town. The only way to to get on and off the island is by ferry. Even though it's touristy, it's not crowded.
The next morning, we're walking from the ferry site through town. But going through town is very quick and soon we're on the beach. We're now in Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Finally on the beach. I never imagined we'd actually get here. It's buggy; the gnats and mosquitoes swarm my hat. We go through a Park campground and barely stop to eat because it's so uncomfortable.
Back on the road for a few miles and we pass the Pony pens. Ocracoke ponies ran free for centuries. But when the road - NC 12 - was put in in 1957 and the ponies had a few encounters with cars, the National Park Service penned them in.
After that, the tourists are gone. The only things on the beach are sandpipers and dowitchers. The wind has seriously picked up and the waves are topped by white caps. The bugs are gone and the only stuff going into my eyes is sand. My hat blows away and my legs are sandwhipped.
In at least two places, the beach is closed to pedestrians and everything else.
Endangered piping plovers are nesting and so are loggerhead turtles. We have a choice of:
* Breaking the law - NO. Getting caught in a National Park would be so embarrassing.
* Leave the beach via the dunes but the dunes are protected as well
* Walk in the water. This is the option we choose. I get my shoes and socks wet while Sharon takes off her shoes.
We takek the ferry to Hatteras. Children are feeding the sea birds creating a feeding frenzy.
When I finally take off my shoes, I find a new blister on my right little toe. I also find a tick on my waist which I remove with a large needle after I bust my blister.
I thought that this section of the MST was going to be easy but it's a jungle out here.
Cumulative after 69 days, 873.0 miles, 94,050 ft. ascent
Starting with 831 miles, 93,600 ft. ascent
Neusiok Trail, approach from the Minnesott Ferry and a few miles past Oyster Point
26.6 miles, 250 ft. ascent
We're doing the Neusiok Trail in Croatan National Forest. This forest is located between New Bern and Morehead City. This is not a well-known forest or a well-known trail. But after miles and days of road walking, I'm so glad to be back on a trail.
Croatan National Forest ain't the Smokies. So we were so grateful to have the company of Terry and John, two FMST board members who live in the area.
The trail is flat, buggy and swampy. It has poisonous snakes and ticks. But I wasn't worried because we were with locals.
Why do it? Well, it's part of the MST so there's no decision here.
But look at the picture above. It looks like a South Pacific island, like the Cook Islands, even though it's the Neuse River. And the wildlife is so different.
We saw two ospreys flying around a huge osprey nest and a kingfisher.
We passed a green anole, a tiny lizard, a box turtle and wild turkeys. The only snake we saw was a thin green snake.
But we were prepared for ticks. On Terry's advice, I wore long pants and long-sleeve shirt over a T-shirt. I was very hot all day.
We wanted to stay at a shelter because that's where the water is. Because of the placement of the shelters, we ended up walking 19.6 miles on the first day of the backpack, leaving only 2.5 miles on the second day. Yes, that first day was long but we just plodded along.
No discussion of the Neusiok Trail is complete without discussing the amazing boardwalks. We're walking in a swamp, so unless you really want a jungle experience, the trail needs boardwalks and bridges.
Most were put up by the Carteret County Wildlife Club and some by the US Forest Service. John and Terry spend a lot of time maintaining these boardwalks.
Thank you guys for your maintenance work and for taking out two Croatan newbies on the Neusiok Trail.
Cumulative after 68 days, 857.6 miles, 93,850 ft. ascent
Well, the vacation is over. Back to a sad reality of the state of conservation funding in North Carolina.
This below has been swirling all over the North Carolina Conservation Circles. I adapted this plea from Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
The budget writers in the North Carolina House of Representatives released their first recommendations yesterday afternoon. Under their plan, conservation funding - already slashed by 50 percent in recent years - would take another huge hit. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund was singled out for a cut of 80 percent.
These proposed, draconian cuts would have a long-term, disastrous impact on conservation and the essential support it provides to North Carolina's economic health.
Please email your legislators TODAY and urge them to support restoring funding for conservation.
Numerous conservation projects in Western North Carolina -- from public lands at Chimney Rock State Park and DuPont State Forest to natural areas such mountain bog sites and habitat for native plants and animals -- have been made possible by these conservation trust funds.
Please use the link to Land for Tomorrow to quickly and easily communicate with your state legislators.
The General Assembly is moving quickly to formulate its budget. We need to create an immediate groundswell of opposition to these misguided bills.
The budget process isn't over. Legislators can reject these ill-advised, damaging proposals.
Click HERE to email your legislators today and tell them to keep funding for conservation in the state budget. Or better write a letter and put a stamp on it.
It's time to get out of town and back into the fresh air and maybe on a trail. There are lots of opportunities to walk in Washington but most of it is on pavement. So we pulled our car out of the lot for the first time in four days and headed for Manassas National Battlefield Park.
This is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and every battlefield, every site that is remotely connected to the Civil War is gearing up for this. Only 32 miles from Washington D.C. Manassas was the site of two battles - First Manassas and Second Manassas.
First Manassas is the battle that most talk about. Maybe it's because both sides were still innocent and thought that one battle would settle the conflict. Maybe because it's the first real battle between North and South.
The two sides met for the first time on July 16, 1861 on the property of Judith Henry - the only civilian casualty of the battle. Her house is shown above.
The 45-minute film makes a great deal of fuss over Judith, a sick, elderly widow. The South won this one and Union soldiers marched back to Washington defeated.
The Battle of Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run) was part of a larger campaign. Again the South won that battle and General Lee then attacked the north for the first time.
But enough of battles.
Manassas is also a beautiful setting for several trails on undulating hills. We walked the First Manassas loop, which took us past the Stone Bridge over Bull Run.
The area was overtaken by blue bells, flowers that we don't see in Southern Appalachia. We also saw Dutchmen's britches and daffodils, indicating a home site. The trail was muddy but well-maintained.
Here's Lenny on a long boardwalk.
The National Parks Service in cooperation with its sponsors has discovered that small parks can be the source of great walking. They call it the Healthy Parks-Healthy Living program. The result is that the trails are well-maintained and signposted.
And as long as the sponsors display their logos on brochures and not on the trails themselves, let them keep sponsoring.
Who would have thought that Arlington Cemetery in Washington would be so fascinating? It's just a bunch of dead people. I found the rows and rows of white gravestones mesmerizing.
We walked from our hotel in the center of the city to Arlington, via the Memorial Bridge. It took over an hour. This bridge goes from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s House.
We stopped at the visitor center long enough to learn that if we rushed, we could make the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
A soldier in full dress uniform paces back and forth in front of the tombs of the Unknown Soldier – World War II, Korea and Viet Nam.
Exactly on the hour, a sergeant comes out with another soldier who is about to come on duty. He explains briefly what is going on and asks us to be quiet and respectful. With lots of rifle play and caressing of weapons, the two soldiers exchange places. We thought the ceremony was over but it wasn’t.
A small group of school children, all dressed up, come down the steps led by the sergeant. One is carrying a wreath with a banner across it containing the school name. The soldier removes the old wreath and the boy places the new wreath on the stand. Another solder is playing taps. We all put our right hand on our heart. A second school group does the same thing with another wreath. I guess it’s a big honor for the school to have their wreath displayed for an hour.
We wander further up the hill to Arlington House, the home of several prominent historical figures. George Washington’s step grandson, George Washington Parke Curtis, was the first owner. Robert E. Lee, who married into the family, was the last owner. It pays to marry well-connected people.
From Arlington House, you can see the way we walked in – the bridge, the Capital, the Jefferson and Washington memorials. Pierre Charles L’Enfant who designed the city of Washington (1791-1792) is buried up here. The house itself is being refurbished. Though it’s now empty, visitors can walk through it. Lee had seven children and the second floor is full of bedrooms. The third floor was a storage attic, now closed off to the public.
A volunteer ushers us in. She wears a different type of uniform and I take her picture.
Robert E. Lee had a long career with the U.S. Army and was against secession. But when Virginia left the Union, Lee resigned his commission and went to Richmond to join the Confederacy. His wife and children left Arlington a month later when it was obvious that the Federal Government was going to take over the house.
There’s a small museum devoted to Lee’s life. It explains that the Memorial Bridge was built to unite Arlington (Lee’s residence) and the Lincoln Memorial across the Potomac River that divided South from North. After the war, Lee became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia and died there in 1870. The site includes a small museum explaining the role of slaves and freemen at Arlington House.
Arlington National Cemetery was created in 1864 because the government had to have some place to bury all the dead. There doesn't appear to be any mass graves here.
The children of former slaves help in directing the restoration. The National Park Service acquired Arlington House in 1933.
The Kennedy graves are directly below the Arlington House. The grave site is ostentatious and frankly over the top. An eternal light burns; Jacqueline Kennedy and their two babies are also buried here. Edward and Robert Kennedy lie nearby.
Most visitors come by Tourmobile and spend little time at Arlington. But we were on our own schedule and stayed over four hours.
After doing this visitor classic, we went to the Dept. of the Interior at 18th and C St. to see if there was anything to see in the National Park Service offices. The building has been under renovations since 2001. It was supposed to be the “world’s finest office building” when it was built in 1935 – 1937.
The guards were the least friendly I’ve encountered so far in Washington.
“No, the museum is closed for renovation,” he said. “What do you need?”
But we weren’t deterred. We went through security and walked into the NPS visitor center, open only until 3:30 P.M. I asked the clerk a couple of simple questions but she knew nothing. But there were pamphlets of all the National Park units and we helped ourselves to a bunch for parks we were going to visit and hope we would visit.
Well the government didn’t shut down.
And that’s a good thing too since Lenny and I planned to go to Washington this weekend for his big 70th birthday celebration. This is also the end of the Cherry Blossom festival.
Washington takes a lot of walking.
We parked our car for the duration of ourstay and are walking. Down to the mall way before anything opens up. It’s a quiet Sunday morning and we share the mall with joggers and dog walkers. The mall and much of tourist Washington is administered by the National Park Service. They are the keeper of our history so it would be fitting that they take care of these monuments and buildings.
But not the Smithsonian museums. We went through the National Museum of American History. I would have renamed it the Museum of Popular Culture. The First Ladies dresses are a big hit and the exhibit is crowded. Michelle Obama’s inaugural ball dress was in the center of the room.
Even more crowded was Julia Child’s kitchen. They had redone her whole kitchen with all her utensils. Her knife collection was impressive. Of course, several video screens showed her old TV shows.
In the President’s room, visitors can go up to the podium and pretend to give an inaugural speech.
They don’t expect you to give an original speech and they provide you with a teleprompter.
We walked to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It’s a small place with modern and historic European and American art.
But we couldn’t miss the cherry blossoms and went down to the tidal pools at the Jefferson Memorial. It was packed with people taking pictures of the cherry blossoms and each other.
I only walked a few miles but my feet are dead.
Well, here we are!
My last blog entry was about the great new Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And now it will be closed along with the rest of the Park and the rest of the National Park units.
How did we get in such a mess?
The Smokies announced that
nearly the entire Park would be closed beginning Saturday, April 9, all Great Smoky Mountains National Park facilities would be closed, including visitor centers, campgrounds, all picnic areas, trails, concession operations, restrooms, and all roads, with the exception of the Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee.
Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) would remain open to through traffic only. No stopping or parking along the road or at trailheads and overlooks is permitted, and all restroom facilities would be closed, including those at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tenn., the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, and Newfound Gap.
As if we could balance the budget on the backs of the National Park Service.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is probably the easiest to close. The Parkway already has the gates which they use in case of bad weather. All they have to do is close them.
Think of the money and time that's been spent on working out this planned shutdown. Whether or not the government shuts down, this is a waste of resources.
And how long will this shutdown last? After all, it's only nonessential services.
Yesterday I spent over two hours at the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The building is beautiful, airy and so convenient.
The highlight was definitely the history museum which focuses on the rich cultural history of the Smokies - yes, including moonshine, or Corn in a Jar, as they put it. See the picture above.
But there are several great improvements for hikers.
The left side of the Visitor Center is devoted to orienting visitors to the Park. A large video screen shows closed roads and weather conditions. Another area of the orientation section discusses easy hikes and minor roads within the park. It also answers the perennial questions such as "How far is it to Sugarlands?" and "Where is the Blue Ridge Parkway?"
For serious hikers, the biggest improvement is the open air information kiosk in front of the Visitor Center.
They've moved the backcountry permit station to the kiosk, so there's no excuse for not filling out a permit. The backcountry sites that need reservations are clearly listed. You can also buy a park trail map for a dollar on the honor system.
The bathrooms are much more visible, located to the side of the Visitor Center.
The trail to the Mountain Farm Museum starts just to the side of the building. The trail then continues seamlessly to the Oconaluftee River Trail. Hopefully that will encourage visitors to walk the easiest trail in the park.
By all means, hikers should visit the history museum and buy a few items at the bookstore. But even if they bypass all that, they'll still enjoy the new layout of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
Back in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Holly Demuth, North Carolina Regional Director of Friends of the Smokies, had conceived of this hike as part of an effort to acquaint North Carolina folks with the Smokies. If people were a little tentative about the Smokies - where is it? how do you get there? how do you get on the trails? - this hike was an easy introduction to the North Carolina side of the park.
Still, only four people actually came from the Asheville area. The others were from Waynesville and several came from the Tennessee side.
We were lucky as it was a beautiful day. I led and Holly was the sweep. Sweeping is always the hardest job, as you need to take care of folks in the back.
The walk on Bradley Fork Trail was full of flowers.
Everyone was impressed by the banks of white trilliums. We also saw purple, white and halbert-leaved violets. Thee was a big discussion about hepatica and anemones. I was carrying my Wildflowers of the Smokies book but still I wasn't sure of all the early spring flowers we saw.
After the bridge, which we all took expertly, the climb started. This was the only climb of the day. Most folks kept on climbing but a couple of people fell to the back and stayed back with Holly for the rest of the hike. I reached the top at 12:20 P.M. and most of the group got up there withing 10 to 15 minutes. We had lunch, caught our breath and waited for Holly's group.
I got worried and went back down to see where the other group was. I dropped 300 feet (I have an altimeter) and decided that was enough. I climbed up and thought that maybe they decided to turn back. The lunch group was getting cold and antsy so it was time to leave.
We strolled down and took the side trip to the Bradley Cemetery.
Most in the group had never seen a Smokies cemetery or realized how many settlers lived there before the park came in.
By the time we got back to our cars, took off our boots and made use of the facilities at the Smokemont campground, Holly's group showed up - victorious. They did struggle up but they did it! They missed the cemetery but they got up to the top and down.
We drove to the Smokemont Chapel and then on the the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
What a building! What wonderful exhibits. You all have to go there and bring your wallets.
Starting with 804 miles, 93,550 ft. ascent
Loftins Crossroads to Cox Industries City City Wood Preserving
16 miles, 50 ft. ascent
After five days on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Lenny has to head home.
I'm walking with John and Terry, both board members of Friends of the MST. After a cold wet spell, today promises to be a cold but sunny day. At 7 A.M., when we leave the motel, we need to scrape the ice off our windshield
Only a few days ago, I was complaining about the sun.
Lenny and I meet John and Terry in Cove City, at the Cox Industries Wood Preserving plant on Old-70. Lenny shuttles us all to Loftins Crossroads at Welles Country Store. See the three of us at the top.
We're still in cotton and corn field country. In short order, we see a hawk and a redheaded woodpecker, the latter not very common in the mountains.
Later a great blue heron takes off from one of the many ponds on the route.
John and Terry are both involved in so many activities, beyond Friends of the MST. Terry is a docent at the local museum. John volunteers for the Knights of Columbus, repairing electronics equipment before it's sold for charity. They banter about trail construction and trail politics.
I learn that the new route through New Bern that I complained about a few days back was designed and recommended by the city itself. So it doesn't really matter where it goes; the city has a right to decide how to best show off itself.
New Bern's most famous resident right now may be the writer, Nicholas Sparks. He's best known for The Notebook and Nights in Rodanthe. Both books were made into movies. Sparks did not grow up in New Bern. I assume that with his means, he could live anywhere. So it speaks well of the area.
These guys walk fast. "It's your hike," Terry says.
So I call for a break every couple of hours. Otherwise I have a feeling that they would do the whole 16 miles without any stops.
Terry points out Carolina jessamine, a vine with yellow flower natives. The plant looks invasive but it's not. It's native to Southeast and easily confused with Cat’s Claw Vine which is an invasive.
We reach the end point at about two o'clock, the fastest I've ever done 16 miles. I clocked the altitude gain at 50 feet. I'm going to keep measuring it, even as I get closer to the beach. Every foot I climb adds to the total.
Cumulative after 65 days, 820 miles, 93,600 ft. ascent
Cox Industries Cove City - City Wood Preserving to Clarks United Methodist Church
11 miles, zero altitude gain
Today is wet and cold. But John is waiting for me at Clarks United Methodist Church. We shuttle up to Cox Industry and proceed to walk on Old-US 70.
There's no need to use my altimeter this time. It's dead flat on the road. We're bundled up and don't see much, as we talk about our various hiking experiences.
But when we pass Whaley's Food Center in Cove City, a guy opens the door and yells out "Are you walking the MST?"
"Yes," I give him the thumbs up. The only two people who have asked me about the MST have been around New Bern.
The New Bern group of Friends of the MST must be doing something right.
Cumulative after 66 days, 831 miles, 93,600 ft. ascent
After leaving John, I drive back to Asheville in the rain. I'm now home dealing with a pile of laundry, my blisters and a skin rash that just won't quit. After slathering varous over the counter creams, I've given up and I'm going to see a dermatologist.
Starting with 790.5 miles, 93,550 ft. ascent
12 miles to the Minnesott ferry
1.5 extra from the blueberry farm to Handy Mart
Today's goal on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is clear; walking to the Minnesott Ferry which goes across the Neuse River.
It’s 12 miles from where we left off yesterday. It’s cold and wet. The rain was supposed to hold off until the afternoon but it starts raining almost as soon as we leave the church parking lot.
If you missed the sign on the photo yesterday, the New Bethlehem Original Freewill Baptist Church had a sign on its marquee:
Honk if you love Jesus
Text while driving if you want to meet him
The area is poor, rural and isolated. A hawk is perched in the trees and a bald eagle flies overhead. I can’t believe it; a bald eagle in eastern North Carolina.
Most of the fields we pass were planted in cotton and now only the stumps are left.
It turns out that the U.S. is the third largest grower of cotton after China and India. Most of the southern states grow cotton and we export almost half of the cotton we grow. These fields look small, barely worth bothering with. But they do.
The trail takes us through the town of Arapahoe, population 434; the name sounds Maori to me but Lenny says it’s really an Indian name.
Arapahoe was founded a few years after New Bern by settlers leaving the New Bern colony.
This area was settled on the old Indian trail from the big bend in the river heading west to Core Point. The community was called “Bethany Crossroads”. That Indian trail is still in use today in the form of NC 306.
In 1886 Bob Hardison and his friend Bob Bowden decided to apply to the U.S. Postal Department for a Post office to be located at “Bethany Crossroads” in Pamlico County. They filled out an application and both signed it.
When it was returned to them it was addressed to “Bob’s Town”, since there was already a “Bethany Crossroads” near Fayetteville. Neither of the Bobs liked “Bob’s Town” so they came up with a different name - Arapahoe, named after one of the Bob's horse.
Arapahoe in Pamlico County has a supermarket, a new Charter school and, of course, several churches.
It looks like they closed their conventional school and replaced it with a charter school. The picture is of their closed school building.
NC 306, the main road, is one lane today because the community's water pipes are being upgraded. These utility guys look bored so I can’t resist telling them about the MST.
Arapahoe flows right into Minnesott Beach, the last town before the ferry.
Minnesott Beach is located at the site of an old Indian settlement which was thought to be one of the largest Indian trading centers in the South Atlantic states.
The city fathers recognize that their time is past. Here's what they say on their website:
Back in the 1930s through 1950s, in our heyday, we were a thriving vacation destination. Today we have settled into a quiet golfing, sailing, and retirement community which offers an 18-hole golf course, marina, and world class boys' camp.
We pass the entrance to the subdivision. It looks quite upmarket. I wonder what kind of people it attracts. It is so far from any services or entertainment.
We reach the ferry landing and have our picnic lunch there. There are a few picnic tables under cover, which is good since it is cold and wet. Several cars are waiting in line. A ferry comes in and quickly goes back out. Right now the ferry is free, though it is supposed to start charging next month.
We go in the ferry building and talk to the guy in the office. He hasn’t heard of the MST and I give him a Friends of the MTS pamphlet.
We now need to go back toward the US 17 bridge so I can walk the extra 1.5 miles east of the bridge that we checked out yesterday.
The route essentially takes us from US 17, which takes traffic off the bridge to NC 55. It doesn’t take us long to walk the back roads. We pass a blueberry farm, very dormant now.
This is Lenny’s last MST hiking day. Time for a shift change tomorrow.
Cumulative after 64 days, 804 miles, 93,550 ft. ascent
Starting with 780.5 miles, 93,550 ft. ascent
Through Reelsboro - 10.7 miles
Into New Bern - 4.1 miles
This is my ninth straight day on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It's become so flat that I'm no longer setting my altimeter.
So far, my feet have held up well because I’m putting band-aids and moleskin on every day. My poison ivy is under control as I slather on lotions and potions on my skin.
This is the day I’m scheduled to walk on the bridge over the Neuse River. The road, US 17, is a limited access highway.
The instructions are to walk on the take-off ramp going against traffic and walk on the bridge in the space between the white line and the side of the bridge. There’s no pedestrian walkway.
Lenny and I drive separately over the bridge to place one car at the end of our section. As I go on the bridge, I keep looking at the other side. There are three lanes in each direction, with traffic going way over the 55 MPH limit.
Walking the bridge is risk taking behavior I do not need. I know that at least 20 people have done it because that’s the current number of MST completers but I’m not going to do it.
I was never one to do something because “everyone else is doing it” though on the MST “everyone else" is a small number. Though it is not technically illegal, drivers are not expecting pedestrians – it is unsafe and it has nothing to do with hiking.
This reminds me of the river crossing on the Kennebec River in Maine on the Appalachian Trail. This was a very challenging crossing that was legend. Years ago, a hiker drowned crossing the river. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy hired a boatman to ferry hikers across the river. When we crossed it in 1996, I remember it as costing five dollars. It's now free. I do not expect Friends of the MST to provide a ferry or a shuttle across the bridge. Maybe they can say that driving over the bridge or taking a taxi is OK.
When we get to our end point, at Scotts Town Rd., I tell Lenny that “I’m not doing it. If I don’t get my MST certificate because I didn't walk over the bridge, so be it, but this is crazy.”
“Are you sure? It’s Sunday morning and the quietest time.”
“I know. Let’s start at the Handy Mart on NC 55.” And we do. NC 55 is a busy four-lane road but the grassy sides are wide.
We turn on Neuse Rd., passing large tree farms owned by Weyerhauser and crossing swampy areas. An occasional car passes us.
We get to our destination - New Bethlehem Original Free Will Baptist Church -quite early so we move on to a section MST west of New Bern that I was going to do later.
Four miles on Old 70 which we do very quickly.
We can’t figure out how we would have crossed the bridge and it bothers Lenny. He wants to explore the various exits. It’s obvious how we would have gotten on the bridge but how to get off?
We drive back on the bridge and start exploring. Every time we think we have a way to get off, we end up getting back on the bridge. Back and forth, back and forth until finally Lenny sees the way. “It’s a good thing it wasn’t a toll bridge,” Lenny says.
“You can do another 1.5 miles,” he says. “I got to keep you honest.” That’s what we’re going to add to tomorrow’s agenda. We go to the Cow Cafe for a snack.
Cumulative after 63 days, 790.5 miles, 93,550 ft.
Starting with 765.2 miles, 93,400 ft. ascent
1. Norwood to Elijah Loftin Crossing
2. Into New Bern
15.3 miles, 150 ft. ascent
Today we broke up the day in two on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
It’s cold - colder than it’s been so far. I’m wearing long pants, a thermal top and a rain jacket. But the dogwood is in bloom and it’s definitely spring. The trail takes us south of Kinston. The farms seem smaller and less prosperous.
One field still has stalks of cotton which has not been plowed under.
We pass a couple of home based businesses like firearm service but there are no gas stations or shops. We arrive at our first destination before lunch time.
In New Bern
I am eager to get to New Bern.
We drive to New Bern on Old 70 and set up cars so we’ll walk much of NC 55 in New Bern and end up at the take off point for the US 17 bridge over the Neuse River.
I’ve been looking forward to New Bern for a long time. It is the largest city that the MST goes through.
New Bern was founded in 1710 and they just celebrated their 300 anniversary. The city was settled by Baron Christopher de Graffenried from Bern, Switzerland. Bern, in German, means bear. Painted bear sculptures stand all over the city.
The big attraction in New Bern is Tryon Palace. See the picture above.
The palace was the residence of the Royal Governor William Tryon. It was the capitol of the Colony of North Carolina. After the Revolutionary War, the Palace became the first capitol of the state of North Carolina.
The MST comes into New Bern via NC 55, a four-lane commercial road with fast food restaurants, a laundromat, auto repair shops and the Craven County medical complex.
We walk on the wide grassy sides and it’s not dangerous at all. Once we get into the downtown proper, the sidewalk starts. We’re in a poor, African-American neighborhood with run-down housing.
Soon we’re in the historic area with mega churches, lovely homes and a few bed and breakfasts. The MST itself doesn’t go past Tryon Palace but we turn right to see it and get our picture taken in front of the gate.
I understand that several FMST members from New Bern have proposed a new route through the city, one that would take you off NC 55. They’re concerned that the current route is too busy.
I disagree; I think that walkers should see more of the city than just lovely homes and the Palace. The current route is busy but not dangerous.
We wander around the tourist area with our packs on. The riverfront is well-done. There are several streets of restaurants, galleries and gift shops. We go into a store called The four C’s.
The woman behind the counter asks “Are you walking the MST?” Wow! That’s the first time anyone has asked me that. Then I notice that she’s carrying a pile of Scot’s MST trail guides, so she knows the trail.
There’s a Pepsi Cola store. Pepsi, first known as Brad's Drink, was created in 1898 at Bradham's Pharmacy at Middle and Pollock Streets, the tourist streets we're been exploring.
Tomorrow is the big day when we cross the Neuse River on a huge and busy bridge.
Cumulative after 62 days, 780.5 miles, 93,550 ft. ascent
Starting with 749.1 miles, 93,150 ft.
16.1 miles, 250 ft.
We always start our mornings with a bang. Today we did more than three miles the first hour. But as we take breaks, our average number of miles per hour decreases over the day. Even so, with a lot of breaks, we end up walking over 2.5 miles an hour. It’s going to be a shock to get back into the mountains.
We spend most of today’s walk going through LaGrange, population 2,844.
We walk the full length of the main street.
Most of the street consists of small houses with large porches, circa 1900. Most are well-maintained. We keep looking for a coffee shop without any luck.
Several old men are sitting in front of an electrical supply store.
If there was a coffee shop, they’d be sitting in the coffee shop, like the Chatterbox Cafe in A Prairie Home Companion.
I ask one fellow “Is there a place in town to get a cup of coffee?” He points to the Hess station, which also doubles as a Dunkin Donut shop. The coffee is pretty good and we sit on a stoop on the side of the gas station.
After we walk over US 70, we turn on Jenny Lind Rd., named after a 19th Century Swedish opera singer. But it might have been named after a local resident. Even with all the looking and discussing that we do, there’s so much that I don’t know about the area. Some I can look up but for much I need to talk to people. Very few people are outside.
The highlight is crossing the Neuse River – finally – and passing by a large swamp, complete with bald cypress. Now I really feel like I'm in the coastal plains. One of the trees on the boundary has a very small sign saying
Conservation easement boundary. North Carolina Coastal Land Trust
Now why did the sign have to be so small? I would have shouted it from the treetops.
Cumulative after 61 days, 765.2 miles, 93,400 ft. ascent
Eureka to Jason in Swamp Country
16.1 miles, 400 ft. ascent
Shift change on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail!
Kate Dixon, who has been walking with me for several days, left the trail to get back to Raleigh. Lenny came last evening and we met in Kinston. He came with fresh clothes, fresh legs and most important fresh feet. Mine have been pounding the road for five days.
This stretch of the North Carolina coastal plains is full of large, prosperous looking farms. We pass a few sad single wide trailers, probably rentals, but most houses are large and solid.
Almost everyone is flying an American flag.
As we're getting closer to the coast, the land becomes quite swampy. They drained the swamps by building canals along the side of the road. A large swath of grassy land was left between the canal and the road, making it easy to walk.
I can really understand now how swampy land is reclaimed for building and farming. Cotton and winter grasses are visible but most fields were freshly plowed.
A muskrat swims across a small pond in front of a house. We can't resist and walk over to watch it. Now we're really on private property.
The owners' dog is eyeing us but is not rushing over to us. In this stretch of the MST from Raleigh on, the dogs have been very well behaved. They may bark madly but they know their jurisdiction.
The trail leaves Wayne County and enters Greene County. There are few churches but many family cemeteries.
The most impressive is the Edmundson cemetery with its large crosses. The oldest grave that I can read is from 1779. Now some Edmundsons are raising Butterball turkeys.
We eat at Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, the most famous restaurant in the area. The food is imaginative, good and local. The service is impeccable. This is the place to try if you're in Kinston.
Cumulative after Day 60, 749.1 miles, 93,150 ft. ascent
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.