If I wasn't so busy hiking and writing, I'd start a dream company that made and sold hiking clothes. The clothes would be just for me.
Right now, I am about to recycle the best hiking shorts I've ever had. If you look at the picture on the left of me with my hiking poles in the air, these are the shorts that got me through the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and many other trails. Actually I had two pairs. But now the shorts are grotty and need to be replaced.
The shorts were reasonably long. They had great cargo pockets and they were pull-ups with an elastic waist. No zipper, snaps or buttons. Because they had an elastic waist, they fit at the natural waist. The only item that should fit below the waist is the bottom of my two-piece bathing suit.
When I went to replace them, I called the company, Columbia, and asked why I couldn't find them on their website. I read off the numbers off the label and the guy on the other end laughed.
"These shorts are nine years old," he said. His comment had the sound of "get over it and get a new style."
I started looking at other outdoor clothing company. I found a couple of pull-ups but the pockets were pitiful. Men would never put up with just slit pockets and one velcro pocket in the back. Finally, I dropped the elastic requirement and the choices were better, but still not right.
My dream clothing company would only make synthetic hiking tops in white. Pastel colors are supposed to attract bugs and wasps. Dark colors won't show possible ticks. So white it is. And no frills or tight seams on the T-shirts. There's no reason for form-fitting T-shirts.
In the "poles up" picture, I'm wearing a "Great Smoky Mountains" T-shirt. I thought that it would be clever to wear a shirt depicting the start of the MST at the end. But usually my hiking uniform includes a white top.
Long-sleeve polyester shirts would have a zipper and again would be loose fitting.
I don't think my clothing company would stay in business for long. But I would have my dream hiking clothes.
The Smokies are always a surprise. No matter how many times I walk a trail, I always experience something new.
Lenny and I walked the Bradley Fork Trail to Chasteen Creek up to campsite #48. Scouting hikes for me is like putting money in the bank. I never know when I'm going to use the hike.
We got to the trailhead by 9:15 and it was cold. Smokemont campground was full of campers huddled around their campfire. Hey, campers, Bradley Fork is one of the easiest trails in the park. Get out there and you'll get warm.
Part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Once on Chasteen Creek, we found the waterfall and followed a tiny trail to this viewpoint. Bradley Fork and Chasteen Creek are now part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina. The hiking directions through the Smokies are really hidden in the bowels of the MST website but here they are. On this route, you'll find gems like the waterfall.
We turned around at campsite #48 and walked down the trail, chatting and not expecting anything unusual.
All of a sudden, a grouse came out of the grass and squeaked several times. She fluttered her wings furiously and walked in a snake-like route, back and forth. Sometimes she was in the grass. Sometimes, she just followed the trail down.
Was she trying to protect her young'uns hidden in the tall grass? Why was she walking the trail instead of shooting into the bushes? Or did she sense a snake or other dangers? Were we the dangers? Eventually, she flew into the trees and disappeared. We had never seen this type of behavior.
I just looked up grouse behavior. Maybe it was a male, protecting its territory.
Back on Bradley Creek
Back on Bradley Creek, hikers were coming up. Some had packs; others just a cell phone in their hand, as if that could protect them from the "wilderness".
A group of riders came from the Smokemont stables on horseback. They were headed for the waterfall and looked happy. That's one of 25 excursions at the ATC Biennial Conference in July. Have you registered?
OMG - Oh My Gosh...
I looked up to the marquee on the abandoned movie theater and there was my name. Elkin was advertising the Mountains-to-Sea Trail talk that I was giving last night. I almost fell over when I saw it. Now there's a new experience and one I'll never have again.
I've been all over the state talking about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It's a new experience for me every time. Of course, I show the same four videos but what I read and emphasize are different. But nowhere have I seen as much enthusiam as in Elkin, close to Stone Mountain State Park.
The Elkin Valley Trail Association is building trail from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin and beyond. They've connected with private landowners and gotten permanent land easements. They've learned from the Sauratown Trail Association and gone beyond in their thinking.
"If we're going to build a trail," says Denise, one of the Association leaders, "we want it to be permanent." In my humble estimation, this is the way of the future for the MST.
In my book, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina, I wrote about taking the concept of trail towns from the Appalachian Trail and applying it to the MST. Long-distance hikers look for places to stop, spend a day, eat a meal out, take a good shower and do their laundry. Ideally, they want the town to be right on the trail. Think of Hot Springs, NC and Damascus, VA.
I chose Elkin as my candidate for a trail town in the Piedmont. It's small, enthusiastic and has all the right services. Almost all the right services.
I suggested that a hostel would really attract hikers and other visitors. When Americans think about hostels, they think about young people traveling through Europe on the cheap but that's only one model.
See Hostelling International but many hostels don't belong to HI. Here's a good start to what a hostel is. A hostel would definitely put Elkin on the map for international visitors who are used to staying in hostels.
Challenge or Idea?
EVTA's work with landowners is groundbreaking.
I suggested that they pass their knowledge forward. When they are finished with their major trail building, they should work with Friends of the MST folks in the Coastal Plains (between Raleigh and the Ocracoke Ferry). There's so little public land there that if you want to get the trail off the road, it's going to have to be on private land.
This idea could snowball. Friends of the MST, are you listening?
The last day in Coastal Plains, I gave a talk to the Carteret County Wildlife Club in Morehead City. I had been invited by Terry Smith, the president of the club. Terry is also on the board of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and on the North Carolina Trails Committee--and a lot more. This guy is involved.
Oh, and he's also a docent at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. That was our first stop. The shark teeth were interesting but the big attraction was the artifacts being brought up from Queen Ann's Revenge, Blackbeard's boat. Yes, Blackbeard was real and he met his end on the coast here. Queen Anne’s Revenge was discovered by divers in the present Beaufort inlet between Shackleford Banks and Bogue Banks.
Terry had made a list of all the retail outlets that might carry my book. And I was amazed how many bookstores and other stores sold new books. The Rocking Chair in Beaufort, Dee Gee's in Morehead City and Beach Book Mart in Atlantic City all sold new books. We went into each place. I introduced myself, shook hands and told them about The Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina. I felt like a door-to-door saleswoman.
But wait, we had missed the Burial Grounds in Beaufort. So back across the bridge we went to catch that. It's an old, old cemetery. Well, the town dates back to 1709. At least one British officer is buried here. Upper crust families of the Coastal Plains are also here together.
But everyone wants to see the gravesite of the girl in a barrel of rum. Kids bring trinkets to decorate the grave.
Here's the story from the cemetery brochure.
In the 1700s an English family, including an infant daughter, came to Beaufort. The girl grew up with a desire to see her homeland, and finally persuaded her mother to allow her to make the voyage. Her father promised his wife he would return the girl safely. The girl enjoyed her visit to London, but died on the voyage home. She would have been buried at sea, but her father could not bear to break his promise. He purchased a barrel of rum from the captain, placed her body in it, and brought it to Beaufort for burial.
I actually sang (or talked) for my supper.
Carteret County Wildlife Club starts its meeting with a pot luck dinner. Then the talk--that was me-- and finished with a short business meeting. They meet every month.
But most of their business is on the trail. They maintain the Neusoik Trail, about 22 miles of the MST, among others.
I'm now back in the mountains, but not for long. The MST is a state trail and I'm going all over the state to promote it.
I love New Bern!
Today I spent some time sitting in front of the Tryon Palace gift store, talking about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Frankly, I expected it to be a waste of time. I was not giving a specific program so it meant catching people as they entered the gift shop. My publicist at the History Press arranged the "meet and greet" and I was going to be there.
I was pleasantly wrong. Though there wasn't a huge crowd at Tryon Palace, the people who were there were interested in a trail across North Carolina. Few people had heard of the MST that goes right past the Palace. But they were full of questions.
John Jaskolka, a past president of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, lives in New Bern and he came by to say hello. When he saw his friend pass by, he said "You have to buy this book", and the friend did, without even flipping through it. Talk about word of mouth advertising!
New Bern was the first capital of North Carolina and a colonial capital before that. I'm not going to retell the story of New Bern that I have in my book but it's a wonderful place to visit, whether you're walking the MST or just driving here.
In a way, it reminds me of Asheville on the Trent and Neuse Rivers with its history, culture and arts. The restaurants are fantastic, just like Asheville. MST hikers need a break from trail food from their packs and fast food from gas stations on the road.
New Bern is the biggest city that the MST goes through. Of course, there's a local farmer's market. Here's the British hat lady on the left.
I even had the opportunity to test out my French outside of French class. A couple from Quebec approached my table and it was obvious that they were struggling with English. As soon as I started talking French, they relaxed and chatted. The guy even told me that his sister was on the French El Camino right now. When I told them that that was going to be my next hiking project, they assured me that my French was ready for the trail.
I love New Bern. Did I say that already?
I'm on a book tour through the Coastal Plains. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina does go through the Coastal Plains, and therefore I'm going as well.
After an evening at REI in Raleigh, I drove down to Kinston to talk at their Visitor Center. I took several small roads and felt I was now back on the MST. Well, I was except this time, I was driving.
The towns sounded so familiar - Zebulon, Black Creek, Goldsboro. Some towns, I walked through, others were signs on the highway. I drove down NC 58 and did a double take. What was this shiny metal monument? It wasn't there a couple of years ago.
It turned out to be a recent addition to the landscape in Snow Hill on the way to Kinston. The monument was to remember the battle between colonists and the Tuscarora Nation that lived in Eastern North Carolina. The Tuscaroras who were left after the battle moved to upper New York State. For this commemoration, a group came down and after the events, walked more than 600 miles back to the Tuscarora Reservation.
In Kinston, I gave a presentation at the Visitor Center to a small but enthusiastic group.
From left to right, we have Lucy who runs the Visitor Center on US 70, me, and Dr. Brantley Briley, President of Lenoir Community College and my host.
People asked good questions and were very involved. A few more folks now know about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Onto New Bern.
Mountains-to_Sea Trail Day in the Smokies on May 4, 2013
Sometimes all the publicity in the world can't top a forecast of rain. Yesterday was Mountains-to-Sea Trail day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was sponsored by the park and the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Even National Parks Traveler did a very complementary story about the hike and talk.
But the forecast was for possible rain. The skies were dark and the ranger at Oconaluftee Visitor Center told people that according to the weather forecast, it was going to start raining at 11 am. That gave people an excuse not to hike.
Still five active, enthusiastic visitors came to hike. We didn't have a drop of rain. I always say that "Whoever shows up, shows up. I'm going to hike anyway."
We started at Mingus Mill and walked to the Mingus cemetery and back.
Flowers were everywhere. I don't think that the hikers appreciated the diversity of flowers in the Smokies. We saw foam flowers, Solomon seal and Solomon plume, several types of violets, and, my first showy orchis of the year.
Since most were not local, we discussed that the Smokies is not untouched wilderness. People lived here until the area became a park. Nothing says past civilization like a cemetery. I had also taken them to the slave cemetery just off the parking lot as well.
They asked a lot of questions about the MST and I was able to hold off most of them until the afternoon. About a dozen people came to my MST presentation. It was held on the porch of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and we were cold. The group included four of the hikers and a bunch of locals who had heard of the MST. One couple from Sylva even knew about the two-trail options out of the the park.
It's not easy to convince visitors to hike in the park. A couple of trails are busy in the summer, mostly on the A.T. But in general, the trails are empty. Yesterday, There was traffic in the Mingus Mill parking lot. But our group didn't see any other hikers.
I am the May 2013 "guest columnist" in Blue Ridge Country. It's going to be a while until they post the column on their website, so here it is.
I have a sign on my kitchen wall that says, "I wasn't born in the mountains but I got here as soon as I could."
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and spent 35 years in New Jersey punching a clock. But my husband and I always hiked on weekends. I called it Sunday hiking, a reward after a week of work and spending Saturday doing household chores. Our son grew up hiking; the kid didn't have a choice.
When we hiked the Appalachian Trail in sections over many years, we discovered the pleasures of southern trails. Instead of rocks on steep, almost vertical terrain, Southern Appalachian trails are switchbacked and packed with dirt. As soon as we could, we moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Old hikers don't die. They just move to the South.
We bought a house on a postage stamp lot in the city, the same size that we had in New Jersey. Why should we purchase a lot of land when we already owned the Smokies, the Blue Ridge Parkway and a treasure trove of forests and state land? We can enjoy a mountain top view every time we climb a hill.
I hit the [Delete] button on my New Jersey life and set out to explore the Southern Appalachian Mountains. I hiked by myself some of the time but mostly I went with Carolina Mountain Club, the largest hiking and trail-maintaining club in western North Carolina. Like the academic I once was, I used a multimodal approach to learn the area. I hiked, read, researched, photographed, talked to expert botanists, historians and native Appalachians, and hiked some more.
A couple of years ago, I decided to walk the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina to understand my state. The MST stretches for one thousand miles connecting Clingmans Dome in the Smokies to the Outer Banks. Currently, the MST is about half on footpaths and half on backcountry roads. I wasn't going to live long enough to see the trail all off the road, so I figured I might as well walk it now.
When the MST leaves the Smokies, it follows the Blue Ridge Parkway for over three hundred miles, connecting parks and forests like pearls on a gold chain. The trail ascends and descends with the contour of the Parkway. Casual hikers will talk of “hiking the parkway,” but they don’t really mean walking on the asphalt; they’re referring to the MST. This trek solidified my understanding of the wildness, culture, and history of the state.
I’ve lived in Western North Carolina for over eleven years. As soon as I open my mouth, I get a “You're not from around here, are you?” Accents are set at about age 13 and I've done a lot of living since then. Americans are a mobile people. Now no matter what I sound like, I’m from Western North Carolina.
Psychiatrists will tell you that old married couples argue about the same issues over and over throughout their marriage. That is so true when Lenny and I go to maintain our section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
We maintain a section from Beaver Dam Gap Milepost 401.7 to Big Ridge Overlook Milepost 403.6. It's a small piece of trail which doesn't have any specific features. We're part of a chain of trail maintainers. In general, most two-mile sections don't have any wow features. But when you put them all together, that's when you feel the power of the MST.
We went out on Friday armed with clippers, loppers, a hand saw and several garbage bags. When we started walking, we started clipping.
At this time of the year, the trail growth is minimal but this is the time to get all those vines and plants that will potentially cover the trail by June. So the conversation goes like this"
Me: If you're going to cut a plant, cut it at its base. This way, there will be less to do when we come back.
Lenny: No. You are cutting back too much. You're cleaning up the trail too much.
Me: We're not going to come back until June. Any growth we cut now saves us work. We're not maintaining Biltmore Estate where full-time maintainers probably go back to the same piece of garden every week.
And then there's garbage pick-up. The MST is very clean, which is a sign that it's not being used all that much. But when the trail crosses a road, should we ignore the trash on the road?
Lenny: No need to pick up the trash on the road or overlook. That's not the trail. There's just so much garbage.
Me: The road is on the MST. When you walk the MST, you have to cross the road and it should be clean.
And so it goes. And has been going for years. We both think we're right.
The trail was full of bloodroots, the white flower that is the first sign of spring. See above. Get out there while they're still blooming and enjoy the perfect maintenance.
Writing a book is only half the job; maybe only 25%. Marketing is the other part. Without marketing, no one is going to know about your book or buy it or read it.
So off I went to the Triangle this past weekend. First, I stopped at UNC-TV at Research Triangle to be interviewed by D.G. Martin for NC Now, a weeknight show. Now D.G. is best known for NC Bookwatch, a half-hour show where he interviews authors. I've always wanted to get on NC Bookwatch; it was like a "reach" goal but I never made it and now he's no longer doing it. So what am I going to shoot for now?
That Friday evening, April 5, I gave a book presentation at Quail Ridge Books. Quail Ridge is the independent bookstore in Raleigh. Boy, can they attract readers and customers!
Katie Parry of History Press had come up from Charleston for the book event. She provided the food and wine. Over 110 people showed up, my personal best. The picture above is of Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST, me, and Katie Parry. Allen de Hart, the person most associated with the MST, also came. In my book, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina, I call him the granddaddy of the MST.
Then on Sunday, I went to Glencoe Village, a restored village located north of Burlington. Lynn Pownell, who runs Rockworth House, a textile studio, invited me to give a talk at their gallery. It was a small but very enthusiastic audience.
Lynn outdid herself. She baked cookies in the shape of North Carolina with the MST running through it. How clever.
I drove over 550 miles. So what did I accomplish? I talked to many people about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, encouraged a few to get out on the trail and put my book into a few more hands. Was it worth the effort, time and expense? Absolutely. When I think about writing a book, I know that I'll have to market it extensively. Like I said, that's much of the job.
Yesterday, my whole day was centered around appearing on the NPR program, Charlotte Talks. Wait a minute, didn't I just lead a hike at Deep Creek? Yes and then I drove to Charlotte that evening.
I listen to the program whenever I head east from Asheville. After you roll down the Blue Ridge and lose our Asheville NPR station, you can pick up WFAE.
It wasn't easy to get on Charlotte Talks on WFAE, the local NPR station. Talk shows like these have lots of gate keepers; producers who get inundated by requests to come on the show. These producers have to make sure that the guest is interesting, the topic is interesting and that the show host will resonate to the person and topic.
Katie, the publicist at the History Press, tried and tried. She sent a formal proposal and I helped by explaining what we could talk about. Nothing. Then I sent out a Facebook message. Did anyone have any contacts with Charlotte Talks? Well, no, but it turned out that Sharon McCarthy, my MST hiking partner, knew someone who worked for WFAE. Lisa put the proposal and my book on the producer's desk. Things started moving.
Then I was asked to give questions all over again. Katie at the History Press, sent the producer yet another copy of the book. I was booked for this morning.
When I arrived at the studio, way, way too early, I met the other guest, the president of Old Salem in Winston-Salem. At 3 minutes before the hour, Mike Collins, the host, shows up and puts us both at ease. "It will be the easiest thing you will ever do," he says.
Mike was good. He had obviously read some of my book. He asked good questions, was funny and allowed me to be light and casual. While I was on, the show had a 90 second break. I asked him if I could read from the book. I wanted to read about backpacking Croatan National Forest.
"Put this in context," he said. "Where is it?" I explained that it was east of New Bern and read for two minutes. Two minutes is a long time. At the end, he asked "what trail will I do next." While I tried to explain, he had to wrap up the show.
I walked through the Charlotte city center, which some call uptown and some call downtown. I wandered into Poor Richard's Book Shoppe, a small independent bookstore on the second level. And you have to walk up.
Now I have to get ready for my talk at Jesse Brown Outdoors tonight (Thursday March 21) at 6:30 pm. Come on out.