Friday, February 5, 2010

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

MST – Day Eight – 1/14/10 – Falls Lake State Recreation Area - E. Geer Street to Jimmy Rodgers Road - 8.5 Miles

 Knowing that it may be a while before we see the MST in the mountains again, Danny planned a few days of hiking in the flatlands. The MST runs for about 50 miles through Falls Lake State Recreation Area in Durham, NC, following the undulating fingers of the lake. It’s always nice to hike near water, but the real attraction of hiking in this area was that Kate Dixon, the executive director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, wanted to hike with us and invited us to be guests in her home. The prospect of such a knowledgeable person joining us was exciting – and little did I know how grateful I would be to Kate by day’s end.
The three of us met at a small pull-off at Jimmy Rogers/Little Rodgers Road and Kate walked us down to the site of a future bridge that will cross a finger of the lake. This is where today’s hike would end. As you see, the piedmont part of NC didn't missed out on the cold temps - the lake was frozen along the edges, an unusual occurrence. We left one car and traveled to East Geer Street to start our trek – remember, always hike west to east! East Geer Street runs alongside a small airstrip and ends at a barricade. From there white dots lead hikers into the woods. Kate explained that today’s 8.5-mile section is quite new, completed about six months ago, with lots of well-built bridges.

It didn’t take long to realize we weren’t in Kansas anymore. About a mile into the hike we emerged from the woods onto a large paved area leading down to the lake – and a fire truck with hoses stretched out on the pavement. Being the inquisitive hikers that we are, we asked the firefighters what they were doing and they explained that they were testing their hoses for leaks. The name of this area is the Hickory Hill Boat Ramp. You don’t see too many fire trucks along the MST in the mountains! Throughout the day we would see many signs of civilization.

We had white blazes, Kate’s brain, and a detailed set of notes written by a local MST trail volunteer to guide us. Unfortunately, the notes were written for hiking east to west, therefore challenging to interpret and apply “on the ground.” Mileages were included and notations of old buildings, power line right-of-ways and road crossings, so there were frequent progress checks. The challenge was in reversing right and left turns. Several times the trail emerged onto a road, turned left to follow a causeway across the lake and then turned left again into the woods…except when the trail turned right, crossed the road and re-entered the woods…One time-consuming misdirection: We turned left instead of right at a road junction and spent 45 minutes getting back on track. I’m afraid we were rather critical of the white blaze painters there and agreed that a bunch more blazes couldn’t hurt, especially when negotiating road crossings.

 This section of trail passed through pine forest walking on soft pine needles, reminding me very much of my childhood home in southside Virginia, where I played in the woods behind my house. I reminisced about earning my Girl Scout Rambler badge by creating a walking trail through those woods and showing it to my mom. Kate and Danny educated me on loblolly pines and longleaf pines native to this area of North Carolina.

Prior to the creation of Falls Lake in the 1970’s people lived out here and evidence of former residents is especially noticeable on this new section. A discussion topic: is it trash or is it artifact? It may take some more years to be truly considered the latter.

An old shed

A tobacco barn in the background - hope this gets preserved

Brick chimneys are just not as charming as stacked stone ones

Anyone need a stove?

The most intact automobile we saw - but lots of parts lying around

Dog? Deer? Racoon? Coyote?

In addition to the old appliances and automobiles, there was a significant amount of rusted cans and bottles and plastic containers along much of the trail. Very early in the hike I picked up a plastic bag, but soon realized that I couldn’t carry out all the trash we saw. We were never more than a couple of miles from road intersections or from the lakeshore itself, and I was disheartened to see so much junk, whether from weekend partiers or from long-ago residents. But after two more days of hiking on trail sections that were longer established and much cleaner, I felt better. My conclusion is that this most recent section will eventually get the same cleanup that the older ones obviously received. Any group that needs a service project, contact Friends of the MST.

The trail is so new that it is not yet worn down, and with all those pine needles making a uniform carpet we truly had to navigate by the white dot blazes. Our slower pace looking at “artifacts” and our mistakes in navigation meant that we ran out of daylight nearly a mile from our car – a first for me. Yes, I carry a headlamp, but I do not like even the idea of hiking in the dark…yet here we were.

 The white blazes were far enough apart that we often couldn’t see one while standing at another. Paired with the fact that there was no worn path on the ground, I was quickly second guessing which way to go. Kate to the rescue! She could spot those white blazes, so I kept my eyes on her rear end while she double-timed it, with Danny close behind us. And since we had checked out this end of the hike at the beginning of our day, we easily recognized where the MST trail ended and the side trail back to our car. It was a bad feeling out there in the dark woods, but like other unpleasant experiences (did someone say hailstorm?)) I learned that I can live through it and now store up the experience for another time. Someday I will plan a night hike so I can enjoy it.
The day wasn’t over – we had to shuttle cars to set up for the next day’s hike. By the time we arrived at Kate’s home, we said a quick hello to her husband, Dan, before dropping our packs and heading for the hot showers. At the dinner table, with great effort I managed to raise my wine glass to salute our first day on the Falls Lake MST.

For Danny's version of today's hike, click here.  

Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake.” ~Winnie-the-Pooh

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