Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Who Let The Dogs Out?

MST – Day 12 – 3/26/10 – Blackwater Presbyterian Church to Mountain View Restaurant, Pilot Mountain – 12.2 Miles

We started out on a cool, clear morning back at the Blackwater Methodist Church on Ararat Road. Now we knew that the walking would be easy and fast-paced, with the major challenges being the ever-present dogs and finding discreet bathroom breaks.
Scot Ward’s book lists many landmark buildings along the road route. Our first snack break was on the steps of the Eldora Ruritan Club steps. Soon after, we paused to check out the Mount Zion Baptist Church, built in 1880 as a schoolhouse.

 Next we crossed the bridge over the Ararat River and the town of Ararat came into view – a few houses and a post office. The dog alarm sounded as we approached. Are “town” dogs better behaved than country dogs? They certainly are just as vocal! We could not have been more noticeable with a high school marching band preceding us, dogs in nearly every yard on both sides of the road – but none of them set foot on the pavement. We went inside the teensy Ararat post office (room for only two patrons at a time) and chatted with the postmistress, then took a photo and went on our way.

Passing the New Hope Methodist Church, we met an elderly couple visiting the adjoining cemetery. They said they had noticed us on the road the day before and we explained that we are walking across the state. Meeting the locals is a big part of the fun of walking through these communities.

More animals

Old homes

and barns

The countryside was peaceful and quiet – for a while. Then a black lab, a basset hound and a little mutt like a Chihuahua spied us and took to our heels, barking, baying and yipping. Of course the noise reached the golden retriever across the road and he joined the parade. They followed behind us in full chorus, close enough to make me worry, and way beyond their property boundaries. How far would they go? Danny walked at a quick pace in front of me, holding her hiking stick horizontally with the business end ready. I kept looking behind to see how close the dogs were and it was rather comical – it felt like a Disney movie (remember Napoleon and Lafayette, the sheriff and deputy dogs in “The Aristocats”?) I wanted to take a photo but was afraid to stop to do it. The posse finally grew bored, conferred amongst themselves, and turned homeward. But now the apprehension was ratcheted up another notch.

The remainder of Community Building Road and Tom’s Creek Road went by quickly with glimpses of Pilot Mountain around every bend. Unfortunately, the MST route passes north of the great landmark and does not enter Pilot Mountain State Park. I encourage readers to visit it and enjoy the trails there.

Our last road of the day was the busiest one – two miles of NC Highway 268 into the town of Pilot Mountain. The road shoulders were a little bit wider but the traffic was much faster. We had one last scare from an unchained dog, and here we could not run across the road because of the traffic so we hustled away as quickly as we could. We waved at every car to make ourselves visible and finally walked on the very narrow, non-pedestrian-friendly concrete strip of bridge spanning Highway 52 and into the Mountain View Restaurant parking lot where Danny’s car was waiting. At the McDonald’s next door I bought the largest cup of iced tea I’ve ever consumed in my life – wonderful!

Our walking was done early – now it was time for car shuttling. With the help of some local residents, we scouted out the parking area we needed for the end of the next day’s section, and then we headed to Hanging Rock State Park and our home-away-from-home, Cabin #4. As the rain began to fall, we cranked up the heat, cooked a hot meal and settled in for the night.

Read Danny's version of today's hike here.

Lafayette: Okay, let's charge!
Napoleon: Wait a minute. I'm the leader! I'm the one that says when we go.
Napoleon: Here we go. Charge!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pilot Mountain and Beyond

MST – Day 11 – 3/25/10 - Dobson County Library to Blackwater Methodist Church – 7.3 Miles

After a frustrating season of record snowfalls, inaccessible roads and tree-littered trails, Danny and I are back in business on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. By email we planned a series of hikes encompassing the Sauratown Trail that connects Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Parks. But before the joy of the trees and trail we put in some miles of road walking.

Scot “Taba” Ward has just put out an update of his guidebook “The Thru-Hiker’s Manual For The Mountains–to-Sea Trail of North Carolina,” in both eastbound and westbound versions. Ward did a yo-yo hike of the MST ending in October 2009. We’ve decided to trust his notes and follow his lead. Thus I found myself pulling into the parking lot of Blackwater Methodist Church, midway between the communities of Dobson and Pilot Mountain. We left my car and placed Danny’s car at the Dobson County Library. After convincing Cindy the librarian to take our photo, we began our walk through town. Ward’s book is in note format and easy to follow once you know where you’re starting from and includes some maps of towns you pass through. We checked out the Food Lion, the Tlaquepaque Mexican Restaurant, waved to drivers as we crossed Highway 601 and then headed into the countryside down Turkey Ford Road.

The sky was overcast but not raining and a comfortable 60 degrees. It’s no secret that I was not excited about the road portions of the MST, but I must report that it was more pleasant than I anticipated. The route follows less- traveled country roads and we passed one lovely pastoral scene after another, rolling hills and fields with the occasional modest ranch home or farmhouse with barns in the back and outbuildings filled with tools and farm equipment. More than once we passed two-story white farmhouses just like the one my mother was born in and that stood just a quarter of a mile from my own home in rural southern Virginia. Horses, cows, sheep and even llamas are part of the farm life in rural North Carolina.

The edge of the road is a scary place so we were outfitted to stand out from the landscape. Lenny, Danny's husband, had outfitted us with orange vests from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with "Don't Shoot, I'm a Hiker" printed on the back (used for hiking during hunting season but great for the road too). We also each carried the North Carolina state flag stuck in our backpacks for good measure. We walked facing traffic and usually we waved to the drivers and they waved back – no near misses today. Several people that we talked to on subsequent days mentioned seeing us on the road.

So the down side of road walking is not boredom – the long-distance views are outstanding and imposing Pilot Mountain is nearly always on display as a guiding beacon. I can’t tell you how many photos Danny took of Pilot Mountain. Nope…the down side of road walking is the dogs.

Big dogs, little dogs, barking dogs, growling dogs, yipping dogs, silent dogs, stalking dogs, tail-wagging dogs – I could not help but feel apprehensive and defensive. Country dogs are not chained and there is no such thing as an electric fence. How do these dogs keep from getting hit by cars? Some seemed trained to stay within the bounds of their property and we quickly learned to cross the road as soon as the barking started. But what do you do when there are dogs on both sides of the road?? We kept our hiking sticks pointed and swiveled our heads 360 degrees as we hurried past. I learned that dogs will let you pass and then fall in behind you and follow, sometimes for quite a while. I learned that they are bolder when they have friends with them.

The walking went very quickly, perhaps with help from the dogs. Blackwater Methodist Church came into view and we finished our first day in a bit over 3 hours. We retrieved our car from the Dobson Library (said hello to Cindy again) and headed for our hotel in Pilot Mountain. We had plenty of time so we explored downtown Pilot Mountain. Most of the stores were closed (it was past 5:00 PM) but we peeked in the windows. Dinner was at the Mountain View Restaurant (yes, they have an excellent view of Pilot Mountain) and I highly recommend their strawberry shortcake. Tomorrow – 12 more miles on the road. How many dogs??

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road 
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test and don’t ask why 
It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time 
It’s something unpredictable, but then again is right
I hope you had the time of your life  ~ Green Day

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Do Not Enter

MST – Day 10 - 1/16/10 – N.C. 50 to Six Forks Road – 14.5 Miles

Another early start, on the trail by 8:05 a.m., temps in the mid 30’s. Kate’s husband, Dan, joined us today. This section of the Falls Lake MST is more than ten years old and very easy to follow. There were fewer old home sites, more road crossings (I’ve started to think of them as trail intersections) and it seemed that we blew through the sections at lightning speed, not rushing, but easy walking.

Random images from the day:
I hope it's not hiker season

A welcoming grapevine wreath and one of the trail builders' signature bridges

A surprise -The Norwood cemetery

Look closely - the white line between the shore and its reflection is ice

A very impressive bridge and steps project - you won't see this in the Smokies

That's one big tree

The day warmed up nicely and people poked their heads out for a breath of air. Blue Jay Point County Park seems very popular and it was nice to see families out enjoying their public spaces. Of course, along with the people were their pets – dogs galore and a couple of them not on leashes. Ah well…The most egregious incident was when I came upon a man with a very large dog doing what dogs do when they get outside, and the man looked at me, turned away and moved on without cleaning up after his pet. Don’t you wonder sometimes what people are thinking?

Kate and Dan taking a break

Love the irony: A white dot blaze on a "do not enter" sign.

I enjoyed today’s hike very much and thought how fortunate the residents of the Triangle area are to have 50 miles of trail to walk on. I have great appreciation for the trail builders and maintainers in this neck of the woods!

We continued our by now familiar ritual of shuttling cars, returned to Kate and Dan’s home to clean up, and went out for a well-deserved Chinese dinner. Just as we were ordering dessert, I received a call from my husband that our son had been in an auto accident – he wasn’t hurt but the car sure was – so I decided that I should skip the final day of hiking and get home to be a wife and mom. Danny and Kate completed the Falls Lake section the next day and you can read Danny’s account of that here.  

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. ~Henry David Thoreau