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

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