Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Do You Say To A Barking Dog?

MST – Day Nine – 1/15/10 – Santee Road to NC 150 - 14.9 Miles

Danny, Kate and I had an early morning start, hitting the trail by 8:15 a.m. with temperatures in the mid-30’s. I was well bundled up, expecting no significant climbs to warm me up. And while we are definitely not in the mountains, today’s section had more rolling hills and ups-downs than yesterday. The three of us made a wager on the total elevation gain for the day and Danny’s GPS kept score. (Postscript: it felt like more than it was. I guessed something like 3,000 feet but it was 1,200.)

Our trail picked up across the inlet that we ended at the day before, where a bridge will soon be constructed. Fortunately we did not have to swim…but I think I will come back here to walk that bridge before my MST trek is completed.

Although our start was a little shaky looking for those white circles, today’s trail is about two years old and much easier to follow than yesterday’s. Blazes are more frequent and the path is more worn. The “carpet” varies from soft loblolly and longleaf pine needles to crunchy beech leaves. Several times we descended to small sandy-bottom creeks that were sometimes spanned by bridges, sometimes not, and others had left their prints ahead of us. We had a bit of a thrill early on when we passed within 75 yards of a home “owned” by protective dogs. They rushed out barking, but stopped within 100 feet of us and stood their ground. I will not reprint the colorful language that Danny used. It drove home to me that we would be passing a lot of country homes with unleashed animals when we do our road sections of the MST.

Today was all about Falls Lake and its inhabitants, humans and wildlife. An enormous blue heron gracefully took off and soared away from the lake’s edge. White birds gathered in large groups – at first I imagined they were egrets, but putting on my glasses I realized that they were seagulls. Although seagulls are not as romantic as the graceful egrets, they were lovely floating en masse on the lake’s gentle waters.

Human impressions upon the land included new homes, very nice ones, and a bit more confusion about where the trail was. At one point we went nearly half a mile without markers, walking between a home and the lake edge. Were we supposed to be going behind the house or in front of it? Was this a private path created by the homeowner or was it truly the MST? Trash had been collected in buckets waiting for pickup. This curiosity looked like a huge piece of granite, but the edges looked too even…well, it’s a chunk of Styrofoam, about the size of a coffin. Nice, huh?

Again we passed between a home and the waterfront, this time on a clearly marked trail, passing right by their fire pit complete with a bench and their canoe by the lake, a very nice secluded spot.

This creek cascades over a large rock face to make this small frozen waterfall - it is probably nondescript during warmer weather.

Like the day before, several times the trail intersected with pavement. We had the opportunity for an up-close inspection of this roadside memorial as we crossed a causeway.

 More interesting remnants of human life, some more recent than others. Some of these were off trail and I believe could go undetected in the summer vegetation, especially car parts. I was over my dismay at the “junk” and now considered the trail an archeological site.

More car parts

An old hunting cabin?

Green barn at a home site - but no house to be found

Red barn at the same homesite - the trail goes in between the buildings

A cairn of quartz rocks

Near the end of our day we passed a significant landmark, the Rolling View Marina. The temperature climbed up to about 60 and we peeled clothing down to short sleeves – yay! Along this section we also met our first hiker, a young man who had recently discovered the Falls Lake section. We finished at a very reasonable time, around 3:30 p.m. – not bad for just shy of 15 miles. We moved cars again to prepare for the next day’s section and headed for Kate’s home for a well-deserved rest.)

Read Danny's tale of today's hike here.)  

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters. ~St. Bernard

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Latta Plantation Park - 1/9/10 - 2 Miles

A very exciting day - the first outing of a dayhiking group sponsored by Girl Scouts of Hornets' Nest Council in North Carolina. This group is part of the outreach I envisioned as I hiked the Smokies trails in 2008 and 2009. Thanks to the donations of interested and generous people, this group and other outdoor opportunities are now possible for girls served in my Council's area.

The dayhiking group idea is simple: the second Saturday of each month, any Girl Scout age 13 and up can join me for a hike. The girls do not need to sign up as part of a troop or with a parent. Adult Girl Scouts are also invited, as long as they are willing to help with transportation if needed. (I figure that any adult I can coax into the woods will get bitten by the hiking bug and pass the enthusiasm on to others.)

I planned the first meeting at Latta Plantation Park and a very short getting-to-know-you hike of 2 miles. It was quite cold and one adult dropped out the night before because of fear of the cold...but one of the things I want most to teach is that hiking is enjoyable no matter what the temperature IF you are well prepared. I had a couple of bags of extra clothes just in case.

All the girls and other adults showed up well prepared. These particular girls are all in one troop and are getting in shape for a trip to Europe this summer, so they were excited.

I don't think I'll have any trouble getting adults to work with me in this venture. One Girl Scout friend, Jill, joined me on this day, as well as another friend familiar to my regular blog readers, Carol (who hiked with me several times in the Smokies, including the unforgettable "7 bears in one day" hike). Carol brought along her college age daughter, Betsy, too. So we were a big crowd huddled in the foyer of the small Visitor Center at Latta Plantation.

We talked about the ten essentials, types of clothing, the day's hike plan and safety practices. One of the adults with the troop was a dad who fishes and he was happy to hear me emphasize the same practices he uses about always having rain gear no matter what the forecast, etc.

Our hike was just a quick ramble to see how well the girls took direction and followed guidelines(very well) and how they handled the cold (great). They are obviously ready for bigger and better things. As this group catches on, I will need extra adults and the flexibility to split the group into different abilities so no one feels rushed or slowed down. I look forward to having that problem, i.e. enough participants to need to split.

The temperature rose to about 30 degrees and we ate our lunch sitting on the ground in the intense sunshine, talking about where to hike next month and the girls' upcoming trip. I have traveled twice with Girl Scouts in Europe and had awesome experiences and I'm very excited for these girls to have that opportunity too.
Working with teenage girls is such a pleasure - they are energetic and talkative and they notice things that adults overlook. Just sitting here typing this up, I feel a shiver of anticipation of all the adventures ahead!

I wonder what's going to happen exciting today? ~ Winnie-the-Pooh