Crossing the French Broad

Walking an Asheville Camino

If you’re a Southern Appalachian hiker, you know what it means to hike six, eight, even twelve miles with its ups and down, switchbacks, roots and rocks. But if you’re contemplating going on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, you know that you’ll be walking much more per day but it will be easier. What does that mean?

Grey Eagle on AVL Camino
Grey Eagle on the AVL Camino

Two thoughtful Asheville pilgrims laid out an Asheville Camino. They walked about 18 miles, recording their route. Mark Cobb, one of the leaders in the WNC chapter of the Americans Pilgrims on the Camino, led eight pilgrims through Asheville. We generally followed the route on the web.

The Asheville Visitor Center was our trailhead – nice place to park, if you park at the bottom of the lot, leaving the upper level for visitors. We then walked past The Grey Eagle and headed toward the River Arts District.

Edna's by the River
Edna’s by the River

But then we followed a future Greenway and found ourselves at Edna’s at the  River, just in time for morning coffee. Our barista was glad for the business, but he couldn’t believe that we had walked from downtown – and not in a direct route either.

We found several small streets and now were in West Asheville. On Haywood Rd., we admired the store windows. Several walkers had never taken the time to see all the action in West Asheville.

In West Asheville
In West Asheville

But it didn’t take long to get back to the River Arts District and find White Duck Taco. Are you still with me?

At this point, some hikers left to head directly back to the Visitor Center. A new person showed up.

Where was the promised 1,300 feet of elevation gain?

Sure, we had a little climb here and there. But in ten miles (yes, ten miles before lunch), we didn’t have much ascent. We went through Roberts St. and onto Depot Street. With the magic of connecting streets, we were heading toward Mission Hospital on Biltmore Ave.

By one o’clock, the sun was beating down on the pavement. Since this is urban walking, we didn’t have the protection of two rows of trees.

20161020avlcamino-021aWe weaved through the hospital parking lot and started climbing Granby St. This was our first real ascent. Between the heat, the steep street and too much, way too much lunch, I wasn’t feeling too good. I sat down on the sidewalk and told the rest that I was on my own. By then, I must have walked probably 14 miles.

I went back to Biltmore Ave. and headed toward downtown. On the way to the Visitor Center, I stopped in at the Basilica of St. Lawrence. It seemed like the right way to finish this pilgrimage.

So what did I learn about urban walking? You can’t eat as much as on a trail. And it’s a lot hotter.


Keep our National Parks open after Dec 9

In the Smokies
In the Smokies

We’ve been so inundated by presidential politics that most voters haven’t noticed that our government isn’t funded after December 9. And right now, if our Congress doesn’t pass a budget, all nonessential services will be cut by then.

On Saturday December 10, you’ll find Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed. Same with every other national park unit from Yosemite to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

We can write or call our senators and representatives and tell them to get back to work and fund our government.

If you have trouble remembering who your two senators are, try this link.

For your Congressional representative, here’s the link.

Frozen Niagara
Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Cave

Here’s the letter I sent. Please contact the people who work for you in Washington and let them know that you’re paying attention.

Dear Congressman XX:

Congress has only authorized a budget until December 9. If you and your colleagues can’t agree about how to govern, you will cause another government shutdown. With all the media attention focused on the presidential election, you might think that voters aren’t paying attention, but we are.

The first agency that is considered nonessential and has to shut down is the National Park Service. Imagine families going to the Smokies, the Everglades or Carl Sandburg and finding the parks and visitor centers shuttered. Imagine hard-working families finally planning a trip of a lifetime to Hawaii during the Christmas holidays and finding Volcanoes National Park closed! We’re celebrating the National Park Service Centennial this year – not the time to close our parks.

Families take the time to enjoy our national parks during the holiday season. In North Carolina, we have eight national park units and they all protect, preserve, and interpret an important part of our American culture.

Are you really prepared for another shutdown because Congress isn’t doing its job?
Please tell me that the budget problem will be solved, hopefully once and for all.

Sunrise at Cape Hatteras

Allen DeHart, a real outdoor hero

Allen DeHart
Allen DeHart

Sometimes, outdoor heroes don’t just exist in books and legends. Sometimes, they’ve lived, hiked and wrote within my lifetime. You discuss and even argue issues with them and you celebrate victories with them.

Allen DeHart, who died recently, was the granddad of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Though he wasn’t the dreamer who conceptualized the MST, he was the doer. He designed much of the route, was one of the first two people to hike the MST, helped to build the trail, wrote the first guidebook, and started Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

His day job was as a history professor at Louisburg College, a private two-year college northeast of Raleigh. His drive and energy led him to hike the Appalachian Trail, and write North Carolina Hiking Trails over 35 years ago. The book, still in print, is a classic. Yes, there are classic hiking books.

But his greatest accomplishment is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. When I interviewed Allen for the Carolina Mountain Club eNews and for my book, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina in 2010, I also spoke to Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST. She said:
Without Allen, there would be no Mountains-to-Sea Trail today. Since 1977 when the trail was first proposed, Allen became its fiercest advocate. When progress slowed almost to a standstill in the 1990s, he devised a route and set off hiking with a friend to rebuild enthusiasm and show that the dream could be made real.

He wrote a book which allowed others to follow in his footsteps. He founded Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Through his passion and knowledge of trail building, he has recruited and trained many of the trail builders and maintainers who care for more than 400 miles of trail and extend it forward every day.

The only change Kate would make now is to increase the number of miles on footpath to almost 700 miles. As I’ve said repeatedly, many hikers are on the MST throughout the state. Almost 60 hikers have done the whole trail, and enjoy the miles on backroads as much as the trail between two sets of trees.

Allen will be forever remembered as the backbone of the MST. May he rest in peace!