Starting with 430.9 miles, 71,150 ft. ascent
NC 16 to NC 18 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
15.3 miles, 1,900 ft. ascent
For this section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Sharon and I stayed at the house of a Friends of the MST board member, “B” Townes outside of Wilkesboro. It wasn’t really close to the start of our section but you couldn’t beat the hospitality.
It’s a wet and dark day as we creep out of “B”‘s house on Wednesday. Sharon and I drive up NC 16 in the rain to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our packs are heavier than usual since we’re going to spend the night on the trail. Well, not really on the trail since you can’t camp on the Parkway. Instead we’ll be staying at the Freeborne Motel, right on the trail at NC 18 in Laurel Springs.
The trail crisscrosses the Parkway and lots of small roads. This is not the pristine scenic road that we’re used to further south. Here small roads feed onto the Parkway and it’s obvious that people use the Parkway to commute.
Plenty of tourists drive this section for the colors as well. We feel that we’re in the colors.
Red maples, yellowing Frazier magnolias, red oaks, though no sour woods here – and some poison ivy. At one point, rhododendrons take over, as if they were planted.
We have to keep watching Scot Ward’s instructions as the MST changes from trail to back roads to Parkway. We’re above the Parkway and paralleling it at many points. The trail encircles the Northwest Trading Post, a low quality gift shop and snack bar which sits squarely on the Parkway. No point going in since we wouldn’t buy anything now. We’d have to carry it for two days.
We pass two cemeteries gates, including the Sheets Cemetery. Later we pass Jesse Sheets Cabin, down the hill from the Parkway, built in 1815.
It took us all day to walk from NC 16 to NC 18 but on the map, it’s less than two inches.
At 4:30 P.M., we reach downtown Laurel Springs, the motorcycle capital of the Parkway.
The community consists of two motels (only one open), two antique shops (only one open) and a country store.
When we check into the Freeborne Motel doesn’t serve breakfast now, though their website said that it did. So I head to the Country Store which has a sad selection of chips, beer, cookies, and snacks. I pick out a package of peanut butter crackers for 49 cents – 240 calories for 49 cents. Those are cheap calories. But the store carries my first book, Hiking the Carolina Mountains. Now that’s a surprise. Of course, I sign the only copy they have.
Next, I wander into the cavernous antique shop next to the motel. Blondie, the owner, carries original movie posters including one of Danielle Darrieux, the World War II movie star I was named after. The store also has old country music records, toys, and just old stuff. It’s obviously a destination and Blondie seems to be doing quite well.
The Freeborne Motel is also a destination, popular with motorcyclists. I thought that Sharon and I would be the only restaurant patrons but the dining room and bar are busy. A large party sits at a long table and the bar stools are all occupied. A musician sings old country standards and the two waiters are rushed off their feet. Near our table is a framed review of the restaurant that appeared in Our State magazine this past summer. They loved the food and the atmosphere and so did we. I made my first video of the bar at the Freeborne Motel. I was going to load it on Youtube but I lost patience with creating an account.
After dinner, I stay to socialize at the bar and tell folks about the MST which goes right through the community on Miller Road. “Look for the white circles on Miller Rd.,” I say.
Cumulative after Day 38, 446.2 miles, 73,050 ft. ascent