All posts by Danny Bernstein

About Danny Bernstein

I'm a hiker, hike leader for the Carolina Mountain Club and Friends of the Smokies and an outdoor writer.

Camino in Asheville

Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. Attributed to John Lennon.

Chemin de St. Jacques

That’s how I feel now about my involvement with the Camino de Santiago. The multitude of trails all eventually leading to Santiago, Spain has become more than a hiking vacation.

Between 2013 when I walked Le Chemin de St. Jacques in France and this year on the Camino del Norte,  Camino activities in  Asheville have exploded.

The Western North Carolina chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino now has a 16-mile walk around Asheville to give people an idea of what a typical day on the Camino would be. Sixteen miles around Asheville is not as difficult as it sounds and not like 16 miles in the Smokies.

We now offer a guided walk every month. In December, I’ll be leading the walk for both the Camino group and Carolina Mountain Club.

ATL and AVL Camino hikers

A couple of weeks ago, the WNC chapter hosted the Atlanta Camino group. About sixteen hikers and Camino enthusiasts came for a weekend of hiking and sociability. We walked the Asheville Camino and dined in our fine restaurants – probably much better than on the Camino in Spain.

On Monday Oct 2, I’ll be speaking on The History and Culture along the Camino del Norte at REI Asheville at 7PM. The talk is free. Register at

You can get a preview of my experiences on the Camino del Norte in the article I wrote in the Asheville Citizen-Times. See it today because stories in the Citizen-Times disappear quickly. See

Split in trail

The Camino de Santiago has not taken over my hiking life – after all it is thousands of miles away. Hiking in the Southern Appalachians is my life.

But I’m meeting with my hiking partner next month to talk about our next Camino.

Yikes! Buen Camino!

This was not a hike!

Lenny on the A.T.

Today I went to visit Lenny who’s been gone for almost a year. To be more precise, I walked the Appalachian Trail to the spot where I had spread his ashes. I couldn’t see asking anyone else to come along so I went on my own.

Lenny and I maintained a 4.9-mile section of the A.T. from Devils  Fork Gap to Rice Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. It’s not a particularly memorable piece but that’s the section that was available when we arrived in North Carolina.

We had been A.T. section  maintainers in the New Jersey-New York area for years and were ready to continue this volunteer work.  For maintenance, 4.9 miles is considered a long section and we still had to wait a year to get it.

Trail maintaining was his passion. I was the helper who went out with him four times a year. He weedwhacked, cut branches, and decided when to bring in the Carolina Mountain Club reinforcements, i.e. the people with the chain saws. I clipped, picked up garbage, and held  the branches he was sawing down.

Most roads that cross the A.T. are in remote areas. To save a half-mile each way, I started at Rector Laurel Rd., a small road with more dogs than houses. When I jumped out of my car, loose dogs greeted me with angry barks but didn’t follow me on the trail.

Lenny had decided that his ashes should be spread on a high spot in this A.T. section. He checked with the US Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that it was OK. We never discussed whether I would visit him once he was gone. It seemed obvious to me that I would.

On the A.T.

I walked about a mile and a half when I met three backpackers from Georgia who were out for a few days.

“And where are you going?” they asked.

“You really want to know?” and I told them why I was on the trail.

The older guy in the middle, a 2000-miler,  said that he wanted his ashes spread on the A.T. as well. He took a picture of me so he could show his wife that I was visiting my husband’s ashes.

Hmm, I thought, I hope she’s a hiker too.

Unlike people who ask “if I’m all right”, Lenny always assumed that I’d be able to hike and be active. He would never say “while you’re able”. Of course, I’d walk this trail forever or at least until my ashes were spread somewhere as well.

I walked another mile and a half to Frozen Knob and down to a big rock face. This was the spot.

Once I got there, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sat for a while and ate a granola bar. I liked to remember Lenny as active and full of life.

The backpackers passed through and we waved to each other.

I started back down the trail. When I got within a half-mile of the trailhead, the dogs started barking again. I made a bee line for the car and  made my getaway.

All memorial rituals are for the living, the survivors. I’m sure I’ll walk the same trail next year.

Nantahala National Forest – A Review

Nantahala National Forest: A History by Marci Spencer
Published by The History Press, $21.99

Marci Spencer was the speaker at a Carolina Mountain Club dinner a couple of years ago. She gave a spirited talk about her book on Pisgah National Forest.

Marci knows how to write a lively history of our public lands. She did it for Pisgah and now Nantahala National Forest, the more remote of the two in Western North Carolina.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail winds its way through the forest, though it is difficult to know when it leaves Nantahala and goes into Pisgah – you have to really keep your eyes open for signs.

But you’ll recognize other places that you may never have associated with Nantahala National Forest.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, with the “big trees”, is in the Cheoah Ranger District. I have a sweet spot for Joyce Kilmer, the poet as well as the forest, since he came from New Brunswick, in Central New Jersey, where I used to live. He never visited Western North Carolina but is mostly remembered for one poem,

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

You’ll have to read Marci’s book to find out how and why the forest was named after the New Jersey poet and journalist.

The book is a delightful mixture of hard facts, stories that others have told her and that she’s dug up from her many sources.

And those photographs… The History Press is well known for its beautiful color pictures and this book is full of photographs from many people.

If you’re a hiker, historian or just interested in how the public got all this land, read Nantahala National Forest: A History. I wonder where Marci will go next.