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El Camino in Western North Carolina


Is the El Camino the next big European trail?

A few years ago, several Carolina Mountain Club pilgrims set out to walk the El Camino in Spain. Since then, a core group has walked the French, Swiss and other sections of the El Camino. And people got the bug. There’s a national organization, American Pilgrims and even a Western North Carolina chapter.

The WNC chapter meets every month at REI Asheville. They hold presentations and answer questions.

Chris Slater, the organizer, called the El Camino, the Europe’s trail for the masses and I agree.

But he likened it to the Appalachian Trail. Here I’m not sure if I want to go along with that comparison. The A.T. is a trail in the woods where you walk between two sets of trees. The El Camino is more like the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a combination of wilderness, culture, small towns and back roads. That’s what intrigued me about it in the first place. It’s the MST with better accommodations-OK with available accommodations.

LeChemin-protectionThe speakers got to the specifics right away: backpack, Comped for your feet and iPhones for communications and even photography and how to keep your stuff secure. Chris Y. showed one of his many security apparatus. It looked very heavy. We even discussed bedbugs.


Walking day after day

But Carroll K. spoke about what it means to walk day after day for weeks. Yes, the terrain is gentler than the mountains and you’re not backpacking but walking for weeks will impact your feet much more than your general fitness. In this way, it is more like the Piedmont section of the MST as well.

LeChemin-BillSkywalkerBill (Skywalker) Walker has walked the Spanish section of the El Camino twice and wrote a book. His distinguishing characteristic is his height (6′ 11″). He must take big, big steps.

Will this be my next hiking project? Right now, my MST book is about to be published. I’ve got book events scheduled from March 5 at Diamond Brand Outdoors until August. So stay tuned.


Dupont State Forest – Always something new


I’ve been to Dupont State Forest innumerable number of times but there’s always something new to discover.

Sunday promised to be a beautiful day. Some Carolina Mountain CDupontwithJay2013-grouplub hikers may have been scared off by the little snow swirling around.

Six hikers started out from Hooker Falls parking area and headed for the Moore/Hooker Cemetery.

DupontwithJay2013-Margaretheath Here, Jay, our leader, pointed out something that I had not noticed before–four graves of children who died in the same year, 1861. Margaret (1856-1861), Milliard (1849-1861), Harriet (1854-1861) and Hannah (1844-1861) were laid to rest side by side. Isaac Heath, who we assumed was the father, lived until 1895. What happened?

We can speculate. We dismissed the Civil War. Though the mountain area did suffer from the wanton destruction of the Civil War, 1861 was just too early. We also dismissed attacks by Indians – too late for that.

It could have been a flood or an epidemic. Typically, the children stayed home and may have been swept away by a flood. Maybe the cabin caved in. The father was away and wasn’t hit by the same circumstances. Who knows? Isaac Heath is honored with a short trail–Isaac Heath Trail–but the children just have new gravestones.

The rest of the hike was predictably beautiful. We stopped at three lakes, including Lake Dense above. The waterfalls were full of rushing water. By early afternoon, when we reached High Falls, tourists started coming up the trail.

DupontwithJay2013-BrewerySince we finished the hike so early, Jay suggested that we see another tourist site. We went to the Oscar Blues Brewery. That was my first time in a brewery and I was the designated driver.

Lots of young people hung around at the bar. Somehow, I got the feeling that they didn’t just finish a 10.5 mile hike, like we had. Maybe they were warming up for the Super Bowl. Like I said, there’s always something on a Dupont hike.

Friends of the MST Annual Meeting – 2013


Once a year, members of Friends of the MST get together to learn about the new developments on the trail, to see old friends and make new ones. For the second year, the meeting was in Saxapahaw, south of Burlington–about halfway across the state.

Here are some highlights:

FMSTmeeting2013-licenseplatecountBig accomplishment–We sold our 300th license plate at the beginning of the meeting. Bells rang and whistles blew as Don Bergey, chair of the license plate committee, announced this major milestone.

And though we want and need to keep selling license plates, now the DMV can start fabricating the license plates. Soon we’ll see them on the road.

FMSTmeeting2013-KateDixonKate Dixon gave the State of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

This is always the best part for me. Even though I know most of the facts before hand from various discussions and announcements, it’s nice to see it put all together.

2012 was the 35th anniversary of the trail. Last year, 63 new miles were moved off the road. Several major recommendations were made including the two routes from the Smokies to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a change in the Coastal Plains.

FMSTmeeting2013-DianeVanDerenThe keynote speaker was Diane Van Deren, a North Face Athlete who set the record for the fastest person on the MST.

She gave a set presentation, starting from her childhood and her challenge with epilepsy. Her talk was very personal and motivational: We all have trials and obstacles but they can be overcome with perseverance and discipline and believing in yourself.

Her run, managed and supported by Great Outdoor Provision Company, brought in over $40,000–and you can’t argue with that kind of success.

Back to our volunteers–Jeff Brewer, first president of Friends of the MST and a dedicated volunteer for years, was recognized. So was Allen de Hart, the granddaddy of the trail. The Carolina Mountain Club task force put in 5,765 hours on working on the trail, the most hours of any task force. A few of those hours were mine.

FMSTmeeting2013-DannysellingbooksI took orders for my forthcoming book, as part of the flash sale for The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina.

I rekindled friendships with folks I only see once a year and generally had a great time.