Scouting for MST in a Day

I’ve done the whole Mountains-to-Sea Trail but there are parts of the trail that I go back to over and over again. These sections are close, easy and can work in many circumstances.

So I was thrilled when Kate D. and Betsy B. of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail asked me to lead a “celebrity” hike for MST-in-a-Day on Saturday September 9 – this coming Saturday. We’re going from the Folk Art Center to the Visitor Center and back.

You may wonder what a celebrity is – so did I. We’ve invited Carolyn Ward of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Brad Cave of Eastern National, John Slaughter, the current acting superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and several retired superintendents. I don’t know who will show up but I know I will – rain or shine.

No matter how many times I do a hike, I scout it before I lead it again. So a couple of days ago, I drove to the Folk Art Center and walked MST-west to the Visitor Center – 2.9 miles or so.

The trail was manicured, as you would expect since it is a popular section. On a Saturday morning, there were lots of runners, dog walkers and three hikers who recognized me.

The photographer, Jennifer Mesk,runs the website Humans of Asheville  and she interviewed me a while back.

“You’re the one with the book,” she said.

“Yeah, several..”


Fall flowers abound: hearts-a-Bustin also known as strawberry bush, bowman’s root, goldenrod and jewel weed. Spring flowers may be more popular when we come out of winter but fall flowers are just as fascinating.

But the most surprising were the cows in the pasture under the Blue Ridge Parkway. See the picture above.

Twenty cows blocking the trail were intimidating but they moved and mooed as soon as I approached.

Swannanoa River

The trail crossed the Swannanoa River and climbed up past a house or two and eventually reached the Visitor Center. After chatting to Eastern National employees and having a snack, I retraced my steps.

I will be at the Folk Art Center by 9 am. The hike will start promptly at 9:30am.

Please come and join me. Let’s see what celebrities show up.

Friends of the Smokies at Fontana

Hall Cabin in Bone Valley

If anyone thinks that the United States is one big homogenized interstate with lots of fast-food restaurants, I would like to invite them to Fontana Village and Hazel Creek in far-western North Carolina.

Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) held an overnight trip to the Fontana area, about 30 miles west of Bryson City. FOTS leads day hikes throughout the year but once a year, we organize an overnight around the park. We don’t rough it but stay in a building with beds and a shower. The exception was our overnight trips to LeConte Lodge.

Monday, we met at Fontana Village at noon and drove to the Twentymile Ranger station – that’s even more remote than Fontana. We hiked the Twentymile Loop Trail, a lollipop, which involved three trails – Wolf Ridge, Twentymile Trail and Twentymile Loop Trail.

Dan Pierce

Dan Pierce, Professor of History at UNC-Asheville, came on the hike. On a break, he talked about moonshine in the mountains and Quill Rose, a memorable moonshiner in this very remote part of the park.

Dan was also the evening speaker on Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Town published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

The next day, FOTS offered two hikes: a short hike on Lake Shore Trail to the old cars and my hike to the Hall Cabin.

The seventeen hikers going on Hazel Creek and into Bone Valley took a pontoon boat from the Fontana Marina across Fontana Lake to the Hazel Creek area. As we turned the corner, we spotted a mama bear and two cubs scampering up a branch on the shore. Most hikers pulled out their phones but I just watched – sorry, no pictures.

Crossing a creek

With 15.5 miles to walk and a return boat at 5 pm, we didn’t have time for interpretation. Dan Pierce had prepped the hikers for walking through the town of Proctor and on Hazel Creek Trail.

We then turned on Bone Valley trail and crossed five small creeks – without a bridge. Our wet shoes felt good after a long morning walk to the Hall Cabin. We had lunch and walked to a cemetery in back of the Hall Cabin, which I referred to as the Hall cemetery – Not sure of its official name.

On our way back, we formed little clumps of people but we still had an official sweep –  a strong hiker who made sure that no hikers were left behind. A rattlesnake was lying quietly in the shadows on the side of the trail. Anyone who wanted to see the snake had the opportunity.

We stopped at the Calhoun house, home of Graham Calhoun, an entrepreneur and the last person to leave the Hazel Creek area in 1944, when it became part of the Smokies.

We saw only two other hikers the whole day – a runner and a woman who had paddled to Hazel Creek. It’s not easy or cheap to get across the lake here. The companionship and interpretation is priceless.

The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be Tuesday September 12 on the Boogerman Trail. Sign up now!

Are You All Right?

Are you all right?

Sign to Muxia

I seem to hear this too often these days. People ask me if I’m all right when I step off a curb, stop to get a drink of water on the trail, or when I walk up and even down the steps.

Am I getting too sensitive? Are my antennas up too far?

About ten years ago or so, I was on a small plane landing in a small airport. The passengers needed to walk down the stairs because there wasn’t a jetway.

“Are you all right walking down the stairs?” the flight attendant asked. I was flabbergasted.

“Yes, Are you all right? I replied. She grunted and moved to the next passenger.

Is Are you all right? the new verbal tick? You know, like Good to go, You’re fine and Have a nice day.

I finally realize that this was not a one-off comment but a common phrase from mostly women about twenty years younger than me. Occasionally, I hear it from men of the same age group. But I’ve never heard anyone come up to an older man and ask if he was all right unless he was bleeding on the trail.

If I’m going to write about this, I need to be very specific. I googled the phrase to see if this was a frequent problem. The only helpful website was The Wrong Planet, for people with neurological differences.

One typical answer on this website was:
Why would someone ask you this? Is this a standard greeting? I’ve had a few times when people asked me this, like a weird greeting, but I’m not sure why. It’s unexpected (by me) and I usually respond by freezing, which I guess just makes whatever I was doing seem worse.

Many on this site felt that neurotypical people used the phrase instead of Hello.

At Emerald Bay SP

When I hiked with Family Nature Summits in the Lake Tahoe area, last month, the oldest women, other than me, were in their fifties. They were fit and slim, but not regular hikers.

Jon Krakauer, author of  Into Thin Air about the 1996 Mt. Everest climbing disaster, would call them treadmill fit. Great runners on even ground but if the trail has a few rocks, they would call the hike technical.

The clincher was on a long, steep uphill climbing out of Lake Tahoe to the parking area. The trail was hot and dusty. Halfway up, I stopped at a creek to wet my hat and bandanna. The water on my head felt delicious.

From behind, a woman from our group who had not yet talked to me the entire day, stopped and asked,

“Are you all right?”

“Are you all right? That’s the question. You’re the one behind me.”

Remember the bumper sticker usually on the back of VW Beetles?

I may be slow but I’m ahead of you.

I may not be ahead of you or in front of the group but I’m a plodder. Like a postage stamp, I stick with it until I get there.

Chris and Carroll

While I was thinking about writing about this not-so-new phenomenon, I learned that Carroll Koepplinger, the Ageless Hiker, was going back to Europe to do a long-distance hike in France next month.

He’s almost 87 years old.

Have fun Carroll. I know you’ll be all right.