Monday, February 25, 2013

Coastal Plain Springtime - MST Day 12

It wasn't a very spring-like day, but spring began "bustin' out all over" here on the NC Coastal Plain about a week ago.  Daffodils of many varieties are in bloom.  The shot above was taken on today's Mountains-to-Sea Trail scouting hike on the approach to the bridge over the NE Cape Fear River near I-40 exit 408--that's about 20 miles north of Wilmington, NC.

Not far away, along Shaw Highway, these creeping phlox were in bloom.

And some of the early flowering Bradford Pears are blooming as well.  I had to be careful not to upset this tree's fierce looking little guardian:

Today's hike was all road walking.  But that didn't mean it was dull.  This shot of an abandoned house with abundant Spanish moss reminded me how close I was to the "Low Country."

I even had a "Yogi Berra moment", when I came to an unexpected fork in the road--Following Yogi's advice, I just had to take it.  (Well, take its picture anyway).


Here's a map of the route of today's walk, and a link to more of the photos I took along the way:

MST Day 12 - NE Cape Fear River at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Friday, February 22, 2013

Holly Shelter, west end - MST Day 11

Holly Shelter boat launch facility at NE Cape Fear River

It's been a week and a half since my last hike -- been up in Maryland getting all my teeth ripped out -- finally!  But now I'm back in NC and eager to do some more Mountains-to-Sea Trail scouting.  For today's hike, I extended my coverage westward from where I left off on my Day 5 hike.

It was a gorgeous cool day with dry conditions and wall-to-wall sunshine.  I hiked the remaining length of Bear Garden Road through the Game Land ...
typical scene along Bear Garden Road
Interesting symmetry of pine stands on Bear Garden Road
Swamp beside Bear Garden Road near Ashes Creek bridge

... and then a section of paved Shaw Highway along which they had done a controlled burn back in January ...
Shaw highway looking north
Impressive pine with Spanish Moss, Shaw Hwy entrance to boat ramp

... and on down to the Holly Shelter boat ramp access road, then along a beautiful foot-only path on 'River Road' right on the banks of the NE Cape Fear River.  River Road is gated and no longer passable by vehicle.  The trail is on a narrow eroding embankment that separates the river from a deep, dark cypress swamp complete with Spanish Moss and plenty of cypress knees -- felt almost like walking on a bridge.
Boater, only one I saw, NE Cape Fear River, plus signs of spring
River 'Road' footpath beside NE Cape Fear River

You get to hike for nearly a mile along the river bank, then River Road takes a right angle turn and heads back to Shaw Highway running between two cypress swamps--game land property on the north, and a private tract on the south that was just shamelessly clear-cut, murdering hundreds of giant old cypress trees.
Clear cut swamp, private land cleared right up to Game Land boundary on River Road

Still, it was quiet and peaceful--a delightful 2 mile nature break that replaces 3/4 miles of walking on the shoulder of Shaw Highway, and some of the best concentration of watery scenery in eastern North Carolina.  It will be fun to revisit that clear-cut in coming years to watch how it begins to recover.

All in all, this walk along River Road in what's called the Greentree Tract of Holly Shelter Game Land is a must as an off-road routing for the trail.


Below is a map of today's scouted MST route, part of the Cape Fear Arch proposed 'southern' route.

MST Day 11 - Holly Shelter west at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dawson Cabin Rd - MST Day 10

Lone tree stands vigil over a small private cemetery along Dawson Cabin Road

Frosty morning along Dawson Cabin Road
It was a crisp frosty morning and I only had a half day to hike.  That was all I needed to finish up scouting the symmetrical, county-line-straddling, 57.4 mile 'Topsail Island arc' for the proposed Mountains-to-Sea Trail -- 28.63 miles through Pender County then 28.77 miles in Onslow County.  Highlights of the day were the frosty vistas, a small private cemetery, a very pretty glass-smooth pond and a quaint but modern little country store at the corner of Haws Run Road and King Road where the hiker can stop and get some refreshment.

Pond along Haws Run Road


Below is a map of today's route, with link to a slide show and GPS track details:
MST Day 10 - Dawson Cabin Road at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Camp Lejeune, Stones Crk outparcel - MST Day 9

US 17 corridor thru Camp Lejeune.  Note military convoy at left.

Today's 16 mile out-and-back hike was a gem.  It took me through the 4.6 mile corridor where US 17 slashes through Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, then along High Hill Road with a delightful 1.5 mile excursion through an outparcel of Stones Creek Game Land on well maintained foot trail--not a vehicle track, a genuine foot path!  For those in a hurry, this arc of wild land can be bypassed by staying on High Hill Road between the two gated access points.  This saves about a mile of hiking, but what it squanders is far greater.  See later in this post for pictures.

Here's a map of this little excursion, courtesy of the NC Wildlife Commission.  The east-bound MST route (going north on High Hill Rd here) turns right on Hicks Rd (which seems to have been permanently gated for several years) then turns left at the red-marked gate and follows the dashed line trail back to High Hill Rd:

The contrasts in today's hike were extreme.  The hike along US 17 is on ample wide shoulder--not dangerous in the least -- but the hiker is constantly barraged by traffic noise.  Here's another view:

Then comes the left turn (for the MST east-bound hiker) onto the much quieter residential High Hill Road.  Camp Lejeune borders this road on its south side.  Traffic is fairly light and the grassy shoulder is abundantly wide, but the sound of heavy artillery fire was constant, even though it was a Saturday.  The Marines are not insensitive to their impact, as evidenced by this sign they erected along the road:

And to complete the day's contrast, there's the purely wild interlude through the Stones Creek parcel--entirely out of ear-shot of the Marine Base, and truly a little piece of NC Coastal Plain bliss.  Below is a sampling of the trail I encountered here, presented in the order that the east bound hiker would encounter it.  For my money this is a *must-do* for the MST:

grass covered Hicks 'Road', no longer used by vehicles
Left off Hicks Road at this gate, onto foot path
Minor stream crossing, just a hop--even after 2.5 inches of rain two days ago
Traverse through linear rows of trees in an old pine plantation
Stroll through the woods ...
... and headed back toward High Hill Rd.

There is even an opportunity to extend this off-road experience on a paved dedicated pedestrian/bike greenway through a residential development that may link to the Stones Creek Game Land via a side trail (photo at right).  I didn't explore this option today, but it just adds to the potential delight of this stretch of proposed MST.


The map below sums up the route that I took today, and includes more photos:

MST Day 9 - Camp Lejeune, Stones Crk at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stones Creek Game Land - MST Day 8

At 2,978 acres, the Stones Creek Game Land is far from North Carolina's largest, but it is a little gem--full of diversity and natural beauty.  It contains about half a dozen 'bays' or lakes, and my hiking route took me past one of these that is half a mile long (view shown above), and I was able to hike a complete 1.5 mile circuit around its perimeter following a jeep track that hugs the shore.

There are also high sandy areas with sparse woodland, the classic fire-dependent flat boggy woodland, and wet lands along the streams.  My hiking route gave me the opportunity to ford Stones Creek and a small tributary of it - both fords were just ankle deep ford with a nice firm gravel/sandy bottom - no swamp muck to wade through.

I ended the day hiking two miles along US 17 on a luxuriously wide mown-grass shoulder between the highway and the Game Land.  All in all it was a delightful hike.  Below are some of the other photographic highlights:
Western arm of the lake or 'bay'
Park-like grassy shoulder between US 17 and Game Land
Ford of Stones Creek tributary on jeep track
High open sandy area
Stand of young Longleaf Pine along jeep track
Unusual shaped tree, lower branches probably killed by fire

The full set of photos is accessible on this map of the track of today's hike:

MST Day 8 - Stones Creek Game Land
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Beach to Stones Creek Game Land, MST day 7

Intracoastal Waterway from High Bridge on NC 210, N Topsail Beach, NC

In today's installment of my scouting hikes for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, I hiked the 5.4 miles of road walk between the beach and the entrance to the Stones Creek Game Land.  The highlight (of today's walk is crossing the High Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway (shown above).  This is a nice modern bridge, a full half mile in length with five foot wide shoulders on both sides.  At its middle it rises 65 feet above the water at high tide.

Bike path and public parking where trail leaves the beach
For the hiker this is a 'road walk', although all the walking except over the high bridge is on a nice wide grassy shoulder (four miles) or on a quiet frontage road (a half mile in length) or on a dedicated paved bike-footpath (for 0.35 miles - shown at left).

View of North Shore Golf course from NC 210
There are plenty of businesses for the hiker to take advantage of, ranging from a Holiday Inn Express to several convenience stores and a McDonalds.  There's long term resupply at a Food Lion grocery store, and a number of sit-down restaurants.  But there's plenty of nature here too.  The road passes beside more undeveloped woodland than developed land; and there's a very pretty golf course with the view shown at right.

To put today's hike in context: for the eastbound thru-hiker this trek through 'civilization' follows 8 miles of beach walking and is then followed by the traverse through the wilds of the Stones Creek Game Land on several miles of seldom-used jeep tracks (someday a dedicated foot trail could be built here).  Plans are to explore the Game Land tomorrow--stay tuned.

Access road to Stones Creek Game Land, seasonally gated

Below is a map of today's hike with more photos available by clicking the title to go to a slide show or clicking the individual red push-pins.

MST Day 7 - beach to Stones Creek Game Land at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Topsail Island beach walk, proposed MST route

1946 rocket observation tower on Topsail Island, part of Operation Bumblebee

Day 6 of scouting a proposed route for North Carolina's 1000 mile long state park, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail found me walking familiar ground - my 'home beach,' so to speak.  The proposed route follows the beach strand for more than eight miles between the two bridges that provide access to the island.  Today I hiked the 6.7 miles of that walk from the Pender-Onslow County line east to where the trail leaves the beach to cross the high bridge on the north end of the island.

The highlight of this section of beach is passing one of eight concrete bunker-like rocket observation towers built by the US Navy in 1946 as part of Operation Bumblebee--a rocket testing project that was active on the island for just a year and a half before it was moved elsewhere.

There are several public flush-toilet restrooms along this stretch of beach.  Shown at right is the one at a big public park (also with sound access) at Milepost 12.  The gray building behind the blue barrel has a water fountain, outdoor showers and rest rooms available year-around.

The hiker with a keen eye might find a shark tooth or two amongst the shells and unique quartz pebbles that line the beach.  It was a clear crisp day for a hike, and I covered the 13.5 miles (out and back) by 12:30PM then headed back home to my beachfront condo, just four miles from the east end of today's hike.  Little wonder that I'd love to see this stretch of beach become part of the Mountains-to-Sea trail.
Haw River Ballroom, Saxapahaw, NC, site of the 2013 FMST annual mtg.

Last weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Haw River Ballroom, along the proposed route of the trail near its middle (between Raleigh and Greensboro) and learned that the trail does not yet have a Master Plan, so its 'identity' remains fluid and subject to change.  The proposed hiking route in the eastern coastal plain through the environmentally sensitive and diverse Cape Fear Arch still seems to be competing with the current approved route of the trail along the Neuse River.  It's unclear how long it will take before a final decision in this area is made, since both choices for the trail remain largely undeveloped and currently follow roads.  It will be fascinating to watch the decision process in coming years.


Below is a map of today's hiking route, with attached photos and a link to more info:

MST Day 6 - Topsail Island at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Friday, February 1, 2013

Eden's Womb: The climate connection

The cover of Book I of the Eden's Womb series features a desolate Arctic landscape.  Climate plays an important role in the plot.

This is the third and last in a series of introductory posts regarding the background and evolution of my novel ‘Eden's Womb’ In my last discussion I brought the time line up to 1969, at which time I had a firm concept about the plot, but had written very little of the text.  The following few years were turbulent ones for me, so the novel stayed on the back burner.  I graduated from college and moved to Colorado to go to graduate school.  My field of study was Atmospheric Science.  When things began to settle down personally in the early 1970’s my academic reading and research led me to a key concept that was to provide the setting for the novel as it exists today.

The novel had always been about a young man taking a cross country tour and getting caught up in an apocalyptic collapse in society while stranded far from home.  In its earliest manifestations I had envisioned the trigger to be a socioeconomic collapse leading to political anarchy and conflict.  But new research in the field of climate at the time was pointing to an intriguing possibility: that an ice age might be imminent.  Yes, an ice age. 

My inspiration came from, among other places, an infamous paper written in 1971 by a man who was to become one of the more outspoken proponents of the theory that humans are causing global warming, Stephen Schneider.  In 1971, Schneider was second author on a Science paper with S. I. Rasool titled "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate" (Science v.173, 138–141). This paper used a 1-d radiative transfer model to examine the competing effects of cooling from smog and warming from CO2. The paper concluded:

"However, it is projected that man's potential to pollute will increase 6 to 8-fold in the next 50 years. If this increased rate of injection... should raise the present background opacity by a factor of 4, our calculations suggest a decrease in global temperature by as much as 3.5 °C. Such a large decrease in the average temperature of Earth, sustained over a period of few years, is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age. However, by that time, nuclear power may have largely replaced fossil fuels as a means of energy production."

Carbon dioxide was predicted to have only a minor role. However, the model was very simple and the calculation of the CO2 effect was lower than other estimates by a factor of about three, as noted in a footnote to the paper.

As years went on and climate models got more sophisticated, the consensus shifted 180 degrees, and yet even modern global warming theories allow for the possibility the planet could be plunged suddenly into a serious cold period.

In any case, starting in 1972, I began writing a new version of ‘Eden's Womb' in which the hero is stranded by a massive and unending snowstorm in a nearly instantaneous climate shift which plunged the planet into an ice age.

Sound familiar?  Many of you may remember the 2004 movie ‘Day After Tomorrow.’  There was also a lesser known 1998 made-for-TV film called 'Ice' with a similar concept.  Just goes to show you – very few ideas are new.  It only took Hollywood a quarter century to take ‘my’ idea and turn it into a good apocalyptic movie.

Early versions of ‘Eden's Womb' were set in the near future (I chose 2010) and followed the adventures of a character named Luke Aeolus, who became stranded in an August snow storm in the town of Saskatoone.  Sound familiar?  For those of you reading Book I as published here on my blog, you'll find that I've resurrected the remnants of those early versions.

In 'Eden's Womb', just like in ‘Day after Tomorrow,’ those snows just continued to pile up month after month, year after year.  The primary setting of 'Eden's Womb' takes place 289 years after Luke’s adventures in a time when they had become the stuff of fireside legend in Saskatoone, a village now locked so deep in the middle of the ice sheet that they had become trapped there and isolated from the rest of the world.

Me in 1989 with the little bundle that changed my priorities.
With about half of a manuscript done, I set the novel aside
to concentrate on family.  Finally in 2006 I got back to work in earnest,
and 'Eden's Womb' began to take its final shape.

 Between 1972 and 1986 I worked on the story intermittently at best, restarting from scratch several times and refining the plot to the point where the original concept had morphed from a thriller/adventure story to a full-blown Sci-Fi extravaganza set in what seems like a parallel universe on a planet with an identical history to Earth’s, but with one major difference.
In 1986 I got really serious, writing about half of this sci-fi version of the book by hand—that is, using pen and paper.  I had hundreds of pages in my rambling scrawl, and was even developing a bit of arthritis in my hand from all the writing.

But this was the dawn of the era of the PC, so when I got my first one—a Mac Plus with a full Megabyte of memory (wow!) I finally transferred my hand-written text to digital format using a Neanderthal version of Microsoft Word for Macintosh.  Some of that ancient (nearly quarter century old) digital version remains intact and finds its way into Book One (Chapters 20, 22, and 26).

But for the primary plot of ‘Eden's Womb' I moved on - far on.  The plot morphed again—from hard core Sci-Fi to more of an epic fantasy adventure tale set in our Earth’s far distant future: no alternate universe, just our good old familiar 21st century Earth extrapolated hundreds of thousands of years into the future.

The skeleton of Luke’s story as conceived back in 1972 remained unchanged through this morphing--Ice Age and all, but his experience was now set in the neo-stone-age culture that humans had adopted in 635,039AD.  I have a reason for picking that far-future time frame.  Science can project the Earth's orbital fluctuations that far ahead, and it will be a time very favorable for a significant new Ice Age.

'Eden's Womb' begins three centuries after Luke’s arrival in Saskatoone on that August afternoon when the snows first struck (‘The Cleansing Storm’ as Saskatoone’s survivors have come to call it).  And by then Saskatoone has been surrounded and isolated by a new ice sheet 200 feet deep and unbroken for hundreds of miles in every direction.

So there you have it--the long, winding path, that led to the book I'm posting here on this blog.  I hope the insights add a bit to the reading experience.  Enjoy.