Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Back to the Beach

I'm back at the beach on Topsail Island, NC after a wonderful hiking adventure.  Although I'm acutely missing the stimulation of a daily hike through new territory, I had to come back home for a while.  I had hoped to complete the entire Mountains-to-Sea Trail before I came back, but it was not to be.

I wanted to come back home for two reasons:  First, to watch all of the World Cup soccer matches, and second to finally get my long-abiding novel from manuscript to publication (here on this blog--see the sidebar).  Of course it is also summer, and my home is on the beach.  Here, on my first couple of day hikes on the beach (hiking the current route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on Topsail Island, I must remind you), I encountered a relatively rare American Oystercatcher - shore bird that faced local extinction in the NE United States not long ago - distinguished by its heavy, bright-orange beak:

I came face-to-face with Yoda (Supreme Jedi Master from the Star Wars space-opera franchise) in his blue crab guise:

... and I found a beach ball:

Now  ...  coming back to the beach from western North Carolina was not the simple matter for me that it would be for the normal thru-hiker, who just needs to get their body and their backpack full of gear home.  For me as a serial day hiker, the logistics were a bit more complex.  I was supporting myself using two vehicles.  I was hiking between vehicles, executing a 'leap-frog' scheme:
  • Begin a hiking adventure with two vehicles parked at point A
  • Drive vehicle 1 ahead to a trail crossing or trailhead at point B
  • Hike back to vehicle 2 at the starting point
  • Drive vehicle 2 ahead, leap-frogging vehicle 1, and parking at a trail crossing or trailhead at point C
  • Hike back to vehicle 1
  • Drive vehicle 1 ahead, leap-frogging vehicle 2 and parking at point D ...
  • Continue this procedure to the end of the day, when one vehicle is left at a trailhead and the other vehicle becomes my over-night venue, or becomes the transportation to an off-trail  destination, such as a motel.
So when the hike was finished I needed to get two vehicles back home.  The tactic: Park one vehicle at a trusted location, which in my case was Carver's Gap on the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands.  Drive the other vehicle home.  Find transportation back to the first vehicle and drive it home.

In my case I flew back to Asheville from the wonderful little regional airport in my home area.  Then I hired a shuttle driver to get me to Carver's Gap.

And therein lies a bit of a story.  The shuttle I chose was Harry Siegel's one-vehicle operation, known simply as the Asheville Airport Shuttle.

Harry with his van at Carver's Gap.  Note the AT sticker.
And a quick 'selfie' before heading home to the beach

The choice was a no-brainer.  Harry is an Appalachian Trail 2000-miler (1996-98), and the home page of his web site prominently features his discount services as a trail shuttle driver.  Based in Asheville, he would also be a natural first choice for Mountains-to-Sea Trail hikers who want to do a section or even some local slack packing.  Give Harry a call.  Besides being a consummate professional driver, he's a great joy to talk with.  During the 90+ minutes it took us to get from the airport to Carver's Gap, Harry and I practically exchanged our life stories, with particular emphasis on our Appalachian Trail experiences.

So with both vehicles, me, and all my gear back safely home at the beach, it's time to knuckle down at the computer and write, write, write, proof-read, proof-read, proof-read!  Stay tuned for the big announcement as 'Eden's Womb' launches right here on this blog :-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Roan High Balds in bloom

I came back today to my favorite spot on the Appalachian Trail for an encore visit and came away more enchanted than ever.  Fortune smiled on me - I happened to be here during the height of azalea and rhododendron bloom, and the color along the trail was spectacular.

The blooms are concentrated along the stretch of AT between Carver's Gap and Grassy Ridge, but I also ventured into the expansive grassy dominion around Hump Mountain.  Here the wide open spaces were the attraction.

And in between the stretches of open bald there were some woodland pleasures.  I found this delicate cluster of mushrooms straining to orient themselves in conformance to gravity's pull despite emerging from the side of a rotting log.

The weather was not ideal, but frankly better than I expected.  I didn't get wet and there wasn't any haze obscuring the views.  So I came away satisfied - it was a day well spent in a special place.


Here's a map of the route of the final hike in this series of hikes across North Carolina - a series that began four months ago on the Outer Banks.

The Roan High Balds in bloom at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Success! The connection to the Appalachian Trail

Back home with the white blazes after being away for far too long.  My ten-month double thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail began 1 January 2012 and concluded on 3 November 2012.  Last time I passed this particular place (twice on a long out-and-back day hike, as always) was on February 18, 2012.

When I touched this white blaze it marked the completion of a long, meandering three month walk from my current home on Topsail Island, NC.  The final tally: 694.43 miles from my living room to the AT at Yellow Mountain Gap on the NC-TN border.  The last steps marked the fulfillment of another leg in my 'Personal Continuous Footpath' - a series of walking adventures that are taking me back to all the places I've ever lived using nothing but my two feet for transportation. 

Today was a gorgeous sunny day, and I had to force myself to turn around and not just ramble on following the white blazes to infinity.  I had 16 miles of peaceful back-road walking to get here, and my 65-year-old body was saying 'wait until tomorrow when you can tackle this favorite piece of the AT with fresh mind and spirit.'  And so I reluctantly heeded.

So for today's agenda: getting there was all the fun.  Below is a gallery of photos with captions intended to document the experience.

Christmas Tree Hill.  This area of NC is saturated with Fraser Fir Christmas tree farms.
The long and narrow Pittman Cemetery.  Chance for a little off-road walking.
Flower meadow at Yellow Mountain Gap
Hemerocallis Fulva 'Europa' - the most widely distributed daylily.  It's considered a problem invasvive - pejoratively called the 'ditch lily.'  It's a sterile triploid, and was responsible for the emergence of the daylily as a horticultural phenomenon in the USA.  Dr. A. B. Stout  studied this, successfully breeded with it after thousands of attempts, and pioneered the field of daylily hybridizing.  Today the result is around 50,000 named varieties of daylily.  My personal contribution to the named varieties, during my daylily hybridizing career, is about a dozen.
I hope these children were okay
Old Montezuma Road - a peaceful meandering country lane

Unfortunately today's near-perfect weather can't last.  The mountain weather gods are fickle creatures.  The coming days look to be more summer-like with haze and humidity at best, and thunderstorms at worst.  

Here's the map of today's route:

Connecting to the AT at Yellow Mtn Gap at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Linn Cove Viaduct and Rough Ridge

This report covers my hiking in the vicinity of Grandfather Mountain, proclaimed to be the highest mountain on the Blue Ridge.  The vision of connecting Great Smoky Mountain National Park with Shenandoah National Park with a National Parkway along the Blue Ridge, conceived in the 1930's, became a reality in 1987 with the completion of the Linn Cove Viaduct - a piece of highway engineering that was not possible in the days when the CCC construction crews built most of the rest of the roadway.  In addition to the road, the NPS built some interesting and very rugged foot trail to give the hiker a good look at the Viaduct from above and below -

- and from a first class viewpoint on a rock outcrop they called Rough Ridge (see photo up top).

The trail is called the Tanawha Trail, and its full length runs from near Beacon Heights to the campground at Julian Price Memorial Park, though both ends of it seem to have suffered neglect due to recent budget problems.  A mile of the Tanawha Trail in the vicinity of Linn Cove viaduct goes through a boulder field, and another mile of it from the Rough Ridge parking area up to the viewpoint is extremely steep and, in places, deeply eroded.  Both these bits of trail are very reminiscent of the trails in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, except that in the middle of Rough Ridge the park service built an elaborate section of boardwalk.

As you can see, I had a perfect day for getting those 'money shots' and for taking in the views.

I also ran across a few more exceptionally showy mountain wildflowers, none of which I've had time to identify.

Gray's Lily - a special find: Lilium grayi is very narrowly endemic to only three U.S. states—North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee—growing in sandstone and acidic soils, meadows, open areas near summits, forest meadows, and bluff outcrops. It grows in full sunlight. As of 2000, there were only 61 natural populations left in North Carolina, with some of them only having 5-10 plants—with populations in only one county in Tennessee as of 1993.

This report also covers yesterday's hike, when the weather was foggy and damp and drizzly through the morning.  But even in such conditions, this field full of sunny buttercups was there to brighten the mood.

At the end of today I hiked down from Beacon Heights through Linville and on to the little town of Montezuma.  The goal: to complete the connection of what I call my Personal Continuous Footpath (PCF) from my Topsail Island home to the Appalachian Trail.  My PCF is a long-term pet project to connect every place I've ever called home by walking between them, and I'm using my Appalachian Trail thru-hike as the spine of that connecting path.  I've already done the walk from the AT to all the places I've lived in Maryland and Delaware  including to my ultimate residence at a family cemetery burial plot.  Once I've made the connection to my new Topsail residence, all I'll have left are three major legs - to State College, PA via parts of the C&O Canal Towpath, the Tuscarora Trail and the Mid-State Trail, to Wisconsin where I was born, and to Colorado where I went to graduate school - using parts of the American Discovery Trail and other trails.

Best of all, this connection I'll be making to the AT inserts me at my overall favorite Appalachian Trail location - the Roan High Balds (my previous blog report - this link - is among the most viewed on this blog).

As you can tell, my previous visit was in winter - February 2012.  Stay tuned as I revisit these distinctive high wild places in an entirely different season.


Here's a map of the combined hikes from yesterday and today, with link to lots more photos:

Linn Cove Viaduct and Rough Ridge at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

Saturday, June 7, 2014

More mountain flowers along the Blue Ridge

This is a common flower, but it's rarely in view of us earth-bound humans because it's almost always high up in the canopy.  This is the 'tulip' flower of the Tulip Poplar tree.  I didn't think I'd get a photo of this, but this bloom fell to the ground intact.

Before I present more of the additions to my mountain wildflower photo collection, I have to insert a photo of the fauna-kind.  Black Snakes are notoriously skilled tree climbers.  Here's one coming down a Rhododendron trunk after tending to business known only to it.

Now for the new faces of the flora-kind:

American Holly in bloom - diminutive flower, very potent fragrance
common weed, don't know the name
White violet
Gallery of Mountain Laurel in full bloom
Palest pink morning glory

Among the other scenic highlights of the four days of hiking covered in this report is Jumpinoff Rock, named for a promising young 19th Century Russian ballet dancer, Alexei Jumpinov, who, while on tour in the US came to visit the NC Blue Ridge.  Hosted by E.B. Jeffress (for whom the nearby Jeffress Park is named),  the moody Russian dancer became smitten by Jeffress's daughter Justine.  When Justine rejected the high-strung Jumpinov, he proceeded to a nearby rock outcrop, declaring that his life was no longer worth living, flung himself off the brink, and fell to his death.

If you buy that then I want to talk to you about my pre-packaged dehydrated water.  For sale cheap.

When the Blue Ridge Parkway was built they turned Jumpinoff Rock into a destination viewpoint, down a half mile of trail from a parking area.  Here's the viewpoint, the view, and a look at Hat number Twelve posing on the retaining wall - supposedly last in the 'Hat of the Day' series.

Hat number Twelve is a roadside find from Maryland, found while I was hiking a leg of my Personal Continuous Footpath into Calvert County in the summer of 2013.  I've accompanied it with my Realtree branded camo Crocs, Ribbit and Rabbit (named for the squeaky sounds they make as I hike when they're wet).

But there's a Hat number Thirteen.  And I wore it for just a couple miles, hoping for a photo-op with it on an abortive day when an approaching heavy storm chased me off the trail.  And that's when I got the unlucky break.  Voila!

Hat number Thirteen isn't really a bad luck hat.  It used to be the only hat I wore.  It used to be dark blue.  I wore it out, as you can see.  It was purchased nearly 20 years ago at Crazy Shirts in a small shopping center beside Kalapaki Beach on Nawiliwili Bay, Lihue, Kauai.  I had retired this hat back in 2011, but never had the heart to throw it away.  So it came out of retirement to pose as Hat number Thirteen and play the role of hike spoiler.  Everything happens for a reason :-)


The map of the hiking route is below, and a more comprehensive slide show can be viewed by clicking the link:

MST Days 67-70 - Jeffress Park at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Foot notes from a Blue Ridge hike

Odds and ends today - just a few miscellaneous notes from today's 11 2/3 mile hike:  Above is an addition to yesterday's flower-themed post - a flower I searched for and did not find yesterday but captured a good example today - Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Next - a 'Selfie' modeling "Hat number Eleven" in my 'hat of the day' series.  This is the hat I bought at the AT Conservancy in Harper's Ferry when I officially stopped by (on foot) during my double thru-hike in late October 2012.  The total official trail distance hiked during that ten month double thru-hike was 4368.4 miles - the shirt is one I prepared for the family celebration on the day I completed the hike (Nov. 3rd).  Okay, now you know why they say nobody over 30 should do 'Selfies' :-)

Three notes from the natural world:  First, an Eastern Ribbon Snake struggling across the Blue Ridge Parkway:

Second, a carpet of Japanese Stiltgrass overgrowing this little-used section of the MST.  Japanese Stiltgrass is a major invasive - accidentally introduced in Tennessee as packing material a century ago, it is now the predominant ground cover in shady woods environments all up and down the eastern US.

And finally here's a shot of a humble shrub that is one of my personal favorites.  Found in moist and riparian settings, this is Spice Bush - an honest-to-goodness native that I use as a little 'pick-me-up.'  When crushed the leaves give off a spicy stimulative fragrance (thus its common name).  Crush as you hold the leaves close to your nose and inhale deeply.  For a second or two the aromatic fragrance will refresh.  It doesn't last long, and I doubt if it has any real stimulant properties, but for me it never fails to re-invigorate my body, mind and heart.


Below is a map of the route I hike today:

MST Day 66 - Northwest Trading Post at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina