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Mountains to Sea Trail at Christmas

12/26/2007

SHOW ME WHERE THIS IS

During the Christmas 2007 festivities with my wife Debbie’s family, I got invited by Bill Dunn to temporarily join the Old Farts Club. Each Wednesday, they take their weekly “constitutional” hike, often up to 15 miles. The Club has some very stringent entrance requirements: be over 70 years old and retired, or had heart surgery. The OFC is lead by the redoubtable Alvin Sturdivant, who is on track to hike 1,000 miles in 2007. That’s averaging two 10-mile hikes every week. Other partners in crime include Bill Casey, Edgar Harris and Tommy Thomas.

Even though I don’t meet either of those criteria, the Club makes exceptions for persons who just want to go on very long hikes. As one of the members observed, with those kinds of membership restrictions, they need an active recruiting program, before they all disappear. The next hike scheduled for December 26 was my debut.

The Mountains to Sea trail is a conglomeration of existing trails stretching from near Smokey Mountain National Park to the Atlantic Ocean, stitched together by portions of country roads designated as “trails,” and a few actual new trails in the woods. The segment chosen by Alvin for this trip is from NC-16 to NC-18 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. On this 16 mile stretch the MST crosses the Parkway, or many side roads near the Parkway, several dozen times. Thus we are never far from civilization, and a bail-out if some one has trouble.

At the gathering point in the old K-Mart parking lot, Wilkesboro, the above guys appeared, along with two men from Salisbury who have cabins near the Parkway. They recently joined the OFC after reading about it a couple months ago in the Journal-Patriot. Also joining us was Bill’s son Leo from Charlotte and his daughter Sarah, an NC State student majoring in environmental engineering.

The weather was appropriately crummy. As we car pooled up NC-16-N to the Parkway, we drove into a smattering of snow, mixed with freezing rain and sleet. In the parking lot, we encountered the same weather driven by a high wind. Once out of the cars, we had to hustle to pull on rain suits, don day packs and grab hiking poles, before we froze up. A few persons made queries whether we really wanted to hike in these conditions. Befitting a club of grumpy old men, they were met with harrumphs of derision.

The shuttle was run and the cars were parked at Parkway pull offs so that the trip was shortened by a few miles at each end. We netted about 10 miles. Our starting point was the Jumpinoff Rock parking lot just northeast of NC-16. The trail lead into the woods – on a real new trail, not just dirt roads - but never very deeply. Most of the time we could see the Parkway or a nearby side road.

Despite the excess of testosterone among the regular hikers, it did not take long for their true good nature to be revealed. When anybody had trouble reaching down to pick up a lost glove or hiking pole, when someone could not get their hood over their toboggan, or when a member needed help tugging off his over-all pants to answer the call of nature, several other hikers stepped in with timely assistance. One time when I was removing my rain pants, even though I did not ask for help, I was teetering around on one foot, and another hiker quickly reached out a steadying hand.

As befitted a bunch of old farts, during down times while waiting for another member to re-arrange his clothes or gear, they occasionally passed the time by telling jokes, including some about farts. I guess that’s why no ladies are members (except guests like Sarah – when she was within earshot the conversations were kept pristine).

The hike was fun. It was mostly level with a few, short, mild undulations. The weather was the main difficult factor, plus covering 10 miles, which a couple of us were not used to doing routinely. I tell you, Alvin is the man. He sets a very reasonable pace that was quite comfortable for me to follow. But unlike me, he can keep it up nearly non-stop, all day. In the end, he will out-hike almost every body that I know. Except for the joking to fill down-times, the group was mostly quiet. I don’t know if that is their nature, or more a factor of the rough weather and the multiple layers of thick clothes.

A note on the trip photos: there were many better views and trail-side vignettes than these pictures show. Most of the time the weather was too wet, or my hands were too cold to pull off my gloves, to deal with the camera. That, plus Alvin never would slow down. If I stopped to take a picture, I would get left behind.


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