Sunday, July 20, 2014

Final Asheville Event

I love the hell outta this trail!
Please join me for my final thru-hiking book event! This will not only be a presentation about my recently published, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, but a celebration of my completion of my 2014 thru-hike of the Mountains to Sea Trail from the Outer Banks to Clingman's Dome. And I have just the venue...not only is Black Dome an outfitters, but they have a bar serving the finest microbrews in the Asheville area! Come learn about the trail, the book, and enjoy a cold one!

A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail Presentation and Thru-hike Celebration at Black Dome Mountain Sports, 140 Tunnel Rd, Asheville NC 28805
Thursday, July 24th at 6pm
Hope to see you there!

Clingman's Here I Come!

View from atop Chestnut Ridge
This was one of the very last views I can remember seeing...which was this past Wednesday morning. I have hiked through some incredibly special parts of the trail and did manage to capture some of the plant life, however as for trail and scenery shots, eh not so much. My views have been blankets of clouds, which do lend a majestic atmosphere to a mountaintop nonetheless and the trail has been a splish-splashing wet rock, green moss, deep mud kind of experience, all with too much rain to take out the camera. The plant photos I managed to catch before the rain began!

The Middle Prong Wilderness making up just 8 miles of the MST, but sandwiched between Pisgah National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, offering the hiker a seamless wilderness experience
 To catch y'all up, I left Asheville and hiked gradually up on easy well-graded trails towards Mount Pisgah. The first day out of Asheville was hot and humid and actually rather stifling, the first I'd had on the trail since the east, but by the second day after gaining a over 2000 feet elevation and reaching over 5700 feet at Pisgah's summit, the cool weather set in. I'm talkin' true mountain air, the kind that makes your lungs expand, makes each step feel a lil' stronger, and that smell of what I call the "cotton-candy" pine. I have yet to figure out just which one it is, but breathe deep and be mindful next time you're at that elevation, you're bound to catch just a passing waft of its sweet smelling sap.

RipeWineberries (Rubus phoenicolasuis) - notice the very hairy sepals and the leftover yellow receptacle - this is characteristic of Wineberries. The entire plant is wooly, with the stems often being covered in a red wool and the undersides of the leaves in a thick white wool. The berries are considered raspberries and are hollow when plucked, leaving the receptacle behind. Leaflets number just 3, with the terminal leaflet being the largest.
Along the way, I had the pleasure of eating my first Wineberries of the season that seemed to be blushing red everywhere I looked. In fact, I notice lots of berries and plants already going to seed. For us, it still seems the height of the season, but for many of the plants they are already preparing to for fall. I saw this in the flowering Wood Nettle (Laportea Canadensis), bright red Trillium berries (Trillium spp.), and Clintonia (Clintonia spp.).

Trillium (Trillium spp.) berry of a Trillium's single large flower - these berries are NOT edible and will produce gastric upset if consumed. Trilliums are a rare and habitat sensitive plant, so best to simply admire them anyhow.
Oh and I also must mention, I had this handsome man as my hiking companion on the first day out of Asheville. He hiked 19 miles, keeping up the whole time (well most of the time), and drinking and bathing in every stream we passed...

Me and Harvey. Harvey is usually Rachel's main squeeze, but I got to enjoy his company on this day!
It was the night leaving Mount Pisgah that the rain first began. Although I had to don cold wet clothes every morning, at least I was offered a reprieve throughout the majority of each day... that is for a couple of days. After reaching Mount Pisgah, I enjoyed a subtle downhill to Chestnut Ridge and then another gradual descent to Yellowstone Prong and Graveyard Fields. This area lies just outside of the Shining Rock Wilderness and is astoundingly beautiful, known for its Red Spruce (Picea rubens), Fraser and Balsam Fir (Abies fraseri and Abies balsamea) trees. A popular swimming spot known as Skinny Dip Falls lies here, tumbling between the boulders of the Yellowstone Prong. And lucky me, I had some ladies meet me at those falls...

Me and my two lovely ladies from Asheville, Robin and Rachel - they actually managed to jump into those ice cold waters! I, on the other hand, was still cold from the soaking rain that had dumped on me the night before, and so enjoyed being wrapped in my thermal, basking in a single sunbeam, and eating all the goodies they brought to share with me!
I quickly ascended from the 5000 mountain valley of Graveyard Fields to the mountaintops surrounding Black Balsam and Sam Knob, at least one of these bearing a name, Silvermine Bald. The views were breath-taking and the air was again cool and crisp. On this night, I had the pleasure of camping in an open high-canopy pine woods on a bed of dark red needles. On the ridge I could see the colors put off by the setting sun, the night was void of sound, and in the morning I was awoken by a the song of a single bird.

Heading towards camp in the diminishing light near Black Balsam
As I left here in the morning, I headed into the thick wood woods of the Middle Prong Wilderness, one of my most favorite portions of the MST. The best way that I can describe this area is as a mountain-top garden. It is not at all orderly like a garden but the way that the trail is cut through the thin black soil, exposing the, most often, flat slabs of rock below, leaving the trail to be framed by bright green moss and blooms of white lichen, gives the suggestion of a definite pathway through the plants. The curling bark of Yellow Birch (Betula allegheniensis) lies strewn about as does fallen clumps of Usnea (Usnea spp.) and as always in these high elevation woods, the Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel creep in from all sides. Through all of this are many skinny trickling streams, with waters so clear that you can see perfectly all the different shades of brown and gray and cream one could ever imagine in the pebbles that make up the stream floors.

Usnea aka Old Man's Beard (Usnea spp.) - this is a potent medicine, possessing antibiotic, anti-viral, anti-fungal properties. It was historically used to pack soldier's wounds when modern medicines were not available in the field. It is now largely used by herbalists as a general antibiotic and more specifically in use against urinary tract infections. Making a tea of it will extract some of its constituents but making an alcohol tincture is more effective.
It was in the Middle Prong Wilderness that I had the pleasure of meeting Becca Day and her friends Claire and Debbie. I met Becca by running into her on the trail and asking her with great trepidation, "Is this the MST?" To which she replied, "Yeah!" Oh thank God. Because this is a designated wilderness area, there are few blazes and many side trails where hikers have wondered off and gotten lost, therefore I was doing my damnedest to stay on track. After learning I was thruhiking Becca happened to offer up her home when I came through Balsam Gap in the next day or two. Well...let's just say I took Becca up on that offer after hiking in a torrential downpour the next morning for 3 hours at 5000 feet over steep rocky trail and across the tops of blowing wind balds. Okay, so maybe after I realized my hands were so cold I couldn't tie my own shoes and in a dumb-handed frenzy threw my tent down on the side of the trail, ripped off my wet clothes, got inside tried not to get anything else wet, put on every article of dried clothing I had, got inside my sleeping bag, and then proceeded to eat half my food bag, fall asleep with head on said food bag, and wake up to the rain still pouring down...I called Becca...asking her to meet me 7 miles before Balsam Gap. Becca, thank you, you were a true Trail Angel! Oh yeah, and then Becca, her husband, and I all ate Mexican and drank Angry Orchard. Does it get any better than that?

A snail - I saw so many of these guys, I had to be careful not to crush them underfoot- at least they have been enjoying the rain!
And so it not only rained all day that day, but I started off in the early morning the following day in more rain. I spent the first half of the day descending, hiking at a lower, and therefore warmer elevation and had some good body heat built up by the time I again had to ascend to Waterrock Knob. Let me tell ya, I was quite the sight, walking up the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway in tiny shorts and rain jacket with the hood pulled as tight around my head as possible dripping wet in the rain and thick fog, passing drivers probably thought me an apparition. Through that fog I simply followed the enormous rock faces on one side, all with streaming waterfalls, and the dark green pines lining the cliffs on the other. And good news, hikers, Waterrock Knob Visitor Center at the summit is OPEN! And they have a fireplace. Upon reaching here, I promptly threw down my wet gear and plopped down on the floor in front of that fire and ate a snickers.

The sign telling me Clingman's is only getting closer!
And now I have officially begun the River Valley Route! This route descends from the mountains after summiting Black Rock and Yellowface Bald, which I did yesterday evening, to the Tuckaseegee River. Here I will follow roads for about 20 miles into the Great Smokey Mountains. Two days of hiking here, and I'm at Clingman's Dome. All I can say is, "Clingman's, I'm comin' for ya!" This is one of two alternate routes to avoid walking on the parkways. The other route goes largely through the Smokies with this route has been described as the less rugged of the two...well, do not hit those woods on the other side of Waterrock Knob and expect a nice easy walk in Pinnacle Park. Blackrock and the West Fork Trail that leads you over it's summit is incredibly rugged with much boulder scrambling and then a descent of over 700 feet in 0.5 mile. This small section was also some of the most beautiful trail I've seen along the MST yet, so also definitely a portion to be experienced.

The countryside of Sylva, a little town along the edge of the Tuckaseegee River and that sits at the base of the Waterrock Knob, Black Rock, Yellowface, and Pinnacle.
And so after raining all night long last night, I awoke this morning to mere mist and could just feel that the sun would be coming out. Seven miles later, as I entered the town of Sylva, the sun was so bright my eyes were mere slits and the sun so hot I wondered what on earth I was doing with that Mount Mitchell fleece in my pack. Sylva is the definition of mountain town and I have so far thoroughly enjoyed its amenities: City Lights Bookstore and Café, the Economy Inn, and later, a brew at the Innovator Brewery. Delicious little eateries also abound here.

Tomorrow...into the SMOKIES! I will do one small post following this one with an announcement for my final book event in Asheville at Black Dome, but my next full post will be upon COMPLETION!

I must leave you with the photo of one more friend that I met during an actually beautiful, fall-like, crisp day in the Middle Prong Wilderness...

Speckles, the Spiritual Llama. I want nothing more than to leave it at this, but I'll give you the backstory. Speckles is part of a team of llamas that are part of an organization called Challenge Adventure. The kids that were on this trip informed me of this particular llama's name and his role amongst the other llamas. After I learned this, I felt rather honored I'd had the opportunity to pet him.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

1000 Miles Down!

Standing atop misty Mount Mitchell: elevation 6684 feet
How did I actually come this far already?! These words are what resounded in my head the last few days on trail, as I began to see not only familiar names of towns and gaps along the parkway, but the mountains looming larger and further in the distance, and I drew more and more near to Asheville .

A view of the mountains en route to Mt. Mitchell
 I know my last post was brief and so I'd quickly like to run through where I have hiked since I left the little mountain town of Boone. Beginning on trail along the parkway, I hiked up to Moses Cone State Park, grazed the edge of Rich Mountain, then descended into the valley, meandering along the edges, fording, sloshing, and splashing through over a dozen creeks and a handful of rivers...

a foggy morning on the creek
... I climbed up to Rough Ridge which held true to name with its rock strewn ridge and boulders as large as houses, all the under the gaze of Grandfather Mountain, and crossing beneath the Linn Cove Viaduct that winds like a snake along an outside edge of a mountainside. I climbed the Chimneys, spending the Fourth of July here and having the absolutely magical experience of watching the fireworks burst like tiny colored flowers in the valley far below, the accompanying booms sounding like drums out of time....

A view from above the Linville Gorge
...I descended from Shortoff Mountain at nearly 4000 feet into the Linville Gorge and back up to the Pinnacle, once again at nearly 4000 feet where I had the pleasant surprise of finding a whole untouched watermelon some crazy person had lugged all the way up there...I looked around to make sure no one could claim it and then...I ate it....

Quite the find atop The Pinnacle on a hot sunny day
...I descended down to more creeks in deep gaps filled with Wood Nettle and Blackberry Brambles, clawing my way through the vegetation as I neared Black Mountain Campground, and then ascended up, up, up to Mount Mitchell at nearly 7000 feet. Although I it looks nice and warm in the photo above, it was far from it, as I stood socked in by cold fog. After spending nights in my tent at elevation wrapped in my rain jacket for warmth and my hair wrapped around my neck like a scarf, I bought a true tourist-esque Mt. Mitchell fleece at the summit gift shop and later found myself huddled and relieved in my tent as the rain pounded and wind blew from where I was camped in dark pine woods at 6000 feet just on the other side of the mountain...

Descending from the mountains...Asheville laid just below these clouds
Then beginning quite the downhill, descending to Craggy Gardens and then the equally craggy Lane Pinnacle and Wolf Den Rocks within just 12 miles of the city of Asheville. I camped at Rattlesnake Lodge the night before hiking into town. As I continued to descend in the early morning on my old familiar MST running routes, the above photo was my view on the valley...

Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum)
 ...Along the way I met with the colorful faces of the Mountain Plants, such as Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum), Michaux's Saxifrage (Saxifraga michauxii), Mountain St. John's Wort (Hypericum graveolens), Green-Headed Coneflower (Rudbekia laciniata), Pedicularis canadensis and various species of Monarda...

Basil Balm (Monarda clinopodia) - the individual florets are edible with a subtle minty flavor
Green-Headed Coneflower aka Sochan (Rudbekia laciniata) - the greens of which are edible, however traditionally require a couple changes of water to prepare.

Back in the abundant Mountain region, I feasted upon Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana), Wood Nettle (Laportea canadense), Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), various species of Violet leaves (Viola spp.), admired the Ramps (Allium tricoccum) that I wished I could have caught in leaf, and chewed on Birch twigs to freshen the breath...
A whole wheat pita with Cabot cheddar cheese, kalamata olives (I'm lovin' those new individual travels packets!) and a pile of Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)
And then once in Asheville...look at what I found sitting on the shelf amongst some of my most treasured books in one of my favorite bookstores, Malaprops....
A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail - found at Malaprops Bookstore - I must say it felt good to see it shelved with some of my favorites, such as Botany in a Day and Wildflowers and Plant Communities
Having once lived here in Asheville, and for nearly 10 years, it is always a thrill to hike into town. I've now been here since Thursday morning enjoying the company of amazing friends - thank you to Rachel for providing the home base and the sweet welcoming, and Amanda for joining me on my rounds down in Asheville and for hooking me up with the Black Mountain Farmer's Market. Thank you to ALL my ladies - Robin, Jodi and Noah (I know, not a lady but I'm including you here), Raeleen, Addy and Alex - I had too much fun to go through ALL the good stuff - however I must say dancing to ol' skool hip hop under the full moon and a yoga class with long time yoga teacher, Sierra,  were among the highlights! Thank you to Maria at Filo and Bob at Long Time Sun Yoga and Wellness for hosting me and also for simply being awesome. And thank you to EVERYONE that attended my events. Asheville was a hit! And I am quite pleased to say that I am quite nearly sold out of books...however, not to worry there is a second printing on the way!
Kori and Risi, two of my beloved yoga students I had the pleasure of seeing again, and myself while on an impromptu plant walk around the grounds of Long Time Sun Yoga and Wellness on Charlotte Highway in Fairview
Thank you to Asheville for peanut butter tofu and kale, spicy Indian food, salad by the pound, dark microbrews, dark bars full of people dancing, friendly day hikers on the trail, and for being the funky mountain town that you are!
And now...I kid you not...I have 10 DAYS LEFT TO GO until I reach my final summit atop Clingman's Dome. I am going to savor every sweet step (well, at least the ones that don't hurt). I will be taking the River Valley Route which is a one of two new routes in this section. This will be a combination of roads and trail, as I continue my journey through the mountains of Blue Ridge Parkway, then into the little towns of Sylva and Dillsboro, and finally into the wilderness of Great Smokies.
I should be able to get at least one more post in before completion, as I will be stopping in one of these small towns along the way to resupply and also very likely do a book event. Whoop, whoop! Here I come!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Upcoming Asheville Book Events

Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) - one of our lesser known Asheville edibles
I am pleased to announce my upcoming, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, book events!
Malaprops Bookstore and Café
Friday 7/11 at 4pm - Book signing
Filo Pastries
Saturday 7/12 at 1pm - Book Presentation and signing
Long Time Sunshine Yoga and Wellness
Saturday 7/12 at 6pm - Book Presentation and signing
Plans are still being finalized for an event at Diamond Brand, so please stay tuned to this blog and the FMST facebook page for info on when this will be held. And if you can't make it out this weekend, I will also be doing an event at Black Dome Mountain Sports upon completion of the hike!
Hope to see you there!

A Wilderness Snapshot

Oh this will be a condensed, and for that I am terribly sorry because the experience is worthy of so much more few words...but that is part of being in the true internet access and little to no phone service. I have truly been on the trail the last 5 days in both body and mind.

Taking a break atop Shortoff Mountain above the Linville Gorge
And lemme tell you, these feet have walked some hard miles. I have been regularly ascending and descending between 1000 and 2000 feet, walking dusty fire ravaged mountain ridges, following trail along lushly vegetated waterways such as Steele's Creek and Upper Creek with lots of opportunities for a quick dip in one the abundant waterfalls, tunneling through Rhododendron thickets, hiking through sweeping meadows with Coreopsis and Wild Carrot up to my waist, and tenting along the edge of craggy mountain rocks.

The trail approaching the Linville River
And of course, all this mountain plant life has been offering some fantastic foraging along the way! Wood Nettle has been a part of dinner every night this week and its not hard to find considering, it too, has been growing nearly waist high, and stinging these hiker legs down narrow overgrown trail. But the best find was this Stonecrop, growing true to its name, atop a large flat boulder near a small cascade.

Multi-grain flatbread with sharp cheddar cheese, kalamata olives, fresh Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), and a light spread of mayo. I had the pleasure of eating this while seated on an enormous boulder surrounded by the spindly roots of a tree that had made its home there.
Even out here in the wilderness, I've had the good fortune of making some new friends...

Megg and Carter
Above are Megg and Carter. I met these ladies while fording the Linville River, they on one side, myself on the other. After fording we got to talking...turns out these ladies are section hiking the MST, at least 100 miles a year is the plan, however they've already surpassed this year's goal! Carter is the reason why I am able to post a blog tonight! She gave me a call today and it just so happened I was at one of the few road crossings along the trail and said, "Hey would you like to sleep in a bed tonight?" And so has taken me home to her cabin in Linville Falls for the evening. Thank you Carter!

Teepee Walter aka Uncle Fungus
This here is Teepee Walter. In that pack on his pack, he has got 22 days worth of food! I thought about him several times as I moaned and groaned my way up the mountainsides with my suddenly modest pack. He was headed into the woods surrounding Steeles Creek, using the MST as a backbone to get to the various side trails. No resupplies planned. He told me about an absolutely magnificent waterfall that could be seen from a cliff just off trail from where I'd be camping that night. My God, Teepee Walter, you weren't kidding, I felt like I could have just soared off that mountain!

A moth who found me while sitting atop a rock lunching at The Pinnacle
And how could I not include this lil' guy. He joined me for lunch at The Pinnacle...I believe he was lunching on my dirty toe.

I will just have to make up for this short post when I get to Asheville on Thursday! I will be posting a list of my Asheville events immediately following this one!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mountain Plants

Now, to give you a glimpse at some of these gorgeous Mountain flowers....

Galax aphylla
Galax is the unassuming lil' plant that gives the Blue Ridge Mountains there unique scent. It is really quite indescribable...but if you've walked the higher altitude trails through North Carolina and breathed deep, you already know this plant. Galax also goes by the common name Beetleweed, but I think simply calling it Galax is more appropriate as this unusual name better conveys its individuality. It is the sole member of the Diapensia Family, although I couldn't help but notice how much the leaf resembles that of Pennywort found along the Coastal Plain.

Galax flowers
Galax is not edible and with its strong odor, its inedibility is already strongly suggested. From its basal leaves (there are no stem leaves), a single flowering stalk arises, slender and tall, bearing 5- petaled regular flowers. The evergreen leaves are toothed, shiny and heart-shaped, yet much more rounded than say the heart-shaped leaf of a violet. It often shares woods with Rhododendron, Eastern Hemlock, Black Birch, and various Oaks.

Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)
Again, not an edible or medicinal, but this flower is too lovely to simply ignore. The trail often passes through tunnels of Rhododendron thickets as this shrub spreads easily with many-crooked or angled branches that together can weave quite the impenetrable woody web for the unfortunate lost or wandering hiker. It shares the same genus as Azalea and is a member of the Heath family (Ericaceae) which also contains the genus of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia), which is somewhat similar in appearance, although flowers are more cup-shaped.

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis)
Finally onto an edible! This is Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) showing off it's new spring tips. These tips are the edible part. Simply pinch off just the ends and pop in your mouth for a lemony-pine tasting treat. They are packed full of vitamin C and will help to ward off any spring-time colds. A tea can also be made of these tips, simply take a small handful and steep in hot water for 10 minutes. It is quite tasty, and crazy as it sounds, I think they are a nice addition to the bitter instant coffee hikers must often resort to on the trail. However, please pick sparingly as this tree is under attack by the wooly adelgid, an insect that slowly kills the tree by preventing these spring tips to form. Avoid any trees that may be under management by conservation groups as these could be treated with chemicals to kill the adelgid. Also avoid any trees with a soapy residue at the base of the needle, as this is evidence of the adelgid's inhabitance.

Eastern Hemlock's striped needles
The easiest way to identify Eastern Hemlock is by turning over a sprig to see the undersides of the needles. Each needle bears two horizontal white stripes. Another species of Hemlock is Carolina Hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana). This Hemlock's habitat is specific to the high elevations of the Southern Appalachian mountains. I come across this species much more rarely and instead of pinching off tips, choose rather to simply appreciate it. It's needles will not lie in the almost perfectly flat plane you see here, but rather will be more twisted or shoot off at different angles.

Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Self Heal can be found growing along the edges of trail in deep woods, along the roadside, or amongst grasses in wild meadows. Therefore it is one of your most easily accessible medicinals. It is a Heal-All (also one of its common names) with its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Now, the medicine, I feel, is a more subtle one, so it is best employed with the use of other herbs when treating an actual virus or infection. Simply make a tea of the flowering heads and fresh green leaves. A member of the mint family, it has opposite leaves, a square stem, and irregular bilabiate flowers. What I find helps to distinguish this flower is its tall spike and the circular pattern in which the flowers seem to grow around it.

Spotted St. John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum)
This is the forest loving species of St. John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum). There are over 400 species, with Common St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) being the one most often marketed medicinally. However, Spotted St. John's Wort has been shown to possess equal, if not greater, amounts of hypericin, one of the main the constituents, believed to contribute to its anti-depressant qualities. It's xanthones and flavonoids (plants chemicals) also play a large role.

Spotted St. John's Wort's spotted leaves
I have personally had little experience with using this plant medicinally and so would like to do more research before expounding upon all of its useful properties...and there are many....from treating depression and pulmonary issues to bed-wetting and diarrhea. I believe this plant to be incredibly useful, but one which we don't entirely understand yet. Hold the leaves of this St. John's Wort up to the sun and you will see each leaf possesses many translucent dots that at first glance appear black. Therefore, I like to look at this plant metaphorically...Spotted St. John's Wort is the flower that when all appears dark, let's the light in.

Oh, I would absolutely love to keep sharing the plants with you! But alas, I now must get back to the woods!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Blue Ridge Mountains, Baby!

Blissed out atop Bluff Mountain
As you can see from the photo above, these mountains are called the Blue Ridge for good most any light taking on a hue of blue as they roll out layer upon layer into the distance. This past week has been absolutely stunning...I mean...stop dead in your tracks and just take it all in kind-of- stunning. I mean, at nearly every turn, wonder at just how beautiful something as seemingly modest as rocks and roots and moss and trees can be kind-of-stunning.

It has also been challenging. Let me tell ya, hiking from the east with its flat lands and many conveniences along the trail can lull you into a false sense of security, but this hiker is getting whipped into shape with a quickness! Besides the suddenly steep climbs hidden within most every mile, it has rained off and on every day and I do believe every night since I left Elkin. The feet have been wet for days, so has the tent, and the backpack. Just call me Soggy. Also, the gear seems to think it is the end of the trip already! The tent zippers have busted, the camera's on the fritz (after getting caught in a torrential downpour), and the socks have huge holes in the heels. But alas, all of this is repairable and is already on the mend here in Boone. Those are my three things - all of which happened on the same day, mind you - so as long as my body doesn't get any such notions, I'm happy!

So much has happened since I left Elkin, I have already decided there will be two posts to cover this section: one on the terrain and the people, and the second on the plants. There's just too much to include!

Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain State Park - you probably can't see him, but there was a climber slowly making his way up the smooth stone face, made my knees weak just watching him!
Leaving Elkin, I made my way towards Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain has always looked to me like a boulder a giant simply set down on this relatively flat terrain. It's surface is smooth as can be and it is bordered by wooded trails filled with streams, blooming rhododendrons, and waterfalls such as the one you see below.

The view from atop Stone Mountain Falls
However, Stone Mountain signified the last of the easy terrain. From here I climbed up, up, straight up, for 5 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I easily climbed 1500 ft. I remembered how I did this daily on the AT, hell, multiple times a day on the AT, and that helped to toughen me up. Once at the top, I had more reminders of the AT from an overlook along the parkway...and from my campsite that night...

In the far off distance, one can see Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands which is an incredible portion of the Appalachian Trail - this was the view from my campsite at sunset.

This night I bedded down in an absolutely still and silent pine woods...all I heard the entire night was the eventual pitter patter of light rain and in the morning the abrupt awakening of a woodpecker knock-knocking on the tree beside me getting his breakfast. When I rolled over groggily he quickly flew away squawking feverishly...I guess I had been so equally still in those quiet woods he hadn't noticed I was there.

As I hike I am wooed by the blooming Rhododendron and the musty scent of flowering Galax, which is oddly both nauseating and pleasant at the same time, and reminiscent of so many hikes in these mountains. Not to mention the Lobelia, Violet leaves of every shape and size, St. John's Wort, fresh Hemlock sprigs, and strange Orchids. In the pastures left to go wild,  I pass Spiderwort, Butterfly Bush, Self Heal, and Mint. I know, the plants were going to be for another blog...but to paint you a complete picture of the hiking I simply must.

Above you can see the orange dirt I referred to in a previous blog. As far as I understand, this is due to the iron oxide in the soil. However not only is the soil deep orange but it sparkles due to the mica contained therein. Hey, Pixie, I think I found more magick down here!

Sometimes you stumble into large mica deposits. This is a piece I picked out of such a pile just off trail. It is light as feather and flakes apart in layers easily.
Yesterday in particular was incredibly foggy, especially at the lower elevations. As I'd climb I'd slowly rise out of the clouds. However, with all that mist hanging like a shroud in the forest, the trail was so dark it was at times hard to see where I was going. Then once on the road the visibility was even worse...headlights would emerge from the wall of white like two tiny holes punched through a sheet of paper. It made me feel like I was hiking in a dream.

The MST in draped in fog

This was photo was taken on a less foggy day. I tried desperately to capture the thick fog but my camera didn't know what to make of it
And out here in this misty mountains, I also had the pleasure of meeting some awesome people...

Brad Oakley, Mike, and Chandler outside Freebourne's Eatery and Lodge in Laurel Springs, NC
I had remembered this lil' biker bar and hotel three years ago when I first came through and how terribly I had wanted to stay a while longer and have a few cold beers with the fellow patrons. Although I couldn't for whatever silly reason then, I made a point to this time. The owner of Freebourne's was even so kind as to grant me a place on the lawn to pitch my tent free of charge. I rolled in about 4:30 after a hard day that included taking the wrong trail for 2 miles down the side of a mountain and having to retrace my steps, oh, and a thunderstorm. A cold beer and veggie quesadilla never sounded so good. I walked into Tom Petty on the jukebox and a some bandana clad bikers milling around. Perfect. That quesadilla, I swear was probably the very best I ever had...and that's not just a starved hiker talking.

Afterwards I sat outside and enjoyed the free wifi, however as more and more bikers pulled in, I got more questions like, "Girl, what are you workin' so hard on?" and comments like, "Looks like you're doin' something real important." Apparently Freebournes was not the place you came to catch up on email...and before I knew it I was a part of the party.

Turns out, I happened to stroll in on a night when about 25 close friends ride their bikes to this mountain bar to catch up and celebrate livin'. I met Brad Oakley, Mike, Chandler, Theresa and Brad, Cecil and Maryanne, Amanda and her man, a lovely woman whose name escapes me that hiked a good portion of the AT back in the 70's and now rides her horse on the Sauratown Trail, and a slew of other fun people in which names weren't really important at the time. I met Harvey, not a part of a party, but just as friendly, that had rode his bike that last 13 days all the way from Idaho. He simply had some time to spare before his next business assignment and felt like traveling. A live band played at 8:00 that had the whole bar dancing (these folks would have fit in well at the wedding) and singing along. Teresa and Brad ended up letting me bunk in with them in their deluxe-sized room above the bar and I even got a shower for the first time since Elkin. Thank you Theresa and Brad! The night ended with some sips from a mason jar of real true strawberry moonshine, the fresh strawberries still infusing. So much fun to have met y'all. One helluva nite.

Workers from the Student Conservation Association doing trail maintenance on the MST
I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the fine folks that maintain this woodsy thoroughfare. Above are four of the large handful that I came upon working not far from the Basin Cove Overlook on the MST. They had their hands in the dirt and wielded large heavy picking and digging tools - hardcore. Thank you for the beautiful trail!!

Mike and Laura Norris
I met MST section hikers Mike and Laura Norris along the Blue Ridge Church Rd that runs alongside the parkway. Although this is the merely the trail to us, this road will soon also lead to their new home they will be building in the nearby woods just beyond the meadow. These folks found this piece of heaven while out walking the trail, saw the LAND FOR SALE sign and said, "Hey, why not?" I see future trail angels! They already are, in fact, as they passed along two ice cold bottles of water. Thank you Mike and Laura!

Today while hitching into Boone I also had some incredible trail magic. Many a car whizzed by before Margaret Laske pulled over. Well, let me tell you this woman didn't just give me a ride into town. She drove me all over in order to help me find a cheap motel, offered a stay in her own home (which was unfortunately a ways out of town), took me to the outfitter to pick up my much needed gear drop, then took me out to lunch at FARM, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant that serves folks food regardless of whether or not they have money. She also offered me a ride back to the trail tomorrow. Margaret, you made my day, er wait, two days!

Thank you to Footsloggers, Boone's full service outfitter for allowing me to ship them some emergency packages that I needed to pick up and for your excellent service!

And lastly, I cannot forget these friends I made on the trail...

One of the many herds of cows found literally along the trail
You see, throughout this section there are many cow pastures in which the trail passes through. I climb a stile, walk on through, dodging cow patties and saying hello to the ladies (usually), and then climb another stile and I'm on my way. As you can see some of these "pastures" are actually just woods that the cows are permitted to roam, which I think is pretty awesome. It's always a surprise to find a cow poking his head out from behind a tree at you. 

The most shocking however, was the group of cows that I managed to herd. I stopped, took some pics, made some small talk, and went I stepped off, they all decided to follow. As I moved down hill they picked up the pace. A car drove by watching as this lone hiker walked and at least 10 cows followed behind her closely. I stopped to check my directions, the cows stopped, all gathered around, awaiting my next move. I would have found this all more unnerving had I not remembered moving the herd of 100 + at Warren Wilson College where I went to school. Periodically, when they got too close, I simply turned around periodically and yelled, "Ho!" at which they'd stop or slow. I was able to do this enough to keep some distance and make my climb over the other stile.

First sign for Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway
And this is where I'm headed! That is after 6 days in the wilds of the mountains. I mean it this convenience stores, no soda machines, and definitely no Freebourne's along the way. I think I pass a couple of restrooms with running water. I'll be ascending to Beacon Heights, descending into the Linville Gorge, and fording the Catawba River.

I will do a thorough post on events in Asheville before I get there, a week and a half from now, but for sure to make your calendars:

Book Talk and Signing at Filo Pastries
July 12 at 1 pm