Tuesday, I had one of the more exhausting times I’ve had in 20 years of covering outdoor adventure — and I was in an air-conditioned building. At a catered affair.
The affair was a media event sponsored by the North Carolina Division of Tourism, a gathering of tourism promotion types from around the state and the people they hoped would write about them. People such as myself.
Immediately upon walking in the door of the Contemporary Art Museum — CAM for short — in downtown Raleigh I was met by my old buddy, Suzanne Brown. Suzanne and I worked together for years in the Features Department of The News & Observer, Suz overseeing everything entertainment, me doing my outdoors thing. In 2008, we were both part of a massive newsroom exodus. I landed here, Suz at Tourism, a job that suits her as she wasted little time getting my attention.
“Do you know about the Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail?” she asked.
I didn’t, but I didn’t feel too bad upon learning that the trail is a work in progress, a proposed — though some of it exists — paddle trail running from Virginia south through the Carolinas and Georgia, where it will meet with the existing 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. A kind of Appalachian Trail for paddlers.
“Cool!” I said.
“What about Jetpacks?” she wanted to know.
“And what about telephones with TV screens and flying cars?” I said.
No, she said, you can now rent a JetPak on the Outer Banks.
Then, in a Graduatesque nod to the Next Big Thing, she leaned in and whispered “Zip Lines.”
“Have you been to ZipQuest in Fayetteville? It’s a two-and-a-half-hour canopy tour that takes you over the largest waterfall in the eastern U.S.”
A zipline over the highest waterfall in the East — in Fayetteville? I started edging away.
“You can also fly a Wright Brothers glider!” she yelled, chasing me down the hall.
The madness continued inside the main hall.
At the Halifax County booth, Lori Medlin, president and CEO of the county’s convention and visitors bureau asked if I’d been to the Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck. Hike 5 miles at this 18-acre preserve, take pictures of more than 170 bird species from around the world. “There’s even a treehouse. And it’s handicap-accessible!”
“You like trails?” she continued. “The 7-mile-long Roanoke Canal Trail in Roanoke Rapids is pretty popular.”
Lori shared a table with Claire Phillips, director of marketing and public relations for the Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen Area. I expected to hear something about golf. “We have an extensive greenway system,” she said.
I found myself at the Fayetteville table, expecting to hear more about the zipline to outer space. And I did, but I also learned that Fayetteville is also home to the biggest indoor climbing gym in the state, The Climbing Place, with 18,000 square feet of climbing surface, 40,000 holds and 60 top ropes.
I learned that Chowan County has more than 300 miles of mapped paddle trails, that Washington has a Sunrise Yoga Paddle service as well as a Wine and Cheese Paddle, and that Edenton rents canoes and kayaks out of its harbor.
I learned from Craig Distl that since the Hawksnest Resort near Boone abandoned skiing and snowboarding a few years back it’s gone tubing and zipline crazy. And I learned that while they still ski and ride at Ski Beech, the highest ski area in the East, they’ve also opened the Emerald Outback, an 8-mile mountain bike trail network.
I learned that the Biltmore in Asheville is getting its own marathon and that a mountaintop-to-mountaintop zipline is being planned at Navitat north of Asheville.
Farther west, I learned from Charles Conner with the Nantahala Outdoor Center that the NOC is about more than just really fast moving water. Survival, for instance.
“We’ve got a Survival School that shows you how to survive 72 hours in the wild,” he said, adding, “Seventy-two hours — that’s about how long most people stay lost.” The ones who end up getting found, that is.
By the time I’d worked my way to the westernmost part of the state, I was pooped. But not too pooped to visit the craft beer booth, where Win Bassett was more than happy to fill my sampler cup with the handiwork of North Carolina’s 65 craft breweries (or at least the 65 that belong to NC Brewing). Fullsteam Brewery’s Summer Basil was particularly tasty.
A handful of booths remained, but — holy cow! — I’d just been across North Carolina on everything from a zipline to a JetPak to the Wright Brothers glider.
I needed a nap.