If you’ve ever hiked at Crowders Mountain State Park, you may have encountered a challenge or two — tripped over a tree root or scrambled over a rock face. But it’s a good bet you haven’t come across trash or lost your way because the trail wasn’t well maintained. To a large extent, you have your peers to thank for that. Peers such as the ones who will gather June 5 as part of National Trails Day to make sure Crowders Mountain’s trails remain challenging and invigorating, yet safe and fun.
Wednesday, I was hiking along the North Prong of Shining Rock Creek, a lively mountain stream that plunges 2,200 feet in just three miles through a narrow, overgrown canyon. I was in a reveric trance, lulled in part by the rugged vegetation here in the Shining Rock Wilderness, in part by the cloudless, 70-degree spring afternoon, when —
I like snakes, but their sudden appearance four feet away causes me to stop in my tracks and say, “Whoa!” Such impromptu meetups are common this time of year, as we humans hit the trail more and rising temperatures activate these cold-blooded critters. Being in the sun rejuvenates our spirit, it jumpstarts their system.
After catching my breath, I scoped out the critter, taking a couple of pictures, jotting some notes, searching my increasingly porous memory for clues about what kind of snake it might be. Not that my database was brimming to begin with.
When it comes to snakes and birds, I don’t expend a lot of my remaining gray storage memorizing types and species. Two reasons: One, there are thousands of species to begin with, and two, the same critter can look completely different depending on various factors:
While fitness and health experts would like you to get an hour’s exercise a day, they’ll tell you that, above all, the key thing is to just move. With that in mind, here are a number of Earth Day “just move” events this weekend. (Yes, technically Earth Day isn’t until Thursday. But Thursday doesn’t fall on a weekend, this Saturday and Sunday happen to.)
The backpacker looked up from his reverie, saw me and jumped. “Whoa! Didn’t see you there,” he said.
Our paths converged a little after 9 Tuesday morning, on Section 9 of the Appalachian Trail midway between Rock Gap and Albert Mountain in western North Carolina. “Country,” as he soon identified himself, was why I was on this particular trail at this particular time headed this direction, south. The reason Country (pictured) didn’t notice me was he had other things on his mind. Like Maine.
Country was an AT thru-hiker, one of perhaps three dozen I ran into during two days on the trail. The AT thru-hiking season – for northbounders headed from Springer Mountain, Ga., 2,178 miles north to Katahdin, Maine – officially launched March 15 and the bulk of the class of 2010 was now hiking into southern North Carolina.
Country, for instance, had started March 19 and had so far covered about 110 miles. Not all of those miles had been fun.
“The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th days, it was bad,” the Alabaman said as he leaned on an impromptu hiking staff. “Rain, cold and a little snow. Since then it’s been great.”
Country admitted he had come into this six-month journey ill prepared, a fact I’d gathered by the tennis shoes he was wearing. “Had a guy quit and give me his tent, a Wenzel. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the tent. I say, ‘Thanks!’” He shrugs, then adds, “I don’t have to tell ’em the whole story.”
I asked Country how he got his trail name. “There were two of us with ‘Country’ early on. The other guy wound up being ‘Country Gold.’”
It’s a no-brainer, yet one we sometimes forget: Check the weather before going on an outdoor adventure. And, again it probably needn’t be said but I’ll say it anyway, check the weather for where you’re going, not where you are. There can be a huge difference between the two, especially during the transitional season of spring.