I’ve been following the schizophrenic Christmas weather forecasts as closely as anyone. In part, because I love a white Christmas and haven’t seen one since the Denver blizzard of ’82. I’m also keeping a close watch to see whether I should dig out the cross-country skis (in the event of 6 inches or more), the sled (a minimum of 3 inches), or the hiking boots (a photogenic dusting).
We were hiking a new section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along the Eno River today when we came upon an old rail line, which I realized was the Norfolk Southern line that, for a while, looked like it might turn into a rails-to-trails project running from Person County south to downtown Durham. Downtown Durham and rails-to-trails projects reminded me of the American Tobacco Trail, the northern end of which begins downtown, near the American Tobacco Complex. The ATT reminded me of a gaping gap I’d been wondering about lately, which reminded me to call Dale McKeel when I got home. Which I did.
“Usually,” Alan observed, “we wait until we’ve been hiking a while before we get lost.”
Indeed, getting lost before we could even find the trailhead was a record. It was also a tribute to the trail, five newly opened sections of the Falls Lake portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which is expanding at breakneck pace through the Triangle. Likely by year’s end, and possibly at a Nov. 21 Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail workday, 60 miles of continuous trail will exist from the Falls Lake dam in Wake County to Pennys Bend on the Eno River in Durham County. That about 37 of those miles — from NC 50 northwest — have been blazed and cleared since 2007 is thanks entirely to FMST volunteers who show up once a month to rake, dig, hack and otherwise clear trail. That we were slightly challenged finding the trailhead for Section 20 wasn’t surprising considering how quickly this transportation project is evolving.
An hour or so into the hike, the lightbulb went on for Alan. “Now this looks familiar.”
The problem up until now? We’d been hiking in the daylight.
Alan Nechemias and I had probably hiked this stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake — sections 10 and 9 — a couple dozen times over the past three years. But we could only recall hiking it once in daylight. The other times had been under conditions much like this: cool to cold late fall and winter nights once the sun had long since set.
Cool weather returns to North Carolina this weekend, making for good hiking at the coast and the mountains, with frightfully fun running in between.
Mid- to late fall, in my humble opinion the best time to explore the coast. Temperatures have dropped enough that bugs — and snakes! — are less of a problem, yet they haven’t dropped enough to seriously affect the greenery. Lots to see, fewer things to distract you from seeing them. That’s why our pick for the coast this weekend is the Biological Wonderland hike at Carolina Beach State Park. Carolina Beach has a diverse plant community, from its pine savannas to its carnivorous plants. Let an in-the-know park ranger fill you in on this Saturday morning hike that leaves from the nature trail parking lot at 10 a.m.