I woke up earlier than usual Tuesday morning and didn’t realize it until later. I was well into my morning routine before I happened to notice a clock.
6:10? Why am I awake at 6:10?
I looked out the living room window and saw why: the sky was already light, a glowing light even though sunrise was a good 45 minutes off. Even official twilight was a few minutes away. Yet it was already light out.
I stuck my head out the front door and was hit by a gust of cold, not cool, air. It was 35, according to the weather app; throw in that breeze and it was closer to 30. Winter! I thought with a happy shiver.
Winter gets a bum rap, even from folks who like being outside. I don’t like being cold, they complain.
Then don’t be cold. Staying in motion is a good antidote for that.
Even though I’d gotten up early, I realized I was now late. I grabbed my daypack, hopped in the car, headed east on U.S. 70 to Eno River State Park. By the time I got there, I figured, the park would be open.
* * *
I’d been hiking about 20 minutes, the last five off trail, when I allowed myself to stop. Seemingly overnight, the forest had been plucked clean: a determined leaf here and there clung its perch. But for the most part, they now covered the forest floor. In the early morning light the rising sun, nearing its lowest angle of the year, worked its winter magic, conjuring a coppery glow from their dull brown exteriors and even causing the drab gray tree trunks to shine like silver. These woods may be closing up shop for the year, slipping into a deep slumber to rest up for spring, but man were they ever alive.
I looked about and sensed another sign of life. Up above, a cold front bringing even colder air raced overhead, the treetops rattling against one another, the stronger gusts causing heavier limbs below to rub ominously. Down below, I could hear the dry layer of leaves crackle from a distance. And because it was winter and the understory and ground cover were reduced to bare twigs and whip-thin husks, you could find the source of that rustling: usually a squirrel, sometimes a deer; rarely anything more exotic. Stop. Listen. Watch.
* * *
My stop reminded me about winter heat management. I’d stopped long enough to need my hat and gloves, not quite long enough to dig into my pack for a shell. Down the trail, both would be off within a couple of minutes.
I crested a small rise and the Eno came into view. It was still up from last week’s heavy rain, not enough to paddle, but just enough to make it worth watching for a few minutes. Back on went the gloves, back on went the hat.
Back on the trail, I rounded the west side of Cox Mountain, where the sun had yet to hit. Across the Eno, though, the gentle slope east-facing was cast in light — and, presumably, warmth. I kept hiking.
When the trail followed a drainage uphill I stayed along the Eno through a bottomland forest. Mostly easy going, provided I followed the game trails that eased passage through dormant knee-high grasses. After 15 minutes, a house-size rock outcrop came down the hill to the water. There was a fairly easy way through, but beyond that a steep slope down to the Eno suggested a safer route would be to head upland. So I did, and within minutes found an old roadbed winding its way up a ridge. I took it, and before long topped out on what, from previous map surveys, appeared to be the highest point in the park, at 721 feet.
Here, another roadbed that hadn’t been used in years came up from the east. I contemplated whether to continue on the road I’d been on or take this new option, and as I did I realized the small clearing was big enough to let in a warming shaft of sunlight. I think better in the sun. I turned toward the incoming rays, closed my eyes, tilted my head and smiled.
Winter, I thought. Welcome.
* * *
Embrace Winter with Us
We plan to be more active than ever this winter. Which in our world starts this Saturday with the first of six Winter Wild Adventures, in the Eno Wilderness of Eno River State Park. Our Winter Wild hikes are mostly off-trail (about 70 percent of the Eno hike is) and take you to the hidden gems of some of our favorite places to hike. Learn more:
- About Saturday’s Winter Wild Adventure at the Eno Wilderness, which begins at 10 a.m. and covers about 6 miles, go here.
- About our Winter Wild Adventure series in general, go here.
For information on our winter programs as a whole, from our home page click on:
- GetHiking! Winter 2020-21 for our hikes and trips
- GetBackpacking! Winter 2020-21 for our backpack trips
… is both an appreciation of winter and a preview of Saturday’s Winter Wild Adventure. It was shot on Tuesday.