Traditionally in hiking circles (my hiking circle, at least), Labor Day marks the end of summer and the start of the fall hiking season. It may technically still be summer (fall doesn’t officially arrive until 5:05 a.m. on September 23) and the temperatures may not typically drop noticeably (though they will this week) but in our minds, it’s fall. School is in, football has started — lace up the Vasques and let’s go.
Yesterday, Sharon McCarthy stopped to look at the white dot on the tree trunk, the last of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of such white dots she had seen over the past 22 months.
Robert Williams and I waited. Sharon, a k a Smoky Scout, was yards away from becoming the sixth person this year and only the 25th total to complete the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. She was staring down her last blaze, and the two of us, her escorts for her final day, were expecting a profound statement. Maybe not “One-small-step …” profound, but something worthy of completing a nearly 1,000-mile journey.
We stood in a circle, this group mostly in our 50s, 60s and 70s, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was 8 again, shuffling nervously in a schoolyard playground. Our team leaders were choosing work crews, but it had the unmistakable feel of picking teams for a pickup football game.
I cringed when I picked up the July Outside magazineand saw that it had the Mountains-to-Sea Trail listed under “Best Through-Hikes You’ve Never Heard Of.” No mention was made of the fact that the roughly 1,000-mile MST is only a little over half done, meaning that roughly 500 miles of this best-trail-you’ve-never-heard-of actually is on pavement, often competing with cars. Not exactly the escape most of us seek when we hit the trail.
When Raleigh’s Neuse River Greenway reaches the Johnston County Line in the spring of 2013, it’ll have company.
“It should be done by this time next year, if not sooner,” Bob Mosher with the NC Department of Transportation’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety said Thursday.