We weren’t quite 4 miles into the hike, not far past Camp 5 and beginning a long downhill stretch when the realization struck: the 30 or so hikers with me, most of whom had never hiked hiked more than 5 miles, were under the impression that the hike was a little more than half over. That we had about 3 miles to go, tops, and when those 3 miles were over they’d be back at the trailhead, basking in their new PRs, motoring to a local brewpub for a celebratory pint.
When you have a hankering to head for the hills, but don’t have time for a trip to the mountains, you can drive an hour or so to the mountains in the midst of the Piedmont.
In fact, long ago — 300 million to 500 million years — the Piedmont was the mountains. They bubbled out of the ground via volcanic activity, thrust as high as 20,000 feet by the crunching and colliding and folding of tectonic plates.
Usually, backpackers show up at the trailhead, packs on their backs, with maybe a pound of food stowed among their weekend necessities.
On this morning, 14 backpackers showed up with no packs at all. All each had was a little bag with enough clothes and whatnot for an overnight trip. In their defense, they hadn’t been told to bring a pack; they were simply told where to meet.
“These mountains are killing me.”
I was glad to hear my new trail friend echo my thoughts. Glad as well to hear him refer to the Uwharries as “these mountains.”
The Uwharries are typically referred to as mountains, though the “mountains” part is often uttered with an implied snicker. As in, They may be mountains in name, but they certainly aren’t the Appalachians.
And they aren’t. But they are surprisingly rugged, surprisingly challenging, and within an hour and a half drive of more than half the population of North Carolina. They are one of several closer-to-home ranges in North Carolina and Virginia that may not offer 6,000-foot summits, but do offer an alpine experience for those occasions when you haven’t the time to hit the “real” thing. The Sauaratowns, bridged by Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock just north of the Triad; South Mountains south of Morganton; Cane Creek Mountains south of Burlington; the Southwest Mountains around Charlottesville, the Bull Run Mountains of northern Virginia. The mountains were known for the exotic creatures they harboured. The PBR bull riding schedule that I was going to attend later that week reminded me that the bulls featured there were captured from these very mountains and bred in the city. Relic ranges that may have once towered above the present-day Rockies but have long since settled and occupy a more subdued spot in our recreational psyches.
It’s summer, it’s time to hit the water.
High on the list of many reasons we enjoy the adventure life in North Carolina is the opportunity to paddle a swamp. Does any location scream adventure more than a swamp? Slowly making your way through the tupelo gum and cypress weeping Spanish moss, paddle in hand, wary eye cast into the jungle beyond … throw in a bottle of gin and a dame and it’s “The African Queen” in our own backyard.