For the past few weeks I’ve made it a habit to take a “Sunday stroll,” though as my mother was quick to point out, “You call that a STROLL?!” Apparently several miles up a rocky path around places that are optimistically named "something-something bluff," "blah-blah ridge" and "so-and-so mountain" is not considered by the majority of the population to be a “stroll.” But while I’ve been consistently getting out and exploring I’ve been abjectly derelict in documenting it, so let me catch up.
A few weeks ago McCrae and I hiked a series of trails at Eno River State Park in an attempt to beef up for our big backpacking weekend. We did about six miles over several intersecting trails (In case you’re interested: Buckquarter Creek Trail to Ridge Trail to Shakori Trail to Ridge Trail again and across the river down Fanny’s Ford Trail and back up to the parking lot near the park office). Most of the length of Ridge Trail and Shakori Trail was long, slightly hilly and away from the river so it was nicely secluded. Well, for a state park minutes away from downtown Durham it was secluded: we only saw two other people on the trail along Ridge and Shakori trails while we were there - one devoted guy running with a Camelback and another fella walking his Golden Retriever.
We quickly discovered why those trails were so deserted. At one point along Ridge Trail you have to ford Buckquarter Creek, which is no easy feat following several weeks of summer rainstorms. The creek is about 20 feet wide and a scant foot or so deep, but the rocks were slick and the water was fast. I made it across without getting any water in my boots by utilizing a very embarrassing (but effective) half-crawl across the creek. McCrae took a more direct approach. He picked up Ryder by his dog backpack/harness and tried to carry him across like luggage, but at this point we can pause and imagine how this turns out.
Yep, McCrae slipped and dropped Ryder who scrambled onto a rock in that desperate manner typical of a wet, bedraggled dog and McCrae toppled over into the water. It all played out like those I-saw-that-coming Charlie Chapman skits, but I quickly had to suppress my laughter when I realized McCrae’s boots were drenched and he’d somehow jammed a stick under his thumbnail when he fell.
As most hikers will tell you, wet boots can be a quick means to an early end to a day on the trail. Wet feet beget blisters and pain, so once McCrae got water in his boots we had to stop several times along the trail to air out and dry off his feet. McCrae’s thumb was an ugly sight too: half of his nail bed was blackened from pond scum and the pain clearly did not subside as we continued on our trek. Whenever we paused to strip off the soaked socks and boots McCrae looked at his thumb ruefully, as though he half expected it to spontaneously burst into a raging infection and fall off his hand.
But yet he carried on, valiantly trying to be a good sport and tolerate my recent love affair with nature. (He did not, however, like my proposal to visit REI after the hike to pick up some more backpacking supplies - patience can only be stretched so thin).
The Shakori Trail and Ridge Trail were more secluded than scenic, but seclusion has its perks I realized after we joined back up with the Eno River.
I recently read A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s novel on hiking the Appalachian Trail, and one fact stuck in my mind: “Only 3 percent of Shenandoah’s two million annual visitors go more than a few yards into what is generously termed the backcountry. Ninety percent of visitors arrive in cars or motor homes” (Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. 1st. New York: Broadway Book, 1999. 152. Print.). In my opinion you could hardly call any part of Eno River State Park “backcountry” - you were always at least within earshot of a country highway - but even here this statistic was applicable. As soon as we emerged from the quiet wooded trails onto the bustling river below the parking lots we were bombarded by people. There were people fishing and picnicking. There were little kids in bright bathing suits and floatation devices splashing and shrieking in a watering hole. There were dogs, there were elderly couples, there were teenagers burning with summer romance and there was noise. Everywhere there was rushing water and scrambling limbs and noise noise noise! And I’m not saying that any of their fun was wrong or out of place along the scenic piedmont river, but it just struck me as so bizarre when I emerged from the quiet woods and overheard someone sitting on the bank of the river exclaim to his girlfriend, “It is just so peaceful here!” This cacophony of human noise and stumbling water was not peaceful - it was jarring after the solitude of the earlier trails.
But then it’s all about your perspective isn’t it?
McCrae and I decided to pick our way through the crowds along the river and back to add a couple more miles to our day hike, but the trails were all familiar trails by now. Scrambling over rocks is fun, but after squelching along for several miles already and then passing groups of people with Gatorade gallon jugs filled with anything but Gatorade we were glad to stop and say “I think that’s enough for today. Let’s head back to the car.”
Because after all, Sundays are fun days, and we had a big trip ahead of us in a few days.