In the past two weeks we have covered over 180 miles of the Mountains to Sea Trail. But if we were on any other path, in any other state, I doubt we would have made it this far.
After we started in the Smokies and Brew got sick on DAY TWO, we knew that we needed some extra help so that he could rest and start to feel better. Immediately people stepped up and stepped in to help us on our journey. We had friends offer to shuttle me to the trailhead, family members took turn watching our kids, once or twice there was food delivered to the trail or to our doorstep.
There is something in sports called the ‘Home Field’ or ‘Home Court’ advantage and hiking on the Mountains to Sea Trail it is clear we are experiencing attributes of being on our ‘Home Trail.’
This past week on the trail everything has felt familiar and welcoming. I have walked between Black Balsam and Mount Mitchell and it has felt like playing in the backyard. This is the stretch of trail where I have led guided hikes, gone on Saturday morning trail runs, and taken my kids blueberry picking. For nearly 100 miles the trail stays within an hour radius of Asheville. That has allowed us to spend a few nights at home, do some laundry, and let Brew rest up in his own bed.
The fact that I’ve walked every inch of this section already – and covered some of these miles dozens of times does not make it any less interesting. In fact, having a greater knowledge of the trail only makes you appreciate it more. I anticipate coming to viewpoints where I’ve taken photographs in all four seasons, I know the exact forest groves where I can search for the elusive chaga mushroom, and I look forward to passing historic sites and mile markers that tell the story of Western North Carolina.
This is the same stretch of trail where George Vanderbilt used to travel 16 miles of MST, known as the shut-in trail, on horseback to reach his hunting lodge near Mount Pisgah. This is where Dr. Ambler, a prominent Asheville physician built an early twentieth century summer home beneath the shadows of Lane Pinnacle and tacked snake skins to the ceiling of his living room, inspiring the name Rattlesnake Lodge. And, this is where President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama decided to take a hike during their vacation to Asheville in 2010.
The dramatic views and diverse flora make this a desirable hike for anyone – including sitting presidents and railroad tycoons, but it is the accessibility to Asheville that makes this portion of the MST so special. On my hike this week I met a construction worker, middle school teacher, manufacturing employee, health care professional, and lots – and lots – of retirees. There is nothing exclusive or out-of-reach in this section. The MST is here for anyone and everyone, especially for the folks who live and work in North Carolina. This is our state, our path, and we can all share in the ‘Home Trail’ advantage.