On the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, north of Burlington, my husband, Lenny, and I sit at a table in front of Emily's Cookies to have our morning tea. The coffee shop is still closed and a mean looking dog wanders toward us, a mutt with short stubby legs and a growling attitude. We pack up in a hurry and I pull out my pepper spray and put it in my pocket. After we cross the road, several aggressive dogs wait for us. They bark and excite each other and me. My heart pumps harder now than any time on the MST. I swing my hiking poles around me and twirl, as if I had a long dancing skirt, to put more space between the dogs and my bare legs. More dogs stream down an embankment from a farm up the hill. I count at least seven, a couple around Lenny, but most around me. I take the pepper spray out of its plastic bag and scream “Don’t let me use it.” I don’t want to use the spray because there could be blowback, literally, if the wind was right but the dogs don’t know that. I’ve been fighting dogs on the MST since I started walking the road in the Piedmont but this bunch is the most frightening. Meanwhile Lenny yells “Go home,” to the dogs as if they’re going to listen and “Keep running,” to me. I leave him to deal with the dogs; he'll catch up. Encountering the pack of dogs was the low point of my MST hike from Clingmans Dome to Jockey's Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks. But there were so many highlights. The trail consists of footpaths and small back roads. Less than half is on trail, mostly in the mountains and on the Outer Banks. Last fall, my hiking partner, Sharon McCarthy, and I walked into Laurel Springs, the motorcycle capital of the Blue Ridge Parkway, MP 248. The community consists of two motels (only one open), two antique shops (only one open) and a country store. After checking in at the Freebourne Motel, I wander into a cavernous antique shop which displays original movie posters including one of Danielle Darrieux, the World War II movie star I was named after. Blondie, the owner, sells old country music LPs, toys, and just old stuff. Her shop is a destination which is doing well. Sharon and I thought that we would be the only ones in the restaurant this evening but the dining room is busy. There's a large party at a long table and all the bar stools are taken. A musician sings old country standards and the two waiters are rushed off their feet. Near our table is a framed review of the restaurant from Our State magazine; the reviewers loved the food and the atmosphere - and so did we. After dinner, I socialize at the bar and tell folks about the MST which goes right through their neighborhood. "Look for the white circles on Miller Road." I walked the MST to learn about North Carolina. I know Southern Appalachian Mountains quite well but I've only been to the major cities in the rest of the state. The trail goes through Croatan National Forest, between New Bern and Morehead City on the Neusiak Trail. Sharon and I were glad to have Terry Smith and John Jaskolka, two local Friends of the MST board members, on the backpack with us. The Neusiak Trail is not the A.T. It's flat, buggy, and swampy with poisonous snakes and ticks. On Terry's advice, I wear long pants and long-sleeve shirt over a T-shirt and I'm hot. I thought the trail was going to be easy because of the terrain but it's a jungle out here. Along the Neuse River, it looks like a South Pacific island. We see two ospreys flying around a huge osprey nest and a kingfisher. We pass a green anole, a tiny lizard, a box turtle, and wild turkeys. The only snake on the trail is a thin green snake. The trail uses wooden boardwalks and bridges, most built and maintained by the Carteret County Wildlife Club. John and Terry spend a lot of time maintaining these boardwalks. Friends of the MST are working diligently to move the MST on the ultimate trail, as they call it, but it won't be completed in my lifetime, so I decided to walk it now. The route changes often as more trail is built but there will always be some sections on the road. At the end, we trudge up the dunes in Jockey's Ridge with the wind whipping up the sand. The place looks like the Sahara Desert. Only 20 people have finished the MST before me. My route took me over 985 miles with 95,200 feet of ascent in 78 hiking days. Danny Bernstein is a hiker and outdoor writer. She's the author of "Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage."