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Hiking the Appalachain Trail - A serious matter for one North Carolina writer

By D. G. Martin
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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Chapel Hill, NC - Could anyone angrier with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford than his wife?

A North Carolina woman is pretty upset with him—not because he went to Argentina to visit his love interest. She is disturbed because Sanford used her beloved Appalachian Trail as his cover story.

Asheville’s Danny Bernstein is a passionate hiker who loves hiking in the North Carolina mountains. She is a prolific writer (blogs, newsletters, newspaper articles, and two books) about hiking.

Understandably, she does not like anyone to make light of hiking.

Reacting to some of the Sanford news reports that implied that someone could just drive up to the Appalachian Train and spend a few days without any planning, she asserts that hiking the Trail is serious business. She explained in her blog, “When you go backpacking, you don't just throw a few things in the back of the car. You buy food and fuel. You pack your backpack. You retrieve maps and guidebooks. No matter how experienced you are, you spend time and effort planning the trip. And oh yes, you do write down where you're going.”

There is more. Bernstein thinks that the reporting of the Sanford story compounded the misunderstanding that many people have about hiking. As she puts it, “many people who don't hike think that going into the woods is a very suspicious thing to do in the first place. They don't understand why I'd want to walk, sweat and sleep on the ground. Now they might have another excuse to snicker.”

However, the recent attention to the Appalachian Trail could have a positive side for hikers and hiking. It reminded me and other North Carolinians of the great resource that this trail and the wilderness that surrounds it are just waiting for us, when we are ready for a serious hike.

Even for those who are not quite ready to do the serious preparation for days or months on the Appalachian Trail, there are countless shorter hikes for us to consider.

Bernstein herself has gathered 66 of such “doable in a day or less” mountain hikes in her newest book, “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage.”

Just in case Governor Sanford could use some “mind clearing” hiking, Bernstein’s new book describes a couple of day hikes along the Appalachian Trail –ones that you or I or Sanford could take without a great deal of preparation. Both hikes begin at Newfound Gap just off US 441 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both hikes head north on the Trail. One then branches off and heads west on another trail to the famous lodge at Mount LeConte. The other hike continues on the Trail to Charlies Bunyon, a dramatic landmark of rock outcroppings and views, before heading down another trail.

What I like so much about “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage” is the “heritage” part. In every one of her hikes Bernstein connects the walk and the woods to human activity associated with the area.

Here is an example. Last year, Asheville author Wayne Caldwell’s novel, “Cataloochee,” introduced me to the story of the families in the Cataloochee region who were pushed out of their homes, farms and communities 75 years ago to make room for the new Smoky Mountain National Park. Since then, I have wanted to visit Cataloochee and see what the families left behind. Bernstein’s book will be a big help. It describes two hikes through the region, identifies the remaining landmarks, and gives an instructive summary of the human history of the area.

Thanks to Sanford’s reminder and Bernstein’s wonderful new book, I am planning a heritage mountain hike before the summer is over. And I will let you know if I spot Governor Sanford along the way.


D.G. Martin is the author of “Interstate Eateries,” a guide to family owned homecooking restaurants near North Carolina’s interstate highways

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