The trail speaks — if you listen

Linville Rive at Pine Gap
A short trail down to the Linville River in the Linville Gorge.

Have you ever wondered what the trail is really about? What secrets it holds? Why it was created? Well, that is one to be answered by hikers that travel the trails.

The stories exist, are yours?

I guess it depends on what path you take in life. There are many paths you could take that lead you to a destination, possibly a final destination, and traveling that path may be a long and fruitful journey.
All trails hold secrets and some you just have to find out for yourself. The trail will hurt, you will be engaged with small critters, it hurts more going down than going up, volunteers maintain the trails, trail magic is welcome, rocks and stumps can hurt, you will miss the easy things in life and creating a “cat-hole” is the preferred way to dispose of your waste. Not sure you will have much since you will burn several hundred calories on any long mileage hike.

There are several types of paths in this world of ours. Chances are you have traveled on one of these types. People use shared-use trails, forest roads, rail trails, towpaths, segregated trails, footpaths, bike trails, equestrian trails, cross-country skiing trails, water trails and the common motorized trail. The High Country has all of these types in the region, even a rail trail by Tweetsie or the Creeper Trail–now a multi use trail. Either way, each trail has a story to tell and possibly yours if you get out and absorbed the local lore.

Most trails were used to travel between communities, to bring supplies, to hunt or just to get to a special point in the forest or high on a peak. Native Americans used these routes for travels, hunting parties, trade but the animals of the forest also had their trails and knew the area better than any weary traveler. These animal trails were often used because they ended up being the path of least resistance and the hiker did not have to beat the bush and create a path. They tend to form a trail system that is used for everyday use.

What is a trail system? Here are two examples of a trail system. First, a linear-trail system is a trail that travels from point “A” to point “B” with no connections. Cragway Trail on Grandfather Mountain is a good example of a linear-trail. The second example is a looped-trail system: A trail that allows you to start and end at the same place. Price Lake Trail is a perfect local trail that provides views, fishing and exercise.

Most trails are marked with a color and is called “blazing” the trail. The Appalachian Trail has a white blaze with side trails marked in blue. Grandfather Mountain has several colors but the top crest trail is marked with blue. The colors are also used to signify a trail’s difficulty. If you go to the Linville Gorge be prepared to not see many blaze markers but hikers marking tough areas with rock cairns. Miss one of these markers and you may stray off of the beaten path and then you will really be speaking to the trail.

Famous trails are the treks experienced hikers want to conquer and call their own. The top five trails are the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, American Discovery Trail and North Country National Scenic Trail. Other noted trails include the Grand Canyon hike, Arizona; Yosemite Grand Traverse, California; Chilkoot Trail, Alaska and Yukon Territory, US and Canada and the Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii. See more iconic trails by visiting this link for more hiking ideas.

On the East coast, and keeping it in our region, the Appalachian Trail is a 2,181 mile trail that holds many secrets. Complete it and you have a complete diary of them and a special name to boot. All trails have their challenges and tribulations. A hard river crossing, a peak that suddenly becomes covered with snow and ice, a windy night that nearly tears your tent out of its settled place on the ground or that one bear that will not get off the trail so you can pass. These are rights of passage for the hiker, explorer and outdoorsman–and a welcomed challenge.

The Appalachian Trail’s first section was built on October 7, 1923. In 1948, Earl Shaffer completed the first known thru hike but it too became official in 1968.

Some trails are named after explorers and experienced outdoorsmen. The John Muir Trail in California is a long distance trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and named after the said famed naturalist, John Muir. The Pacific Crest Trail is also a great long distance trail and rivals the Appalachian Trail. One difference, it is not as old. It was not officially completed until 1993 and conceived by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932.It was official in 1968.

Anyway, each trail you take as a hiker whispers something out but you have to be aware of your surroundings to feel or see what it is trying to tell you. Call it crazy, but I find it very calming to be out on the trail and tend to listen to mother nature on a regular basis. I listen to the sounds of nature, the caws of a crow, snapping of a branch or trickling of a nearby stream. Travel down the Linville Gorge ( and to the Linville River and you will see what North Carolina’s wild side sounds like bouncing off of the sheer rock cliffs of the banks of the river. The Nantahala National Forest ( and Smokey Mountains National Forest ( offer the same feeling of being in the wilderness and are just plain beautiful and wild, you just have more critters.

There’s meaning to a hike and the urge to take hundreds of steps, a lot that hurt, is a welcome challenge if that is what you are to be doing that day. Only you know. Put a 35 to 75 pound pack on and test your inner core. After you log miles it all becomes a test of time, but it is historical in your timeline. Travel Grandfather Mountain and look for wildflowers (Bluets, Turkey Beard or Aster), log them, and add to the history of the mountain. Stay late and hear the Grey Juncos chirp at you because their nest is close or feel, and hear, the wind whipping through your hair. I do not have much hair myself, but you get the idea.

Red squirrels, snakes, bear, various birds and insects are all a part of the trip. You endure and persevere but claim the mileage you have accumulated and if you are smart, you log it. Take a camera like I do, and record all that is presented on the trip. Nothing is better than showing an unbeliever that that snake you encountered was in fact a Timber Rattler or Mr. bear did look right, then left and back right before bolting down the trail (also happened to me on Lower Creek Falls Trail).

To me traveling the trail is a way to clear the mind and focus. I often find that I link my thoughts together and figure out problems. Just looking over a cliff off into the distance enjoying the beauty of the area is enough to set the mind at peace and purge the negative. Grandfather Mountain provides me with that purge as it calls me to the summit every day.

Ever wonder who, or what, has been down the trail you are traveling? Native Americans, historical figures like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Sacajawea, Calamity Jane, Meriwether Lewis or even Bigfoot? Not that Bigfoot is a historical figure but some will say it’s a part of a trail’s mystery. They have history recorded with their story, record yours and share it with those that are interested.

You never know who, or what, you will meet on the trail? A group of Boy Scouts seeking adventure and learning the ways of the wild, experienced hikers with a trail name like “Ringmaster,” a deer that holds the line eating plants until ready for you to pass (happened to me on Grandfather Mountain) or that big black bear that is more scared of you than you are of you.

I often look down and see what footprints have been made when on the trails. What kind of boots are they wearing, do they have poles, a dog or are they heavy or light tracks or is it a possible coyote or deer that traveled the path of least resistance. This is just a way to hone my tracking skills from my days in the military. I also do it to hone my awareness on the trail.

In short, a day on the trail is better than a day in the office. The trail speaks in many different ways and your way is the path you decide to take. Clearing your mind and listening to nature’s sounds are therapy that you do not have to spend money for and it is free. A challenge is what the trails present to those seeking something positive in life and if you listen, there just might be a path other than the Appalachian Trail that leads you to your final destination. Embrace the journey and enjoy what you have, but always be aware of your surroundings.

Trek on!

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