Monday, June 30, 2014

Blue Ridge Mountains, Baby!

Blissed out atop Bluff Mountain
As you can see from the photo above, these mountains are called the Blue Ridge for good most any light taking on a hue of blue as they roll out layer upon layer into the distance. This past week has been absolutely stunning...I mean...stop dead in your tracks and just take it all in kind-of- stunning. I mean, at nearly every turn, wonder at just how beautiful something as seemingly modest as rocks and roots and moss and trees can be kind-of-stunning.

It has also been challenging. Let me tell ya, hiking from the east with its flat lands and many conveniences along the trail can lull you into a false sense of security, but this hiker is getting whipped into shape with a quickness! Besides the suddenly steep climbs hidden within most every mile, it has rained off and on every day and I do believe every night since I left Elkin. The feet have been wet for days, so has the tent, and the backpack. Just call me Soggy. Also, the gear seems to think it is the end of the trip already! The tent zippers have busted, the camera's on the fritz (after getting caught in a torrential downpour), and the socks have huge holes in the heels. But alas, all of this is repairable and is already on the mend here in Boone. Those are my three things - all of which happened on the same day, mind you - so as long as my body doesn't get any such notions, I'm happy!

So much has happened since I left Elkin, I have already decided there will be two posts to cover this section: one on the terrain and the people, and the second on the plants. There's just too much to include!

Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain State Park - you probably can't see him, but there was a climber slowly making his way up the smooth stone face, made my knees weak just watching him!
Leaving Elkin, I made my way towards Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain has always looked to me like a boulder a giant simply set down on this relatively flat terrain. It's surface is smooth as can be and it is bordered by wooded trails filled with streams, blooming rhododendrons, and waterfalls such as the one you see below.

The view from atop Stone Mountain Falls
However, Stone Mountain signified the last of the easy terrain. From here I climbed up, up, straight up, for 5 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I easily climbed 1500 ft. I remembered how I did this daily on the AT, hell, multiple times a day on the AT, and that helped to toughen me up. Once at the top, I had more reminders of the AT from an overlook along the parkway...and from my campsite that night...

In the far off distance, one can see Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands which is an incredible portion of the Appalachian Trail - this was the view from my campsite at sunset.

This night I bedded down in an absolutely still and silent pine woods...all I heard the entire night was the eventual pitter patter of light rain and in the morning the abrupt awakening of a woodpecker knock-knocking on the tree beside me getting his breakfast. When I rolled over groggily he quickly flew away squawking feverishly...I guess I had been so equally still in those quiet woods he hadn't noticed I was there.

As I hike I am wooed by the blooming Rhododendron and the musty scent of flowering Galax, which is oddly both nauseating and pleasant at the same time, and reminiscent of so many hikes in these mountains. Not to mention the Lobelia, Violet leaves of every shape and size, St. John's Wort, fresh Hemlock sprigs, and strange Orchids. In the pastures left to go wild,  I pass Spiderwort, Butterfly Bush, Self Heal, and Mint. I know, the plants were going to be for another blog...but to paint you a complete picture of the hiking I simply must.

Above you can see the orange dirt I referred to in a previous blog. As far as I understand, this is due to the iron oxide in the soil. However not only is the soil deep orange but it sparkles due to the mica contained therein. Hey, Pixie, I think I found more magick down here!

Sometimes you stumble into large mica deposits. This is a piece I picked out of such a pile just off trail. It is light as feather and flakes apart in layers easily.
Yesterday in particular was incredibly foggy, especially at the lower elevations. As I'd climb I'd slowly rise out of the clouds. However, with all that mist hanging like a shroud in the forest, the trail was so dark it was at times hard to see where I was going. Then once on the road the visibility was even worse...headlights would emerge from the wall of white like two tiny holes punched through a sheet of paper. It made me feel like I was hiking in a dream.

The MST in draped in fog

This was photo was taken on a less foggy day. I tried desperately to capture the thick fog but my camera didn't know what to make of it
And out here in this misty mountains, I also had the pleasure of meeting some awesome people...

Brad Oakley, Mike, and Chandler outside Freebourne's Eatery and Lodge in Laurel Springs, NC
I had remembered this lil' biker bar and hotel three years ago when I first came through and how terribly I had wanted to stay a while longer and have a few cold beers with the fellow patrons. Although I couldn't for whatever silly reason then, I made a point to this time. The owner of Freebourne's was even so kind as to grant me a place on the lawn to pitch my tent free of charge. I rolled in about 4:30 after a hard day that included taking the wrong trail for 2 miles down the side of a mountain and having to retrace my steps, oh, and a thunderstorm. A cold beer and veggie quesadilla never sounded so good. I walked into Tom Petty on the jukebox and a some bandana clad bikers milling around. Perfect. That quesadilla, I swear was probably the very best I ever had...and that's not just a starved hiker talking.

Afterwards I sat outside and enjoyed the free wifi, however as more and more bikers pulled in, I got more questions like, "Girl, what are you workin' so hard on?" and comments like, "Looks like you're doin' something real important." Apparently Freebournes was not the place you came to catch up on email...and before I knew it I was a part of the party.

Turns out, I happened to stroll in on a night when about 25 close friends ride their bikes to this mountain bar to catch up and celebrate livin'. I met Brad Oakley, Mike, Chandler, Theresa and Brad, Cecil and Maryanne, Amanda and her man, a lovely woman whose name escapes me that hiked a good portion of the AT back in the 70's and now rides her horse on the Sauratown Trail, and a slew of other fun people in which names weren't really important at the time. I met Harvey, not a part of a party, but just as friendly, that had rode his bike that last 13 days all the way from Idaho. He simply had some time to spare before his next business assignment and felt like traveling. A live band played at 8:00 that had the whole bar dancing (these folks would have fit in well at the wedding) and singing along. Teresa and Brad ended up letting me bunk in with them in their deluxe-sized room above the bar and I even got a shower for the first time since Elkin. Thank you Theresa and Brad! The night ended with some sips from a mason jar of real true strawberry moonshine, the fresh strawberries still infusing. So much fun to have met y'all. One helluva nite.

Workers from the Student Conservation Association doing trail maintenance on the MST
I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the fine folks that maintain this woodsy thoroughfare. Above are four of the large handful that I came upon working not far from the Basin Cove Overlook on the MST. They had their hands in the dirt and wielded large heavy picking and digging tools - hardcore. Thank you for the beautiful trail!!

Mike and Laura Norris
I met MST section hikers Mike and Laura Norris along the Blue Ridge Church Rd that runs alongside the parkway. Although this is the merely the trail to us, this road will soon also lead to their new home they will be building in the nearby woods just beyond the meadow. These folks found this piece of heaven while out walking the trail, saw the LAND FOR SALE sign and said, "Hey, why not?" I see future trail angels! They already are, in fact, as they passed along two ice cold bottles of water. Thank you Mike and Laura!

Today while hitching into Boone I also had some incredible trail magic. Many a car whizzed by before Margaret Laske pulled over. Well, let me tell you this woman didn't just give me a ride into town. She drove me all over in order to help me find a cheap motel, offered a stay in her own home (which was unfortunately a ways out of town), took me to the outfitter to pick up my much needed gear drop, then took me out to lunch at FARM, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant that serves folks food regardless of whether or not they have money. She also offered me a ride back to the trail tomorrow. Margaret, you made my day, er wait, two days!

Thank you to Footsloggers, Boone's full service outfitter for allowing me to ship them some emergency packages that I needed to pick up and for your excellent service!

And lastly, I cannot forget these friends I made on the trail...

One of the many herds of cows found literally along the trail
You see, throughout this section there are many cow pastures in which the trail passes through. I climb a stile, walk on through, dodging cow patties and saying hello to the ladies (usually), and then climb another stile and I'm on my way. As you can see some of these "pastures" are actually just woods that the cows are permitted to roam, which I think is pretty awesome. It's always a surprise to find a cow poking his head out from behind a tree at you. 

The most shocking however, was the group of cows that I managed to herd. I stopped, took some pics, made some small talk, and went I stepped off, they all decided to follow. As I moved down hill they picked up the pace. A car drove by watching as this lone hiker walked and at least 10 cows followed behind her closely. I stopped to check my directions, the cows stopped, all gathered around, awaiting my next move. I would have found this all more unnerving had I not remembered moving the herd of 100 + at Warren Wilson College where I went to school. Periodically, when they got too close, I simply turned around periodically and yelled, "Ho!" at which they'd stop or slow. I was able to do this enough to keep some distance and make my climb over the other stile.

First sign for Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway
And this is where I'm headed! That is after 6 days in the wilds of the mountains. I mean it this convenience stores, no soda machines, and definitely no Freebourne's along the way. I think I pass a couple of restrooms with running water. I'll be ascending to Beacon Heights, descending into the Linville Gorge, and fording the Catawba River.

I will do a thorough post on events in Asheville before I get there, a week and a half from now, but for sure to make your calendars:

Book Talk and Signing at Filo Pastries
July 12 at 1 pm

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mountains Here I Come!

View from atop Balanced Rock in Hanging Rock State Park
By the end of today I will finally be really, truly be in the Mountain region of North Carolina, sleeping just on the edge of Stone Mountain State Park. Hard to believe that there are 400 and some miles left to this trek. Folks, I'm tellin' you, 750 miles goes a whole lot faster than you'd expect it to! At the same time, to think just a month ago I was in the tourist town of White Lake surrounded by the Carolina Bays, seems impossible, as if I've hiked several states since then.

Two days ago, I was returned to Pilot Mountain State Park after my lil retreat into the mountains surrounding Asheville. I got a sneak peak...and it was heart wrenchingly beautiful. The time with friends was incredibly uplifting and the wedding was a true hiker friendly wedding with camping, hiking, guests taking outdoor showers and changing in their tents and lots of delicious food. Oh and dancing, lots of dancing...I don't know if that would qualify as generally hiker friendly as my body took a lil while to warm up, but when it did this hiker shook her booty happily. Each night the fireflies winked like a show of Christmas lights up in the treetops. Breath-taking.

Chris, Raeleen, Ailse, Me, and Ernie the Dog (picture taken by John). Ailse and John were the friends that suggested they pick me up en route from their house in Durham to Asheville. Ernie and I shared the backseat (by the way, he is only 13 weeks old). Thank you John and Ailse!
Jodi and Noah with Jodi's father officiating. As if this scene weren't lovely enough, they stood beneath an arching canopy of bamboo.
Suddenly back in the quiet of the woods, no cell reception, no internet, and all by myself, I wondered if the weekend had been merely a dream. The next day, I hiked 25 miles, sleeping at a church in the farming community of Jenkinsville, and yesterday hiked another 10 miles into the historic town of Elkin. The ten miles into town was a snaking and steep mountainside road, the edges of which were abundant in ripe Blackberries and Daylilies perfect for brunch-time nibbling.

Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) - The flowers are edible, tasting sweet and crisp. The tubers are also edible however I have yet to have personal experience with this underground part. Although these are beautiful flowers, they are non-native and invasive, so eat away! Each flower only lasts a single day anyhow, thus one of the attributes that contributed to its common name as a lily. However, this flower is actually a member of the Xanthorrhoea family.
Upon entering Elkin, I paralleled railroad tracks and was greeted by an enormous old grain mill and several many-floored, many-windowed, closed down brick factory building. Industrial, yes, but really an intriguing way to enter town, the contrast between the rolling fields bordered by thick woods and the constructs of iron, wood, and steel. The wild always creeping to reclaim, vines ran up the sides of the brick walls, trees sprouted wherever they could, and grass snuck in from the cracks in the pavement.

But what really made Elkin memorable were the people and the shining enthusiasm these folks have for their portion of the trail. I had the largest attendance I've had yet here at the local library...and mind you this book talk was set up one day in advance! Not only was the library welcoming, but the local bookstore, Diana's Books, and the Soda Shop where I had lunch. Following the book talk, I was whisked out to the 1 1/2 miles of trail that has already been completed through Elkin. Right now the designated trail passes through town via Main Street and then carries me out on Rt. 21, where I pick up various country roads that will lead me to Stone Mountain. However, when this trail is complete, the hiker will be able to reach Stone Mountain 22 miles away without ever leaving the woods, the creeks crossed by sturdy bridges. Of course, we conducted an impromptu plant walk while here as well. Thank you Pamela and Donnie! I even had the opportunity to bang the gong that has been placed one mile in on trail!

Bangin' the gong - the sound of which reverberates throughout the surrounding woods - along the soon to be MST in Elkin!
While in town I stayed with Martha Smith and her pooch Zoot. Martha is the librarian at the Elkin Library who made sure that my presentation went smoothly. Thank you, Martha for orchestrating the presentation on such short notice and for hosting me in your home! My stay was truly restful, in a big ol' fashioned bed, fresh air pouring in the open windows, and a big porch with a rocking chair to sit in in before bed where I could think "deep thoughts."

Martha and Zoot
 And I'm off!! I will quite literally be in the woods without resupply for the next four days and hiking up into the Blue Ridge Mountains...I'll check back in as soon as I can!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Gaining Elevation!

View from Balanced Rock in Hanging Rock State Park - see Pilot Knob in the distance, this where I'm headed!
"Mountains?!" I exclaimed aloud while walking UP the road out of Danbury two days ago. Now, I am still in the Piedmont, folks, but this ain't no Piedmont terrain. As I made my way out of town, they literally just appeared on the horizon as I walked the rolling roads. For a moment I wondered if I had somehow awoken somewhere other than where I had gone to sleep!

View from roadway along Sauratown Trail
For the past two days I have been walking trail through Hanging Rock State Park and along the Sauratown Trail (a rugged horse path). I have squeezed my way through Rhododendron thickets, hopped slippery rocks across crystal clear water creeks, hoofed it uphill a whole lot, and rested against mossy trees. I am in my turf, even if I haven't actually technically hit it yet.

Then this morning I woke up here...

View from atop the roof of Sue Dabb's apartment in Winston-Salem
Now this is a change of scenery! Sue Dabbs and her husband, Jack hosted me last night here in Winston-Salem, just 30 miles from the trail, for my book event at Great Outdoor Provisions. This city appears to be a thriving place with lots of restaurants offering outdoor seating, breweries, and people bustling about. I will certainly have to come back sometime and explore more!

For today I am headed further into those mountains, however not by feet, but by car, for my dear friend, Jodi's wedding in Asheville, NC. I'm gettin' a sneak peak at what's to come as I'll be hiking into here in not too long! Therefore I will be MIA from the trail and laptop for the weekend...although I will still be camping in a field. Of course my friend is having a wedding in which the attendees must bring tents!

Before I go,  a lovely little link and some words of gratitude...  - this is an article about yours truly from the Sampson Weekly. Sampson County just to give you a reminder was where I stayed with Roland and Mabel, as well as the night at Vann Crossroads Fire Department.

And now thank you to some awesome folks that have taken me in and helped me get around to events!

Thank you, Ian Fraher for picking for driving me around from Stokesdale to Greensboro and back again. Ian is an MST thru-hiker as well, and an AT thru-hiker, and a PCT thru-hiker - keep on hiking Ian! (Although I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that!)

Thank you to Sue Giles for the hospitality in Stokesdale. I slept like a log, knowing I was safe and sound in your backyard, and the shower...oh my it had been soooo many days!

Thank you to Village Pizza of Stokesdale for being kind enough to keep my beer chilled in your fridge and letting me hole up in your restaurant for several hours blogging. Besides these points, the service was incredible and that was one of the best cannolis I have ever had - you give NY some competition!

Thank you to the officer who gave me a ride in the backseat of the cop car when I was found happily picking blackberries and unknowingly 4 miles past where I should have made my turn! Even if you had to run my license for warrants and check my pack for weapons, it was well worth not having to turn around and walk all that way back!

Thank you to Sue and Jack Dabbs for hosting me in Winston-Salem! What an absolutely wonderful stay I had! We even found out we had very close mutual friend, Miss Rachel Horn, whom I'll be with this weekend. Small world indeed.

Stay tuned for my upcoming events in Elkin and Asheville!

View of Hanging Rock from roadwalk

Monday, June 16, 2014

Piedmont Finds

Meet Sprout - the first fellow hiker I have run into yet, that includes both long-distance treks, on the MST. She is sectioning for the next two weeks. Of course I have seen many a day-hiker on the trails, but what a shock to find her sitting alongside the road!
That's right! The first to be showcased of the Piedmont finds...a fellow hiker! This is Sprout, presently from Austin, Texas, but has also called such mountainous places as Catawba, VA and Ithaca, NY home. Here I was walking down Oak Ridge Rd headed toward Stokesdale, when I saw her sitting beside a tree in the shade. We walked the last few miles into town together, gabbing so much we completely bypassed where she was staying for the night- oops. So awesome to have run into you, Sprout, have a great rest of your hike wherever it may take you!

Blackberries (Rubus spp.) - notice the receptacle still remaining in the cluster of tiny one-seeded fruits that make up what we consider one blackberry. 
Not only was it about time I ran into another hiker, but it was about time I found some ripe blackberries! I've been passing so many blackberry thickets, however the berries are either not yet ripe or have been plucked clean. Those woodland critters are just a wee bit quicker than this thru-hiker when it comes to gettin' the freshies. I found these growing in the bright sun on overgrown trail along the powerlines. Ah, the advantages of some modernity on the trail. Another great place to find them is along the roadways.

Blackberries ripening - this plant had leaves possessing just 3 small leaflets each.
Blackberries and Raspberries share the same family (the Rose family - Rosaceae) and the same genus (Rubus). Both Blackberries and Raspberries will have 3-7 leaflets, growing from tall arching canes. Leaflets will be palmately arranged, toothed and often finely furry on undersides. Canes will usually be covered in prickles or thorns, however some species may have smooth or waxy canes. The best way to tell a Blackberry from a Raspberry other than color (there is a black Raspberry!) is whether the ripe fruit remains on the receptacle when plucked. The receptacle is the white fleshy core to which all the seeds/berries attach. Blackberries will take the receptacle with them, whereas Raspberries will leave it behind on the plant, in turn making the Raspberry hollow like a thimble.

Kudzu (Pueraria spp)
Well not necessarily the best find, as I'm sure you already know, Kudzu grows a mile minute and will engulf trees, smaller forest vegetation, entire hillsides, fences, houses, and well, anything in its path. When I saw my first leaf somewhere back by Falls Lake I knew there was more to come. However, the good news is that it's edible. Good for the goats, good for us. Quick! Get out there and get eatin'!

All this...Kudzu.
The leaves and the roots are edible, however, for the backpackers it's easier to harvest simply the leaves. The roots quickly grow massive and woody...just to give you an idea, the largest Kudzu root ever harvested weighed in at 400 lbs. The leaves are best as a cooked green, therefore sauté 'em, boil 'em, steam 'em, throw 'em in a soup! Make sure you harvest only the younger ones, as they become thick and fibrous with age. Also make sure you harvest only from areas that you are certain have not been sprayed with harsh chemicals in an effort to eradicate it. In that case, let the weed-killer take care of it.

Giant unknown mushrooms
Okay Mushroom Experts, what on earth am I looking at here? These were so enormous, they caught not only my attention but that of a trail runner zipping by who stopped dead in his tracks. We wondered just where the resident gnome may be. I believe I need to take a thru-hike and study the mushrooms so that I can get to know them better!

The largest mushroom up close - check out that lacy cap! That lace is the torn fragments of a universal veil. This is the membrane that encloses the mushroom and tears as the stalk begins to grow. The underside was ivory colored as well and gilled.
And then we have this easily identified most fragrant shrub or small tree...

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
This greenie may look hard to distinguish at first glance, but a couple of key pointers and you can't miss it! Notice how the leaves are alternate and gradually decrease in size as they go down the twig? This very regular shrinking of the leaves is the first clue. The second clue is in it's smell. Grab a leaf, crush it between your fingers, and a spicy-lemony scent should immediately release. This was one of the first trees I learned...that smell is remarkable!

A fragrant tea can be made of those leaves. Steep a half cup of fresh leaves to one cup of hot water for 10 minutes. If you can, cover your cup with a plate or lid to intensify the aroma. The bark has traditionally be used medicinally as well. I have yet to use it this way so I cannot speak to it. But making a decoction (simmering the bark for 20 minutes) reportedly brings heat to the body and can aid in breaking a fever and detoxifying the body. The red berries can be ground up and used as a spice that pairs well with cinnamon and ginger.

A view of Lake Brandt at sundown
Lastly, I leave you with this Piedmont find...a lovely stealth camp on the edge of the Nat Green Trail that runs along Lake Brandt. I'll take this any day over a crowded campground or the glow of a Dollar General whilst camped in a thicket somewhere. All I can say for this one is, thank you.

And can find ME in the Piedmont at Great Outdoor Provisions Company in Greensboro giving a talk about my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Hope to see you there!

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

Underside of Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) - from this angle, I think the white florets look a bit like clouds in the sky, and little did I know that I was being watched by the lil fellow perched just on the edge!

Wild Carrot, probably best known as Queen Anne's Lace is a member of the Parsley Family (Apiace). I prefer to call is Wild Carrot because although lacy and lovely, it think it speaks more to it's true nature. You see, a wild carrot is just that, a savage carrot, with an edible taproot, leaves, and flowers.

You can find this trail food lining the edges of roads, in dry and sunny meadows, and where I've been seeing it consistently...on overgrown grassy trail traveling past the towering and buzzing powerlines!
The lacy flowers of Wild Carrot - notice the purple floret at its center.
Wild Carrot is most easily distinguished by its flowering top. Flowers are tiny, 5-petaled and white, arranged in a compound umbel. An umbel means that all the flowering stalks arise from one point, in this case, the main stem. A compound umbel means that atop each of these flowering stalks is yet another smaller umbel of flowers. The infloresence (the entire flowering top) is flat-topped, with most often, one single dark-purple flower in the center. Or rare instances, I have seen Wild Carrot without the purple flower. There are still several distinguishing characteristics, but given that Wild Carrot has some highly poisonous relatives, I suggest merely leaving these alone. Eat only if the purple floret is present.
Wild Carrot's green bracts seen at base of flowering head, in this case, very much cupping the flower.
Beneath the infloresence is a spray of wiry green bracts that may either cup the flowering head or bend backwards away from the flowers.
Wild Carrot leaf
The infloresence is perched atop a long stem, coarsely hairy, that can reach as tall as 3 feet. Leaves are alternate on the stem, finely divided and lacy as well. At the base of the plant is a basal rosette, also possessing finely divided leaves, however they are more leafy in appearance than stem leaves.

Wild Carrot  gone to seed, turning into it's characteristic "bird's nest" shape
As the plant goes to seed, the center of flat-topped infloresence sinks and the branching umbels reach upwards, so that when the entire top dries, it looks like a bird's nest.
Last night's dinner: Knorr Teriyaki Noodles with (as seen from left to right) Common Plaintain, Violet, and Wild Carrot leaves
During its first year, Wild Carrot is merely taproot and basal rosette. It is during this time that the root is edible and may be enjoyed just like a domestic carrot. It really is very similar and even looks about the same, except that it lacks the beta carotene that makes the domestic carrot orange They are, however, chewier, and so I find them better in soups and stews than raw in salads or sandwiches. In its second year, Wild Carrot sends up its flowering stalk. At this time, the taproot is technically still edible but fibrous and woody and lacking flavor. Eat if you must satisfy your curiosity or for survival, but otherwise don't bother. Also, bear in mind that roots will draw up and concentrate not only nutrients but toxins inherent in their environment. Therefore, be certain not to harvest roots from roadside plants or anywhere they could be subject to industrial run-off not only from human development such as paved areas but also from farms with heavy pesticide/fertilizer use.

Leaves and flowers are also edible and are easier to identify than a taproot and basal leaves. Leaves have a strong parsley flavor and may be chopped up fine and added to soups, stews, or eaten raw in salads. To harvest leaves, pinch off or use a small knife to cut from stem. Flowers may be sauteed and thrown into stir- frys. Harvest them by pinching off small umbels.
Check out a wee more refined meal that includes flowers and leaves below (recipe from A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail):
Queen Anne's Almond Couscous with Peanut Sauce

1 c couscous
1 ¼ cup of water
½ c of Wild Carrot flowers
¼ slivered or diced almonds
1-2 Wild Carrot leaves diced fine
1 orange domestic carrot diced (this is the one we all know and love) 
1 t olive oil
1 clove of garlic minced

Peanut Sauce

2 T peanut butter
dash of salt and pepper
dash of cayenne or chili powder (optional)

Firstly, saute vegetables and flowers.

Place pot over heat and add olive oil. Add carrots, and saute for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to soften. Add almonds, sauteing another 2-3 minutes or until nuts have begun to toast. Add flowers and garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Be sure to stir frequently to prevent flowers from burning or wilting too much.

Transfer veggies to a separate bowl or pot for later.

Wipe pot clean and add 1 c of water. Bring water to a boil. Remove pot from heat and add couscous. Replace lid and allow couscous to “cook” for 10 minutes or until couscous is soft and hydrated. Add veggies and flowers to couscous.

Using the bowl you just emptied (the one that contained veggies and flowers), prepare the peanut sauce.

Mix peanut butter with ¼ c of water. Add spices, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Pour peanut sauce over couscous mixture. Add raw Wild Carrot leaves and toss to combine.

You may replace the domestic carrot with the Wild Carrot taproot in this recipe if you'd like. However, if harvesting during its optimal time, you will not have the flowers to add to the saute.


Please exercise extreme caution in harvesting any part of this plant. Be certain you have identified Daucus carota. There are several very poisonous members of the Parsley family that can resemble Wild Carrot, especially during its first year, before it has flowered. Below I have described the most dangerous lookalikes.

Conium maculatum, otherwise known as Poison Hemlock, this is the same plant that Socrates chose to ingest as his punishment and death.

The flowers are similar to those of Wild Carrot. One difference is that the infloresence does not bear a purple floret in its center. Also, the infloresence is more rounded than that of the flat-topped Wild Carrot. Poison Hemlock's flowering heads do not possess bracts.

Leaves are also very similar and when young can look nearly identical to Wild Carrot. Be certain to take notice of the leaflets, which are wider and less wiry than those of Wild Carrot. Also, notice the leafstalks, as Poison Hemlock does not possess hairy leafstalks.

Poison Hemlock's main stem is often spotted purple.

If you get as far as examining the tap root, Poison Hemlock's root will possess a foul odor.

Poison Hemlock can grow as high as 9 feet. You will never find Wild Carrot growing this tall (however Poison Hemlock can still flower as short as 2 feet!)

Considering Wild Carrot thrives well in waste places, Poison Hemlock may be found in some of the same habitats. However it also enjoys riverbanks and other moist places unlike Wild Carrot.

Poison Hemlock is deadly. Do not taste any part of this plant and wash hands if you believe you have handled it.

Cicuta maculata, commonly called Water Hemlock, has flowers very similar to Wild Carrot, although again, will not contain the purple floret. Water Hemlock does not possess bracts below the infloresence.

Leaves are very different from Wild Carrot or Poison Hemlock. They are pinnately divided but with toothed elliptical leaflets.

The stem is often branching and like Poison Hemlock, is also often spotted with purple.

The root can be odorless.

Like Wild Carrot, Water Hemlock can flower at 2 feet, however like Poison Hemlock, it can also grow much taller, up to 6 feet.

As the name suggests, this plant likes to grow beside water, yet it can also be found in moist soils away from water, such as in wet meadows.

Water Hemlock is deadly poisonous as well. Do not taste any part of this plant and promptly wash your hands if you believe that you have come in contact with it.

There are various other members of the Parsley Family that to an untrained eye can resemble Wild Carrot. Some are are inedible, some harmless, others causing digestive disturbance or skin irritation. Know Wild Carrot and its lookalikes well before harvesting.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Past, Present, and Future

A long country road through the Piedmont - check out those hills!
Whoohoo!! Folks, I am officially more than halfway there! The trail measures nearly 1200 miles in length, and I am somewhere around 670 miles in...honestly it's all gone a lot faster than I expected it to...but the days have been full! Since I've last written, I've done several more book events, again with a full house at Great Outdoor Provisions (where two of my dear friends whom I hadn't seen since their wedding that I attended while on the trail the first time through dropped in and surprised me), Weaver St. Market, and an impromptu book talk at Lynn Pownell's home (owner of the Barbershop B&B in Glencoe Village). I have also completed the new trail along the Eno River as well the new portions of trail following the Haw River.

Along the Haw River Trail in Glencoe Village
On the Falls Lake Trail I glimpsed signs of old homesteads along the railroad tracks...however I had no idea the remnants of the past that were to be seen along the Eno and Haw Rivers.

A mill stone along the Eno River Trail - these were literally strewn about, laying along side trail near old rock foundations, and half buried in leaves on forested embankments far off the trail.
One of the many chimneys still standing - notice the skinny Maple tree (Acer spp.) growing in the dirt and forest debris collected inside the fireplace. Atop the mantle of another fireplace I found, someone had lovingly placed collected items atop it, including a mason jar, cracked tea cup, and a piece of rusted tin.
At the tail end of the Eno River portion, I had the pleasure of meeting up with local historian Jay Schwantes, who walked with me for a bit telling me the stories of the land. We toured the Cabe Cemetery, which laid off trail - thus I never would have seen it otherwise. Here he told me of the patriarch Cabe who had been an incredibly wealthy mill owner in the area and then about his daughter who married 3 wealthy mill men herself. Sounds like that lass married strategically.
A note on the plants, he also told me that one can always spot an old homesite or forgotten burial plot by the Jonquils that were planted there and continue to grow today.

Jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla) shoots rising from leaves around the old Cabe homesite - photo courtesy of Jay Schwantes (check out his research at
He also pointed out the old Fish Dam Rd, which was discovered in the 1600's as a frequently used trading route by native people. However, the most interesting history that most folks don't know is that this was the route traveled by General Johnston to meet General Sherman to conduct the surrender at Bennett Place, a nearby family farm. This was weeks after the supposed "end of the war" at the battle of Appomattox, and days after Lincoln's assassination, when President Johnson had ordered General Grant to go to North Carolina to "resume the hostilities." Fortunately the two generals took it upon themselves to coordinate a surrender of the remaining troops in the field.

This same road also led to the mill. Jay informed me that the mill was not only the place you brought your grains, but the hang-out place, the local pub (serving moonshine of course) and social scene...I probably would have been seen walking this road a lot had I lived during this time!

The last few days have also been filled with the generosity of kind folks who have taken me in, and in more than one instance offered some more history along the trail, and transported me to and from the trail, to and from book events.

Aaron, Charlotte, and Shawn
In the Chapel Hill area, I was hosted by the lovely family of Shawn and Charlotte Williams and two sons, Aaron and Tommy. Oh the dinners were amazing...Indian fare the first night and Mediterranean on the second night, cooked not just by Charlotte but with the assistance of Aaron. Quite impressive. They also helped me get around Chapel Hill to my events and made me feel right at home with lots of good laughter and conversation. Thank you, Shawn, Charlotte, Aaron, and Tommy!

Thank you Barbara for picking me up and getting me back to the trail from Chapel Hill!

Holly, Bill, and Gwen Reid
The next family to host me was that of Holly Reid and her parents Bill and Gwen. This family offered not just hospitality but history as well. Holly has done and continues to do extensive research on the local communities that used to live beside the Haw River, including that of the Native Americans and African Americans. Bill and Gwen also lived in a restored horse barn on the former property of an incredibly wealthy land and mill owner in the area. This man owned 20 horses which he kept in an enormous barn made of brick and multiple paddocks. Wow. The original doors, beams, and bricks still made up the house. Absolutely beautiful.

On their property also stood a restored slave's cabin. They called this one-room house the "Coachman's Quarters," as research suggests that the slave who lived here probably took care of the many horses in the nearby barn. Bill and Gwen, still incredibly able-bodied in their 80's, did extensive work along with a builder/restoration expert to rebuild the rubble to which they had found this cabin reduced. The most remarkable find in this structure was on particular brick. On this brick a date had been inscribed, presumably by a slave: Dec. 6, '65. This is the date that slavery had been abolished by the addition of the Thirteenth Amendment.

December 6, 1865 - the date that slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment. This is a painting of the inscription found upon a brick in the Coachman's Quarters. The Reid's have a frame hanging on the wall around the actual brick, however with the low light in the cabin it was impossible to capture the actual inscription.

They offered me a room in the house, air conditioned, and on a big bed with fresh linens, but I just had to sleep out in the Coachman's Quarters...

The restored Coachman's Quarters on the property of Bill and Gwen Reid.
Thank you Reid family for the wonderful company, history, and for attending the book signing!

From here, I traveled 23 miles to the historic village of Glencoe. This village consists of literally two streets lined by a handful of houses that had been built to house the workers for the nearby mill. These houses all looked exactly the same, except personalized by different colored exteriors, tin roofs, and trim. I had the pleasure of being welcomed into one by Lynn, the owner of the Barbershop B&B in town (a restored one-room literal barbershop) and the art studio in town. Here I enjoyed a cozy book talk with her local friends over wine and cheese and crackers. I hope these ladies enjoyed learning about the book nearly as much as I enjoyed learning about each of them. Thank you Lynn!

An old factory building on the edge of Glencoe Village -do you notice that man in the lower left-hand corner walking towards me? This is Harold Davis.
The picture above brings me to an already most treasured day and half spent with my dear friend, Harold Love Davis. If you have been a reader since I began this blog 3 years ago, perhaps you remember him. I met Harold while walking his dog along the roadside on the MST not far from the Union Ridge Church. Harold was one of the few I had met along the way that had actually heard of the trail as he had met another hiker before me on the road sometime back. Anyhow, Harold had greeted me the next morning at my camp at the church and taken me out to breakfast at McCray's Grill. For the last 3 years, we have kept in touch by telephone. So although the trail no longer passes by Harold's house, I let him know I'd be coming his way again.

Harold on the trail by the Haw River
This time around, Harold surprised me by meeting on trail, just a mile and a half before reaching the village of Glencoe. "Harold!" I exclaimed, as the man in the hat finally got near to me by the ol' factory. Harold hiked with me to my destination for the evening and we made plans to have breakfast, once again at McCray's Grill the next morning.

Harold, Tyler, and Me at McCray's Grill - photo taken by Janice
So promptly at 7am the next morning, we drove the short miles to McCray's. Upon arrival I was greeted by the same friendly faces I remembered sharing breakfast with the last time. Janice, Margaret, and this now-not-so-lil girl, Tyler. So amazing to see you all again and breakfast was deelish!!

That day Harold hiked...are you ready for this...20 miles with me to Hicone Rd on the edge of Greensboro. Now, Harold, I don't mean to bring up your age, but I'm sorry people must simply know! Harold is 83 years old and far more spry than many my own age and younger. Harold and I kept the same pace and walked side by side the whole way, beginning by trail in the morning and then soon transitioning to long hilly roads, that is except for where we had to walk single file due to the busy traffic. Thank you for walking with me, Harold! I hated to say goodbye when I left. You'll just have to join me if I find myself doing this trail a 3rd time!

Harold and Me at McCray's Grill
And now I make my way towards Greensboro to walk some more real-deal trail! Come see me in Greensboro on Monday at my book talk and signing at Great Outdoor Provisions, beginning at 7pm!