Hiking the Uwharries

      From time to time I NEED my mountain fix. Living near the coastal plains of North Carolina, in the Research Triangle, mountains are virtually non- existent. As I get older, family raised, more free time, I find myself reverting to my childhood interests the biggest one, hiking. As a kid and a boy scout, hiking and camping were, hands down, my favorite pastimes. The best weekends contained both. We hiked a lot in my troop because we made annual treks to test ourselves on the Appalachian Trail. The rules were simple, you trained with the troop or you didn’t go. Hiking was instilled in my blood. This also began my early fixation with the mountains. My first time on the A-T I was the ripe old age of 12. There was talk that I was too young and might not be able to keep up or carry my share of the weight, (I was also very small). In 1968, we didn’t have the trail gear that exists today, everything was quite a bit heavier. I remember I carried an Army surplus canvas backpack on a homemade wooden frame built as a scout project. My sleeping bag was made by Coleman and looked like a giant jelly roll strapped to the bottom of the frame. The whole thing was about half as heavy empty as a fully loaded backpack of today’s gear. Our first trip; 73 miles across the Great Smoky Mountains one of the most rugged sections of the A-T, (now you understand the concern.) On the A-T through the Smoky Mountains; we left Davenport Gap southbound, there was only one true road crossing until Fontana Dam. That was at Newfound Gap. I am now 61 years old and have spent life raising a family, and working, first as a deputy sheriff and lately as a restaurant manager. A life time of odd hours, little or no sleep, eating nilly willy and, seldom anything that was good for me. My weight had ballooned to 240 pounds. At 58 I experienced chest pains on the eve of a trip to the Smoky Mountains; my first in decades. Well not the exact day before but within some two or three days. It started at work one night as I rushed around the restaurant my chest had a deep bruising pain that I hadn’t felt before. The next day it did the same. I was off a day and rested hoping it would pass. I didn’t want to tell Charlotte she would send me to the doctor and possibly my trip to the mountains would be cancelled. UGH! On day four I felt that it was only right to tell her of the problem. It wouldn’t be fair and was selfish of me to get her into the mountains and then have a problem with limited care around. So, I was put into the hospital within hours of seeing my regular doctor; then a cardiologist, and an angioplasty that revealed that the left coronary artery, the widow maker as he called it, was ninety percent blocked. A stent was placed, my trip was canceled, and I was off my feet for a week. So now of course, recovery begins.

Now you might think wow! walking within a week. Well yeah. Thankfully I drew one of the few Cardiologists in Raleigh who at the time could perform the angioplasty through the wrist, and the vessels of my arm were of the right configuration. So I was stented spent one night of observation in the hospital and came home with a Band-Aid on my wrist. Pretty cool huh? The marvels of modern medicine!

I start my recovery by walking the neighborhood and the local Greenways. After a couple months, I began to ride a bike on the greenways in and around my home near Raleigh, and thought, this might be a good way to get in shape and lose weight. But riding a bike soon became a chore. Checking it out mechanically before the ride, loading it into the truck, unloading it, yeah, a chore.

10 months later I got to take my vacation to the Smoky Mountains and I got back through Newfound Gap. At Newfound Gap, I also got back on the Appalachian Trail, albeit only about 200 yards, but more importantly it awakened in me the urge to get back out there and enjoy what a busy life had caused me to abandon, HIKING! After the Angioplasty, I needed the exercise, and I needed the weight loss. But unless I can get my cardiologist to go with me over-night trips are out of the question for now. I asked Charlotte for a tent and sleeping bag for Christmas last year. She asked why. I replied, “so I can do overnighters!” “Oh no” she said, ‘I’m not helping you do that.” Dammit! She worries too much. I’ll work on getting my own stuff together I guess. So, for now.…. I day hike. My day hikes can range anywhere from 6 to 16 miles depending on where I go. With work and family, my trips to the Smoky Mountains are few and far between, and require a bit of planning and pretty much a full day of travel to get there. It’s just not doable on a consistent basis. But…. I have found my little Smoky Mountains, the Uwharrie. About two hours from home, this is a range I can visit monthly, easily. Just a day trip! What, you might ask, is the Uwharrie? Pronounced locally (Ju wa ri) this long forgotten range once stood over 20,000 feet above sea level and may have been a coastal range. Today it has only retained about 700- 1000 feet of its elevation, the rest, a casualty of time, worn away slowly over the ages bythe forces of wind and water. It is believed to be the oldest mountain range on the continent. It sits nestled in the central piedmont of North Carolina between the towns of Albemarle and Asheboro, (not to be confused with Asheville North Carolina which IS in the Appalachian Mountains). To me it is my ‘little Smoky Mountains’ because of the ongoing expanse of these smaller peaks. Lying atop these small mountains, the Uwharrie National Forest, a fifty-thousand-acre tract, set aside for preservation in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Running through this protected area is the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail, nearly 40 miles of hiking bliss depending on who you ask (it is said to be anywhere from 27-40 miles and is expanding yearly as long abandoned sections of the trail are reclaimed and reopened). It beckons hikers and campers with its numerous primitive campsites and trails through these mountains and along cool, clear running mountain streams. The area was once inhabited by succeeding tribes of native Americans for 20,000 years, tribes known as the Hardaway, the Caraway, Kirk, Swannanoa, and Savannah River. Each tribe bringing a different culture to the area. The Catawba Indians were the inhabitants when the first settlers arrived. Early settlers then involved the area in farming and industry; it is the site of America’s first gold rush in 1799. Hiking and primitive camping are allowed in the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness and throughout the National Forest and car camping and RV hookups are available in the adjacent Morrow Mountain State Park, and the Badin Lake area of the forest. Hiking is enjoyable everywhere in the Uwharrie. 

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