This Hiking Life

I’m a hiker, hike leader and outdoor writer.

I blog abEdgy in Montreat Wildernessout my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.

I’m writing a book on visiting all the national parks in the Southeast – the battlefields, monuments, historic sites as well as the traditional national parks. My book, titled Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, will come out next year, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.

See my bio if you want to know more.

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Outside on Black Friday

Lake Alford
Lake Alford

REI really started something in the popular media. They suggested that we all go outside on Black Friday, the supposedly busiest shopping day of the year. Instead of getting up early to catch a sale at a big box store, America was going to go to a park, a forest, a trail or lake. And to prove that they really meant it, REI said it was going to close its stores for the day and encourage their staff to get out. Just as important, REI was paying its employees and not making a statement on the backs of their workers.

Needless to say, it made national news and created a hashtag #optoutside. Now, the Bernsteins have been doing this for years, with our son and now with our grandkids. In this area, we’ve taken them to Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, the NC Arboretum and Dupont State Forest.

Today, we again took everyone to Dupont. Most of the trails in the forest are very gentle and there’s lots to see. The waterfalls are the main attractions but there are also three lakes.

Isa at Bridal Vei Falls
Isa at Bridal Veil Falls

From the Visitor Center parking lot, we took Conservation Road to Bridal Veil Falls. It’s an outstanding waterfall, from a distance but the girls-Hannah, 12 and Isa, 6 years old- wanted to explore it close and personal.

So I followed Isa closely as she climbed up and down slippery rocks and made decisions on which route to take to get closer and closer.

At Bridal Veil Falls
At Bridal Veil Falls


No saying “be careful” or “don’t fall”, as these words are meaningless.

Only by going with children and participating, can you encourage them to have fun outdoors. She got quite close and just as important made it back to land, safely.

We then headed back to Conservation Road and on Three Lakes Trail: Lake Julia, Lake Alford, where we had lunch, and last, Lake Dense.

By then, the rest of the world had #opt outside. We shared the trail with bikers, equestrians and many families. Groups gathered at High Falls; maybe that was the only place they went to but that was OK. They were outside.

Will this trend continue? What did you do today?


NC Writers Network Workshop on Travel Writing

Cypress Knees at Barataria
Cypress Knees at Barataria

I’ve just resurfaced after a hectic and fun weekend at the NC Writers Network Conference, this year held in Asheville.

I took workshops on nonfiction and memoir writing, though I’m not writing a memoir. Have no fear!

I led a workshop entitled Guiding Others through Places You Love, on travel writing. I’ve written three books, two hiking guides and a travel narrative, so someone thought I knew something about travel writing.

I started with:

A tourist is on vacation. A travel writer is on a pursuit. From Dinty Moore, professor at Ohio University said. You can’t just go on vacation and think you’re going to write about the place or your experience.

We differentiated between three types of travel books:

A.   Travel guides. Those are the most popular. Whether you buy the middle of the road Fodor’s Guides or the more adventurous Lonely Planet, these guides list the best of everything, according to their criteria. I first discovered Lonely Planet guides for my first trip to New Zealand, in 1992. It offered ideas for hikes and adventure trips and stayed away from the most upmarket hotels and restaurants. Lonely Planet guides now have broadened their approach, mentioning more expensive places.

B.  Travel Narratives. This is my favorite type of writing and reading. Look for my current picks on my website.  Will Harlan, Tony Horwitz, Mike Tidwell… These guys are my writing heroes. Wait! Why are they all guys?

These male writers research and write about a subject, much more than themselves. They don’t feel they have to “open up” and neither do their readers. I’ve been commenting on this phenomenon, since I started to write narratives and taking writing workshops.

I brought it up when Jeremy B. Jones in his memoir workshop talked about the relationship between “the subject” and the “I”. When my workshop mates in various classes tell me that “they want to know more about my past”, I should have the courage to say “This piece isn’t primarily about me. It’s about my subject.”

C.  Travel memoirs. If it’s a memoir, it’s about the person, and less about the subject. Memoirs are more imaginative, not necessarily factual, and little research is involved. Consider Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It was a captivating book, but it was about the author and not the Pacific Crest Trail.

FAB_Cover#2_FINALloresThey tell you to write a good memoir, You need to first discover the emotional journey underneath. What was the deeper meaning behind your need to leave your home behind? And what lessons did you learn along the way?

Looking at travel narratives and memoirs, I conclude that the reading public (mostly women) expect women to write emotional memoirs.

My next book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South, is a travel narrative where the stars are the national parks.



Family, religious marker on the Appalachian Trail?

Moye Family marker
Moye Family marker

Last week I went on a Carolina Mountain Club hike on the Appalachian Trail from Sams Gap to Devil’s Fork Gap, heading south.

About a half-mile from the parking area, we found this granite marker. It stands, maybe three feet or so off the trail on the left side. It’s not hidden, but proudly out here for all hikers to see.

We all wondered what a personal, family, religious marker was doing on the A.T. and on Pisgah National Forest land. I looked at the website, which said that it helped children of troubled family. The family ran a summer church camp. I emailed them at several different email addresses but got no reply.

As many hikers may or may not know, the Appalachian Trail goes through public land, such as forest and park land. And it’s the land manager, such as the Appalachian District of Pisgah National Forest in this case, who dictates the rules and regulations of their land. So that’s why A.T. hikers can’t walk with their dogs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for example.

I queried the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail offices and got essentially the same answer.

As it turns out, its erection was a condition of the land exchange. The final location and design might be worth discussing, said Chief Ranger, Todd Remaley, of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail office in Harpers Ferry.

In other words, it’s not in violation of any rules. Pisgah National Forest must have approved this marker to buy or exchange the land from the family. Would this arrangement work in a national park? But wait, the Appalachian Trail is a national park.

It’s not only the religious nature of the marker that is in question. It’s also the personal family name, that the Moye family made sure was very obvious. I understand that Pisgah no longer names features like mountains or trails for people who’ve been an asset to the forest, but they didn’t seem to have problems with this.

In addition, when A.T. hikers from all over the world come to walk this section, they are not going to know the distinction between the A.T. and the land manager. Pisgah National Forest is not going to be on their radar; hikers will just know that they’re on the A.T.

In Elkmont
In Elkmont

A couple of days later, I took a Friends of the Smokies group to Elkmont in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We found the cemetery which dates back before the Elkmont community, back when settlers lived here year round.

In Elkmont
In Elkmont

Of course, the cemetery had religious symbols and personal names. It was a cemetery and a historical place, after all.

The Smokies preserves the cultural aspects of the park. This particular grave is of Alice Townsend, the last wife of Colonel Townsend who logged the Elkmont area.

No one, including me, questioned why personal religious symbols were here. This is historic.

But the Moye Family marker is just personal.


Keen Voyager Boots – Gear review

Keen Voyager
Keen Voyager

Every once in a while, I get a request to review a piece of gear, clothing or book. The person sending the email sees that my blog concentrates on the outdoor life and wants an honest review.

If the item deals with hiking or the outdoors, I say “yes”. That’s how I got to review the Keen Voyager shoes/boots.A testing lab, asked me my foot size and sent me the Keen Voyager Boots.

I saw this as two tests. First, did they fit? Second what did the boots feel like when I hiked in them? Let’s take the second question first.

How I test the shoes

When I received the boots in the mail, I pulled out my best pair of light hiking socks to wear with the Keen Voyageur. I walked around the house, up and down the stairs but not outside yet, just in case I needed to return them.

They fit well. They were comfortable with a good-size toe box and gripped well. They passed the house test.

The next day, I took them out for a walk in the neighborhood. I walked to Beaver Lake and tried them on pavement, street, and trail around the lake. But it was just about four miles. How would they do on a real hike?

Now, if you look at the picture above, note that the Voyager is a low boot. To quote the  manufacturer, hiking in the Voyagers is like opening a window and filling your stuffy apartment with fresh air.

Solelabz says that this pair of hiking shoes is one of the top-rated on the market today. So I took them to Dupont State Forest on a wet, drizzly Carolina Mountain Club hike. The boots stayed comfortable on varied surfaces. Dupont has trails, logging roads, pavement and lots of wet rocks around the waterfalls.

Chemin de St. Jacques
Chemin de St. Jacques

The manufacturer claims that it’s the right boot for daily walks to light hikes. To me, trekking in Europe and on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail past the mountains is light hiking. You’re walking on pavement, unpaved roads and some forest trail. A high boot would be overkill.

I wore a light boot on Le Chemin de St. Jacques for 440 miles across France and would use the Voyager for another section of the Camino de Santiago.

In the Southern Appalachians, I will wear the boots at Bent Creek, certain trails in the Smokies that aren’t too rocky, birding and, of course, at Dupont State Forest.

Here’s the first test.

This is my first  experience with getting shoes of any kind through the mail. I really hesitated to accept this chance to review the boots. I didn’t think they would get a fair shot if I got the size wrong. But I told them my boot size and gave them two sizes – if the boots ran big and if they ran small, wide and narrow. And they fit. Amazing.

By now, you, dear reader, are saying. “Sounds great, Danny, but how much do they cost?”

I could say that I have no idea because Solelabz didn’t tell me. So I looked them up. They retail for $115, according to the Keen website.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might notice that I only give good review. Am I being bought? No! I tell the sender that I don’t give negative reviews. No point to advertising bad stuff. So if I review here, it’s all good.

Here’s the full manufacturer’s description
The Voyager is a crossover between hiking boot stability and the technology of the running shoe. It’ll keep you covered for anything ranging from daily walks to light hikes.
The main Voyager’s striking point is its superior ventilation. The upper is mostly mesh, which ensures an athletic level of breathability. The trademark Keen rugged construction is also here, so torsional stability demanded by the rough trails is guaranteed. S3 Technology developed by Keen focuses on trail-worthy performance by addressing shock, stability, and suspension.
The outsole is hard, with lugs going in multiple directions for ultimate grip. A compression-molded dual-density midsole is paired with metatomical removable footbed for all-day comfort. Keen’s patented construction of the toe bumper is also featured, giving extra durability and safety to the Voyager.

Chimney Tops Trail with Friends of the Smokies

20151110FOTSChimneytops 021AYesterday, it was hard to remember that we’re in the middle of November. Several of us were in shorts as we climbed Chimney Tops Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yes, it was the second Tuesday of the month, so it’s Friends of the Smokies hiking day.

Anna Lee and I had scouted the trail in the spring when the trail was officially opened by Superintendent Cassius Cash. But today it was just twenty-two of us, along with Tobias Miller and Eric Wood, who had managed and worked on the Trails Forever program to refurbish this trail. See their picture below.

Tobias and Eric
Tobias and Eric

Tobias and Eric had pictures to show us the “before” pictures. Wow! The trails were rocky, eroded, and bare. Now, they replaced the hazardous surface with a solid trail that looks natural along with lots of steps. But the trail was still steep. The Trails Forever crew did not cut the mountain down.

We plodded up at our own pace and made it to the top in record time. But the top of the trail is not the top of the rocky chimneys. There’s a reason that the mountain is called “chimney tops”. It’s high and steep, but only two miles of walking.

View of Chimney Tops
View of Chimney Tops

Some dropped their packs and poles and started scrambling up the rocks. The rocks and roots were wet, much wetter, than when we went in May.

Only a few people actually made it to the top. But that was OK. No matter how far you got, you got great views with some cloud cover.

Tobias and Eric gave us more details of the three-year project, which cost $500,000. They thanked Friends of the Smokies  and Trails Forever for their support.

When we started back down, I reminded the group of the movie Everest. All the trouble and fatalities happened on the way down. So be careful of the slippery steps covered with leaves.

Elkmont Historic District

But with all that, it was only about one pm. So most of us went to Elkmont to see the Elkmont Historic District.

20151110FOTSChimneytops 031A

The Elkmont houses require a full blog post of its own. But since it was part of the same day, I think that I need to mention it.

Peering into the cabins
Peering into the cabins

We started at the Appalachian Club, walked through DaisyTown and found the Spence Cabin, shown in the picture above. No, it wasn’t lost but I tried to minimize the walking around this time, so we could see many houses before people got impatient.

The Spence Cabin and Appalachian Club have been remodeled by the park. You can now rent it out for weddings and meetings. What a place that would be.

The last Friends of the Smokies hike of 2015 will be on Tuesday December 8 at Deep Creek. Tradition calls for the last hike to be a half-day hike, only about five miles. If you’ve been wanting to try a hike but were reluctant to plunge into an all-day hike, this is the hike for you. After the hike, we’ll visit the Swain County museum and park store.

To sign up, contact Anna Lee at or 828-452-0720.