Just past Moore’s Springs Campground, up a hundred meters from the abandoned red farm home sprawled alongside Moore’s Springs Road in a state of slow decay, there’s a rocky dirt road off to the right that leads to the Moore’s Springs Mountain Biking Trail (MBT). MBT – the trail’s name sounding something akin to a World War concentration camp – sits guarded by a broken home. Nailed to the wall sits a poster reading SIGN IN TO KEEP THESE TRAILS! and below that there’s a green composition notebook that, since the first of November, has been filled with the names of no less than two hundred bikers, hikers, and runners. It’s a classic scene – dilapidation threatening closure. Eyesores for the state, arguments of funding smothering the little known good of MBT … according to Jill Miller, a self-quoted ‘trail enthusiast’ (and damn good one … the woman hops from root to stone to path to leaf quick as a cat!) the overseer of MBT, Tony McGee, just received an $100,000 grant to add six more miles of trail through the rolling hills.
Why close MBT? You’ve visitors on the daily – at noon on a Sunday I counted two dozen patrons in puke green notebook (reminiscent of high school chemistry … bleck) that have visited since Saturday morning previous. That’s right: people are visiting and you’ve a good cause – employing those who may have a difficult time landing a position in the workforce. And, if the first two reasons aren’t good enough … you’re promoting future use by expanding the miles available for those wanting a bit more mileage out of MBT.
But I give our state government a chance. I withhold judgment until after the run – until after my Pops and I have churned up the steep slopes slick with leaves and then careened off the ridgeline back down into a small ravine for the six mile loop.
It doesn’t take long … so at the end of the day, after the run? I say the same – these are trails that are worth fighting for, worth keeping, not only for the loyal locals, the ones who’ve their name in the trail log Monday thru Saturday, but also for those who can get out only once a week, for those who’ve seen Hanging Rock but want to explore out a bit further and expand their knowledge of these woods without the crowds … for those who want a bit of solitude as they take to the Land of the Lost, our first turn of the day …
* * * * * * * *
I am able to convince Father to get his religion on the trail this misty Sunday morning. I pick him up from Sunday School, shake a few hands in my red, smelly short shorts and black, dirty beanie, and off we peel towards Hanging Rock. I am thoroughly interested in today’s run: billed by Jill Miller as ‘tough, slick trail’ and explained by Pops as ‘a lot of twists and turns and ups and downs atop a bunch of loose leaves. Oh – and it’s tough to find if you don’t know where it is. Oh! And it’s about to close at the start of 2014.’
One simple explanation, one loquacious (like Father, like Son) and I’m geared up, chomping hard for a new scene.
We take University Parkway away from suburbia and into the mists of the countryside. IHop, unsurprisingly, is packed. And the state of our society spirals in a tighter circle …
The fog is settled down for the day – visibility is low, no more than a hundred meters, and the fields sit shrouded with tendrils reaching down to caress empty acres. I tell Pops this reminds me of Salem’s Lot. He disagrees, and ardent conversation ensues for the next thirty minutes as we wind along the curves of a society left behind.
We take the turn onto Moore’s Springs, pass Mickey Road (which leads to Tory’s Falls and the backside of Hanging Rock State Park), and am told to slow down. There’s no traffic on the road today – only fog and dead skunk – and we roll past the decaying farm house, our speed affording a good look at its roof caving under the weight of gravity and time. I shiver considering the physical laws of this universe, this knowledge that only the bacteria will survive and that nature always wins.
‘Right here! Before the bridge!’ I take a sharp turn, turn my gaze upwards, and find myself looking upon the busted house that’d previously – for the past twenty years – remained comfortably hidden from my view. I have, ashamedly, never seen this parking lot, this dirt road, or this molded structure. We park, sign in to the log book, comment on the dreary day, and watch the few cars go zipping past below, they unaware of our perch above.
Pops gets me going, leading on through the woods. The path is wet yet less than treacherous … the leaves are pleasantly trodden and, while slick, stick to the path as we stomp over. MBT is narrow, cut into the hills, and for miles we run single-file, Father leading us running over stone and leaf, I looking up to see the rhododendrons, looking down to follow a small watershed winding down through its ravine to the Dan River. At three miles we stop, take a breath, and hop onto a side-trail lovingly coined The Land of the Lost. I’ve been told it’s my turn to take the trail so I push forward, leading us down deeper into the hills, wondering when – if ever – we’re to ascend. Some cobwebs catch my cheeks and lips and nose but there’ve been traffic along the Lost Lands today and but a few hardy arachnids have spun back out their webs across the trail.
We pass a biker chugging up the path, his legs spinning in high gear, his wheels spinning atop the leaves. Call me an old fashioned pussywillow quaking in the wind, call me a hairless greenhorn quelling at the sight of danger, call me a nasty nymphomaniac – no, don’t call me that – but I can’t imagine crushing these narrow MBT trails, these trails with ten foot drop-offs and bridges made of twig and cloth on a big 29” whip. I tell Pops as much, he informs me that this is what bikers get off on, and I spend the next mile both ascending and considering the sexual side of mountain biking. If I ‘got off’ on running these trails then I’d never get off, if you know what I mean.
At the ridgeline we stop, hike through the woods, and come to a field. Staring down is Hanging Rock in its tremendous splendor, yet for the mist we’d have a fine view of its face and Lookout Tower perched atop the Rock’s peak. Today, however, all we’ve are green field and just the first feet of the mountain itself, leaving me to form metaphors as we descend back to the parking lot.
What’s going to happen to MBT? I don’t know, it’s all foggy today.
Why are they ignoring this $100,000 grant? I don’t know, it’s all foggy today.
Well, I didn’t say that they had different answers. It seems the fogginess serves as a fine connection for most of life’s questions … blame it on the mists to make life a bit clearer. There don’t always have to be answers – but as long as there are questions, questions against the powers that be, the same powers that can shut down a lovely stretch of trail with the ease of signature, then we are doing something, anything right.
And thus we fall down the ridge, taking switchback to switchback away from the thick mists, these wooly white fingers reaching down after us. Down past thicket and creek, along bend and berm, a slow descent to the trailhead. We pop out into the parking area in a fit of surprise, closing off the loop and finishing our run before I’ve time to register the similar scenery. Yet there we are, slowing then stopping, headed to the car for a stretch and water. There’s our mountain biker at the car, chatting us up about the trail closing. He seems to be a regular in these woods, and recommends us to visit the ‘Save MBT’ Facebook page, which to this day I can’t seem to successfully search, addled as my technological capabilities be.
‘A damn shame, gentlemen,’ our biker says with a slow shake of sweaty hair. ‘These are some nice trails back here. Do what you can to save them.’
These are the kind of words uttered on one’s deathbed in some fantastical universe, words whispered as the wars rage and laser blasts rock the funeral chamber’s core foundations. I expect our biker friend to clutch my hand and press a ring into it before closing my fingers, drawing one last rattling, gasping breath, and dying there, leaving Pops and I to fight our ways out of this mess with nothing more than our short shorts and worn shoes.
Bring it, baby. For if there’s one thing I like it’s a good fight.
As long as there’s no physical contact involved – addendum stated. Psychological battles all the way.
So flex your brawn, oh Parks Service threatening to take down MBT! For we are fresh off the trail and want another crack at these woods – to learn and explore secrets of this Lost Land, expose the trail in its brilliance, and lay eyes upon the open face of Hanging Rock on a clearer day, when your shrouds haven’t obscured its beauty. Give us another chance to visit, to run and careen around MBTs second loop – a two mile rolling event that leads past abandoned tobacco barns and underneath bridges – and enjoy a time when the rhododendrons are in bloom! Afford us this opportunity and more! Give the people of North Carolina and beyond a chance to venture out further than the congestion of the Hanging Rock state park, Moore’s Wall Loop and the like, so that they may see the diversity of this acreage.
So rage on, sun, and blow off these low-lying vapors! Let’s take a look at the day with open eyes, with open heart, an open campground, and an open trail!