A Relaxing Meander

Recently I was in the mood for not so much a hike as a relaxing meander through the woods somewhere, and none of my usual go-to trails seemed appealing.  A local hiking connoisseur suggested hiking the Bartram Trail from Hickory Knut Gap Road to the summit of Scaly Mountain, and sure enough, that satisfied my itch.

A willing adventure buddy accompanied me on a cool, sunny Saturday.  The trail starts as an old road bed, along which were littered bright yellow and purple wildflower blooms on this particular day.  A fraction of a mile in, the Bartram Trail veers to the right into the cool shade of trees and laurel that at times forms a dark, muffled tunnel over the trail.  We slowly strolled along the gradual incline, chatting and pausing to inspect the colorful variety of mushrooms popping out of the leaves on the ground.

About halfway to the top there’s a rock along the trail that appears to have two trees growing out of it.  The trees sprout from the edge of the rock, with some of their roots reaching like arms across its mossy surface, and the rest of the roots stepping like feet toward the ground.  It’s impossible to imagine the trees freestanding without their grip for life to the rock.  Their companionship is a poignant and timely reminder of the interconnectedness of life, particularly in forest ecosystems.  A forest is the sum of its parts – the trees, the flowers, the fungi, the furry critters, funny humans, and even the seemingly lifeless rocks that can’t exist independently of each other.

I would have been content to hang out with the tree-rock all afternoon, but we pressed onward and upward, goal in mind.

A good general rule of thumb for adventure is this: the shorter the hike, the more decadent the lunch.  When we reached the top of Scaly Mountain, we chowed down on plums, among other things, bought that very morning from a local farmer at the Highlands Farmers Market in Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park.  While I do love long, strenuous hikes, there’s something equally satisfying in casually wandering to the top of a mountain with a friend, biting into a perfectly ripe plum at lunch, and staring philosophically into what writer Rebecca Solnit calls, “…the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.”

As we ate and gazed out at the undulating mountains, an itinerant bee inspected our lunches, and twittering birds hopped among the small trees that dot the mountaintop with gnarled charisma.  Less than two miles from the car, we were enshrouded with nature. 

To reach the trailhead from Highlands, travel four miles on NC-106 East and turn right onto Turtle Pond Road.  In two-tenths of a mile, turn left onto Hickory Knut Gap Road, and the well-marked trailhead is almost a mile in on the right.  The trail begins across the road.