Medoc Mountain State Park Adventure

This past February I celebrated my 26th birthday at a campground. Since I am from Michigan where winter is usually marked by snow and cold this was something unheard of to me. When Friday arrived it was a beautiful day with temperatures hitting the 70s and the lows only reaching the 50s. Perfect camping weather!

Michelle and I loaded the adventure mobile and hit the road. The chemistry department hosts Friday evening seminars (3:40 to 5 pm), so we did not get on the road until almost 6:30pm that night. The down side is that meant we drove while it was dark and missed seeing new scenery while driving through northeast NC, but the perk was that we also missed the insane rush hour traffic of Raleigh. Trade offs.

We reached the campsite fairly late, but between the headlights of the car and some flashlights setting up camp was extremely easy. The easy set up was extremely exciting since this was our first time using our new tent. After Christmas we had bought a new 2-person backpacking tent from REI for a couple of reasons: First, after almost freezing to death on a camping trip to Falls Lake we realized that we needed a tent that could trap our body heat better in colder conditions. Second, we are planning a two week camping trip out west this summer and we wanted a small easy to set up tent for the drive out. Our new tent met all of these criteria! The smaller tent was a huge success! It was super easy to set up and kept us extremely warm on the second night when the low’s dropped into the 30’s!

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Athena’s never been overly thrilled about mornings.

When I was growing up my family lived on a farm with a lot of access to wood. We even used a wood burning stove to heat the house. This meant that any time my family went camping, we could just grab wood from the pile to load the truck bed. But, now that Michelle and I live in the city we don’t have the same abundance of fire wood available and instead have to purchase our wood from the campground. However, if you arrive later in the night the park office is typically closed and you can’t get any wood for your first night at the campground. What a travesty! After a summer of arriving late to campgrounds, Michelle and I discovered that two of our local grocery stores sell firewood, so we no longer have to worry about arriving without firewood! All major crises can now be averted! Such as having firewood for a breakfast campfire in the morning!

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mmmmm…campfire coffee

Saturday was an absolutely beautiful day! The temperature peaked around 80 degrees and the sun was never hidden by any clouds. This resulted in the perfect conditions for lounging in hammocks and drinking campfire coffee! In my professional coffee drinking opinion (note, not actually a professional coffee drinker), the best tasting coffee always comes from a campfire (regardless of the coffee bean roast). Athena even spent some time catching up on rays in front of the tent as well.

After a long lazy morning lounging around the campsite, we decided that we needed to explore the hiking trails around the state park. We started out on the Discovery Loop trail which follows the Little Fishing Creek. Eventually, we reached a crossroads with a bridge that spanned the river and sent us down the Medoc Mountain Trail loop. Before starting the Medoc Mountain trail, we had to stop and let Athena go for a swim; it was warm enough that I even took of my hiking boots to play in the water!

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Getting my feet wet in Little Fishing Creek!

Once we finished our hike, we headed back towards camp and started racing the clouds. Throughout the day the weather had changed from cloudless and sunny to a dark horizon. The afternoon was spent watching the dark storm clouds roll in, until eventually the rain arrived in the evening. Athena, Michelle, and I hunkered down in the tent to listen to the rain patter on our rain-fly, with only a little worry about leaks from user error during setup. Luckily, there were no leaks. While hunkering in the tent there were fairly frequent flashes of lightening and booms of thunder that had us considering seeking a safer location in the car. Meanwhile, Athena slept through the storm.

Luckily, the storm only lasted a few minutes. This was long enough for Michelle to beat me in a game of cribbage and for Athena to rest up after an exciting afternoon, but it was short enough that we still had time for an evening campfire. We were celebrating my birthday this week and it would have been a shame to miss an evening campfire, hobo pies, and s’mores. This camping adventure made my 26th birthday a truly remarkable day.

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Toastin’ some mallows

You can watch video footage of our Medoc Mountain Adventure here.

These are some of my favorite pictures from our trip. I hope you enjoy them.

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This is my system for pouring coffee fresh off the campfire! Athena and I typically battle over who gets to keep the sticks
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Climbed a rock! 
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Just me working on some breakfast
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Athena loves her sticks
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Queen Athena lounging in the camp
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Hiking through the pines!
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Michelle towering over me from the top of the bank.
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Classic bench photo!
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The density and sharpness of this photo is amazing.
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Starting the climb of Medoc Mountain
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Going up Medoc Mountain. I played around with some angles in my editing software to increase the drama of this shot
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I thought this mini stream was simply beautiful
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Athena’s excited to go swimming!
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Athena found an even bigger stick!
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Athena contemplating life while wading Little Fishing Creek

 

A Frosted Bloom

A Frosted Bloom

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The vibrant purple mixed with the icy white snow perfectly captures the strangeness of this March NC snowfall

Frozen water
falls from the sky
a natural
beauty, I once
missed.

Falling upon
the greenest grass
March has ever
known. Blanketed
in white.

Spring no longer
blooms all around
with fresh petals
frosted beneath
snowflakes.

* * *

North Carolina isn’t known for handling snow or ice very well. Heck, if there’s even the threat of snow it is likely to cause a State of Emergency to be declared in the rare event that we do have a snowfall. Some years the rarity of snow is enough to make a former Michigander wish for the snow. This winter has been a very strange winter for NC as February has been one of the warmest on record (and the temperature seems to change from 30’s to 80’s daily).

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You can’t see it, but these petals are actually covered in snow. The joys of using a GoPro to capture photos is learning you missed the epic-ness of a shot

That is what made waking up this morning extremely strange as I discovered snow covering the new spring grass (in March!). First, I thought this was a result of lack of sleep due to the Daylight Saving’s time change, but Athena and I quickly discovered this wasn’t the case. It was really snowing!

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I love snow covered trees! Especially green pines.

Athena and I went on quick adventure to play in the snow, but those pictures and that story are for another post. If I ever manage to get caught up on my actual work and editing photos/videos I will upload those. This post is actually my response to Dutch Goes the Photo’s Tuesday Photo challenge: Bloom. When I saw this theme on Tuesday, I thought there was no chance of me capturing a great picture showing the birth of spring or of a flower.

However, I was wrong as this morning provided the perfect photo opportunity. The contrast between the blooming season of Spring and the snow answered the photo prompt challenge exquisitely (and inspired a little poem to boot!)

I hope you enjoy the photos and poem.

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A classic snow covered bridge!

Nostalgia

When I first saw that the Tuesday Photo Challenge for this week was nostalgia my initial thought was ‘How am I supposed to capture a photo that makes one wistful for the past?’ But, then I forgot that this weekend I would be celebrating my 26th birthday. What more do you need to inspire feelings of reflection?

How about a camping trip in February! Yes, I said a camping trip in February. Here in North Carolina this has been one of the warmest winter months in history, so Michelle and I decided to go on a camping exploration to celebrate my birthday. Combine these two events together and you have the perfect recipe for self-reflection and longing for the past with simpler times.

Here are a few teaser photos from our trip (a full write up will be posted after I edit some video and photos) with a short poem.

For this post I decided to use three photos with three photo-filters applied. My first step in editing a photo is to apply an auto filter. This adjusts color, contrast, etc. After I get a feel for the photo after adjusting color contrast I begin to play with other filters. For these photos I felt that using a vignette or black and white filter best captured the feeling of nostalgia. I am constantly amazed at how applying simple filters can completely change the story a particular photo is telling us.

I hope you enjoy these photos and poems.

* * *

My favorite part about camping is campfire coffee in the morning! There isn’t a better pairing of any two things!

Maybe I spoke too soon about perfect pairings. Can you really beat drinking a cup-of-joe while hanging in a hammock? Don’t forget the sun is shining and the birds are singing!

What is the one combination that is better than any cup of coffee? How about the great outdoors and a dog. Athena’s favorite spot was posting up outside our tent.

* * *

Simpler Times

I long for simpler times,

Times free of burden,

Times free of worry.

I longingly look into my past,

Before Facebook

                     and social media.

A past filled with make-believe

                            and imaginary friends

Where my games involved the woods

campfires,

s’mores,

and trail rides.

I long for simpler times,

Where all I needed

was the forest

To feel God’s love

That is all around.

* * *

Sadly, I wasn’t able to edit and post these sample pictures before the Tuesday photo round-up. Check out some of the great interpretations people had for the theme nostalgia! 

Defining Expectations: CNF MTB Ride

I never leave for the trail head with the expectation of having an average ride or to be an average mountain bike rider. When I load my bike onto the carrier and start driving towards some singletrack, I pack up with the expectation that I will be the next RedBull Rampage God of mountain biking, king of the downhill! Sometimes when I get out on the trails I even manage to trick myself into believing these daydreams as I conquer new skill sections, shred through downhills, and occasionally manage to get air off a jump. But, then there are rides like the one Michelle and I went on last week at the Carolina North Forest (CNF) Trail system which remind you of reality.

* * *

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My perception of hitting this jump was ‘Man I am getting some serious air!’ The reality was only getting off the ground by a few inches.

We had decided earlier in the week that we both needed to get our bikes out and go for a ride. Sunday was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day with highs in the 70’s (it actually managed to break 80 for the day, talk about a warm February!) We talked about visiting the trusted and true trail systems of Harris Lake or Lake Crabtee, but I wanted to ride a new area this weekend. There are plenty of mountain bike trails in the Triangle, so I went to trianglemtb.com and started looking at our options. We have lived in Raleigh for two years now, but haven’t made a visit to Chapel Hill yet, so I started looking for trails in this direction. After a quick Google maps search we picked the CNF system.

Anyone who has ever gone on a mountain biking adventure knows there is a good amount of uncertainty in visiting a new trail system. First, there is the problem of finding the trail. Sometimes the trailhead is clearly marked and even has an official address and then there are the trailheads that don’t officially exist in Google. The CNF trailhead was the latter. Google Maps got us almost all the way to trail system taking us to the Smith Middle School, which was just a mile or two from the unofficial trailhead at Seawell Elementary School. Luckily, we were able to consult the TriangleMTB website to locate the actual trailhead from the middle school.

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An opportunity to race my shadow

The next problem that any seasoned rider will tell you about riding a new trail is interpreting the trail’s difficulty level. Whenever I visit a website providing reviews about a trail system I have noticed that every trail has a unique rating for each individual person. Person A will tell you that this is the hardest trail they have ever ridden, while person B will say the intermediate ranking should really be a beginner ranking. And, everyone always complains about roots.

Michelle and I immediately noticed that the CNF trail system is extremely rooty. There were literally roots everywhere! While I love the technical challenge of riding over roots and improving my overall MTB skills, I also love flowy trail systems that allow you to gain speed and zip between the trees. The high number of roots at CNF prevented me from gathering speed on the downhills (they kept knocking me off course) and made even the smallest climbs a major pain. In conclusion, roots will today and forever always suck. To add another layer of difficulty, the forest floor was bedded in dead pine needles that provided zero traction. Between roots and pine needles the overall flow of the trails were seriously impacted.

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Classic bike photo on the trail

Finally, the last concern you have when visiting a new trail system is about the trail markings. How easy will it be to get back to the trailhead? Most of the trails I have ridden this hasn’t been too big of an issue as they have been loops. Which means that as long as I keep right (or left) and stay on the path I will eventually make it home. However, there are some systems where the amount of crisscrossing trails make it extremely difficult to navigate. The CNF trails are one of these systems. As we were riding we kept getting confused as we would arrive at an intersection with three different branches and no signs indicating which trail to take. This made navigating the trails extremely difficult. It basically felt like we were trying to escape from a labyrinth.

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I thought the framing of this log with Michelle on the trail was pretty cool!

The problems of finding the trailhead, riding over roots, or even escaping the labyrinth of the woods are all part of the thrill of mountain biking. These challenges do little to hinder one’s ability to ride like a RedBull rampager. But, what does limit a person’s riding adventure is the individual rider. In this case, Michelle and I fell a long way from King’s and Queen’s of Downhill and landed squarely in the awkward Bambi category.

First, we just struggled. We struggled with roots, rocks, and pine needles sending us off course resulting in collisions with trees. But, mostly we just struggled with general clumsiness and ineptness. The prime example being that we stopped at one intersection to determine which direction to go. Michelle had stopped next to me and as I was dismounting my bike I kicked her bike knocking it over! Naturally, this sent her for a spill and resulted in me receiving a very angry glare. If that scowl at the end doesn’t say love, I don’t know what does (see sequence below).

My joy at her fall was short lived as I then proceeded to fall myself! The fall I suffered resulted in a very bruised ego as I was tripped by the air! (Literally, nothing physically happened to trip me other than I stepped backwards and then started falling.) As I fell, my bike went down and Michelle’s smoldering glare turned into a triumphant shout of “Ha! Karma [explicit]!” (see the sequence of my fall below)

Though our first ride on the CNF trails wasn’t quite as awesome as we had expected, we still had an amazing adventure and had a fun time in the woods. At the end of the day, that is the most important part about mountain biking: Having good adventures and fun. Finally, here are three take away lessons from our CNF adventure

1. Know how to use your GoPro

We started the ride and I kept pressing the wrong buttons on my GoPro. You would think that by now I could operate the thing.

2. Derailleurs are hard

Michelle accidentally started out the ride with her front derailleur on the third gear ring (aka the hardest gear to pedal in). She rode a quarter mile of the trail this way and was pretty exhausted afterwards. Make sure you are shifting to the right gears to give yourself the most enjoyable ride possible.

3. Print a Map

If the local trail website says to print a map before riding, you should probably do it. This would have made navigation a whole lot easier.

What lessons have you learned from you hiking or mountain biking adventures? What rides failed to meet your expectations? What odds have you overcome to make a mountain bike adventure epic? Please comment below.

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No matter the trail system you ride, mountain biking should always be about having fun!

My Shadow

My last two mountain bike rides have had plenty of sunlight which resulted in a couple of opportunities for me to race my shadow while on the trails (Lake Crabtree County Park and the Carolina North Forest Trail system). It also inspired a little poem below. I hope you enjoy! 

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This was taken during a ride at Lake Crabtree County Park using a GoPro Hero+

I see you there, stretching across the ground

Only a few yards ahead, but forever out of reach

The harder I work and the more effort I exert,

So you do too. Grinding away, as much as I do.

While the sun is out, you are too

Sometimes you are ahead (with the sun on our backs)

Sometimes you are behind (when we face the sun)

But, you are never ahead or behind, by very much

However, when the sun goes down or hides behind a cloud

You’ll give in and won’t be found. And who then,

My fair-weather friend, will I race?

Without my shadow upon the ground

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This was taken during a ride at the Carolina North Forest (CNF) trail system using a GoPro Hero+

Solitude

This past Tuesday was an absolutely beautiful day in North Carolina. The sun was shining and everything had the smell of spring arriving in February. Unfortunately, this warm spell was short lived, but Michelle and I knew we had to get out and enjoy the moment. We took our Hammocks and walked the Greenway behind our apartment until we found the perfect spot to hang out. Suspended between the trees, we both caught up on some reading while Athena (the dog) rummaged through the leaves. Needless to say, it was the perfect ending to the day. While we were lying there, it occurred to me that the setting sun and surrounding scenery captured the Weekly Photo Challenge of Solitude perfectly.  

Amidst the world’s noise,

It is hard for me to listen,

I focus on the earthly,

lost in news headlines

and daily struggles.

I forget, to breathe

In

and out.

I forget, to seek peace.

* * *

Amidst the world’s noise

It is hard for me listen,

To your guiding words

Of love and salvation.

But, as we hang here

Under the trees,

You speak

And I hear.

Solitude, has been found.

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This past Tuesday the sun was out and it was too warm to pass up an opportunity of being outside suspended between the trees.
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A shot of the setting sun during our Hammock adventure.

Lake Crabtree Morning Ride-Video

Last week I posted a short write up about a morning ride I took at Lake Crabtree County Park. That post included some still shots from my ride, but I had not taken the time to edit any of the video footage yet. Yesterday, I finally had some time to sit down to edit and combine the clips into a short video. I hope you enjoy it.

You can watch the video here.

I’d love to hear your comments about the video or see videos of your adventures, so please comment those below.

All footage was shot using a GoPro Hero+ and video editing was performed using GoPro Studio.

Lake Crabtree Morning Ride

I first bought my mountain bike in May 2013 and it has easily been one of the best purchases of my entire life. This one simple purchase has lead to countless adventures, meeting new friends, and has even become a shared hobby between my wife and me. Even more importantly, mountain biking (and hiking) is a great way to explore the state (such as a visit to Occoneechee Mountain), country, or world that you live in. Since Michelle and I have moved to North Carolina we have been able to visit multiple trails around us in the Triangle area (Harris Lake, Lake Crabtree, Legend Park) in addition to several adventures in the western part of the state (riding Rocky Knob Park and Tsali Recreation Area). We even had the opportunity to experience a winter wonderland bike ride after a North Carolina ice storm!

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Athena enjoying her morning walk before I leave for the trails

But, more importantly mountain biking is a great way for me to exit the city and reacquaint myself with nature. When I reach the trailhead and unload my bike from the car I leave behind deadlines, news headlines, and general stress. Once I start down that trail, there’s just me, my bike, and my ability to navigate the lay of the land. Luckily, I am blessed to be able to sneak out most Friday mornings for a ride at Lake Crabtree County Park before work. Here are some of the shots from this past Friday morning ride using a GoPro Hero+. The temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and the ride started at 7:30 AM.

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The segment shown above is one of my favorite areas to ride at Crabtree! There is just enough of a decline slope here to give you some speed and the low berms give the trail a little added difficulty.

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I came across this mini-drop that seemed like a good spot to session (work on my technical trail skills). When I was setting up the camera I had no idea that the colors would have this much contrast.

The image on the left represents my constant failure to conquer this one section of the trail. There’s an uphill root section that creates a series of large trail obstructions. So far, I can only ride down them and I am still searching for the best line to ride up this section. Shown on the right is a cool image of the sun coming through the trees.

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I recognize that a photo of a bench seems random (and it is); I just really love benches. No real reason why, I just like the concept of benches with beautiful scenic overlooks.

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This may be my favorite photo from my morning ride. The sun hit me just right and I felt like I was racing my shadow for the entire stretch back to the trailhead (my shadow always had a slight lead on me and I was never quite able to catch up).

 

Names Carved Upon a Tree

I had originally taken these photos for the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, Names, but I realized after taking the shots that this was the challenge from two weeks ago! Oh well, I still think they are some pretty cool photos. 

Recently, Michelle and I went on a hike at Occoneechee Mountain located in Hillsborough North Carolina. We had a wonderful time on this hike and at one point we found a quiet scene along the Eno River. There was bench overlooking the water with one large tree adding an accent to the view. However, this large tree had multiple names carved into its trunk. Some, might say these names add to the atmosphere of the place as couples left tribute to their love across this tree. While others, might think the atmosphere ruined as the tree stands there in scars.

Names Carved Upon a Tree

Deep into the bark,

I dig my knife,

or my keys

the sharpest thing

that i can find.

Deep, deep into the bark,

I will carve our names

Outlined by a heart

To show our love

that is unending.

Will be together always?

Maybe

Maybe not, but

At this time,

my heart cries yes.

So, Here I carve

our names

A token to our love.

A token that

this tree must bear

For all to see

Long after

Our love departs.

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The bench that quietly sits over the Eno River
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A ground view of the tree from the base to the top. There were a dozen different names of various couples who had visited this tree over the years carved into its bark.
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Another angle of this tree with a close up on one of the names. A Sepia filter was applied to this photo.

Occoneechee Mountain State Park Adventure

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When last Saturday finally arrived it must have been at the end of a long and slow work week because not even the threat of rain was enough to dissuade Michelle and I from wanting to find an adventure for the day. I thought about playing a good ole fashion game of Ultimate (nothing’s better than a game of sloppy muddy Ultimate), but Michelle doesn’t play and getting to the pick-up game at a reasonable time meant passing up on my morning coffee (it was nearing 10:30 am after all!). Obviously, Ultimate was out of the equation.

Then Michelle and I talked about hitting some singletrack, but after consulting Triangle MTB’s webpage we soon discovered that all of the local trails were closed due to poor conditions. Besides, the look of utter boredom that Athena gave us was a clear indication that she too was in need of an adventure for the day. But, where were we to go?

We wanted to go somewhere that was only a day trip from Cary and remembered our friends Matt and Amelia telling us about Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough. This was only about a 40-minute drive from the apartment and came with the world’s easiest to navigate directions (take I-40 all the way). After finishing a quick lunch, we grabbed the GoPro, loaded up the car, and were on the road. Our adventure was underway!

The Occoneechee Mountain State Park has about three miles of hiking trails with the longest being the Occoneechee Mountain trail. This trail circles the base of the mountain and will give you a great walk through the woods to the rock quarry and will connect you to the scenic overlook (I highly recommend pausing for a view at the bottom and top of the rock quarry). Overall, this trail is a pretty easy hike and doesn’t take too long unless you make lots of frequent stops.

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One of our many stops along the trail using GoPro’s time lapse feature

Michelle, Athena, and I started on the Occoneechee Mountain trail and made lots of stops to simply enjoy the many views and climb the occasional rock (or two). The large rock formations gave us lots of opportunities to pose for dramatic photo shoots using my GoPro’s time lapse feature while Athena experienced the life of a mountain dog leaping from boulder to boulder. Unfortunately, this trail borders I-40 for a short period so we constantly heard the rush of traffic in the background, but once we made it to the other side of the mountain there was a soothing quiet and simplicity in the air (that is only produced by a woods in hibernation).

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Athena enjoying the mountain dog life!

On this particular journey there was a hanging fog that clung to the trees and hid the top of the mountain from view. This mist added a surreal grace to the landscape that left us both breathless. Even with the landscape shrouded in fog you could still see for several miles overlooking the town of Hillsborough. I can’t wait to see this view on a clear sunny day!

After a short walk back to the trailhead we climbed in the car and drove to Hillsborough BBQ Company for some grub. We had just taken our jackets off and were preparing to sit down when the heavens unleashed a downpour (perfect timing for us!). Ordering an Irish coffee and hot totty we toasted our good fortunes at missing the rain. And yes, the pulled pork was delicious too!

You can watch the video of our Occoneechee Mountain adventure here.