I’ve never been a huge fan of any sport that hinges on an ability to run swiftly or handle a ball with any measure of skill, and for that reason I’ve managed to maintain a remarkably clean life record when it to athletic accomplishments.
Mud is another matter.
When my son, now grown, was about 9 or 10, he queried me one summer day about the foamy bubbles in the tall grass of a meadow above the house.
It’s day four of the Family Nature Summit, and the troops are working hard on a wooded piece of land behind the Lambuth Inn at Lake Junaluska.
“I’ve planted trees before in a lot softer ground than this,” says Eden Lehr, 10, leaning on her shovel. “This ground is really tough.”
It was an intense few days for Virginia Beach, Virginia, resident Seth. Eight miles of hiking, 4.5 of those bushwhacking, all with an overnight pack on his back. A couple of hours of rock climbing. Three more miles of hiking. And that was just day one.
Before the week was out, he’d log 6 more miles of hiking, 5 of canoeing and hours more of survival skill classes and drills. An impressive feat for most people, and Seth is only 14.
There’s something ingrained in our DNA, something seared into our psyche that triggers a primal sense of harmony when we escape four walls and venture into the great outdoors. Olga Pader feels that euphoria every time she steps out on a trail.
Scientific work by professors and students at Western Carolina University is earning recognition and winning research money. The Cullowhee campus, already recognized for its outdoor opportunities, is making an impact on several environmental fronts. Here are three recent examples of that work.
Four years ago, Jennie Wyderko — then finishing up her undergrad at Virginia Tech — had barely even touched a mountain bike.
Fast forward to 2015, and she’s one of two female officers for the Nantahala Area Southern Off Road Bicycle Association, co-organizer of a women-only skills clinic and weekly ride through the club and a year out from finishing a 2,000-mile mountain bike route along the Great Divide in the Rocky Mountains.
From paved 5K routes to epic trail runs and triathlons, Western North Carolina is rife with outdoor races of all types. But a peek at the history shows that the bulk of these events are new arrivals on the landscape, most founded in the past decade or so with new ones popping up each year.
“Sporting events seem to be growing across the nation, and people are interested in taking their families on these trips,” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. “What better place to be in the great outdoors than Haywood County?”
Kadie Anderson was packing up camp after a night in the backcountry with her two Australian shepherds when the peace of an autumn forest waking up from a nighttime rain was decisively broken.
“A pack of hunting dogs came into the camp and attacked my dogs, almost killed my dogs, bit me a couple of times while I was trying to protect them,” recalled Anderson, an Ohio resident who at the time was camping in the Snowbird Wilderness Area in Nantahala National Forest.
When Jim Brendle put together the first Smoky Mountain Relay in 2009, it was a pretty small affair. With only 48 runners representing six teams, the 200-plus-mile foot race didn’t draw a lot of attention. A lot has changed since then.
“It’s grown to where this year if we don’t have 50 teams, I’m going to be really upset,” Brendle said.