Guardian writer runs for the NC hills

Guardian staff writer Matthew Popovich headed to North Carolina to escape potentially catastrophic Irma; runs in the footsteps of Hampton County hero Forrest Gump.

  • Photo by Staci Lyttle

Fading red Coca-Cola graphics emblazoned upon a slowly deteriorating white barn, country stores advertising local artesian wares with brightly colored hand-painted signs, grand estates with beautiful iron gates and children happily playing a pickup games of football in sleepy little towns are a few of the rewards provided to travelers along highways and byways on the way to North Carolina from Hampton County.

Last week, I ran for the hills of Hickory, N.C. in anticipation of one of the largest hurricanes on modern record. Although the storm fizzled before reaching Hampton County, discovering unknown destinations made the stress of my evacuation well worth it; and I am alive, that’s also a positive.  The trip also provided a nice 31st birthday getaway.

Upon my arrival untold hours later in the town of Hickory, most well-known for its numerous furniture manufacturers, I checked into a pre-arranged hotel and began searching for activities to occupy our time the following day. The weather was expected to be nice the Sunday before Irma’s arrival and I hoped to find an interesting outdoor activity to pursue.

To my joy, mountains loomed in the foreground of the hotel and a web search of the area provided information on the nearby outdoor attraction, Grandfather Mountain State Park. The North Carolinian jewel provides mid-western flatlanders like myself the opportunity to climb towards the clouds while ascending marked park trails. Climbing to an altitude of over 5,303 ft., the Grandfather Extension trail at the park allowed access to the park’s main attraction, The Swinging Bridge. This writer, and the expression upon my face, would warn readers the bridge crossing is not for the faint of heart.

Equally terrifying, but just as mind-blowingly beautiful, was the trip to the park from Hickory. The famed Blue Ridge Parkway and parallel Highway 222 were both hair-raising adventures in driving, forcing my co-pilot to urge my caution in a stern tone several times along the windy mountain roads. Along hairpin turns on mountain roads, travelers can pull off the road, take a break to calm their nerves, and enjoy the view.  

After our dizzying climb of Grandfather Mountain, we returned and waited out the storm in much less grandeur at our hotel. Tuesday morning we loaded the dog in the car and headed back to Hampton County. The drive home was equally as enjoyable, although far less adventurous than the mountain drive. Attempts to bypass heavy traffic and numerous automobile accidents on major highways lead us to drive numerous alternative routes on the way home. Although less “Route 66” like in comparison, the roads provided many more interesting side-of-the-road attractions.

In the end, a birthday potentially ruined by a tropical storm ended up being a wonderful escape from the daily grind. I hope to take additional weekend trips to the mountain trails of North Carolina, without the stress of an impending storm.

For additional photos of the journey, log on to the Guardian’s webpage.