Clouds and comrades gathered in Elkin as about 300 hikers, bikers and paddlers celebrated the Mountains-to-Sea Trail this past weekend.
As the sight of the first official Gathering of the Friends of the MST in 2017, Elkin had set a high standard with a weekend of special activities planned with the trails enthusiasts in mind.
This year was expected to exceed that precedence with cannon fire and cavalry at the Overmuntain Victory Trail Encampment and popular Moonshine and Still Search hikes, however, the weather had other plans.
“We want everyone to be safe,” said Kate Dixon, executive director as hikes were cancelled throughout the weekend.
Friends Outreach Director Betsy Brown echoed those thoughts, “We want you to have fun, but safety is our priority.”
Weather warnings started on Friday as hikers took advantage of the sunshine before it slipped away, walking the downtown with Main Street and Community Manager Laura Gaylord, who shared historical tidbits along the way.
Other Friday hikes guided by Elkin Valley Trails Association members also were enjoyed before the group hosted dinner at Coley Hall at The Liberty. The meal provided by Roxxi and Lulu’s was finished with regional favorite dessert, sonkers.
Although the word is suggested to be descended from local Scottish immigrants, people outside of Surry and Wilkes County are mostly unfamiliar with the name for the exceptionally juicy cobbler-like dish.
Well-fed and rested the Friends returned to Coley Hall on Saturday where weather worries slid aside as the room celebrated the accomplishments of the past year, including hiking the MST in a Day in September.
“As far as we know,” said Jerry Barker, “no one has ever successfully hiked a whole trail like this before. Others have tried it, but we’re the only one who actually did it.”
Barker, who chaired the committee that organized the event, stated other trail organizations had contacted him for tips on how to effectively complete their own trail-in-a-day programs.
Several people were celebrated for completing the trail individually, although some of them took considerably longer than a day.
Whether hiking to promote the trail like Jennifer Pharr Davis, or to complete a decades-long adventure like Miriam Ash-Jones, the trail had special meaning for each traveler.
“When I feel symptoms come on, I’ve just got to get out on the trail,” said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) survivor Jude Rodrigue, who took the adventure as a part of the Warrior Expeditions veterans program.
Although the room warmly received Rodrigue with a standing ovation, the weather was chilled, causing attendees to be more grateful than usual for the change of venue for the next Gathering.
Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin was enthusiastic in welcoming the Friends to his town next year.
“We really are excited to have you all,” said Medlin, speaking of turtle hatcheries along the coast. “We’ll even teach you how to surf.”
Medlin brought several gifts from Surf City for the door prizes, which included tasty treats as well as memorabilia, to go along with other items by sponsors REI Co-op and the Great Outdoor Provision Company.
The greatest prize of the weekend may have been the motivation left behind.
“It was a great success despite the weather,” said Elkin Mayor Sam Bishop.
“This was our second Gathering and the delegates from all across the state were very impressed with what we have done with our trails,” he said. “A major thanks to the EVTA and town staff for their efforts in making the event successful. Even though the Gathering is moving to another trail town for next year, we will continue to court them and other groups to come to Elkin for their annual meetings.”
For more information about the Mountains-To-Sea Trail, including guides and trail updates, go to mountainstoseatrail.org.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.