April 9, 2017
Many years ago, I was day hiking by myself in South Mountain State Park; when from afar I see a middle-aged woman with a giant St. Bernard dog. As I’m prone to do, I yelled out, “Is your dog friendly?” The woman quickly shakes her head and says, “No!” She then kneeled down and covered her dogs eyes, whispering to it, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok”, then telling me to go ahead while she holds her dog.
That day hike is instructive. I’m amazed that people will let their dogs run loose in the woods as if it were a pasture. No regard for others, no foresight that they might encounter another human on the trails.
This week on the Pisgah 400 Challenge were two trails I was genuinely excited about: Pilot-Cove Slate Rock Trail (#320) and the Pilot Cove Loop Trail (#320A). They are located directly to the east from last week’s hike. To hike both trails at one time, a certain amount of backtracking is necessary. I parked at the west most Pilot Cove trailhead off of F.S. 1206. The first two miles are slightly uphill, but nothing more than moderate. The trail meanders beside Slate Rock Creek, passing over some small feeder streams along the way. For those inclined, camping spots are located just off the trail with some beautiful views.
After the two mile mark, the trail swings left (south) and sharply climbs Slate Rock Ridge. Just at this juncture, I saw a group of six middle-aged adults with five dogs. As I approached, the dogs looked up and me, and the largest took off. Barreling down the trail, the golden-mix starts barking and baring its teeth. I slowly backed off and tried to show him I meant no harm by saying, “hey, boy, hey.” It kept coming at me, chomping and barking. I backed off further and started yelling at him. He got so close to my leg, that I cocked my fist to strike him, if he bit me. The owner ran over, saying, “he won’t hurt you, his bark is worse than his bite.” I hiked on.
The hike up the ridge is pretty steep, and at the top is the junction for Pilot Cove Loop. Just at this point, I spied a dark object barreling at me. I yelled, “Oh shit!” I had heard about crazy boars, but never had one charge me. I jumped back and looked up again, it was a dog. The owner, a backpacker, hiked up and restrained his dog. “Don’t worry, he’s nice” he told me. I looked at him and walked around.
I kept plugging downhill. A mile or so pass that encounter; I found the second trailhead for Pilot Cove Loop. As you can see in the attached map, it’s not on Pilot Cove and it’s not a loop, but I digress. The Loop Trail was a moderate push uphill, but halfway up you are greeted by a wondrous, sweeping view from Slate Rock. What amazes me most about these rock edifices are the ancient, knobby pines seemingly sprouting from the stone. In my mind they are hundreds of years old. They have such a refined nature, such beauty.
As I saw the view, I spied the same five dogs hanging out. I hollered, “Are they on a leash?” The owners quickly caught them, and I ventured out. I would like to say that the people were jerks, and I instructed them on backcountry etiquette, but they weren’t and I didn’t. They were as nice as could be. I shared some of my lunch with the dogs and enjoyed a nice encounter at a beautiful spot.
After lunch, I hiked the rest of Pilot Cove, returning to F.S. 1206, and then walked 1.5 miles to my car.
Not every trip to the woods is cathartic. Not every trip relaxing. I mention the dogs, not because I believed that my life or safety was in anyway in danger. As I was talking to my friend Johnny today, the woods are our refuge. It’s where I go to be at peace, to find solace, my safe place. These are loud reminders that we share these spaces with people. But, if you’re taking your dog out on the trail, please put them on a leash, even if they “wouldn’t harm anyone.”
Total mileage is 9.48 miles.