Hike NC! The road from a two-story fall to a 3,000-foot climb

Tim Jones

Tim Jones

This is one of an occasional series of profiles on folks who’ve recently taken to the trail. For other similar profiles, enter New Hiker in the Search box, upper right.

Sitting on the rim of the Grand Canyon three years ago, Tim Jones had an epiphany.

“‘I want to hike this,” I said to myself. “I want to hike into the Grand Canyon.’”

An ambitious goal for most, hiking the six-mile Bright Angel Trail into the canyon, then six miles (and 3,000 vertical feet) back out. The trail, known for its heat and lack of water, once made Backpacker magazine’s list of Most Dangerous Trails; the National Park Service guide for the trail is peppered with advisories of “This is a good point to turnaround … ” The goal was especially admirable for Tim, who could barely walk at the time.

Back in the mid 1980s — “31, 32 years ago” — Tim was working construction when he fell two stories. “I compressed my spine. I couldn’t walk.”

A less-than-aggressive rehab therapy prescribed by his company’s insurance did little to get Tim up and walking. He eventually switched to a desk job, sitting behind a computer. “That didn’t help, either.”

Flash forward to three years ago. to his perch on the Grand Canyon and his decision to not just walk, but hike some of the most rugged terrain around. He hooked up with a physical therapist/personal trainer, who took one look at him and offered a quick prescription.

Start stretching.

“She taught me to stretch,” says Tim. “It relieved the tension in my legs and back. I’d never (in previous therapy) been taught to stretch. Never knew the benefits of stretching.”

Soon, Tim was hiking the trails near his home in Halifax, primarily the 7.2-mile Roanoke Canal Trail, http://roanokecanal.com  an historic trail following the old canal tow path. Slowly, he built his stamina.

“I can hike five miles with sticks,” he says, referring to his carbon fiber hiking poles he almost always uses. “Two without.”

Saturday, Tim was pushing his envelope on a more challenging four-mile hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The hike was one of more than 60 being held by Hike NC!, a statewide initiative launched this fall by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, N.C. State Parks, Friends of State Parks, N.C. Recreation and Park Association, GetGoingNC.com and Great Outdoor Provision Co. to get more people on the trail. While he’d done a similar distance, there was more elevation on this stretch of the MST along the Eno River in Durham County than he was accustomed to. Tim was one of 27 novice hikers taking advantage of cloudless skies, temperatures in the 60s and crescendoing fall color to explore life on the trail. The introduction of elevation into his training regimen is essential if he’s to meet his September 2017 goal of “hiking into the Grand Canyon, camping for a few days, then hiking back out.” That’s in full pack, toting his own gear.

“We’ve got the permit. I’ve got a crew of about 10 that’s going along.”

While the Eno may not be the Grand Canyon, it was good enough for Tim on Saturday.

“This,” he said, standing atop a bluff bedecked in fading green and golden yellow, “is the kind of hiking I’ve wanted to do all my life.”