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Backpacking finally arrives for family with dad, two sons

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This column is about special friends and how they played an important part in my family and life.

This week I am happy to tell you about another special friend, Leon Stenzel, who lived with his lovely wife, Gerri, in Oakwood Estates off of N.C. 98 in the western part of Wake Forest.

Gerri was the other lady who joined Jani Ali in forming the details for outstanding July Fourth activities in Wake Forest back in the early-70s. They worked hard and husbands were only fifth wheels in that part of the tremendous job of Wake Forest’s big July Fourth celebrations.

I met Leon when taking my wife, Peggy, to the Stenzel home, and we immediately became strong friends when starting a conversation and I learned that Leon was an avid backpacker — something I had wanted to do for a long time, but didn’t know where to start.

Leon didn’t waste time and I was surprised when he asked me when I wanted to schedule a hike in the mountains. It was weeks before he asked me again.

I was surprised at the early request because I always had to take several weeks or more to make plans for what he was asking. A date was made and I knew it was going to make it difficult for me, because the night before we were to leave, I had a Chamber of Commerce meeting to attend, and I couldn’t pack my backpack, but my two oldest sons, Bobby and Greg, said they could fill in for me and take care of the packing, although I hated to not know where my belongings would be.

We got off on time the next morning, a Friday. It was exciting to think after all my years of wanting to do this mountain trip, I was finally doing it because of a special experienced friend.

We sat back and enjoyed the car trip with Leon driving his car. There was some hesitation in our conversations, but they were mostly about Leon’s experiences of backpacking through several years.

When we arrived at a halfway point along the nice highway, we stopped for a meal at a restaurant Leon had frequented for some time. He introduced us to it by saying: Eat up, because it’s the last really decent meal you’ll have for a couple of days. It surprises me that I remember so many details, because that was about 44 years ago.

As we bypassed Boone, we ran into heavy rain before Highway 19 East which took us to our destination near Bakersville. Leon knew just where we were to go and he drove his car right up into the front yard of a home on the mountainside. My boys and I were so excited, we couldn’t wait for Leon’s talk with the homeowner, and we started our hike up the mountainside without waiting for him. I remember very well how slippery it was from the heavy rain only minutes before we arrived there.

After we got to the top and arrived at the other side, we were amazed at how different it looked up there. It was like we were on top of the world. We then saw another couple also enjoying the scenery.

We started off and soon learned it was tougher going down the mountainsides and easier upward. Quite different from what we had thought. Explanation: The downside puts more strain on your legs.

After about a half day of this hiking we were really happy to find a trail lean-to with bench seats and a roof used by hikers. We all grabbed a seat (well, except for Leon, who said he was going to explore the area and look for a good place to set up our tents for the night).

Look next week for the final backpacking episode in a wilderness area for the four of us.

Bob Allen, publisher emeritus of The Wake Weekly, invites comments at 919-556-3059 or robertwallen29@gmail.com.

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