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Maia Dery catalogs the Triangle's greatest outdoor hits

"Excellent! I'd love to do a morning hike on Saturday. Want to meet at 9 in the parking lot at Occoneechee Mountain? It's page 128. We can walk down to the Eno."

I'd invited Maia Dery to go hiking as a way of really getting into her new book.

Her e-mail reply was just a glimpse of her everyday enthusiasm for sharing local adventuring secrets to hiking, biking, canoeing, photographing and flat-out on-the-ground exploring. Dery's book is a must-have for anyone seeking to get some nature any time of day, any time of the year, anywhere in the Triangle.

The first thing you notice is the detail and efficiency of the maps. With eight years experience at local outfitter Townsend, Bertram & Company, Dery has helped lots of people find their way outside. "I wrote this guide because I was tired of scrawling directions and maps on the backs of envelopes," she says smiling.

As we meandered among the pines, cedars and rhododendron, Dery talked about her book and her love of photography. A lecturer in photography at Guilford College, Dery has a grand vision for a curriculum around a course called "The American Landscape." She wants to take students on a national tour of the park system, showing how art and photography led the way toward land preservation.

Not one to miss a moment's opportunity, Dery packed 30 pounds of photo equipment (including her heavy but beloved 4x5 negative camera) on our short hike. We were hoping for a black bear sighting. We missed the bear but walked Overlook Trail to a great view of the Eno. It wasn't Dery's first time on this trail. She described doing most hikes two or three times to get all the details and the best photographs. In researching her book she cycled every included bike route, paddled every river, walked every trail and greenway.

Returning to the parking lot, we reached for our water bottles. The day was still young, with plenty of time to get refreshed and ready for more adventures.

Independent: Many trails border on neighborhoods, as if there must be a trail for everyone somewhere. Did you return to some trails just for fun?

Maia Dery: A trail for everyone right near their house would make this a premier community indeed! We're definitely not there yet, but thanks to a few of our neighbors with foresight, I think we have begun to approach that dream as a shared goal. I certainly return to parks and trails in the Triangle for fun. I'm partial to water so the places that offer trails near a river or lake tend to be my favorites.

We have a number of good choices. If we play our community cards right, there will be more all the time. Eno River State Park is one of the best places to hike in the Piedmont and in large part we owe that park to citizen initiative. The Falls Lake Trail is another great example of what can happen here. Right now it's approximately 27 miles long and offers lots of glimpses of the lake. In the future, it will be part of the 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Some Triangle resident of the future will be able to set out and hike all the way to the beach!

Do you always walk with a camera? How has being a photographer affected your way of looking at the hiking landscapes around you?

I almost always do have a camera when I'm on a walk. I think my way of looking at the landscape led me to become a photographer as opposed to the photography changing my way of seeing. I prefer hard work physically and turn off the verbal part of my brain. A hike is a perfect way to do that. I've always loved looking carefully at the natural world, but I was much more intrigued by the ways plants looked with dew on them than in learning their genus and species.

When I was a kid, I wondered how I would tolerate being a grown-up because no adult I knew spent much time staring at leaves or rocks or water. It took a lot of years before I gave in and accepted that I had no choice. My life was going to be built around minutiae, around looking and noticing things most people would just walk on or through without a second thought.

Your adventure guide is 452 pages long! You must have a pretty good idea about the ingredients for a good hike. Care to share Maia's trail recipe?

Well, that's a bit like asking about the ingredients for a good snack. It depends: Are you in the mood for sweet or savory? Most habitual hikers I know don't feel like they've had a good walk unless they've climbed a few substantial hills. If you're just starting to get in shape you should concentrate on having fun and seeing sights that intrigue you.

There are some common ingredients, though. Appropriate and comfortable footwear is certainly essential. You should be prepared for the weather--take water so you don't get dehydrated, maps so you don't get lost. Follow the rules of the park so you don't damage the environment or get in trouble.

Aside from basic precautions, just think about what interests you and how you can satisfy that interest on an outdoor excursion. If you like to read, take a book and find a good rock to perch on. The point is, no matter what your interests are, you can incorporate them into a walk or paddle or bike ride.

You've lived and discovered adventure areas in the Triangle for over 30 years. Who is winning--trails and parks or roads and malls?

There is no doubt that roads and malls have a huge head start. The state and local communities allowed construction of roads without bike lanes (or even adequate shoulders) and subdivisions without sidewalks--never mind greenways! It's really only been in the last few years that the general public has started to look at the consequences for human health and happiness of development like this. As a society, we're too sedentary, too fat and too stressed out.

We've allowed our definition of "the good life" to be skewed by the part of the animal that seeks and hordes things. Adequate wealth is essential, but it's time for the part of the animal that moves with joy, strength and grace to reassert itself. Without adequate parks and trails, we can't do that in an urban area like this one. A safe place for children and adults to be active outdoors is essential to our health and quality of life.

Contributing writer John Valentine can be reached at ajcg@acpub.duke.edu.

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