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Culture wars

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Fleeing the Triangle, you drive your truck east until you smell the sea, then spend the night in a cheap hotel overlooking the Bogue Sound. In the morning you get up before daylight and hike nine hours on the Neusiok Trail, through pocosins and cypress swamps and long-leaf pine forests hosted by pileated woodpeckers. You cross narrow blackwater creeks teeming with raucous amphibian life, startle marsh birds into flight, stop to write in your journal or examine an unusual plant.

Just a mile or so before the trail strikes N.C. 101 near Havelock, your first major road crossing, you encounter a wide, lush bottomland filled with giant beech trees. It is so beautiful you walk it twice, back and forth.

When you enter the highway you have a quandary. You've walked 12 or 13 miles maybe, and it seems like a good day. There are just a couple of hours of daylight left. Suddenly a soft bed and a good meal are very appealing, but you are 15 or 20 miles away from your truck by road. No cabstand in sight. No store. Nothing.

You stick out your thumb and head east on N.C. 101 without much hope, but an hour or so down the road, by an old church under live oak trees, a battered pickup stops. In it is a pair of white men in work clothes who insist you crowd in. They have a small cooler of beer on the floorboard. These men drive you all the way to your truck, pretending they were heading that direction anyway. They are friendly and brash and remind you of all your mountain cousins.

You learn that the younger man has just enlisted in the Army and has strong opinions about the world, but this part of the conversation soon passes and they tell you stories of their lives. Many of the stories involve alcohol, foolishness and guns. You laugh a lot.

They pull up behind your pickup truck. You notice they are reading your collection of bumper stickers: "Roots Power" (in Rasta colors), "Make Love Not War" (classic '60s daisy design) and "International Terrorist" (with a picture of George W. Bush).

The two men look at the stickers and then look at you. The older one hands you a cold beer and says: "Well, it's good for you that we saw you before we saw your truck." They both laugh and drive away. You wave from the dusty road and then sit on the tailgate and drink your first Budweiser of the year.

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