Wednesday, October 10, 2018

EDITOR'S NOTES: We're lucky to have wilderness within reach


It’s been awhile since I’ve slept outside.

As a relative newcomer to the state, I am still getting used to the creepy crawly flying biting things that make camping so enjoyable here.

With three sons and a daughter — all of whom enjoy camping, hiking and basically dragging their father into the wilderness — I’ve come to enjoy spending time in the great outdoors with the kids.

And it’s hard to come up with excuses when we have so many wild places within reach.

Most recently, son number two convinced me to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.

The AT, to use the vernacular, is one of three premier trails that cross sections of the United States. First established in 1921, the AT begins at Springer Mountain in Georgia and travels about 2,200 miles to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

It connects 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Two other long-distance trails comprise what hikers consider the Triple Crown: the Pacific Crest Trail — made famous by Reese Witherspoon in the film “Wild” — connects the Mexico and Canada borders through California, Oregon and Washington; and the Continental Divide Trail, which roughly follows the Continental Divide through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

I’ve hiked sections of each of those mighty trails, but never as a thru-hiker. It takes three to four months to complete the hike of any one of the trails, and many thousands of hikers have done it. I’m not one of them. I’m perfectly happy to chip away at pieces of them every now and then.

The 4.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail my son and I tackled last weekend is just over the Georgia state line and is the closest the trail comes to South Carolina. Years ago I hiked a much longer section of the trail in North Carolina and Tennessee. That was many years ago when things like chiggers didn’t bother me as much.

I’m exaggerating a bit. I am lucky enough to be one of those people that isn’t bothered too much by mosquitoes and other annoying bugs, which is why I love to go hiking or paddling with my wife and kids. They seem to always have a fog of bugs around them. In the wild, my wife wears Deet like it’s perfume. Very sexy.

During this most recent trip, we had hoped that most of the bugs had flown south for the winter, but then we realized that we were in the South...with the bugs.

The bugs really weren’t that bad, considering the real threat in the Appalachian backcountry are bears and racoons. We saw none of the latter on this trip, mostly because we practiced good bear-coon etiquette by keeping our food away from our camp, hung safely in a bear bag high above the ground.

Having spent a few nights in the woods before, I’ve come face to face with both bears and racoons over the years. The most exciting battle I had with a racoon took place a few years ago as a scoutmaster at a weeklong summer camp. Did I mention I have three sons?

My assistant scoutmaster and I had just settled down for a warm summer night when the roaming pack of racoons decided it needed to be in the same campsite, inside the same canvas tent, and in fact on the same army cot that I was sleeping.

A well-aimed toss of my boot made the intruder scatter. We spent the next hour stumbling around in the middle of the night securing our gear and stowing our food, which seemed to be a pretty good racoon deterrent for the rest of the week.

Our most recent trip was much more tame in comparison, for which my son, Noah, and I were both thankful.

Now safely back on my living room couch, we have already begun planning for next big adventure — finishing the Swamp Fox Passage of the Palmetto Trail. A much more doable thru hike, the Palmetto Trail, bisects the state of South Carolina and is broken up into sections, or passages as they are called.

Number three son, Sam, and I have finished about half of the 47.2 Swamp Passage where it passes through the Francis Marion National Forest. We’ve got about 22 more miles to go to knock out that passage before moving on.

I’m not sure when that will happen, but as long as I have kids dragging me off the sofa, I suppose we’ll keep on hiking.

David Kennard checks the weather daily and plans to trade in his motorcycle for a car. He is the executive editor of Summerville Communications, which publishes the Berkeley Independent, Goose Creek Gazette and Summerville Journal Scene. Contact him at dkennard@journalscene.com or 843-873-9424. Follow him on Twitter @davidbkennard.

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