UNION — What began as a journey by a teenage boy to visit his brother and turned into a lifetime of travel of more than 50,000 miles across nearly a quarter of a century brought a Florida man to Union County this past weekend to help promote The Palmetto Trail.
The Palmetto Conservation Foundation website (www.palmettoconservation.org) describes The Palmetto Trail as “the state’s largest bicycle and pedestrian project” which will “run from the mountains to the sea. … It is one of only 16 cross-state trails in the United States.”
When completed, The Palmetto Trail will be “more than 425 miles of hiking and bicycling paths beside lakes, across mountain ridges, through forests, into towns big and small.” The website states that the trail “is two-thirds complete with nearly 315 miles open to the public. The trail is being built as a series of ‘passages.’ Each of the passages open are accessible for single-day or multi-day trips. Eventually the trail will form a spine for a network of trails and bikeways in South Carolina.
“The Palmetto Trail features primitive pathways along knife-edged mountaintops and treks through maritime, sandhill, and piedmont forests. Other sections are urban bikeways, greenways and rail-to-trail conversions. Two passages include Revolutionary War battlefields. Together or separate, the passages reveal the rich diversity and the history, culture and geography of the Palmetto State.”
One of those already exploring the rich diversity described by the website is Scot Ward who spent three days in Union before continuing his journey Monday morning. Ward said he is traveling the trail to do research for a guide he plans to write providing his fellow hikers and others traveling the trail with information they can use to facilitate their journey.
“What I’m doing is drawing a map to go from Wal-Mart to 49, listing all the stores, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores,” he said. “Hikers will be able to come to Union to get their supplies and get ready for a 40-mile stretch in the wilderness to Newberry.”
Ward, according to Suzette Anderson of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, began his journey along the trail on Nov. 6 at the beginning of the Oconee Passage in the Oconee State Park. The Oconee Passage is one of the incomplete passages of the trail. The first completed passage on the trail in the Upstate is the Glenn Springs Passage which Ward followed to its end in the Glenn Springs area. He then followed the next incomplete passage which runs through the western part of the county before diverging from it to come to Union where he spent the weekend, learning about the community, its people and the resources it can offer hikers like himself as they travel the trail.
His journey along The Palmetto Trail is only the latest in a series of journeys Ward has taken since 1988 when, at age 14, he started riding his bicycle across Florida to visit his brother. Ward said he enjoyed traveling by bicycle and continued to ride it to visit his brother and, soon, other parts of Florida and the rest of America.
“I enjoyed the rides more and more, extending my trips to visit places in Florida that I heard about and wanted to see,” Ward said. “I would ride hundreds of miles and sleep on the beach, learning how to survive all circumstances along the way. It was a lot of fun to explore the places people dream about going but it was also challenging. I learned a lot of things the hard way and sometimes the wrong way.”
One of those painful lessons was living in the path of Hurricane Andrew on his 18th birthday. Ward said the hurricane left him with only his bicycle, a backpack full of clothes, a beach towel, a Walkman, a few cassette tapes and $7 in cash.
The experience led Ward to leave Florida and bicycle north to New York to visit his mother. A year later, he was in Hawaii having “gotten away from Florida as far as I could.”
By bicycle, Ward has traveled more than 40,000 miles, but in 2003 he left his bicycle with his mother, got his backpack and hiked the entire 2,173 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
“Now I had a new way to travel and see more,” Ward said. “This was going to become my way of life for much longer than anticipated.”
During the course of his travels, Ward said he was assisted by many generous people he met, people who often told him that the only payment for their generosity that they wanted from him was that he do what he could to help others who found themselves in similar situations. He said that it was after he took up hiking that he determined how he could best help others like himself who travel about the country.
“After a lifetime of riding a bicycle over 40,000 miles around the country and hiking at that time just under 3,000 miles, the idea on how to repay those favors came to me,” Ward said. “I decided I would write direction manuals for long distance hiking trails. I would clear up the confusing twists and turns of the trail and find all the resources that other adventurers would need.”
Ward’s first manual — Thru-hikers Manual for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail of North Carolina — was written about his 2008 journey along North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Now, four years later, he is gathering information for a similar manual about The Palmetto Trail.
Anderson said that Ward contacted the foundation about his plans which the foundation welcomed and supports.
“We decided to get behind this because this is going to be something that can help us, that can help everyone who uses the trail,” Anderson said Monday afternoon. “When the passages between Awendaw north of Charleston and the Wateree River was completed we published a Lowc0untry guide for those passages. Scot is going to produce a guide that a thru-hiker could use to hike the entire trail.”
While in Union, Ward visited the downtown area, attended the Trans-South Wrestling matches as a guest of one of the wrestlers; attended church at Covenant Baptist Church whose congregation he described as “wonderful people;” and ate at Gene’s Fine Food whose owner, Gene Gregory, he called a “really great guy.” Ward said meeting people like those he met in Union during his stay is one of the great pleasures of hiking The Palmetto Trail and he encourages others to do the same.
“This is the best way to see and enjoy South Carolina,” Ward said. “You get to see the wilderness South Carolina has to offer. You get to see the towns. You get to meet its people. Have fun and enjoy the adventure.”
Anderson said the foundation is tracking Ward’s movements on its website under the section called “Where is Scot?” She said the foundation is tracking Ward’s location by text messages. In addition, she said Ward and people he’s met along the way have also posted on the foundation’s Facebook page about their meetings. She said anyone who wants to contact Ward and walk with him at least some of the way on the trail can text him at 561-319-2564.
To see Ward’s work, go to his website at www.thru-hiker.us
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.