Imagine hiking almost 1,000 miles. You get to the end, take in the views … and then turn around and hike back. That's pretty much what Scot "Taba" Ward did last year on North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which runs through Asheville on its way from Clingman's Dome in the Smokies to the Outer Banks. En route to Boone to accept an award for the feat, he stopped off in Asheville to talk to Xpress.
At 35, Ward, who lives out of his truck when he's not hiking, also owns Vermont's Long Trail, some of the highest peaks in Hawaii and Colorado, the Appalachian Trail and more.
The self-driven Ward speaks with such fervor and excitement that it was difficult for this occasional weekend warrior to keep up. "I don't let fear, money, a job or a girlfriend tell me what to do," he declared. Here's a sampling of what else he shared:
Mountain Xpress: Why did you decide to hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail?
Scot Ward: Walking is what I do. I was living in Hawaii and heard about it. I did some research and decided to hike it to write a good guidebook.
What's the focus of your guidebook?
To clear up confusion on trail intersections, to fix the water issue (I almost died five times in 2008 from running out of water on the trail) and to find out where to camp. I contacted 825 businesses, churches and individuals along the way to get permission to drink from their hoses and camp on their property [27 said yes].
When did you embark?
I've done the MST three times in two years. In 2008, I started at Clingman's Dome in Tennessee [and finished at the Outer Banks]. In 2009, I went from Clingman's Dome to the Outer Banks and turned around and walked back.
That's what you mean by "yo-yoing" the MST?
How long did it take?
Two-and-a-half months to hike roughly 920 miles one way.
Does the trail mainly follow roads?
About 400 miles was along roadside, but the MST shows you everything North Carolina has to offer. You experience the culture and festivals — unlike the Appalachian Trail, where you're stuck in the woods for six months.
What were some highlights?
Hitting the beach and seeing the waves after walking so far. Standing on the highest mountain east of the Mississippi — Mount Mitchell — and social encounters. If you're open to the friendship along the way, it can be an amazing journey for anyone who does it. It's not a trail for anyone who wants to stay in the woods. You have to be open to seeing a few cars drive by. I've ridden my bike over 40,000 miles, so I'm used to that.
Did you have any help?
Friends I made along the way let me get showers, and I had some sponsors: Teva gave me footwear, Leki gave me poles, and Trail Hound gave me fleece clothing.
Did you receive any awards?
On March 13, [N.C.] Sen. Joe Sam Queen presented me with "The First to Yo-yo the MST" award on behalf of The Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Scot Ward is now on tour, promoting his self-published books to outfitters along the route. The Thru Hiker's Manual for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (with separate editions for east- and west-bound walkers) is available locally at Black Dome and Jus' Running. It's also offered on Ward's Web site (www.thru-hiker.us) along with other tidbits about the man and his journeys.
Freelance writer Jonathan Poston lives in Asheville.