Why Two Mainers Might Walk Across North Carolina
Why hike from the Mountains to the Sea?
Walking out of Fontana Dam, my dad and I found ourselves in “the bubble.” It was a beautiful bluebird day, and nearly fifteen people had passed us by 9:00 am. Most seemed to be Appalachian Trail thru-hikers heading to our home state, Maine. We repeated the same conversation with each person who paused to talk. Once learning where we were from, the general assumption was that we were walking home. Why else would two Mainers decked out in hiking gear be in North Carolina?
While we would love to hike the AT, and it is certainly on the docket for a future trek, we were drawn to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) to experience something completely different. The trail begins at the top of Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains, then meanders 1,175 miles across North Carolina, and terminates atop the highest sand dune in Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks. It will take us along the Blue Ridge Parkway, over Mt. Mitchell, into the Linville Gorge, across rivers, past farmland, through eight State Parks and three National Forests, between the sand dunes, under the lighthouses, and, finally, into the waves. We will walk through North Carolina’s four major bio-regions—the Mountains, the Piedmont, the Coastal Plains, and the Outer Banks. We will traverse rugged, remote mountains and explore historic towns. Yes, we will be thru-hiking, but we will be experiencing more diverse landscapes and differing land uses than a typical long trail draws into view. We will be traveling North Carolina on foot.
Who are we?
On trail, my name is Marmot, and if all goes according to plan, this will be my sixth thru-hike. I hope to add it to my list of completed trails: the Manaslu Circuit Trek, the John Muir Trail, the Tahoe Rim Trail, the Oregon Coast Trail, and the Long Trail. Otherwise, it will be one of three that I have left unfinished—one due to wildfire and the other due to global pandemic. I discovered my love for backpacking when I was twelve while attending an all-girls camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The women who lead the backpacking division taught me everything I know and gave me the confidence to solo my first thru-hike when I was nineteen. My passion, arguably an obsession, has only grown. When I am not thru-hiking, I conduct research on thru-trails and how hikers shape the landscape that surrounds them. My training as a geographer leaves me in the unique position of constant observation of the spaces where I walk. The MST seemed like the perfect trail to witness the transitions between regions of the same state.
I am lucky enough to be hiking this trail with my dad, trail name TBD. He and my mom raised us on car camping and day hiking, but his first taste of a thru-hike left him desiring more. When he was eighteen years old, he hiked the first 900 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It is something he has always wanted to return to when life got out of the way. The MST provided that chance. Although we came to thru-hiking separately, it has become an avenue for us to get to know each other, not as father-daughter but as two adventurous, fairly goofy adults who enjoy over-emphasized Maine accents and rhyming trail slogans.
Our motto for the hike? Reach the beach.
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