The Palmetto Trail - The Awendaw Passage
The Second Leg
In some previous hubs, I told of my goal to hike the Palmetto Trail. After completing the first leg, The Capital City Passage, I decided to tackle The Awendaw Passage as the second leg. The Awendaw Passage would be the first leg of your journey if you were going to hike from one end to the other of the Palmetto Trail and you started at the South Carolina coast. It would be the last leg if you started in the mountains of South Carolina.
Choosing The Awendaw Passage was really nothing more than a choice of convenience. This hike took place on July 21, 2010 while vacationing at Litchfield Beach with my family. I somehow managed to talk seven other family members into going with me. This included both of my sisters and their husbands, my youngest child, and my youngest sister's two oldest children. This means that we were hiking with an 11 year old, a 10 year old, and a 7 year old!
We left our beach place at 7:15 that morning and it was 82 degrees. We drove from Litchfield to northern Charleston County. With one stop for a fast food breakfast, we were at the start of the trail one hour later. At that point we left one brother-in-law and three kids. They were to start hiking so that shorter legs could take a more leisurely pace and have additional time to rest. Our intent was to drive both cars to the end of the passage and leave one there and drive the other back to the starting point and catch up with the others.
The journey to the ending point was not uneventful. The map seemed to indicate that we could take Whitten Road to its end and then make two turns and end up where we needed to be to drop off the one vehicle and then return to the starting point in the other vehicle. THIS DID NOT WORK! We found ourselves on dirt roads that were not on the map and traveled a great number of miles out of our way on these dirt roads seeing almost nothing but the road and pine trees. We finally ended up in McClellanville, a considerable distance away from where we needed to be.
I say we saw almost nothing because it was during this part of the journey that my youngest sister experienced what she called the circle of life. As we wandered around lost over these dirt roads, we came across the carcass of a very large animal. It was decomposed enough that we could not be sure exactly what it was. Needless to say, it smelled horrible and was being attended by vultures, buzzards, big ugly birds, whatever you want to call them. The carcass was big enough that we had to drive on the shoulder of the road to go around it. I was driving and that responsibility in addition to the gruesome condition of the remains kept me from looking too hard at it. My brother-in-law said that it appeared to be a big deer of some sort. I took his word for it! After we got far enough away from the smell, I pulled over to the side and my youngest sister pulled alongside and laughingly informed us that she was done, she had seen enough of nature for one day, and she would see us back at the beach!
Nevertheless, having made it back to Highway 17, albeit in the McClellanville area, we took our second trip on 17 and finally made it to the parking area at the end of the passage where we left my sister's minivan figuring that it would be big enough to transport all of us back to the smaller car which would be left at the start of the passage. At this point, the three kids and one brother-in-law were 45 minutes to an hour ahead of us.
Should you decide to tackle this passage, aside from snacks and water, the one essential you must have particularly during the summer months is bug spray. Fortunately, both of our parties had spray. The number of bugs and the size of some of them would have been a cause for concern with small children as I would have sworn that some of the insects could have carried the youngest one away. Even with the bugs, there were still a lot of "nice" flying and crawling creatures to see. These included beetles, frogs, dragonflies, and butterflies. Some of the passage is over a boardwalk designed to keep you out of the boggy, marshy areas. However, you will still encounter biting insects and lots of them. You will require multiple applications of bug spray during the hike.
If you look at the map of the passage (see capsule), you might think that you would be walking along waterways much of the time but the fact of the matter is that much of the passage is heavily wooded with what I would consider to be some semi-tropical vegetation mixed in. In many areas, unless you knew you were near coastal waterways and marshes, you would swear that you nowhere near any water. The forested areas were shaded, breezeless, and very humid. After several miles of hiking through areas like this, we finally came upon the marsh. It was absolutely beautiful. I had never seen such vast untouched areas areas of coastal marsh. It was a collection of spartina grass, blue sky, black water, and pluff mud. There were also lots of little crabs - LOTS of them. In some places there were so many that you could actually hear them scattering through the grass. We eventually came upon the canoe launch at Awendaw Creek. There were no canoes so we used it as a place to rest. We were hot. We were tired. We had snacks and water but a big meal would have been welcomed by all at that point in time. It was here that I had my near mirage experience. My brother-in-law handed my niece a cattail he had found. Every one had a good laugh when I looked at him and seriously wanted to know where he had gotten that corn dog from.
The kids enjoyed finding some old animal bones and we saw the biggest pine cones I have ever seen. These went into the polka dotted man bag my brother-in-law and nephew were carrying. However, after reminding them that you really were not supposed to take anything tangible from the trail, the items were left behind. Generally speaking, the kids were good. They all whined at one time or another. They all stated that they would never do such a thing again but I had heard this from mine when we did the first passage and he was there for the second. I am hopeful to see them all hike some more with me. I hope that if nothing else it gave them all a sense of accomplishment.
There is still something that I would like an explanation for. At about the 3-4 mile mark of the 7 mile trail map, there is a dotted square with a cross in the middle. I thought this might indicate a grave site or possibly a chapel but we never saw anything. Is it possible that it represents the midpoint of the trail? If anyone knows, I'd really like to hear what it represents.
So, we are nearing the end of our journey. We have seen all of the vast expanses of marsh we are going to see. We are back in the heavily wooded, buggy areas again. The kids are on the verge of a meltdown. My youngest sister and I are bringing up the rear with me just ahead of her. Suddenly, from behind me, I hear her say "OH MY GOD"! I turn to look at her and I kid you not, she has the most terrified look on her face. She has come to a complete stop and looks like she is ready to cry and has her hands up to the side of her face. She really scared me. I mean I am thinking that there is an arrow stuck in her back from some lunatic creeping around in the woods or she has been shot or she has suddenly been stricken blind. I really just am at a loss as to what could be wrong with her. I ask and am told that keys to the car we are hiking to are in the car where we started. Out of habit, she dropped her keys in her purse which she left in the car that is not where we are headed. I am so thankful and relieved that she is ok that I tell her to calm down and not to scare the living daylights out of me like that again. She berated herself for some time about this but she really did not have to worry because there would be phone numbers to call at the end of the trail and we could call for help with our cell phones! Or so I thought.
We did finally reach the end of the trail and there was the car we had left. Not that it did us much good at that point. We called the numbers on the signs located at the end of the passage. Keep what I am about to tell you in mind if you are hiking and find yourself in a similar situation. Unless you are injured or dead or on the verge of death, you are not going to get any help from any of those numbers on the signs! Not even the plight of three little kids having to walk about three miles up Highway 17 in the heat of the day after hiking 7 miles was enough to garner any sympathy from the people at those phone numbers. We tossed around the idea of one of the adults walking back to get the keys. Who would be the lucky one? Fortunately, just as we were coming to the conclusion that somebody was going for a walk, a couple that had been riding the trail came into the clearing where we were standing and began loading their bikes into their car. I made a beeline for them and as I passed my brother-in-law, I told him to get their license plate number in case I was not seen again. The good news is that they were very gracious and gave me a ride back to the other vehicle so no harm, no foul. We are still laughing about my sister and her panic attack over this matter and I am sure we will be for a long time.
Let me just say that despite our comedy of errors, despite the bugs, despite the heat, despite whiny kids, and despite panic attacks; this is a must see passage if for no other reason than to see a vast area of coastal marsh that is virtually untouched. I have seen a lot of coastal marshes in various places in South Carolina but nothing like what I saw on this hike.
With two passages behind me - one urban and one coastal - I will now set my thoughts on a mountain passage. I might need to pick up the pace a little too!