Whether it’s my natural disposition or the stresses of my job, I really don’t like people. Well, that’s unfair because there’s plenty of people that I do like. But the vast mass of humanity makes me want to run away as far as possible. Even campgrounds don’t provide enough space for me to feel like I’ve gotten away, especially in the spring when it’s packed to capacity of screaming children, whiny adults, and dogs who are Houdini reincarnated and escape from improbable odds to run unhindered around your tent. Unlike out west where it’s very easy to escape (Wyoming’s population density is approximately 6 people per square mile or ppsm), you have to plan a little bit more down south (NC is 200 ppsm and SC is 150ppsm).
Backwoods camping is easiest done either on private property or on massive tracts of public property. Ted Turner won’t return my calls, so national forest land is the next best thing. Some state parks have “primitive” camping, but usually that just means you have to walk a little further than the rest of the campground to the toilets. I’m talking about getting as far off the beaten path as possible while still being able to bring all the comforts of home. The Forest Service calls this “dispersed” camping where, alongside remote roads rarely traveled, you can just pull over and camp anyplace that will fit your tent; and since this is America all dispersed camping is free of charge.
After years of searching for information at ranger stations, I finally did the smart thing and just Googled it. The forest service has a listing on their website of all their dispersed camping areas as well as maps of all their service roads, even the ones that just dead end on top of a mountain. (Google: Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps). There’s only a few national forests in South Carolina that meet the requirements, but they’re interesting all the same. Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests both have dispersed camping and Francis Marion is probably the more adventurous of the two. When the Forest Service issues the following warning for their dispersed camping, you know you’re going somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic.
“Hellhole Bay Wilderness (2,125 ac) may take its name from a large forest opening possibly formed by early wildfire behavior in the area.. Heavy thick undergrowth, wet unstable ground and numerous water moccasins add to the challenges. Explore this wilderness in winter and early spring to avoid biting insects and water moccasins. Take a compass and a good map, it is easy to get disoriented navigating the swamp.”
Slithery things aren’t my cup of tea, especially when they like to nibble, so I’ll turn my eyes to the mountains of North Carolina instead. Lots of people have heard of Uwharrie and all of the off roading there, but if you’re looking for something your stock 4x4 can get through I’d instead look towards Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. Both have excellent options: complete with rivers, old growth forests, and dead end roads. Currently high on my list of need-to-ride roads is the forest service road near Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest that breaks off of road 1127 and follows Santeetlah Creek to its source. There are plenty of good places to pull off and camp, with fishing and swimming just a stones throw away.
While these roads are somewhat maintained, you should at least be prepared for the possibility of getting stuck if the weather turns wet. A basic knowledge of how to pull yourself out if you get stuck (come-a-long, winch, etc), equipment, and how to drive properly will go a long ways to getting you to your destination and back home. If you’ve never taken your4-wheel drive equipped vehicle off pavement and would like some expert instruction, Uwharrie Off Road Training Center (http://www.uortc.com/) is the leader. Knowledge is power, and with enough of it, you can get yourself around the backwoods without expensive tires or equipment…but if you need to convince the significant other of your need for 33+” tires and a 15,000lb winch, buy those first and then take the class.
Getting there is only half the battle though; the other half is using the bathroom and other similar necessities. Just like the equipment and training, you need to make sure your gear list is complete and you are prepared for possible disasters. Basically, if you can fit it in the car, it should come along for the ride. Rangers won’t be by every 15 minutes to check on you and if you need something it’s probably a long drive away through a forest that might be home to the Headless Horseman; at the very least, it will look like it at 11pm when you realize you forgot your sleeping bag at home.
To make sure I don’t leave anything at home, I have all of my camping gear organized in Rubbermaid containers of various sizes and shapes. This helps keep gear organized, easily packable into any car that’s vaguely square, and waterproof in case you need to leave them out in the rain for a while. If you want to go a step further and you have a truck with a bed cover or large SUV, you can do what dirtbag climbers have done since the invention of the automobile. Build a lifted platform to store your gear underneath and that also gives you plenty of room to lay out your air mattress for a comfy nights sleep. Some people (as evidenced by the pictures provided by www.desktodirtbag.com) get creative to make the perfect backwoods camping vehicle that doesn’t get bogged down in the wind.
I hope not to see you out camping this spring; hopefully we’re both far enough away from it all that we never see another soul.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.