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‘The Palmetto Trail, it’s for me’: Rain adds twist to veteran hiker’s holiday adventure | Features

On New Year’s Eve afternoon, Erik Schlimmer bought packs of Ramen noodles, Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse cookies and other snacks at the Eutawville IGA.

It was Schlimmer’s halfway point on a 218-mile hike of the Palmetto Trail from Columbia to Awendaw, and the Eutawville IGA was the perfect spot to resupply his backpack with consumable goods.

“It’s been good and the Palmetto Trail is for a certain personality and it’s for me,” Schlimmer said. “There have been scenic trails, there are longer trails, there are ‘better’ trails, but I like solitude.”

“We’re at the exact halfway point and I’ve seen zero backpackers and I don’t think I’ll see anybody to the coast,” he said as he took the snacks he’d just purchased out of their original packaging and reassembled them in more backpack-friendly bags.

The 48-year-old New York native now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and uses the two weeks of his Christmas break to hike.

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He took two weeks to hike a 210-mile trail in Texas in 2020 and decided to hike half of the Palmetto Trail over his Christmas break in 2021.

This year Schlimmer said he plans to hike the upper half of the Palmetto Trail during his two-week break in December.

The Palmetto Trail is 500 miles of hiking passages that cross the state from Walhalla to Awendaw.

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The following portions of the Palmetto Trail extend through Orangeburg County: part of the Lake Marion passage, the entire 13.9-mile Santee Passage and over half of the 21.3-mile Eutaw Springs Passage.

On the night of Dec. 30, Schlimmer stayed overnight in a Santee hotel.

His decision to stay in a hotel was “a moral dilemma,” he said with a laugh.

During Schlimmer’s long-distance hikes, he typically sleeps without a tent, but in a sleeping bag and under a tarp.


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“I don’t like to stay in buildings – whether it’s a hotel, motel or hostel,” Schlimmer said about hiking.

“When I think of backpacking, it’s two components: of course you’re hiking during the day, but you also stay out at night,” he said.

“It’s a legitimacy thing for me, because if I stay in a hotel, I’m ‘being soft’ or I didn’t plan things correctly,” Schlimmer said.

“I was in the rain of biblical proportions,” he said.

He then texted some of his friends and told them his dilemma about staying in a hotel.

A friend requested that he send him a screenshot from his phone of the rainfall map and he sent it.

“It looked like Armageddon,” Schlimmer said.

His friend replied, “Erik, when was the last time you stayed in a hotel during a long-distance hike?”

“2002,” Schlimmer replied.

His friend reassured Schlimmer it was 19 years ago and he was due to splurge for a night at a hotel.

Schlimmer enjoyed a hot shower, a real bed, washing his clothes in the sink and drying them with a hair dryer.


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He had a large pizza delivered to his room for supper.

“That pizza didn’t have a chance,” he said. “Neither did the seven bowls of Fruit Loops this morning.”

Schlimmer, who’s been working as a mental health therapist for two years in Colorado Springs, developed a love for frequent hiking after he served for three years as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army.

Over the years, he’s written books about hiking and has backpacked in several states.

“I describe my work as: The stress of this field is only outweighed by its reward. If you think about it, my job is I sit in an office – and it’s fine, I like my job – and people tell me terrible things all day. That’s all they do. And then people wonder why I spend so much time in the woods by myself,” he said.

“I’m very good at not bringing my work home with me. I’ve been backpacking since 1985 and I like it because of the serenity,” he said.

Schlimmer estimates he’s hiked 16,000 miles since then.

During his Palmetto Trail hike, he said it’s mostly been uneventful – except for nearly stepping on a water moccasin curled up on a boardwalk on the Wateree Passage.


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“Well, I felt fortunate that I didn’t step on it,” he said, “I just happened to look down and there it was.”

“It sounds cliché, but I love animals. I love critters. If it’s a venomous snake, it’s almost as cute as any other animal out there,” he said.

Schlimmer said the water moccasin “just sat there, minding its own business.”

The hiking veteran was thankful the boardwalk was eight feet wide so he could make a wide berth around the venomous snake, he said.

Schlimmer said that was the only snake he saw by the time he reached Eutawville.

For first-time hikers, especially for the Palmetto Trail, he encourages “the Goldilocks of hikes,” as he described it.

“Not too short, not too long, not too hot, not too dry, not too wet – and it can be done,” he said. “It’s not too difficult to find the right conditions in South Carolina.”

“It doesn’t really matter what section of the Palmetto Trail, it just needs to be a good introduction for a beginner hiker,” he said.

The Palmetto Trail is a project of Palmetto Conservation.

Schlimmer said before he started his hike and also during it, he reached out to Palmetto Conservation staff about recommendations and advice.

“They’ve been super supportive and, of course, really friendly. It’s been great to work with them too,” he said.

Schlimmer finished his hike from Columbia to Awendaw on Tuesday around 4 p.m. It took him nine days and he averaged about 24 miles per day.

To learn more about Schlimmer, his hikes and books, visit his website: www.thehikingveteran.com. He’s also on Instagram at @the_hiking_veteran.

For more information about the Palmetto Trail, visit: www.palmettoconservation.org

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD

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