Few people will walk as many footsteps in the Southern Appalachians this year as Scot Ward. The 36-year-old professional thru-hiker is currently knocking off his fourth thru-hike of the Mountains to Sea Trail in North Carolina, after which he’ll head over to Kentucky to thru-hike the 280-mile Sheltowee Trace for the secnd time. Then he’ll hike the Tuscarora Trail, Allegheny Trail, Pine Mountain Trail, Pennsylvania Mid State Trail, and Standing Stone Trails. All together, he’s looking to hike seven different long trails, many of which help comprise the Great Eastern Trail (GET), for a total of 2,500 miles before October. Along the way, he’s going to write five different guidebooks for these underserved long trails. It’s all in a year’s work for one of the South’s most intriguing characters.

Thru-hiking is a rough life. What makes you keep walking? It’s what I do. I’ve been doing this for 22 years. My first big trip was a bike ride from Florida to New York in 1992. Along the way, I’ve met a lot of generous people who’ve helped me out with showers, bottles of water, a place to stay. I ask how I can repay them, and they always say, “Just pay it forward. Help someone else.” I don’t have any money, I don’t really have a home. I hike and I write these guidebooks as a way of paying back all the favors I’ve been granted. Hopefully, my guidebooks will help others enjoy the adventures that have shaped my life.

You’re 36. You never get the urge to settle down? I don’t plan to stop walking, not until my body can’t do it anymore. I have no desire to make money, that’s for sure. Money only causes problems. I left Florida with $7 in my pocket back in ’92 and I did just fine. I know how to survive. That Bear Grylls stuff is ridiculous. Who’s going to eat grubs from a tree? Put a camera on me, I’ll show you how to survive in the real world.

You just finished a thru-hike and guidebook for the Sheltowee Trace in Kentucky. What’s that trail like? It’s a totally different experience than the A.T. or Mountains To Sea (MST). It’s not on mountain ridges, it’s in the gorges. Lots of caves, cliffs, rivers, and lakes. It goes through the Red River Gorge too, which is like a mini-grand canyon but with trees.Are you looking forward to hiking any one trail the most this year? The Allegheny Trail and Tuscarora Trail will be new territories for me. But I’m probably looking forward to this Mountains to Sea Trail hike the most. I want to make this trail as good as it can be so I want to resolve the biggest issue surrounding the trail, which is the lack of camping options. Now the state is going to close down state parks two days a week, which is only going to make the problem worse.