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Scouts Re-Create an Epic Border-to-Border Trek Across North Carolina

biking across north carolina

Crossing a state line can be a big moment, like when you leave your home state for the first time. Or maybe it serves as a milestone during a cross-country road trip.

For a group of 21 Scouts, reaching the South Carolina state line marked the end of an impressive 170-mile trek, during which they hiked, biked and paddled across North Carolina.

“It was breathtaking,” says Kayla Oxendine, 17, a Life Scout from Troop 1447 of Laurinburg, N.C. “Crossing the line seemed so unreal. It felt kind of weird, like ‘this is it.’ We were a bit sad.”

The moment capped off an amazing and rare accomplishment, though it wasn’t the first time Scouts had done this. In 1966, Troop 513 of Whiteville, N.C., trekked from the north side of the state to the south. Those Scouts, now in their 60s and 70s, greeted last summer’s crew at the state line, where they all crossed it together.

scouts walk across the border after bicycling across north carolina

Scouts walk their bicycles across the South Carolina state line after a 170-mile journey, re-creating a trek that a troop did in 1966. Seven of the 1966 hikers joined last year’s group to cross the state line together.

RE-CREATING THE TREK

On most weekends in the 1960s, Troop 513 went camping at local farms and parks, where they’d build rope bridges, go hiking and work on merit badges.

“We’re 513; we don’t do normal things,” says Ronnie McNeill, whose father, John, organized the 1966 trek.

That weeklong backpacking trek taught the Scouts how to face adversity. The boys hiked at least 20 miles most days of the trek.

“These things are as much mental as they are physical,” says Sandy McNeill. “What you set your mind to, you can do.”

Scouts from the 1966 trek

Troop 513 and a few friends from other troops during the 1966 hike. Scouts carried caution flags for safety during the hike.

Scouts today are determined and brave, too. The Cape Fear Council recruited eager Scouts from several units to re-create the 1966 march.

This one took two years to plan, as the small dirt roads had morphed into busy highways.

Not only did council leaders figure out a safe route, but they also added to the trip. These Scouts weren’t just going to backpack; they would also ride bikes, go canoeing, and stop by a zoo and racetrack.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says MacKenzie Sanford, 15, a Life Scout from Troop 1447. “It was such an adventure that I couldn’t miss it.”

Scouts cycle across North Carolina

Scouts cycle on the second day of the trek near Swepsonville, N.C. From right: David Ladd of Troop 447 in Laurinburg, N.C.; Benjamin Wylubski of Troop 210 in Carolina Beach, N.C.; and Jesse Kegley of Troop 444 in Laurinburg.

ACROSS THE STATE

To prepare for any challenging outing, you must get physically strong. The Scouts went on three shakedowns to practice hiking and biking and review their needed gear. Then they all met at Cherokee Scout Reservation to get to know each other and relax before the trip began near Danville, Virginia.

Unlike the 1966 trip, the majority of the travel would be on bicycle — that way, the Scouts could cover up to 50 miles in a day. The first day, though, was on foot.

Scouts hiking across North Carolina

Scouts hike after departing from the Virginia state line.

“The first day was a little tough for some people,” says William Clements, 17, an Eagle Scout from Troop 102 of Boiling Spring Lakes, N.C. “They did themselves good by training for it. It was a good eyeopener.”

Adult leaders escorted the Scouts to ensure their safety. They inspected the bikes, adjusted the route as needed and monitored the weather, which included rain every day.

“We learned about wet brake pads and water spraying in your face,” says David Ladd, 16, an Eagle Scout with Troop 447 of Laurinburg. “We had to take hills a lot slower.”

Scouts hiking along roads in North Carolina

The group wore brightly colored activity uniforms while hiking along roads to stand out to drivers

Staying safe was paramount, as was staying positive. The miles became more painful as the journey slogged on, so Scouts needed to help each other.

“There were two Scouts at the back. One asked me to hike with him because he needed some moral support,” David says.

An encouraging chat can help fuel you to soldier on. The group also found motivation from other sources along the way.

Scouts canoe as part of their trek across North Carolina

Left: Logan Leach (left) of Troop 460 in Raeford, N.C., paddles with Tucker Hedblom of Troop 38 in Southport, N.C. Right: Scouts paddle to shore. Canoeing made up the least of the trek’s miles, but it offered a lot of chances for fun and viewing wildlife.

MEANINGFUL MOMENTS

The group spent the nights at Scout camps and county parks, ending each day with a satisfying Dutch oven dinner. One evening, it was chicken and dumplings.

“We went for fourths that night,” Kayla says.

Enjoying a tasty meal, spotting a bald eagle while canoeing, taking a break to savor an ice pop — the little moments put smiles on the Scouts’ faces. As did the big moments, like riding their bikes around the track at Rockingham Speedway or visiting the North Carolina Zoo.

Every day, William counted how many people waved, honked or cheered at the group. By the end of the trek, he had counted more than 300.

“The people were so encouraging; it was awesome to see how good the world is,” William says. “It meant so much. A lot of the Scouts might’ve been having a tough time, and then we get a nice little reminder that we’re doing something awesome.”

Photo from 1966 hike across north carolina

The original crew stops at the state line at the end of the journey in 1966.

CROSSING THE LINE

When the group reached the southern line near Hamlet, N.C., they were greeted by seven members of the 1966 trek, who crossed the state line with them.

“As a group effort, for the sweat and tears, hiking across the state was something I have never forgotten,” says Vinson Bowers, who hiked with his friends in Troop 513. “The excitement of crossing that line, it was a great time.”

Scouts who made the trek across north carolina in 2023

Some of the 1966 hikers — Vinson Bowers, Sandy McNeill, George McNeill, Charles McNeill, Coke Gray, Ronnie McNeill and Greg Blackman — pose with last year’s crew at the state line.

“It was definitely an amazing moment,” MacKenzie says. “Now I love high adventure.”

At a ceremony afterward, the council had mementos for the Scouts: commemorative medals, shoulder patches and certificates.

“We’ll be able to cherish those for the next 60 years until the next group does it,” David says.

Border to border council shoulder patch

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