the dunes at Jockey's Ridge
It doesn’t look like much of a destination, but the ocean is just over that dune.

The road

This summer I decided to start hiking the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a roughly 1200-mile path through the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains, down the foothills, the Piedmont, and the coastal plain, and up the Outer Banks—from Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line to the great dunes at Jockey’s Ridge, whence the title of this blog. For years I have imagined myself through-hiking the MST, which is one of those someday dreams that sidestep responsibility by being hopelessly impractical. I’m getting real, and taking the trail in stages over a period of at least a couple of years. There will be a lot of day hikes, some weekend trips, and a eventually a few longer backpacking treks; some bicycling where the trail follows roads, and I haven’t ruled out taking the shortcut down the Neuse River in a canoe.

This will not be exactly a travelogue. (It will definitely not be a gearhead blog about backpacking equipment.) It will be a series of writings inspired by what I find and experience wandering around the state, woven through with history, ecology, geology, and present culture. Professionally I’ve read and written a great deal about every era of North Carolina’s history, and I tramped around a dozen state parks with my daughter doing homeschool environmental science, examining plant communities and geological formations. Likely I’ll fold in some literature, and assuredly there will be poetry. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail will provide the skeleton; the flesh will come in time. It’s a big, diverse, state: the inspirations are endless.

Why subscribe?

I intend to write roughly once a week, sometimes more. Subscribe and you’ll get those essays direct to your email inbox. Subscription is free. I’m using Substack because it’s a practical way to reach readers and to manage comments, not because I expect to get rich writing. But I do like money, and once I get going, I’ll turn on the option for paid subscriptions. If you like what you read, I’ll be happy to have your support.

About me

I am a historian by training: I have a Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill, and I wrote Garden Spot: Lancaster County, the Old Order Amish, and the Selling of Rural America (Oxford, 2002), which was in part an exploration of place and tourism—not entirely irrelevant to the coming journey, at least in principle. While working for LEARN NC, a now-defunct teacher outreach program at UNC-Chapel Hill, I developed and edited a digital textbook of North Carolina history (2008–11), parts of which were folded into the state Division of Archives and History’s NCPedia as ANCHOR.

Related is a deep interest in agriculture and ecology. In the early 2000s I worked with a couple of nonprofits and maintained a site called The New Agrarian, where I wrote about sustainable, local, and backyard agriculture, among other topics; most of that work is archived at my personal site, Walbert’s Compendium. I homeschooled my daughter through high school in math, science, and the arts (NB my undergraduate degree was in physics), and for eleventh-grade environmental science I developed a curriculum called The World From Home, which integrated scientific sources, nature writing, lab work, field study, and a capstone policy analysis paper.

To find out more about me and my work, please browse Walbert’s Compendium, my collected writing from the past twenty years, and check out my woodworking portfolio.

Subscribe to The Road to Jockey's Ridge

Travels through North Carolina on (and off) the Mountains to the Sea Trail


I am a woodworker, writer, and historian. I am also an avid gardener and curious baker, and was formerly a physicist, a web developer, and a homeschool educator (though not all at once).