COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford will cut short a secretive Appalachian Trail hike and return to work Wednesday after revelations he'd been gone for four days with no contact with his staff, wife or state leaders.
"Governor Sanford called to check in with his chief of staff this morning," Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said Tuesday in a statement. "It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten. Given the circumstances and the attention this has garnered, the governor communicated to us that he plans on returning to the office tomorrow."
The Republican governor hadn't spoken with his staff since last Thursday. He left the state on what Sawyer called a routine post legislative vacation to unwind.
His absence left fellow state leaders scratching their heads.
The lieutenant governor couldn't figure out where Sanford was. Calls from a state senator and close friend rolled to voice mail. Even his wife said she hadn't talked to him for several days.
The explanation came late Monday night from his spokesman: The second-term chief executive was hiking along the Appalachian Trail "to kind of clear his head after the legislative session."
The Republican governor left town on Thursday, Sawyer said, with plans to hike the trail, which passes through 14 states but not South Carolina. Sawyer said he didn't know where exactly Sanford was along the 2,200-mile route and declined to discuss if anyone was hiking with him.
"He's an avid outdoorsman," Sawyer said. "Nobody's ever accused our governor of being conventional."
He left a couple of days after the Legislature adjourned after overriding his 10 vetoes and winning a court battle to force Sanford to request $700 million in federal stimulus cash.
While other governors eagerly gobbled up federal stimulus money to fill budget holes, Sanford has railed against President Barack Obama's $787 billion bailout package. It left him dealing with protests at home, where educators predicted massive teacher layoffs without it. Sanford, who's also chairman of the Republican Governors Association, wanted to use it only to pay down debt.
His absence has drawn more criticism. Some questioned who was in charge of South Carolina if he couldn't be reached. The National Guard and the state's top law enforcement agencies report to him, said Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Manning.
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said he'd been rebuffed by the governor's staff when he tried to find out where Sanford was and had not been put in charge in his absence.
"I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts," said Bauer.
Sawyer said if there was an emergency, the office would consult with other state officials before making any decisions.
"We knew he would be difficult to reach, and that he would be checking in infrequently," Sawyer said in a statement.
But Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said the governor was "irresponsible" for being inaccessible.
"I don't begrudge the governor vacation time," Fowler said Tuesday morning. "But they need to make certain their duties are taken care of while they're gone."
Jenny Sanford said Monday she had not spoken with her husband for several days, including Father's Day. The Sanfords have four sons.
"He was writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids," she told The Associated Press while vacationing at the family's Sullivans Island beach house. A message left for her wasn't returned after the governor's hiking plans were disclosed.
"It's one thing for the boys to go off by themselves, but on Father's Day to leave your family behind? That's erratic," Land said. "And when those officials can't get in touch with the commander, it's really weird. That's not responsible."
Sanford is known for taking walks and runs without security, but flight logs show he seldom leaves the state without it. His security team wouldn't comment. And Sanford's office normally makes no secret of time he spends on vacation or out of state.
Sen. Jake Knotts, a Lexington Republican and a persistent Sanford critic, said the state needs to know where its governor is.
"The way things are in the world today and homeland security, we need the governor to be fingertips away," Knotts said.