Mom Stories: Scary Adventure on the Trail

This is another Mom-Story I’d like to share with my kids/family/friends (well for the kids, maybe I’ll share this when they’re MUUuuuuch older!).   It’s a story about a scary drawing, potential kidnapping (and worse),  and the police!  Bear with me as I set the scene–it takes a few minutes before I get to the story itself.

When I was at university, I studied anthropology.  I started out being interested in archaeology, but in time, leaned more towards cultural anthropology.  I had an amazing and influential professor who taught West African Art. He was quirky and was a marathon runner (later in graduate school I became a marathon runner too!) and my professor told amazing, funny stories about running through the bush in Africa and the reactions he got there. As my coursework unfolded, I decided I would do my anthropology field work on east African art.  I had studied Swahili (spoken in Kenya and Tanzania).  I put in my proposal (to the anthropology department for funding), sent out feelers and was all set to go work at an art gallery in east Africa for the summer.  But in the end, our department didn’t give us the information about funding soon enough for me to purchase plane tickets and I wound up having to change my topic.

I stayed closer to home and decided to do a similar project — studying the impact of tourism on the Appalachian arts.  I bought a bus ticket, packed my backpack and headed down to Tennessee, where I chose a few small towns where I thought I might be able to do some field work.  In the end, I met some amazing people and my thesis centered around how a small town really had a connection to its past and promoted itself based on its historical identity.

But that’s not really the focus of this story!  Since I didn’t have a car, I decided to hike on the Appalachian Trail and visit a few small towns before determining where I would do my field work.  Off I set with a full backpack and the trail ahead of me.

As you may know, the Appalachian Trail is a 2,000 mile trail that extends from Georgia to Maine.  The area I was hiking had beautiful mountains. The rhododendrons were in full bloom, but it was misty and foggy up on the mountain.  After a few days of hiking north, I was hiking through the fog, when I came across a man and his son who were heading south.  The man was very concerned that I was hiking alone and told me their story:

The night before last, he told me, he and his son were awoken in the middle of the night by the police whose guns were drawn.  They were looking for a man who was somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. The police weren’t looking for him, but he had the feeling he knew who they were looking for.  He went on to tell me that  he and his son had come across another female hiker the day or so before who, like me, was heading north.  He, his son, and this young woman (a nurse) sat together to eat lunch before continuing on their way in separate directions.  From out of the woods — not from the trail, mind you, but actually out of the woods — came a disheveled man who had no backpack.  This sent warning bells off for the man.  He tried to hint to the nurse to head on her way. He hoped to keep the man there.  But she didn’t head out until they all had to push off. The other man said he was heading north too.  Anyway, the man told me, something obviously happened.  I don’t know what, but  you’d better be careful, he told me, as the police are still looking for him.

With that, they trekked on and I was very, very nervous.  I decided to head into the next town (which was reachable that day as it was about 10 miles away) .  But for hours, I hiked alone in the mist and fog feeling very spooked about who might lurk around the next corner.

After hours of hiking, I came to one of the shelters and looked through the log book.  What I saw scared me! It was dated from sometime earlier in the day.  There was a picture of a cat, holding a knife that was dripping with blood. The caption on this drawing said “I am the cat and I’m out to kill.”

OH MY GOODNESS! Let me tell you — I felt real fear!  I crammed my snack back into my pack and practically ran down the trail and then off down the road into the next town.

When I arrived down into town, I found a cheap motel to stay for the night.  I came across some other hikers who had been hiking south and had come in from the other direction on the trail.  They too had a story to share with me. They too knew that the police were looking for someone. That night before, they told me, they awoke in the middle of the night to some crashing in the woods.  From out of no-where came a man with a grocery bag full of food (NO backpack!).  Then he trekked back into the woods and brought a sleeping bag, laid it down in the shelter and went to sleep.  The three young men were really scared and as soon as dawn arrived, they packed up as quickly as they could and made there way to the nearest house. The other man stirred and also headed out, but not with them.  From there they called the police to tell them what they had seen.  Well, they told me, that was enough for them.  They had gotten off the trail, called one of their brothers to come and get them.

Well, that was enough for me too.  I got a ride WAY away from that part of the trail and headed back to a town that I felt had a lot of potential for my field work.  I was dropped about 8 or 10 miles from town and felt like I could make that last bit into town. Who did I come across, but the man and his son again.  They shared a few more details.  I also met another hiker who had a few more details to share with us about the nurse.

When she and the strange man headed out, they chatted for a little ways before the man said that he had to go and he tramped off into the woods (not along the trail, but just off into the wilderness).  The nurse had a funny feeling and tried to hurry on her way.  A bit farther on, the man jumped out at her, duct-taped her mouth and wrapped her hands. Somehow, she managed to get her hands free, ripped off the duct-tape and talked her way out of the situation.  She pointed out that many people had seen them together and people could identify him.  Somehow she got away and fled down the trail and got to safety.  She and others gave the police descriptions of the man.

I thought that was that — I got to town, stayed at a camp ground, did some amazing field work, heard some outrageous and fascinating stories about the area and the past…  One day, I was going into a nursing home to visit with someone.  It was the only 10 minutes of TV I saw all summer and do you know what it was?  The news had a brief story about a man who had attacked a female hiker earlier that summer and he had finally been apprehended by police and was awaiting sentencing!

To know how close I was to the whole situation, how I heard the story unfold piece by piece was very scary!  But how amazing to know the outcome as well!  My adventurous spirit had taken me closer to danger than I ever cared to face again!

Now, that didn’t stop me from doing things on my own.  I went on to join the Peace Corps and had my own adventures there. But nothing that ever scared me quite like that!

Oh and by the way, my studies about Appalachia led me to a deep appreciation for American history… which led me to a new interest and passion in history, to teaching history in a private boarding school, and studying history in graduate school!

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