The previous year a hiker was murdered in one of the shelters in Virginia. Another hiker was murdered before that, or maybe it was the same incident told differently. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the organization that manages a foot path that extends 2,178 miles through 14 states, never put anything in their magazine to dispel the rumors about what happened. Meanwhile the story got bigger, and bigger. Rumor has it that the killer is a serial killer. Laminated paper signs with a color picture of the unfortunate hiker and words seeking more information are fastened to trees for several miles in both directions of where the body was found. The killer was not caught. A spooky campfire story is that the killer is still out there somewhere.
At one shelter in Virginia there was someone who wasn’t the usual hiker. There was a combination of things that made me think that way. This individual rolled his own cigarettes which in itself is not unusual. There were a few hikers who smoked cigarettes at the shelters, and more than half of those roll their own. He said he was taking a -0- day and tomorrow he would hike further south. He had long pants with a leather belt and shirt with buttons down the front. He had new looking boots. I didn’t see him eat any food the entire time he was there, although several times he did make “cowboy” coffee. To do that he made an open fire, and to start the fire each time he used pages from the shelter register. I don’t think he had a camp stove. Every shelter has a register or paper book. A hiker staying overnight or stopping for lunch may write their trail name, the date, or anything they want. Some people take up half a page to make a drawing. The marked spring near the shelter was dry, but he knew where there was a tiny trickle of water further up the creek bed, and told me where it was. I took my pack with me when I got water.
Just ahead of me on the trail going north that day were six men all hiking together. They passed me on the trail and got to the shelter before me. He was there taking his -0- day, and while rolling a cigarette told the first hiker in the group who was out front by several minutes that the spring was dry. After more talking the hiker went back up to the shelter turn-off and waited for us. He suggested to his buddies and me that we go further north to camp where there was water. I said I was tried and wanted to stay in the shelter.
About an hour later a clean-cut middle age man came to the shelter area dressed in camouflage clothes with a handgun strapped to his waste. He said he was a “Ridge Runner” and was there to resupply the privy with toilet paper. He had two rolls of toilet paper in his daypack. A ridge runner is someone who helps maintain the trail under the supervision of the ATC. I had read in the trail guide book published by the ATC that guns had no place on the trail and carrying one was illegal in several states the trail went through. I asked him what kind of gun it was and he said it was a 357-magnum. Then I asked him why he was carrying a gun. He didn’t answer. I asked him again and this time he said looking at the ground with a sarcastic smile that it was for squirrels. Then he stood there with a roll of toilet paper in each hand, and talked to us for long time. He said he had to get back to the group of hikers who earlier passed up the shelter, and get them water. I told him about the trickle of water up the creek. He looked disgusted, and said there was no water where the others were camping. I asked him where his camp was. I didn’t understand what he said except that it was off the trail. I don’t know, but I think he came up there quickly while it was still daylight to check us out, particularly the hiker who rolled cigarettes. He went to the privy with the toilet paper, came back, and took one more long look at the other hiker without saying anything. Then he left as suddenly as he came.
I had guns since I was 12-years old. In my backpack I carried a compact 9-mm pistol, and I put it in the sleeping bag with me at night. It helped me sleep easier. It was semi-automatic, always loaded, but I never had a round in the chamber. If I ever did it was because I was going to shoot. I had a concealed weapon carry permit in Ohio which may or may not have been good in Virginia or any other state. Back home when I thought about the legality and extra weight of carrying a gun in my pack I decided I rather take my chances with a jury of my peers than with some malady out on the trail. At the same time I cut my toothbrush in half to save weight.
In the last moments of daylight a southbound thru-hiker appeared. He was thin, with a full beard. He left Maine that Spring and was serious about getting to Georgia that year. With little talk he ate diner, rolled out his sleeping bag, and went to sleep. The next morning he had oatmeal for breakfast and made lunch. His lunch was a bagel sandwich that consisted of half a stick of butter, and a huge amount of sliced sandwich meat. He said the butter kept him going all day. He was an older man who was relentless about getting to Georgia. It seemed like he knew how to do it and was going to get it done.
The next morning the thru-hiker left soon after dawn. The other hiker went South. He said he had to leave and made some stressful comment about the ridge runner. I went to get water, and took all my gear with me. When I got back to the shelter the other hiker was gone. I left for points North.