Today's a rest day to help my sore left inner quadricep muscle heal.
I'd like to share with readers some of my thoughts about running the AT
through this area near Erwin, TN because they touch on hiker safety, enjoyment
of the Trail, and individual rights.
Most towns on or near the AT have reputations for being hiker-friendly.
Residents gladly offer rides to town or trail heads. Hostels, motels,
restaurants, and other businesses welcome hikers, sometimes offer discounts, and
make them feel at home.
The town that has probably gotten the most negative publicity the last
two decades has been Erwin, TN. The bad rap is partly deserved, but
it makes it harder for the majority of the residents who are trying to overcome
the bad image.
I've had ambivalent feelings about running the sections of Trail in this
vicinity because of reports of vandalism and sabotage designed to scare hikers
away. David Horton mentioned it in his book, A Quest for Adventure, and
other hikers talk about it in their Trail Journal entries. The most recent copy
of Appalachian Trail News has a report from March of this year regarding
slashed tires, broken windshields, and burned-out vehicles parked at trail heads
in the area I ran yesterday.
Some folks apparently know how to hold a grudge.
About 1990, the government/ATC purchased rights of way through several
property owners' land via the law of eminent domain. Some folks didn't want to
sell their property, but were forced to. Some remain resentful to this day and
are hostile to hikers.
In 1990, a shelter was torched on the section of Trail that I ran yesterday.
It has never been rebuilt. There have been reports of fish hooks strung at
eye-level on the Trail to hurt hikers, and fishing line strung low to the ground
to trip them. I asked the trail maintainers yesterday about such incidents, and
they reported hearing such stories even now. They also warned me about rude or
even dangerous men at trail heads and isolated road crossings.
PARANOIA OR SELF-PRESERVATION?
As a woman running the Trail alone, I feel particularly vulnerable to
mischief or danger from people with a grudge against AT hikers. So I have been
extra vigilant the last couple days.
The deserted forest road crossings concern me the most. I stay hidden before
going across, making sure there aren't any vehicles parked with someone in
them. If I hear a vehicle coming, I wait to cross until they are out of sight.
(This was before the volunteers warned me about road crossings.)
The last couple days I've kept my sunglasses off so I can see any trail
hazards more easily. My whistle and cell phone are within easy reach. My
sharp-pointed trekking pole probes the trail in front of me. My four-legged
buddy, Cody, hasn't been with me, though. He had trouble keeping up with me on a
recent 20-miler, so I've hesitated to take him back out on these longer runs.
I've had two "incidents" so far that have elevated my sense of precaution.
The first was on Day 18 a few miles north of Max Patch. I was walking uphill
and saw a fishing line strung across the Trail at knee height. It appeared to be
strung between two trees about 20 feet off the Trail on either side that had
fluorescent pink ribbons (like used in ultras to mark the trail) tied around
them. I've seen other trees marked with orange or pink ribbon, but none had
invisible "strings" between them.
I pulled the "string" enough that it lay on the ground. I looked around to
see if anyone was near, but saw no one. It thoroughly puzzled me, because I
wasn't close to Erwin yet, and a young southbound section hiker who had passed
me a mile earlier hadn't mentioned it. He would have felt it when he walked by -
and it wouldn't have been taut when I got there! Why didn't he mention it? Did
he do it?
A mile or two later I crossed a forest service road where there were two
unoccupied state vehicles parked. Did those folks have something to do with it?
I had no clue what was going on, and didn't mention it in that day's journal
The second incident occurred Sunday shortly after I started up the Trail from
Sam's Gap. I met a section hiker from Alabama that I'd seen the day before. He
asked me if I'd seen the broken glass on the Trail a little way back. He
surmised it was someone partying at night, but worried it might be trail
sabotage since we were heading to Erwin.
I didn't see the glass on the trail there, but was glad Cody wasn't with me
that day. I have seen broken beer bottles at campsites that are near roads, and
there has been a lot of trash along dirt roads the last two days. It's not hiker
trash. I'm talking household appliances, fast food packages, and clothing. Some
folks simply have no respect.
So am I being paranoid?
I prefer to call it the basic instinct of self-preservation.
It doesn't totally consume my thoughts or prevent me from enjoying my
surroundings. But it does make me mad that I have to be concerned about such
things when I "should" be able to just run and hike and be at peace.
I wrote in one of my prep pages about safety and noted that there are more
dangers out here from two-legged creatures than four-legged ones. Even after
seeing three black bears, I agree with that. I'd rather see a bear or
rattlesnake than men who give me the creeps.
I'm more nervous the closer I get to civilization. I feel safer in the deep
EMINENT DOMAIN CONTROVERSY
I don't often share my "political" thoughts with people, but there are some
things I'd like to say about the law of eminent domain since it directly affects
the part of the Trail I'm using this week.
I have pretty strong feelings about the government seizing property that
someone doesn't want to sell, especially when it's for something like a big box
store. I happen to like shopping at some big box stores and they may help
local economies, but if someone doesn't want to sell their property, why should
they be forced to?
I love the concept of preserving/conserving beautiful tracts of land for
public use as national forests, wilderness areas, parks, and the Appalachian
Trail so developers can't destroy it. But I don't think the government has any
more "right" to seize someone's property "for the public good" than to build
That may sound strange coming from a nature lover and person who's always
wanted to do a journey run on the AT. Noble cause or not, if someone doesn't
want to sell their property, even at a fair price, I don't think they should be
forced to lose it.
This could have happened to my parents. Fortunately, it didn't. They bought
an 80-acre farm when I was three months old and sold it when they got divorced
ten years later. Soon after that, a Corps of Engineers lake/dam was built that
covered the house and low-lying property. The tops of the hills still show above
the water. What if they hadn't wanted to sell it? What about people whose
families had owned property in that area for two centuries?
NO RIGHT TO HARM
But, while I empathize with the folks in the Erwin area who were displaced
years ago, or lost part of their property, they don't have the "right" to
vandalize other people's property (their vehicles) or endanger their lives when
they're using the Appalachian Trail just because they're still PO'd about what
On the other hand, the current vandalism may just be the result of hooligans
out to make trouble for the sport of it, like some drivers will harass runners
just because they're there.
A really suspicious person might wonder if it's designed to bring more
business to local garages who profit from repairing the damaged vehicles.
What, me paranoid?? The mind does funny things when you're alone on the Trail
so long every day!
I'll be out of this area in a couple days. Our experience in and near Erwin
has been positive so far, and I'm excited about running the Roan Mountain
section tomorrow. The weather should be nice, and everyone says the views in
this section are spectacular.