Friday, July 19, 2013

AT Project in VA - Murder, Miles and a 5K

AT Birthday Backpack – 4/12/13 – Day 2 – Dismal Falls to Woods Hole Hostel – 12.8 Miles

Chattering early birds woke me before 6:30 and I was packed up and back on the trail by 7:10 a.m.  My tent footprint left a dry spot in my hidden sanctuary but the only lasting evidence of it is my memories (and this photo).

I took a last look at the creek and noted the contrast from last evening.  Before the rain, clear water gently flowed over rocks in mesmerizing patterns.  After the rain, the water was muddy, the once visible rocks were completely submerged, and the place where my feet rested was now underwater.  Water is a powerful thing.

My 12+ miles today were slick and muddy.  There were a couple of brief showers when I pulled out my rain jacket.  Bridges are nice when you have ‘em.

And the trail is a river with accompanying waterfalls when you don’t have bridges.

So what’s the story with my shuttle driver’s ominous “Murder On The Appalachian Trail”?  Two words:   Wapiti Shelter.  I stopped here for a quick snack break during one of those brief rain showers. 

Back in 1981 a man named Randall Lee Smith befriended two hikers on the AT and the three stopped for the night at Wapiti Shelter.  During the night Smith killed them both, one with a gunshot to the head and the other by stabbing during a fierce struggle.  He was convicted of second-degree murder via a plea deal.  He was paroled in 1996, after 15 years in prison, and he returned to live in the area.  In 2008, a few miles from the location of the Wapiti Shelter crimes, Smith befriended two men who were hiking and fishing and attempted to kill them.  Despite multiple gunshot wounds to the head, neck and chest, the two managed to escape.  However, as Smith fled the scene in a truck, he crashed and sustained grievous injuries.  He died shortly after being captured and taken to jail.

So there you go.  An internet search tells you everything you want to know about that.  I haven’t read the book.

Immediately past Wapiti Shelter the AT heads steeply uphill without switchbacks.  The psychological stress of going straight up a hill rather than switchbacking can be intense.  Raising your gaze and seeing that continued head-on climb is daunting.  I have grown to rely heavily on David “Awol” Miller’s publication of “The A.T. Guide” to get up those tough climbs (and steep descents, too).  Seeing the distance and elevation change of a section and matching it with what you are experiencing on the ground is so important.

Another contrast from yesterday to today:  Yesterday the sound of dry, rustling leaves accompanied each step (remember the black snake “rattling” his tail at me in the leaves?).   Today brought wet muffled footsteps and dripping water from the trees.  I’m glad for both.

A couple of blowdowns to navigate around

Although not as spectacular as some hikes I have had, I enjoyed my gentle ramble through the woods with the occasional climb to keep me on my toes.  But hello there – here is something to look at!

  Looking into the valley of Sugar Run

My favorite sign – my car is a quarter mile away

So ended my birthday backpacking trip, but more excitement lay ahead.  I drove from Pearisburg to Blacksburg, VA, home of Virginia Tech, my alma mater, and also where my two daughters attended college.  The next day was the annual “Run In Remembrance” 5K and other activities to commemorate the deaths of VT students on April 16, 2007.  I met my girls there, they bought me a lovely birthday dinner, and on that flawless, blue sky, Hokie Saturday morning we ran the 5K together.

Today, we are all Hokies.

Ut Prosim ~ That I May Serve.

1 comment:

Trail Guy said...

12 miles is good day on the trail for sure. Although your story about Smith made me want to never talk to people on the trail again! We've had a couple similar stories here in Washington State.

One year after Pinnacle Lake Trail murders

I think these sorts of events are definitely the exception to the rule vs. the norm. In my experience, I've run into some of the nicest and most interesting people you'll meet on the trail!

Great post!