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RE: [at-l] Itinerary/Safety
I knew there was at least one of you out there - 6 years ago I'd have
used the same kind of argument. Then I did a thruhike - and learned
that there are better ways to handle your proposed "situation". To
be honest - faced with that situation, I'd either keep on moving and
camp someplace else or I'd sit down, demand a drink and start talking
to them. Does it work? Yeah - been there and done that. More than
once. For one thing, if you're a gun owner and let them know it - and
prove that you are by asking the right questions, then generally you'll
be accepted as part of the "fraternity". That's just as true of gun
people as it is of hikers.
Now I've got some questions for you - they're drunk and they've got
"loaded" guns. Even assuming that both conditions are true, why
does that automatically make them "bad guys"? And if you don't
like the situation, why haven't you already moved on? Why give
the situation a chance to deteriorate to the shooting stage? And if
it did get to the shooting stage, what makes you think you could take
out three of them without losing some vital personal parts in the
process? It's a lousy way to abort a thruhike.
Anyway, I'm gonna add something that I wrote a while ago about
safety on the Trail - it covers more than just guns, but it seems
appropriate at the moment.
Walk softly - and don't distrub the drunks
> Guns are illegal on probably most parts of the Trail, especially
>concealed however, who exactly is going to come to your aid when 3
>drunk rednecks are sitting in a shelter with loaded weapons? Mr. Police
>Man? Grab your trusy cell-phone and give 'em a call, I'm sure they'll
>be there toot sweet! I don't think so. I certainly don't believe that
>guns are the answer all the time and probably not even most of the time.
>Often they can actually make a bad situation worse. Talk your way out,
>leave the area, but as a last resort in life or death situations I can't
>see a better solution. I welcome comments from the group.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Personal safety on the AT is a concern, but not nearly as big as
some people would have you believe. You'll be safer on the Trail
than on any city street in America. But - as everywhere else -
the most dangerous animal you'll meet will be your fellow humans.
Generally, if you treat people with respect, they'll return the attitude.
If they don't, get out of there - fast. I spent a lot of years in various
martial arts and I was taught that the best weapon I would ever
have was my own legs - if I was smart enough to use them to run.
I'm going to shamelessly plagiarize a comment from a prospective
thruhiker - "People with ill intent seem to read people ... like dogs
smell fear. It is important to present confidence at all times. And
almost nothing ever happens to people that do that."
Anyone who lives in a city knows how true this is. In fact, that's
one of the problems when you finish the Trail - you've forgotten
that attitude. I know several people who lived in cities and hated
going home because they felt like prey when they got there. You
do get over that - it just takes a little time.
I've had a few people ask me about hitchhiking. You have to make
your own decisions about this. In some states it's illegal. It's
always time-consuming. And it can be dangerous.
Did I do it? Yes.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.
Have I had any problems with it? Nothing more than having to
tolerate some of the stranger (although generally harmless)
variations in human behavior. One guy was dying and needed
someone to talk to.
Would I tell you to do it ? No way. That's your decision.
WEAPONS - GUNS
So, should you carry weapons? A lot of us are asked by friends,
relatives or even our local friendly policeman if we'll carry a
gun on the Trail. We could start something here - so, lets start
with the fact that I am a gun owner, but I don't carry guns on
the Trail. Why? A number of reasons - in descending order
1. It's too heavy. Any gun light enough to carry is too light to
do the job. Handguns in manstopping calibers are heavy. We're
talking 1.5 - 3 # for a 9mm. If you want a .45 or .44, it's even
heavier (I don't consider 9mm a manstopping caliber). Handguns
don't come in bear stopping calibers. Then there's the support
equipment (ammo, cleaning gear, waterproof container, etc) -
all extra weight. Now you're up to 3 - 5 # or more. For long
trail hiking my pack weight is 27 - 30# (without food and water),
and I'll cut the handle off my toothbrush to save a half ounce.
Adding 3-5 # of deadweight metal to my pack is unacceptable.
2. If you're not willing to use lethal force, you shouldn't be
carrying a gun in ANY circumstances, on or off the trail. And
the willingness to use that level of force is an attitude that's
too heavy to carry for 2000 miles. I know from personal
experience that carrying a gun requires a mindset that's
antithetical to the reasons I'm out there. Personal opinion is
that if I ever have to start carrying a gun on the AT, I'll stop
hiking and find something else to do with my life.
3. If you were threatened on the trail, where would the gun
be - at the bottom of your pack maybe? It's hard to unlimber
the hardware if its hidden. And if you carry it openly you won't
make many friends. For those who haven't discovered this -
heavy objects always end up at the bottom of the pack.
4. Paranoia and hoplophobia aside, it's illegal on much of the
AT, the PCT and the CDT. Now, where did you say you do
your long distance hiking?
5. There are legal aspects to self-defense with a gun.
Do you know them?
Bottom line - there's a place for firearms in the wilderness,
but it's a rare long distance hiker who's willing to carry the
extra weight. Only newbies do that.
WEAPONS - KNIVES AND OTHER IDIOCIES
I've seen knives on the Trail that range from a 1" pocket knife
to a 12" Bowie. The bigger the knife, the more weight you'll
carry. For what purpose? Security? Bull. If you have no
knife fighting training or experience, just what do you think
you're going to do with that 12" Bowie - other than getting
yourself sliced and diced ? Knife fighting is an art and a discipline.
And it's a very messy business when you get down to the cutting.
Very few people walk away from a knife fight without leaking
massive amounts of blood. And even "winning" doesn't mean
you'll live to tell about it. It's a lousy way to abort a thruhike.
My partner carried a Swiss Army knife with a screwdriver,
bottle opener, can opener and corkscrew. I carried a 2", 1.5 oz
single blade pocket knife. I lost it last year and just recently
started carrying a SOG Airlite (2.5" blade, 2.2 oz). For my
purposes, anything bigger would be (pardon the expression)
overkill. You might want a can opener and sometimes a bottle
opener, though. As "weapons" these are not likely to do any
real damage to anything larger than a bagel. Nor was that their
The second most dangerous animal on the AT is the shelter mouse.
Mice WILL get some of your food if you stay in shelters. And
everyone stays in shelters at some point. There is no foolproof
way to keep them off your food. I've watched a mouse make a
8 ft leap from the shelter rafters onto a food bag. Some of them
aren't that smart, but I wouldn't bet my food supply on it. And
there's no such thing as a mouse-free shelter.
Mice are much smarter and more persistent than you can imagine,
and in fact, are much smarter than I. The only way I managed to
outsmart them was to refuse to stay in shelters. Mice also carry
fleas, deer ticks and hantavirus. But most importantly, they're
active at night and interrupted my sleep - and that's not to be
Then there are skunks, bears, racoons, etc. Generally, the only
real danger they present is that they're after your food. I lost the
fight and the bear got our food at Ethan Pond. Some shelters have
skunks or snakes. Please don't feed them or mess with them -
they won't hurt you and they're performing a public service by
controlling the mouse population. Remember - it's their home,
we're only transient visitors.
Dogs are also a common danger. They can be scary, but few
thruhikers seem to actually get bitten. Part of my "security" on
the Trail was that I carried hiking sticks - actually, I used cheap
garage sale variety ski poles. They're light and strong - and the
odd stray dog has little desire to eat 4 feet of steel or aluminum
A BEAR STORY
I'm always amazed at what comes back to bite me. This isn't a
story that'll tell you how smart I am. Oh, well, here we go again.
When we got to Ethan Pond, we didn't even have to read the register
to know there was an active bear in the area - there were 3 huge
clear garbage bags full of obviously well chewed-on hiker trash.
The shelter was full (6 other thruhikers) so we went out to the
tent platforms. The bear first showed up while we were cooking
dinner - and he wanted to be invited. So I took my "bear picture"
and then threw rocks and sticks until he got the idea that he wasn't
welcome (I got lucky and hit him on the nose). After dinner we hung
our food and went to sleep - and that's when he came back.
Like the shelter mice, he was smarter than we were - he climbed
up above the food bags and played pinata with them until the cords
broke. He got 2 of our 3 food bags. At which point I got stupid and
went out to get them back. Understand that I was bone-deep tired
from 5 months on the Trail, my knees were doing BAD things to me,
we had run out of cookies and it was raining - so I wasn't in a real
friendly mood. When we got out there the bear was sitting on top of
the food bags and I tried to scare him off. In the midst of my brain
cramp I'd forgotten that bear logic says as long as I had the food it
was mine, but when he got it - it was HIS. So there I was - in a
Mexican standoff with a bear at 6 feet, me with my flashlight and
boots (Yeah - NOTHING else) and him with his teeth, claws, hunger
and nasty disposition. When he got tired of having the flashlight shine
in his eyes and jumped forward 2 feet, we jumped back 20 feet and -
the food was his. He then proceeded to prowl and growl for about 3
hours while we tried to get back to sleep. The only satisfaction we
got was when we heard him bite into the coffee bags and gag on them.
And when he choked on the Liptons dinners. To add insult to injury,
we had to pick up the trash he left behind and carry it out. One
interesting point is that he ate not just the food, but most of the
foil containers as well.
NOT end of story. After he finished with us he went to the shelter.
Some of the guys had hung their food in a small tree right in front
of the shelter. So with 6 people shouting, banging pots, shining
flashlights and throwing anything they could get their hands on, he
proceeded to knock the tree down and raid their food bags. This
was NOT a happy crew when we passed them at 0630. But then,
neither was my partner - those were her coffee bags the bear
had gagged on - and he'd bitten into every one of them.
NOT end of story. The next day 2 of our friends were camped
about a mile from Ethan Pond and the same bear scared them
away from their campsite and took their dinner right out of the
pot. That was one healthy, well-fed bear.
OK, what did I tell you here - other than that I'm not always
brilliant? The bear isn't after you - he/she is after your food.
Bear logic says - As long as you have the food it's yours (unless
the bear can scare you away from it), but if he/she has the food
then it's THEIRS. And they're willing to fight for it. You don't
REALLY want to wrestle a bear, do you?
The bear wasn't the dangerous part of this situation - it was MY
actions that made it dangerous. Be smarter than I was - if you
can scare him off while you still have the food - cool. But once
he has the food, don't challenge him, just make plans to pack the
trash into town. And get lots of good pictures.
End of bear story.
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