My wife and I went into town today. We needed to stop by the post office, have a little breakfast at a cafe we like, and make a supply run to Home Depot and Walmart.
I picked up a paper, and saw that another rite of summer has begun. That's the "Vanishing Hiker on the Trail."
The Appalachian Trail winds it's way through North Georgia. Much of it runs through the vast Chattahoochee National Forest. People have this idea that the trail is well maintained, easy to follow, and dotted with rest areas and little hostels.
Maybe it is, elsewhere. But down here, it's not like that. First, it's more like the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It's not one trail, it's a network of them, crisscrossing, overlapping and merging with one another. There are a few small camping hostels where it crosses paved roads, but VERY few.
The trail is used by bears, red wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and other forest residents for the same reason people use it, it's easier than pushing through the brush. But, of far great moment to hikers, the trail draws people with mental illness. All up and down the length of the Appalachian Trail there have been ghastly incidents where people disappeared, including one particularly unpleasant incident in North Georgia that changed Georgia gun laws to allow carry on the Georgia parts of the trail.
The story in this weeks paper is about some man in his twenties, from up Wisconsin way. He has not checked in with his family for a week now. Some college kids day hiking on a spur found his backpack, tent, and his wallet by the trail, in the county NE of us. No sign of violence, no sign of robbery. The cash, a substantial amount, was still in his wallet. He's just gone. The Forestas have looked for him with a helicopter, but unless he's in shape to build a fire and make smoke, that's useless as the canopy is too thick. If this instance ends up as these usually do, he'll either never be found, or they'll find his animal scavenged skeleton out there three or four years from now.
The last time this happened here, it was a young woman who went missing. Everybody turned out to search, but she had been kidnapped, assaulted and beheaded by a crazy man from Florida. Our state made a deal with him not to ask for the death penalty in exchange for his telling where he buried her body. Once they recovered her body, Georgia turned him over to Florida, where he was wanted for murdering a forest ranger. Florida will fry the monster and good riddance to him. He won't be out in 10 years to do it again, as is the style up North.