"A pile of shit has a thousand eyes!" - Stephen King
(Sung to the tune of: Video Killed The Radio Star.)
Like the plot of a cheesy B movie you got all pumped up for an adventure alone in the wilderness. Your apprehensions and the fears of your loved ones expressed at farewell parties played up the foreshadowing. "Aren't you afraid?" mom asked trying to be supportive and barely masking her own fears. Dad offered you a few sweaty hundred dollar bills and grandpa's old 22. caliber pistol. "Go on, take it!" he said with tears in his eyes "In case there are crazies out there or something - you never know honey." Little did you suspect that your solitude would indeed be shattered by crazies, your hike would become fake news, and trolls the world over would follow your every step from Georgia to Maine broadcast live from the middle of nowhere by a stranger. Sound far fetched?
Just after the ATKO18 the BOLO reports went viral and crashed in waves across the popular hiking sites. There were one or two a week for about six weeks as the bubble moved north in its annual migration. Vloggers with channels too numerous to count used their platforms and their attendant followings to alert the A.T. Community and make it "aware" for its own safety that they had heard Hiker-X is a creep, homeless, or a weird guy, inappropriate, or off somehow, that she is a potty-mouth, or likes safety meetings, drinks too much, hits on girls (insert audible gasp), is chasing a man (sigh), or a combination of these. Hiker-X gave them the vibe. There were alarm bells. In some cases there were names provided. Hikers on the trail passed descriptions and identities - wrong or otherwise - to each other in private messages, or worse in public posts. Soon it became clear that scores were being settled in flimsy smear campaigns. Useful truth was lost. There was fear-mongering, mistaken identity, libel, defamation, threats, slander, near panic, in one case a posse was formed. The police were called and so were Child Protective Services. The trail became the dangerous place of our parent's worst imagined fears. Crazies were indeed on the loose in Appalachia and they were wielding weapons more harmful to humans than chainsaws - they had cameras!
There were litterbugs called out, taggers, a nudist, at least one guy who left embers smoldering in a fire ring, bums living in shelters, hostel crooks, shelter-tenters, a fugitive, a family dragging six kids through the snow, scary looking ex-cons, stalkers, a former white nationalist, mooches and Yogis along with the ever-popular missing hiker routine. That's the one when the looser you just broke up with and had to move, quit your job, and take a long hike to escape tracks you down by pretending to be worried sick about you because you're "missing". It's a classic because the entire 'trail family' is unwittingly assisting your stalker - with gusto. Highly effective gusto at that. How'd you like to summit a peak and find your favorite former psycho waiting on bended knee with a bouquet and a backpack there? There being miles from anywhere, anything, or anyone. My personal favorite is when folks that fail to bury their poop are identified. Probably because it has that too obvious, too hard to prove or disprove quality that really stinks like shit - like total bullshit - to me. And let's face it, if you know who is pooping where and what they do or don't do with their doo-doo the lunatic is you you!
Now in a perfect world I suppose we could all slip into our cowls and Underoos, grab the GoPro, a few Batarangs, and maybe a magic lasso to swing into crime-fighting-action, but this isn't a perfect world. And not burying your poop isn't really a crime. This is an imperfect world where just for example the country is neatly divided in half by its vastly differing views. (One half fast asleep, the other wide awake.) We are a nation where one in two citizens you'll meet tomorrow fundamentally disagrees with you and likely doesn't care for you too much based on that philosophical polarity. Now imagine your neighbor or coworker puts you in an embarrassing YouTube video that showcases your characterological shortcomings - real or fabricated - because your political party colors don't match. Welcome to the new and improved now technologically advanced wilderness experience. You get away from it all and get on TV! WTF? Over.
Contrary to popular belief not all hikers get along, nor should we expect them to. Not all hikers are the same and tolerance means accepting that not everyone out there is the same kind of different as you. (If you carry a Cranberry Osprey please hang up.) As long as we are always different then we'll always disagree about something. We have to endeavor to agree to disagree and embrace our differences, not showcase the different and disagreeable in petty little videos that may well harm the innocent and embolden the guilty. We must never cry wolf and accept that because there are those that do we must then deal with not imaginary, but real wolves directly and alone. This is courage.
This is cowardice:
Hikers need courage while the trail needs courageous hikers and less moral cowardice. If vloggers want to raise awareness on the Appalachian Trail then they should raise their own by shutting off their cameras, closing their mouths, opening their ears, minds, hearts, and then just hike. Just LNT and HYOH - no cameras or capes required. As this wise man once said:
"It's just walking."