What It Feels Like to Get Attacked While Hiking

When I need to regroup, absolutely nothing grounds me faster than getting out in the woods.  I had that need today and I traveled to the mountains in North Georgia.  I chose a trail between Haiwassa and Helen, GA.  You may have heard of it….the Appalachian Trail. If you’re ambitious enough, you can start hiking in Georgia and end up in Maine.

Appalachian Trial Marker

Appalachian Trial Marker

I start out thinking that I’ll just walk a few hundred yards, take some artsy fartsy nature pics and be done with it.  Besides, I’m not dressed for hiking.  I’m wearing long jeans, a t-shirt and biker boots.

I saw a real hiker in the parking lot. Back-pack…all the goodies.  He was looking at a map.  Me, I just started walking up the path to see what it leads to.  I won’t be long.  That was until I saw this.

Indain Grave Gap...Only 2.7 Miles!

Indian Grave Gap...Only 2.7 Miles!

Dammit!  2.7 miles.  I really was in no mood to hike 2.7 miles up a mountain, over rough, muddy terrain, but I needed to see what Indian Grave Gap was all about.  I’m in shape, and I’m a trail runner.  Challenge accepted!

I hiked up the steep trails and took artsy fartsy nature pictures.

Mountainous Trail...Very Woodsy!

Mountainous Trail...Very Woodsy!

I came across some weird looking vines.

Weird Vines

Weird Vines

…and a mountain stream!

A real mountain stream...brought to you by Mama Nature!

A real mountain stream...brought to you by Mama Nature!

Nature dictates your actions. I stopped taking pictures and tried to make some time.   I smelled rain coming.   2.7 miles is really deep into a forest and it takes a while to cover it when it’s all uphill.

Mother Nature provided me with a walking stick. I never once thought of it as a weapon.   Someone took some time to carve a nice stick and leaned it against a tree by the stream.  I picked it up and took it with me.  A walking stick provides comfort and connection to the earth on a hike.

Walking Stick by Mother Nature or possibly her Father

Walking Stick by Mother Nature or possibly her Father

I was into this hike about an hour or so and I figure I’m about 500 yards to my destination.  That’s when it started to drizzle.  I’m dangling a thousand dollar digital Nikon from my shoulder that I can’t afford to replace right now if I ruin it.  Hike’s over.  Sorry Indian Grave Gap.  I’ll come back another day.  I promise.

I start back down the trail at double the pace I used going up. All I could think about was the rain and how far I had to go.  That’s when I saw the hiker from the parking lot and that’s when this hike took a major dump.

We passed each other as we crossed a little feeder stream that ran through the path.

Feeder Stream

Feeder Stream

It was about 10 feet across and the footing was really slippery.  We made eye contact and the exchange went exactly like this.

“Did you see it?” he said.

“Indian Grave Gap?  No.  It started to rain and I want to keep this camera dry.”  I said.

“Yeah, I dont’ blame you.  Nice camera.” he said.  Can I see it?” he said.

I walked backward as we spoke and was about 10 yards from him at this point.

“Not today.  I need to get out of this rain.” I said.  “Have a great hike.”  I nodded my head the way real Southerners do when they greet and say goodbye, turned and started walking really fast down the trail.

I heard something drop.  His backpack. Then I heard something else I really didn’t want to hear. He was running straight at me like a football player about to tackle a tackling dummy.  Without hesitation I swung the walking stick as hard as I possibly could and struck him on the side of the face with all my might.  I knocked him over, he lost his footing and slammed his head face-first into a tree.

He fell hard.  I knew he was either unconscious or dead. He didn’t move.  Shit!!!

I did what any smart person would do in this situation.  I ran as fast as I could possibly run down that trail.  I had a long way to go…at least a half an hour.  I’ve watched enough outdoor horror films to know that he was probably going to get back up.

The trail downhill

The trail downhill

Three things went through my mind. Was he faster than me?  No.  I’m a runner.  He’ll never catch me.  Did he know the trails better than me and possibly a shortcut to the bottom?  Likely.  He looked at the map before he came up.  And finally, was he Freddy Kruger, or worse, another Gary Hilton–Meredith Hope Emerson’s murderer?

Here's Freddy

Here's Freddy

Gotta keep moving.  Can’t fall down.  Get to the bottom.  Gotta survive this.  Is he dead? Is he behind me? What’s that noise?

The adrenaline was so strong that I completely lost my peripheral vision.  My heart beat in my eardrums like bricks crashing against the walls of my brain. I could hear my blood.

Never stop moving.  I was getting closer to the bottom of the trail.  I could hear cars.

I could also hear him. The unmistakable sound of something large powering their way through the brush.  Too big to be a squirrel, too clumsy to be a deer….decidedly human and decidedly dangerous.  I am prey.  Oh my God this sucks.  This could end any second.

He found a shortcut and was close to cutting me off at the pass.

Sprint.  Sprint.  Go! Go! Go!  I couldn’t feel my legs move.  They just did.

Too late. I can not only hear him, I can see him.  Not good.

“I’m gonna kill you!” he screamed.  I had to stop to get my bearings on his location.  He was about 30 yards up the hill from where I was at.  I saw him.  Blood streamed down his face and his shirt.  He was muddy and he had something in his hand.

Run, run, run!  God help me run.

I thought for a split-second about just turning around, walking up there and finishing the job.  I could easily kick his ass.  He was already hurt.  Then I remembered something horrible.  I’m not bullet-proof. What if that’s a gun in his hand?

“No gun.  No gun.  Please no gun.”

I never stopped moving.  I see the parking lot below.  Another couple of hundred yards.  I heard him running…thrashing through the brush.  Breathing hard.

I was terrified and literally running for my life.  I”m not safe until I’m out of the woods.  C’mon, c’mon.  Run faster, faster, faster.

“I’m gonna kill you!  You’re dead!” he shouted.

A rock hit a tree in front of me.  He threw rocks at me.  Rocks.  I was relieved.  If he had a gun he’d be shooting at me.  I was within yards of the parking lot and could see my car.  He stopped chasing me and disappeared into the forest.  He missed his chance.  He was silent now.

Who’s next?  Are they as strong as me?  As fast?  As ready to engage in combat?  As capable?  He met his opponent today….but, tomorrow?

I left the walking stick next to the sign.  Maybe someone else needs it.  It saved my life.

Please return after use

Please return after use

Without getting too preachy here, there’s a lesson to be learned that has to be tempered with reason and a reasonable amount of caution.  If you’re going to hike, don’t go it alone…especially if you’re going deep in.  Me?  I’m taking a side-arm next time, and I’m not going to get chatty with any other hikers, but I’ll never, ever quit the trails!

I’m a decent sized guy.  I work out a lot and I was wearing this t-shirt.  I generally don’t pick fights with guys wearing Martial Arts T’s…that’s just me though.

Martial Arts T-shirt

Martial Arts T-shirt

So, if some nut-bag is going to attack me, then you’re game too.  Accept that you might be vulnerable, that you might be a target.  Watch your back and don’t talk to strangers.  Be smart.  Be prepared.

Walk softly and carry a big stick. I’m convinced God put that stick there for me today.  We don’t all get that lucky.

Please share this post with someone you care about that enjoys the outdoors.

Cheers,

Jim

I proudly dedicate this post to the memory of Meredith Hope Emerson

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