I AM angry. It's the only thing that is keeping me moving. Without anger, I'd be in really bad shape.
Backpacking the Appalachian Trail has been a goal of mine for a number of years. Right now, for two reasons I'm ready to chuck the whole thing and find another hobby that includes saner members than some in the backpacking community.
This is what I recently wrote on my MySpace blog:
Meredith Hope Emerson went hiking with her dog, Ella, on New Year's Day at Blood Mountain in North Georgia. She was kidnapped and eventually killed a few days later by a man named Gary Michael Hilton.
The question we all ask is "why?"
Meredith made some "newbie hiker" mistakes, even though her roommate stated she was an "experienced hiker" and had a "blue belt in Karate." What were they? Not in any order they are:
1- She failed to keep her dog close to her so that Ella could protect her and she allowed Ella to think that the "stranger" was one of Meredith's friends.
2- She failed to take into consideration that just because someone is on a trail, wearing a backpack, doesn't mean he is a member of the hiking community or that he is a safe person, even if he is a member. There are a lot of hikers and backpackers who do not have the best interests of other hikers in mind. A few years ago there was a hiker Thru Hiking the AT who was a thief. No one caught him in the act until he got to Rhode Island, but other hikers were sure that it was their expensive clothing or gear that this hiker had on or with him, but because there was no way to actually prove it, he got away with it. One guy I talked to said that a very expensive polyester hiking shirt he "lost" at a laundromat turned up being worn by this thief-hiker, but because he had not placed anything identifying the shirt as his, the thief wasn't confronted.
3- She befriended a hiker she did not know. Or she allowed him to ingratiate himself to her so that she didn't keep her defenses up. No one should live in fear. No one should have to be constantly on guard toward other people one meets. YET, depending on the circumstance and place, we often do just that. You get on a bus or airplane and you don't tell your life story to the unknown person next to you or open up your wallet to count your money. Why? You are on guard and you keep a societally appropriate distance from strangers.
4- It appears that Meredith forgot what her Mama taught her about strangers. And she let her defenses down. We say we don't want to live in "fear" but we have the ability to use fear for our own good. Fear is a postive emotion, not a negative one. It's fear that keeps us from walking in front of moving trains. It's fear that keeps us out of many potentially dangerous situations and away from potentially dangerous people. Fear is healthy; fear is often what keeps us alive. If you haven't "honed" your fears to be useful, then I suggest you work on using fear to your benefit.
5- I suggest she didn't use her 'gut test' with Gary Michael Hilton. Other hikers who saw him on New Year's Day said they got 'bad feelings' about him. People here in town say he was a regular at one of the laundomats; those who work there described as "weird." They said looking into his eyes gave them strong negative feelings. Did Meredith fail to look at his eyes?
There are other newbie mistakes made by Meredith. All the Karate in the world won't protect you from someone who hits you from behind. A new acquaintance is best observed around others. Rather than going to her car, she'd have been better off hiking to the road crossing at Neel Gap and walking into Mountain Crossings Outfitters there.
I don't know what transpired between the two -- an innocent young girl with few life experiences and a man who may turn out to be a serial killer if cases in Florida and North Carolina can be linked to him.
It's all in the eyes. Always look a person in the eyes. And always accept that "gut" feeling as "nature's way" of warning you about a person or situation.
I feel so sorry for Meredith's parents. It's unnatural for parents to bury children. Children are supposed to bury parents. Parents are supposed to see their children get married and produce their grandchildren. We'll never know who Meredith might have become as she aged. Gary Michael Hilton stole that from her parents, friends and all of us.
The worst kind of thief is one who kills another person and steals that person's future from all of us. In my opinion, a person who steals another person's life has forfeited his own life.
God comfort Meredith's parents and friends.
( for additional information about this case)
I wrote something similar on a private yahoo group and was personally attacked for questioning Meredith's "expert hiker" status. Well, I said then and say now -- I report it as I see it. And the news reports, while they may not state the same, do support my observations. These observations are MINE and no one else's. I don't really care if hikers disagree with me. I've been in situations on the trail similar to Meredith's and I've hiked out of them because I am More Mature and because I Have A Contingency Plan. Poor Meredith didn't. She was young and thought she was invincible (as do the majority of youth who have no experience in the "real and painful world") and as do many "heads in the clouds" hikers who attacked my observations. There is more than a modicum of truth in what I wrote. And I continue to stand by it.
Right at this moment, in FMS pain-anger-fog and incredulous that I would be so vilified by hikers who are angry at me ONLY because they know in their heart of hearts that what I wrote about immature and inexperienced hikers like Meredith is true, I am this [ ] close to making a drastic change in my future plans. IF I Thru Hike or WHEN I Thru Hike the Appalachian Trail, it will not be as a member of any online group of hikers who attack me for telling the truth. They can chalk it up to my OPINION or they can chalk it up to my PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. I prefer to be in the company of people mature enough to know that experience which works trumps just about everything else.
Stay Safe. Educate yourself. Have a workable contingency plan for as many different scenarios as you can think of which might occur on your journey through life. Fear is a Good Thing. Treat it as such. Peace out.