Stranger than Fiction: A hiker’s encounter

A thru-hiker named Gobbles recounts his story about a group of strangers he and his friend, Maytag, met while hiking the Appalachian Trail. This story was part of his letters home to family and friends. Thanks for sharing, Gobbles!

The one thing that I have noticed on the trail is that the closer you get to a town the stranger it will get.  I think that a lot has to do with the fact that the trail is more exposed to foot traffic.  The thing is that when you are out in the woods you tend to forget that there are other people hiking the trail.  Seeing someone during the day can sometimes be a treat.  I can hike all day and not seen a soul, then all of a sudden, I get to a shelter and there are ten people there. A lot of times, these are people that you have been hiking with, however there are times when people show up to the shelters and you have no clue who they are or where they came from.

A majority of the people you see are day-hikers or section-hikers, but there are some that seem to be out of place.  When I was arriving near Hot Springs, NC, Maytag and I were about two miles away from town when I heard music.  We could hear voices singing, guitars and harmonicas.  As I approached the sound, I figured it was a group that was gathering around trail magic.  When you have trail magic, there tends to be food and a lot of people.  So I was clearing my voice to get ready to sing lead vocals with the group.

For the short distance I walked I was crossing my fingers for trail magic.  At this point, I was under the belief that I could have mastered any instrument for a hamburger or hot dog.  For FOOD I would make two tree limbs rubbing together sound so beautiful that many conductors would consider adding this instrument to their symphonies.

Unusual markings

When we rounded the corner we witnessed one of the most peculiar scenes I have come across thus far.  There were three teenagers sitting on logs playing music.  The closer we got the more the story would tell.  They were dressed in overalls and literally reminded you of the kid playing the banjo in Deliverance.  Two of them were carrying packs made of bed sheets.  It looked like they tied the bed sheet ends together and placed miscellaneous items in them.  They each had homemade tattoos under their eyes and on their lips.  I did not get close enough to see, but it looked like X’s under their eyes and symbols on their lips.

The music stopped as I got closer. For some reason, I wish they would have just kept playing the music.  It was really awkward just hearing the leaves under our feet.  When we reached them we struck up a conversation.  When I find myself in this environment, my southern twang is thick.  I guess it is my defense mechanism for all situations in the south.  The conversation went relatively smooth.

Homemade tattoos

The kids seemed to be nice, however they did ask me for food and water.  I asked them, “How far is town away from here?”.  They responded by telling us it was about a mile and a half away.  I then asked, “Why don’t you just go in to town to get food and water?”.  They then responded by saying, “Shoot man, we don’t go back into town”.  We then proceeded to hike away, but not before the boys played a song to send us off.  As we were walking away, it took me a minute to figure out what they were playing.  And yes, you probably could have guessed what they played — Dueling Banjos.  Needless to say, I did not have any good thoughts going through my head and I noticed that we were hiking faster than normal.

By the time we got to town, I had asked around to see who else saw these guys.  I would just ask if anybody saw the Soggy Water Bottom Boys on the trail and everyone knew who I was talking about.  Many people saw them and many were cautious of them.  When I first saw them, I was thinking to myself this is reason why people should not hike alone.  I know many of the female hikers chose to push on because they were frightened by their looks.

Dueling Banjos on guitar

I ended up talking to a guy that camped with them that night.  He told me that they were heading south and still did not have any food or water.  He said that night the boys caught a snake and cooked it on the campfire.  When he woke up the next morning he gave all his food to them.  The conversation he had with them was very interesting, but he decided that no one should have to resort to cooking a snake and sharing it between three people.  I can only imagine how I would have reacted waking up to see three guys cooking a snake over a campfire.  I am confident that conversation would have been brief and my headlamp would have been used to hike to the next shelter.  I am not the person to judge a book by its cover, but I do believe in keeping myself out of outlandish situations.

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