Deep Woods and I finished our AT section hike from Damascus, VA to Bear Garden Hiker Hostel on VA 42 a couple of weeks ago and once again it was a fantastic hike. It got a bit hot during the final couple of days and we did have to weather out a storm one evening but we already had the tents up, so no big deal. We hiked through a couple of very brief showers but all while under the canopy of the forest. Only had the rain jackets on one time and it wasn’t long before they were removed and placed back in the packs. I would say that’s a pretty successful trip. I’ll put up a brief summary of the hike in my next post.
As for mine and Loonie’s trip in the Shenandoah’s, let’s just say there were a few “incidents”! The first part of the trip was a comedy of misfortune and mishaps leading to an early departure from the trail. We would return to do some nice day hikes and an overnight trip and those were great. Sucks that we didn’t get to finish the southern chunk of the AT through the park but it was a nice trip all the same. I’ll detail that trip in an upcoming post as well.
The one thing that tainted both trips was news of the horrific events that took place just prior to us setting off. I briefly mentioned this in the last post but just three days before we were to hit the trail, I got a call from Bear Garden Hiker Hostel informing me that the final stretch of trail we were to hike (Mt Rogers NRA HQ to VA 42) had been closed off for a criminal investigation. They told me that one male hiker had been murdered and a female hiker severely injured by a man with a machete. Immediately, I thought of James Jordan (trail name “Sovereign”), the man picked up in Tennessee just weeks before for threatening hikers. It turns out that he had been released and, despite the efforts of one individual to send him back home, he found his way back to the trail. 35 yr old Ronald Sanchez, an army veteran who served three tours in Iraq and was hiking the trail to cope with PTSD, encountered Sovereign early on the morning of May 11th. Tragically, he didn’t survive that encounter. Miraculously, the female hiker was able to get away after being stabbed multiple times. She hiked six miles before getting assistance.
Needless to say, the hiking community was rocked by this news. Many who had set off from Springer Mtn back in March had run ins with Sovereign. Those who hadn’t encountered him would find warnings in the shelter logs. Most knew to watch out for him. To learn that he had made his way back to the trail and committed such a heinous act…against one of their own…was devastating. The fact that Mr Sanchez had served his country in worn-torn Iraq, came home and walked the trail to find some solace from the things he had seen and lived through, only to lose his life in such a way is particularly heart breaking. Deep Woods and I set off from Damascus just a few days before Trail Days kicked off. Many thru hikers had now made there way to Damascus for the festival so we didn’t encounter too many during our week out. Those we did meet were obviously very saddened by the news but determined to continue on. We learned later that a very moving candlelit vigil in honor of Mr Sanchez and in support of the surviving female hiker took place during Trail Days.
Despite what happened, the trail continues to be a much safer place than the insane world we spend our typical daily lives in. Twelve people have been killed at the hands of another individual in the Trail’s 82 year history. I’ll take those odds over what I routinely face in my daily commute to and from work. In honor of Mr Sanchez, his service to our country and the peace he sought on the trail, and in support of the woman who survived the attack and will have to live with the horrible memories of that night, I’ll hike on.
More to come…