In 1981, a man named Randall Lee Smith murdered 2 hikers at the Wapiti shelter: shooting the male victim 3 times, and stabbing the female more than a dozen times. He then, according to the word on the trail, buried the bodies beneath the shelter floorboards. Fifteen years later, he was released, linked to yet another shooting along the AT and died after crashing one of the victims cars as he attempted to flee the scene.
The Wapiti shelter where the first murders occurred, was removed. A new shelter with the same name was built at a different location, and as far as I know has been without incident. On a pleasant night in October I stayed there. Originally I was going to skip the shelter all-together. I was familiar with the horror stories and scared out of my wits. The shelter's screech owl, which mimicked the sounds of laughing, and then wailing people didn't help. But nothing happened. Nothing BAD happened. So, let's switch gears.
You never know when something amazing is going to arise. So take my advice, and try not to excuse yourself from an interesting opportunity.
The day that I stayed at Wapiti I only hiked 6 miles. I had some friends behind me that I wanted to see, so I took it easy. I started out from the "Wood's Hole" Hostel with my newly made friend, Twofly at a lazy 9am. We took every blue blazed trail there was in that 6 miles. We explored an old, rotten cabin, followed a sketchy trail downhill for about half a mile just to see where it led, got an awesome view, went caving, and had the pleasure of dining with an Amish man named Ransom in his home.
When we arrived to the infamous shelter, we set up camp and prepared to make dinner. Ransom strolled in just before I set my water to boil and greeted everyone. We had already met. he had joined us at the Woods Hole Hostel that morning over breakfast. I hadn't expected to see him again.
Apparently some of the section hikers with us had left a bag of coffee for the couple at Woods Hole, and not knowing it was a gift, the couple had sent the coffee bag with Ransom to return on his way home. Seeing we were about to make dinner...and I suppose seeing my Ramen packets, Ransom invited us to his house for something better. We could even stay over if we'd like.
I was reluctant at first. I had already set up my tent, rolled out my bag and changed into my clean sleeping clothes. Which brings up an interesting point: Would you call that lazy? It's hard to imagine attaching the word "lazy" to a thru hiker. I mean, 2178+ miles...that has to count for something. But right now, in my comfortable clothes having not broken a sweat all day I swear I was being lazy when I nearly declined the offer.
We compromised. We'd just go for dinner. That way I could leave my tent set up (yay! no extra work.) I called over to Twofly and told him to get ready. We were going on an adventure.
And so Twofly, Sideshow Bob and myself hiked out of camp and off the trail onto another. Before you knew it we were bushwhacking up the side of a mountain. Man, could that Ransom move. He was in thru-hiker--no, better than thru-hiker shape. I was huffing and puffing the whole way up and Ransom took frequent breaks for us, and obviously only for us. I was impressed. The other side of the mountain was steep and we hugged the trees and the ground the whole way down until we saw his place. Ransom lived up the hill from his Amish community, and had one amazing view.
We gathered our materials for Chili and cornbread, which required a trip over to the neighbors for a jar of milk. I think they were as curious about us as we were about them. I was worried that my shorts might be a problem, but no one seemed to mind as we were peppered with questions about the AT.
Then, it was time to start cooking. I was in charge of the cornbread and the guys handled the chili. Shy to baking, I nearly messed it up when I misread .5 cups of sugar for 5 cups of sugar. It was a relief to put the cornbread in the oven. I couldn't hurt it anymore.
Ransom's house was warm and comfortable. We ate peanuts and played with his crazy rambunctious dog. We learned about each other and I had my first fried green tomato. It turns out that Ransom had gone to Virginia Tech and then joined the Amish community. He had grown up as I did. I found him wise beyond his years and completely fascinating.
Ransom again offered to let us stay, but we politely declined and began our bushwhack up the mountain. As we started down the other side it grew dark. Now, I thought I had a good sense of direction, and people have complimented me as having such. However, in the woods, I don't care who you are, you need a compass and if you can manage it, an ex-military man. In this case, that man was Twofly.
I got us lost. Big time. So much so that we were considering sleeping in a large ball and covering up with leaves. We'd chuck the leftovers Ransom had given us some place else and wait for the morning. But it didn't come to that. Twofly had a compass and he led us down a stream bed until we found our beloved trail. I told Twofly he was my hero. A hop, skip and a jump later and we were back at camp, thankful no longer to be lost in the Wapiti woods. I thought it a mighty full and rich day, and it wasn't full of miles.
I think that was the beginning of my daily mileage decrease. I wanted to experience everything I could from this point on. I wanted to stay on the trail forever.