Stranger on the Trail


The Tarryall Mountains

He yelled at us to stop, seemingly from out of nowhere. I was startled by the sound, but frightened when I saw the ragged looking man standing only 50 feet to our side, but thankfully across a dry gully. I was leading a group of 9 teenage backpackers down the trail, headed back to our Base Camp facility after a week out in the Lost Creek Wilderness. We’d be back in less than an hour except for whatever was about to happen. The lone man was probably in his 40s, unkempt, and had a Pit Bull by his side.

“Got any drugs,” was the second thing out of his mouth.

My heart instantly sank when I heard those words. It didn’t surprise me—why else would someone be engaging us and coming from a direction in which there were no trails, I reasoned?

But almost seamlessly, he made it known that it was antibiotics, and not the other, that he was talking about. That fact made me feel better initially, but I soon wondered if maybe he had something going on that needed medical attention. What, I speculated, would he be willing to do if things were dire?

Not knowing anything about him, I didn’t want to clue him in to the fact that we had a facility full of food and potential hostages just down the trail, so I suggested I go on ahead and call the EMS or Sheriff’s Department.

“No, don’t do that,” he was adamant.

His response concerned me, so I just said that maybe one of the people waiting for us up ahead might have something that would be of use, and I’d send them back his way. I knew, that in reality, there was no one waiting for us, but he didn’t. Thankfully, as it turned out, our group was just plain confused by the whole situation and didn’t verbalize anything as they privately speculated about whether or not there were indeed people up ahead waiting to do something like cheer for us as we ended our trip.

The raggedy man seemed appeased and unwary of the dupe. He then launched into an explanation of his situation, which had something to do with an infected cut, hatchet, raccoon, and being out in the wilds for more than a month.

After he finished confusing us with his story, we made our exit on down the trail, walking and assuring him repeatedly that we’d send someone back up to help him. I was ecstatic when he just stayed put and didn’t follow.

We ultimately got back to our base, unpacked, and then called the authorities to report the problem. But, they never located the man, and we never saw him again, although I’m pretty sure I still sometimes see him blending into the trees and simply watching.

I know there’s a good story mixed in with all of this,  and it may be true. But, through the years, I enjoyed telling it the way I saw it.—you know, the one where the escaped mass axe murderer hacks up the sleeping backpackers struggling to get out of their tents and sleeping bags and then feeds the pieces to his dog to get rid of the evidence.

The Ruth Ampitheater
Ruth Glacier, Alaska Range

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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