We all survived the night and “Night Hatchet” was gone by daybreak, but it changed my view of people who came to the Appalachian Trail and their purpose. There are —
Serious hikers and backpackers who intend to hike the trail.
Day-trippers and weekenders out for shorter hikes.
Locals or tourists taking a stroll in the woods.
Partiers who raid camps/shelters.
People like “Night Hatchet” whose agenda you cannot fathom and need to be wary of.
I did not see “Night Hatchet” again, but I did meet people and situations that “put my antenna” up. It’s important to keep in mind that most all the people you meet along the Appalachian Trail are solid, decent, friendly folks, many of who are extremely generous and will help you if you need it.
It is also vital to realize that while you’re not in some dangerous part of a city, mischief and crime do occasionally come even to the Appalachian Trail. Caution and discretion are merited.
Some situations which “gave me pause” include:
The aforementioned “Night Hatchet.” The key is to be polite but don’t let your guard down.
A few nights at shelters where locals came to party with lots of marijuana and booze. I moved on to another campsite. The key is to try and avoid campsites and shelters near roads on nice weekends.
People in vehicles who oversold how eager they were to give me a ride to town. My “gut” said to say “thanks but no thanks.”
When backpacking your senses will be keen and heightened. Extend their increased potency when dealing with everyone you meet. Help others and they’ll most always return the favor. Above all, don’t let yourself get so spooked you become paranoid. Use caution in all your dealings, and call authorities if you need to. Keep your hiking itinerary private, especially if you meet a stranger all too interested in where you’re going. Don’t hike alone in situations involving people who make you feel uneasy. Build trusting relationships with fellow backpackers you know to be on the trail for the right reasons.