Scary Stories at Max Patch

We had a conversation at work last week about whether or not you’re safer from serial killers in your home or in the wilderness. This happened because a coworker said she doesn’t sleep well in tents as she’s always worried about what could be creeping around outside, and name checked serial killers as one such threat. I countered that if you lay awake at night in your tent worried about an ax murderer, then logically you should also lay awake at at home worried about an ax murderer; if a serial killer wants to get you in your house, they’ll get you in your house. You might actually be better off camping. Unless you’re backwoods camping, campsites are pretty crowded. If someone attacks you in your tent you’re much more apt to get others rushing to your aid faster than if someone attacks you in your home.

The marketing department at Strivven Media is admittedly pretty macabre, which truthfully, is exactly how I like it.

I pointed out how in my humble opinion, the suburbs are actually scarier than the country since people are scary, and there are less people in the country. And while I may be making a bit of a generalization, the type of person who is drawn to camping and hiking is, I think at least, typically a bit more peace loving and conscientious than your average American. Bad shit happens in the country and out in the wilderness sure, but the suburbs are insidious. Plus, we live in a world where the types of places people like to decry as “places thing like this don’t happen” are places bad shit happens all the time. Schools? Churches? Country concerts in Las Vegas? We live in a scary, violent world. Yes, maybe you are more likely to be snatched by a serial killer on a lonely stretch of road, but indiscriminate violence is indiscriminate because locale doesn’t matter.

That was my very dark pro-camping/hiking solo argument. It was also pretty much the running theme of Monster: DC Sniper, the podcast I listened to while on a solo 11.7 mile hike from Lemon Gap to Max Patch. Remember the DC Sniper? I forgot about him (them? I’m only 4 episodes in), despite doing a very misguided, convoluted speech about how we can’t let the threat of him disrupt our daily lives back in 11th grade speech class that I don’t relish revisiting. He (they?) kind of get lost in the post-9/11 shuffle and I hate to even write this, but the fact that he shot one person at one location at a time compared to the mass shootings we’ve become numb to today seems practically quaint.

The podcast is terrifying. When you put yourself back into that place and time and think about how it must’ve felt to live in the DC metro area and go about working, doing errands, just generally living your life with the thought that someone was just indiscriminately hunting people, it makes you realize just how messed up people are. And during one particularly dreary section of my hike, I started thinking about how awful people were and started second guessing my argument that hiking and camping are safer than being in civilization. I got real nihilistic for a second, and very creeped out. I may have jumped and made a tiny fool of myself the next time I came around a corner and ran into another hiker.

You came for Max Patch, purportedly one of the most photographed parts of the Appalachian Trail, but you got Debbie Downer! And we haven’t even gotten to “The Massacre at Max Patch” yet! Yes, massacre, but there will be no ax murderers, serial killers, or beltway snipers involved in this one. There’s not even any bloodshed! It’s just Backpacker magazine being hyperbolic for the sake of clicks, but it might get you getting as nihilistic about our future as listening to a sniper podcast on an empty, muddy trail on a dreary day got me.

I really enjoyed the Lemon Gap to Max Patch jaunt. It’s an 11.7 mile out and back hike that winds its way through a very picturesque forest, and steadily climbs in a way that left me sore the day after but never felt particularly taxing. Max Patch is famous for its 360 bald mountaintop views. I was able to only partially take these in due to the overcast day, and while I probably wouldn’t have spent a ton of time on the summit because of said weather, I spent even less time there due to the crowds. That’s what the linked “Massacre” Backpacker article is about, the crowds of people now flooding into outdoor spaces. They theorize that it may have something to do with the pandemic pushing more and more people outside, but I think that’s just part of it. I think it’s also social media, and the accessibility the internet has given to many of these natural wonders. I still stand by my generalization that people who love the outdoors are in general more conscientious than the average American, but now the average American is starting to flood these outdoor spaces, and as the article suggests, not treating them with the respect they deserve. When I was at the summit of Max Patch I noted two separate groups of more than 20 in garbage strewn campsites, was accosted by two unleashed dogs, and counted three drones buzzing the crowds.

I just hope people realize the implications of their behavior. It could result in limitations. It could result in closures. It could ruin what was purported to be the most photographed section of the Appalachian Trail. That’s scary too.

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