“So what you gonna carry?”
“The usual things. A shelter system, water treatment, extra socks, stove, food, and…”
“Naw, man! What kind of pistol?”
“I’m not going to take one.”
And then the conversation ensued with my father-in-law. Preface to the whole thing is in order.
I was a police for over ten years. He retired from policing. We both came away from the field with a different perspective. I saw it as a demoralizing meat grinder. A never ending struggle to right wrongs, convince drunks to stop being uncivil, and console parents when something bad happened to one of their kids. On a daily basis you are confronted with not so much the dangerous as you are the brutal, because you arrived after the fact. A husband beats the shit out of his wife, or somebody did something to some kid. But you did not witness. At times you do have to wrestle with a bad guy, or draw your weapon. I walked into an armed robbery in progress, and that really gets your heart pumping. But I grew to loathe it. It was turning me cold, and warping my philosophical outlook more towards utilitarianism. It conflicted with me spiritually. I saw the necessity, but not a reason I should be a part of it. So I left.
My father-in-law, in contrast, relished the job. It defined him. It was not just what he did in order to get money to live, it was what he lived for.
Dedication is good, when inside a proper framework. Outside of that it becomes a control mechanism, and it asks for the adherent to warp their psyche and belief system in total, to bring it in line. Even now, several years into retirement, he is still a cop. He carries concealed, and has a small collection of pistols for just about any clothing situation.
I have firearms. I use them for deer hunting, small game, and quail (Bailey’s favorite type of hunting because it involves dogs and humans working together). I even own a few pistols, which are for killing human beings. I do not carry them anywhere. I have no use for them outside of the home. Our current endeavor presents a unique argument.
“What will we do if attacked by (insert violent encounter with man or beast)?”
The wildlife along the trail is not what most people suspect. Black bears are the biggest concern of most people unfamiliar with the AT (what a bunch of racists, like the white bears aren’t more dangerous). The fact is hikers should consider themselves lucky if they get to see one, as they have a distinct phobia of humans and attempt to remove themselves from the presence of them. They do have an affinity for the food we bring, so food bags must be hung (proper usage, hanged is used when referring to executions). Further, these are black bears of the eastern range, not the man-eating Grizzly. Most people could fight off a black bear successfully if faced with such a situation. Other than that there is no other animal that I can think of that poses a danger. People are another issue.
The trail stretches over 2,000 miles. If you are in an uncomfortable, or sketchy, situation, keep hiking. You don’t have to hang around people. You may not want to. I hear thru-hikers reek of ass and Ramen (and you will as well). There have been attacks on the AT, and I know of them. There have been murders on the AT, but in proportion to the rest of society (say the ATL, or even Elberton) it becomes statistically minuscule. Would that warrant the carrying of a firearm?
No. Here’s why: 14 states, multiple jurisdictions, National Parks, and state parks.
New York and New Jersey are on the trail, so if you have a GA CCW license it will not be recognized and you will violate the law. What about Maryland? Not sure. Connecticut? Don’t know. Massachusetts? I haven’t a clue. Can you carry in the SNP? I don’t think so, since it is state managed land. See what I mean? How in the world will I keep up with the gun laws of all those jurisdictions? I can’t. Well, I can, but I’m not willing to do it. It is too complicated and even if I did what would I do with the gun in places I can’t carry it? Leave it unattended in my pack? That’s not responsible. How will I carry it? On my hip in a cross draw? That’s stupid. Leave it in my pack? If I do decide a situation warrants it how do I get to it?
How many hikers on the AT have defended themselves with a firearm?
None. There are no recorded instances of a hiker using a firearm in self defense on the AT. None. Zero.
If this were not safe I would not do it with my son. That simple. Besides, we are becoming gram weenies. Counting grams! Grams! Not ounces, but grams. We are trying to shave our pack weight. Carry a pistol you have to take a cleaning kit or it will rust, that’s weight. The pistol itself would weigh in at a pound or more, and that’s weight you should be using for food, water, or extra clothing to keep you warm during the Smokeys or as you near Katahdin. What is the greatest threat on the Appalachian Trail? I found out, and this will surprise you.
The things that scare us are, oddly enough, are not the things that kill us. Your chances of being hacked to death by a meth addled redneck are slim to none. Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers are not real.
The things that will probably kill us are unseen. A cardiac condition (start a program), cancer (change your diet), or just old age (get that guy who painted Dorian Grey to do your portrait). Heard of West Nile? It’s a virus transmitted to humans via a mosquito. My mom had it. Put her in the hospital for over a month. Meningitis can set in. It has killed people. Not just people in far away exotic locales, but Florida people, Louisiana people, Gulf Coast people.
These critters also transmit Eastern Equine Encephalitis, which rattles your brain and leaves you screwed up for life. Besides that they are annoying.
Deer Ticks carry Lyme Disease. They are small, and they will mess you up worse than a midget wrestler on a two day bender after breaking up with his tranny girlfriend. A thru-hiker contracted it and spent over a year getting medical treatment. Many hikers on the AT have reported contracting it, but none of them have reported having to shoot the damn things.
So is a gun necessary for protection on a thru hike? HYOH (just kidding, I’m going to weigh in). If a person decides to take a pistol on a thru hike they are probably too connected to the area they left. It is heavy, it is wrapped in responsibility, and it is a symbol of their reliance on a different mindset than what should have brought them to the decision to make the journey. Can they bring one? Sure. I don’t care. But leave me alone. It is their folly. They will never have a need for it, and at the end on Katahdin they can contemplate the beauty of nature and the violence of men knowing they might be a visitor to one but they are certainly a resident of the other.