I stopped until I could breathe again and looked around, appreciating my solitude and the relative safety of these mountains and woods. But then I had a reality check. The suspect in my first murder scene as a police officer had fled to Pennsylvania and killed two hikers on the AT. Less than a mile from where I was standing, Gary Hilton had dumped the body of John Bryant, an elderly hiker he had killed near Brevard. About two miles away, Alan and I had the enounter with the crazy guy in the van at the trailhead, who acted like he had a gun. Two miles in the other direction, I had an unsettling encounter with a hiker who may have been Eric Rudolph, the Olympic bomber, when he first went on the run. A friend of mine had a violent enounter while running the AT. This trail and these mountains are no more safe than anywhere else. But as I continued to look around, I still found a sense of peace that only these mountains bring me. As I ran, three older through-hikers, obviously enjoying their day, blissfully unaware of what was happening in the world, stepped aside so I could pass by. They were delighted to learn that they only had a short distance left to the road and thanked me so I could continue on my "gallop". "Don't take this the wrong way," one of them said as I left, "but you smell good."
What a great place this trail is. Moments that make me smile sure do outweigh the ones that make me sad. This world is such a place, too.