The Crazy Hiker – Part 1

I was backpacking with three friends in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, on a roadless section of Appalachian Trail, when a woman showed up late one afternoon at Derrick Knob Shelter where we were going to spend the night.  

She was not carrying a backpack.

Not far behind her came three children, a girl about 12 and two slightly younger boys; a man in his 30’s or early 40’s, who turned out to be her husband; and an old man, in his early 60’s, her father. None of them had backpacks.

Mark, L, and Lynn Muchmore at Derricks Know Shelter.
Mark Ogden, L, and Lynn Muchmore at Derrick Knob Shelter, a little while before we had company.

They had no tents or sleeping bags, of course.  No food. Their water bottles were empty. They didn’t even know where they were, didn’t know, literally, north from south.  Her first questions: Where am I?  Where is the nearest road?

They were day hikers who had meant to walk north on the A.T. from Clingmans Dome to Newfound Gap, 7.7 miles, where their ride was waiting on them at U.S. 441. Instead, they had walked south, on and on.

Their mistake was not going to be easy to fix.   It was 10.6 miles back to Clingmans Dome, if they went north. And going south was not really an option — it was 22.7 miles south to Fontana Dam. Those were the nearest roads.

There were nothing for them to do but spend the night, it was getting on towards sundown and getting chillier by the minute.

There were six backpackers at the shelter, the four of us [Lynn Muchmore, Mark Ogden, Tony Goldman and me] and a father and son who arrived shortly after we did.  Between us we had enough extra food for the lost family, supper and breakfast. There was a spring nearby, water. We could build a fire.  And a couple of guys had bag liners they could sleep in and let the kids have their sleeping bags.

Everything would be OK.

But the woman, who appeared to be in her mid-to late-30s, said “No” — they would hike back to Clingmans Dome — and it was quickly apparent that she was calling the shots.  Her husband and her father just stood there with their mouths shut.

I was incredulous.

Ten more miles in the dark —they didn’t have flashlights— with three children and an old man?

Are you serious?

Continued tomorrow.

Jail Party

I was working in a poor section of Charlotte when a fellow stopped me on the street and asked, “You remember me?”

I did.

“Hello, Wolfman,” I said. “How you been doing?”

 Mecklenburg County was closed in 1969. This photo, was published in March by The Charlotte Observer. Wolfman may have mopped this very hall.
The old Mecklenburg County was closed in 1969 but almost 50 years later it’s still there, on top of the old courthouse.  Wolfman may have mopped this very hall.

I had met him the year before, when he was an inmate in the Mecklenburg County Jail. He had helped me with stories I wrote in 1966 about problems in the jail, problems that help defeat a long-time Democratic sheriff.

“You should write stories about that new Republican sheriff,” Wolfman said, referring to Sheriff Don Stahl, a former FBI agent who had defeated J. Clyde Hunter, the Democratic candidate.

Wolfman had been back in jail since Stahl took over, and he didn’t like it.

Sheriff Don Stahl: He locked up Wolfman.
Sheriff Don Stahl: He locked up Wolfman.

I asked him if Stahl’s jailers had whipped up on him.

No, he said.

Or denied him food or medicine?


Well, what then?

“They locked me up,” Wolfman said.

I started to explain that that’s what happens to people in jail — they get locked up, but Wolfman cut me off.

“It won’t that way when Sheriff Hunter was sheriff,” he said.

This is an eight-person cell in the old Mecklenburg County jail. Both photos were published last March by The Charlotte Observer.
This is an eight-person cell in the old Mecklenburg County jail. This photos and the one above were published in March by The Charlotte Observer.

Before this new sheriff came along, Wolfman said, he had been a trusty. He had to work a little, mop floors and such, but he pretty much had the run of the jail.

He said a jailer took him to a grocery store every so often to buy candy and snacks which he resold to other inmates at a tidy profit. Sometimes he was allowed to bring back a bottle of wine, too.

As the head trusty, Wolfman said, he got to pick the woman trusties.

“And I didn’t pick nobody that wasn’t friendly to me. You know what I mean?”

I told him I thought I did.

One evening, just before the election, Wolfman said he and a woman trusty took a plate of turkey drumsticks, a bottle of wine, and a box of postcards, and went up on the roof of the jail. He said they spent several hours eating, drinking, and addressing post cards urging voters to “Re-Elect Sheriff Hunter.”

To see The Charlotte Observer’s story about the old jail, published on March 1, go here.

Coming Friday: The Crazy Hiker, Part 1