My Experience with a Virginia Creeper
“It’s nice to see you with pants on.”
I said, standing in the doorway of the room of the guy who had exposed himself to me and pissed on my backpack in the early hours of that same morning. The cops had kicked him out of the hostel and onto the AT, but here he was, back for breakfast. He looked at me with fuzzy confusion and adjusted his sunglasses. “I’m really sorry if I have the wrong guy,” I said evenly, examining him like a bug under a microscope. He looked at his feet and shifted uneasily. I could tell he remembered me from 1AM, telling him sternly in the glow of the kitchen night light, “You need to put on pants and you need to clean this up.” I continued with my accusation, “But I don’t think I do. You got drunk last night, you came into my room, pissed on my backpack and weren’t wearing any underwear. I’d like an apology.”
He squirmed under my glare.
“I don’t know what you want me to apologize for.”
The fingers of my right hand clenched and my bones began to shake with rage. It wasn’t so much about the pack as it was that I hadn’t wanted to see this guy’s junk. It was about his being in my bedroom unexpectedly. It was about his audacity to come back to the hostel. It was about remembering that not all hikers are awesome people.
“I think he’s sorry.” The hostel owner called to me from the kitchen. He was on the phone with the police, trying to get them to drag this guy away again.
But that’s the thing. He wasn’t.
“What do you want from me?” The guy asked the floor meekly.
I wanted my fist to collide with his face.
But some part of my brain, not blinded by rage, reminded me that I had better things to do than spend a few days in jail. I had the trail to get back to, mountains to hike.
I walked out to the backyard where there was tenting. Everyone already knew what happened and three older men asked me if they could do anything to help. Since the cops are on their way again, I babble angrily on until finally I take a breath and say, “My sense of safety is ruptured. Everyone’s been so cool and I’ve never had a problem until now.” One guy didn’t really see my point. He figured he’s a drunk idiot who couldn’t hold his liquor. While I know there’s truth to what he’s said, this episode was a reminder of every well intentioned person’s warning to be careful around guys. On or off the trail. The two other guys get where I’m coming from or at least try to. “I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep after seeing all that either,” one of them says. I thank them for their support and gather my things to get going when a woman walks up to me, eyes wide with concern. She asks me if the pisser really came back and what he looks like. I feel like we’ve fallen into a black hole, and there’s only three people in existence: her, me, and him. We’re trying to look out for each other, we’re trying not to be scared.
For a few days, I can’t shake the discomfort.
I can’t sleep next to guys in a shelter without waking up every few hours and wondering if they’ve just rolled over a little in their sleep or if they’re trying something. I hate that I’ve become this paranoid, that the tightly braided net of trust I had for AT hikers had turned to cheesecloth, but in the immediate wake of this episode, it had.
I’m sharing this story because it happened.
Not because I’m trying to scare folks or slander a hostel. I think it’s important to talk about every aspect, positive and negative, that happens on the AT. Parts of this experience fall into both categories. Unfortunately, there are people who will piss on backpacks at 1am. But the rest of our community is amazing.
Bound by our passion and goodwill, we are strangers who welcome each other at the end of each day, at the end of each mile, with smiling faces and open arms. This is so worth celebrating as much as the folks who are equivalent to blisters, are worth acknowledging and lamenting.
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