A few years back my girlfriend and I, having hiked several other parts of the Appalachian trail, decided we wanted to give the southern portion of Virginia’s trail a shot. It is about 166 miles long and runs through George Washington and Jefferson National Forests from Roanoke County to Pearisburg in Giles County. This is definitely one of the more remote and less traveled parts of the trail. Which is exactly what we were looking for.
We gathered our gear and made our way to the start of the Virginia Creeper Trail to begin our journey. We had planned our journey to end at Damascus and figured that by the time we got there we would be more than ready to get home to our own beds.
It was early October and the changing of the leaves and colors were amazing. The air was crisp and cool. Perfect hiking weather with beautiful scenery. The majority of the trip was pretty uneventful. Just your typical hike. But, our last couple of nights is where things got weird..
On this portion of the trail, you are supposed to camp on the trail or a designated shelter. We didn’t really want to run into other people and didn’t want anyone coming up on us in the middle of the night. We decided to ignore those suggestions and find our own little spot off the trail. A little searching around and we found a spot a little ways off the trail in the middle of a small clearing. It was perfect. We set up camp, cooked some food, talked for a while then snuggled up and went to sleep for the night.
Somewhere around 2 am I was awoke by my girlfriend shaking me awake telling me “Get your gun! Someone is outside walking around our tent!”. She informed me that she woke up to what sounded like someone right outside the tent running a knife or something along the side while circling us. When hiking I carry a 1911 and a Judge with me. You never know exactly who or what you might run into when on such a long hike in a remote location. I got the Judge out of my pack and then we sat silently listening for any sounds.
A few minutes of nothing but the breeze blowing through the trees and then I heard it.. SNAP CRUNCH SNAP….someone…or something walking in the woods behind our tent. I got the flashlight and silently made my way out of the tent. Our fire had went out so it was nearly pitch black. Illuminated by only the dim glow of the October moon. I told my girlfriend to stay put while I checked it out. I didn’t flick the flashlight on right away so as to not give away that I was out of the tent and have it become a shining beacon of my location. Instead, I waited to hear more noises. After a few minutes SNAP CRUNCH CRACK…it sounded like it was bipedal based on the way the steps were paced. I turned on the flash light and flooded the area with light. I thought I saw someone move behind a tree. I yelled out and told them to go away and that I was armed. I kept the light on the area with my gun drawn and slowly approached towards the area where I thought I saw the figure. Then, from my right I hear what sounds like someone running away through the woods. I spin and face my light that way, and then from the original spot hear who or whatever was there take off into the woods. There’s no way I am giving chase, so I return to the campsite.
I tell my girlfriend about what happened and I end up sitting guard outside the tent, in the darkness until daybreak.
In the morning, I looked around a bit for signs of who or whatever it was and I discovered a bootprint in some soft moist dirt not far from our tent. It wasn’t mine and it wasn’t my girls. This freaked me out as it confirmed that someone, perhaps more than one, was skulking around our tent in the dark. I kept it to myself because I didn’t want to freak my girl out anymore than she already was. At this point we were pretty deep in and still had 2 days left. That day we walked a little faster than normal and covered as much ground as possible.
When it came time to setup camp, I found a spot near a cliff where we could place the tent in a small overhang and prevent anyone from coming up behind us. The whole day up to this point I had a feeling we were being followed. I had no confirmation of this as I hadn’t seen or heard anyone else, but it was just a gut feeling. We set up camp and made some food, then retreated to the tent. I gave my girl the 1911 and I kept the judge right next to me and I assured her that IF I slept at all…it would be with one eye open. After a while, she drifted off to sleep and I stayed awake listening to the sounds of the woods at night.
I was awake for a few hours, just waiting to see if anything was going to happen. At some point I guess my exhaustion caught up with me and I drifted off. I awoke sometime later to what sounded like someone going through our stuff outside the tent. I grabbed my gun and woke my girlfriend shushing her to be quite. From the faint glow of the fire I could see someones silhouette against the tent. There was really someone out there. I yelled out to them something along the lines of “WE ARE ARMED, GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” they dropped what they were doing and bolted. I came out of the tent, gun drawn and ready to shoot someone. Our stuff was strewn all about. They had rummaged through quite a bit of our stuff. I walked to the edge of the woods in the direction whoever was out there had fled. There was a creek nearby and i walked to the edge, where there was a small trail running along side it. Down the creek I could see a light, it looked like a lantern the way it flickered. Then I saw 3 more emerge from the other side of the woods.
I told my girlfriend to start packing up whatever she could and that we were leaving, now. We packed up everything of value. Left the tent and a few other items and headed back onto the trail, in the middle of the night. I kept hearing people talking off in the woods and hearing branches snap for quite some ways. I kept looking behind us every few seconds to make sure nobody was coming up on us. It was completely nerve wracking. If something happened, we were still a long ways from anywhere and quite literally on our own, since we hadn’t seen another hiker the entire time we had been out there. I really felt we were in serious danger.
We had been walking for quite some time when I heard something in the woods behind us. As we rounded a corner I turned around and saw someone step out onto the trail and just stand there watching us. It was just as the sun was coming up and barely any light, I couldn’t make out any features..just the silhouette. I stopped and looked at them for a sec and asked them who they were and what they wanted, they just stood there silently, watching us and then turned and walked back into the woods.
We picked up the pace and kept going, looking back every so often. We didn’t see them again. But my gut told me they were still there for quite a ways.
We eventually reached the end of the trail and got to where we had parked my girlfriends car, extremely exhausted. We made it out of the Virginia woods without becoming a meal for a clan of cannibalistic inbred hillbillies, which is what I pictured happening in my head the whole time.
I have no idea who they were, or what they wanted. Maybe it was someone just messing with us? Maybe it really was a clan of deformed hillbillies who were hunting us. I will never know, because I will not be returning to find out.
Producer’s note: this story was excerpted from Reddit user SixStringShadows‘s account of what happened.