In a previous post, I reported circumstances surrounding the arrest of Appalachian Trail hiker James “Bismarck” Hammes at Trail Days in Damascus, VA.
A recent article in the Mississippi newspaper, “The Dispatch”, reported that a former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker recognized James “Bismarck” Hammes on the TV show “American Greed,” and reported him to the authorities.
After some of my own detective work (the FBI would be proud) I was able to locate the source of the information and was granted an opportunity to talk with “Hiker A” (as I will refer to them) for this exclusive hiker-to-hiker interview.
Appalachian Trials: Do you believe the Bismarck incident has damaged the trail community’s reputation in any way?
Hiker A: “It is irrelevant whether this incident has or has not damaged the trail’s reputation because it has already occurred and is in the past now. Consequently, considering the old adage that any publicity is good publicity, it is up to each of us to use this time to positively influence the public now that their attention is focused on the hiking community.”
AT: Is it incumbent upon us, as hikers, to police our own community?
Hiker A: “Why limit it to just being a hiker? Why not broaden it to being civilians at large? When you were a child you always knew right from wrong but it was up to you to choose your path. Back to being a hiker, the act of right or wrong is evident throughout our journeys [sic] and for the most part hikers do right. And if they do not, it is almost certain that someone nearby will make sure you are aware you are doing wrong. Pack it in. Pack it out. How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said it to someone? Why do we say it? Because if you let people get away with it then eventually they will destroy the goodness for all hikers. Same can be said for all civilians, and ultimately humans. Why do you think there are so many laws in the first place? Could it be because there were not enough good people keeping the bad ones in check?”
AT: You hiked with Bismarck several times, what was your impression of him?
Hiker A: “Obviously not that he was a most wanted fugitive of the FBI. The question that keeps resurfacing is, did he have a choice to act any differently? It is very doubtful. And he was very successful at portraying himself in a manner that kept others from knowing or being suspicious of his past. What if he always acted rude to people instead? What if some Southern boy decided to hit him for being rude to them or their family? Getting arrested is not something a man in his circumstances would like to cause.”
AT: If the situation arose again would you inform the authorities?
Hiker A: “Pretend you are 3 1/2 years old and answer the following question:
There is a man who people say did a lot of bad things and you know where to find him. What is the right thing to do?”
If you’re answer did not include some sort of “telling on him” then there is no hope for this to sound rational because one cannot rationalize with irrational people.”
AT: As a fellow hiker, was there a question in your mind whether to report Bismarck or not?
Hiker A: “The only hesitation was not knowing the effect it would have on his daughter and previous family/families. It was not a hesitation between determining what was the right or wrong thing to do. It is amazing how weak people are inside. Always worried about what others will think of their actions. Always do what is right when it is within your power to do so. Yes, even when nobody is looking. And if your friends frown at you for doing the right thing, then you need to get some__________________________. See you already knew that.”
AT: In your opinion, and IF Bismarck is found guilty, do you believe he was a great conman that fooled us all?
Hiker A: “Courts will determine if he is guilty. People can draw their own conclusions as to how they feel about him. For the most part, not many hikers have any bad things to say about his trail life. However, refer back to #3.”
“The United States of America is quickly fading away due to the lack of righteous social reinforcement, which is due to the lack of people believing they need God. They are wrong. The media blows things up so far out of proportion that the everyday American feels so insignificant they think their actions will have no effect on the overall outcome. They are wrong. If you seek good, good will seek you. There is no limit or restrictions to the power of good. God is good. If you take nothing from this just know that it is easy to be bad and do wrong. But only the strongest can be good and do right. That being said. Happy Hiking! Always strive to do the right thing! And until next time…Be good!”
I want to remain objective and balanced in my write up of the whole incident and therefore I have left my personal thoughts out of the text. I will comment that I received, and read, a lot of conflicting messages regarding the whole incident. Most express their shock and disbelief, which is perfectly understandable. Some believe that he should face the allegations and either be found innocent or pay for his crimes, but, and in some ways disturbingly, I have read how people are saddened he was caught.
I feel, as a community, it is for us to be conscious of the rights and wrongs of society and uphold those values. We enforce Leave No Trace, so if someone were seen painting graffiti on the trail, damaging a tree, or abusing wildlife there would be an outcry! So just because a crime was committed off the trail does not mean we should ignore it. It is for us, the hiking community; to not only make the trail a better place, but also the “real world.” After all, didn’t we decide to spend months in the woods because of some requirement to leave the “real world.” So why not take what we have learned and try make the world we live in a better place?
I wish to thank “Hiker A” for agreeing to answer my questions and for the honest and open responses.