Hiking

A anonymous wanderer and the case that the web cannot crack

Posted by Jeff on Nov 3, 2020 @ 6:55 am in Hiking News | 0 comments | Last change: November 2nd, 2020

As early as April 2017, a man began hiking in a state park north of New York City. He wanted to get away, maybe something and maybe everything. He didn’t bring a phone; He didn’t bring a credit card. He didn’t even really bring a name. At least he didn’t tell anyone he met what it was.

He brought a huge rucksack with him, which his fellow hikers thought was much too heavy for his trip. And he brought a notebook in which he scribbled notes about Screeps, an online programming game. The Appalachian Trail goes through the area, and it went south, moving slowly but steadily through Pennsylvania and Maryland. He told people he’d met along the way that he’d worked in the tech industry and wanted to detox from the digital world.

Hikers sometimes acquire path names, pseudonyms that they use deep in the forest. At first he was “denim” because he started his hike in jeans. Later it became “Mostly Harmless”, as he described himself one night around the campfire. Or maybe it was a reference to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. At the beginning of the series, a character discovers that the earth is defined by a single word in the instructions: harmless. Another character researches for 15 years and then adds the adverb. The earth is now “mostly harmless”.

By the summer the hiker was in Virginia, walking about a hundred miles with a 66-year-old woman who went by the path name Obsidian. She taught him how to make a fire and he told her he was dying to see a bear. On December 1st, Mostly Harmless made it to North Georgia, where he stopped at a store called Mountain Crossings.

That day a skilled hiker named Matt Mason was working and the two men started talking. Most of the time Harmless said he wanted to find a way down to the Florida Keys. Mason told him about a route and a map that he could download to his cell phone. “I don’t have a phone,” Harmless replied. Mason describes the moment and remembers thinking, “Oh, this guy is great.” Everyone who goes into the forest is trying to get away from something.

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