WANTED on the Appalachian Trail
It always comes as a shock when someone you have met and spent time with ends up being one of FBI’s Most Wanted. James Hammes, or as I knew him, Bismarck, was arrested at Trail Days this past weekend. According to various reports, he laundered millions of dollars from the company he worked at in Kentucky. He was featured on an American Greed episode here.
Bismarck hiked with his girlfriend Hopper and I met them in 2012. They were veterans of the trail – meaning they had hiked it many times before. I met them on my very first day at Springer Mountain, and they offered such great advice on making it through.
As always, we leap-frogged each other, meaning we ran into each other some days and some days we didn’t. They hung out with me when I was traveling with the Wolfpack, but they weren’t a part of our occasionally rowdy group. However, whenever I saw the two it was always a joyous occasion. We would talk about people, life, larger existential conversations that I didn’t have with most thru-hikers.
When Trail Days approached, I was about 100 miles ahead of Damascus and as luck would have it, so were Bismarck and Hopper. We rented a car with two other hikers and drove down to Trail Days, at the end we drove back. I ran into them later on when I was pulling a high mile day, with the goal of meeting someone at a road crossing by 3pm. Going over 3 miles an hour, I stumbled upon them 2 miles from the road crossing. I was exhausted, my feet were killing me, and Bismarck and Hopper rooted me on. They gave me a solid pep talk and I was on my way.
Last year, I screened Hard Way Home at Trail Days and they were one of the few that I knew that came to see the film. They enjoyed it and chatted with me afterwards. I was not surprised at all that they were hiking it again, they were “lifers” – people that lived on the trail.
I suppose this situation can reinforce the idea that we never truly know people, and I am still finding it hard to believe that Bismarck could have done something like this. I agree with this Appalachian Trials writer’s article – it is very easy to hide on the A.T. I ran into people that were obviously skirting the law, trying desperately to be considered a thru-hiker, but sticking out like a sore thumb. Most would avoid those kind of people. However, what makes the trail community such a wonderful place is that you meet complete strangers and share an immediate trust because of the kind of community you are a part of. You don’t know their story, and sometimes you don’t ask. This also makes it a place where people can disappear. And so, James Hammes did.