I t was one of my father's dreams -- walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. He spoke of it often over the years, because hiking had always been one of his passions.
But he didn't live long enough -- he died of a heart attack at age 53 -- to make his dream come true.
Still, I recall with fondness how he'd talk about making the 2,184-mile hike, starting in Springer Mountain, Ga., and ending at Mount Katahdin in Maine, after passing through 14 states. His intent was to hike it from one end to the other in one hiking season.
That meant starting in March or April, I guess, and hiking, typically for five to seven months, until the hike is completed.
Obviously, anyone attempting such a trek would not be physically able to carry all the food and provisions they'd need to complete a hike of that time and distance. My dad had it all figured out, which shelters or lean-tos he'd sleep in each night, where the water sources might be, what he'd eat, what small towns -- they call them trail towns -- he would visit to purchase supplies and touch base with civilization.
It's fairly common for every thru-hiker to make side trips off the Appalachian Trail every week or two to refill the pantry, so to speak.
Now keep in mind that these plans and conversations with my father took place in the 1960s and 1970s -- he died in 1980.
It was a different time. The most dangerous parts of the Appalachian Trail thru-hike 40-plus years ago were the terrain, human error, snakes and the occasional wild critter -- mice, mosquitoes, black bear and wild boar -- and then only rarely.
Violent crime was almost unheard of. The number of people murdered on the trail since 1974, can be counted on two hands -- nine hikers in six separate incidents. Before 1974? None that anyone knows about.
So my father was not afraid. He had no reason to be.
But times have changed in the last 30-plus years. I'd never attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail today without having a permit to carry a gun for my own protection.
I was reminded of that last Thursday, when a man hiking the Appalachian Trail left the trail and hiked into Gettysburg in the pursuit of supplies. There, he was confronted and pursued by five occupants in a small blue car, was harassed, splashed with a flammable liquid and then lit on fire.
The reason? Apparently they thought he was homeless. To them, that was reason enough.
The hiker, Michael Andrew Kolodziejczyk, 46, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., suffered burns to his face, arms and scalp. He was treated and released from the Gettysburg Hospital.
And then he headed home to Alabama.
It's a memory about Pennsylvania he'll carry with him the rest of his life.
Pennsylvania has 229 miles of hiking trail. The mid-point of the Appalachian Trail is actually just west of York at Pine Grove Furnace State Park -- Fuller and Laurel lakes.
So he'd traveled halfway to his goal, when he was assaulted by a bunch of thugs in one of the most gentle towns Pennsylvania has to offer -- Gettysburg.
There was a time when hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail was seen as a goal worth pursuing. A challenge. Something enjoyable. A time of personal reflection. A few months of peace and quiet in the wilderness. A chance to commune with nature.
And now? Well, it's still a worthy goal, I guess.
But one clearly needs to be careful about it these days, ever cautious, one eye always open. Because one can't assume -- and maybe never could -- the good intentions of perfect strangers.
It's a shame.
Maybe, after taking a little time to recover, Michael Kolodziejczyk will pick up where he left off by coming back to Gettysburg and finishing the second half of his Appalachian Trail walk.
In the meantime, the people of Gettysburg need to do their part by identifying the culprits and turning them in to the police. This is Gettysburg not New York City. You can't tell me there aren't any number of residents who might be aware of five people who roam the streets of Gettysburg in the middle of the night in a small blue car.
Does that not sound familiar to anyone? Surely, it must.
This sort of thing might not have happened in my father's day. And it shouldn't have happened now.
An Appalachian Trail hiker was violently assaulted while in our midst.
He deserved much better than he got.
And if we can make it right, we should.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.