My hiking buddy through the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine was Racewalker, a gentleman of my age who possessed a great deal of grit and determination to finish the trail. Racewalker and I really enjoyed the trail through the White Mountains and we were able to stay at several of the huts along the Presidential range. We stopped at the last hut headed north, Guyot Hut, for a little soup and a short rest.
As we entered the hut, we met a middle-aged couple that were thru-hiking the trail as well. The gentleman had a long salt and pepper beard (more pepper than salt) with a friendly smile and rather gregarious personality. We exchanged the normal thru-hiker conversation regarding weather, mileage goal for the day and possible destination for the night. He introduced himself as Bismarck and his companion (I thought probably his wife) was Hopper. She was quiet and said little but smiled a lot.
Six days later, Racewalker and I were staying at a wonderful hostel called The Cabin outside of Andover, Maine. While we were there Bismarck and Hopper arrived. The owners of The Cabin knew them well and raved about Bismarck’s help last year in fixing up the hostel and helping around the grounds. This was my last encounter with the couple. However, several months after my hike was complete, I saw Bismarck’s photo on the internet as a captured fugitive that had been running from the FBI for some six years.
Since 2009, Bismarck, a.k.a James Hammes, has been hunted, not by the black bear of the Smokey’s, but by the FBI for allegedly embezzling over $8 million dollars from a Pepsi bottling plant between 1998 and 2009. He was featured on America’s Most Wanted and American Greed: The Fugitives. On May 16, 2015 Bismarck was arrested by agents at the Montgomery Homestead Bed and Breakfast located in Damascus, Virginia. The small town of Damascus (population 800) overflows with hikers during the annual festival called Trail Days.
I drove to the base of Katahdin for my final day on the Appalachian Trail from Millinocket, Maine, with three fellow thru-hikers. I celebrated with them on the top of the mountain, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail on September 24, 2014. Several months later one of those three hikers was watching a rerun of American Greed and recognized James Hammes as being underneath the beard of “Bismarck.” A communication from the hiker to the FBI and the rest is history. Bismarck pled not guilty and a September trial is scheduled – one that I will watch with great interest. With trail names, long beards, backpack, and tents, one never knows who your fellow hikers are in “real life.”