Now it’s my time to fly solo. Sure, people told me it’s a bad idea to hike alone. The books on hiking advise: never hike by yourself. Even so, something inside demands that I hike Pennsylvania by myself, starting at the southern border and going diagonally across the state to where the A.T. leaves Pennsylvania. At this time of year, most thru-hikers are still hundreds of miles south—it is unlikely there will be people around, and I’ll be alone for days at a time.

Many people said to me, “Al, are you afraid to be by yourself?” Some asked, “Are you taking a pistol?”

. . . . Are dangerous people out there? How dangerous can it be?

Through a Pennsylvania pine and oak forest, the A.T. comes to a blue blazed trail leading to an older log shelter with a spring behind it. Few hikers stop at the Thelma Marks Shelter because of a disaster that happened on September 13, 1990.

Molly LaRue, twenty-five years old, was outgoing, an artist. For three months she had been hiking the Appalachian Trail with her boyfriend, Geoff Hood. He was twenty-six years old, quiet, an admirer of Gandhi. They didn’t know they were spending the last hours of their lives in this shelter.

As a husband and wife hiked up to the Thelma Marks Shelter, they knew something was wrong. Food and equipment were thrown around…In the shelter were two dead hikers.

Molly was bound, raped, and repeatedly stabbed in the neck and upper back. A boot mark on her left elbow and a rope around her neck are evidence she had been tortured. Molly died approximately fifteen minutes after the knife went into her neck.

Geoff had suffered multiple .22 caliber gunshots in the head, back, and side. Geoff died five to eight minutes after being shot.

The killer covered their bodies with their sleeping bags and left them in that Appalachian Trail shelter. The search was on for the killer.

Hikers didn’t know they shared the Appalachian Trail with a man under extreme mental or emotional disturbance—a murderer who was also sought by the F.B.I. in connection with slashing a woman’s throat in Florida. F.B.I. records revealed that the Florida woman’s naked body was found next to an alligator infested swamp near Paul Crews’ makeshift home. In the dead woman’s car trunk were Crews’ bloody clothes and knife.

Hikers on the trail had noticed Paul Crews carrying Molly and Geoff’s belongings. This transient had Geoff’s unusual green and purple backpack and wore Geoff’s hiking boots. Eight days after their murders, the police found and arrested Paul Crews. He had the dead hikers’ gear and a .22 caliber revolver and a long knife. This drifter fit the description of a man seen by witnesses near the Appalachian Trail murder scene. Crews’ gun had been used to kill Geoff; traces of blood on the knife matched Molly’s blood type.

Crews was tried and convicted of murdering Molly and Geoff, and he received two consecutive death sentences.

According to the Keystone Trail Association, “This rape and double murder was the worst crime ever recorded on the AT in Pennsylvania.”

Hikers avoided the Thelma Marks log lean-to, a reminder of gruesome crimes committed on the same floor where hikers were expected to sleep. So it was, in September 2000, men bearing axes dismantled the old fated refuge and replaced it with a new Cove Mountain Shelter.