Dangerous Journey
Dangerous Journey
by Mike Bailey
As most of you know, I am an avid hiker. For many years I loved to go hiking in National and State
Forest or Wilderness areas and then with just using my compass and map, strike out off the trails
and go bushwhacking towards some point on my map.

Bushwhacking -– not following an established trail but making your own way or path through
underbrush, thickets, and yes, open almost meadow like areas at times.

This was great fun and when I got my hand-held GPS unit many years ago, the challenge to find a
place became even more fun. All that fun and excitement came to an abrupt end about
four years ago while hiking in North Georgia.

After leaving a named, well traveled trail about a mile away from a popular trail head parking lot
for the trail, I headed cross country -- bushwhacking my way towards a geological formation I had
seen on my Topo map of the area.

About a half mile later, I came out of a dense thicket of Rhododendron bushes, climbed up a 100
foot steep incline and started walking along a ridge line I was searching for. I followed a tiny,
barely discernable animal trail through the tall fern undergrowth that was profusely covering the
top of the ridge and was just relaxing and enjoying the easy going for a change.  

After a few minutes of just ambling along, I started getting an uneasy feeling. Five minutes later,
the hair on the back of my neck stood up and my old black ops military training senses kicked into
high gear. All my instincts told me something was wrong -- very wrong near me.

I was having flashbacks to a time long ago when I was on a special op in a place eerily familiar to
this lonely ridge. Back then, it was along a frozen ridge on the edge of an Arctic boreal forest.
Not only did the actual landscape seem similar -- lush undergrowth, tall trees, etc. -- but most of
all, it was the total absence of sound that made it so eerie.  

Just as then, the place where I now walked was dead quiet. Ten minutes ago, the forest seemed
alive with sounds -- all perfectly normal for this time of the year. I slowed my pace and
immediately began scanning the entire perimeter around me with a whole new frame of mind in
motion. I looked not only from side to side and above me, but below my waist line at the ground
level as well.

Suddenly, my inner sensory alarm went full alert and I immediately froze in my tracks, slowly
crouched down and did a very slow scan all the way around me. My heart was pounding like the
bass drum at a high school football pep rally -- boom, boom, boom -- the sound was almost
deafening in my ears.

Then I saw it. Two feet -- TWO FEET -- in front of me was a tiny wire (fishing line size) stretched
across the tiny trail headed towards the large clearing (meadow) that I was headed for.

I knew immediately that it was a booby trap trip wire -- most likely wired to some sort of device
to either kill or cripple anyone who might stumble along this way and trip it.

Why none of the animals, like deer, in the area had not tripped it was (and still is) a mystery to me.
Maybe they too sensed it was bad and cautiously jumped over it.

Anyway, I did another 360 degree scan all around me while paying particular close scrutiny to the
ground around me. All seemed clear so I cautiously stood back up and retreated about 10 feet back
on the trail I had come on. Since I was on a ridge line and had a fairly good view of the sky around
me through the thinned out vegetation, I had no trouble marking the exact GPS coordinates of my
location with my new GPS unit.  

After high-tailing it back to the main named trail, and being extra careful of the path in front of
me at all times, I used my cell phone (just barely had a signal here -- none where the trip wire was)
to contact the authorities about what I had seen.

As soon as I said trip wire, the forest ranger’s office immediately transferred me to some federal
office and I gave my story all over again. As I talked, I made my way back to the parking lot at the
trail head.

Two hours later, four people showed up at the parking lot where I was waiting for them. I say
people but in actuality, they were four very heavy armed men in full bore SWAT gear who looked
ready to take on anything or anybody.

My GPS unit has a Man Overboard function on it and if you select a point that you have previously
marked, the GPS unit will take (steer) you directly to it. Two of the officers that showed up also
had handheld GPS devices and they keyed into their units the coordinates stored in my unit for
where the trip wire was located.

At first, they did not want me to go back with them but I assured them that one, I was fully
trained to do it, two, I was also armed (I never hike without my .45), and three, since I knew it
was a booby trapped trail, I could safely lead them the way I went originally to the trip wire I
had located.

The leader of their group, a man about 50 years old but built like a NFL linebacker, just looked at
me like he was waiting on me to fold my tent and run. Seeing I was staring at him eye to eye and not
wavering in my determination to go back, he finally smiled and said, "Grunt it out, sir, we'll follow."
I knew right then that this guy had done the time and was a seasoned veteran on many ops -- both
in the military and law enforcement since then.

Within an hour, we were back at the ridge line. Ordered (politely asked) to stay back with the
other officers, I watched two men cautiously make their way towards the trip wire. Finding it, they
then very carefully screened the area with some sort of hand held devices (metal detectors?) until
one of them raised his hand with the closed fist signal to NOT move.

He had found the device. Located about four feet away in the ferns and covered with dead straw,
was a home made 12-gauge shotgun -- an 18-inch long piece of 1-inch galvanized water pipe with a
screw cap on the firing end that held some sort of spring loaded firing pin that was released when
the trip wire was activated.

The pipe/barrel device was cemented into one of the holes in a 16-inch cement cinder block with all
the other holes in the block filled with cement to provide a sturdy shooting platform.  Lying on its
side, the pipe barrel was raised up about 6 inches off the ground, with a slight tilting up of the
block on the ground to make the aim of the shot be upwards to ankle/calf height on a person.

The “ankle killer” as one of the men called it, was loaded with a single 12-gauge 00 buckshot shell.
He told me that if I had tripped the wire, the blast would have effectively blown my right foot off
at the ankle.  Whoever made this device had no intention of just scaring someone away. The intent
was to inflict major bodily harm to an intruder into their area.

Bottom line -- the officials discovered a large marijuana planting about 500 feet away in a clearing.
The plants were planted all along the edge of the meadow -- right next to the tree line. This was
done so that it would make it very hard to spot the plants growing (using different kinds of camera
imagery) from aerial observation or photography.    

The booby trap was set up to protect the plants and to possibly scare off (maim/kill) any would be
poachers of their harvest. This thing of illegal marijuana planting on State or Federal land is
becoming quite popular.

The growers have nothing to loose (property wise) if they get caught growing it. Since it is State
or Federal property, like a National Forest or Wilderness Area, there is nothing suspicious about
seeing folks hiking into the woods, including those with large backpacks  -- “Why, we’re just going
on an overnight backpacking camping trip!”

The man who found the device and later showed it to me told me it was a good thing I had paid
attention to someone in my military training a long time ago about recognizing danger or sensing it.
Earlier I had told him a lot of this reminded me of some of the specialized schools I had attended
and some real live areas that I had been actively involved with.

He also said there were probably other devices around this area to provide protection for all
approaches. I took him at his word as I had no desire to see if I could help him located them. If
others were found, it was after I left the area and had no knowledge of it.

With three of the men left at the site to continue their search and investigation, the leader and I
made our way back to the parking lot. We exchanged a few war stories and talked about how
dangerous it was becoming on State and National Forest lands -- especially in off-trail places like
where I had ventured off to.

Back at the parking lot, we said our goodbyes and as he ducked into his mobile command vehicle
(looked like a Hummer on steroids), I got in my truck and headed for home. As you can imagine, it
took me a while to let the old body get back into a normal sinus rhythm condition. As the miles
slipped pass me, I though long and hard about how lucky I was and had been just a few hours
earlier.  I was amazed that even after 40 years, my ability to recognize and/or sense danger was
still in top form.    

I have never ventured off the beaten path since that day (except to come straight down off the
top of Cowpen Mountain in the Cohutta Wilderness Area to the main East Cowpen Trail below). I
trust this area, have hiked all around it for years and the area is too well traveled for the above
mentioned scenario to take place. That sort of thing is always WELL off the beaten trails -- on
purpose -- to prevent (hopefully) even a chance finding of their locations.

I apologize for being vague with trail and place names, etc., but I was asked at the time to keep
the location of the area of the marijuana field and incident site confidential.

In closing, I would like to give a special thank you to a battle harden special ops instructor for the
lessons I received those weeks so long ago on “sensing your path into and out of op areas, especially
when the way appears to be totally open and safe.”

"Thanks Gunnie, mission accomplished!"
. . . The End . . .
Dangerous Journey:
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"Sometimes fear is our friend. It is one of those things in life that slaps you in the face to get
your immediate attention. It has the authority to override any and all other emotions or events
that were in play when the alarm was sounded. When heeded, it can save your life."  
Mike Bailey, 2010