September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Story:On the morning of Sept. 9, 2001, my father and I embarked on a week-long backpacking trip along the Mid State Trail in central Pennsylvania. By Tuesday morning, 9/11, we had hiked 30-some miles, our food reserves were fine, and we were planning to continue at least until Thursday afternoon. We hadn't seen another person in over two days. At around 9 am, about the time the first planes hit the World Trade Center, a bizarre omen appeared to us: a six-foot black snake appeared in the middle of our path. After a few well-tossed pebbles, the snake departed, and we continued. Still, we had absolutely no inkling that anything beyond our trail was even remotely out of the ordinary.

At 2pm, after a difficult ascent and then descent of some particularly rocky pinnacles in the Rothrock State Forest, we arrived at Raymond B. Winter State Park, where we decided to stop for an hour or so to catch our breath and eat some lunch. Soon after entering the park, we encountered a road crew doing some work, and we were stopped by the project foreman. He asked us how long we had been hiking, and after we replied a few days, he said, "so I guess you haven't heard what happened. Government's been shut down." Dad, thinking it was some budget impasse or other nonsense, said, "Good, it's about time." The foreman said, "no, you don't understand. World Trade Center's been destroyed, the Pentagon's been hit, they're talking about something else out near Pittsburgh, we're under attack."

As we walked away, I asked Dad, "you think he's yanking our chain? You think he tells this to all the guys who walk out of the woods looking like us?" Dad said, "I dunno, but I suspect he's probably full of shit." As we walked on, we discussed the possibility that it was real, and who was to blame. I mentioned a name I had heard, Osama-someone, but I also brought up the fact that it might be someone home-grown, an extraordinarily successful Timothy McVeigh. Dad agreed, but said that the first thing we should do is find a pay phone and call my mother, who was at home about 40 miles away.

All lines to my home town in Pennsylvania were busy, but I managed to get through to my office. My office was then, and is now, in Alexandria, Virginia, about three miles from the Pentagon. My receptionist told me that, yes, this had all really happened, and that Alexandria was like a ghost town. The facts were confirmed by a park ranger who was closing up the park office, despite the fact that it was the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. All state offices had been closed.

Still not remotely comprehending what had happened, Dad and I discussed continuing the hike, and I even took some pictures of hummingbirds buzzing around a bird feeder at the park office. But when we finally reached my mother, she said, "you aren't going anywhere. I'm coming to pick you up."

I guess the enormity of it all didn't come home to me until I actually saw the images on the news that night at my mom's house. I just kept thinking, "this isn't real. This is something out of a movie."

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