The hikers who embark on the Appalachian Trail are less a community than an extended family, an outdoorsy hive that trades gossip, commiserates, treats blisters and shares provisions along 3500km of narrow dirt path stretching from Georgia to Maine.

So word spread quickly last month after a disheveled 30-year-old man appeared on the trail in North Carolina, acting erratically and clad in a heavy winter coat and knit cap instead of the usual shorts and T-shirt.

Hikers filled log books along the trail with cautions after the man was arrested April 25 at the Tennessee-North Carolina border, apparently after threatening