A stranger who quickly became a friend

Anna Ruby Falls, mountain man, hiker, friend
Our new friend, Gary. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I had already taken several photos of the beautiful double waterfalls in remote northeastern Georgia. We had no idea the Anna Ruby Falls were even there until a resident of nearby Helen, Georgia encouraged us to go see them.

Little did we know that we would discover more than gorgeous cascading mountain streams on our brief side trip into the highlands of the Chattahoochee National Forest. We encountered much more than natural beauty.

It was an easy but exhilarating walk on the paved path from the parking lot to the base of the roaring waterfalls. A pair of convergent streams formed Anna Ruby. Together Curtis and York Creeks thundered with the melt from a recent heavy snowfall.

As we turned to retreat down the half-mile path, a mountain man appeared on the eastern hillside. Amid the mature hardwoods, dormant laurels, and granite outcroppings, he gingerly descended the slippery path with his walking stick to the base of the falls.

The man had a long, full flowing beard, a partially buzzed head, tattoos, wore a hiker’s kilt, and lugged a loaded backpack. He also had a smile that wouldn’t quit. It was clear this man was serious about his hiking.

Though the day was cool, this middle-aged man was sweated from his strenuous trek across the countryside. He had found the falls more by accident than a destination. He had incorrect directions.

We introduced ourselves, and the friendship was on. Gary shook hands with us. I took his photo with his phone camera. Gary said I was the first person ever to offer to take his photo. I liked the guy already. When I heard the rest of the story, I liked him even more.

Gary had been in the military, was from northern Michigan, had a wife and four children, and served as a minister. He was on a personal quest to hike the Appalachian Trail, or AT as the pros refer to it.

And just like that, Gary was off to find the closest AT trailhead. On our way out to the main road, we spotted our new friend walking. We offered him a ride, and Gary gladly jumped in.

We were glad he had, too. It was six miles, mostly uphill, to where he needed to go. That gave us just enough time to get further acquainted. He lived in Michigan’s cherry country. We lived in Ohio’s Amish country.

As he exited our van, he pulled out a postcard addressed to his family back home and asked us if we would mail it. Why, of course, we would do that. We deposited it at the next post office we came to miles down the mountain.

Imagine our surprise when a few days later Gary’s lovely wife, Nicole, called to thank us for helping her wonderful husband, and for mailing the card. I had given Gary my business card, which is how Nicole got my number.

Nicole asked for our address. Gary wanted to send us something for helping him. I told her that wasn’t necessary, but I complied with her request nonetheless.

A few days later a weighty little box arrived in the mail. I couldn’t wait to open it. Chocolate covered cherries, cherry jam and other cherry goodies filled the gift box. It was quite the surprise.

I’m glad we didn’t hesitate to give Gary a ride that day. I think the friendship will last longer than the chocolate covered cherries did.

Anna Ruby Falls
Gary viewing the falls. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Author: Bruce Stambaugh

Writer, marketer, columnist, author, photographer, birder, walker, hiker, husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, township trustee, converted Anabaptist, community activist, my life is crammed with all things people and nature and wonder. My late father gave me this penchant for giving and getting the most out of life, my late mother the courtesy, kindness, and creativity to see the joy in life. They both taught me to cherish the people I am with. I try and fail and try again.

8 thoughts on “A stranger who quickly became a friend”

  1. I guess that’s how all friends start out as strangers at one time or another. Very nice story.


  2. Hello to you both from Northern Michigan! We are so glad to hear that you enjoyed the goodies we mailed. I am happy to say that my husband Gary is now home from his AT hike after 400 miles, but may return to do another section in the future. It was a fantastic experience for him and because of the people that he met along the way, such as yourselves it was even better! So many times we cross the path of others without ” stopping to smell the roses ” if you will, and miss great opportunities to meet extraordinary or otherwise interesting people. For whatever reason, I believe that he was meant to meet you both and be touched by the kindness of complete strangers. Thank you again for taking the time to help my “mountain man” and giving him the opportunity to connect with even more dynamic people! Take care. Nicole


    1. Thank you so much, Nicole. The feelings are mutual. We’re glad Gary returned safely, and had a great trip. I believe these are the kind of experiences for which we are put on earth. They enrich my life. It was our pleasure to share with Gary in those brief minutes. Perhaps we will meet again.




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