On the Appalacian Trail in ’95, we had a lot of rain. I remember in the Shenendoah National Park we had 11 inches in about 5 days! That’s a lot. The water was bubbling out of the ground like artesan wells all over the place and the trail became a river.
One day we had a lull in the heavy rain and with only a slight drizzle, I got up early that day as I wanted to try to make 20 miles to a pay phone to call my girlfriend as i hadn’t talked to her in a while.
So, I got up about 5:30 AM and after a quick breakfast of a pop tart and cup of strong black coffee, I headed out on my journey of thru-hiking the entire trail. I had started in GA around May 9 that year which is a late start for northbound thru-hikers as we are called. The window to finish in Mt. Katahdin Maine is a short one as the state park up there is closed to camping after Oct 15 every year. So, you don’t have too many days where you are just sleeping in and waiting for the rain to stop.
I remember this particular morning as being slightly foggy with a light drizzle and most people were not out of their sleeping bags yet. I am an early riser usually on the trail.
After hiking about 3 or 4 miles of hiking, i came around a corner in the trail and looked up to see a momma bear with 2 cubs! They were busy eating some kind of berries from a bush next to the trail. So, I immedietly stopped and stepped to the side of the trail and watched the scene. I had about 10 seconds of observing their eating before momma bear looked up and around and spotted me. She immedietly gave a snorting signal that quickly got the 2 cubs attention. They both took off running as fast their little legs would take them. One ran away from me, down the trail the way i was headed but the other one ran straight up the trail towards me. It looked very panicked and still had not spotted me. So Mom followed the little guy and i stepped into the trail so that it would see me.
Finally the cub spotted me and when it was about 25 feet away, it went into the woods and climbed a tree close by. (not out of sight by any means) Mom kept coming.
I had to think quick as I’ve hiked in grizzly bear country and mountain lion country and knew the different things you were “supposed to do”. For griz, you play dead, for mountain lion, you fight back, for black bears, you are supposed to not show fear and not show aggression. So, it’s very difficult to be standing on the trail, by yourself, with a charging bear protecting it’s cubs and not show any fear. Believe me, there was fear going on. I thought this might be the end. I knew i could not outrun it and if i tried, it would catch me and then what? So, I did the proper thing and stood there. I started talking actually almost as soon as that cub came my way. I was saying: “no, not this way” “Go back, wrong way” and things like this.
Once the little one took to the woods, i changed my tune to: “i didn’t do anything” “I’m just hiking, not bothering you”, etc. So, time did seem to slow down and i can remember it vividely. Momma bear kept coming up to me and when it got about 8 feet away, stopped, stood up on her hind legs so now she was about the same height as me and roared. Not a loud roar, sort of an unnatural sound and showing me her teeth. I kept my ground and kept talking and trying not to visably shake.
The babies were both crying by now, especially the 1st one who was separated by the action and had gone the other way. So, to my biggest desire, mom turns around, goes back to all 4’s and runs back up to comfort the 1st one who had also climbed a tree about 75 yards away from us. Whe ran back there fast, and while she did, i backed up slowly as she looked back a few times. Then she charged me again. Again she stopped about 8 feet away, stood up and made a growling or roaring sound while turning her head from side to side. I continued to say i hadn’t done anything and didn’t intend to.
Once again the 1st one was crying hysterically and she dropped back down to go comfort the both of them now. I backed away slowly again. But, she may have taken this as a sign of fear and came at me again for the 3rd time. 8 feet away again she did her dance. The fear was in me big time and I knew i was close to the turn in the trail and needed one more retreat to get out of there fast.
The babies crying overwhelmed her again and i got my chance. I took off running as soon as i was out of her sight and went back about a mile before I stopped and tried to figure out what i was going to do now.
I had to keep going north but there was no way i wanted to have another encounter again. I figured the bear was smart enough to realize that it was an uncomfortable situation for both of us and I really wasn’t at fault. But there was no way i was going back there.
So, i got out my map and saw that the Blue Ridge Parkway was about a half mile away to my right and i just followed my compass and bushwhacked the half mile. Got to the Parkway and followed it until the trail crossed it about 5 or 6 miles north of that point.
Wow, I was still shaking with fear but after a while, i figured i was safe and had one heck of a story to tell my girlfriend when i got to that phone. The next 15 miles went by quickly and i don’t even remember the rest of those miles. But i do remember this: When i got to that phone and called Sandy, after relating my story, she interrupted me to tell me that she had met someone else and that i should forget about her.
Wow, talk about a bad day! And one I will remember for the rest of my life.