Post #505 A Bear in the Woods

September 8, 2016 at 12:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #505 A Bear in the Woods

I also refer to this story as the time an apple might have saved my life.

In my youth, about a hundred years ago, one of my favorite activities was hiking and backpacking.  This continued on into my adulthood, and I still keep it up, although on a MUCH more scaled down version than I used to.  The time of this incident, I was at the height of my hiking infatuation and spent as much time on the trail as possible.  I had all the “right” equipment, and went out well-equipped.  Hell, I even drove a Jeep Wrangler, the Jeep Jeep,  with all the doors off.

One weekend, I wanted to hike to one of my favorite overlooks where the Shenandoah River runs into the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry.  I’ve hiked this trail many times, and never failed to be awestruck.  I wanted to go out on a Sunday morning and spend about an hour at the overlook.  It was fall, the trees were going to be spectacular, but I hoped there wouldn’t be many people.

I was in luck because it turned out to be a cool, drizzly, gray kinda day.  I put together my favorite trail lunch and slid it into my day pack.  I owned four different packs at the time, each one totally necessary to whatever kind of hiking I planned to do.  Now I own one.  It works out well.

Food on the trail is vitally important.  Anything can happen when you’re hiking, and having the right food with you can ultimately save your life.  I knew one seasoned hiker who kept 2 cups of dried dog food in a zip lock baggie in his pack at all times.  His reason was he would never be tempted to eat it so it would always be available, and in an emergency, it would keep him alive since it kept his dogs alive and well nourished.  I never went that far, but I did try to tailor my meals to the activity.  Since I was only going to be out for a few hours according to the plan, I only packed lightly.  My favorite trail lunch is two PBJs, homemade cookies, a banana, and a glass of wine.  (I used to have a bota bag specially for wine and nothing else.)  I threw in a couple of ripe apples as an afterthought.  I was pretty sure they’d be coming home with me, but just in case I was still hungry after the hike, they’d make a nice snack at the end of the hike.

bota-bag

My ex-wife was supposed to go along, but bailed at the last moment because of the drizzle.  She didn’t want to hike over slick rocks, or be out in the cool temps when she could be home relaxing in the warm apartment.  So off I went to commune with nature.

This particular hike is pretty rigorous.  I was first told about it by a friend who made one of the roughest sketches of how to get to the trail head as any I’ve ever seen.  How I managed to find it amazes and amuses me still today.  I’ve taken several people there and everyone is staggered by the hike, but impressed by the overlook.  Partner/Spouse often refers to it as the one where you hike uphill both ways.

It’s kind of true.  You really are just climbing a mountain.  The trail doesn’t have many switchbacks, but the first one gives you a wonderful view of the Potomac River.  It’s pretty steep.  I tend to hike as fast as I walk, so by the time I get there, I’m usually a little winded so it makes a good place to take a break.  Then you continue up the mountain toward the interior, away from the river.  After 45 minutes, you arrive at a fork in the trail.  The left takes you further up the mountain.  The right takes you to the overlook, if you know it’s there.  I take the right trail, always.  You continue to climb until the mountain turns rocky then follow the blazes to get to the trail down to the overlook.  It’s a spectacular view.  When you return, you must climb up the overlook trail to the main trail before heading back down the mountain.  Hence the “uphill both ways” comments.  It’s rocky and not well blazed, but it’s hard to get lost once you find the turn off.  There are some Civil War battlements, etc. you can view along the way.

I was lucky this day.  There was no one on the trail.  I was breaking spider webs across the trail letting me know I was the first person that day.  I took some pictures of some streams and some leaves, but mostly kept hiking till I arrived at the overlook.  Score!  No one there!  I could enjoy the peace and quiet by myself.  Sometimes, it’s so crowded that it’s standing room only.  So I carefully made my way over the slick rocks to the edge where I could sit, think, eat, watch, swing my legs, and just enjoy the day.  I sat for about a half hour.  I wanted to write in my journal but it was much too wet for that.

Finally, I decided to pull out my lunch.  There’s something deeply satisfying about biting into a PBJ and tasting the earthiness of the peanuts combined with the sweetness of the grape jelly.  Even the bread adds it own particular squishiness to the overall impact.  And I had two of them!  I sipped my glass of wine, but wasn’t very interested in it so I tossed it over the side.  A mistake a discovered in a few minutes.  Water was fine for my lunch.  I ate the banana, setting skin to the side.  Another mistake, along with setting the apples to the side.  I’m a firm believer in Pack it In, Pack it Out so I didn’t just toss my trash away.  But I did leave everything setting beside me as I continued to watch the rivers flow by, wondering about fish and ducks, and thinking about a story I wanted to start working on soon.

Then I heard a snuffle.  I thought someone else was visiting the overlook and brought their dog, so I turned about to greet them, and froze.

There was a small Black Bear standing on the trail between me and the main trail.

maryland-black-bear

It was a small bear, maybe an adolescent, certainly not as big as an adult bear.  It was looking around trying to find something, but ignoring me completely.  I ran through everything I knew about black bears, admittedly very little.  And I quickly reviewed my options.  I could try to climb down the overlook over a hundred feet.  I was experienced at rock climbing so I figured I’d do okay.  The rocks were slick with rain so the possibility of falling was very real.  I could see my Jeep parked just a few yards away from the overlook so I figured if I fell, I’d be able to crawl to my Jeep and get help (this was in the days before cell phones.)  I also figured I might be able to outflank the bear by climbing over rocks to an alternate trail several yards away.  Slipping was a real possibility there, too.

Then I noticed the bear’s nostrils were flaring.  He was sniffing something.  I was sweating a bit, but I wasn’t redolent of anything except peanut butter, but maybe  apples!!

macintosh-apples

The bear was smelling the ripe apples, and probably the banana skin, and likely the wine I’d tossed over the side of the overlook.  I’d violated one of the primary rules in hiking by making myself a “visible” target though scents.  Black bears have good eye sight, but even better  scent sight.  I grabbed the apples and gently tossed them to the side with minimal movement, then did the same with banana skin.  When the bear started to move toward them, I grabbed my pack and started running, fast!  I was certain that critter was right behind me, loping along and laughing at me as he caught up to me with no effort.  I don’t think my feet touched the ground more than a dozen times as I learned to fly down the mountain that day.

When I finally reached my Jeep and pulled away, I glanced up and saw a small black head moving around the rocks I’d just been sitting on.  Even though there was over a hundred feet separating us, I thought I could see him lapping the rocks.  Probably drinking the wine I’d tossed out.

I drove home, full of adrenaline, and ecstatic that I’d managed to escape the bear.  About three hundred feet before my turn off home, a siren and flashing lights made me pull over.  Damn!  Another bear, but probably one I couldn’t out-maneuver.  He was a young guy, younger than me, and somehow we got to talking about my bear.  I had him laughing as I finished my story, telling him I was driving fast because I was certain that bear was still chasing me.  We both finished laughing.

He gave me the ticket, anyway.

But I’m certain those apples saved my life.

Enjoy

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