Chuck and the Three Bears

September 11, 2013

 About a week ago, I was on the Appalachian Trail for a two-day, one-night trip. After meeting a shuttle driver at his office in Franklin, North Carolina, we drove to Bearpen Gap, where the AT crosses a Forest Service Road, and dropped my car there. Then he shuttled me around to Deep Gap, about 6.8 miles north of the spot where the AT crosses into North Carolina from Georgia, and also the spot where I’d left off back in July. 

  I stepped onto the trail about 11:00, and started walking. I was alone, a fact that created a little anxiety in my wife, none really in me, and in fact set me free to set my own pace, to walk when I wanted to, and stop when I chose. In about an hour I’d crested Standing Indian Mountain (5400+ feet), and motored on for a bit before stopping for lunch around 1:00. 

  The Trail on this section was and is remarkably good. Pretty wide, and even with the elevation changes (1000 feet at points, first up, then down), it was not really steep or challenging. The weather was warm, the skies were clear with a few dots of clouds. All in all, it was a great day to be out.

  I had plans to stop at the Carter Gap Shelter, which was giving me about an 8.5 mile walk for the day; given my late start, that was just about right. I would have just under six miles to walk on Saturday to make it from the shelter to my car. 

  As I moved along Friday afternoon, I was feeling pretty good, and was starting to think about pushing on beyond the shelter to a campsite a few miles farther along, simply to shorten my day on Saturday. I was evaluating how I was feeling, what my energy level was, how much daylight there was left in the day, how I’d spend time at the shelter if I stopped, etc. I was processing all of this as I came around a slight bend in the trail, when about 20-30 yards in front of me, this head popped up and looked at me. I froze in my tracks. 

  “Huh,” I thought, “someone is out here with their black lab.”

  Then the head turned, looking to it’s right, my left, and I thought, “That’s not a black lab.” As I followed it’s line of sight, standing stock still, my brain caught up with me and I realized I was encountering a black bear. Then, looking where the bear (which probably weighed 80-90 pounds) was looking, I watched as about 250-300 pounds of mama bear rose off a downed tree, looking at the “baby,” then turning to look at me. 

  “One is one thing, two is another,” I was thinking, as I watched the mother look from her baby, past me, and behind her and up. I followed HER line of sight, and saw a third bear, another baby (again, 80-90 pounds) up in a tree. 

  “I’m not a threat to you,” I was thinking. “I’m not between you and one of your babies, so no one needs to get all huffy.” Standing rock steady even still, I was thinking that with a 30 pound pack on my back, I was going to be out-nimbled if things got dicey. I thought about my phone in my pocket, but did not know if I’d have a signal, then I thought about the knife in my pack and realized the bears, if they decided to get aggressive, would likely not be interested in waiting for me to take my pack off and dig the blade out. Which left me with two aluminum hiking sticks. 

  With that, the mama bear spun around to her right, as baby #1 ran towards her and baby #2 slid down the tree. Before I could take another breath, they were hightailing it down the mountain, away from me. I stood there, banging the hiking sticks against each other to make noise, and dug my whistle out of my pocket and gave a few blasts on it. 

  And I stood there for another moment, and thought, “Wow. I did not know that at (almost) 56, my heart could beat 300 times a minute.”

  Then I motored on, blowing my whistle every so often, and occasionally glancing back over my shoulder. About 30 minutes later, I was at the shelter, and given my excitement for the day, decided to call it a day.

  No other excitement the rest of the trip. The three bears were a first for me; I suspect, as I continue whittling away at the AT, this will not be the last. 

  Oh, yeah; sorry, no pictures. there simply was not any time to pull my camera out, and ask the three of them to pose before running away. Maybe the next time?