344 Miles and My Bear Encounter
As I dial-in my daily routine, gain strength and endurance, and embrace the warmer temperatures I have started pushing myself with renewed confidence to focus on progressing north.
I am 344 miles into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. That’s either JUST 15% of the Trail, with 1,850 miles remaining. Or, that’s15% of the Trail, with JUST 1,850 miles remaining. Regardless, I can sense the incremental and increasing progression, and it is invigorating.
It has been a delicate balance of seemingly conflicting priorities to hike at a pace to sufficiently embrace each moment, absorb every aspect of each scenic vista, sharing time with all my new found friends and ensuring this trek remains a naturally fun and rewarding adventure.
These are great challenges to juggle, and I’m enjoying the experience. There are many days where the uphill can be exhausting or the cold or rain can be discouraging. But then there are great conversations and mutual encouragement while sitting around a campfire. Or, there is time sitting alone basking in the sun atop a bald mountain looking out at the Southern Appalachians extending in all directions for hundreds of miles.
I have had my share of adventures in these first few hundred miles as well. I decided to camp at Deep Gap. A level spot nestled just off the trail would be my first night camping entirely alone with no one else anywhere in sight.
After dinner, I hung my food bag from a distant tree, which had become routine. Shortly after returning to my tent, I heard rustling from the area where I had hung my food bag.
As I started walking to check on my food bag, I see it swinging and a large black figure swatting at it partially obscured by the trees. I rushed ahead realizing a bear was trying to get my food.
Fortunately my bag was properly hung and had remained out of reach of the swatting limbs of the bear. I threw a couple rocks in the direction of the bear and blew my whistle. I startled the bear sufficiently that she retreated a little as I turned the corner where I had a clear view of not just a sow, but also her cub.
Knowing bears can have more than one cub, I looked around to make sure I was not between the momma and her baby. Then I became concerned with how the bear would react when I retrieved my food bag.
She clearly knew there was food in the bag, and I knew I was two to three days from a town to resupply if I list my food. I was also aware that arm wrestling her for dinner was definitely out of the question.
I kept a close eye on her mannerisms as I lowered my food bag. Showing no sign of aggression, I grabbed it and walked all the way back to the trail, constantly checking that she was not following me. I set the food bag by the trail and circled around to my fully setup tent.
I hastily packed my gear into a jumbled backpack, took down my tent and crammed it in as well. All the while, my head was on a swivel checking for the bear which was now out of view. As I tossed on my backpack and headed back to the trail, I was pleasantly surprised that my food bag was still there, scooped it up and started hiking. Hiking fast as the adrenaline was pushing me.
A little over two miles later, I ran in a couple tents on a hilltop not far off the trail. I likely looked over my shoulder one last time. However, the bear never showed particular interest in me, and made no effort to follow me.
Sharing my bear story as I unpacked and untangled my gear, I quickly setup camp again and safely hung my food bag – again.
Remembering I had attempted to capture some video during the rendezvous with the bear, I was happy to at least discover some evidence from the unnerving encounter.
Tough Section of Trail
The 1.5 miles immediately before I passed the 300 mile mark was the toughest section of the Appalachian Trail to date. With barely a trail, maneuvering along the rocky ridgeline was fun and challenging. The steady downpour of rain not only complicated the task by making the rocks quite slippery, but also blocked all views with the accompanying low clouds and fog.
After a couple days of rain, drying clothes was essentially nonexistent, and it was an unpleasant task to put on those wet and cold clothes each morning. My sleep system remained dry with my waterproof redundancy and made for warm and comfortable rest at night.
Mother Nature was not quite finished as she dumped several hours of a wintry mix of rain, snow and sleet on me coupled with high winds for most of the day.
The cold and rain combination can be demoralizing and physically draining. I have heard it said to never quit on a bad day. Tough days are to be expected and I remain hopeful for warmer temperatures as I push ahead.
Then the sun eventually shined once again and I pushed for Erwin, Tennessee for a day of laundry, cleaning and drying gear, resupply, rest and recovery.
Daily Miles Hiked
From Clingmans Dome to Erwin, TN:
4/25 – 2.8 miles
4/26 – 8.0 miles
4/27 – 12.6 miles
4/28 – 15.5 miles
4/29 – 0 miles
4/30 – 12.0 miles
5/1 – 10.9 miles
5/2 – 13.2 miles
5/3 – 0 miles
5/4 – 12.7 miles
5/5 – 14.1 miles
5/6 – 15.7 miles
5/7 – 15.4 miles
5/8 – 11.4 miles
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