Monday, August 25, 2008

Day 2: The Bear Necessities

...of life will come to you.

Breakfast was a hearty serving of oatmeal du jetboil. Broke camp fast and went to talk with a ranger about our planned hike. We got our map, and hit the trail.

About an hour in to the hike, chit-chatting and passing time without being particularly aware of our surroundings, we heard movement off to our right about 500 feet. Big movement. My eyes then registered two brown bear cubs about 3 feet long, 50-75 pounds maybe, jump from at least 10 feet out of a tree onto the forest floor.

Beth had never seen a bear before, and me never from outside the safety of a car. It was quite a jolt, probably for the bears as well, and an immediate awakening for both of us. Coffee is nothing compared to unexpectedly realizing that you are within a stones throw of likely 3 bears. We immediately began clapping and singing songs about friendly bears very loudly. And we were mercifully not torn limb from limb, for which we were very thankful. About 40 minutes later we heard another one farther away to our left dart through the bushes, away from us(resume clapping, singing). And even once more, about 20 minutes later, after just crossing a river, Beth saw one again on the river that heard us and darted away again.

With about 1/2 mile left on our 6 mile hike, we encountered our first person of the hike. When we told him to be aware of bears, he asked us if they had charged us, as if it was no big deal at all. When we said no, he seemed unimpressed, and shrugged it off, as if he gets charged on a weekly basis by 700 pound mammals and thinks nothing of it.
For those of you that don't know, here's the general procedure for not getting killed by bears:
1) Make alot of noise, they do not want to interact with you anymore than you do them, and have very good hearing, so they will go away as soon as they hear you coming. Only real danger is surprising them or getting between cubs & mama.
2)If the bear sees you, stand very tall and try to look big. Do not yell, but you can talk very loudly and calmly. Wait for the bear to lose interest and go away.
3)If the bear is upset with you, they often will charge you. 95% of the time, they will veer off a few feet before reaching you. You must remain still, look big, and basically do nothing except pray to everything you can think of that would listen.
4) If you are actually struck down by the bear, play dead. Hopefully all you have to do is play, not become. There is basically nothing else you can do.

Luckily we never had to go past part 1.

So we made it back alive with some good stories and more or less completely out of things to say since we had just used up about every story we could think of along the 2+ hour hike to make sure that the bears could hear us. We loaded up our faithful steed, Black Betty. Dialed in Asheville, NC Pizza and Brewing Co. , turned the bluegrass up to 11, and headed south.

Traffic was thankfully a thing of the past.

Good beer, good pizza in Asheville, headed into the Great Smoky Mountains Took in the usual cheesy touristy signs that accompany small towns on the outskirts of just about every national park in the country. (MOST PHOTOGRAPHED VIEW EVER HERE! BEST CAMPGROUND IN THE SMOKIES HERE! etc.). Enjoyed the drive and views as the sun slipped over the horizon. Set up camp in Smokemont campgrounds, which was almost empty. Got some firewood from a real friendly and real southern campground employee. Got a good blazing fire going and whipped out the bourbon and the Gee-tar and jammed for awhile until exhaustion once again took over.

1 comment:

lorie said...

Do your mother a favor and stay out of the woods! I was aware of 2 bear attacks, one in Shenandoah and one in Gatlinberg TN that happend just before you left. I kept my fears and motherly advise to myself but I'm sure it's only because of my prayers that you were spared...I don't have unlimited credit in that department so don't push your luck!

Safe travels...love you.
mom