July 29, 2014

7/29/14. A story from my 1999 hike of the Appalachian Trail:

Early into Virginia I saw my first bear. All I really saw was his rear-end, going as fast as possible to avoid an encounter with a human being. He looked like a black blur. I remember thinking how fortunate I was he was running away from me instead of toward me. Because, just the day before, I saw a poster warning about a bear. It warned there was a bear in the area that was showing no fear of humans and was being a nuisance. Others had been recounting their bear sightings to me, I now I had my own. I had started to worry I might hike the entire “AT” and not see a bear. I couldn’t wait to relate my own bear story.

Later that evening I found the perfect tent site. The wind had been blowing hard for the last two days making it very hard for us to pitch our tents. So I was delighted to find a nice flat spot next to an outcropping of rock, slanted just right and large enough to help protect my tent from the wind. I pitched my small solo tent and made my huge backpack safe from wind and probable rain by lodging it under a ledge of the huge rock. When choosing a tent I chose lightweight over space, so there was no room for my backpack.

I was in for the night, the wind was howling loudly outside but I was snuggled in my sleeping bag studying my topography maps for the next day’s hiking challenge. All of a sudden something lunged into the side of my tent with great force. My reaction was instantaneous. I arched my back, lifted my legs in the air directly level with the intruder and with a fear and adrenaline induced scream I kicked the beast with all my might. The force of my kick pushed it back from the tent. I don’t think I had ever been more frightened in my life. Immediately the beast rammed the side of the tent again. I screamed even louder this time and kicked with everything I had, throwing my whole body into it. Again, I had kicked it back. Had I scared it off, had I killed it? My mind was racing. I thought of the bear I had seen just hours before, and even worse, the bear the poster warned about. I was so frightened, my heart felt as if it would pound itself right out of my chest. I just sat there in an upright position waiting. Waiting and praying that the bear or whatever it was would not attack again. I stayed in that position for hours staring at the spot where it had tried to come into my tent, praying to God I would still be alive come daylight. Sometime near dawn, I finally fell asleep.

When I awoke at daylight, delighted to be yet breathing, I cautiously stepped around the tent to check the tracks and see if there was damage to the tent. And there it was; I had killed it! My backpack was lying there dead. The force of the wind had dislodged it from its perch and the forty-pound backpack had fallen against my tent. When I kicked it the first time it merely hit against the rock and immediately fell back against the tent once more. And evidently, the second kick was so hard the backpack must have bounced off the rock and to the side just enough to hit the ground instead of the tent, and that’s where it died.