Ever since I’ve started this journey in training for my thru hike I’ve wondered when I would see a black bear! It was beginning to feel like it would never happen!
Well, it’s finally happened! I’m a real hiker now! On August 4 at 4:24pm, the elusive black bear has been spotted! Then as a bonus on August 5 at 12:03pm, I saw it’s bigger brother!
Having a few more trails to knock out for the Allegany 18 Challenge, I headed to Allegany State Park on a Sunday morning. I had packed my tent and pack for sleeping at a lean-to along the North Country Trail.
The first trail of the day I decided on was the Flagg trail. This trail is about 3 miles point to point. The trail head is across from the Quaker Lake Bath House so I parked in that parking lot and walked across the road. There is a little hill with a road and a gate that has a sign that says “Road Closed” so I went around the gate and hiked up a little hill. I didn’t see any sign of the trail or trail markers and then I heard the most frightening sound; a pack of coyotes yipping and barking. I didn’t waste anytime running back to my car in fear. Then I remembered that I won’t be able to run to my car when I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. That I have to figure out what to do as the situation arises, I can’t just run away. So, I gathered my fears and put them behind me. I walked back up the little hill off the road and saw the real entrance to the Flagg trail with markers on the trees and everything! (Do not go past the gate! The trail is to the right!)
I did hear the coyotes again but this time I stood still, I listened until they stopped, then I kept right on going. My heart was in my throat, but it was a great first time experience to have now, rather than on the Appalachian Trail. The Challenge marker was at about half way along the trail. There were a few other people on the trail as it seems pretty popular with the Cain Hollow campground at one end and the Quaker Lake Beach on the other.
Having had the success of the morning hike I couldn’t be stopped. The Bear Caves trail was a trail I had partially completed in the past, actually I had never gone beyond the large boulders and rocks that gave the Bear Caves trail its name. The trail itself is about 4 miles from point to point. Not having a partner with a car I had decided to hike up to the summit of Mt. Seneca, find the marker for the Allegany 18 Challenge then hike back the way I came back to my car. It was a solid plan that failed.
As I climbed Mt. Seneca I think I died three times. I’m still far from being in great shape and my stamina was low. Recently, I decided to try intermittent fasting to help me lose weight. That morning I had not had breakfast and already hiked three plus miles, bad mistake. After many stops for rest I made it to the top of Mt. Seneca and found the marker for the Challenge. When I stopped to think about going back the way I came, with all the rocks, boulders and what would be now a steep decline, I decided to continue on and go to the end. It meant I would have just over a mile road walk back to my car, but at this point it seemed way easier to do that than go back the way I came. Notably, this side of the mountain was definitely less rocky and I was able to pick up my pace and get lost in my thoughts.
This is just a piece of advice….don’t get lost in your thoughts on the “Bear” Cave trail, because that’s when it happened! I saw my first bear! Well, the bear’s rear-end anyway. We startled each other and the bear took off like a flash! It ran towards the Diehl cabin area and I took off in the opposite direction. The adrenaline kicked in and I flew the last couple of miles to my car. I excitedly stopped at the Quaker Registration building and reported my sighting. They had me fill out a bear sighting form. The workers there were not as excited as me. Go figure. I was hoping for a pin or a patch with “Bear Spotter” on it.
While I was at the Quaker Registration building I rented a campsite at Cain Hollow campground. I think I was a little leery of staying in a lean-to after seeing my first bear!
The next morning I hit the trail and decided on hiking to the Mt. Tuscarora Fire Tower. However, looking through all my maps I couldn’t find the sheet I needed to etch the Challenge marker on. In the past, not having the map would have stopped me from going. This time I found a blank piece of paper and downloaded the map from AllTrails and set off. I received a hint that the Challenge marker was located right at the Fire Tower, so my plan was to hike to the Tower, get the etching and hike back to the car the way I came.
This trail is steep. The bugs were atrocious. A fire tower is generally located at the highest point around so I knew this trail was going to be challenging. There were a lot of rests where I contemplated my life’s decisions and goals. However, once I reached the ridge line and everything was flat again I knew all my decisions and goals were spot on.
And then, it happened again! A bear! This time the bear was just 20 feet in front of me on the right just off the trail. He was big boy. Digging and rooting around. I backed up and backed up and backed up again all while keeping my eyes glued to his large behind. I cleared my throat – no response. I whistled – no response. Then to my surprise, I shouted calmly and professionally – “Hey Bear!” Guess what? He did exactly what he was supposed to do! He ran away! He stopped a good distance away to check me out. I zoomed in and snapped a picture. Blurry, but hey! I then shouted at him again “Hey, Bear! I can still see you! Go Away!!!” And off he went! Good boy! He had to be a boy, as he was about 300 pounds. Just beautiful.
The adrenaline kicked me into high gear and I was still giddy when I met a couple on the trail. They immediately told me they were disappointed they couldn’t climb the Fire Tower and there were no views. I excitedly told them about the bear and to watch out for him. Then they asked me what poison ivy looked like. To be clear – they literally had little to no reaction to me saying there was a bear! And there wasn’t even any poison ivy around. Sheesh. They were lame.
Hiking back from the Fire Tower I was a little worried the bear might be still around. Being a professional hiker now, I made it a point to talk to myself and sing songs the whole way back to my car. The bear didn’t make an encore appearance.