Hey, Bear!

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.

img_3980
Bear Cave Trail – Allegany State Park

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.

58664332143__4e3f4efe-93a2-46bc-894d-0c2279ade2ee
This is me after seeing my first bear.

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 bear_LI
I swear that’s a bear.

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.

img_4072
I survived!

Happy Trails.

 

Welp, I finally did it and then some.

I registered my thru-hike intention with The Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The Conservancy asks people that hike the Appalachian Trail to register in order to better monitor the impact on the trail and its resources.  Sooooo, I did it!!!

img_3159

Yep.  My official start date will be March 22, 2020.  I wish I had the guts to start 2/20/2020.  That’s just a little to cold for me.  As it is March will be cold enough. So, there you have it folks.  Wow.  It’s like this will really happen!

BUT-WAIT-THERES-MORE

C’est fait.  E ‘fatto.  Esta hecho.  IT IS DONE!  Yes.  I quit my wonderful, well paying, comfortable JOB!

Now I will have more time to hike longer trails.  Woohoo!

Is this real life?

AdobeStock_93968452-e1529676544879

So many emotions!  Am I crazy?  I’m going to climb mountains!!!  Did I do the right thing?  I will cross creeks, hike in the rain and get really smelly!!!!  Do I really think I can hike the whole thing?  I will be crawling on my hands and knees some parts of the trail!

Then I have people asking me all sorts of hard questions like:  Why don’t you wait until you retire?  Because, who knows how my knees will be by then!  What will you do for money?  My husband and I have been saving and planning for this.  How does your husband feel about you leaving him for six months?  He better be sad and miss me a lot!

All silliness aside, I don’t want to wait until I retire.  You never know what will happen tomorrow, so I want to do my living now.   I am forever grateful to my loving, supportive husband who works very hard for us.  He enjoys his job and supports me quitting mine to follow my lifelong dream.  I owe him – big time.  I also promised him I would be more frugal and keep my hike on budget.  Yes, he made a spreadsheet.

Oh no.  What am I feeling now????

images

I’m NERVOUS. 

Nervousness is a whole bunch of emotions all trying to get out at the same time.  Fear, longing, concern, desire, doubt, and panic are a few emotions in my nervous packet.  You might have others in yours.  At the beginning of any solo hike I have a bout of the nervous jitters.  My knees feel wobbly, my hands sweat, my mouth goes dry and my breathing becomes faster.   This feeling stays with me for a quite a while into my hike.  While listening to the radio one morning I heard an interview of English actor, comedian, James Corden.  He does the carpool karaoke with famous people and he’s so funny!  This interview was about how he gets so nervous before performing that he sought professional help.  I am going to quote what he learned.  This is just copied from this cnn.com article: James Corden interview on CNN.

“This is a few years ago now, and then he taught me this thing that you’ve got to see nerves as a good thing. You’re only ever nervous when you want to do your best. You’re only ever nervous when something matters. So when nerves come, you’ve got to go, ‘Oh my God, this is great. I’m doing something that is important to me, and this is great that this thing has turned up to help me.’ ” James Corden.

So, I think I’ll be ready to apply this way of thinking on my next solo hike.  Maybe my knees will not be so wobbly and my hands won’t be sweaty.  It’s worth a shot!

img_3074

 

 

Learning Lessons

In my last article I wrote about being afraid while hiking alone.  The article was lighthearted and some called it cute and funny.  I tried to make light of being afraid while hiking alone.  Like my fears were not real.

Trust me. 

THEY ARE REAL. 

And those fears became even more real when Army Veteran Ron Sanchez was brutally murdered on the Appalachian Trail a few weeks ago.  I do not want to put the incident in my own words; you can google it.

I have read that Ron Sanchez was thru hiking the AT to seek healing from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He had served three tours in Iraq.  People set out to thru hike the AT for different reasons.  Therefore, on the trail I expect to encounter people like Ron, who are hiking the trail to find inner peace.  On the trail I also predict I will encounter happy people, sad people, grumpy people, friendly people and yes, scary people.

Scary things can happen to you, me, and those we love – anywhere and at anytime.  Recently I was speaking with my nephew, Matthew, about scary things and what does he do to come to peace with it.  He said – when really bad things happen and I can’t do anything about it, I try to learn a lesson from it.

The lesson I learned is that I will be the friendly, cheerful, happy, kind person that others encounter on the trail.  I will be the person that others can trust.  I will “trust my gut” when I encounter suspicious people.  However, I will continue to solo hike.  I will also carry a Personal Locator Beacon in case of an emergency.

Most of all, I will not live in fear of the unknown.  I will not let scary things control me or discourage me from my thru hike in 2020.

Ron Sanchez
Ron Sanchez Trail Name “Stonghold” Rest in Peace

 

 

 

ALONE AND BRAVE

Oh, help me!  I read so many articles about hiking, but why, oh why, do I read the articles about hikers gone mysteriously missing, hikers shredded by mountain lions, hikers eaten by bears, hikers attacked by a machete wielding crazy person!  Oh, good grief, it gets in my head and stays there!

I’ve been so excited to work on completing my Allegany 18 challenge I woke up early on Sunday and drove the hour and a half to the park!  The park was so quiet.  At this time of year not many hardy souls venture out when the weather is iffy.  Do murderers?

img_2645

I headed to a short and sweet trail called Bear Springs.  BEAR!???!!!!???  Did that sign say BEAR???  Yes it did.  Well, psht, bears aren’t around trails, right.  Off I went. Out and back, easy peasy.  Well, it was a muddy trail and the trail stewards had been hard at work in the last few years building neat “board” walks to bypass the wettest areas.  I just love how unique each trail is.  This trail is very easy and highly recommended for old dogs with arthritis and husbands like mine.

img_2647

I found the marker on the tree for the challenge, raced up to the end of the trail and quickly made my way back to the car.  Look at me!  No make up, no hair products, completely au natural.  (Please don’t enlarge the photo.  I cannot be responsible for broken monitors.)  My mother always said I was a natural beauty.  I believe everything my mother says.

img_2656

I didn’t see any bears on “Bear” Spring trail, so I went next to Black Snake Mountain!  SNAKES!  I actually am not afraid of snakes.  Bring it!  Being brave and doing things that are uncomfortable are two things that I’m learning to be good at.  Black Snake Mountain Trail is 2.8 miles.  Sounds easy?  It’s Black Snake MOUNTAIN Trail.  But, yes, actually it was physically easy”ish” for me.  The not physical part where I remembered I was –ALONE!  ALL ALONE!  wasn’t as easy.

I tried to text my husband to let him know where I was, but I had NO SERVICE!  That’s okay;  my car’s at the trail head, so if I go missing, they’ll find my car.  WHY, WAS MY HEAD GOING “THERE”?  I shook it off and headed up the trail.

First thing I encounter?  A CREEPY SHED where a murderer could live!!

img_2660-1

I ran past that and picked up my pace.

This part of the trail goes up the mountain.  I took a lot of pictures because I stopped a lot to catch my breath.  AND to look behind me to make sure the murderer wasn’t following me.

The Allegany Challenge map indicated I would find a stone marker where I could be in two states at once.  I found it!

img_2684
One foot in Pennsylvania and one foot in New York.

For those few lovely moments I had forgotten about the murderer following me on the trail.

I was at the summit and realized I had cell service!  Quickly, I sent messages to my husband and best friend with a couple photos of where I was.  You know, in case of the murder.  Of course, I didn’t let on to them that I was afraid.  I felt like if I typed that out at that time, it would just make them worry more about me.  There were lots of birds singing – which is a good sign of nothing bad around.  I just kept telling myself that.  There at the summit was the marker I needed to prove I was here.  My phone will tell the story to the investigators when they find my body.

img_2693

At this point I reallllllly had to pee.  REEALLLYYYY bad!  So I peed in the woods.  I was buckling my pack and as all hikers should – I looked back at where I peed.  Guess what I saw??????  Not a murderer. Not a bear.  Not even a snake……

img_2700

MY PHONE!!!!!!!!

Of course it isn’t in the picture, because I used it to take the picture.  But, pfeeyoof!  I’m so glad I looked back to make sure I didn’t drop anything, because I DID! How could the detectives follow my trail if I lost my phone before I was murdered?

crisis

Now, for some reason, I began to think of mountain lions.  WHY????  I didn’t even know if mountain lions lived where I was!  How could I not know this!  Seriously.  My brain went there.

mountain lion
Not today, kitty.

I stood in the middle of the trail.  ALL ALONE.  ALONE and BRAVE!

So I sang a song.  “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. From my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you.”  (Worth the click. It’s not me singing, don’t worry.)

Mountain lions do not like that song.  They must not, because I never saw one.

I did hear a dog bark.   Or was it a coyote?

There was no murder, no mauling, no investigation was necessary.  I made it back to my car in one piece.

What do we say to god of death?

Not today.