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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Day Hiking with Dogs

The winter in Western New York is typically very cold and very snowy.  This month though a 111 year record was broken when the temperature soared to 71 degrees on Friday, February 24.  I raced home after work and changed my clothes and fed the dogs.  My dogs were just as excited about the nice weather as I was and raced around the yard and rolled in the grass. When they came back inside the house I asked them if they wanted to go for a ride in the car and go for a walk.  Their ears perked up and they bolted for the door.  I gathered a few poop bags and found their leashes.  Royal and Maggie bounced in circles and made happy whiny noises while I removed their collars and put on their walking harnesses.  It is such a wonderful feeling seeing them so excited!  I love making my dogs happy!

 

I decided to drive to my sister’s house to ask if she would come with us.  She wasn’t home, but my nephew Matt was.  I barely got the question out when he eagerly accepted my invitation to take the dogs for a walk.  Matt knows the Joe Panza trail better than I do, so I was really happy he agreed. It took only a few minutes to arrive at the park.  Once we arrived the dogs jumped out of the car and started sniffing and tugging at their leashes.  Of course, they wiggled around so much that Royal pooped even before getting to the trail.  Luckily, it was right near a garbage can, so I was glad I didn’t have walk around carrying his poop.  It is one of my pet peeves that people don’t pick up their pet’s poop.  Even if your pet poops off the trail, always pick up the poop.

IMG_20170224_171649
No way to get a selfie with the dogs too! They do not cooperate.

Matt has never walked a dog before.  Something I hadn’t thought of when I handed him Maggie’s leash.  Maggie is great on a leash, although she does like to move around a lot so there is a little bit of dancing and twirling you have to do.  Royal on the other hand loves to lead the pack.  He doesn’t pull as much when he wears his harness, but he still tugs.  My shoulder gets a work out!  At least I gave Matt the easier dog to walk!

IMG_20170224_171637
Royal leading the pack!  There is a leash there, I swear! It’s just hard to see.

It had rained the day before so the trail was damp with some big puddles in places.  Royal is my water dog; he happily walked right though each puddle.  Maggie was very dainty and maneuvered around them all.  She does not like to get her feet wet.

Matt made the decisions on which way on the trail to turn.  He carefully peered down each trail to scope out the puddles before committing to turning left or right!  He was wearing sneakers and didn’t want to wade through the mud!  Of course, I’m glad of that! I didn’t want the back seat of my car to be more muddy than necessary!  Usually I have a vinyl protector on the seat so the dogs mess doesn’t get on my car, but I was lazy for this hike and didn’t put it on.

Another pet peeve of mine is meeting other hikers that have their pet off leash.  We heard some voices up the trail and actually met their dog FIRST!  I stood stock still and reeled in the leash on Royal.  The dog approached us slowly, didn’t growl, and his tail was neutral.  I still was shaking in my boots.  Then I remembered Matthew.  I told Matt to hold Maggie close on the leash and stay still.  The owners of the dog came along and called to their off-leash dog, of course the dog ignored the commands.  Their dog sniffed Maggie and Matthew and I encouraged Matt to just walk forward slowly.  They had another dog on a leash, thank goodness, because this dog was growling at us as the woman could barely hold the dog back from lunging at us.

It is so dangerous to have your dog off leash.  What if my dogs didn’t like to be approached by a strange dog?  I would have been in the middle of a terrifying situation. Fortunately all dogs and humans walked away from the encounter without incident.  We might not be so lucky next time.  I held my tongue from saying anything to the other dog owners, but I think they got the message when I refused to acknowledge them and concentrated on getting my dogs out of there safely.  Next time I use my friendliest voice to remind them of the leash law.

With that excitement past us we were at the car in no time.  Royal and Maggie jumped into the car and we drove Matthew home.  When I brought the dogs into the house I gave them each a couple treats and big bowls of cold water.  We snuggled together and had a nice nap and dreamed of our next hiking adventure!

IMG_20161231_093616
Same trail, SNOWY day!

 

I AM NOT AFRAID! I AM NOT AFRAID!

Fabulous!  Excited!  Amazing!  ALIVE!

I have a Bucket List.  Do you?  If not, you should!  A Bucket List details things that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime.  Recently, I was able to check off a couple things on my Bucket List.

my-bucket-list

Well, I’m trying to step outside my comfort zone in baby steps.  It’s not easy for me to do things that I feel intimidated by.  I know, I know, I want to thru hike the Appalachian Trail…pretty intimidating.  So I have to start putting myself out there NOW.

One really fun thing I did off my Bucket List was participate in the Color Run.  A Color Run is a 5K non race.  Just my thing!  During the run/walk/skipping along the course there are “Color Zones” where a bunch of people throw different colored powder at you.  There’s an orange zone, pink zone, blue zone, purple zone, you get the drift.  By the end of the course you are covered head to toe in different colors.

Participating in the Color Run was a little intimidating for me.  I was afraid you had RUN or JOG the whole thing.  Heaven forbid!!  NOT TRUE!!!  The more I read other people’s experiences I was satisfied that I could just walk or skip or jog a tiny bit.  Unfortunately, the night before the race I was anxious.  I didn’t want to go alone.  I was ready to back out.  My registration was paid, I had my t-shirt and polka-dot socks, but I was NERVOUS!  My husband came to my rescue, like he often does, and when I asked him if he would join me on the course, he said he would.  He is such a trooper.  We both got thoroughly covered in different colors and we walked pretty much the entire way, but at the end we still got shiny silver medals and we weren’t the last ones across the finish line!

Another thing I really had to do was sleep outside in the woods all by myself. Since I was a little girl I’ve been afraid of the dark.  Now, I’ve outgrown being afraid while in the darkness of my house.  Mostly…but especially when my dogs or others are around.  When I am with others outside in the dark, easy; I’m not scared really at all.  If I am alone outside, with only a tent, how will I do?  Well, I survived!

I started out with a baby step.  I slept in my backyard!  Now, I have a very woodsy backyard.  Where I slept, I couldn’t see my house, but I could see my shed.  It was pitch black out.

img_20160818_204214
I know I heard something weird…

I knew my dogs and husband were only a few hundred feet away.  I knew I could easily walk back to my house in the dark.  I also had a headlamp and my phone so I had light.  Like I said, baby steps.  It was also a baby step for my husband.  He loves to worry!  He was pretty freaked out about me sleeping outside by myself.  It was good for both of us.  I slept okay and managed to not freak out more than twice from the weird noises.  When I woke up at 6 am, I walked to the house and slept another couple hours in my bed.

Just this past weekend I decided it was now or never to actually camp out in the woods away from home.  I convinced my husband to drop me off at a nearby trail head where I knew about 2 miles down the trail was a lean to.  We left late in the day so I wouldn’t be at the lean to bored out of my mind for too long before bed.

There was one car in the parking lot and as any worry wart would, my husband took a picture of their license plate.  As I hiked, the woods became darker and darker.  I forgot how it gets darker in the woods more quickly.

image

image

Whew.  I made it to the lean to and unpacked my gear.  I started a small fire in the fire ring, and I mean small.   

While settling in I realized the mosquitoes were going to kill me.  Even with repellent on.  There were mouse droppings in the lean to.  I felt exposed. And scared. And nervous. And worried. And And And!

So, in the dusk, I rapidly set up my tent.  I’m so glad it’s so easy! In less than 15 minutes I was snug as a bug inside my tent watching the fire die out.

image
I love looking at my little home away from home.

Somehow during my rush I butt dialed my mother.  When I realized it and put the phone to my ear and heard her beautiful voice it was like magic!  It was like I was cheating a little though.  I was supposed to be outside in the woods overnight by myself.  Well, my mother couldn’t do anything to protect me when she is just on the other end of the phone so we chatted for 10 minutes and she encouraged me and I felt so much more brave!

Inside my tent that night I could hear the nearby amusement park roller coaster and what I thought were the screams of the riders!  It’s crazy how sound travels.  Then I heard their fireworks at 9pm and then again at 10pm.  Then it was eerily silent.  Just the sounds of the forest around me.  The call of a barred owl, the miscellaneous insects and some weird licking sound?  Seriously??!!??  I heard a raccoon and YELLED at it!  It must have run off because I never heard it’s chittering sound again.  I kept hearing the “licking” sound, though.  Like my dog licking his paw over and over and over…ugh.  I have no idea what that was, and I don’t care.  I just turned Adele Radio on and drowned it out for 20 minutes.  It worked.  I fell asleep and dreamed.  I posted a 4 minute video at the end of this article if you want to know really how my night was and what my dream was about.  Just be kind; it was a no makeup kind of day.

image
I’m the green lantern.

My body clock finally woke me at my usual time just before the sunrise and gradually I could hear the forest waking up all around me.  The birds began their morning songs and I debated whether to hike for awhile or just head back to the trail head and have my husband pick me up.  I started my little stove and ate hot granola with blueberries.

img_20160905_065553
This was delicious.

As I walked around the trees while eating and breathing in the sweet morning air I felt exhilarated!  I made it through the night!  But, I wanted to go home.  I packed up and headed back.

img_20160905_072630

Baby steps.

Next time I will hike longer in, camp out and hike longer out.  All by myself.  Sigh.  Now to just do it.

A couple other small things I have checked off my Bucket List is making a little gnome home.  I did that at the base of one of the largest red oak trees in Erie County, which happens to be in my front yard.

image

The other thing checked off was that I had wanted my picture taken with Shark Girl.  She is a lot like me!  Quite a resemblance.  Especially the teeth!

img_20160903_140633

Also at Canalside in Buffalo was the world’s largest rubber duck. I didn’t realize that seeing it was on my bucket list until I heard about it.  But, how could you NOT go see the world’s LARGEST rubber ducky!  It was 6 stories tall and weighs about one ton!

img_20160826_223723

Next week on my bucket list is:  I get to meet Alison Arngrim.  She is the actress that played Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie.  Can’t wait!

manyan

The week after that I have PRK eye surgery scheduled.  That will cross off another thing on my Bucket List!  No glasses for me on my thru hike!

Whew…that’s quite enough for now!

As promised here is the scary video!  Sorry about the vertical video.  I’m learning!

Checked off another one on the bucket list!  Add video to my blog!