Bring the bear tally up to two please. This one stepped right out into the trail only about 50 feet in front of me like he was just crossing the street to get groceries. Look right, look left... Hello human. What brings you to my neck of the woods on this fine day?
Needless to say I froze like I'd just seen a... well, a bear. And he froze because clearly he wasn't expecting to encounter a human on his grocery run. So we both just stood in the trail and stared... uncertain what to do next.
For those who don't know, you're not supposed to run from bears. The "approved" method of handling a bear encounter is to make noise. I've actually come across a fair number of bears out west, and they're usually quite scared of us. A little noise takes care of the problem right away. This, however, was easily the closest I'd been to one, and certainly the closest while alone. I mean... I figure I'm no sprinter but I can probably outrun at least one of my pals, right? (And you all thought the boot camps and mud runs were for "fun," ha). But there I was... with no one to trip or outrun. Sigh.
But I kept my cool and drew on my hard earned knowledge of the ways of the wilderness.
Chapter 7: Scary Beasts and How to Handle Them. Section 1: Spiders. No... Section 2: Bigger Spiders... No... Section 3: Spiders that Know How to Jump... Dear god why... Flip. Flip. Flip. Section 18: Spiders that Look Almost Cute but Aren't Because They're Still Spiders... Flip. Flip. Flip. Section 84: Bears. There we go.
What do you do if you're staring at a bear? You make noise. Simple. But how much noise? And how sudden? In the moment, my mental chapter on bears was looking dreadfully nonspecific. I mean... If I shout at the thing will he take that as a challenge? What if I shout "THIS IS NOT A CHALLENGE. GO IN PEACE MY SPIRIT FRIEND!" Will he get it? Do bears study foreign language in school? What if he took Spanish instead of English? What's the Spanish translation of "spirit friend?" I figure I've only got one shot at this.
My brain is processing all of this quietly as Mr. Bear and I continue to size each other up. He's still looking just as shocked as I feel, as if I just caught him with his bear pants down or something, and it occurs to me in that sort of ridiculous way that thoughts sometimes pop up in tense situations, that this would be a cool photo. I mean... He's standing so nice and still for me.
So I slowly reach my hand to my camera bag which is hooked to the front of my harness and ever so gently start to pull the flap up.
Have you ever tried to quietly open Velcro? Perhaps while staring down a bear in the dead stillness of a forest? The sound is like a thousand pieces of paper all ripping slowly in half at once.
That bear was outta there like he'd been shot.
So, my friends, I pass on this nugget of wilderness wisdom, from Redcap the Just to you. If ever you find yourself staring at a bear uncertain what to do. Velcro, my friends. Velcro.
Now, as I have no photos of the bear himself do to the wildly successful first deployment of my bear deterrent, Bear-Go!-Velcro, let's change the subject and talk about my awesome new hammock setup!
Awwwww yes! My hiker buddies may remember that I've always preferred to sleep in a hammock when possible. Having the pup along makes it a no-go though, so I was tenting for the first several weeks. While I'm still sad the pup couldn't accompany me further there is one upside in that I can switch back to a hammock. So after some thought I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy the hammock I'd been pining after for months. I figured there'd never be a better time to upgrade my setup than when I'm spending weeks on the AT, a superb trail for hammocking. So here it is! This is Dutchware's Halfwit Hammock, and I'm using Hammock Gear's Cuben Fiber tarp over it. It's easily the lightest and most adjustable hammocking setup I've ever had and I couldn't be more thrilled!
But, as giddy as I am over the hammock I know it's probably not as exciting for everyone else haha, so here's one more picture and then I swear I'll move on. (For my fellow ounce counters and gram weenies, this setup including hammock, suspension, tarp, and guy lines comes to just 20.5 oz/582 g).
Alright! No more hammock talk. Let's talk about grub! The longer I'm out on the trail the more I look forward to days where I pass close enough to a town to go get a delicously unhealthy meal. Ahhhh town food. That glorious break from granola and beef jerky. As these are all tiny, little mountain towns with a lot of character I try to find interesting local places, managing to hit a cool little wood fire pizza joint in the last town of Roan Mountain, then yesterday I found this beauty:
Just look at her. Beautiful. Bootleggers in Hampton, TN. When you come to a wonderful little local joint like this you have to do it proper and go all in.
That's a brisket sandwich with smoked gouda on a toasted and buttered bun (I wisely got the "small" size, it was incredibly rich), and thin cut, crispy fries topped with pulled pork, bbq sauce, buffalo sauce, and cheddar cheese sauce (there was no "small" option here... something I may regret later but at least I went out in style).
I'm proud to say I finished the sandwich and about three quarters of the fries before admitting defeat. The very nice lady who took my order watched me with some concern, checking in a few times to see how I was doing. The food was so good I tipped twice, and then I waddled down the street and disappeared back into the woods like the wild, bbq loving, mythical beast that I am. I'm sure she'll tell tales for years to come.
And that about does it! Not much else to report. Oh, my snake counter is up to five now. This guy wasn't nearly as scared of Velcro, but at least he wasn't a copperhead.
And if snakes bother you cleanse your mind with this serene photo of a waterfall (and don't think about the fact that I took the photo of the snake about 30 seconds after the photo of the falls... Nature does what nature wants. Snakes like pretty waterfalls too).
Okay okay, here's another pretty picture with no snakes (that you can see...).