And Bears, OH CRAP!
I don’t know what my biggest fear was before entering The Great Smoky Mountains? I just know I had a few choices. Remoteness, the climbs, the weather and bears. In the beginning, I think mainly it was the weather. Entering the park in the afternoon three days ago was a little unnerving. The landscape was basically the same as the day before. The placing of the back country permit in the metal box upon starting the trail made me wonder what I would be encountering within the next 6-7 days.
Up the trail led and as the afternoon lengthened into early evening and the temperature cooled I was more than ready to find the campground Easy Strider and I would be staying at that night. We knew we were getting close when we saw the wooden sign post that always has information of the location you are at and places down the trail. We were relieved to be at our intended location until we saw the sign that was posted below our location.
Growing up in Northern Minnesota, one is guaranteed to have a bear encounter at some point in time. I can tell you one such incident that happened to my family on a summer vacation. My siblings Cheryl and Vern and I were all in grade school at the time. Our parents had taken us on our annual Boundary Water Canoe Area trip. We had found a great camping spot. As the sun set, we got ready for a good night’s sleep. It seemed like the middle of the night, when our father woke us up and told us to help get the tent with all our gear into the canoe. As we scrambled out of the tent, we heard a commotion. In the beam of the flashlight was our mother, holding the end of a rope with a bear on the other end holding our food pack. We were now instantly awake and moving all gear into our canoes. My father then went and belped pull the pack away from the bear. We paddled down the lake in the darkness and camped on an island. I don’t think any of us got any sleep that night, as we waited to see if the bear would swim on over trying to get a midnight snack.
So here we were at Birch Spring Gap, almost 5 miles into the Smokies. The first shelter was an additional 5 miles. We had no choice but to hike down into camp. Half way down the trail we came upon the metal food storage bin. I told Easy that maybe I would just sleep in there for the night. It ended up being locked. Oh well, it was a thought.
We set up our tents. Gathered all food and none food items like soap, lotion, toothpaste etc. And hung the works from the bear cables located at most shelters. A local man by the name Roger was the fire tender of the night and I asked him about the sign. He said that last summer they had to close the campground because of bear encounters. He told us we should be fine, that the bears were down in the valley where it was green and the bears had something to eat. I looked around at all the brown trees and ground and took him at his word.
Once in our tents, Easy found hand sanitizer which he quickly threw out of his tent. I found Chi seeds someone had given me to put in my water. Out of my tent they went. At about 3 a.m. I woke up and as I watched the full moon work it’s way across the top of my tent, I remembered the Snickers candybar I had bought at Fontana Village. It was still in my pack, in my tent. Oh man! I quickly dug it out of my backpack that was underneath my legs. Now the decision was do I eat it or do I throw it outside of my tent. I really wanted to eat it, hiker hunger had set in. I then thought, what if a bear smells that Snickers on my lips. Ugh, out went the candybar. I sure was hoping that candybar would still be untouched in the morning. I drifted back off to sleep. The rest of the night was uneventful.
Ps, I ate the Snicker candybar for breakfast.
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