Days 51-55: Getting Our Bear-ings
These are the days leading up to and after our bear encounter on the AT. There were highs and lows, but we were determined to continue on our way to Katahdin.
Hiking from: Fullhardt Knob Shelter
To: Cove Mountain Shelter
Total grade: 419.5 ft/mile (-)
Motivation: So very low. Sleep mainly. And getting a little closer to the planned 3 day break coming up.
Favorite part of the day: Gorgeous views right before reaching camp
Comments: Much of the beginning of the day was downhill. Then we began a long, gradual uphill. It was so humid and the spider webs were relentless. This was the first day of many to come where the trail runs adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway has beautiful views for the cars that drive along it as it winds around mountain peaks linking the Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park. The AT for this part of the trail has minimal views. So while you’re trapped in the green tunnel, every 2-5 miles you walk past a parking lot that leads to a lookout. One day I want to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. To say i was jealous of everyone I passed with their packed picnics and clean clothes is an understatement.
We stopped at a shelter for water about 6.4 miles before our planned stopping point and it was so difficult to motivate ourselves to continue to the planned destination. We only did because we had a certain pick up point we’d have to get to in the next few days so we can make our train to DC for the weekend. We thought stopping for dinner at a picnic table 5.7 miles from the destination would help us power through but it only hurt. We made it nonetheless and were greeted with gorgeous views during the last 3 miles. The sunlight washed over the blossoming rhododendrons along a rocky ridge line just before sunset. We reached camp around 7:30 PM and proceeded to pass out before the rain hit.
Hiking from: Cove Mountain Shelter
To: Black Rock Overlook
Total grade: 580.3 ft/mile (+)
Motivation: So low the section hiker we met days prior had to motivate us to leave camp at 10:30 AM
Favorite part of the day: I loved our stealth spot
Comments: Nottt feeling it this day and, to make matters worse, there was a huge climb of nearly 3,000 feet over 6 miles at the end of the day. Before the climb, we stopped at Jennings Creek to swim and rest. Town swam around in the creek for about 20 minutes. Before we left, I walked over to the Brook to wash off my shoes and I saw a huge brown snake in the water swimming towards me. I don’t know a lot about snakes, but Town couldn’t believe he swam with that thing for 20 minutes.
We accomplished the first climb of the day before stopping at Bryant Ridge shelter for lunch. There were two black snakes (non-poisonous) hanging in the shelter rafters. We made it to Black Rock Overlook where we’d read there would be a stealth site to set up camp. We hadn’t accomplished a ton of mileage but the elevation gain sure tired us out. It rained again that night.
Hiking from: Black Rock Overlook
To: Stealth site above the James River
Total grade: 503.9 ft/mile (-)
Motivation: Last day before town day
Favorite part of the day: Drinking tea while enjoying the view at Black Rock Overlook in the morning.
Comments: For details about this day see my article “I Survived a Bear Attack on the Appalachian Trail.”
For those of you that read the article, thank you for your comments and for sharing your advice and stories. I’m glad I was able to use my small platform to promote discussions of bear safety. Thanks especially to all that reached out and said the article made them reconsider their behavior on trail. Just one person improving their bear safety on trail makes writing that article worth it. I know I learned a lot from the experience. Hopefully, nothing like that encounter happens again, but if it does, I know I’ll be more prepared. Proper bear safety protocol saves humans and bears!
Hiking from: US 501
To: Stealth site and back to US 501
Miles: 6 round trip
Total grade: 340.4 ft/mile
Motivation: Recover our stuff..and ourselves
Favorite part of the day: Sleeping in town
Comments: We woke up in Stanimal’s and then got picked up by a Blue Ridge Parkway Ranger to return to the stealth site and retrieve our things. I wrote about this in the article linked above as well so for more detail, go there. After retrieving our gear, we got picked up at Stanimal’s by the owners of the White Tree Inn. This is where we’d planned to stay before the bear encounter, so we already had a reservation. The owners were very accommodating with picking us up and taking us to resupply etc. We had barely slept the night before with all the adrenaline still pumping through us so we ate at a nearby Italian restaurant in Buena Vista and went straight to sleep. Wrapping our heads around what had happened was a bit overwhelming, but wine helped a little.
Hiking from: US 501
To: John’s Hollow Shelter
Total grade: 326.2 ft/mile (+)
Motivation: Get back on trail…one step at a time
Favorite part of the day: Getting bear spray
Comments: We woke up in Buena Vista and the owners of the White Tree Inn took us to Walmart for resupply and a nearby outfitters for bear spray and repair tape. We were dropped off at the same highway we’d left off from (US 501). By this time, it was around 2:30 pm. We decided to hike to the closest shelter rather than take on a whole mountain. We made it to the John’s Hollow Shelter around 4 pm and caught up with some hikers we knew. It felt nice to know we wouldn’t be sleeping alone that night. Unfortunately, we still really struggled to sleep. The repair tape didn’t work on either of our sleeping pads so we were sleeping on the ground which was fairly rocky. We also kept waking up to any sound from outside. It was pouring rain as well. The trail was not making it easy on us…
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Hi Lily – For what little it might be worth, I’d like to offer my encouragement and maybe a bit of perspective. In my humble opinion, one of the many “gifts” of an AT thru-hike is the opportunity to live with, face, and triumph over adversity. Of all kinds. Yeah, sometimes it’s hard. But if it was always easy, well it’d just be… easy – and where’s the fun in that? Seriously, there’s something to be said for the whole “embrace the suck” sentiment. I mean, you might as well, since there’s going to be some, eh? In the meantime, breathe deep of all the cool stuff – there’s so much of it! The fatigue, the rest, the the hunger, a good dinner, the the soreness, taking the dern pack off! The blessed peace. Etc., etc. Enjoy.
I agree 100% with Lewis – hang in there Lily, dig deep, be safe.