I Once Saw A Bear’s Ass…
…And it was not what I expected. I mean, it’s not like I expected it to be a sculpted work of art. But…I was kinda, sorta, secretly hoping it would be soft and cuddly, and maybe even do a cute little side-to-side wiggle when it walked. Instead, it looked like two overly large Virginia smoked hams fighting over the remote control. It was not a pretty sight.
You’re wondering where I’m going with this story, aren’t you? Bears. Or rather, “Aren’t you afraid of bears?” It’s an oft asked follow-up question upon learning I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail. Rightfully so, I might add. The truth is, I have seen exactly 3 bears on the AT in the many years I have hiked on the trail. All three times, I only caught a glimpse of their butts as they ran off into the woods. I respect bears but I’m not afraid of being eaten by one. Besides, I’m pretty sure I have GMO’s in my body which probably alters my flavor profile. I’m more rump roast and less filet mignon.
Before I incur the wrath of the internet, please know I have a healthy respect for bears and am educated on bear safety and prevention. However, I personally feel there are heaps of other “that’s gonna be a bad day” events out there ready to end my thru hike. Let’s have a looksie at six things that could end my hike quicker than a bear putting Sriracha on my sleeping bag and eating me like a burrito…
6. Hantavirus. Hanta who? This was the virus du jour 20 years ago as it made it’s prominent debut in the early 90’s. It’s also the number 2 reason I no longer sleep in the shelters themselves. This airborne transmitted virus comes from the droppings, saliva, and feces of rodents. Anyone who’s ever slept in a shelter more than once has probably felt a mouse scurry across their face at 2am. I got a two-fer once at Rutherford shelter in NJ when I awoke to a mouse doing the Macarena on my forehead with another nibbling at my socks…while I was in my sleeping bag.
5. Rattlesnakes! Rattlesnakes inherently want to be left alone, hence their rattling. It’s their lazy way of saying, “Bro- please don’t step on me.” It’s not so much the act of being bitten as it is the cascading effect of seeing one. Imagine if you will, you’re happily hiking along a beautiful stretch of trail. The sun is out. Birds are swooping down to wish you a merry day. Life is good. Until…you suddenly hear the tail of a rattlesnake shake and come to life. Maybe you suddenly stop and assess where this little bugger is? Or maybe you jump back, lose your balance, flail your arms, and the next thing you know your arm looks like an al dente lasagna noodle and you have an golfball size lump on your head.
4. Nasty hands. Let’s pretend Dirty Joe takes a dump in the woods and doesn’t wash his hands afterwards. At the shelter he offers up some homemade trail mix. Or maybe he uses the community pen when signing the trail register? You come along and touch what Dirty Joe touched. Congratulations. You just earned a day (or two) off from hiking because you’re doubled over with liquid coming out of both ends. (Oops! TMI?)
3. Rocks and Roots. No…not the hipster, PBR drinking, banjo playing rock trio from your local coffee shop. I’m being literal here. Actual rocks and roots. I have followed hundreds of blogs and journals over the years, and it is always a punch to the gut when a hiker’s adventure ends because of a freaking exposed root. There was one hiker I followed from his prep in 2013 to his hike in 2014. Over a year of reading his excitement and joy and then three weeks into his hike, he tripped over a rock and broke his leg. And just like that, it’s over. I can’t even imagine what that feels like.
2. Lyme Disease. Oh man, this seems to be more prevalent every year and not just on the AT but everywhere! The ticks can be so small, even a thorough tick check in all the cracks and crevices may turn up nothing. This weighs on my mind every time I lace up the boots and head out.
1. The Mind Game. I have said to my friends, “What happens if I’m 345 miles into my hike and I don’t feel like hiking anymore?” The Appalachian Trail has a strong romantic pull towards it that we tend to overlook the realistic fact that we have to make forward progress (usually in increments of 15-20 miles a day), every. single. day. I mean, this could really happen! I don’t want it to, but the mind can be your worst enemy. Luckily, I know a guy named Zach Davis who has written a best selling book on the mental game of completing an AT Thru Hike. You can buy it here. Tell him Tom sent you. 🙂
- When missing your sweetie is too much to handle and texting from the backcountry doesn’t curb those feelings
- Insufficient funds- too many brewskis in the beginning of the trip and not enough for ramen in Maine
- Being drugged and kidnapped from Don’s Diner in Tennessee, then waking up in the cargo hold of a Turkish transport ship and learning you were sold to a Greek shipping tycoon who plans to sell you to the Russians as a Siberian sex slave. Let’s be honest…if you make it out of this situation alive, you’re autobiographical movie at best is an Oscar winner starring Matt Damon. At worst, it’s the Lifetime movie of the week starring Antonio Sabato, Jr.
I could probably list another 15-20 more possible things that could derail a thru hike, but truth be told, those six points I listed usually cross my mind at least once on a backpacking trip. Do you agree? Leave a comment below!
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