My “Beary” Big AT Thru Hiker Secret…

I can’t believe it’s only 2 weeks away from my start date..

I feel a range of emotions that change daily, sometimes hourly. There are days I want to move my flight up and get on trail immediately! Other days…

  • I feel afraid I’ll be alone on trail
  • I feel afraid I’ll get injured and have to leave the trail
  • I feel afraid I will encounter dangerous wildlife.

My journey to the AT began 4 years ago during the height of COVID. I accidentally stumbled upon the AT. You can read the full story of how my AT journey began in my first blog here:

I knew on the day I first stepped foot on the trail, that the AT was special and it was the beginning of a beautiful love story.

How I found the trail:

I have done several smaller section hikes over the past 4 years. I read all the books, vlogs and blogs. I am so obsessed with the AT that when friends reach out to ask if I want to go for a hike, I frequently suggest hiking somewhere on the AT. When I have time off, I pack a bag and head to the white blazed trail. Although the parts of the AT I have hiked aren’t particularly scenic, I always find comfort, peace and curiosity in the green tunnel.

Are we fearful?

The process of getting to the point of planning a thru hike hasn’t been without obstacles. I, as well as many others, was raised to be fearful. There were threats around every corner of “stranger danger”, white vans and quick sand. I made sure to avoid going outside with wet hair, using the sink during a lightning storm and answering the phone when I didn’t recognize the number. I drank three 8 ounces glasses of milk everyday and made sure to finish all the food on my plate. All this was done in an effort to avoid the many dangers lurking right outside my door as well as in my own home! I was warned with messages of “be safe”, “stay safe” and “safety first”. Having all these messages continuously drilled into my brain didn’t make me confident and adventurous.

Somehow, in spite of all these scare tactics, I have been able to take risks throughout my life and the shocker…I sit here alive and well to tell the tale!

How to manage the fear:

How do I do it? I don’t allow other people’s fears to become mine. For the upcoming hike,  I don’t let my mind focus on the many risk of hiking the trail. I avoid social media posts and YouTube videos about “Danger on the AT” and “The Trail is Deadly”. I could go down that path but I make a conscious choice to avert my energy.

I confirm my awareness that there are dangers on the trail and I should be knowledgeable and prepared to handle them. However, what we give energy to becomes real and I am making the choice to visit, but not dwell in the world of trepidation.

And now…here’s my “beary” big secret…

I am preparing to hike the AT in 2 weeks and…. I have never slept outside in a tent alone!!! I am terrified that a black bear will pull me out of my tent while I sleep and prey on me. This is an irrational fear however, it is very real for me.

Snakes and Bears:

During my early days of hiking on the AT, I encountered rattle snakes and bear. My first bear sighting in NJ was the butt of a bear sauntering down the trail in front of me. The next time, I wasn’t so lucky as 2 bear cubs came running toward me like excited puppies. On that day, I had only just began my hike but I walked straight back down the mountain and back to my car. I didn’t have the mental fortitude to deal with bear encounters that day.

At my first snake encounter, I vowed to never the the AT alone! I quickly found hiking partners and started to recognize how the trail brings people together and creates authentic connection with others.

Will I still hike the AT?

How am I managing my “beary” big fear? I am talking about it but not dwelling on it. What I give voice to, takes away its power. I am listening to the audible “Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance” by Stephen Herrero. I know this sounds contradictory to what I’ve shared so far but here’s my thought process.

Know this…

Learn as much as I can about bear behavior, how to act in a bear encounter and what the worse case scenario would be. I have to admit, as I began listening to the book, I read about graphic maulings and deaths. I was thinking of ending the book but then I knew I needed to follow through to get to the part that would help me understand and feel secure. I needed to hear the stats and understand the likelihood of what I was up against. According to the Stephen Herrero, 23 people were killed by black bears between 1900-1980. Almost all of bear attacks are due to a human surprising a bear. Bears will be inclined to run away from humans. There are many ways to avoid negative encounters with black bears:

  • Store food and all smellables properly in bear boxes, canisters or using a bear bag hang
  • Don’t cook or eat in your tent or shelter
  • Follow the rules of Leave No Trace

If you do encounter a black bear…

  • Don’t run!
  • Make yourself as big as possible by holding your trekking poles overhead or your coat
  • Make as much noise as possible

If a bear charges and attacks…

  • Fight back with anything you have – a fist, a rock, a tree limb
  • Do not play dead
  • Never run away from bears

Does all of this alleviate my “beary” big fear? Heck no! Will this stop me from starting my thru hike? Heck no!

I realize that I can have a fear and not let it control me. I can have a fear and not need to stuff it down, deny it or force it away. In other words, I can feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.


I WILL start my hike in 2 weeks!

I WILL stop at the top of a mountain and soak in the view!

I WILL smile at other hikers and wish them happy trails!

I WILL look up at the expansive sky in awe!

I WILL sleep in my tent, alone at times, and shake and tremble and feel my heart pump!

I WON’T let fear stop me!!

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Comments 9

  • Jay Van Arsdall : Mar 22nd

    What people don’t realize is how misleading the bear facts are! First you need to separate east and west of the Mississippi River and the deaths decrease by about 50%. If you eliminate the “stupid” human behaviors e.g. feeding them, trying to get a picture with them, trying to skin a sleeping bear, etc, and the fact that half of the deaths were a result of bears in captivity, your fears should be greatly reduced. Interestingly, there has NEVER been a documented case of a black bear mother killing a human in defense of her cubs!!! Grizzlies are a different story. Mothers defending their cubs account for 70% of the fatalities by brown bear attacks. You should check out the research organization in Minnesota.

    • Erica : Apr 2nd

      This is very helpful info. Thanks for sharing it. I checked out and it helped ease some more fears. They also have a pretty cool web cam on their site too!

  • Gecko : Mar 23rd

    WTG, Erica! I’m not counting days yet, but the start date for my 2024 section is rapidly approaching. Happy trails!

    • Erica : Apr 2nd

      How exciting!!! Happy trails!

  • ERIC MEISTER : Mar 23rd

    Found ya lol.

    • Erica : Apr 2nd

      Hehehe. Here I am!!

  • Bluewhale : Mar 23rd

    I’m looking forward to hearing all about your walk in the woods!

    • Erica : Apr 2nd

      Thank you for virtually coming along for the journey! I’m looking forward to sharing

  • Albert Martin / Baba : Apr 13th

    First, My best wishes for you on the trail.
    I have done some day hikes on the AT in NJ and NH. One of my favorite hikes was on the Pochuck boardwalk to Pinwheel Vista (“Stairway to Heaven”). Why bring this up? In order to get to Pinwheel Vista, you need to climb a small, rocky hill. At the bottom of the hill, there are some large Jersey rocks with at least one bear cave and at least one bear.
    Your advice for bears is wonderful. But one day coming down from the vista, a local inhabitant of the caves was standing athwart the trail. All the advise on bears does NOT tell you how to proceed forward when the bear is sitting ON the trail.
    So my wish to you is that in all your bear encounters, the trail remains clear from bears. And, Oh yes, clear from other nasties.
    Good Luck and Good Hiking, Jersey Girl.


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