Welcome to the Bear House

Hey everyone, hope you had an excellent Memorial Day! I spent this weekend walking through the Smoky Mountains. The heat made some of the days drag on, but I’m out and ready for the next section.

For those of you that have not been through the Smokies, the park has a strict permit procedure in place. Thru-hikers get a permit for $20 and can spend up to seven nights in the park, while section/day-hikers spend $4 per person/night. All hikers must sleep at designated camping spots; however, section/day hikers reserve spots at sleeping locations, so they get first dibs on shelter space. If a shelter is full, thru-hikers tent next to the shelter; if not, they must sleep inside.

I believe this system is in place because of the wildlife throughout the park. Before entering the Smokies, I hadn’t been up close and personal to a bear, but on day one, I encountered three! I also saw turkeys, wild boar, deer, snakes, a turtle, and a bunny. So crazy!!

Being so up close and personal to these creatures made realize that, just like wildlife, hikers are a bunch of animals.

As a backpacker, I am always out, roaming about. On the daily, I pick bugs out of my hair and eat pretty much anything given to me. I poop outside and I’ll go days without bathing. When nighttime comes around, I curl up and sleep on the ground.

Like wild animals, hikers are out trying to survive, we’re also like animals at the zoo, though; we have some cushioning for when the going gets tough.

I’m well aware that zoo animals are not given space to roam about like hikers; more often than not they are locked in cages.

I want you all to know that a hiker sleeping in a cage in the Smokies is actually not all that uncommon.

Remember when I mentioned that hikers are required to sleep in designated spots because of wildlife?

Up until a few years ago, all of the shelters in the Smokies had fencing around the open portions of the shelter. Rather than hanging food from cables, hikers kept everything in the shelter and locked themselves inside the cage before going to sleep.

Only one of these cage-style shelters still exists in the park, and that is at Davenport Gap.

I had the pleasure of sleeping in that shelter my last night in the Smokies, and I’ll be honest, it was pretty strange! While getting ready for bed, fellow hikers made jokes about us sleeping in a batting cage. Others said that the bears probably come and watch us sleep at night thinking that we’re boring, not doing any tricks!

Although it was weird to sleep in a cage, I’m glad to have had the experience. I may joke that hikers are just like animals, but honestly, hikers can do a lot of damage to an animal’s home. The rules of the Smokies are in place to ensure hiker safety, but they are also there to help give wildlife the most normal living space possible.

So next time you’re out and about on the trail, think of it as an animal’s home, think of it as your own home. Would that make you treat the trail and surrounding space differently?

And also. If you get the chance. Go to the Smokies and sleep in the cage at Davenport Gap. It’s strange and you probably won’t sleep well, but it makes for one hell of a good story. Catch ya later!!

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