Day 3: I Got Lost and Faced a Bear Situation
I got up after hearing some other hikers getting their things packed up. For better or for worse, the noise doesn’t bother me much and I’m able to sleep or relax through it. It’s appearing to be a pattern that I’m one of the last hikers in the shelter to get going for the day.
As I had breakfast, I chatted with Birdie a bit. She told me she lives near the White Mountains and offered to give me her number in case I get into trouble when I’m out there. The White Mountains in New Hampshire are a notoriously difficult stretch of trail, not just because of the terrain but because poor weather conditions can roll in at any time of year. There can be snowstorms on Mount Washington in July. I am continuously in awe of how everyone insists on looking out for each other out here. 3 socks told a story of how Birdie picked her up from Mount Washington when bad weather rolled in. Apparently it’s no small feat driving up the mountain in poor conditions, so extending me this offer was extremely kind.
As the reunion crew was packing up and getting ready to head out, Lion Tamer announced that he had to get off trail earlier than expected. He had dealt with a knee issue in the past that he thought was resolved, but had re-emerged with the intense activity of the past few days. Greygoose encouraged him to monitor the injury before giving up the trail entirely. She said she has had really severe knee pain that cleared up the next day after some rest. We all wished him a speedy recovery as he headed out.
After most or all of the hikers cleared out, I got my start from Rocky Run shelter at 9:15. It was cloudy and in the 50s. I was still finding shorts to be comfortable. When I reached the trail, I didn’t recognize which direction was north and south. There was no sign to indicate the direction, and the app I am using to navigate had a bug which caused the map to disappear sporadically, with a workaround that I hadn’t yet mastered. I figured I could just pick a direction until I saw a sign, then turn around if need be. I began walking a few steps and wasn’t confident in my choice. I decided to stop and wait for another hiker to come through and ask. Within minutes, a hiker approached and I asked him if the way he was headed was north or south. “It better be south or I’m lost!” he commented. I had been hiking in the same direction as him, so I turned around and went on my way. Thankfully it’s not that easy to get lost on the AT, at least not for very long.
Knowing that it is best to keep my mileage low for the first couple weeks on trail, I originally planned to go 7.5 miles to Pine Knob Shelter. But once I reached the shelter, I was feeling good, so I decided to press on to a tent site 2.2 miles up the trail. I had read in the FarOut app that some hikers had a bear come to their tent a few days prior, slashing through the tarp and not getting scared off when they yelled at it (black bears are typically timid and will flee if you make enough noise and intimidate them enough). Reading this made me stop and consider my destination for the night. I felt that 2.2 miles wasn’t enough distance to guarantee that this bear would not bother me, so it would be silly to stop short thinking it would protect me from the bear. I had to trust my own management of bear attractants like food and other smelly items like sunscreen. I was confident in my knowledge of best practices for food storage. I didn’t feel scared of camping at Annapolis Rocks, and I pressed on.
I made the rookie mistake of not considering elevation gain with the extra mileage. It turns out that there was a big climb up to the campsite. Luckily for me, I was feeling really good and the climb went well. I ran into Greygoose and 3 socks on the way up. “You’re doing good!” Greygoose commented. I couldn’t help but feel that my clothing choices had something to do with it. The sun had just broken through the clouds and it was warm, probably in the 60s by then. The reunion crew were sweating in their rain gear going up the climb, but sometimes it’s just not worth stopping your momentum to adjust your clothing.
I passed 3 socks and Greygoose and continued going up. I saw Birdie ahead, but she was gunning it and there was no way I would overtake her. When I met her at the top, I commented that if she hadn’t told me she lived near the White Mountains this morning, I could have guessed it after watching her demolish that climb! She asked me if I had been hiking out there before. I told her I was from Boston and had been a couple times, and we talked about how steep and unforgiving the terrain is. After chatting with her a bit, I continued on as she waited for the rest of the reunion crew to finish climbing.
Further up the trail, I encountered a trail maintenance crew hiking south. “How long will you be out here?” One man asked. “A few months I hope,” I responded. “You’re going the whole way?” “The whole way!” I proclaimed. “Well good for you!” He said enthusiastically. I noticed he was wearing a 2,000-miler hat, indicating that he had hiked the entire AT himself. He proceeded to ask where I was camping for the night. When I told him, he laughed and looked back at the crew. “We just cleaned it up for you!” he said with a smile. He then suggested the finest campsites that were available. I thanked him and the others for their work and hiked on.
Just moments later, a young man approached on trail and asked from twenty feet away, “are you a thru hiker?” He couldn’t see my hang tag, so it was apparent that my getup is a dead giveaway. I’m basically wearing a thru hiker uniform: trail runners, dirty girl gaiters, a fanny pack, and a Garmin inreach mini 2. “Yeah!” I said. “Cool!” He responded, “I’m the Maryland ridgerunner!” We were face to face at this point and I felt bad that I had no idea who he was. “I should probably know what that is but I don’t,” I said apologetically. “I help patrol the 40 miles of AT in Maryland and pick up trash along the trail,” he explained. I saw what looked like a bag of trash in his hand. He asked where I would be staying the night and I told him I was headed to Annapolis Rocks. He said he was the caretaker over there, so he would see me later.
I arrived to camp at 3:15pm and set up my tent. I couldn’t manage to get a good pitch because I needed more space to stake out my tarp than the tent sites allowed. I realized I could have had more space arranging my tent differently, but I was too lazy to fix it. I would suffer the consequences of a poorly pitched tent.
There was a view from the rocks that I wanted to catch, so I went to investigate and it was stunning. I lugged my bear can to the rocks and cooked and ate my dinner there. This was part of my strategy to manage food odors that could attract bears. I would cook my food far from camp to keep these smells from where I was sleeping. Plus I could enjoy the nice view near my campsite.
It drizzled a bit while I ate but it didn’t bother me and wasn’t enough to warrant fetching my umbrella or rain gear. Once I finished, I cleaned up and started to head back to my campsite. I bumped into the ridgerunner as I was making my way back to camp. He informed me that unfortunately, there has been recent bear activity in this area. I told him I was aware of that. He said that upon further investigation, it was found that the hikers who saw the bear had been sleeping with their food. I was shocked to hear this. It is something of an open secret that many AT hikers, especially thru hikers, sleep with their food. In principle, the presence of a predator near the food is supposed to deter the bear from approaching it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always seem to work. Proper food storage can be inconvenient. I carry a bear canister that adds 2.6 lbs to my base weight, and this is more than most hikers want to commit to. Another option is hanging food, which can be difficult because it requires a tree with an appropriately high branch, which isn’t always available close to camp. But many campsites (in fact, each one I’ve stayed at during my time on trail so far) have a tall pole available for hanging food, and I passed by one as I walked to my campsite at Annapolis Rocks. That’s why I was surprised to hear people had slept with their food. It seemed like such an unnecessary risk.
After giving me this information, the ridgerunner urged me not to sleep with my food even though he acknowledged my bear can. I knew to stash the can far from camp, but I suppose he knows it’s best not to assume campers are aware of best practices for food storage.
As I settled in for the night, I found a hollow in a tree a good distance from my campsite that was practically made for holding my bear can. After stashing it, I went to sleep, resting easy knowing the bear attractants in my possession were far away from me.
AT miles today: 9.7
Elevation gain: 2100′
Total AT miles: 25.8
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