Good afternoon, gentle readers! Wanna here a story? Here it goes.
A couple weekends ago, while hiking the Appalachian Trail, I met a bear. It was a little like walking on thin ice over a river of acid. Or, perhaps more accurately, it was like meeting a bear in the woods.
You see, my girlfriend (Heather) and I were on our way home to Michigan from a wedding in New Jersey when, while coming upon a traffic jam at the NJ/PA border, we spied a sign announcing the presence of The Trail just off the highway. Eager for a bit of exercise and the chance to say we’d hiked even the most meager portion of the AT’s many many wild miles, we stopped off and embarked on a little hike.
Maybe a couple miles down the trail –after informing Heather that New Jersey is full of bears and having that fact acknowledged with an absent nod– I spotted a dark, fuzzy shape behind a fallen tree just off the trail about 30 feet in front of us. At that point I stopped dead in my tracks, put an arm out to stop Heather’s progress, and said, in a voice somewhere between alarm and disbelief, “Bear!” It was then that the bear stuck its head up to appraise us, thus signaling the moment to begin soiling our shorts.
After a few nervous glances we began to back away down the trail towards a large group of hikers that were about 50 yards behind us, and the bear began ambling in the same direction, though still somewhat off of the trail, and not in a particularly determined fashion, stopping here and there to murder grubs and the like.
When we reached the larger group we informed them of the situation and we all stopped and watched as the bear kept walking in our direction, and eventually past us. At that point the main group kept going, but a small rearguard, including Heather and myself, stayed to keep an eye on the bear’s activities. Heather and I were particularly interested because the bear was heading in the same direction we needed to go to get back to our car.
This is roughly the point where the bear’s attitude towards us shifted from indifference to curiosity. It strolled out onto the actual trail, pointed itself back up the path in our direction, advanced on us a few paces, and finally just stood there staring. This lasted for several tense moments before it left the trail and began to circle back in our direction through the woods.
At this point we finally went on the offensive (which I had advocated earlier, though one of the hiking group leaders dissented, and I didn’t want to be blamed for any aggression that we could possibly have provoked) and began making a royally loud stink… shouting and clapping and smashing rocks on each other and the like.
The bear didn’t give two shits.
Finally, after a couple long minutes of verbally harassing the persistently unflappable beast, it lost interest and turned back around and began shuffling away– still in the direction of our car, but a little farther off the path than before, which allowed us to get ahead of it and back on our way with minimal anxiety as to its proximity and intentions. Not that we abandoned the baseball-sized stones we’d been clutching… It was, after all, a little disconcerting that the bear had been so openly unafraid of people, even in large groups, and from what I understand such an animal is more likely to become aggressive and, I shudder to think, predatory.
Anyway, it was definitely more of an adventure than we imagined we might encounter on such a brief and unplanned foray into the wilds! I happened to have my copy of Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” with me on the trip, and I had fun reading it to Heather on our way back home, particularly the following bits:
“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.”
— Bill Bryson
“This is a clear example of the general type of incident in which a black bear sees a person and decides to try to kill and eat him…”
— Stephen Hererro