Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Close Encounter

Yesterday I took an eight mile hike on the White Oak Canyon Trail and some horse trails in Shenandoah National Park. I wore my heaviest hiking boots so I wouldn't be tempted to run. Honestly, I wanted to run the day after running a tough 90 miles (all told). That has to be a good sign about how my recovery will go.

I was taking my time and enjoying the sunny day on the trail when I saw a huge centipede and crouched down to watch it walk (I told you I was taking my time). I heard a branch snap behind me and looked up behind me. There was a black bear about 10 feet from me, just stepping onto the trail from the woods. He looked right at me and started walking toward me at a slow pace. I stood up and looked as big as I could and yelled stuff like, "you don't want to come over here and mess with me! You see these muscles? I'll whip your butt good. So just back off buddy..." This always works on Maine bears, but Virginia bears are apparently different than their northern kin. He kept coming and I found myself backing up. I pulled my pathetically small can of pepper spray from my pocket, looked at it, and said out loud, "yeah, right." I ran.

About a hundred yards down the trail I rounded a curve and almost bumped into a young school teacher and one of his students. We talked about the bear and the teacher decided to regroup before going on, thinking a big noisy bunch of junior high kids would surely scare the bear away. I continued on at a leisurely hike, passing a steady stream of tired looking kids dragging their feet over the trail with their heads down walking toward their teacher. I could tell they were thinking this was too much work. About 15 minutes later, the kids started passing me again, this time going the same direction I was going. They were running, faces beet red, arms pumping, sweat flying, and mouths open gasping for air. A few of them grunted out the single word, "bear" as they passed. By the time I got to the upper falls, at least half the kids had gone by. They were regrouping at the upper falls where they had two tired looking chaperones sitting on the rocks waiting for them to come back. The group had parked at the opposite and of the trail as I had. The kids were doubled over excitedly talking about the bear between gasps.

I continued on to the middle and lower falls and stopped on the flat rocks overlooking the lower falls for a picnic lunch. Then I took my shoes off and laid down for a nap in the sun. I woke to find the whole group of kids, the chaperones, and their teacher standing around me. The teacher said, "we met your bear." He said that as they noisily rounded the curve they found the bear laying in the trail. When the bear saw them he got up and started walking towards them. The kids all yelled and threw things, but he kept coming so they ran. This teacher is an avid local hiker and he said this was unusual behavior and advised I return to my car by a different route. The kids were very excited and I was their captive audience. They gathered around me and told the story over and over again. The bear was at least 600 pounds in their eyes, (he was really a small juvenile). One tall lanky young man stated, "I'm a distance man myself, but I out sprinted that son of a gun." They had me laughing. What a great bunch of kids. I enjoyed them.

So I took the long way back on horse trails and it was nice. I saw a lot of birds, some of which I couldn't identify. I also saw deer and a rabbit. I stopped at an overlook while driving out of the park and ate dinner and waited for the sunset. It was gorgeous. I had a wonderful day.


  1. That is why I like the outdoors and the woods so much....all the beauty yet a real element of danger all mixed in.....yes a certain amount of respect is needy as you are allowed to enjoy your surroundings.

    I say first one to the path has the right of way.....though I guess the one with the bigger claws could argue that.......

  2. Woah, what an encounter. You seem so brave! I can't imagine you running away, adrenaline squirting, after having just run 90 miles. There's some sort of expression for that...ironic? I wonder what the VA bear wanted... centipede? Fast LD runner with lots of guts? Have you used the pepper spray on bears in ME? I should get some for bears and creeps. My muscles and tough talk probably aren't aren't worth their salt.

  3. For you it's the bears, for me it's the mountain lions I have to worry about. Nice blog. I too spend way too many hours alone in the woods. Wouldn't have it any other way though. ;)

  4. The pepper spray is for creeps, I doubt it would slow a bear down. Any talk or singing is usually enough to make a bear walk away, you just need to let them know you're a human and that's usually enough. I just like the tough talk so when they do walk away I can say, "yeah, that's what I thought, you big pansy."

  5. Mountain lions would scare me. At W.S in the middle of the night I was going down the trail with a line of runners and the subject of mountain lion attacks came up. After this talk went on for a few minutes, we heard something crash loudly off to the side of the trail. Every last one of us let out a scream (I was the only woman in the group)then we were all embarrassed about it. We changed the subject of conversation right after that.