In my hiking adventures on the Seven Continents, I have seen many animals. If you leave them alone, they usually will not bother people. One morning while hiking the Appalachian Trail, I was up at dawn, packed up my tent, and was moving along the trail at a good clip to get warmed up, as it was early April high in the mountains.
I had hardly gone very far when out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I turned my head and looked and lying on a fallen tree was a tawny panther. I froze just looking at this awesome creature with its long tail, the small pointed ears, head, and long sleek body. It had been asleep and I had woken it. In a matter of seconds it sat up, jumped from the leaning tree to the ground, turned, paused, looked at me, and then was gone. No time for a photo, but it registered in my mind as a very vivid picture. I saw or heard many animals on the Appalachian Trail: wild pigs, wild horses, coyotes, moose, and bear.
I had one encounter with a black bear. I had hiked that morning from Mount Madison Hut along the Presidential ridge and was heading down towards Pinkham Notch. Along the way, I passed four through-hiking friends sitting on a big rock, where they were taking a little break. General was a strong young man and recent graduate of the Citadel. Boss and Spammy were recent college graduates, physically fit, and Crank was also a strong young man, from Texas. We had spent much time together on the trail earlier. After a while they passed me again, and I was hiking by myself. About an hour later I heard shouting far down the trail ahead of me. I kept walking and I realized it was Crank, since I had not seen any other hikers that day on the trail.
I came up a rise and ahead of me was a black bear, running straight towards me. I heard Crank say, “Help Madelyn!” The bear was not growling or being ferocious at this point, but it came close to me and then began circling. Crank was running towards me and hitting it with his hiking sticks. General was petrified and was standing on a big rock and shouting and banging his trekking poles. Boss and Spammy were peppering it with rocks.
I was calm and trying to see how to get away from the encounter. General pulled me up onto the big rock and I could see a natural high wall past a stream we had to cross, and then we could slowly climb to get out of here and along the trail. I was the oldest and slowest. I said, “Let Spammy and I go ahead and get a good start, while you keep the bear’s attention, then the three of you stay together and follow us.”
All the while, the bear was circling us and keeping us blocked in this area. On cue, I jumped down and headed for the stream, with Spammy on my tail. We never stopped, but we could hear the three men shouting as we climbed the straight, high wall and headed along it. Soon Crank, General, and Boss were with us. Crank had broken his two hiking sticks which he had used since starting the AT in Georgia. We reported the incident when we reached the next town in New Hampshire, and the rangers knew about this rogue bear, as it had entered a tent and taken food. In cases like this, they tag the bear and relocate it to a less populated area.
A couple of weeks after the incident with the aggressive black bear, I was hiking the AT in Maine, happy to have almost completed the entire trail. I was in a dense cedar forest and the trail was very narrow, with little visibility ahead. I came alongside of a small black bear, asleep on its back in a tree, just like I would be in a hammock. I was so close I could have touched it. It jumped up instantly like it was in shock and disappeared. In a minute or two it came out on the trail to look at me (as if to check that I hadn’t been a dream), shook itself, and then lumbered off.
Animals are a great wonder in the wild. It is a part of the adventure in hiking.
(posted August 16, 2016)