Today was eventful – charged by a mama bear and finally out of the Smokies!
As I was expecting to only do 8 miles today I cooked oatmeal and took time over breakfast. Piece of Cake offered to drive me to a doctor in Gatlinburg from a trailhead near the next shelter and back again – how nice is that?! I declined as I did believe I was on the mend and set off at 8:30. As I left Big Horn called out in parting, “Mind the gap!”. Funny guy!
A big climb out of the shelter got me warmed up and the annoying rocky trail continued. In my head I composed a letter of complaint to whoever maintains this section of trail. It was cutting in its tone.
After a couple hours I had made good progress and was on track to reach the next shelter about noon. If that happened I knew I would be tempted to knock off the last 10 miles to Standing Bear Farm at the 240.8 mile mark and be done with the Smokies.
In the end I was able to get down to the shelter, resupply with water, have lunch and leave by 1pm. I figured it would take 5 hours to do the remaining 10 miles and reach the hostel by 6pm or so, in time for sunset. I was wrong.
On the descent, at mile 233.3, I looked up to find two large bears on the trail staring right at me. Ok. One jumped onto the nearest tree and snorted while glaring angrily directly at me.
I got the message and retreated around a bend about 50 yards back. And waited. The bigger bear (daddy?) wandered off. Cool. Maybe the other one (mama?) will too. No. I waited a bit and walked around the corner again to see if I could force the issue. As you can see in the video below that did not go well. She mock-charged me to show she was seriously defending this position. Of course for the first second or two I didn’t know it was a mock charge so backed off pretty darn quickly!
I retreated again. I figured this behaviour probably meant there was a cub up the tree but I could not see it. Or maybe the tree was just made of honey and she didn’t want to share. After a total of 25 minutes of this standoff two NOBO hikers came up and then around the same time two other hikers came from the south and hollered that they were stuck too. They made some noise and blew a whistle but mama was steadfast.
After another 10 minutes mama fixed the problem herself by climbing the tree to join the – hidden round the trunk – cub. This was our signal to scoot quickly by. The baby bear was very small – loaf of bread sized – and cute as a button. Please excuse the lack of pictures of it but I was either 50 yards away or scooting very quickly. As you can see in the video below the mama bear could have got to us in 2 seconds flat.
After that delay I was later to exit the Smokies and reach Standing Bear Farm around 7 but it was worth it! I drank down a Sunkist, Yoohoo chocolate milk and a diet Coke immediately and consecutively, indigestion risk be damned. I was also delighted to find Sas and Crinkle Root (Wayne) already in situ, two of the nicest people from my second week. I also met Garnet Turtle, Handlebar and the well-groomed Paperweight who is from Maine. Paperweight had even heard of me already from my apparently legendary blisters!
I heated up on the hostel’s frozen pizzas for dinner, finished about half and offered up the rest. The others remarked on how little I ate but I just don’t feel like it.