A day of emergency dental work, better weather, a hiker taken to hospital and six – no, seven – bears including a scary midnight visit.
My day started with coffee and an emergency appointment with Alison’s dentist in Luray (definitely pronounced Loo-ray by the way). They took X-Rays and said the porcelain crown on the tooth had broken which can happen with porcelain on a back molar. It needs to be re-crowned preferably in gold but it can wait a few months if need be. It would take at least a week to get it crowned here so that’s out of the question. I have to keep it clean and eat on the other side. More could still break off but it’s a risk I’ll have to take and it’s not the end of the world because that tooth had a root canal anyway so can’t get decay. I was very grateful to Alison for organising it and giving me a ride there and back.
After Alison dropped the boys off to get a special tour with her son of the famous Luray Caverns she drove me back to the trailhead and I could get going again. In the meantime she had picked up the second set of M&Ms I’d met on that cold night on the mountain on Day 71. Seems that Mo’s legs and feet had just “plain given out” due to the rocky trail and they had gotten of trail around 907. Now she could barely wall and were on their way to a train station. I sympathised with their plight and hoped they could return like me to section hike in the future. Also, Alison said this had been so far the wettest May here since records began. Rocks plus rain plus long descents are not easy day after day.
Dropped off at 11:30 I immediately went the wrong way and I found out when I decided to check the map because – I kid you not – the trail seemed too easy. Back to Go for me, do not collect £200. So I started at noon instead and tried to start making back the miles I had lost with the late start. At least the weather was much improved, after a damp night and morning it was now clear and somewhat sunny. Where once was canal, today was merely muddy and the rocks would dry out by mid-afternoon.
After just 45 minutes I came up to a single bear, small/medium, just off trail and he backed away about 15 yards and surveyed me quietly before slowly making his way further into the forest. This was the best photo op yet.
This was a solid 8.6 mile section with just one stop for water and it brought me to Elkwallow Wayside, the last of the stores-cum-grills-cum-gift-shops. As I approached I could see the flashing blue lights of the emergency services and I wondered if my appearance in such a scene was wise given how I look. It was in fact two park ranger vehicles giving first aid including oxygen to a section hiker who had suffered chest pains and faintness. An ambulance came to take him to the nearest hospital. He seemed weak but ok so hopefully it wasn’t serious.
Already eating at a picnic table were Farmer, who I hadn’t seen in 2 weeks but apparently had zeroed in Waynesboro the same rainy day as me, Croc’n'Roll and a hiker I had just briefly chatted with at my earlier water stop called Teatime. The other two soon pushed on and, while I devoured a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries, Teatime and I chatted for a while, especially to chuckle over day hikers’ fear of bears. I had been meeting the poor souls coming south that afternoon all terrified because Teatime had merely mention to them that he’d seen 2 bears in that section. He had so it was true but I got the freak out backlash in his wake! Apparently one guy told Teatime that he’d emptied a flare gun and refilled it with shotgun pellets just in case one came at him. One young guy and his buddy came out of the woods dressed like they were catalogue woodsmen and one had this big Bowie knife. Teatime and I both clocked this show of bravado at the exact same time and smiled at each other. “Bless”, said Teatime summing it up perfectly.
I saw my second bear immediately after leaving the Wayside. He was a bit of young scaredy-bear as he dashed 50 yards away at top speed before stopping, clearly reluctant to give up what may have been a fruitful eating area.
Bear 3 must have been seen by Croc’n'Roll first near a road just after Little Hogback Mountain as two girls from Florida came out of the parking lot and told me he’d gone past recently and they’d all seen a bear but they’d run away back to their car. But they wanted to see the bear again and get a photo this time. I let them follow me up the trail about a hundred yards – ie so I would get eaten first – and he was indeed still there, unimpressed to be disturbed again at dinner as he let out a huffy snort as he decided to slowly back off. The girls were happy with their photo and headed back to the safety of their car while I headed onwards. More fool who?
Bears 4-6 were at 955.1 and were another Mama plus 2 cubs but this time they were small ones, very cute and scampery. Just too far off to come out in photos well they still made for a nice sight in real life.
I managed to make 24 miles by 7pm when the sun was setting. I was happy to have made a good day of it despite the lost time. It had been a productive day and it had only rained lightly for the final half hour.
Tomorrow I will head out of SNP and into Front Royal for resupply and a zero. Word is that temperatures will skip the pleasant 60′s and 70′s and jump straight up to 85, high humidity and with daily thunderstorms so I wouldn’t want to miss that. I fell asleep to the familiar sound of rain falling on the tent.
At 00:25 I was woken by a loud and persistent snuffling around the tent, quickly changing from one side to another and even on top of the pyramid tent. Along with the snuffling was a rapidly repeated high-pitched whine. At first I thought it might just be a deer but as I rapidly became very wide awake indeed I realised it was actually at least 1 bear. My main concern was that he would decide to “reach” in which would be bad for the tent and bad for my corporeal wholeness. Wriggling on my crinkly sleeping mat and calling “Hey!” didn’t help the first time but the second time, a bit louder, had him yelp and run away. Heart pounding, I went outside and made some noise to emphasise the point that this was an occupied site. I will check my bear bag when it gets light….
Morning update. I actually went right back to sleep and slept well until dawn. My food bag was untouched but there was a small hole in the fly of the tent and several bear paw prints around the tent so the culprit can be traced if needed….
So…bad things do sometimes happen on the trail and I don’t report them, share them, retweet them or whatever. This time I will share this horrifying firsthand account of a recent bear attack because it is so apropos to this incident. The location also happens to be near where my bear encounter on Day 28 took place and at a shelter I looked at but skipped because it felt wrong.