Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Red Fox vs. The Black Bear

I read somewhere once that walking or hiking is a great form of cross training. That's good, because I hate water running and haven't owned a bike since I was 13. So, I've been doing a lot of hiking - through the woods, naturally. 

May in Maryland brings out all sorts of wildlife. On one such hike, I saw a *real* red fox vixen and her two kits. In all my years sniffin' about for foxeses, I had yet to see kits. I explored a few other places nearby; scouting them out for future runs, but didn't see much more in terms of wildlife. To that end, I decided to go camping on Friday night in Shenandoah National Park. I pored through my camping books and over maps that detail various treks that crisscross the Blue Ridge Mountains and found a suitable loop in the 11-mile Hazel Creek Trail near mile marker 35 off Skyline Drive. 

I bombed out to the mountains on Friday morning and by 12:30pm, my car was at my back. It was already warm, but the crisp mountain air was keeping my sweat at bay. I rolled up my sleeves, heaved my 45 pound pack atop my back and I proceeded into the wilderness. I was eager to see wildlife, specifically black bears. In fact, that's why I came here. I've been hiking/camping in the Shenandoah before, but I had never seen a black bear. In fact, I'd only seen one in the wild before and that was in western Maryland during college cross country pre-season camp. Naturally, as I descended down the trail, my ears and eyes were alert. I'd be damned if I wasn't going to see me a bear! Not less than a quarter mile into my journey I heard a crash to my left. Things happened fast. At first I thought it was a black lab, which normally, had I been on the trails of Cabin John, would have been the case, but lab it was not. My right hand reached for my trusty Buck knife, while my left hand fumbled for the small hatchet, which dangled from my pack. My third hand searched for my camera. The black bear crashed through the brambles and sprinted to my left. I had startled it. Back closer to the trail, I noticed the brambles move close to where the bear had just left. Was there another?  A cub? Then, not wanting to get tunnel vision, I swiveled my head to the right and scanned the horizon in search for other bruins. My throat dried and I did my best not to pee my pants. I did my best. I slowly backed away, while always keeping one eye on the massive bulk of black mass off to my left. I stood motionless for a few minutes, then turned my trusty knife around in my hand before finally placing it back in its sheath. I was clear. I cautiously proceeded on, still not sure whether another bear was laying low in the brambles ahead. There wasn't. It was exciting to say the least and I laughed to myself having accomplished my objective just .2 miles (I had my GPS on because I was curious to know what type of pace I keep hiking hill and dale with a pack) into the hike. 

I proceeded to descend deep into the valley, traipsing through muck and crossing swollen brooks until I reached my destination - Hazel Creek. By now, I was soaked in sweat, so I ripped off my shirt and dunked my warm head into the cold creek. A fly fisherman meandered up the path - the first human being I had seen since leaving my car - and told me that a storm was coming through around 4 or 5pm. I looked at my watch. I had about an hour or so to find a campsite and get to work. The fly fisherman and I traded leads a few times while traversing thigh deep Hazel Creek. He was looking for a calm pool of water while I looked for a flat piece of earth. I cross the creek a few more times (at which point my boots were soaked through) until finally reaching suitable place to pitch a tent. I'd hiked about 6.5 miles. I got to work, always keeping an eye on the sky, until everything was in order. Then I waited. I had a handful of magazine articles I wanted to read so I grabbed one of the two cans of PBR I had chilling in the cold creek and began to chillax against an old rotten log. I cracked another beer, read another article and stared at the mountainside waiting for an army of black bears to raid my camp. I smiled and took a pull of bourbon. All was alright. Hours passed and soon it was time to eat dinner - dehydrated chicken and mashed potatoes with a slice of pita bread...and bourbon. The first drops of rain began to fall around 7:30, so I grabbed my things and burrowed into my tent. I was tired from the hike and in another hour, after I'd thumbed through a few pages of my US Army Survival book, I yawned and passed out inside by bag. I awoke a few times to the crack of thunder and flashes of lightning. If the bears conspired against me now, I'd be done for. I shivered. Water was slowly making it's way into the tent. That was inevitable. I finally awoke "for real" at 6:30am and began the always arduous process of emerging from my comfortable and cozy tent. I chowed on some oatmeal and coffee, struck camp and began the long, upward march out of the valley. A few hours later I arrived, soaked to the bone in sweat, back at my car. I had seen only two other parties of hikers on my way out. Fairly remote. By now it had started to rain (again), but I was interested in attempting one more day hike before I left the mountains - this time without my backpack. I drove another 15 miles into the park and descended down towards the Rapidan Camp, which is where President Hoover escaped Washington's humidity and politicking and instead fished for trout and entertained close pals. The "Brown House" (i.e. - not the White House) was cool to visit, but the hike was far more popular than the 11-mile loop I’d completed earlier that morning. After 4 miles and 0 bears, I returned to my car and made the sad trek back to civilization. My body was aching from all the hiking, but it was a *good* ache. 

So, yup, hiking is great for cross training.


Will Fink said...

Nice score on seeing a bear! Someday I hope to catch a glimpse of one...

Ancient Chinese Secret said...

Very good read. Thank you.

KLIM said...

Thanks Frank.

Will - this weekend!