That is what the handwritten note said that was attached to a tree we encountered as we walked along a sunlit portion of the Appalachian Trail on Day 9. The rain had stopped and we were enjoying a carefree moment until we saw the note. It said baby bears had been spotted the previous day and hikers should walk in groups and make lots of noise. “It’s not the baby bears I’m worried about,” said Chief. If you know Chief he always states the obvious. “It’s the hungry protective mother bear that will get us.” (Not funny). We waited several minutes for Jeff who had stopped a while back to try a phone call but he didn’t show up so we tentatively proceeded along. We had met Jeff earlier that morning on the shuttle ride from the Best Western back to the trail. Jeff, age 23, is from Connecticut and shared that he is hiking to get in better physical shape so he can become a police officer. Again, if you know Chief, he had lots to share with young Jeff. The two hiked together for several hours earlier and talked cop shop. I kept a safe distance behind happily engaged in my own thoughts.
Jeff eventually caught up with us and was moving at a fast pace so we guessed he had also seen the handwritten warning about the baby bears. Thankfully, we never saw a bear that day and the three of us camped at Sassafras Gap that night with one other hiker from Salt Lake City. We have noticed in this second week that our stamina has improved and we are able to hike a couple more miles each day. Although we are popping Ibuprofen like skittles, these old bodies seem to rebound the next day with renewed energy. It also helped that Jeff gave to us a tube of Pain-a-Trate, a cream that saved my aching Achilles. Old Jack from Walasi had told us to slow down and give ourselves 2-3 weeks to get “trail legs”. He said most novice hikers try to do too many miles early on and that causes the body to overwork and shut down. Maybe hiking in the sunshine just felt better, nevertheless our packs seemed less heavy and we felt stronger. I am enjoying the time with my thoughts as I hike. It is hard to find quiet time to think in our world. There is so much “noise” and distraction, constant media and such. The devotion on the Jesus Calling app read, “The mind is the most restless, unruly part of mankind. Long after you have learned the discipline of holding your tongue, your thoughts defy your will… When the Holy Spirit controls your mind, you are filled with Life and Peace.” I can relate to needing a more disciplined thought life.
We awoke to another gorgeous day on Day 10, even though a little groggy from awaking several times during the night due to coyotes. We’ve found it takes about an hour to pack up our backpacks and tent and get ready for another day of hiking. We both think there has to be a more efficient way to do this task but so far it has escaped us. During our hike that afternoon I heard a faint growling sound in the brush above the trail. Chief stopped in his tracks and looked back at me so I knew he had heard it too. “That sounded like a baby something,” he said. “Definitely a baby something,” I echoed. We quickened our pace down the trail and about 15 minutes later we heard a hiker let out a scream presumably to frighten off that something. A hiker that evening at the shelter talked about several bear sightings he had experienced in the last few days.
Day 11 brought our first milestone as we hiked from Georgia into North Carolina at Mile 78. That’s one state down and thirteen states to go. We have found that the A.T. attracts many foreign hikers. We met Max and his friend from Germany who recently finished the equivalent of high school and have a six month visa to finish the trail. Their biggest challenge is calculating miles into kilometers. We have also met hikers from Australia and the United Kingdom. The majority of hikers overall are very young and men. We have only seen a few “senior hikers” and women. One woman came up behind me and startled me so badly that I almost fell over the hillside. She asked how I was doing and I replied, “Fine.” (But in my mind I screamed — How do you think I am doing since you snuck up behind me and scared the crap out of me almost causing me to be killed falling off this mountain!?!?!?). I really need to work on those thoughts.
Day 12 started off with a bang as Chief was walking to the privy (without his glasses) and ran head first into a large tree branch. The force of the blow knocked him to the ground where he sat stunned and dazed. Again, if you know Chief you are not surprised by this incident and I shouldn’t be thinking my thoughts… Unfortunately, I wasn’t trained in concussion protocol, which might have come in handy that morning. Either way he wasn’t getting out of hiking that day.
On Day 13 we hiked up Albert Mountain, one of the highest peaks on North Carolina’s A.T. The rocky ascent was wet from last night’s thunderstorms and the dense fog prohibited us from seeing what is reported to be an amazing view. We hiked far enough to catch a shuttle into Franklin, North Carolina on Day 14. After six days in the wilderness we were in DESPERATE need of a shower and clean clothes. It also allows us Internet access to keep you updated on our adventure. In our first two weeks, by the grace of God, we have hiked 107 miles and Chief still puts up with me. Now I just need to work on my thoughts…
Until Next Stop, Chief and Toad