Matt HealeyWednesday,24 July 2013

The Snap:

One of the things that I hear from friends and acquaintances when I tell them I am hiking the Appalachian Trail is “Aren’t you afraid you are going to get eaten/attacked/mauled by a bear?” My answer is either “No, I am much more likely to get bitten by a poisonous snake,” or “No, generally the bears tend to stay away.” Regardless, there have been two incidents that caused me a bit of a scare.

The Download:

Bears. The first of these situations happened outside of Erwin, Tennessee. Generally if you see a bear, it will be running away. That was what happened in Virginia when I looked up and saw a full sized bear running away. I was fine with this outcome. The main reason for this is that black bears are generally cowards. They are not cowards when they are either threatened or protecting their cubs. So seeing a full sized bear is not frightening. However, when a cute little cub ran across the trail 50 feet in front of me, my first reaction was “where is mom?” Mom will be pissed if this cub has just put me between her and her cub. I spent a few min looking for mom and never saw her. I was fine with that outcome.

Snakes. Snakes are a greater threat because they blend into the ground so well that you often do not see them until you step way too close to them. Trail lore has it that it’s the second person in the line of hikers that gets bitten. The theory goes that the first person scares the snake and the second then walks into striking distance. This was on my mind when I was hiking through Virginia with a friend who startled a timber rattlesnake. It was 6 inches to a foot off the trail. I do not know what was going through the snakes head when I walked by. I suspect given the amount of rattling, hissing, and showing of fangs that it was either angry or scared. I do know what was going through my head — it was exactly what I said to my friend in front of me: “KEEP MOVING KEEP MOVING!”

So over 800+ miles there were only 2 frightening incidents despite all of the wildlife I have seen. That includes 2 bears (1 cub and 1 adult), 1 timber rattlesnake, 3 copperheads, 2 wild ponies at Grayson Highlands, 1 turkey, and a handful of deer.

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