Shenandoah, Bears, and Waterfalls

After staying in DC for a night we drove down to Shenandoah where we stayed for two nights. The first day that we arrived we only had time to do a quick one mile hike up to the highest point in the park. It was short but it was basically straight up. The view was fantastic though and I really enjoyed watching a Turkey Vulture soaring on the wind. I wish so much that I was a bird sometimes.
The hike crosses over part of the Appalachian trail which my dad says he hiked part of it with me on his back in a baby pack. Here I am back in the same place over 20 years later!
The most exciting part of the day was while we were coming back down from the hike. As a side note, while we were driving into the park we were able to see a bear in the forest. Everyone was excited to see the bear and Jared was talking about how lucky we were to have seen it considering so many people will just drive past things like that and miss it. Getting back to the hike down, we were hiking back down and rambling on about random topics when I heard a rustling in the bushes. I look over and see a big black bear. Then I see that there are two cubs with her. I call out to Jared and Miranda in front of me that there was a bear in front of us. This bear was just about 100 feet away from us. Way too close for any bear let alone a mama bear with two babies.
We back tracked up the trial to discuss (loudly) what we should do to get down the mountain safely. None of us were super knowledgeable about what to do in a bear situation. I know what do to should I run into a Mountain Lion, but for some reason there is a gap in the bear knowledge. I thought that we should be loud and make ourselves look big and keep our distance. So using my Mountain Lion expertise I banged on my water bottle with a rock. However, all that managed to do was dent my metal water bottle. We decided that we would take a short cut down the mountain to give the bears room. Jared took the first step off the trail while I was looking around at plants and talking out loud about poison ivy and other dangerous plants. Jared then jumps into the air, letting out a cry and runs back onto the trail. “Did you hear that?!” No… “A bear growled at me!”
Apparently, Miranda had heard what he was talking about but was sure that it was just a car revving its engine down below. By this point in time the mama bear had sent her cubs up the mountain and was staring at us on the path. We decided just to take the trail and talk loud and walk quickly down the mountain. The bear was staring at us the whole time. It was probably the closest contact I’ve come with a bear and the closest that I would ever want to come in the future.
Later that day, Miranda and Jared talked with a ranger at the visitor center to get a suggestion for a “moderate hike about 8-10 miles long.” She then suggested that we take a hike called Cedar Ridge Run which was “a little difficult but rewarding.” Let me tell you, I was getting concerned when by the third mile we were still going straight down… if we go down, we have to eventually come back up. I kept high spirits with the hope that there was going to be a swimming hole somewhere along the path like the ranger had stated. But even though we passed many beautiful waterfalls (I’ll add a few pictures sometime in the future but for right now they’re on my facebook if you’re friends with me) we never came across what looked like a swimming hole. Maybe that ranger had spent a little too much time in the sun or maybe she was just severely confused or maybe this is her way of tricking unknowing campers. Who knows? But that hike was a killer and we spent the last few miles going up stairs and switch backs and drinking all our water. All of our hands swelled up from lack of salt since we sweated it all out. (yummy)
Jared later started talking with a guy on a motorcycle from Ireland and he invited him back to have s’mores with us later. The guy, Keat,  stopped by and was really nice. Jared helped him plan out his trip across the country and we all became pretty good friends.

More soon on Smokey Mountains where I’ve been for the last few days.  Coming up: News about more bears (safe distances away), synchronized fireflies (I didn’t know that we had those in the US), failed attempts to build a fire despite Jared using camp fuel, and my camera taking a quick dip with tadpoles (it survived).

Until soon,
Maggie B.

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