[Editor’s Note: Our blog was delayed this week due to technical difficulties–our photos suddenly became very small. Thanks again to our daughter and technical support, Adrienne, who quickly corrected the problem.]
The potential dangers of hiking in the southwest Virginia wilderness are small, but we always try to be well prepared when we go into the wild. For example, our backpack contains medicine in case Ed’s heart goes on the fritz again, Benadryl in case Patty has a bad insect bite reaction, and a satellite GPS emergency messenger in case we need to be rescued. However, we have never been too sure about what to do if we meet a bear in the wild. Fortunately, we received some guidance from both the United States Forest Service and Virginia State Parks that we would like to pass on as a public service. Here are the highlights (Note: Some of the guidance is a little confusing and contradictory so we have added our own comments in italicized text):
- ABSOLUTELY DO NOT RUN. You cannot outrun a bear and running may elicit a run response in the bear. [This is true unless you are hiking with others in which case you may want to run if 1) you can run faster than one of the other hikers and, 2) you are not too emotionally attached to the slower-running hiker.]
- Slowly back away, facing the bear but don’t look directly in his eyes. [Should we take off our sunglasses so he knows we aren’t looking into his eyes? Ed also wants to know if taking a photo is OK.]
- Do not try to climb a tree to escape. [We were glad to see this advice because our tree-climbing days are pretty much over.]
- Let the bear know you are human; talk in a soothing voice. [Really?]
- Make yourself look bigger by waving your arms and yelling. [This seems to conflict with number 4—do some bears react better to yelling than to soothing talk? How do you know what your bear prefers? Also, how does yelling make you look taller?]
- The bear may suddenly rush forward and stop as a “bluffing” tactic to get you to leave; momentarily hold your ground, then keep backing away. [Like poker players, do some bears bluff and others don’t? If yours is not bluffing, the result could be bad.]
- As a last resort–drop something like a hat to distract the bear. Avoid tossing him food or your backpack because he will learn to confront other humans for food. [If a bear is coming towards us, we doubt we will be thinking about the effects of our actions on future hikers. He’ll be getting our backpack and anything else he wants.]
- If the bear attacks, fight back with anything available. Throwing rocks or hitting a bear with large sticks has been effective in some cases. [Who reports on the cases where it wasn’t effective?]
Fortunately, we did not have to try out any of these techniques this week. Here are some photos from this week’s activities.
Patty points to bear damage on a foot bridge–we don’t think soothing talk would work with this guy.
Ed on the Dickey Knob trail that starts in our campground–in wet areas the trail was a dark tunnel of rhododendrons.
A view from Dickey Knob
Ed got some kayaking in at Hungry Mother State Park.
A butterfly along the Old Orchard Trail in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area
Proof that Ed was on the AT–he completed another mile so only 2,182 miles to go (Patty is lagging). Ed met a hiker on the AT who only has New Hampshire, Maine, and a section of Virginia left to complete the entire trail. He expects to complete it in three years at the age of 77.
Patty next to a 125-year old Yellow Birch growing around a boulder in Grayson Highlands State Park
On top of Big Pinnacle–Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia (Elev. 5,729 ft.) is over our right shoulders.
Cabin Creek Falls in Grayson Highlands State Park–a beautiful park we highly recommend.
We couldn’t pass up going to the drive-in movies in Marion, VA–it was only a dollar for a double feature because it was customer appreciation week. We saw Despicable Me 2 but didn’t stay for the second movie–another sign of old age.
We also discovered that southwest Virginia is a great area for music. Ed went to the Smyth County Jam in Chilhowie where musicians get together every Monday all year round at the Lion’s Club to play bluegrass and old time music. We also went to a concert in Mountain City, TN to hear Wayne Henderson and Jeff Little. Wayne is a great guitar player who has played at Carnegie Hall but is probably even more famous as a luthier (stringed instrument maker). There is typically a waiting list of ten years for his hand-made guitars and his customers have included Doc Watson and Eric Clapton. He still lives in Rugby, VA (population ~7) and is happy to have you stop by to see him making guitars. Jeff Little was a neighbor to Doc Watson in Boone, NC and developed a piano-playing style that was influenced by Doc’s flat-pick guitar playing. His playing is incredible–here’s a link to a video of Orange Blossom Special, a traditional fiddle song, that he performed at the concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxImBSkRkTQ
We also have to mention our campground hosts in Raccoon Branch Campground, Jim and Karen from Homosassa, Florida, who made our stay here very enjoyable. We look forward to seeing them back in Florida when we head south this winter.