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Tuesday, August 20, 2019
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Jene and Pam's Excellent Adventure

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By Jene Hedden,

 

     Sometimes we learn valuable lessons from the experiences of other people…even those we have never met personally. 

     I recently read about a woman who was jogging on a mountain trail at an Air Force base in Alaska when she came upon a brown bear and its two cubs. Acting on instinct in defense of her cubs, the bear attacked the woman, slashing and swatting her. Though briefly knocked unconscious and suffering from cuts and blood loss, the jogger was able to walk alone two miles to the nearest road where she managed to find help. She was then transferred to a hospital in Anchorage where she recovered. She was extremely fortunate to have survived. 

     This story hit amazingly close to home for my wife Pam and me.  

     Last month on April 27, we were on day three of a four-day journey to the Great Smoky Mountains. If truth be told, we travel there quite often. In fact, we have already been there two times in the past three months.  

     Springtime is the season we spend a lot of time in the woods looking for familiar and newly discovered wild flowers. We keep journals of flowers we have seen before and where we saw them. We have favorite trails for special flowers we think of as “friends” such as lady slippers, showy orchids, painted trillium, Turks cap lilies, Virginia bluebells and wood poppies to mention only a few. 

      On that Sunday, we hiked about two miles back on Ash Hopper Trail not far from the Sugarland Visitor Center. This is a one-way trail, so hikers come out the same way they go in. 

     After crossing a no-name stream three times, we reached our destination where the woods are deep and largely undisturbed. It is here that in other years, we have found the rare Vasey’s trillium, which discretely hides a single dark maroon blossom below three large leaves making it particularly challenging to discover. On this occasion, we actually saw three plants, one of which sported its maroon blossom in full bloom. What a treat! I spent several minutes photographing the plant with its hidden blossom.  

     After changing lenses on my camera and adjusting my tripod for the best image, I finally told Pam I thought I had enough shots of this special plant. I reloaded my backpack with camera gear; leaving only one lens on my camera body, which remained attached to the tripod as I thought I needed to be at the ready, should something else catch my eye. I then suggested we start our walk back to the trailhead where we left our car. 

     Then it happened!
     
      We heard a sound that did not belong on this remote part of the Ash Hopper Trail. 

      “Crack!” “Slap!” 
 

     I looked to my right and there, maybe thirty feet away, stood something big and black…staring at me...a black bear!  It looked pretty large and appeared to be young, but I didn’t look closely enough to see if it was male or female. 

     I turned to Pam and in a soft but audible voice I said, "Pam! Bear!” 

     But, as I turned to warn her and began backing away from the animal, all the while grasping my tripod, camera body and the most expensive lens I owned, my left foot slipped into a small “sinkhole”. Suddenly, I lost my balance and came crashing down on my right shin, elbow and shoulder along with my camera gear. 

     Pam shouted, “Get up! Get up now!”
 

   But, I wasn’t sure I could get up! My leg was hurting even more than my pride, and I found myself thinking, "Jene sees a bear up close! Jene falls down! Bear eats Jene! Bear keeps expensive lens!”  

     Irrational thinking? Yes indeed. However, that was my first thought.

   
My next thought was the realization that I had heard metal strike the rock-strewn path as I fell, and I wanted to examine my camera gear to make sure nothing had broken or fallen out of my bag.
 
     But, bringing me to my senses, Pam shouted again, “You must get up!” 
 

     I am not sure if I scared the bear with my acrobatics on the trail or if it was frightened of Pam’s shouting, but as I began to get up, it took off.   

     However, our relief was short-lived when we realized that the retreating bear was running back along the path we would have to take to the trailhead and the safety of our car!  

     After we had gathered our wits and my equipment, we quickly and cautiously hiked back down the trail…watching for the big black annihilator all the way and expecting it behind every turn and tree.  Thanks goodness we didn't see it again. 

     In truth, maybe the bear instinctively chose to avoid two noisy, hairless, two legged creatures. I’m just glad it knew to run and that it ran away from us and not toward us. I’m especially glad a cub didn’t accompany it, because the bear may have chosen fight instead of flight as was the case with the woman in Alaska. She was lucky. So were we. 

     The lesson from our adventure is one I learned a long time ago but forgot that day. When in bear habitat…whether it’s black bear, brown bear or grizzly country, it is always a good idea to make noise…lots of noise! That way there is less likelihood of unwanted close encounters. Our narrow escape was a valuable reminder of that lesson, and we won't make the same mistake again.

     From now on, the only bears I want to encounter in the woods are Yogi and Winnie!


 pmh