Saturday, September 30, 2017

Grin and Bear It

I’ve always agreed with the adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  But what do you do when life gives you a 500-pound black bear?   That’s exactly what happened to me on a hike in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina this summer.

My penchant for running and biking has recently taken a turn toward hiking.  I like how it combines the physical outlet and exercise with the natural beauty of God’s country.  I’ve climbed mountains and jogged forest paths, traversed boulders and tree falls, but I recently became obsessed with the Appalachian Trail.  I’m not sure the whole 2,100 mile, six-month sojourn from Georgia to Maine is doable, but I just had to sample what this Mother Nature of endurance tests was all about.

So, off I drove to Asheville, NC, with its health-food restaurants and bohemian lifestyle, and prepared for a day-trip on the AT.  I rented a house I found on AirBnB located almost in Roaring Creek which, like a giant fountain and true to its name, put me to bed and welcomed me at dawn each day with a perpetual rush of water.

The house was located just a few miles’ walk from a popular ridge of the AT, straddling NC and Tennessee which I would hike more than 20 miles of in the days ahead.  But I had decided to take advantage of my visit and prepare for the longer hike by experiencing some other shorter ones.  That took me to Cat Gut Loop, just inside Pisgah National Forest.  The day was cool and cloudy but I figured to complete the four-hour circuit long before the afternoon rains came.

The trail was muddy but I made good time, steadily climbing toward the turn off to Iron Mountain.  The steeper ascent with the promise of an expansive vista lured me to a date with destiny.  After a half an hour navigating mud and roots I reached the peak and began traversing the corridor of rhododendrons and rain-soaked vegetation that blanketed the mountain top.

I was happily making my way to the overlook when I heard a strange sound.  It wasn’t anything I’d ever heard before but it unnerved me.  Awakened from my blissful trance I took a few more steps and then heard a louder, more obvious growl that drew my attention from the pathway into the brush. There, a few feet away, was an enormous black bear, sitting amidst the dark of the forest.  I was surprised how big it was and how calm I was.  I stopped, uttered “it’s a bear,” and began to slowly retreat.  Once I could no longer see the leviathan I quickened my pace down the path, hoping that the bear had chosen another route away that would not intersect mine.  As I neared the bottom of the turnout the rains came.  Thunder and lightning ushered me quickly from the mountain as the path soon became a stream of muddy water all the way to the car.  I think getting soaked and wrestling to change in the car briefly took my thoughts away from what I had just experienced.

I drove to Asheville and had a veggie pizza which gave me time to think about my visit.  I would eventually see incredible waterfalls and mountains that beckoned from afar, but it was the bear that made me smile.  Somehow a morning which began with a simple goal of walking in a large circle reminded once again that every day is a gift from God and we never know what lies just ahead, but if we tread lightly and listen it promises to put a grin on our face.

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