Hello my friends!
I hope this day has been a happy one for you. I rested today and decided to finally start clearing out a lot of images that I always tell myself, I'll get to those later...
I even have an actual file for images named, "Get to later"! Well today is "later" and I came across my Smokey Mountains images that I took two summers ago. I could have sworn that I shared these and the following story, but I searched and searched my blog and I can't find the story I am about to tell. So either it was in draft form and never published, or I just can't find it.
So, I apologize ahead of time, should this story be a repeat...
The Fallen Log Should've Been a Clue...
Have you ever done something so stupid, that when you recall it, you still cringe? I mean so stupid, that when you share it with someone, you are still incredulous that you could have been so clueless???
Well, that is what this story is about...being clueless. When I look back on this misadventure, I literally shake my head because just about everything I did in the following story is just not my mode of operation. In fact, I usually pride myself on my attention to detail...but in the case, my attention was on the wrong detail.
Grab your choice of beverage and sit for a spell, as I am finally going to get this story out, with the assurance that my regular readers know me well enough by now to know that I am usually not this clueless. And for the new readers, hopefully you will revisit me again so I can redeem myself.
My story begins on a beautiful day in August, 2012. I drove out to NC to visit my beloved Lulu and Monty (my pugs) who lived with their daddy. On the way back, I decided to go through the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and explore an area that I have driven near, but never stopped to really visit the location. I was on my own, as my barber husband was running his shop, and driving on my own is something I have done since my Germany days to the time I accidentally got lost in then, communist Poland, and had an gun pointed at me...another story, another time. Point is, driving long distances on my own is something I have enjoyed a very long time.
I visited all the areas...cabins, parks, and even hiked on the Appalachian trail a bit! I took this pic of a hiker, who told me he had several states to go yet! After walking around a bit, it became very apparent to me why walking sticks are so handy.
Note to self...when tree roots are as tall me,
then big things are in the forest...
On a beautiful day, I drove very deep into the mountains, and on a whim, I decided that I wanted to see a waterfall that was in the area. The above image shows the boulder path that I was about to trek deep into the Smokey Mountains... (That trail sign is about the same height as me to give you an idea of the size of the rocks and trees).
My trek very quickly began a fairly steep incline. It was so, so beautiful! I have been in many forests in this country and others, and I will say, the Smokey Mountains are just breath taking - almost like a Dr. Seuss story book. It was just me, my Canon, and my camera backpack that held several lenses and other camera equipment.
The August air became very cool and inviting as I hiked deeper and deeper in the forest. After about an hour or so, a couple of hikers were coming down the path and I asked how much further to the waterfall? They said it would be about another hour and half.
The forest gets darker...
The forest was getting darker as the trees became denser. I looked up to see a bit of sunlight, assured that I had plenty of time. No cell coverage this deep in the woods. I was just so amazed by the beauty of the trees and how each were so different. The forest became more dense with trees, fallen logs, and vines. I remember being so happy that I had plenty of camera cards with me, as I was taking tons of images, while navigating over the bigger and bigger boulders on the path as I made my way up.
I just love the boulders and roots on the path - it looked almost like a movie set - all just too perfect!
About an hour or so later, I could really start to hear the waterfall, but could not see it. I look down to my right, and way below the water is rushing, making lots of noise. I zoomed in, but wish I hadn't so you could see how far down the water was on my right.
That is the true color of the moss! I know! Just beautiful, isn't it? I could have taken 100's of images of just tree roots alone.
Now I am showing the path image below again because it is the last image I took before my very big misadventure. If you look at the end of the pathway, you can see a very slight bend to the left. The pathway actually goes left, around a bend, that you cannot see from this image.
Again, happily listening to the rush of water down the cliff on my right (you can see a drop off on the right of the image to give you an idea). I am about 30 minutes or so from the waterfall, but it is so loud, it sounds like it is only a few feet away!
As I round the bend to the left, the hill on my left suddenly rises sharply, taller than my head, and there is now a "wall" of dirt, tree roots, and rocks to my left. This important to the story.
So, again, here is the situation: on a trail filled with boulders, a steep drop to my right, down to rushing water, and a very steep incline to my left, sort of like a cliff then the forest continues beyond the cliff.
I round the bend, and I look up to see where I was going, and as I walked past the "wall of dirt and roots" to my left, as my view became clearer on my left, into the forest, there was a HUGE mamma bear looking right at me! I stopped in my tracks and froze. My heart was beating so loudly, I felt a rush in my ears. I remember reading from some tourist pamphlet, that if you come across a bear, NEVER turn and run, and just wait for the bear to carry on with what it was doing, then "take a different route" without turning around. I waited, and waited for what seemed like two or more minutes, and the bear did not budge, but kept staring at me. She was about 50 feet away from me.
I also remember reading somewhere that should a bear become aggressive, make yourself "big" and throw rocks at it and shout, but never turn your back. That is when panic really set in...I had NO alternative route, as I explained my pathway situation earlier...there were NO rocks!!! Only boulders, but I scanned the pathway frantically, and not a freakin rock to be found that I could pick up!!! And lastly, I could NOT go backwards, because as you can see by the trail, I would trip up big time...
I actually began to shake, and after about a three-minute stare-down between me and the bear (and she continued to stare at me), I slowly walked backwards, until my head was once again below the ravine and once again, a "wall" of dirt and roots were next to me. I had no choice but to turn around so I wouldn't trip and began to walk quickly.
Then the most terrify noise I ever heard: Huge, huge branches being broken at a steady pace behind me, up on the ravine! The bear was following me and that was the sound of branches breaking as she followed me. I kept looking over my shoulder and could only see the top of her head bobbing up and down. I slowly pulled my backpack off, and slid it in front of me and wore it backwards thinking if I have to, I can shove it at the bear, God forbid we get that close.
The sound of branches breaking went on well over 20 minutes. I began to tear up, shake, and praying that other hikers would come up the trail.
But nope, just me and the bear.
It was a good 30 minutes that I no longer heard the branches cracking, but NOW, I was so freaked out, I frantically scanned the deep woods, side to side, behind me, in front of me, looking for more bears, for the next hour and half. My camera never came out on the way back to the car. The entire time I hiked back, I was so mad at myself for being so stupid...never even thought of bears!!
But that isn't the end of the story...
When I could see the parking pad in sight, I actually began to cry, after holding it in for so long. But here is the real shocker...in the parking area (not at the trail head, where it should be) was this sign:
Here is a close up of the part that freaked me out:
AAACCKKKK! I don't which is more disturbing...the fact that I missed this sign, or the fact that someone was so stupid to purposely let a bear "sniff" him, whom became the bear's prey!!
But, that isn't the end of the story either....(I know, I know).
I go to the visitors center/museum and I see a HUGE stuffed bear, and realize that my bear was larger! I find a park ranger and tell him of my experience and he shared this with me:
Ranger: "Unfortunately, bears are so used to getting food from humans they expect to be fed. They also recognize backpacks as things that have food in it. For a bear to follow you for so long, she was either waiting for you to turn around and feed it, or it was sizing you as prey. You got very lucky."
And, thank God, I had not just eaten lunch in the car, nor had any food on me, as the park ranger said, the bear would have smelled that and may have been more aggressive.
But story continues:
Later that night, in the hotel room, I was lying in bed, had my camera and was clicking through my images, just amazed at how beautiful the forest was, and how clear and colorful my images were. I laid there looking at the tiny screen on my camera, reviewing the images, and suddenly, I come across an image that is so beautiful, crisp and very clear....EXCEPT...what is that blurry thing way in the back??
My heart starts to race, and I sit up immediately, and zoom in as far as I can (my heart is beating faster just at the memory) and...I review the image numbering and order, and I realize that this image was taken right before I rounded the bend! You can now see how high the left side of the forest was rising as I walked up further.
That blurry blob is the freakin bear head, popping her head over the bolder (hence why it is so blurry, I sharpened it the best I can), and I am realizing that I was actually stalked. The damn bear heard me walking up the trail, popped up, then got back down, and "cut me off at the pass" which explains why it was looking directly at me when I took my eyes off the trail and lifted my head as I rounded the bend. She wasn't surprised to see me, but I was surprised as hell! Lying there in the hotel room, realizing the bear was very aware of me, and was waiting for me, just freaked me out. If I blow up the image any larger, it just gets more blurry, I found a picture of a bear in a similar pose, so you can see what I am seeing:
Only her head popped up, but the light tan in my image is the nose, with the dark dot as the nostrils, and very tiny, two dark dots are the eyes. Here is another image that helps show the face of the bear right above the bolder in my image. (Bear images from Pinterest and could not find the final source. If these are your images, I will be more than happy to source you, or remove them, if you wish.)
Guess what? Not end of the story yet! Crazy, right?
Well, the next day, I realized that I really wanted to see a waterfall, but was way too shaken up to go on a hike. But a park ranger told me where to go see a waterfall (not nearly as large as the original one), and he assured me the trail is short, and there are always tons of people. So I went, and the parking lot was filled. I was really afraid, but there were tons of people on the path...little kids, families...grandmas...
I was a nervous wreck, but after about 30 minutes, I calmed down, and finally took out my camera and started to enjoy my day of shooting. I was happy that I wasn't too scared to try again. And then suddenly, I heard that sound that I will never forget: large cracking sounds of breaking branches.
I froze, my heart beating wildly. I scanned all around me, and kept hearing the crunching noise. I looked up, and no further than 20 feet away from me was a tall tree, with a tiny, baby bear chomping on branches. He/she couldn't care less that I was there....
...but a bear that tiny has a big mamma bear very near by. I froze and could not move! And guess what? Not a single, friggin person in sight!!! Are you serious? Just moment earlier, I had to scoot off the trail to let so many people by me...and now, not even a voice within earshot!!
I prayed and slowly put my camera away, and kept scanning the forest, all while being nervous wreck. I finally heard some voices, and walked towards the voices, and I told them that there was a baby bear up the trail, and they both squealed with delight and took off to go find it to "take a picture with it."!!! I had no interest in going back towards the bear, and scanned around and saw a very, barely used trail that looked like it went to the highway. I took it and quickly found myself on the highway, and I hiked a very long way back. But I was so shook up, NOW I kept thinking of all those photos the travel agencies print of people taking pics of bears walking on the highways...needless to say, I was a mess with racing thoughts.
But here is the kicker: When I told people of my experience when I got back home, the first reaction? "Oh!! Man!! You got to see TWO bears?!?" And was asked if I got a chance to take any pics of them, and how they go there to vacation all the time and never see bears...and how lucky I was! Again, seriously??
So that this misadventure doesn't get wasted, I will share with you what I learned from this if visiting the Smokey Mountains:
Never go into the woods alone
Never have food with you, if it is a short hike
NEVER run, EVER (bears are super fast, and great tree climbers too)
Keep an eye out for any signs of bears
Bring a bag of rocks
Carry a gun or bear spray
And never hike with anyone who says at the beginning of the trail:
"Oh, I hope we get to see a bear today!"
(Unless, of course, you are 100% sure you can outrun her.)
I hope you enjoyed reading my misadventure. I will always be a nature lover at heart, but know that I wouldn't think twice about leaving you in the dust should anything remotely bear-like came into view... :-)
from my house to your house,