Great Smoky Mountains NP
Miles Today: 0
Total Miles: 2356.7
Days on the Road: 84
Tennesseein' is Tennebelievin'
Miles On Foot Yesterday: 12.8
Pack Weight: 30lbs each
Elevation Gain: +1800'
Poisonous Snakes: 0
Poisonous Spiders: 0
Wild Hogs: 0
Bears and Bears and Bears, Oh My
(Hey! Don't forget to click the yesterday link a few times. We added several pages to make up for our absence this past week.)
We didn't see any bears. We did see some poop that we thought might have come out of a bear, but we couldn't be sure. It might have come out of a skunk or a wild boar or a platypus or something too. We need to brush up on our excrement identification skills. We'll spare you the photos we took for practice. Suffice it to say the, um, "reference photo", is not pretty.
It's a funny thing about bears. You read so much about them in this area; how dangerous they are, that there are an average of 2 per square mile and they are "notoriously unpredictable". You read that any smell of food can basically get you killed. If you brush your teeth, you'd better do it in a vacuum chamber and spit into a dimensional portal, because if it's within a quarter mile of your sleeping area, you're dead. Hanging your food (and everything else) from a tree provides some measure of protection, though it may also cause the bears to jump around impotently under your food, getting more and more angry, until they decide to take out their frustration on the snoring morsels in the nylon tortilla nearby. The whole scene fosters an air of extreme paranoia. Ah the great outdoors... so relaxing.
So after several days of being exposed to stern warnings, we were thoroughly convinced of our imminent mauling when we set out for our two day hike into the back country. If the bears didn't get us, we were sure a spider or a snake or the Hanta virus would. We loaded our packs and off we went.
By the end of the second day, we were kind of hoping to see a bear. We hadn't seen much wildlife (there was that one guy doing yoga in spandex), and though beautiful, the wildflowers had lost their edge. Our can of bear spray was itching to be fired, we were yearning for some excitement. Honestly, we didn't want to spray a bear, or be in a position to have to do so. Anthony hadn't brought a change of underwear so really, a view from a good 100 yards would have been fine. We just wanted to see one. See what all the fuss was about, but it wasn't meant to be. We sang songs, played games, and planned other people's weddings to pass the time and to warn the bears that we were coming. It worked, they stayed away.
It seems that when people spend a lot of time in places like this, the natural fear of bears is replaced by the irrational desire to see one, much like the bear's natural fear of humans is replaced by an irrational desire for Doritos. It's all part of the great circle of life.
Instead of a short second day, we decided to bag our second night in the woods and go for the 12.8 miles out in one day. We finally hobbled to the car at about 5:30, and headed straight for the town's only brew pub. The town, by the way, is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the gateway to the smokies. A bizarre little place, more Vegas than Veggie, and right down the street from Dollywood. It provides a great contrast though, as you drive out of the park, as this series of photographs demonstrates. Keep in mind that this all takes place in about a tenth of a mile. Woodsy -» Transition Zone -» Dolly Was Here.
© 2002, 2003 Anthony Hecht and Liz Jones. All rights reserved.