“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.” ~ Hermann Buhl
This is probably one of the most hair-raising trails Larry, Zeke and I – Coco was recovering from losing a claw – have traversed. Once I made the decision to create the Hiking Stories Blog Series, I knew for sure I had to talk about our crazy encounter on the Freeman Trail in Georgia’s Vogel State Park! We hiked the Freeman Trail loop, taking an extension of the loop back to our car. I am able to remember this hike from three years back because I wrote about it in my journal. Full disclosure, I technically “typed about it in my digital journal. This is not the time to split hairs of methods of documenting the story. So when I re-read my entry, the details of this hike flooded back. We hiked Blood Mountain – no irony there of course – on Sunday, August 23, 2015.
As stated in Buhl’s quote above, Larry and I had become overly confident in thinking we could hike the entirety of the Blood Mountain trail combinations we mapped for the day. In hindsight, while our hiking goal was admirable we did start the expedition too late in the day. Yes, such a rookie mistake. We found ourselves in a situation of rapidly shrinking daylight and a considerable amount of distance between us and our car. It was August in Georgia, the largest state by land area east of the Mississippi River and one that also sits along the westernmost edge of the Eastern Time Zone. Knowing this, we figured the long(er) days in the summer gave us enough time to finished our planned hiked. You know where this narrative ends; we ran out of daylight!
Our hike lasted over five hours, a typical duration for us at the time. As nightfall was clearly outpacing our now speed-walk-hiking back to the car, a big black bear thunderously ran across the hiking path in front of us. We three froze. Zeke did not whimper, bark, growl, or even pant. I think he may have held his little Labradoodle breath. I had never ever been that scared in my life – and I grew up gay in a predominantly black community (yes, black people can be insanely homophobic) in the sticks of East Alabama.
We did not have a gun or any other measures of protection. Interestingly, our run-in with Yogi’s distant cousin happened before we had watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s fight-club-bear-wrestling scene in the Revenant. If we had seen that movie first either a) we would have never gone on the hike or b) Larry and I would have killed over on the spot. In telling this story to other hiking enthusiasts and outdoorsy people we know, they balked at the notion of having a gun as a measure of protection from our undomesticated mammalian brethren. What was unclear to me is whether it is illegal to shoot a bear or other belligerent wild animals in self defense.
Encountering the rogue Care Bear on the Freeman Trail is literally when one should shoot first and aim later or shoot first and ask questions later or just shoot. Larry too vehemently opposes our having a gun; so we do not own one. I think REI may sell some sort of bear or wild boar repellent or a really loud whistle like Cheryl Strayed had that time while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Later, from the comfort of our Atlanta home, we belly-laughed about our un-bear-able encounter on Blood Mountain. Larry and I both were really concerned for Zeke, thinking if the bear was really hostile it would have attacked him first. Then we thought, hell Zeke has two more legs than he and I. He could have outrun the both of us and the bear would have chosen either the dark meat human or white meat human or a mixed two-piece human meal. Admittedly, our little buddy did tense up after our encounter with the bear and remained hyper-alert for the remainder of the hike.
Of course during the car ride back to Atlanta, I uttered all sorts of dramatic declarative sentences about how I would never hike again. Clearly this was a promise I did not keep, however Larry and I both agreed that we would never gamble with waning daylight ever again.