I was crossing the dam for the third time at 5:30am. Crossing in the bleak morning light produced a much different feeling in me than in the heat of the day. It pumped me as if walking out to a hard base line as an athlete.
I was loose and ready to climb after a quick stretch at the permeant box. (I had borrowed a pen from the local who showed me where the shower room was and had finished my permeant.) I had not eaten and planned on eating once I summited the first climb. I had 2 miles.
I ate plenty of spider webs along the way; a negative to an early start on the trail. I finished the 2 miles at a 3min pace and set up my burner to prepare 2 oatmeal packets. While cooking I flipped to a random chapter in my bible, which happened to be James 3. On that day I’m sure I spaced this reading and only took a note of it out of habit. (Now, while reviewing my journal for this post I see its relevance to that day, especially verse 14, even more so for the day before.)
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart do not boast and be false to the truth.” James 3:14 ESV
James 3 is more famously known for warning us about the power of the “tongue.” But also has much to say on pride. Since pride often leads to misusing our words, to tear others down, or lead others in a wrong direction. Confidence can make people follow, and with pride comes confidence. When we forget that our accomplishments come from the Lord and boast from our own “selfish ambitions;” we do not lead to God, this I believe is why God humbles us so that we do not lead others into wrong. Jesus warns us in Luke 17:1 that it is a terrible sin to lead others into sin, and threatens those who do with punishment worse than drowning. God protects others by humbling the prideful but also protects the prideful by this humbling them since teachers and leaders are held to a higher standard and will face judgment for the faults of their followers.
I wish I could say I quite being haughty and judging towards others but still on this day, just as my first day on the AT, I was putting all my self-worth and pride in my pace and not in the Lord. It would be on week 3; one stress fractured foot and ill-nourished body later that I would lose my pride and view myself not superior to every other hiker.
Not long after breakfast I saw my first bear on the trail. I was hiking to the tune of some song in my head when I heard a grunt followed by some thumps crashing through brush going up a steep incline. I looked up to see the black bear, it was large in the 250 to 300 range. It stopped at the top of the hill, then sat down as if winded from ascending too fast. (I’m sure it wasn’t.) I stopped to focus my eyes on it and it avoided eye contact. I thought cool and then moved on.
After Birch Spring gap, (a camp ground,) but before Mollies Ridge Shelter I saw 2 hikers going south bond.
“Hey you guy keep your eyes out for a bear I saw one not too long ago.” I greeted the two.
“Do you think it’s the bear that attacked that guy?”
“Someone got attacked?”
“Yeah just the other night, the rangers are closing down a lot of the shelters.”
“Shit, do you know if Derrick Knob is closed I’m trying to get there for the night.”
“Could be but we don’t know.”
“Well alright. Y’all have a good hike.”
“You do the same.”
The day got increasingly cloudy and mist started to form. It was easy to see how the Smokys got there name. The trail was also slick it had obviously been raining in these mountains for a few days.
Just after passing Mollies I saw my first park ranger she greeted me by asking for my AT permeant and I was glad I had filled it out.
“You know about the bear right?” She asked.
“Yeah just heard. Do you know if Derrick Knob shelter is closed?”
“Could be but I’m not sure, Spence Field Shelter is closed, that’s where the attack happened.”
“This kind of stuff wouldn’t happen if you AT hikers took responsibility and stored y’alls food correctly.”
This was the attitude of most Rangers in the park. They were all on edge and upset about having to kill the bear. AT thru-hikers probably were the culprit but I knew it wasn’t me I never left trash, I wasn’t even burning trash at that time. But too many hikers were beyond ill prepared for a thru-hiking. But by the end of the Smoky’s these would be weeded out.
I believe I ran into the aggressive bear between Mollies, and Russell Field Shelter. I came around a corner to a bear the size of the one I saw earlier. Instead of crashing away It squared up, and then began bluff charging, making a sprint to 10 yards away from me then lunging away again. I somehow was able to smoothly roll my pack from my shoulders, unsheathe my machete, and hold my pack to the side with one hand and the machete in the other all the while yelling the guarantied bear deterrent phrase. “Hey bear fuck you, fuck off bear!” After 2 to 3 more bluff charges the bear darted off the trail and I could hear it crashing through the woods out of sight. I then felt accomplished and didn’t mind the rain trickling down through the canopy.
I went up and down on a mini roller coaster till I reached Derrick Knob Shelter. I found it to be full so I was forced into overflow camping. The rain had stopped so I set my tarp up in the dry and with little problem.
Talk about the bear attack circled with everyone at the camp. A ridge runner was there and she tried to dismiss many of the rumors with truth. But most wanted to believe the most sensational stories about what happened.
The most popular being that the man was dragged out of this shelter and almost died. I would find out the truth latter that it was a man in over flow camping that was bit once on the foot after waking up to the bear sniffing around in his tent for the coconut sunscreen that he was wearing.
Also at this Shelter were the Hatchet brothers. A notorious trail group of two who rumor had it carried 80 pound packs. I had heard of them since before the NOC, but didn’t realize I was eating with them since they had there packs stored in the shelter minus there food. I heard the Wolf Pack was also close by, but they planned on zeroing in Gatlinburg the next day. I had wanted to meet both these groups.
Before going to my tent I checked the trail log and found that Geronimo was 2 day ahead. And I still hoped to catch him. I also found that Quiet and Twister ate lunch at this shelter.