Tuesday, May 15, 2012

lions and tigers and bears … oh my !

Next week at this time, I will start on a backpacking excursion through the Smokey Mountain range of the Appalachian Trail. I have never been backpacking, but I am to do this! I am going with my friend, Kirk, who also has never done this. It will be – and we know this – a major challenge.

We will backpack for seven days, from Fontana, North Carolina to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We will travel roughly seventy miles and from an elevation of 1800 feet to a peak of 6600 feet.

The preparation has taken us under 60 days from the point of conversation to the point of us leaving next week. That’s pretty quick when you consider we knew nothing of what we were getting ourselves into at the time we said, “Let’s do it."

We now know a little more. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be work. It’s going to be sweaty. It’s going to be stinky. It’s going to be heavy. It’s going to be beautiful. It’s going to be mind-expanding. It’s going to be an experience, adventure, challenge, and reward all rolled into one.

This last week of “real life” before becoming a mountain man, will be stressful. Not stressful because of the “Oh shit! I need to buy this or that” factor, but stressful from “Oh shit! This is really happening!” factor.

I had a moment tonight, that was like the latter of the two factors. I put my packed-up backpack. DAMN! That thing was heavy. Granted, I had more stuff in it than I will actually carry, since we are splitting the load, but still … it was insanely heavy. If I were going alone I would be changing my mind right about now.

We have purchased everything needed to sustain us during this trip. We have our food, shelter, clothes, and essentials. Here’s a little view into the big items that had to be purchased. There are smaller things that have been bought, but I won’t bore you with the entire list.

  • Backpack
  • Tent, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad
  • Tarp, Rope, Compass
  • Knife, First Aid Kit, Trowel
  • Bear Bell, Bear Spray
  • Solar Powered / Crank Radio (this also charges cell phones)
  • Shower (butt) Wipes, Sunscreen Wipes, Bug Repellent Wipes

  • Boots, Boot Socks
  • Base Layer (tee shirt and leggings)
  • Convertible Pants (you know, the ones that unzip at the knee)
  • Lightweight Rain Jacket
  • Lightweight “sweater” (it’s like the lightest down jacket you have ever seen … and so warm!)
  • Lightweight End of Day Shoes
  • Bear Spray Holster

Food / Cooking
  • Freeze Dried Meals in Pouches (like pasta salad, macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, chicken and rice, green beans, chocolate moose, etc.)
  • MREs (poppy seed cake, cheese squeeze tubes, peanut butter squeeze tubes, etc.)
  • Trail Mix, Dried Fruit, Drink Mixes
  • Backpacking Stove and Cook Set (includes two pots, two plates, two mugs, and a burner)
  • Propane canisters
  • Waterproof /Windproof Matches
  • Bear Bag

We have to be very careful to not leave anything behind. We will of course, “Give a Hoot and Don’t Pollute.” We will pack out all garbage and our TP. No, we cannot leave it behind. Yes, we have to take it out with us. We will put it in bags and keep it with us until we can throw it out. The earliest opportunity to do this is when we reach Clingman’s Dome at 6600 feet. It’s a tourist area with roads that lead to the observation tower, so there will be garbage cans. We will offload 5 days of eaten food and snack pouches; used up sunscreen, repellent, shower wipes; and (ugh) dirty TP. We will be sight to behold, neither easy on the eyes or the nose.

We have one outfit to wear for the entire week. Proper hikers do not change in clothes. Extra clothes take valuable pack weight. Instead, they wear the same thing over again each day. We are going to be gross. Today, I got a manni and pedi since I won’t be able to get one at campsite 113, and since the extra weight of nail clippers is unnecessary.

You may notice that the word “bear” appears in all three of the above lists. Ummm, yes, there are bears in the Smokey Mountains. Black bears. Lots of them. They say that this year the population has increased. When we secured our hiking permit we were told that one of the campsites we wanted to be at was closed because of “aggressive bear activity.” Great.

I am not a fan of bears, unless it’s a Bear Claw from Dunkin’ Donuts. I am deathly afraid of bears. But, we have a plan.

When Kirk and I started talking about this hike, we read up on how to manage a bear attack. OK, maybe it just said “bear sighting,” but in my mind the damn thing is attacking. The steps as outlined were very clear, but did not include “scream like a girl and shit your pants.” Because of this omission, I know I won’t handle the situation properly. So … our plan is that Kirk will keep his wits about him in the event we encounter a bear. That, I feel, is a very good thing. With my luck, I’ll spray the bear spray in my face instead of the bear’s.

We even have to hang our food up in the trees each night when we make camp. This keeps it away from the bear’s reach. That’s why we have rope in the essential list. It’s not to hang someone when we get on each other’s nerves, or to create a snare to catch squirrels. It’s there to hang food from bear’s. There’s this whole technique and process that needs to be done to hang it. It’s rather crafty.

Kirk found some lovely photographs of these great beasts of murder and mayhem. He occasionally posts them on my facebook page to taunt and haunt me. They are quiet funny. I included my original comments with the photos.

" holy shit ! they can fly ? ! ? ! "
"ewwwwwwww ..."
" not only can they fly , but they can climb trees ? ! "
" at least this one looks polite ... "

I will keep a thorough journal and take many photographs in an attempt to document this excursion. I am not sure if I will have the time or capability to post while I am backpacking. If I can’t post while on the trek, there will be updates and details once I return to New York City in early June.

Wish me luck! And wish the bears luck … Kirk has one mean high kick.


  1. I told my cousin's husband (who has done the whole thing) about your trip. He said 7 days is impressive!

    Apparently, there's a spot on the AT where you can see New York City! That section can be your next trip.

    Don't forget the bug dope! Mosquitoes are usually a bigger hazard than bears!!!

  2. Why are there no pictures of chubby guys with facial hair? Oh, different bear.