A Hiker's "Tail"

               A true short adventure.






  Last Tuesday the Senior Hikers did "Little Shingletown Rd"., a 3-mile downhill hike (from Laurel Run Road at MST on the crest of the mountain, down to Pine Swamp Road.   Two of us veteran hikers decided to start from the bottom instead, and be the shuttle cars for the rest of the group.  I also took my cane- walking husband Gert along for company, since the bottom area is not steep, and I was just planning to "loiter" and look for birds there. It was a delightful morning.  But the plot thickens.


    After a couple of hours the hikers began to appear.  There must have been more than 20 people, and I was told there were 5 drivers.  The other shuttle car took the first 3 drivers and departed.  I loaded 1 more driver into my car, and waited for Gert and another slow hiker.  As they were about to get into the car they were distracted by a noise in the weeds.  About 5 feet from our car was a big fat yellow-phase Timber Rattler.  Luckily they saw it first, and did not step on it.  A rattle snake.

  That was the first scare.


    But where was the 5th driver?  It happened to be Tom Thwaites, the most experienced hiker in the group.  If he was coming down the trail, he was nowhere in sight.  Someone said he may have turned around and gone back to his car at the top trailhead.  It was possible. But nobody had really paid attention.  What a quandary.  At 76 yrs. he has become slower,  but never that slow!  His wife, Barbara was with him.  I finally decided to take the 1 remaining driver back to her car at the trailhead.  When we got there, Tom's car was still there.  So he had not turned back.  Where were they? Were they in trouble?  Missing hikers.

 That was the second scare.


    I tried a cell phone call to someone at the lower end of the trail, but could not get through.  Gert thought we should wait a little while, or go out the trail a little way before turning back, just in case Tom & Barbara were near the top end.   Afterall there were other people still at the lower end.  So we headed out, with Gert walking half as fast as I, for perhaps a 5-minute foray.  Every few steps I blew my plastic emergency whistle in case someone was within earshot.


    As I neared the crest of the small rise, I thought I heard a voice.  I took a few more steps and peered around the bend.  There was a face.  Someone coming. 

 "Oh, there you are," I was about to say. 

 Then I looked again and realized the face was not Tom Thwaites. 

 It was a black bear!! 

 That was the third scare.


    The bear was shuffling along the trail, headed in my direction.  I was quite alone and vulnerable, hiking slowly on tired 70-year-old legs with only a hiking staff for defense.  I didn't have to think about it. I turned and headed back like a shot.  I think I must have been on wings flying back down the trail, because my feet did not hurt at all, as I approached Gert and shouted,

"There's a BEAR!  Is he following me?"


  Gert, who had not seen the bear, said calmly, "You can't outrun a bear." 

 And without stopping, I replied,"I don't have to run faster than the bear, I just have to run faster than you!" 

  (This is a pretty old joke.  But I am not making this up.  We actually recited this joke dialogue while I still thought a bear might really be after me.)


    Then, thankfully, I looked towards the cars and saw the other shuttle driver arrive with Tom and Barbara.  They had finally appeared at the end of the trail.  They had taken it very, very slowly, but were OK.  I was relieved to see them, but too excited to ask for details.

 I said, "There is a bear up there! "

 Tom loves bear stories, and asked with interest, "Was it a young male, out wandering?  or was it a female with a cub?" 

  I replied, "Do you think I waited to get close enough to find out!"


    Whenever I see a bear, especially if I am alone, I believe in turning both cheeks and heading away from it with all possible dispatch.                                     Jean  Aron, June 10, 2008


PS.  At a hikers' picnic soon after this story was told, a young woman admitted that she had been thinking of going along on an outing to do some maintenance on a trail.  But after reading about the bear, etc,  she was having doubts that it might be too dangerous out there.  I quickly pointed out that there are many dangers in the city, too.  Mostly, bears and snakes will shy away, especially if you are with a noisy group.  We deem it a privilege to see them.  A person should never deny themselves the great fun of participating in trail activities in Penns Woods  merely because of fear.

  Keep Hiking, Folks.  That's all.


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