Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Overnight Hike

Overnight Hike


The parking lot was full of hikers' cars along Maine's section of the Appalachian Trail as Andrew changed into his hiking boots and shouldered his homemade backpack. A weekend overnight hike up to the Rainbow Stream lean-to and back sounded like a good break from a week of hard work. In a hurry to get on the trail, Andrew stopped and picked up a couple of hamburgers on the way and stored them in his pack for later.

It was a nice warm fall day, and Andrew did not see any other hikers as he climbed the mountain toward the trailhead. When he reached the Appalachian Trail, he noticed bear warning signs that were badly clawed and scarred. Arriving at the shelter late in the evening, Andrew found that it was already full with overnight hikers. Before heading on, he took a break to eat one of his burgers with the other hikers. "Have you seen any bears around?" he inquired.

"No," one man replied, "and if any showed up, our German shepherd would run him off!"

As the sun dropped low on the horizon, Andrew decided to find a quiet place to camp before dark. Following a side trail, he found a nice level clearing and unrolled his sleeping bag. Andrew thought about the extra hamburger in his pack, and he wondered if the dog back at the shelter would come searching for a midnight snack. In order to protect his meal for the next day, He took a twenty-foot length of rope and tossed the line up and over a tree limb, then tied on his pack, pulling it up and out of reach. Then he turned in for the night.

The view was lovely with the moon reflecting on Bear Lake just below him. He knew that the dew would get him wet during the night, so he placed the sleeping bag cover over his head. Through the material he could see the moon and the outline of the trees. Andrew wore a hunting knife, and just in case anything tried to attack him during the night, he removed the knife from its leather sheath and placed it next to his side, under his hand.

Before Andrew could get into a sound sleep, a strange sound woke him up. The moon was still high and bright, and he clutched the knife handle and remained very still. Thinking about the German shepherd back at the shelter, he was convinced the dog had smelled the food and followed him down the trail. He must have been more tired than he thought. Although he tried to stay awake and guard his breakfast, he dozed off again.

A heavy weight on his chest woke him again. This time a large dark object was moving across his sleeping bag! This was no dog! Andrew froze, not knowing what to expect next. In a moment his life flashed in front of him. He thought of his wife and daughter, and said a quick prayer. The bear continued on, snorting as he left. Andrew released his grip on his hunting knife and was surprised by how quickly he slid back into a deep sleep.

Again the bear crossed over Andrew, waking him up. He offered up another prayer, gripped the knife tightly, and laid perfectly still. Yet the bear left as quickly as he came. He did not sleep any more that night but kept a tight grip on his knife. As dawn's first light crept to where he lay, he sat up and looked around. He had been sleeping crossway on the trail down to the lake. His tattered pack lay on the ground, the treasured burger long gone. As he gathered up the pieces and hiked down the mountain to his car, he decided to celebrate his appreciation of life by stopping for another burger on the ride home. 

Copyright © 2015 Hubert Clark Crowell
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