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After crossing the state line into New York, I soon walked along the highest point I will within the state. The trail in this area proved tough, with some solid climbs and lots of rocks. I crossed a road soon after crossing the border, and walked up the road to a creamery. I rewarded my completion of another state with a delicious ice cream sundae. My first night in NY was spent near Wildcat Shelter, where I pitched my tent. It was crowded, very crowded… But not a thruhiker in sight. Everyone here were just out for a night or a couple of nights. I sat by the fire, and talked. The folks camped here were intrigued by my journey, and their questions led to my stories of my trip so far. They were all wonderfully friendly, and we joked and laughed throughout the eve. The next day, I walked up a staircase next to a waterfall, as voluntary workers were continuing to build them. I talked with them for a bit, and thanked them for the amazing work they are doing. I climbed several small mountains, and then crossed a Turnpike, and entered Harriman State Park, home of some of the oldest original Appalachian Trail. The trail started as a roadwalk, and as I passed a parking lot, I was called over by a man standing by his truck. It turned out to be Padio, with his Paddywagon, who has been giving out trail magic for over a decade. He cooked me a lunch consisting of brats wrapped in bacon and soda! I ate several, and he also gave me some snacks to go. I was extremely grateful for this pleasant surprise! I was thankful that I had these extra calories, as the trail climbed steeply. I came to a spot called the Lemon Squeezer, which was a very tight path through split rock. Then, there was a difficult section, where I had to toss my bag overhead and climb up and over a steep cliff. The trail here passed through stunning forest, and I saw more deer than I can count. It sure was something. I imagined how it was in the days that Earl Schaffer, the first thruhiker, passed through here on his walk to Maine. Once I made it to where the trail crossed the paved road in the park, I took a side trip down the road to a lakeside beach. I spent a good amount of time here. I sat and stuck my bare feet in the sand, enjoying how good it felt on my sore feet. I swam in the warm lake. I also sat at a picnic table and cooked my dinner, with the benefit of pumped water nearby. I then walked the couple miles towards the next shelter. Before I could make the shelter, as I was distracted in watching deer along the trail, I rounded a corner and saw black fur before me. I hadn’t comprehended the situation yet, when I saw two bear cubs suddenly shoot very quickly up trees. As the severity of the situation sunk in, the mother black bear rose to her hind legs, hovering tall over the brush. She did not appear happy. I was scared. I knew this was a bad scenario, made much worse by just how close I was. I frantically tried to remember what I should do in this situation. I knew it so well, always reciting the steps to people in other moments. But in this moment, it was hard to recall anything, as I literally shook from fear. I took a few steps back, trying to do so slowly and calmly. The large, fearsome bear didn’t like my choice of actions apparently, as she bolted in my direction. I thought for a moment I was about to experience great pain. I assume that it wouldn’t take much difficulty for her to do serious damage with her large paws. To my good fortune, she stopped short of me, and instead circled the tree one of her cubs had taken cover in. So I proceeded to back into the corner of the trail. I was as far back as I could go from the bears. The cubs chose to seek refuge in trees that my trail skirted in both directions. So I stayed in the corner. It was an awkward moment, where I couldn’t move because of mama bear, mama bear wasn’t leaving her cubs, and the cubs wouldn’t come down because I was there. The mother bear was making loud noises, making her irritation obvious. Finally, I stepped back off the trail, and into the thick brush. It was painful, but it gave the cubs just enough room to lower themselves down the trees, and all three bears scurried away. With my heart still pounding hard, I continued to walk, this time talking and making noise. It would be dark soon, so I rushed to William Brien Shelter, and set up my tent by headlamp. I was camping alone once again. I made sure to hang my bear bag very carefully and very secure that night. I was shook, admittedly. I was lucky to walk away from such a close encounter with a protective mother. As I laid out to sleep, my fears slipped away, and I thought to myself how amazing it was to witness a family of bears. This brings my total bear sightings on this trip alone to ten, if you include the cubs. I desired a fellowship with the wilderness, and I was finding just that.
Ray Peck Jr. traveled the A.T. this season with his fellow 2012 thru-hikers. To read more of his awesome adventures check out his blog right here.
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