Wildlife Encounters

I am not afraid of bears, and I’ll tell you why.  Namely: Yogi and Boo Boo, the Berenstain Bears, Teddy Ruxpin, Care Bears, Gummy Bears, Baloo from the Jungle Book, Little John from Robin Hood, Popples, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington, Fozzie, and Smokey the Bear.  See? Bears are good.

Snakes, on the other hand, don’t have a good reputation.  The sly snake from the Garden of Eden, the hypnotic Kaa from The Jungle Book, slithering Hiss from Robin Hood, evil Jafar from Aladdin, and He Who Shall Not Be Named from Harry Potter.  On the bright side, they are all defeated, so really no big deal with snakes either.

Instead one of the bigger wildlife concerns that I have is with mice.  Mice can be seriously aggressive.  During my second year serving in AmeriCorps in 2007, my team had a project in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We stayed in an old wooden cabin on Park Service property.  We were grateful for the space, but truth be told it was an older structure and poorly sealed.  Mice made themselves at home among us and got into everything.  At first we put our dry goods in the cupboards.  When that didn’t work, we sealed our food in hard plastic coolers, but the mice managed to lift the lids.  As a last resort, we weighed down the lids to the coolers with books.  We thought that worked well until one day we came into the kitchen and found dozens of mice wearing aprons while sauteing our vegetables and boiling our pasta.

OK, that last part is from the movie Ratatouille, but the rest is true.

If I were a mouse, I’d hang out in a warm place with readily available snacks, aka A.T. shelters.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I will encounter my fair share of mice along the way.  I guess I’m not too bothered by the prospect of scaring off mice that are trying to chew through my bag, but there is the itsy bitsy issue of mice-carrying diseases.  Generally it’s not too worrisome considering that in its history, only one person on the A.T. has caught the hantavirus, but with the recent cases in Yosemite, it’s at least worth noting, ya know, to make me look more fearless than I really am.  “Oh my gosh, Jordana is so amazing. She laughs in the face of the hantavirus.”  Well, maybe – with my mouth covered and latex gloves on my hands.  According to the CDC, symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches, stomach issues, chills, and dizziness; and later on, one can expect fluid in the lungs and shortness of breath.  Historical fatality rates of 38%. (Oh my! Swoon! Swoon, I say!)

Holy bajolese.  I mean, this is pretty nasty stuff.  And I don’t mean to make light of the tragic deaths the disease has caused.  But let’s be real, the vast majority of cases in the U.S. have been west of the Mississippi River (refer to this map).  So is it common enough for me to forego sleeping in shelters? Nah, I’m guessing fellow hikers’ snoring would be more likely to chase me away.

Meandering on,


**For the record, on my road trip this summer I went to Yellowstone, not Yosemite.  So thanks for all the concerned comments, but no need to panic about my scratchy voice; it’s just a sore throat, not hantavirus.**


16 thoughts on “Wildlife Encounters

  1. I don’t think Popples are bears. According to my lab at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, they appear to be a cross between bears, dogs, and

  2. Is a popple a bear? Of all the stuffed animals I had when I was a kid, my purple popple is one that I will NOT let my nieces have. Also, I have stayed in a few lean-tos along the AT and you are right: mice are the worst. Have you seen the “bear” bags hung from the bottom of a tuna can? Yeah, they can figure out how to get around those too.

    • Haha, ok, maybe they’re not bears, but they’re awesome! I was so sad when I finally had to give mine up. I’m interested to hear what you did when you stayed in those lean-tos. Did you end up putting your food in the tuna can “bear bags” or did you hang your own bags from trees?

  3. I remember my first real encounter with Shenandoah black bears – we were hiking Mathew’s Arm and decided to take a trail that looked about 14 miles. We figured we could knock it out easily, but we seriously underestimated the distance and difficulty. We camped on the side of a ridge overnight and hiked up to the ridge the next morning. Suddenly a lot of rustling and movement! We froze! What looked like a teenage bear looked at us briefly then took off running into the woods. After some trepidation we looked at each other, shrugged and moved on. Another one! Finally at the end of the trail where it hit a paved access road, there was a big mama standing there calmly checking us out. We froze again for what seemed like an eternity but she didn’t do anything. We gingerly walked onto the paved road and hoped for the best.

    Ever since then, I don’t really get phased around black bears. I read later that, if it comes down to a confrontation, your only option is to scare the crap out of it by punching it square in the nose. You must establish dominance with black bears.

    Your only option with a grizzly or polar is to crawl up in a fetal position, act dead and hope for the best.

    In all cases, never EVER run from a bear. They will catch you. Climbing up a tree is futile since all bears are excellent climbers.

    Nice blog 🙂 The Shenandoah part of the Appalachians is one of my favorite places in the world.

    • Oh, I should add – those “WARNING: Aggressive Bears” signs are due to people feeding the bears and then the bears subsequently expecting more food from other people. I’m sure you know this but for neophytes it’s good to know and to also search online for info about storing your food properly while camping so bears don’t smell it and come check you out. They are curious and intelligent creatures but like all wild animals might flip out and try to kill you.

  4. Thanks for liking one of my posts, so allowing me to ‘find’ your blog. Funny and inspirational in equal measure, nice one. The A.T, despite being on another continent and a financial no-no just now, is on my bucket list.. I’ll travel it via the interwebs and your blog instead 🙂

    • I’m honored for you to vicariously hike the trail through my blog (and, of course, thank you for the compliment!). And I’ll do my best to keep the A.T. on your bucket list, hopefully keeping the commentary fun and inspirational (I’ve never thought of myself as inspirational, but I’ll surely take it!).

  5. Ever since I have committed to hiking in 2017 and have been voraciously devouring all things AT, I have had this recurring dream about bears. It’s always the same. I’m hiking and look down and there’s an adorable cub. But I’m smart so I’m not captivated by it’s cuteness, I’m terrified and try shooing it away (yes, it’s not a mosquito but you know dreams). I know where there’s a cub, there’s a mom. So I look up and sure enough, mama bear is coming down the hill, charging me at top speed. I’m scared to death when it stops short of me and is in my face. But I offer it some raw okra and it and the cub eat it and leave. So pack some okra with your jerky. =) p.s. For the record, I hate okra and would never have it on my person or think to bribe a bear with it. But you never know….

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