Soon after I started my hike there were signs posted that said there were “aggressive bears” in the area south of Blood Mountain in Georgia. An aggressive bear is one that does not fear humans and will come into a shelter looking for food. They get that way because people in a hurry to get to Maine are careless with food and the smell of food. Signs in the shelters say that garbage kills bears. The bears die because once a bear develops a taste for human food nothing can be done to stop the aggressive behavior. The Forest Service has to kill the animal even though it was a thoughtless, careless, and perhaps ignorant human who caused the situation in the first place. One of the guide books says the bears were here first.
It was late in the day when I saw Blood Mountain through the trees at Woods Hole Shelter. I was getting water there. Earlier in the day a hiker going the other way told me there was a 100% chance of severe storms that night. Here was a new looking shelter in a low flat area with a good spring, and this huge mountain was ahead of me. Signs in the shelter said it was closed because of aggressive bears. All the shelters along there were closed for the same reason. Nobody wanted to get fined by a forest ranger especially me. It was OK to camp ¼ mile off the trail, but as I stood there looking at that mountain, thinking about pitching a tent on the side of it in the rain it was easy to think no bear or forest ranger in their right mind would be out in a severe storm. I stayed there and it is a good thing I did. When it started to rain and lightening it was like nothing I ever saw or heard in my life. The lightening was like a strobe light in the sky. The rain on the sheet metal roof was like being inside a drum. Plus, I heard a freight train go by which is what people say when a tornado rips everything apart.
The next morning I was unaware of how devastating the storm had been in nearby areas. As I hiked out of there in the sunshine I saw wide swaths of broken trees. At Neels Gap on the other side of Blood Mountain there is a small store on the trail. I telephoned home. Jenny, my wife, told me the storm was on the national news, and that it killed people in several states. That was the first I heard of it and said jokingly that I hated to disappoint her but I was not killed. Then as it hit me, to get killed by a tornado while hiking in Georgia was such a ridiculous way to die.
On the first section of my hike beginning in late April, 2011 I went from Springer Mountain in Georgia where the trail begins to Erwin Tennessee where I finally had to stop because my left calf mussel was swollen. It got swollen because right after Max Patch mountain I was making a hurried attempt to get back on the trail and took one careless step.
At the foot of the mountain on the north side there is a well worn clearing under huge trees. The marked trail goes off to the right of the clearing. I wasn’t paying attention to the trail but to the magnificent place under the trees. After a minute or two of looking I moved on except I wasn’t on the Appalachian Trail even though I thought I was. The ground was worn smooth in the clearing under the trees. I went on a trail that went further into the woods. It was a well traveled path where, I suppose, other hikers had made the same mistake. Max Patch Mountain is visited by quite a few day hikers. That day was a beautiful, Spring day. Two women hikers with day packs beside them were having lunch under the trees. One of them yelled something as I disappeared further into the woods, but I didn’t hear what it was. About a mile later I had to admit I wasn’t on the Appalachian Trail anymore and had to go back. The trail all the way to Maine is long, and to practically every thru-hiker the idea of having to backtrack is particularly horrible. I was thinking like that, plus it was getting to be the end of the day.
The Appalachian Trail is well maintained. There are groups of volunteers, and each group has responsibility for maintaining a small section of the trail. They remove fallen trees, and in general constantly groom the path. The elevations are rigorous, but it is highly passable and for the most part safe. That is not true off the trail. When I was off the Appalachian Trail backtracking there was a fairly ordinary looking spot where the path I was on went up a very steep three-foot embankment. I put my left foot midway up the steep incline, pushed off very hard with my two hiking poles, went up, and put my right foot on the top. I didn’t feel anything at the time, but later I realized I pulled the calf mussel in my left leg. Soon after that step I was in the clearing. The two women were gone. I found the marked trail, and was on my way. I stopped to take a few more photographs, and one of those times took out my trail guide book to find out how far it was to the next shelter, and to water. I felt no pain in my leg, but in the days ahead it got worse and worse. When it got worse I had to think where it happened. I stayed in a hostile hoping the situation would improve, but after two -0- days it didn’t get better. I hiked another 85 miles to Erwin, Tennessee before I stopped and took the bus home.