You are a day and a half into a solo hike in a remote Appalachian area. Today, the weather is great! The sun is shining, the trail is wide open and for the first time in a long while all appears to be right in the world. The temperature is in the low fifties, which is perfect for the arduous hike but with clear skies, you expect it to get down below freezing tonight. You have a down filled sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, extra layers of clothing and an awesome one man tent you picked up just for this trip so you welcome the cold nights. It is late morning and you have been steadily chipping away at the miles. Feeling great, but time for a pitstop as the Mountain House freeze dried biscuits and gravy and instant coffee have done their job. It is a relief to shed the heavy pack that admittedly contains way more gear than you actually need. You place it securely at the base of a large tree next to the trail and step off into mother nature’s lavatory.
With business done, feeling significantly lighter and ready to get back on the go you head back towards the trail and your trusty pack that awaits. As you approach the trail you catch a glimpse of a large dark shape moving very quickly. I mean fast! Faster than two ferrets fighting over an apple fritter on a Friday! Which, in case you were wondering, is pretty fast. Your curiosity gets the better of you and you continue. Popping out onto the trail, you quickly scan in the direction you saw the large figure moving. To your astonishment you see the hind quarters of a large black bear barreling off the trail and down a very steep hillside with something very much resembling your pack! Without thinking, you run the short distance after it screaming at the bear “HEY BEAR!!!”. With your heart pumping, you can hear it tearing off through the woods.
Now what? You are left with a few choices but as you see it only seconds to make up your mind. Option one is to head down the steep hillside after the bear in an attempt to claim what used to be yours. Seems like a good idea at the time because you are a bit pissed off and maybe not thinking too clearly. Option two is to use your frustration to cover as much ground as possible in an attempt to make it back to your truck in one anger fueled push. You know it took a day and a half to get to this point but without the pack you should be able to move much faster. Option three is to sit down against the big poplar tree where you “securely” set your pack and think it through. Weigh out your options. Then, after you have had a chance to calm down you will be capable of making an intelligent, rational, level headed decision.
Screw it! “I’ll be darned if I’m gonna let Yogi run off with well over a grand worth of gear he didn’t buy!” is what you shout in your own mind as you bound off the trail in the direction that you last heard the bear. You think that if you make enough noise the bear will get scared and drop his cargo to avoid a confrontation. After all, you are one tough mountain of a man that fears nothing and is packing heat in an inside the waistband holster and are not afraid to use it! Right? Well, as you run, slip, slide and semi fall down the slope a sharp broken branch stabs into your shoulder tearing your shirt sleeve clear to the funny bone and it is not funny at all! The injury is not severe but it hurts like a son of a gun and only fuels the fires of your rage filled pursuit. You continue ducking and weaving through the undergrowth until you near the bottom of the slope and run slap into what appears to be an impenetrable wall of Rhododendron. The tangled web of branches forces you to change course but with no real plan, you take the path of least resistance and turn right. Your hasty attempt to catch one more glimpse of your pack runs you into a small fast flowing stream that you quickly stomp and splash your way across not caring about getting your boots and pants wet. As you near the other side, you push hard off of a rock to help ascend the steep bank only to slip gloriously and smash your hip into the algae and moss covered boulder. Ok, now this one hurts! A few of your toes go numb for a moment and you say a few choice words that your mother would not be too proud of. The shock of the freezing cold water jolts you back up and you feebly crawl your way up the bank to dry land.
Now, only after a mind altering collision with the previously mentioned boulder do you do what you should have done in the first place. Sit, collect yourself and try to make sense of what just happened. It takes several minutes for your breath and heart rate to slow and it is only then that you can make a fair assessment of the situation. Starting at the top, your head is drenched with sweat and your hat is missing. At least the sharp stick was to the shoulder and not your eye but the right sleeve of your $80 moreno wool long sleeved tee shirt is ripped wide open and you are bleeding a bit from your upper bicep. You are damp from sweat from the navel up. From the navel down, you are soaked! Pants, socks, and boots are all sufficiently hydrated. The good news is that the feeling has come back to your once numb toes and other than your pride, nothing seems to be broken. The bad news is there will be one heck of a bruise on your hip! Yowch! All of your food, water, sleeping gear and your tent are gone! You are a pretty miserable individual and understandably are feeling pretty sorry for yourself at the moment.
The temperature is only in the low fifties but it will be getting much colder soon. Down in the bottom of the valley with not much sunshine and being soaked, you begin to shiver. You have settled down enough to prioritize. “I need to dry my clothes” is what you say to yourself. “Sure would be nice to change into the dry clothes in my pack” you mutter sarcastically. With a sting of pain that comes from standing up and then straightening your scuffed up arm, you dig down in your pocket and pull out the trusty Bic Lighter that always lives there. Having this gives you a moment of satisfaction and hope. Then, fear creeps its way back into your mind as you are not completely sure if it will work. It has always worked before, so it should work now right? You spin the wheel and……….. nothing! Again, and again you flick the Bic and no spark, no flame no nothing! “Maybe its just wet” is what you think to yourself so you hold it close to your mouth and exhale hard onto the shiny chrome covered shroud of your sole source of ignition. Repeatedly you do this and attempt to strike it into flame with no success. Now, you are starting to get worried. Holding it in your hand, you vigorously swing it around through the air flapping your one unwounded wing like a desperate bird. After several minutes of this worrisome process your thumb rolls the wheel and you see a spark. Ha! There is hope! Again and again you strike the lighter and finally, poof! Fire! Holy crap! Thank God!
Limping around trying to collect kindling you finally have a decent pile and hold the lighter under it until it catches flame. You throw all of your collection onto the flame and bask in the glorious warmth. However, it is short lived as you soon need to leave the small bubble of security in order to gather more wood. You gather and throw it on the fire as you collect it from all the nearby dead branches and are forced to revive the fire by blowing on it a couple times as it goes out while you are gone. Fortunately, even though you are sore from the fall, gathering, dragging and standing by the fire a few moments at a time is keeping you warm for the time being. You were smart enough to be wearing all wool base layers and fast drying pants and they seem to be drying nicely. On your feet are an expensive gortex lined pair of hiking boots. Unfortunately, they leak terribly through the large ankle sized opening at the top when submerged in knee deep water and are still soaked along with some pretty squishy sounding socks. You keep a multitool in your pocket and about 10 feet of paracord that you use to fashion a pretty ugly but effective tripod. You place the drying rack near the fire and place your socks and boots on it to dry.
As your socks and boots drip by the fire you tiptoe around barefoot trying to gather enough firewood to last all night. There is a pair of sandals and spare socks in what used to be your pack that you always carry so you can do camp chores while your feet, socks and boots dry after a long day of hiking. So much for that. It is a real struggle to push down some of the dead standing trees and would be one thousand times easier with the folding saw you keep in Yogi’s new pack. You manage to pile up a pretty good load of fuel and are pretty confident it will see you through the night. But then again, nights this time of year are pretty long and cold so you collect a few more large pieces. Down in the bottom of this valley the sun has long since disappeared and the light is fading fast. The air has a sharp cold bite to it and if you’re honest with yourself, you are a bit nervous. Your clothes are not yet completely dry and your boots are still pretty wet. There has been no time for constructing any kind of shelter but luckily you have a 55 gallon drum liner in your cargo pocket for just such an occasion. The skies remain clear as the first stars become visible through the leafless branches overhead. So you prioritize the best uses of this man made, 100% waterproof plastic bag. You could probably rig up some sort of lean-to type shelter or even cut a few holes in it to wear like a poncho. With no signs of precipitation and knowing that the ground is going to be hard, uncomfortable and freezing cold you opt to stuff it full of leaves and pine needles collected from the ground to make a garbage bag mattress that with any luck at all will be close to your sleep number.
Find out how you survive in Part 2!