Yesterday, Matt and I decided to summit Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and the weather was spectacular. This was my first trail run after pacing Matt at his 50 miler, so I was a little nervous about my injury. My recovery has been going really well, but I have to remember I’m still in recovery and need to learn to not push myself too hard. I’d like to say I know my limits, but I obviously don’t since every time I push myself I do get injured!
We started at the Black Mountain Campground around 10:30am. It was hot towards the beginning of the trail, and cooled off nicely as we had a few thousand feet of elevation gain. The whole run was about 11 miles, but I unfortunately didn’t end up finishing the trail. I went up about 3 miles with minimal knee pain, but realized if I continued up the run down was basically all downhill, and doing 6 miles of downhill seemed pretty daunting with my injury. Normally I thrive on downhills, but my IT Band issues act up more on downhills than uphills, so I decided to turn around and let Matt summit. I knew he wanted to reach the top, and can outrun me any day, so we split up and decided to meet back at the car whenever he was finished.I had a great mile and a half run down, until “the incident.” I was running, totally in the zone enjoying myself, when out of my peripheral vision I see two black bear cubs run across the trail not 15 feet in front of me. They weren’t running towards me and didn’t even turn around to look at me, but I still completely freaked out, screamed like a little girl, and sprinted back up the trail. I have never been so terrified in my whole life than at that moment. I was stuck in the middle of the woods, by myself, extremely spotty cell service, and knew Matt was probably at least 5 miles out from me.
People say “Don’t run!” or “Get big!” But I’m telling you, when you see two bears, nothing in your body says “oh I know, let’s just stand here and make noise!” You bleeping run for your life. Who knows where those babies mom was, and I did NOT want to find out. Unfortunately, I was at a hairpin in the trail. To go forward would be to go towards where the bears came from, and to go back up the mountain meant I would have to go that way too.
In the end, I just kind of stood there, hyperventilating, imagining Matt’s face as he ran down and stumbled across my Mama Bear-mangled body. I stood there, listening to try to hear if Mama Bear was around, and panic set in completely. Every twig snap I heard was Mama Bear sneaking up on me. Every fallen leaf was from a tree Mama Bear was climbing to pounce on me. Eventually I thought “well, if Mama Bear does come after me, would I rather be trampled on from up top, or try to hide up high and have the advantage of height?” So I climbed a tree. I mean, a very small, slightly dead-looking, flimsy tree that she could have easily pushed over to rip my body parts from me.
Luckily, she never came. I spent a solid 50 minutes completely alone and completely paralyzed with fear. I had texted Matt to come down immediately after it happened, and about a mile from the top, he found a spot with service, saw my message, and turned right back around. Now, I had sent him two messages:
2. PLEASE COME NOW
Then he messaged me “You okay?!” and I responded “I’m fine but I can’t move I’m too scared to go anywhere please come.” Turns out he only got the “HELP” so he had no idea I was okay. He later told me he immediately thought I had somehow sliced my femoral artery and was going to bleed out by the time he got there. Then he realized I would have called 9-1-1 (which, so you know, DOES work even if you don’t have signal. Even if you can’t talk to anyone, they will find out where the call is coming from and send help) and he realized finding my blood-less body was unlikely.
Then he thought maybe I snapped my ankle and couldn’t move and was in agony. Then his brain made its way to a bear, so he was also picturing my mangled body. He after 50 minutes he finally made it to me and I climbed out of my hideaway tree. I wept in his sweaty arms and he escorted me down the mountain to the car, all while he yelled “hi bear” nice and loud to try to scare them away if they were nearby. I like to imagine they were out there somewhere waving at us.
All in all, it was pretty terrifying but definitely fun to laugh about after. Like the fact that I climbed a tree knowing bears climb trees. Or that I cried like a little baby. Or that Matt was yelling hi to some black bears. The run besides that was amazing and super jungle-like. I was super excited that my knee was feeling good enough to be on the trails, and went back out today to the Appalachian Trail right by Tennessee, which was just unreal. We went to Max Patch, and the views made me feel like I was on a movie set.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I bought bear mace before we went out today.