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I just returned early on Saturday, May 11th from the trip, and I thought to tell you (and all) what
happened on my backpacking trip into the Shenandoah Forest.
I left here very early on Friday May 10th, crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge about 06:00 AM
with no difficulties whatever. The drive out to Skyline Drive was peaceful, scenic, and at a relaxing
pace. Along the way, I thought that this coming experience might serve as a spiritual "retreat"
for me, where I might be able to pray. When I got to the Thorton Gap Visitor's Entrance, it was
abandoned as the regular park employees had not yet arrived. The same was true at the Matthew's
Arm Campgrounds where I left the car after self-registration on a form provided there in the absence
of the Forest Rangers. Putting the last finishing touches on my backpack and then securing my car,
I was on my way into the forest. Nextel showed no service signal present, so I abandoned the phone.
I began my trek on "Tracer's Trail" which leads to Overall Run Trail which would take me to my
destination, the Overall Run Falls. My backpack weighed 75 lbs, a bit much but wanted to try out
this arrangement of equipment I had put together, this being my first time in the forest. But I could
not have made the 3 mile hike without the trekking poles with such a load-- they were invaluable.
The Overall Run Trail is rocky, thin. Though it begins with a 1/2 mile incline, the trail basically
descends all the way to the falls. Great for getting there.
3. Overall Run Falls
After the exhausting hike, I arrived at Overall Run Falls which was a beautiful falls, that had the
freshest and cleanest running stream I have ever seen. I dropped the backpack and felt like an
astronaut just landing on the moon, as my now free-of-load body seemed to want to rise off of the
ground. I took a good long drink of my only water supply I had brought along. After relaxing a while,
I began to search for a camp site.
4. Into the Forest
There is a rule at Shenandoah Park that one must camp at least 50 yards off of any trail. I knew this
meant heading off into the brush, so I did, climbing up a hill on the south side of the stream that was
heavily overgrown. The machete was a must for clearing a path in these dense woods, and that's why
I brought it. After climbing over numerous fallen trees and cutting through brush I found one spot at the
top of the hill, level enough to set up my 7' X 7' Coleman tent. Returning to the falls for my backpack, I
re-climbed the hill, cleared a campsite of thicket, set up the tent, popped open the new Thermal Guard
mattress Mark had recommended, took off my drenched cloths and crashed.
It was at this point that I'm glad you didn't come because I found out that there are ticks in the forest,
more than I expected. But none got on me because I was vigilant in my "war" with them. During the
entire trip, only 3 got into the tent but were immediately vanquished, however, they were an issue.
5. Dinner Out
I didn't really sleep after setting up camp, because I knew I had to return to the stream/falls to get
needed water before nightfall which was coming. At the proper time, as determined by the position of
the sun, I started back through the heavy overgrowth to the falls. To spend time at the falls was a very
The MSR water purifier worked well, though when looking at the freshness of the running stream water,
one would wonder if it was really needed. The multi-fueled stove that Mark had recommended also worked
perfectly and easily the first time. The only hitch was that the little cook pot I carried fell into the stream
and immediately went over the falls. I had to climb down 93' (the given height of the Overall Run Falls) to
retrieve it, and I successfully did. The "bouldering" (light rock climbing) aspect of my repelling activities
paid off big time on that one. Finally sitting at the falls eating my hot beef soup caused me to laugh and
think that this what be what going out to dinner is like in the forest... I thought of you.
6. Night Fall
Returning to the camp site a third time, I began building a fireplace with some rocks and getting some
wood together for a fire. I did all of this and started a 1-match fire, but even then I realized that I was not
going to be up tending it all night as it was not needed for heat, and I wanted to sleep. So I had a nice
fire going until the Sun went down and then settled in for a long night's sleep without intending to tend the
fire during the night-- this proved to be a big mistake.
I turned on the Proverbs/Psalms CD I made and began listening through tiny head phones as I now hoped
to drift off into a peaceful sleep after so much work in one day. I did so until what was probably 12:30 to 1:30
am. That's when over the playing of Psalms, I heard the crack of twigs and branches breaking on the forest
floor-- the distinct sound of someone or some thing approaching. I knew immediately it was a bear.
7. Night-- of Prayer
Terror overcame me, and I mean real fear, as I realized that the bear was already right on top of my position--
already at the campsite. I had on no boots, no pants, did not have my machete or knife located as I was not
expecting this, and was simply caught in a terrible situation that was immediate. "If I had only kept the fire
going!", I thought.
The bear approached from behind the tent (where my head was). How he could close on top of my position
without making more noise than that which made me first aware of his presence is a mystery to me! But
his/her silence paid off and now it clearly had the advantage over me.
My body was as tight as a board as the only thing I could do was to freeze, rather than move inside the tent
to attempt to get to the machete. So to freeze was the only physical thing I could do. The other thing I did
was began to pray, and I mean like never before perhaps, speaking directly to Jesus, asking him to encamp
His angels around me and protect me from the bear.
The only physical act my body did was to swallow, which seemed as loud to me as a hand clap but probably
was inaudible to the bear. The bear moved again, in closer this time with his head physically at the tent.
I knew this because I listened to his deep sniffs as he attempted to detect what was inside of this strange
structure. In my mind, and in the blackness I could picture his nostrils open and close.
My terror was based on the thought that since I was so far into the woods from the vehicle "camping" area,
that this bear might not be as familiar with overnighters and might consider this an invasion of his territory.
Now, sniffing right at my head area, I just got as far into the sleeping bag as possible-- without making a sound,
while hoping I would not leave him anything to sniff. He moved again... easy to determine because of the heavy
cracking of the twigs on the ground. I hoped with all of my heart that he would not probe the tent or was not
walking around to the front side that was not covered with the opaque door cover. During this time my praying
never ceased. Again, it was very sincere praying.
Even amid the fear, I finally allowed my neck to go a little limp, slowly allowing it to put pressure on my small
pillow. And somehow, during my praying and hoping and waiting, I did not hear the bear anymore.
8. Night-- of Prayer (Part Two)
How the bear egressed away without making any more noise than that was astounding! But I was so, so
very happy that he did! Happy that is, with the reservation that it was still a young night. But when I sensed
that he was gone, I actually took my first "breath" in what seemed a very long time and got up the steam to
go for my machete. Cutting on the smaller flashlight for only seconds and then covering it against my flesh
that it would remain dim, I located the machete and slowly reached for it. I also located my knife (the one
Mark gave me) and brought it into a known position next to my sleeping bag. Now, continuing to pray,
I-- looking out into the small section of sky I could see through the front of the tent, hoped for daybreak.
9. Night-- of Prayer (Part Three)
But one hour or so later, I heard the huge crack of the breaking twigs again, knowing the bear was approaching,
maybe bolder this time. I reached for my machete with my right hand, laying it next to me and feeling the point
with the finger of my left hand. My thought was, that if the bear probed the tent, I would jab it gently at the probe
point hoping to deter any further probe. The bear was back at the location he came to before, behind the tent at
my head area.
Then simultaneously, I heard a large branch crack to my right, now thinking that there were two bears present.
I have never before been as terrified as I was at that moment. At best, one could hope to scare off one bear in
the daylight, (but in the blackness of night in his own territory? Probably not.). But two bears! Any fight between
me and them, they would only handle one way, to attack and kill. They would have to, one protecting the other.
These were my thoughts.
My prayers this time were for Jesus to deliver me from these bears as he did Daniel from the lions. I asked Jesus
to send the bears away. Again my body was as stiff as a board, expecting a strike, or an appearance at the
front of the tent. After bring rigid for a long time, in faith- again I allowed my body to physically
relax a bit, resting my head and neck on the pillow, as I allowed it to touch down. The blood in my veins felt as
though it were at a temperature of 115 degrees! I waited, and waited... no appearance.
Somehow, the bear or bears must have withdrawn again with the same stealth with which they approached.
Somehow I must have closed my eyes for some form of rest, but when I opened them again it was beginning
to get lighter outside. It was not light yet, but it was definitely time as more light was available. This I rejoiced in!
Then, after getting a little bit lighter, the bear returned once again. Same approach, same position... same sniff.
Though my blood was hot with fear, it was not as bad as before, as all I wanted was to be able to face the bear
in the daylight. Thanks be to God, the bear left again.
When it was clearly daybreak, I arose, packed up everything I could inside the tent, put on my pant and boots
and then went out into the new day turning to look in the direction of the bears approach. Now looking closer,
I saw a path that he used-- three times to approach my tent. He must live right there and was coming to check
out the situation of this thing that had entered into his territory that night. I packed up the entire campsite,
assembled my backpack and grabbed my trekking poles. Looking out into the bear's direction audibly I thanked
him for letting me come and go in peace and asked God's blessing on him and his. Needless to say I thanked
Jesus for letting me live.
Remember I told you it was all a downhill hike to the falls? Well it was all uphill on the way back. It was the
toughest physical challenge that my body ever faced, with that load I carried. Again, it would not have been
possible without the trekking poles. After returning to the car I drove back to Forestville on a beautiful cloudless
day, having fully realizing my objective to have some quality time of prayer with God.
Hope to see you, Tuesday.