Last weekend, Mr. Dirty & I were thrilled to have my fabulous cousin & his wife visit in order to start planning for our Appalachian Trail adventure.
In late May, just a few days after the last school bell rings for the summer, we will be heading to Fontana Dam where we will be starting our section hike. The plan is for the misters to accompany us south to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), then US ladies will continue a hysterical hike to Springer Mountain. If the hike is anything like this past weekend, I guarantee the entire trip will be one laugh after another.
With our hike quickly approaching, I – Mrs. Dirty – have been trying to become more proficient on some of the camp tasks that have traditionally been handled by the mister. We’ve done several multipurpose hikes with the intent of gaining strength and practicing some necessary skills. I’ve mastered hanging my hammock on my own and can light the Optimus Crux camp stove without setting myself on fire (the stove took a little work and I probably wasted a state’s worth of fuel… but no burns). The one task that I haven’t mastered is the hanging of the bear bag.
Those of you who are new to this backpacking stuff May not know what a bear bag is, so let me explain. In the woods – especially on the AT – there are these furry things called bears. There are so many types of bears: polar bears, grizzly bears, panda bears, black bears, koala bears, and teddy bears – just to name a few. Black bears (and maybe teddy bears) are commonly found on and around the Appalachian Trail.
Under normal conditions, the black bear’s diet consists of assorted berries, buds, and bugs. It’s rare for black bears to eat homo sapiens; however, there have been a few instances when people were on the menu. There are a few stories, according to Snopes are nothing more than stories, in which mothers have slathered their baby’s hand in honey so they could get a picture of their adorable offspring being licked by a hairy bear. Some people would give their right arm (literally) for a vacation photo on Facebook. Anyhow, the black bears along the AT have learned to associate humans with yummy food like hot dogs and potato salad (think Yogi Bear).
It has gotten so bad in places like the Blood Mountain area of the trail that hikers who plan to camp in the area are required to use a bear canister to keep the animals out of their food.
We, like I assume most hikers, plan to keep on trucking when we hit the Blood Mountain area and bear bag our food. Bear bagging is a “system” of hanging your food in the tree to keep it safe from bears, raccoons, and mice. You want your food to hang between 12 – 15 feet off the ground and about eight feet from the tree trunk. This would be the ideal, but we all know we don’t live in an ideal world.
When the cousins were here last weekend, Mr. Dirty took us out to a wooded area in our yard to teach us the PCT method of bear bagging. It’s a relatively simple method that involves throwing a bagged rock over a branch 15 feet in the air. Sounds simple, right? It is… if you can manage to throw the rock over the branch.
I played softball when I was in the third grade, but I spent most of my time picking flowers in the outfield. I wasn’t very good at it which is why I really stink at hanging a bear bag. Everyone enjoyed laughing at my feeble attempts at throwing the rock – even me. After much Facebook banter that centered on just guarding the bag in shifts over night, I decided it was important that I practice – and master – the bear bag.
Today, I headed to the state park with the intent to hike the full 8 mile loop and practice my bear bag technique. I hiked down to the first primitive site and pulled my beautiful(thanks Mr. Dirty) bright yellow Sea to Summit waterproof food bag from my pack. I attached my hygiene kit to the end of the rope, thinking it was as heavy as a rock. It had to work, right? Of course it didn’t!
I was quite psyched that my first two attempts at getting the bag over the branch were pretty doggone close. I actually HIT the branch, which was good for me. Then it happened. The bag went up and over the branch, but not the standard eight feet from the trunk… more like no feet from the trunk. The bag landed in the sweet spot where the branch met the trunk – and was stuck. The string from the bag was perfectly pinned 15 feet in the air and wouldn’t budge.
After calling Mr. Dirty to explain my awesome luck, I set out trying to retrieve my toothpaste & Dr. Bronner’s soap. Luckily for me, I am resourceful, if nothing else. A picnic table (that I had to drag about 15 feet) a rock from the fire pit and my hiking pole, all worked to create an adequate ladder. Imagine: me standing on a rock that is on a picnic table with my hiking pole jabbing at my bag that is stuck in a tree.
Luckily, no one came by or they would have had a show… I was in a little skirt. Not so lucky, I read when I got home that my sweet friend Sarah and her family (to include her super tall hubby) just happened to be on the same trail about the same time. How convenient would have been to run into them out there?! Didn’t happen, but I did manage to save the contents of my hygiene bag. The bag was toast!
Lessons learned: don’t be too lazy to look for a rock in the woods, be careful to throw the rock at least a few feet away from the trunk, or hike with a tall friend.
Seriously, I don’t understand how it could be so easy for this little boy but so hard for me!!