When you’re living away from Internet and television and don’t want to carry heavy books in your backpack, you have quite a bit of time alone in your head. And, my head has a tendency to use that alone time to get organized. Sometimes, this organization looks really productive and creates grown-up things like future employment and grad school plans; other times, it creates things like the bears-to-falls ratio.
The falls I’m referring to are of the more mundane variety than cascades of water.
I’m not a clumsy backpacker, per se, but I do have a tendency to struggle with staying upright. I think it’s the combination of roots and rocks and large boots and a heavy pack and long days and tired muscles, but I’m not sure. I just know that I tend to be a relatively coordinated hiker and tend to save the falls for backpacking.
As a result of this tendency–as well as the frequency with which I see black bears on the trail–sometime early on in my thru-hike, I decided to keep track of both my bear sightings and my falls.
To do this, I needed to operationalize a fall. If I were to count every trip or stumble, there was no way that the bear sightings would have a fighting chance. (And, I’d probably be discouraged.) No, to count, a fall would have to involve my butt or both knees touching the ground. Even then, the AT didn’t lend itself well to fall tabulation; in the case of very steep slopes (where one is likely to need to lean or scooch), I had to adjust my criteria to focus on instances when resuming hiking from a given position required unusual effort.
With the rules in place, I was ready to begin my count.
As the southern half of the trail allows Verizon Wireless’s coverage to shine, so, too, did it allow my bear sightings to dominate the ratio. All through the mid-Atlantic, my bear sightings continued to outnumber my falls. But, then I got to New England.
I’ve hiked a lot in the White Mountains. I know that there are nice carriage paths and trails that contain a fair amount of dirt or needles from softwood trees. Those who determined the Appalachian Trail’s path through the White Mountains seem to have been unaware of these trails. Instead, the AT sends backpackers up dramatically steep, alarmingly eroded trails, across rocky ridges, and down slopes as rough as those we’d climbed. As a result, I helped out the falls’ side of the ratio considerably all through the Whites and the Mahoosucs.
And, the last bear I saw on trail was in Massachusetts.
By the time I reached Katahdin, I’d racked up a grand total of 19 bear sightings and 42 falls. Oh well.