It's not always about the journey or the destination. Sometimes it's about the pizza and ice cream afterward.
If you're looking for GPS coordinates to navigate your next hike or infinitely-detailed descriptions of each nook, cranny, mud puddle and switchback on hikes I've done, then, dear reader, you've wandered off trail. The only blazes to follow here will bushwhack through the peaks, valleys and woods roads of personal anecdotal hiking minutia possibly only of interest to me, several chipmunks and a couple of rather humorless bears.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jingling All The Way

It seems only fitting to inaugurate this blog around the same time of year that other major events are occurring.  Actually, it's not that this blog will be so monumental or monumentally important, I just figure I can write pretty much anything at this time and there'll be fewer people around to view it what with Holiday Happenings and such occupying their more valuable time.    Of course, that would presuppose that after the holidays, I'll be beating readers off with a stick.  Would you accept prodding with a hiking pole?

So what's this Christmasy title and hiking have in common you ask?  That was you I heard asking?  Why....Bells, of course.  While Grandma may have gotten run over by a reindeer, it behooves a hiker not to either get run over, bumped into or chomped upon by a bear while out on the trail and this is where The Bells come into play.  Literally. Playing with bells on a trail can save a hiker's life.  Or so the manufacturer of Bear Bells would have you believe and when it comes to protecting oneself from potential loss of limb or trail snack food swiped from your backpack by a big hairy paw that isn't your husband's, then I'll listen to just about any advice on the subject.

All more knowledgeable hiking authorities often advise to make much noise on the trail to, er..."scare off" any bear nearby by either talking loudly or singing or screaming loudly and often: "Pleeeze, for the love of God, don't hurt me!!!!!"  Now any of these suggestions can accomplish either of two things:  (1) Annoy the hell out of any bears nearby who are trying to sleep or read about that dumb Goldilocks on their Kindles; or (2) Annoy the hell out of any hikers in the area who are trying to enjoy some quiet solitude of their own on the trail.  Oh, there is a third possible ill effect of all that noise making if one is hiking during hunting season and that would involve very pissed off hunters who've been setting camouflaged under a bush covered in leaves since 5:00am and you come along with your hiking "Hallelujah Chorus" and scare off that man-eating, killer fuzzy bunny rabbit they've been stalking for weeks. While most reputable hunters won't take out a hiker in lieu of that fuzzy bunny, they have been known to bring the hills alive with their own sound of expletive deleted music.

Click for enlargement
While perusing the racks of camping gear at a local Big Box store last year, I came across yet another alleged deterrent to alleged noise-annoyed bears:  The aforementioned Bells.  Big silver bells about the size of a silver dollar.  Here you see a pair of them (we have six and figure six more and we could start a chorus).

One is attached to the waist strap on my backpack and the other cinched in between the velco fastener on my pant's cargo pocket.  The other one is hanging from the back of my pack and still sheathed (there's a little magnet sewn inside a mesh stow bag which prevents the thing from 'jingling' when not in use or when you've stumbled across a den of stone deaf bears).  My husband carries his three in his pack. Assuming, I guess, that when a gang of knife and fork wielding, salivating, jonesing-for-some-man-flesh bear gallops down upon him, he'll have more than enough time to unstrap his pack, fish down to the bottom of it where he keeps his granola bars (something for the bears to take note of) retrieve the bells, unsheathe them and jingle like mad, which by that time such melodious tinkling music will have hit the top-40 on WBEAR Radio as "Music For Yogi To Dine By".

So at this Holiday time of year, when you hear those Salvation Army Santas jingling their bells outside stores and on street corners,  or on any number of household doors festooned with gigantic silver and gold jingle bells being opened and closed to admit guests and gently nudge out unwanted ones, or being ferreted out of 2-for-a-$1 bins at craft stores across the country, be very afraid.  These are not just holiday accompaniments.  It is obvious that there are bears in those areas.  They lurk on those street corners, glazed eyes imagining the Army's kettle simmering with Shopper Stew; they pose as FedEx delivery people (very popular and an easy ploy to gain home entry during the holidays to swipe all those christmas fruitcakes no one wants anyway); and they are very much into scrapbooking hence the jingling caution at craft stores. Apparently, bears like to keep photos of the more stupid human frailties of hikers on the trails.  But for the most part bears don't usually stand still long enough to focus their Bearberries.  

Bears "allow" us to use their space.  Once in awhile, they will deign to appear before us so that we can appreciate their magnificence.  Bears, however, aren't much for crowds and would just as soon watch us from a distance.  Should we get too close, they usually run faster than we could but have been warned by more experienced naturalists that running isn't the best thing to do around bears.  Standing in place and not staring them in the eye is what's usually recommended. Somehow the thought of freezing immobile while averting my vision of 10-foot upright, teeth-gnashing, claw-weilding imminent death bearing down upon me isn't something I can envision with any amount of calming conviction.

Boulder Field
Ultimately, as intimidating as they can be for we humans who enjoy their woods and trails, they are an awesome sight to see.  If we as hikers are out there to enjoy nature, well, then...they're part of that experience, and even though when I first started hiking I never thought I'd say this:  I wouldn't have it any other way.

One final note.  Recently we were hiking at Hickory Run State Park in Pennsylvania.  We were headed back from the Boulder Field  on a trail that parallels the northernmost border of the park.  Great place for bears to socialize, we thought.  So, out came our bells, and I started cackling some Barry Manilow song I remembered.  I figured if my voice didn't scare them away, then a Manilow song would do the trick.  Unless of course, this was where the gay bears hung out.

While jingling all the way on this remote trail another hiker with a dog came up behind us and instantly recognized the bells for what they were and offered his own personal take on them:
"Howdy!  See you've got your bear bells on there.  I'm from Montana and out here training some search and rescue dogs on these remote trails in Pennsylvania.  Back in Montana,  we've mostly got grizzles.  Different temperament and behavior than your black bears here. More ornery.  Certainly a lot less timid and fearful of humans.  That's why in my neck of the woods we call those bear bells of yours....Dinner Bells!"

He was a nice man.  Leading a very well-behaved female bloodhound who wore a vest warning: "Please Do Not Pet Me.  I'm Working."  We love animals and were tempted, but knew better.  We laughed at his statements and talked for awhile about his job and the dog's job and bears and then we both went our separate ways.  He and his dog to find their training target and we to sing and jingle our way out of musical bear country and hopefully arrive safely back to our car before sunset when most of the bears settle down for bear tales of what stupid hiker things they witnessed that day and plug in their iPawds to listen to "Music For Yogi To Dine By", which can be heard echoing from den to den throughout the moonlit hills long after we hikers are home reciting our bear encounters and listening to Beary Manilow for future reference.