The Three Falls hike. Oh mercy sakes, where to start? You won’t believe me even if I promise to tell the truth, no exaggerations. Honestly, I don’t need to exaggerate either because I couldn’t create or craft a story better than this one. So here goes: This hike was a doozy, a real and true doozy, and to prove that, here is a few-words preview:
- An almost bear mauling
- A haunted campsite
- Trouble with the law
- And . . . let’s just say . . . icing on the cake
Yep, all true unfortunately. And with that type of preview, there’s no need to dilly-dally so let’s take it from the top before adrenaline was pumping, breath was barely able to be caught, and heartbeats raced so fast we were on the verge of heart attacks. Let’s start with the relaxing bit: The Three Falls hike, meaning three waterfalls which are Rose River Falls, Dark Hollow Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls. This hike was meant to be a teeny bit more challenging with the increased elevation and difficulty level.
- A little over a nine mile circuit
- There’s a 2,205 foot elevation
- Rated a Level Four of Five difficulty
Day One brought us gorgeous weather — no humidity, around seventy-degrees temperature with a slight breeze.
This, by the way, is how we amuse ourselves before our hike.
Off we go! Autumn greeted us, waving from the woods as we followed her twisted trail of freshly fallen pine needles, acorns, and yellow, red, orange leaves.Nature seemed a breathing being, laughing among us as we strolled through; Andy and I, flirting with each other while the trees flirted too, blushing in a foreign conversation.
After a few miles, our trail brought us to Rose River Falls, which is has two waterfalls. One is twenty-five feet tall; the other, thirty-feet.
This is also where someone (not calling names or pointing fingers) wanted to jump into the water. Granted, there was this jockish-looking fellow in the water with his dog, having a grand ‘ole time. He was carrying on conversations with the passing hikers, throwing his pup a stick, smiling and enjoying life so it was easy to think, “This water is pleasant! Wonderful! I shouldn’t just watch! I should go in!” Therefore, at someone‘s recommendation, I changed into my bikini and Andy put on his swimming shorts. Then, we leapt in . . . only to have our throats almost close because the water was a few degrees above freezing.
Needless to say, our polar plunge was over before it felt like we started.
Once we towel dried, with wet and freezing hair, we set off for our next fall: Dark Hollow.On the way there, we saw ruins from an old copper mine.
After that, we crossed over a steel footbridge . . .
and kept following the trail which was following the water . . .
Day One ends with us finding the most incredible place to pitch our tent. It was set up on a small hill overlooking a stream that was a few yards away. We felt hidden among the trees as day hikers strolled by unaware of our presence. We were tucked away, a hidden secret, covered under a canopy of bright yellow leaves that you could only see directly below it.
We unpacked, pulled out our food for dinner, then climbed into the tent to get warm inside our sleeping bags. My hair was still wet so, combined with the dropping temperatures, I was shivering despite putting on as many layers as I had packed and even some of Andy’s. That’s how Day One ended — Us, snuggled up inside of the tent.
Or that’s how we thought Day One would end.
As we were listening to the small snap of limbs and the plopping of acorns onto the dirt, there was another sound — sudden, urgent, strong. It was as if horses were running, charging straight at us. Andy and I looked at each other. “Wot is that?” is he asked, pupils massive. “Get. out. of. the. tent. Getoutofthetent right. now,” I said and jumped from my side door the same time he sprang from his. That’s when we saw it: Directly in front of us, a baby black bear running full speed our way. “Awww! It’s a cuuub! Look — ” we both smiled, then stopped mid-sentence . . . stopped as we saw the mother bear charging towards us too, following her cub. “Oh shit,” we said at the same time again. “What do we do?” I asked. The mother bear was huge, at least much larger than I expected to see in person hiking. She was easily the size of a four-person table, and she was dead set on keeping her cub by her side. The only problem was that her cub appeared eager to explore . . . and see us. “What do we dooo!” I asked, still panicking as the mother and cub continued to barrel towards us. Then I grabbed my pack, which was empty but I wasn’t doing anything without it. In my world in the woods, my pack meant my life. I slung it over my shoulders. The bears were now about three yards away, space between us and them was closing. “Talk — Just talk to let them to let them know we are here. Just talk — calm. Be calm, but let them know we are here,” Andy said, speaking more loudly with effort in his voice to sound calm. “Right,” I followed his lead. “Aren’t we just supposed to make noise?” We were both talking far too loudly than we should have been next to each other. “Yes,” he answered. “Just let them know we are here,” but they didn’t stop and the gap between bears and people was closing. “We need to do something else!” I told him and picked up a thick two-foot rock then began hitting it against another rock. “Right,” he said between my rock slams. “Keep talking, keep making the noise. They’ve stopped.” And they had . . . but they didn’t leave. There was a small hill ahead which allowed them to hide behind it, seeming to disappear until the cub would become curious again, slowly sneak out the side, causing the mother to pop up and look for her baby. I kept banging the rock . . . until the rock broke. Yep, literally broke in half. A rock the size of my head. That tells you how hard I was slamming the two together. It was silent. The bears stared at us; we stared at the bears. “They aren’t leaving,” I said to Andy, confused. Black bears were supposed to be scared of people. “I know,” he told me, sounding confused too so we all just stood there, people-with-bears and bears-with-people in this confused invisible bubble . . . until we heard another sound: hikers on the path who seemed just as interested in us as the cub was. I turned to look. A guy and girl quickened their pace and were pointing at us. They scaled some fallen trees over the water, climbed the hill embankment, and crept — arm-crawl type — in our direction whispering. “Ohhhhh!!! It ISSSS!!! It’s a BEARRRR!!! You guys see the bearrrr!!!” “No shit, stupid,” I wanted to say, thoroughly pissed they squeezed themselves onto our tiny camp site which was exclusive until now. Andy kept talking, loud and calm. “Yes. She just arrived. She was following a cub — that little guy there,” we heard twigs snapping underfoot behind the mother who was popping her head out from behind the hill and back behind it. “She may have another cub. We aren’t sure. We keep hearing sounds from another animal stepping on something but both the cub and mother aren’t moving.” “WOOOOOWWWW!!! A MOTHER WITH HER CUUUBS!!!” The guy and girl moved closer to the bears. “Shhh!!! Don’t talk to them! You’ll scare them away!!!” Their footsteps, still closer to the bears. “That’s the idea,” I remarked, showing how pissed I was becoming. They needed to leave. The bears needed to leave. We had been here first and I didn’t want to go. “SHHHH!!!” the strangers said in unison. I looked at Andy, perturbed but it was true that the bears didn’t threaten us anymore with the other two people. For the most part, the cub was roaming calmly behind his mother who was hiding behind the hill and both would peek out every few seconds to see if we were still there. I grabbed my camera, first aid kit, and swapped out my flip flops for my hiking shoes. The people, the bears were bound to leave soon but something told me I needed to prepare myself. Dusk was upon us.
But they didn’t leave. They all stayed — bears and strangers — about half an hour more. “What do we do?!” I asked Andy. I went from scared to panicked. Darkness was setting in fast, and I didn’t know when people should consider abandoning their site. Should we leave our belongings? Do we take essentials? What even were essentials? When you spend days in the woods, essentials are everything in your bag. That made me think how we needed our bags and that made me think we needed to pack, pack right now which is exactly what I told Andy. “Right,” he looked at me. We were on the same page. His eyes mirrored mine — scared, concerned, worried, frightened, panicked. They were mainly panicked. “Right,” he repeated, “What do we pack?” “Okay then!” the strangers called to us, reminding me that they were still bear viewing. “Good luck with the bears! We have to go! It’s getting dark! Goodnight!” and off they trotted. I wanted to bear-charge them, pummel them to the ground. Did they really just say ‘Good luck’?! ‘We have to go’?! ‘It’s getting dark’ before biding us a goodnight?! Andy interrupted my visions of me tackling the girl and guy — a single giant leap, one arm for each, my full body in the air, fall broken by their bodies which I shoved to the ground in a furious gurgle-shouting rage — “L! W-h-a-t do we pack?!” “Pack?! Right. We need basics — We need to leave this site. We need our packs and our sleeping bags at the minimum. We can leave the rest.” Andy turned from me to head to the tent then hesitated, waiting for me to come. “I don’t want to help — I feel bad but it is not wise for two people to turn their backs on the bears. Someone has to watch to see if they come closer. If we are both packing, we won’t be able to hear them approach.” “Right. I agree,” and off he went towards the tent alone, a yard or so from me, only to return a couple minutes later with his head torch. “Here,” he threw it at me and walked back to the tent, flashlight in his mouth because it past dusk. It was getting dark.
Around this time, I could still make out the mother bear’s position because she was emerging from behind the hill. The last full image I had of her before it went completely dark was her staring directly at me — gaze uninterrupted, trained on me. She, a couple yards away now with nothing but low-lying plants blocking a path in front of her to us. I put on the head torch and turned it on. Her eyes glowed but she didn’t move. “Andy. This is going to sound crazy, but we need all of our stuff. We need it and she is giving us a chance to pack up. Pack it all.” “FUCK!” he yells outside the tent. “I dropped my torch! I cannot see anything! And you say wot?! To PACK?! I can’t pack all of this alone!” “You need to,” I thought, “because I know you can” but what I said was, “First. Do you want my head torch to find your flashlight? Second. Yes, pack. Pack up everything. Pack as if someone said, ‘If you can pack everything in five minutes, I will give you a million dollars.’ Pack as if you have never packed before.” I waited. I couldn’t hear him; I couldn’t hear the bear but I could at least see the bear’s eyes (I wasn’t removing my gaze from her). “Right. Pack,” and I heard our belongings shuffling then a few minutes later, “I’VE GOT THE TORCH!” “Thank God!”
Time seemed to speed up with the noise of Andy packing, me standing still, watching the bear that was watching me. “How’s the packing looking?” I asked after a couple minutes. “I’ve got our sleeping bags and clothes done. Now I need the pads and I’m taking down the tent.” “You’re WONDERFUL!” I yell, elated because I knew he could do it. “What’s the bear doing?” he hollers back. “She’s still standing, same spot, and still looking right at me. She’ll occasionally turn her head because her eyes go in your direction when you talk but then she turns back to me and stares again. All I can see is her eyes. I can’t see the cub anymore . . . I hear it every now and then, but I cannot see it. I’m scared, Andy. She’s literally a few feet from me. She has better sight than I do in the dark. If she wants me — wants us — we are done.” “You’re doing GREAT!” he yells back, “just watch her. You said she is giving us time to pack. I’m almost done!” and I hear him rummage through everything again. “Maybe my camera flash will light up the area or scare her off,” I think and start flashing the light randomly in the dark, no direction, no aim, hoping to get a better look at our surroundings. It was only later when I was looking over my pictures that I saw this — another set of eyes in a completely different direction, a completely different direction from the one with the watching bear, a completely different direction from where the cub stood hidden behind its mom.
Over the next ten minutes, our conversation was identical to the one above. Over and over and over again. Me encouraging him. Him encouraging me. And the bear doing the complete opposite of anything encouraging. Until . . . finally . . . Andy was by my side with two sleeping pads. “I got it all but these,” he announced and raised his arms releasing them from his sides where he had them squeezed. His pack was filled to the brim and his arms carrying many of our belongings too. “I got the pads,” I said and began curling each then tucking them under my arms. “Got everything?” I asked. “Got everything,” he said. “Let’s get outta here” and off we went, slowly and backwards at first, fumbling down the embankment, over the stream, then onto the trail.
Two hours. That’s how long it took from us first seeing the bear . . to trying to scare it off . . . to the idiots coming with dreams of bear petting . . . to packing up and leaving. Two hours that mother bear stared at us with her overeager cub. And now, we were practically running. But running to where? It was pitch black and our car was still another t-h-r-e-e miles away. We had a long way to go ’til safety embraced us, and that made me more suspicious. I felt bears lurking around every tree, ready to stalk or attack us. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Seeing one bear makes you feel they are everywhere. I scanned forward, behind, to our sides. “I am convinced they are all around us!” I said through deep inhales, trying to catch my breath due to the fast pace we were walk-running. Andy though wasn’t focusing on the unseen dangers; he was more concerned about the dangers that could have been seen. “L! Do you mind! My flashlight is dying and I need your head torch to see where I’m walking — I’m going to kill myself on one of these rocks and tree roots if you keep that up!” It was true, of course — I was the one scanning in every direction except the path while his flashlight beam was becoming more faint, dying. Not only that, but let’s analyze this for a second: I was the one with the head torch . . . despite the fact that my boyfriend should have had it all along as he needed his hands free to pack our belongings. However, I had stood, watching the bears, head torch on and my arms free at my sides . . . while he held the flashlight — in his mouth — and packed furiously. Let me also tell you how firmly he was holding this flashlight: He realized later he had actually chipped his tooth from holding it so tightly! Clearly, when one is being stalked by bears, one does not think clearly. Scratch that: When two are being stalked by bears, two do not think clearly.
Back to story: We were running from Bear-Site, covering a mile more quickly than we had ever covered one. I mean, fifteen minutes for a mile. That’s crazy. I remind you it normally takes us (on a good day) half an hour for one. True, I had reason for my fast pace — My pack was empty! Andy, on the other hand . . . bless him, as the British say. To give you an idea of all he had stuffed solely into his pack, he had e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g but my (empty) pack, sleeping pads, head torch, first aid kit, and my camera. This means he alone was carrying the tent, both sleeping bags, two pillows, all food, cooking materials (“stove,” pots, plates, cups, silverware), both of our clothing, and many more random things like the blanket and two mini towels. Even so, he was keeping up with me, girlfriend-with-the-empty-pack. I saw firsthand when it comes to fearing mauling by a bear, there is no limit to what a person can do.
“We need help,” I told him as we kept walking, and it was here we plotted our next plan: Should we call the emergency park number? No, it said only if you have a health crisis. Should we try to hike to the car? No way, three miles in the dark was too dangerous; we mirrored drunken fools barely able to go a few feet due to tripping over every limb and rock. Should we find another campsite? Definitely not here because after seeing that bear, even a mile away was too close. Verdict: Get to our next hiking phase which was the Dark Hollow parking lot. From there, we decided to camp in the parking lot. Literally, as in pitch our tent next to the road where the ground is flat and mowed because yep, it was a parking lot. “We need help,” I told him. “Rangers are supposed to patrol the area all night. If they see us, they will know something is not right and they will help. If they don’t come, we will wake when the sun comes up, pack, and go.” It was our only option.
Finally the Dark Hollow parking lot was in sight, and I cannot stress the amount of relief we felt. We were laughing from nerves, heavy breathing from our fast walk-run, and happy — so so happy — to be out of the woods. We celebrated by unpacking . . . a second time. “Rangers will come,” I promised him. “They will help us, give us advice. There is nothing that screams for help more than camping in a parking lot.”
Day One ends with us, drained mentally and physically, catching our breath before eating dinner around 9:00 p.m. (hours after the sun went down so in camping world, very late). We snuggled into our tent and sleeping bags — which were like heaven to me — and whispered of our crazy adventure. One thing I learned: When I told Andy to pack everything, do you know the first thing he grabbed? Our swimming attire which was drying on tree limbs. Not the sleeping bags. Not the food. Not the tent. Nope. He grabbed his all important swimming shorts and my bikini. “I was properly freaking out! I even went off pist (trail) to get them. I thought it would be quicker. Just smash off all the little jobs — bosh bosh bosh (this means check off) — do the big jobs last!” Thank goodness for those small items. Life savers they are.
So that’s how Day One ends.
Or at least was supposed to end.
About ten minutes after, we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags, closed our eyes, and were about to go to sleep when we heard footsteps running full-speed at us. We opened our eyes and looked at each other. “Andy?” I whispered, “Do you hear that?” “Yea, I hear it,” he said as the footstep noise grew — loud, distinct, and quick-moving — then circled around us with the sound of fingers, fingernails rubbing, scratching the side of the tent. “Andy?” I whispered again, “What is it?” I was terrified. “I don’t know,” he told me and we waited. It stopped. We opened our tent doors, peeked outside, and there was nothing. Fog was moving in, thick and full, but other than that, nothing. Keep in mind we were in the middle of a large parking lot — flat ground, near the road, mowed grass. It was easy to see what was around us; that’s why we picked this spot. “It must have been an animal,” he said. But I knew it wasn’t. There were only two footsteps, the sound of a hand on our tent, no panting, and no sound of the footsteps leaving. Plus, if it were an animal, it would have stayed to analyze our area more than race by it. In we went again, tucked into our sleeping bags, freaked out but about to close our eyes when we hear the sound of footsteps — louder and stronger — rushing toward our tent again. “Andy?” I was shaking. It truly sounded like a person — one person — running towards us and then rubbing their hands and fingernails on our tent, up and down the side of it. “I hear it,” he whispered back and we lay frozen in fear, listening to the sound of the hands running along our tent, more force this time so that the tent was slightly moving. Then, a minute later, it was gone. We unzipped our tent doors, looked out again, and once again nothing. Fog though was setting in, dense but still we could have seen something clear the yards of blank space between us and the woods. “It was just the wind,” he told me as our camping permit ever so slightly swayed in the breeze, flopping slowly against the other side of the tent (which was on the opposite side from where the hand-touching sound had come from). “There is no wind,” I thought as I climbed back in but no sooner had we zipped the tent, the sound happened again.
It ended up happening about two times more — each more intense with the fingernail-scratching louder around more sides of our tent. After the bears, after being drained physically from the hike, after exhausted and wanting sleep, I felt delirious and was laughing and crying. “I want to sleep with the rainfly doors open,” I announced, “I have to see if there is anything passing our doors.” No sooner did we open them and lie down again, the footsteps — stronger, stronger — running right up to our tent then racing around it with the sound of multiple hands running up and down, scratching over the sides, over the door . . . over the door and we did not see a thing as it passed. I was terrified. We lay, not moving, not blinking, not breathing as our tent literally shook from the force of the hands. “Someone’s fucking with us,” Andy said before bursting out the side, knife in hand. “Who is there?!” he yelled, angry. “Who is fucking with us?! We know you’re there!” but no one answered and no one came and it was silent. He crawled back in. “What did you see?” my whisper so faint I couldn’t even hear myself. “Nothing, L. I saw nothing. No one is there.” ” . . . I think this site is haunted.” I knew it was; that was the only answer. But I also knew he didn’t believe in ghosts and creepy spirits lurking in the dark. “It’s only the breeze, L.” His voice sounded dismissive, angry still and I remember thinking, “He believes you are crazy . . . he believes you are crazy . . . he believes you are crazy . . . ” as the sound of the footsteps came back, the hands scratching and pulling at our tent until I passed out — from fear, from fatigue. I passed out and I didn’t remember anything until . . .
Pause here. I want to fill in this space. The next day, Andy and I talked about what happened and here he confessed to staying up hours after I went to sleep. He, sitting with his knees tucked to his chest, trying to fight sleep as his head kept dropping, pocketknife opened and in his hand. He told me the moment he fell asleep, he heard the footsteps again, faster and faster, then the hands so forceful that our whole tent was moving. “L . . . ” he whispered. “L . . . are you awake? Do you see this?” but I had passed out. He said the sound, the movement of the tent — all stopped, gone. He sat in the same position, waiting, determining the next time he heard footsteps approach, he was going to jump from the tent as quickly as possible and confront whatever was terrorizing us. “So,” he said, “when it happened again, I moved — fast — outta the tent, there is no way anything could have gotten away. The night was clear — the fog had moved out and the moon was full and low, bright — and L, there was nothing around. Nothing. There’s no way anything could have gotten away. I was out of that tent the second I heard something.” Again and again it happened. Louder noise, more forceful shaking of tent; whatever it was, more determined. And he stayed up, waiting, confronting, yelling with a knife in hand . . . but two times more, the result were the same — nothing was there. Nothing was ever there. “I was so scared,” he told me, “but happy you were sleeping; you would have freaked out. I guess I fell asleep too because I don’t remember anything more.”
Alright, then Day Two ends. Finally. That was enough for one night, right? Bears. Haunted campsite. That’s enough, surely. But the story keeps. getting. worse.
We had fallen into a deep sleep when suddenly we were awoken by an insanely bright light illuminating our tent. How bright? The best way I can describe it is by telling you exactly what I thought in that moment: Aliens have come to abduct us and their UFO is hovering above, all lights on, ready to beam us into their saucer. I wish I was joking. But that shows exactly one, how bright the light was and two, how out of it I was. From a dead sleep to a light so intense I couldn’t even see Andy. I couldn’t even see my own hands. Then we heard this: “PARK RANGERS! ANNOUNCE YOURSELF!” A booming, deep, no-b.s.-type of voice. We didn’t move. Well, I know I didn’t move. I was still trying to piece together where I was, where the light came from, and if Andy had been taken into the UFO yet because — truly — I couldn’t see him next to me. “PARK RANGERS!” the voice called again, more pissed off. “ANNOUNCE YOURSELF!” I hear Andy shuffling, the zipper to the tent door on his side being undone. (“Thank God, he’s still on Earth!” I think happily, ignoring the current situation.) “Hiya.” He sounded confused too. “GET OUT OF THE TENT! GET.OUT.OF.THE.TENT N-O-W!!! STAND SLOWLY WHERE WE CAN SEE YOU!” the voice from who-knows-where was hollering.
By this time, my mind was slowly coming back to me: We had gone out for a hike, we had been nearly mauled by a mother bear due to an overeager cub, and there were apparently park rangers outside our tent . . . yelling . . . at my sweet boyfriend. All I could think was “How is it possible to piss someone off this much in the middle of the night?” I kept still and listened. Maybe they would leave soon. (No such luck.) “I SAID GET.OUT.OF.THE.TENT.NOW!!!” Forceful, that’s the best word to describe how they were talking. “Right, hang on,” Andy slowly stepped forward and out of the tent. “DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPLOSIVES, GRENADES, FLAME THROWERS, MACHETES, SWORDS — ” “Flame wot?! Are you serious?” Andy laughed. There was one thing I was able to figure out right away: This ranger did not like to be laughed at. “I SAID, ‘DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPLOSIVES,GRENADES,FLAME-THROWERS,MACHETES,SWORDS!'” The ranger’s words were melded together, one massive word. “I have a pocket knife. Do you want to see it?” He asks and I could hear the hint of amusement in his voice. I must have moved because the ranger pounced: “IS ANYONE ELSE IN THE TENT?! I SAID, ‘IS ANYONE ELSE IN THE TENT?!'” He wasn’t even giving Andy a chance to answer yet seemed to become more angry by his lack-of-time response. “I am.” I spoke loud enough so that the ranger could hear me over his own roar. “WHO IS IN THE TENT?!?!?!” He was right flipping out. “I am,” I said calmly, trying not to alarm him more. “HOW MANY MORE ARE IN THE TENT?! I SAID, ‘HOW MANY MORE ARE IN THE TENT?!?!?!'” “Wot?!” I could tell Andy was baffled as well. Our tent is tiny, folks. It’s a two-person but anyone camping knows a real two-person tent is actually a one-person. The ranger yell-repeated the question which didn’t sound a question but a full-impact statement now. “My girlfriend, my girlfriend is in the tent. And I was in the tent.” The ranger didn’t seem to get it. He kept barking the same question. “TWO!” Andy’s voice became more forceful. “It WAS me and my girlfriend. Now I’m outta the tent and she is inside.” “COME OUT HERE NOW!” the ranger yells to me, which ticked me off because I was trying to come out of the tent; it was hard though with their lights. I was fumbling and falling, trying to get out of tent doors that weren’t actually doors but tent walls because I damn well couldn’t see. “I’m the person in the tent,” I tell him when I get out. “STAND WHERE WE CAN SEE YOU!” he shouts to me. I was already standing. And let’s be honest, with his illuminator-2,000, anywhere I chose to stand, he could have seen me. And that’s when the interrogation started.
Ranger: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!”
Andy: “We are camping. We were hiking.”
Ranger: “WHERE ARE YOU GOING!”
Andy: “We are hiking the Three Falls.”
Ranger: “THE THREE WHAT?!”
Andy: “Three Falls. It’s three . . . waterfalls . . . ”
Ranger: “When did you get here!”
Ranger: “WHEN!” Maybe he wants a time, I think.
Andy: “Erm, um, around noon” and I could the ranger’s thoughts it seemed as he realized Andy had an accent.
Ranger: “WHERE ARE YOU FROM!”
Ranger: “WHY ARE YOU HERE!”
Andy laughed slightly: “I’m hiking with my girlfriend.”
Ranger: “WHY ARE YOU HERE!” Clearly, he did not want that answer.
Andy: “I am working here for six months.”
Ranger: “WHERE DO YOU WORK!”
Andy: “C — Er ah, Commonwealth — ” and that’s when all hell broke loose. In my mind, I heard him the way the ranger heard him: uncertain, when in reality, he was trying to determine if he should say the acronym of where he works or give the full name. From this point on, the ranger asked such fast-paced questions that I was impressed Andy could even answer any. “WHERE ARE YOU FROM EXACTLY? WHY ARE YOU HERE? WHEN DID YOU ARRIVE? WHEN ARE YOU LEAVING? YOU SAID SIX MONTHS? WHAT DO YOU DO? WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT HERE?” The list of questions was endless. That made me agitated. Let me restate: That made me infuriated. Here was someone, new to the country, being antagonized by an asshole park ranger when we needed help. I had tried to bite my tongue but the ranger wasn’t playing nice so he could now play with me. I cut Andy off mid-answer.
Me: “Listen. What you are asking is not the concern — The concern is that we needed your help. We’ve been waiting for you. Where have you been? I thought rangers patrolled the area? We were almost mauled by a bear. That’s why we are here, waiting for help.” Maybe accusing them wasn’t the wisest choice, but I didn’t care. Truth be told, I still don’t. The ranger had no right to act the way he was acting.
Ranger: “WHAT HAPPENED!”
Me: “We were hiking — ”
Me: “He already told you: Three Falls.”
Me: “Wellllll . . . what time is it now? I have no concept of time because I was sleeping and don’t have a watch . . . ”
Me: “I have no idea what time it is but we started at noon on Saturday.”
Ranger: “HOW LONG ARE YOU HIKING!”
Me: “Until today. Or tomorrow. Or whatever time it is. Sunday. It is a weekend hike. But again — You aren’t LISTENING. We needed your H-E-L-P.”
Finally the ranger asked about the bear. Andy and I poured out our entire story together — play-by-play. It dawned on me as we were talking — We were the victims and yet, we were being treated as criminals. I became angry again. I blatantly remember thinking, “I had answered your questions. Now you need to answer mine.” “Waaait,” I said instead, “why are you here? Explain what we did wrong because we did everything by the book and I’m really confused why you are here yelling at us now.”
Ranger: “YOU’RE NOT IN A DESIGNATED CAMPING AREA! WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS ILLEGAL.” This absolutely made me livid. Illegal camping area?! He must have been joking. We were practically M.A.U.L.E.D B.Y A B.E.A.R. and I told him this again. “We were WAITING for YOU! I thought you patrolled the area? We wanted to call you but your signs say only call if there is a health emergency! What should we have done? What would you have advised us to do?” Okay, I admit I was growing more condescending but the audacity of him to interrogate us when we had barely survived, when we were asking for help– no way, nooo way. Not now, not when we had been through what we went through.
Ranger: “DO YOU HAVE A CAMPING PERMIT!”
Me: “Yes. Of course. I told you we were going c-a-m-p-i-n-g.” [I knew he wanted to catch us messing up; he thought we didn’t have one. That showed he didn’t trust us.]
Ranger: “WHERE IS IT!”
Me: “On the tent. Where it is supposed to be.”
Ranger: “GIVE IT TO ME!”
Me: “Oh, you want me to remove it from my tent — where it is supposed to be?”
Ranger: “GIVE IT TO ME NOW!”
Me: “Fine. Let me remooove it . . . from the teeent . . . ” [I handed it to him.]
Ranger: “LET ME SEE YOUR LICENSES!” [“Damn it,” I thought. I knew this meant something bad was about to happen. Police, rangers — They never ask for your license to welcome you to the area. We did as we were told and then heard the ranger talk to someone else, “What do I do now?” he said in a whisper. “Call it in,” another voice said. I realized next he wasn’t alone. At this point, we still couldn’t see anything but white light so I had no idea he had a second ranger with him. “Damn it,” I thought. “This guy is training. And if this guy is training, they are both going to want to do things by the book or more harshly.” That made me madder that they had no compassion. Clearly this wasn’t a situation that happened all the time. Clearly we were asking for help and had been asking for help from the moment we found the parking lot and chose to camp there. Regardless, the main ranger left with our licenses.
Me: “Excuse me.” [I was addressing the light as I had no idea where the other ranger was.]
“Are you going to the car to sit, too?”
Ranger Rick Two: “No.”
Me: “Good. I have questions to ask you” and here I ran through everything in my head: How often do they patrol the area? Exactly what were we doing wrong again? Where should we have been camping? What would he suggest us do in this same situation? (which by the way, he suggested the e-x-a-c-t thing we did.) Should we have called the emergency number? Do they give rides to others if they are in situations like ours? Is Ranger going to write us a ticket? How much is that ticket going to cost? With each answer, I had two more questions waiting. I will say Ranger Rick Two was nice and calm and patient though and answered everything. I think he realized then that we were telling the truth and were good people that did exactly what he would have done in that situation. Jerk Ranger came out of his vehicle though, announcing he was going to ticket us.
Ranger: “I should give you both a ticket, but I’m just going to ticket one of you.” So, thanks to the super duper kind Ranger, we were given one ticket for $80.00.
After this, I was full well expecting they would offer us a ride back to our car — being that we made it clear we wanted a ride to our car but couldn’t find the path and were three miles away. Clearly, we had stressed how much help we needed. But no, ohhh no. Our hellish Day One had no end. Jerk Ranger and Ranger Rick Two ended up telling us to pack up (again) before pointing their heavy-duty lumen-2,000 into the woods to say, “Go about a mile into the woods — there are a lot of camping options — and camp. Do not go too far because that’s a campsite and you cannot camp there (we had not reserved a spot earlier). Don’t stay too close to the road either because that’s too close to a built up area and you cannot camp there. Where we are sending you is still illegal, but at least it gets you out of the parking lot.” WHAT. IS. THE. DIFFERENCE?! I wanted to scream as we packed up our belongings a-g-a-i-n and headed into the woods.
Day One ends with us almost unable to find a camping site because the entire area had large rocks that we couldn’t move. We ended up setting up our tent in a tiny area that had the least amount of rocks only to find there was a large rock sticking up through the tent footprint in the middle of our backs. Oh, and once we got our sleeping bags all set, went to get into them, heads on pillows, we realized our campsite was tilted downhill so the blood was rushing to our heads. We didn’t care; it didn’t matter. At that point, we just wanted Day One to end. For real this time.
And it did.
We woke, welcomed to Day Two, by rain. A heavy rain on our tent. And more fog. But f*** it. Bears. A haunted site. Being woken up. Ranger interrogation. A ticket. It truly didn’t matter anymore so we packed up as soon as we could and hustled out, determined — more than ever — to finish this Godforsaken hike. And truths being told, I’m glad we did. The fog made the area appear mystical, enchanted. It was quiet, for the first time in awhile, and it was gorgeous. Calm. That’s exactly what I wanted.
On the way to our last fall, we even saw two white tailed deer . . .
then we headed towards the Welcome Center . . .
where we documented our bear sighting.
Finally, we arrived at the falls, which were practically impossible to see through the fog . . .
But the area was ever so peaceful, and we ended up spending a large amount of time just sitting on edge of the mountain, watching the fog lift.
I learned a lot on this hike. I learned bear facts: After talking to the rangers, talking to people at the welcome center, and doing research, we learned that black bears should fear people. They are shy. They may be curious but they do not want to stick around. As a ranger told us, “If they become too interested in people, those are the bears we hunt down and kill.” Moral of the story: If you see a bear and it stays for more than five minutes, leave. Do not wait two hours hoping and thinking it will go away.
I also learned there are such things as ghosts. I knew this, but I’m writing these words so that Andy now maybe believes evidence supporting this. Research shows Shenandoah National Park apparently was the site for Civil War battles. Who knows if we had some creepy solider messing with us. (Okay, I don’t think it was a creepy solider, but I do honestly believe it was not a person or animal and that only leaves the supernatural.)
The last thing I learned is it’s better to keep going. It’s always better to keep going. We could have packed up our tent and sleeping bags, sleeping pads, our belongings and treked three miles into the dark woods. We could have stumbled over rocks and limbs and eventually found our way to the car. We could have stopped our hike, turned back around, headed home. But we didn’t. We kept going. We kept going in spite of every single thing that went crazily wrong. We kept going together. And in the end, that’s how stories are made, that’s how stories are told. And damn, do we have a great story.