By Paul Denoncourt
After 99 days, I completed the northern half of the Appalachian Trail by summiting Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine. It was grueling, especially the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This has been the hardest physical challenge of my lifetime. I have lost 16 pounds (those of you who know me know I didn’t have much to lose) and now sport a beard. I live mostly on protein shakes, trail mix, candy bars, and Knorr Sides to which I add Tuna or Chicken Creations. I am always hungry; when I pass through a town and hit a restaurant I usually order– and eat– two meals.
My great joy is encountering wildlife. As of this writing, I have seen seven black bears (Ursus americanus). I met the one in this photo in Connecticut. I was ascending a mountain in the rain and negotiating several switchbacks when I looked to my left and saw the bear about 60 feet away. I couldn’t tell if it was a female or a mom with a cub. The bear simply was looking at me without any evidence of aggression. I immediately stopped, took this picture and talked to it. I thought the bear was simply curious, but it was standing its ground because she had a cub up a tree to her right. Suddenly the cub noisily descended the tree. Once I saw the youngster, I realized the danger of the situation. The cub ran in front of its mother and climbed a tree to her left. I turned around and went back down the trail and only then did the mother pound the ground with her front paws and grunt at me. Why she chose that moment to speak her mind when she could see I was leaving, I will never know. Perhaps she just had to have the last word! Once I reached a point where she and the cub were out of sight, I had to bushwhack up the mountain to find the trail again. As this was my first bear encounter on the trail I was excited and told everyone I met about it for the rest of the day.
After Katahdin, I took a week off to re-supply, change out some gear and try to regain some weight before heading back to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to begin the southern half of the trek. I crossed the Shenandoah River and entered Virginia. I have traveled the 105-mile length of Shenandoah National Park. At present I am in the George Washington National Forest near Buena Vista, Virginia, having completed 200 miles of the southern half, and 1,380 miles (63%) of the entire trail. I have 814 miles to go. Incidentally, I had another mother cub encounter yesterday, and this mother had two cubs with her!
Barring injury or other misfortune, I hope to complete this odyssey by early November. I will send you another postcard in the next newsletter.