From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-legged beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us! —An old Scottish Prayer
Having spent a considerable amount of time out in the woods at night, including a fair amount by myself, I’ve had my share of nighttime encounters. To say they can be disconcerting is understatement at its best. Even a cow walking through your camp can send your heart racing when you wake up from a deep sleep.
I’ve written about some of my encounters before. Why not? They make great blog material. For example, there was the time I found myself nervously loading a 357-magnum pistol because I had heard a loud bang outside my tent. A doctor friend had insisted I carry his gun in backcountry Alaska. I was damned lucky I didn’t shoot myself in the foot. I was amused (or was that embarrassed) to discover it was only a beaver that had slapped its tail against the water. He had discovered me in his territory and was protesting.
And then there was the time I woke up with a bear standing on me, his snout inches away from mine. I screamed. So much for being manly. Truth is, the smallest twig cracking out in the dark night can lead brave souls to become hyper-alert, or maybe just hyper.
Camping out in the woods away from established campgrounds on my bike trip added another level of concern, being faced with the most dangerous animal of all— the two-legged type. I’ll take a bear anytime. Breaking twigs in the night become even more menacing. As I mentioned before, I was always careful to select a place where I was hidden from the road, or any other human observation, as far as that goes.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has a policy on not camping outside of designated campgrounds. For the most part this isn’t a problem, but I had decided to have my bike tuned in Asheville and didn’t get out of the town until late in the afternoon. (Having learned my lesson on dark tunnels, I had also bought a new bike light.) A considerable hill outside of Asheville had slowed me down, and the sun had started to slip behind a mountain.
Being tired and a bit grumpy, I decided a couple of hours of bicycling were sufficient. So I pulled off the road and went looking for a flat spot in the steep terrain, one that wouldn’t have me rolling down hill all night. Eventually I found a place that was only slightly askew. There was just enough room for my tent. Blue, my bike, had to be satisfied with leaning against a tree. Tossing and turning because a rock insisted on poking me in the back, it took a while to fall asleep.
I woke up to someone/thing stamping outside my tent. Make that several things. I am sure you can see where this might be a bit alarming. I lay there wondering whether I should jump out of my tent or pretend that no one was home. Sometimes ignored problems go away. Sometimes they don’t. I had decided on the latter course when the problem started hissing. Stamping is one thing; hissing is another. Had the Appalachian ghosts of Tom Dooley and his mistresses come to haunt me?
This was the point where I started wishing my backpacking flashlight had a ton more of candle power. I unzipped my tent and pointed the dim light up the hill where several large things went crashing off into the brush. There’s a point here. It is always better to have large things crashing away from you instead of toward you, even more so on a dark night. Anyway, I recognized the thump, thump, thump as they disappeared. A herd of several deer had discovered my hiding place, and like the beaver, been surprised and irritated. I had simply never heard deer do their stamping and hissing routine before. (I have since.)
I went back to sleep, woke up refreshed (sort of), and resumed my journey. Today’s blog photos along the Blue Ridge Parkway will take you from Asheville to Little Glade Mill Pond, a distance of approximately 170 miles. Enjoy.
59 thoughts on “Things that Go Bump in the Night… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek”
All right I think I had a heart attack reading the sentence with the bear on top of you. I gather that was the hyper imagination? Good grief man I’m too old for that kind of thriller. Wowza!
Loved the beaver tail slap. Glad you didn’t lose a foot in that one. 🙂
Here’s the bear story, Sue. I went and found it for Andrew. I have a number of bear stories on my blog. 🙂 My next book will include both the bike trip and the bear stories. Yeah, it would have been a bummer losing the foot. –Curt
Oh, heck. That link leads me to the dreaded “Page not found” site. And, I was all prepared with cheese and crackers and wine, ready to settle down to a good read. Guess I can’t let the food and wine go to waste, can I?
I liked the story about Tom Dooley, he was a wee swinger, in many ways, it seems.
Laughing, you are right, Old Tom had come to the end of his rope; his swinging days were over. Try this link, Yvonne: http://wandering-through-time-and-place.me/2013/08/01/
Wonderful photos and adventure. I will never forget a black circling and circling my pup tent. I was young so I went to sleep!
Good for you, Cindy. Going to sleep. It isn’t easy. Most people pack up and go home. 🙂 Did you have food in your tent? That’s the usual reason bears hang around. In really bad black bear country it is good to camp close to a boy scout troop. The scouts always have food in their tents so the bears leave you alone. –Curt
Some great pictures Curt but my favourite bit about this post just has to be – “It is always better to have large things crashing away from you instead of toward you”, it made me chuckle!
I have been waiting for the bear story since you telegraphed it a while ago. I once visited Yellowstone and was amused by bear advice – https://anotherbagmoretravel.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/coach-trip-usa-national-parks-yellowstone-park-and-good-advice-on-meeting-a-grizzly-bear/
Here’s the bear story in total, Andrew: http://wandering-through-time-and-place.me/2013/08/01/its-4-am-and-som…scary-bear-story/
I’ve heard the bear advice story many times. Loved your side comments. I’ve been in the situation of talking to bears, the big Browns of Alaska! It works. At least I am here to tell the tail. 🙂 Thanks. –Curt
That link just will not work Curt!
It reminded me also of a visit to a desert area in Arizona…
…We stopped at a desert recreational area and took a walk amongst the cactus trees but became understandably nervous when we read a warning sign about rattle snakes so we didn’t stay very long.
I liked the snake tips on the sign, which advised:
• ‘If bitten by a rattlesnake do not open the wound and try to suck out the venom’ (I wouldn’t do that even for a Playboy centrefold!)
• ‘If bitten by a rattlesnake do not use a tourniquet because this will cut off blood flow and the limb may be lost’ (good recommendation, you don’t want your leg falling off as well!)
• And my favourite piece of completely pointless advice: ‘Avoid rattlesnakes altogether. If you see one don’t try to get closer to it or catch it!’
Laughing hard here, Andrew. I was doing my bathroom duty out in the woods once and suddenly heard the tell-tale rattle, apparently the snake was concerned that I was going to poop on it. I couldn’t go for several days after that. So I would add, don’t poop on rattlesnakes! – Curt
Thrills, chills and spills … and lovely scenery, what more could one want?
Not much, David! I’ll skip the spills, however. 🙂 –Curt
Did you have any on your trip, Curt?
I was really lucky, Dave. I halfway fell over in the beginning, once. But never again. Now when I got back home and went for a spin on the local bike path, I crashed. (: I wasn’t used to not having an extra 60 pounds on the bike… –Curt
“Prairie and Rocky Montain Adventures or Life In the West” by John C. Van Tramp, publishe in1860, describes Kit Carson, asleep in the Mojave Desert, his pillow a wooden saddle under which he kept two pistols. Disturbed at night, he stood up and seeing a dark figure approaching, he pulled a pistol and fired — killing his own mule.
Love it! 🙂 I suspect that after that, he had to eat the darn thing. And thats a lot of eating. Carson cooked up his dog once when he was crossing the Sierras in a snow storm and had run out of food. 🙂 –Curt
I’ve been wondering if you got tired along the trip and there was no town to camp out in – how well did you sleep? You can’t beat the sights in the countryside!
I, as always, remain jealous!
Ha, GP, I was tired almost every night. But usually it was a good tired, not a grouch tired. 🙂 As for sleeping well, if you are tired enough, sleep will come. And I have spent hundreds, if not thousands of nights sleeping outside in my life. Your body adjusts. The countryside always appeals, but then again, I am a country boy. Thanks for commenting. –Curt
Ugh yes things that go bump in the night. I’d have been freaked by the deer, as I was one night camping alone in Australia by a mob of grazing kangaroos. The steady thump could have easily been men. I was shocked to find the kangaroos when I finally have the nerve to unzip the tent and have a look. Beautiful countryside.
That’s a bull? Seriously? It looks like a shaggy dog.
Scottish cattle exist in a world of their own, Alison. 🙂 Now waking up to a mob of grazing kangaroos is an experience I haven’t had! But I would like to. And the Parkway is gorgeous. –Curt
I have never heard the deer hiss. Loved this post Curt.
Glad you liked it, Sylvia. It was fun to write. Thanks. 🙂 –Curt
Your story of the deer just reminds me of why I don’t camp: I’d be scared to death! Any noise. Any rumble. Your post has captured some things I didn’t know about — the real truth about Tom Dula — and your photos are my fave — cabins, dandelions, and the stonework tunnels. Thanks for a great post!
Thanks, Rusha. I enjoyed learning more about Tom Dula as well. The teaser about the ‘other’ woman on the National Park sign sent me into the research mode. Scary things at night are scary things at night, regardless of the amount of experience. 🙂 As for the photos, the Parkway is photogenic. –Curt
Consider anyone who camps out in bear country to be brave. Luckily your bear wasn’t too hungry.
I used to train people on backpacking in the wilderness, AC. We always taught caution, but we would also tell them that if bears wanted to eat people, they would move into town where there are lots of them to eat. 🙂 –Curt
Curt, I’m with Sue — heart attack reading the bear story. Gosh, I could never sleep alone in the woods as you do/did! – Ginette
Fortunately, Ginette, the bear was more curious than hungry. He had just eaten all of my backpacking food and bit a hole in my rum bottle. It was adding injury to insult! 🙂 –Curt
Another great story Curt. I loved being reminded of the Kingston Trio and Tom Dula. We had several white dogwood and one pink while living in Washington Very pretty.
Thanks Kayti. I’ve always liked the Kingston Trio… all the way back. So, I too, was fascinated with the Tom Dula story. We have dogwood growing up on the mountain above us but we are a little low in elevation. Lucky for you that you could grow it! –Curt
I liked the song very much and it seems to capture the history of that time so well. The story of Tom Duly and his amorous adventures culminating in his hanging is tinged with pathos. His confessing to a murder he apparently did not commit just the icing. Was a film ever made?
A great journey again, Curt.
No film that I know of Gerard. It would make a great one, however. Or a book. Plenty of spice and drama. And thanks on the journey. It goes on and on… 🙂 –Curt
What an amazing adventure. I love the ghost tree!
I was really pleased that I had captured the tree. It really fit the post. Thanks, Stacy! –Curt
Thanks for taking us along on the trip, Curt. The photos were gorgeous and the stories well told. They brought back memories of the bicycle trip I took with my sister when I first came out tot he Pacific Northwest. We traveled across the Olympic Peninsula and down the coast of Washington and Oregon, and I enjoy retracing our path every now and again.
It’s a beautiful ride down the coast of Washington and Oregon. Northern California isn’t bad either. 🙂 I led bike and walking tours there. –Curt
That sounds like fun, Curt. 101 down the WA and OR coast made for a beautiful ride, although the words “rain forest” on a map were just words to us back in Michigan, but we were soaking wet a lot of the time while biking. We didn’t mind, really, except once, when it was very discouraging to get into wet sleeping bags one night, but then the sun came out the next day.
Reminds me of bicycling in Alaska for a week where it rained every day all day. 🙂
In Appalachia, hissing deer and slobbering bears are always preferable to a hoarse Southern drawl whispering drunkenly, “Hey, Virgil, here’s a ‘nuther one. Git thah rope!”
Trust me, I thought of “Deliverance” more than once. 🙂 That having been said, I found the vast majority of people in the South and around the country to be generous folks.
Generous = uses lots of rope.
Or, just enough… as they used to say. 🙂
Gurgle, gurgle. 🙂
I still remember the first time I heard a deer snort in the middle of the night. It was attention-getting, no question about that. And I enjoyed the story of Mr. Tom. Even after years of singing that song, I had no idea of the story behind it. There’s always a backstory, it seems. 🙂
As always, the photos are a delight. There’s such variety in landscapes around this country, and so much beauty. I love that you’ve taken the time to share some of the best of it.
I was surprised by the deer, Linda. I’ve been around them all of my life but never heard one snort in surprise. Now that they more or less accept me as one of the herd, I’ve heard it, but not often. I, too, was interested to hear the story of Tom Dooley. I don’t know how many times I have sung it, but bunches. As for the beautiful country, I have always considered myself privileged to have seen so much of it. And I am always happy to share. Thanks. –Curt
The bkack mountains, flowers and pioneer cabin are gorgeous. But the bear is best. Terrific photos!
Thanks, Peta. Bears always spice things up. 🙂 –Curt
I am a sucker for any and all animals….:)
Me too. 🙂
I’m a little behind, but still enjoying the ride.
Hows the book business going, Hilary? I know you have been super busy. –Curt
Hilary, perhaps I can make you feel a little better. I’m just now getting to Curt’s post… 😉
I am just happy to have the two of you along whenever you have a chance to drop by. 🙂 –Curt
That’s a great photo of you with the bandana! This post is packed with beautiful photos. My fave is the overlook at the Craggy Garden’s Visitor’s Center.
🙂 The Blue Ridge Parkway is a gym, Crystal. When I biked through it was a bit later with a lot more flowers. I’ve also driven through in the fall with all of the colors. –Curt