We left our campsite in DC bright and early at 8am. This doesn’t sound so early for most people but take into account we had to shower, change, eat breakfast as well as pack down our camp site for the first time and load up the trailer. Intrepid advertises this trip as a “participatory trip”, which essentially means nobody is going to do it all for you! Ben set us the target of being ready to roll at 8am and we made it by 8.03am…not bad for the first time!
So we set off on the long road through Maryland and Virginia. The day’s destination was Shenandoah National Park in the Appalachian Mountains. As soon as we set wheel into the park the scenery changed. We were surrounded by lush greenary, enormous trees and an air of excitement. You see, in Shenandoah they have a small population of black bears. None of us had ever seen a bear in real life so we were all keenly pressed up to the windows, keeping our eyes peeled in hopes of seeing one in the flesh (/fur). We stopped at a few lookout points along the way; nobody saw a bear but the spectacular views made up for that.
Around midday we paused for lunch at a rest stop – the sandwich station was pulled out of the back of the trailer and we quickly ate before gathering together for a hike. I was really beginning to regret my lack of walking shoes…
Luckily the hike was only to be a short one called Stony Man; around a mile there and back, with about a 300m elevation. Managable even for me, I do crossfit don’tcha know. Ben went off ahead of us, clanking his water bottle to scare off any bears. He’d had a chat with us beforehand about bear safety; not to approach one, not to feed one and most importantly, never to run from one (it activates their natural instinct to chase their prey and a human is very unlikely to outrun a bear). The chances of us encountering one anyway were tiny but it was always good to be aware.
As expected, we didn’t see any bears on the hike to the top of the Stony Man. It was as the name implied, covered in rocks and stones at the top with a fantastic view for miles across the national park. We all stood for a good while – taking in the vista and posing for “artistic” photos of us gazing across the landscape and standing on precarious looking rocks with a long drop just behind – until it came time to head back down the hill to the bus. No bears this time either, though we were all pretty thankful to not encounter one so closely!
One more stop before we left Shenandoah behind to return to the comparative dullness of the American highway – we stopped at a Visitor’s Center for a final viewpoint over a big meadow. While the others were taking in the gift shop and the toilets, I was stood in the window of the center when (very, VERY far in the distance) I saw a little black blob. “Is that a bear?” I wandered out loud. Other people came to join me at the window. “I think it might be” another girl said. “Unless it’s a black sheep” I said, not feeling enthusiastic about my sighting. The rangers noticed us gathered around the window and brought over some sets of binoculars. “It IS a bear!” one girl said. The ranger took a look and confirmed, it was in fact a black bear! Suddenly the window view became very crowded, hussling to get a look through the binoculars. It turns out there wasn’t just one, but 3 black bears – a mother with her 2 cubs! We all stood and watched them cross the grass, unable to take photos due to how far away they were but transfixed at the sight of the cubs playing as the family walked through the meadow.
Pretty soon we had to be on our way to head to our next campsite for the evening, but we were all a little happier at the prospect after the sighting. Camp was another 3 hour drive away and more bus naps were needed, so most of us went to bed pretty quickly once the tents were set up and dinner was eaten. Tennessee awaited us!