Stories involving animals along the Trail
Below are stories related to encounters with animals along the trail. If you would like to submit a story about the experiences you have witnessed as you, or someone else traveled the trail, send an email with the information to: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Besieged By A Skunk" by Danie Martin "Mouse"
May 25, 2004 Saltlog Gap, Virginia
"I spent an interesting night with my legs tucked into my backpack for warmth and using my packcover as a blanket for the rest of me. I trust the fleas spent a hungry but comfortable night bundled up in my sleeping bag. Yesterday they had invited me to spend another night with them but I respectfully declined.
The next attraction was a thunderstorm at the unusual hour of 4:00 a.m. The wind was particularly strong and I found myself recalling first hand stories of near misses from falling limbs. I REALLY hoped nothing would fall from the trees above me.
Little did I know that the morning excitement was just beginning. As I lay contemplating a late start to let things dry out, I heard the scuffling of a small animal outside my tent. I had brought my food bag in when the rain started so I assumed it was a racoon and yelled "Get lost!" in a loud voice. To my horror, a black and white streak disappeared into the shadows. I had yelled at a skunk!
I was feeling relieved that it had left when back it came. It clamped it's teeth on the door zipper, grabbing hold of a hiking boot inside as well. I gently pulled the boot away and it let go of the fabric only to scratch away at the wall and try to burrow under the floor.
"Please go away" I pleaded, to no avail. Soon it was starting under the floor. I carefully used the boot to shove it gently out again but it tried again. Again and again the skunk tried to get in, from every side; getting underneath, chewing at the door, clambering up the wall and gazing at me through the mesh. Meanwhile I fended it off as best I could, but never too forcefully lest it decide to spray me.
It became clear that it was not after my food or my boots and did not care that I was there, it just wanted IN! It would keep it up as long as the tent was there, so during a lull in the action I started packing. At first I followed my usual neat orderly packing but when it returned to chew at the door zipper and would not let go for anything I just threw things in willy-nilly. When the skunk let go to run around and try its luck on the tent rear I snuck out the door and brought out my pack. I turned to pull the stake for the front awning and start taking the tent down when behind me I heard a scuffling of fabric.
"Oh no" I moaned, "Not inside!"
Not exactly. When I looked in I saw a skunk-sized mound in the floor. While it was exploring the basement I gingerly reached over the wriggling mound and plucked out the last few items. Then I cautiously removed my trekking poles holding the tent up. Taking no chances, I picked up everything I had so far and carried it a prudent distance away. Then I went back to pull the stakes and ever so cautiously pulled the tent off the skunk. At first it seemed about to grab a stake loop before it got out of reach and play tug-of-war. But it noticed the groundsheet and started worrying and burrowing at that while I took the tent to my pack and stuffed it into its sack. Finally I went back and got the groundsheet. Only then did the skunk give up and shuffle into the underbrush. Worried that it might return, I grabbed my pack and dashed, not even stopping to adjust the treking poles to the right length for walking until I was a quarter mile away.
How I escaped getting sprayed, I'll never know."
Danie Martin "Mouse" continued on and summited Katahdin September 27, 2004
A SELECTION of SNAKE STORIES (Excerpts from: Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike by John Gignilliat)
Our campsite was an excellent spot with a flat area for our tent, pretty trees over our head, and a huge boulder the size of a Volkswagen with a fire ring next to it. Since we were only two miles from the road, I decided to clean up all the trash in this area. There were several broken bottles as well as other trash scattered behind our big campfire rock. I found a plastic side view mirror and a big piece of black plastic hose. I headed over to pick up that big, shiny piece of hose when my brain pulsed the message, “HALT!” to my hands and feet. This piece of “black hose” had one eye looking at me! It was the biggest, fattest black snake I had ever seen. It was coiled up, but looked to be five to six feet long with a four- or five-inch girth.
I called Carol over for a look and all she could say was, “Oh . . . My . . . Gosh!” To grow that big, I am sure he had kept his contact with humans to a minimum. Camper's leftover food had probably drawn plenty of rodents to the area, so it looked like he had a constant source of nourishment. We collected wood and had a cozy fire by which we roasted marshmallows to eat with our chocolate bars (almost s'mores). We shared our site with our reptilian friend; and, as we closed up our tent, I was glad snakes did not know how to work zippers.
Rattler at the Blackburn Center
We arrived at the Blackburn Center and were greeted by Hal and Ruth, the caretakers of this hostel. They put meaning to the words, “Southern Hospitality,” and immediately made us feel welcome. They were an older retired couple who had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1987. His trail name had been Flash and hers . . . Hot Flash.
Hal was a consummate storyteller and began regaling us with tales of his thru-hike. He kept us so entertained that everyone put off dinner for an hour, a truly phenomenal feat amongst hungry thru-hikers. Our patience was rewarded, however. While we were all preparing our dinners on the long picnic table, Hal and Ruth returned with two huge bowls of buttered popcorn and a platter of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies. Hal continued his stories as we ate dinner, and one in particular stuck with me.
“It was dark out and I was sitting at this very table,” he began. “I was talking to another hiker when all of a sudden and in a tight voice, he said, 'Hal, pick up your feet . . . there's a snake under the table!' I slowly and deliberately picked my feet up off the ground, although I was curious how anyone could tell there was a snake under the table when it was pitch black out.
'How do you know there's a snake under the table?' I asked in a hushed voice.”
He responded. 'When I grew up in Texas, I used to keep snakes as pets. The sound of scales sliding over gravel is a very distinctive noise, and I just heard it under the picnic table!'
“He had me convinced and I slowly backed away from the table to get the flashlight and snake stick.” Hal concluded his story with, “Sure enough, there was a six-foot timber rattler under the table!”
“That's a good story,” I told Hal. I ate the rest of my dinner in the lotus position.
A Snake in the Grass
We headed down Big Bald and set our sights on Little Bald, which we could see just ahead of us. While treading down the trail, a slight slithering motion caught my eye. Just off to the right was a rattlesnake. He looked like he was still working on his first rattle, as his body was barely as wide as my baby finger. He bravely stood his ground as we observed then stepped around him.