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I plodded steadily up the steep slope of Mount Tecumseh, New Hampshire. Snow drifted down all around me, piling up in great mounds on either side. My mind was heavy with thoughts of exhaustion and cold.
Archaic tennis-racket snow shoes were strapped to my feet, and I used a wooden branch to support my knees, which were prone to being cranky. My backpack was laden down with all manner of hiking gear, from ice picks to whistles to dehydrated food.
It was my third month on the Appalachian Trail. I was attempting to do it in winter – a rare feat. Some would argue it had been a suicidal idea, and now, my face scarred and haggard, my boots worn thin, and my stomach mostly empty, I was agreeing with them. Mount Tecumseh was not actually on the A.T, the acronym hikers used for the Appalachian Trail, but I wanted to hike it for the view at the top, which was supposed to be spectacular.
But, if there was anything that hadn't been worn to a stub, it was my will. “Stubborn as a mule!” my friends, few and far between, would say, cackling. I was not going to be turned from finishing the trail.
After climbing over countless mountains, I could tell when I was nearing the top. Everything became a little more barren, a little less forested the higher up you got. The trees on Mount Tecumseh were as common as ever, though, which is why I was surprised to find myself atop a small rock with nowhere higher up to go. I had made it.
I took a tarp, which usually functioned as my tent, and laid it on the snow. Sitting down, I popped open a thermos of soup, and chugged it. Warmth flooded my joints, rejuvenated my tired muscles.
I rested there for a few more minutes, and then stood up and stretched. The view was sadly pathetic, as clouds, fog, and snow had completely veiled the landscape. As I turned around to head back down, I heard something rustle off to my left.
Bears and moose were common sights on the Appalachian Trail, and I was used to seeing, and dealing, with both. Dropping the stick, I drew a flare pistol from the main pocket of my backpack, and a knife from my cargo pants.
Walking slower now, I looked left and right for any offending creatures. Nothing more could be heard, however. Suddenly, there was the groan of a thousand roots surrendering their hold on the ground, and a gargantuan pine tree in front of me collapsed onto the trail in a shower of needles and bark.
I turned to the side, my hands raised to shield my head from the flying bits of tree. Breathing heavy with fright, I dropped my hands to my knees. My heart slowed to a normal pace, and I clambered over the fallen tree and carried on my way.
Then, from out of nowhere, a wild eyed black bear crashed into my side, hurling me onto pine sapling. The young tree creaked under my wait and collapsed. I raised the flare pistol and pointed it at the bear, and was about to fire when a hulking beast of a bird thudded beak first into my hand.
Shocked and pained, I dropped the pistol and cradled my wounded hand, which was seeping blood and felt broken. With no way of defending myself, I could not stop the bear as it leaned over me and opened its jaws. I closed my eyes for what I thought would be the last time.
I opened my eyes. Blood dripped from my muzzle, and I felt full and content. On silent, furry paws I padded away from the body of the hiker. My companion bird landed on my front shoulder. I remembered briefly thinking about closing my eyes for the last time, but I couldn't imagine why.
Bears don’t die very often.
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The wastebasket is a writer's best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
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