John Dodds

The Turtle and The Bear

Gary organized a run on the AT this past summer starting off of Route 55 out of Linden and ending below the Dickey Ridge entrance to SNP. The distance would be about 22.2 or 22.3 miles, depending on whose Garmin you believed. A number of people used this run as a training run for upcoming 100-mile races. Jen did it to get ready for the Annapolis 10-Miler the next day – at least that’s what she said. I did this run because Gary said the odds of seeing a bear were 1 out of 2.84 (see VHTRC message #13955).

Eleven of us started this adventure according to Gary (VHTRC message #13988). It didn’t take us long after the start to break into different groups, depending on speed. I think we had pretty much settled into our groups after about 25 yards. It was Gary, Jo, Jen and me in the last group.

That was the order we were in as we were running the stretch from the Visitor Center down to the entrance at Dickey Ridge. Jen was running ahead of me and, unbelievably, failed to see a turtle right in the middle of the trail. OK, it wasn’t the size of a turtle you’d see in some National Geographic television special, but even I noticed it. So, I called out: “Jen, you missed the turtle. Would you like to come back and see it?” I don’t think she really wanted to retrace the 20 feet or so to see an ordinary box turtle, but she gamely returned. Gary and Jo pressed ahead.

As we were admiring this 6-inch turtle, we heard Gary shout, “Bear! Bear! Bear!” My first thought was that Gary had spotted three bears, but then I thought he was just caught up in the excitement of seeing one bear, which turned out to be the case. Jen immediately took off down the trail, but, alas, the bear was gone.

Bear sightings are not official unless you have someone else confirm the sighting (which is a rule I made up at the time). So, I asked Jo, who was running with Gary, what she had seen. She said she saw “something black” that looked like the back leg of a bear. I guess we were looking for something a little less equivocal. Like, “Yeah, I saw it, too! Musta weighed 200 pounds, and it had a chipped front tooth.” Nevertheless, we all conceded that Gary had spotted a bear, and Jo had seen it, too. I don’t think Jen was too upset at me for having her come back and see the turtle. After all, it was her choice. But when she walked by me, I heard her mumbling something about “some stupid ol’ turtle.” I was glad that we were down the trail from where we saw the turtle, because even though turtles have hard shells, I bet they have feelings, too.

I’m not very good at statistics, so the 1:2.84 chances of seeing a bear was a little confusing to me. Let’s round it up to 1:3 for discussion purposes. Does that mean that if someone runs at Dickey Ridge they’ll see a bear every three times they go there? Or does it mean, as in Jo’s case, that if you see a bear, you’ll only see one-third of it? I know that we gave Jo the benefit of the doubt about seeing a bear, but a couple of us thought it would be a good idea to have her hone her animal identification skills. For fear of giving her a complex, we thought we would get her two girls an anonymous subscription to Ranger Rick magazine. Which of course she would have to read to them and then be able to learn with them. But she would also have to answer their questions, like this one: “Mommy, look at the picture of the bear. Was this what you thought you saw that day last summer?”

I thought I was pretty clever coming up with the title to this article, roughly basing it on Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Of course, that story had a moral like all good fables. Technically, this article is not a fable because Gary did in fact see a bear. And it’s really tough finding a point to anything I write, but how about these: “Don’t call Jo as an eyewitness”; “Don’t listen to John”; and “Don’t let Jen make decisions for a group.” Or how about this one: “Sometimes in life, you only get to see the turtle.”