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DBNF Volunteering part 2

Sunday: October 15, 2017

This is the second part about volunteering down at the Daniel Boone National Forest with my friend Matt, who is the Cumberland District archaeologist. You can start at the beginning of the story here.

After we had reported our bear incident, we had to go through bear spray training and were issued bells and spray. “Get outta here bear!” became our motto.

The last time Rachel and I went to monitor rockshelters was amazing. We faced our fears, though they were intense. So intense, in fact, that I sometimes felt claustrophobic between the dense underbrush and tree falls – or, at least, I think that must have been what I was feeling. So intense, that we began to question our sanity. Three hours in, hiking a slow trek up a hill through some awful tree falls and thick undergrowth, having reached the base of the last bit before the shelter, we stopped to ask ourselves, are we stupid?

Is it stupid to go up into this creepy looking shelter that is so vegetated there is no escape? Is it stupid to trek out in the woods when we know there are bears? Or, is it stupid to presume that we would run into another bear? Maybe we were being too cautious? Which was it?

As supervisor, I knew it was my call. It wasn’t just about my own fear – I honestly had to look out for the well-being of the person in my charge. So we played a game: hold one hand up, hiding the other. With the other, hold out one finger to go up, and two fingers to return to the truck. On the count of three! One – two – three! … We both opted to return to the truck! How shameful. We laughed. But, I knew we could do it, we just needed encouragement, to be sure we weren’t being stupid by going back in.

Rachel opted to phone-a-friend and called her dad. Unfortunately, he did not answer. I gave up any hope trying to figure this one out on my own, so I, too, opted to phone-a-friend and called Boy. He’d be the most angry one anyway if I wound up dead by a bear and I knew better, right? He had a client in the office so he couldn’t talk but I think he could sense my urgency when I sort of ignored that and plodded on with my question. “Are we stupid for going up, or are we stupid for going back?” His answer? “You gotta face your fears. Go in!” And so we did.

And we found the largest rockshelter I had yet seen. This thing was massive. We were still a wee bit frightened, here and there, and especially when it was time to go back into the thick of the forest. But intermittently, we shouted “Get outta here bear!” or “You don’t scare me!” and things of that nature. Being that we were in the shelter, I am sure our voices carried far and curious visitors rolled their eyes at our disturbance of peaceful nature. But we remained alive and bear free, so ner!

And on our way back, we wanted to find an easier route. Three hours through brush was not ideal, and we needed to get back to the station at a particular time before they closed just in case an emergency did pop up. We went all the way down to the creek from the shelter then followed it back to the truck – in fact, there was a trail there. In fact, it was beautiful and serene and mystically gorgeous. In fact, it took a piddly thirty minutes to get back to the truck. WHAT?! So, that information certainly went into our notes. Had we known about that way, we could have monitored the second shelter before returning. Matt said that is just how these things go sometimes. Oh well!

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