Although I promised that I would report on how the muffaletta held up on the Appalachian Trail,* I'm truly and simply grateful that I survived the experience. Wouldn't you know that 10 minutes into my inaugural hike into White Oak Canyon, my friends and I unwittingly stumbled upon a bear. A black one. A big black bear. To those of us who grew up in the 1970's, bears aren't all that frightening --at least initially. I come from a long culture of cool, kind, bears. There's Yogi Bear, Sesame Street's Fozzie Bear, Pooh Bear, and of course, the perennial favorite--Gentle Ben. Which all explains, of course, my intial reaction to the giant black bear that ambled across the trail--less than 30 feet in front of us: "Ahhhh, look at dat beeeaaarr." And then, a split second later when I realized that I wasn't at the National Zoo with protective guard rails, but rather, was out in the wild, where arguably, I was pretty much an hors d' oeurves--at least for bears: "HOLY SHI*; that's a F******* BEAR." Suffice it to say that I gave little thought to the muffaletta wrapped up tightly in tinfoil like a small nuclear device in my backpack. Although if I'd thought about it, maybe I would have pulled it out in the hopes that our cool kind bear would have preferred to dine on it rather than us.
None of that mattered. Ranger Rick is right--unless you have the misfortune to stumble across a cub, most bears have little interest in humans. We dutifully made a lot of noise, although we were still careful to do it in a manner that was neither aggressive or threatening. Gentle Ben continued to amble along, gratefully, blessedly, away from us.
My heart didn't stop pounding for another 45 minutes. For most of the day every stump and bush looked like a bear, and the quick scurrying of squirrels in the leaves caused a sudden rush of adrenalin. This all means that when we finally settled down to dive into my muffaletta that we had most assuredly earned it. The muffaletta was amazing, although truthfully, it paled in comparison to the graceful dance of water on the rocks that is White Oak Canyon.
* See Hiking the Appalachian Trail (September 14, 2011) for the Muffaletta recipe and an explanation of why in the world you would ever pack one for a hiking trip.