USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hiking’
Legends

Coconut butter lotion

Main piece:

Out on the trail I saw plenty of bears. And there’s all kinds of advice now where you’re supposed to hoist your bag up in a tree, or spray stuff to mask your smell, piss in a ring? You name it.

I slept with my food in my tent every night. And I knew a ton of folks who did the same! People’d say it was crazy now, but we did it. And the whole time, believe it or not, not a single bear in a tent.

The only guy I ever knew to get bit by a bear was in his tent, sleeping. And the bear bit him straight through the tent! We found out later he was a segment hiker – just in for one night. Not doing the whole trail, and he wasn’t sleeping with his food! But he was slathered in coconut shea-butter lotion. Must’ve smelled pretty tasty.

Context:

Maggie hiked the Appalachian Trail (The AT) in Spring to Fall of 2004. She took the South-to-North Route, passing over 2,200 miles of wilderness trail.

Background:

Bears are a nuisance along the AT, as they are attracted to human activity because of the prospect of food. They are dramatically overpopulated along the trail, especially in the Smoky Mountain region.

Analysis:

This is a cute story which emphasizes an important reminder – that proper food storage, which contains smell, will prevent bear attraction. However, use of scented cosmetic products is just as bad, and can lead to hikers being bitten or attacked!

In that sense, this is is a warning tale!

Legends

Hooks

Main piece:

People used to say that on the part of the trail, right after you cross into North Carolina, there were a lot of locals who weren’t crazy about having so many outsiders pass through the backcountry. So they’d hang hooks from the trees on fishing line, to catch the eyes of passersthru.

It freaked me out a lot passing through there. I heard gunshots, and it was foggy a lot of mornings. There was a feeling on that part of the trail that I never got anywhere else.

I never really understood why, but that’s where most hikers would disappear too… and you could see the nerves on everyone else’s face as well. Now, they were also just getting started. The adrenaline had worn off by then, and we were really feeling rough for the first time.

It still freaks me out to think about looking up some time to get a hook straight in my eyes or my mouth. Or to catch one on my ear. No warning. And then you’re stuck til you can cut it out.

Context:

Maggie hiked the Appalachian Trail (The AT) in Spring to Fall of 2004. She took the South-to-North Route, passing over 2,200 miles of wilderness trail.

Background:

I think that it reflects the morale of AT hikers that the Georgia-NC border is considered to be a dangerous area. It’s topographically unremarkable, but is probably the first point at which the adrenaline of starting the trail wears off.

Analysis:

This is a warning tale unique to the AT in that it is about people rather than about natural threats to AT hikers. The AT is so remote, it’s very infrequent that hikers are set upon or threatened by other people. Typically, bears pose a much greater threat. This threat is passive – a trap set by a maniacal and unknown adversary who is long gone by the time hikers are hurt.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Bears and Menstruation

My mother grew up in rural California. She spent a lot of her time outside and hiking. When she was a Girl Scout, she heard that when you are on your period you should avoid going in the great outdoors.

JE:”I always heard growing up that it wasn’t safe to hike or go camping while you were on your period. Apparently bears and other predatory animals can smell it and are more likely to attack. When I was growing up, two women were killed by a bear and the rumor was that it was because one (or both) of the women were menstruating.”

Me: Who told you this?

JE: My Girl Scout Leader was the most distinct person I can remember. There were some men at my church who wouldn’t let their daughters (my friends) because they thought that women should not hike, camp or even venture into the back county during their periods because it will attract predators who will come and eat them. This cautionary advice goes for women around the world. ”

Analysis: I researched the validity of this superstition, and it holds little scientific evidence. The superstition has a strong hold on people because it’s a pretty visceral- blood, gruesome attacks, young girls, etc. To me, however, it seems like a fear of bears morphed into an unfounded belief. At one point, this was perhaps a good way to keep young girls from exerting themselves in the woods when their families believed women should be at home. The stereotype only reinforces the idea that women are not as suited to survival in the wilderness as men.

For the Yellowstone Bearman’s advice on this folk belief, see:

http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/menstruation_data.html

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