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College Runner spends the night in a tree to escape a bear attack

On August 18, 19-year-old Rachel Smith set out for seven miles on the Big Otter Trail in the HaDaRonDah Wilderness Area, a trail she hid dozens of times in her hometown of Old Forge, New York, in the Adirondacks.

Usually a morning runner, Smith, who is on the cross-country team at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, left her house at 7:00 p.m. because work kept her busy earlier in the day. She told her mother that she would be back in 90 minutes.

Because of the fog, Smith chose to walk on a snowmobile trail instead of the main road where cars would have a hard time seeing them. There̵

7;s no cell phone service Smith works on, so she never brings a phone.

Smith did not come home that night.

Just before the 3.5 mile turn, Smith saw two black bear cubs. An avid person in the outdoors – she attended Adirondack Woodcraft Camps for 12 summers – Smith knew the mother bear would be around and she needed to avoid getting between her and her babies.

“I thought, Okay that’s fine, I’ll turn around early. That’s okay“Said Smith Runner world. “I turned around and mom is already charging towards me.”

Black bears, Smith said, are said to be afraid of people, and in the past they have run away from her. But it’s a different story when boys are involved, so Smith started screaming and making himself big. (The National Parks Service recommends speak to bears in a calm tone and make yourself appear taller than you but others Organizations recommend yelling at the bears.)

“She didn’t have it,” said Smith. “I couldn’t run forward because the boys were there. And I couldn’t go backwards, so I went left into the woods. ”

Smith ran, screamed all the time, and pushed his way through heavy underbrush, bogs, swamps and streams. Every time she turned or slowed down, she heard the bear slap behind her. Smith continued to turn left and swam her arms through branches and leaves.

“It got dark and [the bear] sees better than me in the dark and all i think is I have to keep moving“Said Smith.

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Eventually Smith came to a V-shaped tree surrounded by smaller trees. She used these smaller trees to get up the larger V-tree.

“I can’t just climb a tree because bears can climb,” said Smith. “But by using these smaller trees, I crushed her and thought the bear couldn’t reach me because she was too big.”

She tossed her sports bra, socks, and shoes on the bear to scare them off, leaving Smith with nothing but her running jacket and shorts, wet and cold from the rain.

Smith doesn’t know how long the bear circled the tree and tried to climb. She could only see the animal’s eyes looking up at her. Smith’s Garmin watch – and its only source of light – died at 9:47 p.m., leaving it in complete darkness.

The temperature dropped into the 1940s and Smith did everything possible to stay warm. She couldn’t sit because of the shape of the tree, so she alternated between standing on one leg and crouching, hugging the trunk tightly for hours until sunrise.

“I couldn’t cry because I needed the water. I pissed my pants once again because I was fucking scared – thank god, because [the pee] was so warm and thank god I had something nice to eat before I left, ”said Smith. “I started thinking about the normal things you think about when you think you might die. What did I say to my mother and sister? I told them where I was going and when I would be back. I knew they were looking for me. But there was no civilization because God knows how many miles. ”

At one point – Smith had no idea of ​​time after the battery on her watch ran out – there was a light in the distance that made a whirring sound. It was a helicopter. But it was too far to see Smith.

When the sun came up, Smith looked around from her seat and saw no sign of the bear. Smith jumped about three feet from the tree and searched for her New Balance 1080 shoes and unsuccessfully for her socks and sports bra. She ran and headed east.

In the distance she heard sirens and knew she was going in the right direction. And then Smith came across a blue signpost.

“I said,“ Oh my god, it’s a trail. It’s a racecourse, ”she said.

She took off her shoes – her feet were blistered from walking without socks – removed a sports bra from her rain jacket, and ran down the path.

“I felt like I was sprinting, but I probably wasn’t moving that fast,” said Smith with a laugh.

It hit the main trail from which it had started the night before and then crossed Route 28, the main street.

“I knew I would make it home,” she said.

About a mile from her house, Smith saw her friend’s car – the whole city had been looking for her – and her friend drove her home to where her family, fire engines, and ambulances were waiting.

Smith went to the hospital where she was admitted for observation overnight because blood tests showed she had toxins in her system. Because Smith’s muscles had contracted for hours while they hugged the tree trunk, the breakdown of the muscles released toxins into their bloodstream.

Later, as runners are used to, Smith calculated her distance and estimated that she was chased about five miles and covered 12 to 15 miles to get home.

“I’m not at all surprised by Rachel’s tactics,” said Molly Peters, trainer for the cross-country and Nordic ski teams at St. Michael’s College Runner world. “Rachel is a tough cookie. She is a strong, intelligent, and quick thinking person. This she-bear had no chance. “

The aspiring junior will be back at school this week, where she will continue to study pre-pharmacy and biology with a minor in chemistry. And while local news outlets reported that Smith was safe, she suffers from physical injuries, nightmares, and plausible post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I wake up screaming. I can’t be alone, ”said Smith. “I just want to run to shake it all off, but [until I heal] I can not. “

What if you run into a bear while on the run? Here are some quick tips from Kate Kuykendall, an expert and spokesperson for the National Parks Service:

  • Move slowly – preferably sideways to give the bear space – and don’t pace back and forth between a mother and her cubs.
  • Make it clear that you are not a prey.
  • If you have children, pick them up so they don’t appear small and don’t turn away.
  • When the bear is not in attack mode, speak to the animal in a low, calm voice and make yourself appear tall by opening your jacket or holding a pack over your head.
  • When you are attacked by a black bear, try to scare it off by making noise and appearing as big as possible.
  • If you are attacked by a brown bear (grizzly bear), you will play for dead until (hopefully) the bear loses interest and wanders away.

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