Not Alone
One of the things I have always enjoyed about hiking is never knowing ahead of time of all the things
you can encounter on a long and lonely hike. While I realize that hiking by oneself does tend to
automatically make for a “lonely hike,” there are times though that this isn’t or might not be true.

For instance, sometimes I pick up “hitchhikers” who for whatever reason, just want to tag along so to
speak. One example would be a curious racoon who seems to be interested in where I am going or
maybe thinks, I am leading him to some great food source up ahead. Other examples are birds … very
curious at times as to what I am doing poking about in their supposedly safe and secure neck of the
woods and follow along with me as if to keep an eye on me.

I’ve even run up on deer who at first are startled at my presence but since I do nothing that appears
to them to be threatening, they just sort of hang back for a bit and then just tag along to keep an
eye on me like the birds do.

Bottom line, if you hike a lot in the woods like I do, you will understand what I mean by “being in
tune” with your surroundings. You start to see and hear lots of things that if you were not paying
attention, you would completely miss seeing or hearing. The trick is to let your surroundings join up
with your own senses of awareness … smell, hearing, touch, feelings, visual recognition of sites,
shapes, etc. … and just enjoy an overall feeling of being at one with your surroundings.

These traits, these abilities, these learned skills, etc., that I have acquired over the last 50+ years
of hiking, not only provide for an enjoyable passage through your new surroundings but also provide
for a safe journey as well.

One of my favorite places to hike is the Jacks River Trail up in the Cohutta Wilderness area in
north Georgia. I have hiked there many times and every trip was a memorable experience. Years ago,
I had noticed on my maps I use to guide me on hiking trips, a place -- a mountain name -- just across
the border in Tennessee from Jacks River Falls that intrigued me.

The mountain was called Big Frog Mountain located in the center of the Big Frog Wilderness area.
All sorts of images popped in to my mind when I first saw the name … images like the place was
crawling with giant frogs of something weird like that.

I had also talked with several hikers on the Jacks River Trail who spoke in guarded tones about
hiking the trail up to the crest of Big Frog Mountain. They would look around to see if anyone was
watching or listening to them when they would tell me about feeling very strange on that trail and
always felt like someone was watching them, etc. Anyone who has ever done a lot of “backwoods”
hiking can/could probably tell you the same thing. I know I have sensed, felt that more than once.

Anyway, I finally planned me a trip to Big Frog and set out for another great hike in the woods. The
long, winding dirt road to where I could pick up an approach trail off Big Frog Mountain road finally
brought me to a small parking lot on the side of the road where a sign stated that the Chestnut
Mountain Trail began there. This trail climbs up Chestnut Mountain and then follows the Hemp Top
Trail along a ridge line to Big Frog.

I slipped my backpack on, grabbed my hiking stick and was off. My Topo Map of the area showed
that I was in for a 2,500+ foot climb in just under 5 miles of trail. Usually, I would avoid hikes like
this (large elevation changes in short distances) but since I had been hiking quite a bit this year, I
was in good shape and thought I’d have no trouble with the steep climb. Wrong!

The hike to the summit was great … beautiful surroundings, clear blue-sky day, and lots of wildlife
stirring about in the woods around me.

I had only been on the trail about 15 minutes when I caught sight of a couple walking rapidly
towards me. By the looks on their faces, they seemed to be frightened at something. As they sped
pass me, the man looked at me and said, “If you were smart, you’d turn around and head back out!”
Before I could inquire what the heck he was talking about, they were well pass me and making a bee
line for the parking area.

Oh well, another case of city slickers spooked by a racoon glaring at them, I thought as I resumed
my hike up the mountain.

15 minutes later, I began to question my belief at what I had thought earlier about what might have
spooked those hikers. The woods had become deadly quiet … and I mean stone-cold dead quiet.
Anyone who has ever hiked in the woods knows that when this occurs, danger of some sort is usually
close by.

My hike from that point on till I reached the summit was uneventful from a physical (sights, sounds,
etc.) point of view. Was I nervous or more vigilant … yes, I was … but I pushed on thinking it was
going to take more than dead silence in the woods to make me stop and head back to the car.

Arrival at the summit was uneventful as nothing else happened on the way and there were no
surprises awaiting me at the top. I finally found the bronze geodesic survey marker marking the
exact summit point and after cleaning it off so others … if anyone was looking … could find it easier
than me, I headed back on the trail I had used to reach the top.

Since this is/was a popular “peak” to climb, there were multiple trails leading off the mountain top.
It would be very easy for a novice hiker to have not paid attention to his surroundings when first
arriving on the summit and have picked the wrong trail to head back down. Lord knows where they
would have ended up. Most trails leading to the summit were at least 5 or 6 miles in length, so a
mistake could prove costly from a time standpoint, in getting back on the correct trail and back to
wherever they had parked their car.

As I started back down off the mountain, I again realized that the woods were deadly quite … even
more so now it seemed. This silence had made my built-in alarm system go into full blown alarm mode
and I was suddenly genuinely concerned for my safety. I trust my instincts to the hilt for they have
saved my adventuresome butt more than once out on a desolate hike through unfamiliar territory.

Then it hit me … I was being watched. I could feel the hair on my neck standing tall and stiff …
something was wrong … big time wrong.

I abruptly stopped and carefully made a 360 degree sweep of the landscape around me. I thought I
had also heard something coming from my right side that sounded like something heavy was moving
along through the woods with me.

Was it a deer, was it maybe a bear? My mind was racing with possibilities as I now cautiously
continued with my walk. I also realized that when I had stopped, the noise that I was hearing that
alarmed me would also stop. To test this, I started walking for several yards, then abruptly stop
and listen. As soon as I started walking, I could again hear the other noise in the woods near me.
Each time I stopped, the noise stopped. Whatever it was, it was purposefully stalking me.

Danger alarms were going on inside me now in full 5-alarm mode. Something, somebody was tracking
me and staying just out of sight.

I was now at least 2 miles from my car. I considered running but talked myself out of that as I knew
from past experiences, running on trails, especially downhill ones, was a sure recipe for disaster.
I came to an abrupt halt and very quickly looked all around me.

That’s when I saw it.

Something big, and I mean big, was standing there about 30 feet away from me in the heavy woods
and peering at me with huge eyes. Whatever it was, it was almost totally obscured by the heavy
foliage we were walking through but what scared me the most was when I realized at what level I
was looking at above the ground.

Thinking it might be a big bear, deer, etc., I was thinking about seeing something that size in my
mind and thinking the eyes, if I could see them, would be close to the ground. What had my heart
pounding like crazy now was the realization that what I was looking at … glaring large red eyes …
were almost 7-8 feet off the ground!

I went into full-blown defense mode. I immediately dropped to the ground as I was removing my back
pack and retrieved my Colt .45 automatic pistol I always carry with me when I hike remote, deep
woods sites. I then stood back up, pointed it at whatever was lurking in the cover of the woods
nearby and started yelling as loud as I could and waving my arms all around like I was in attack mode.

Whatever was there bolted away from me and could be heard crashing through the underbrush as it
made its way away from me. I stood there frozen in strength, determination, and fear I might add,
until I could no longer hear whatever had decided to follow me down off the mountain.

Satisfied that my threat was no longer present, I repacked my .45 and cautiously started making my
way back down the mountain to my car. My heart was still pounding like mad and I realized that I
was still in full defense, attack mode with all sorts of visual scenarios racing through my mind.

However, by the time I reached my car, I had calmed way down and was feeling almost normal with
just the usual tiny aches and pains from a typical 10-mile hike for me.

When I was safely in my car and headed back out of the wilderness area, I then understood what
the hikers had tried to warn me about when I first started my hike up the mountain. Maybe they
only heard the “visitor” and never saw it like I did but whatever they encountered, was enough to
make them high tail it out of there and head for their car.

To this day, I have no idea what it was that spooked me out of my wits that day on Big Frog
Mountain. All I know is that it was real, it was very large, and had glaring red eyes. It wasn’t until
years later that I read reports online on the web that there were/had been “possible “Bigfoot”
sightings in North Georgia. I am not saying that is what I encountered … just saying I encountered
something very large and scary on my hiking trip in the Big Frog Mountain Wilderness Area.

Anyway, thank God that whatever it might have been, that it was just as afraid of me as I was of
it … sort of a “mountain-top standoff” as it were. And no, in case you are wondering, I have never
returned to hike Big Frog Mountain again. Been there, done that, got scared, got the t-shirt!

However, now that I have finally recounted my “adventure” from long ago atop Big Frog Mountain,
I am a bit intrigued with the idea to once again retrace my footsteps and see if all is still well and
good on the mountain top. Who knows, maybe my shadowy guest hiker is still there.
Not Alone
by Mike Bailey
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. . . The End