Thursday, August 25, 2011
In doing research for our trip, I read over and over again that Sequoia has a much more active bear population than Yosemite, and that we should be extra vigilant in our campground and on our hikes. We dutifully shoved all potential bear attractants (read: everything we brought with us, magazines and all) into our bear box, scarfed down some dinner, and called it a night. I popped my earplugs in (standard "I don't want to hear what's coming for me in the dead of night" procedure), and slept with visions of ursine visitations dancing around my head all night.
I was relieved, then, to wake up unscathed in the morning. Our campsite was pretty spectacular, the morning sun filtering down in a hazy curtain from the tippy tops of the massive trees encircling our site. I puttered around, swayed in the hammock, and forgot all about the bears - there were giant trees to see, and I was going to see them all.
In the interest of saving the environment (and because I hate to drive when I'm on vacation), we hopped the free shuttle bus and jumped off here and there to take in the sights - The Giant Forest Museum, Tharp's Log, Crescent Meadow, Big Trees Trail. When my thoughts wandered toward bears, they were happily distracted by a handful of Swedish Fish and further exploration of one of the most gorgeous places I'd ever been.
But then IT happened. I pushed for us to lay off the tourist wagon for a bit and instead take a rarely-traveled side trail from the Crescent Meadow area to the General Sherman Tree. Rebecca sort of agreed, and just a few minutes up the trail, we passed a large boulder on the right side...and directly on the other side of the boulder, just a few feet to my right, stood a bear. A black bear. A large black bear. And not just any large black bear, but a blonde black bear, which kind of looked like a grizzly bear to me.
If it's possible to emotionally pee one's pants, I emotionally peed my pants.
The bear was pretty big. Definitely big-sized. Large. Sequoia-sized bear. Giant. Did I mention it looked kind of like I imagined Sasquatch to look? Feral. Hungry. Clearly ready to tear into my flesh, which at the moment was only protected by a thin layer of SmartWool and a backpack I shrunk in the wash while trying to blast out the funk accumulated on the Mt. Whitney trip.
I froze and Rebecca nearly bumped into me from behind. Then she saw it, too, and uttered two words in the most hushed of hushed voices:
My mind was racing. In preparing for this trip, I brushed up extensively on my "bear encounter" etiquette, probably to the point of obsession, but at this moment, I realized that much like most of my testing experiences in college, everything flew right out of my head the minute I needed it.
"Ohmygod. Ok, just walk away slowly. Ohmygod, Rebecca. Walk backwards. Slowly. Ohmygod."
We hyperventilated ourselves back a safe distance, and once we realized that the bear wasn't following us, started sprinting through the woods, spraying adrenaline-laced sweat on everything we passed. I laughed nervously. Rebecca laughed nervously. We swore a bit. Then we laughed even more nervously, and swore a bit more.
Our heart rates eventually returned to normalish, and we made it through another near-encounter the next day. Upon reflection a month later, I have to say that it was pretty awesome to stumble upon a bear in the wild, doin' its thang.
But seriously, though - my mom would be SO PISSED if I got eaten by a bear. I'm just saying.
What Would Ed Do?
Ed speaks the language of the bears. He would have high-fived the large gigantic huge blonde black bear, then hopped on its back, side-saddle-style, casually galloping up to the top of Moro Rock together to watch the sunset.