November 26, 1984/Tweaked October 9, 2016
Barely Based on a True Story
Living in California for all your life and not ever going to Yosemite National Park was like living in Hawaii and not going to Waikiki. That’s how Mary and I felt. Both of us were native San Franciscans, raised entirely in California, and have never been (in 1980) to this Mecca of the post-sixties hippies. We were a disgrace to the hippie world we had belonged to.So in the summer of 1980, we determined to right the great wrong and discover Yosemite.
In reference to our backpacking history, Mary was a seasoned pro having backpacked with her family. Two weeks during the year they would go on vacation where they hiked, and in the winter, they would cross-country ski. Hiking was a hobby to Mary and her family.
I, on the other hand, had never donned a backpack on my tender back. If walking and hiking were the same, then I had done my fair share of “hiking”. But, Mary set me straight, hiking was a lot harder than walking. Wonderful! I already had a tough time walking. Some people say it’s laziness, I think maybe a bad heart.
Well, the big day finally came. I packed up my new Kelty backpack with all the necessary supplies for a long jaunt in the woods. Tossed the backpack and my new vibram-soled hiking boots into the back of my snazzy Ford Capri named Simon and set out around 4:30 a.m. to pick up Mary. Whenever we’d go on our adventures, whether it be Yellowstone or Washington State, we’d leave very early in the morning. When I got to her house, she was up and ready to go. It was still dark and the San Francisco chill hung on the air.
“Mary, Mike said there were a lot of bears. What are we gonna do?”
“Your brother’s right, but they stay in the high country. We’d be lucky to even see one. Don’t worry about it…..I told you, you don’t need boots, your tennies are fine.”
“All the wilderness school kids have vibram-soled boots.”
“Donna, you’re not a wilderness school kid. Did you break them in?”
We packed up the rest of the camping equipment and Mary’s backpack and headed out. Around five we were ready to head to the Bay Bridge. As was our custom, we stopped on Geary for some coffee and donuts.
“Can you believe we are finally going to Yosemite? I’m so excited.”
“Me too…except maybe those bears. We have to stop and see the Ahwahnee and pay homage to my grandfather’s work.”
“Was he the actual contractor?”
“No, he was a foreman, we still have his supply lists….like how many mules they used!”
“That is so cool.” Mary sipped her coffee as we hit the Bay Bridge and made our way east.
“Did I tell you this was my first real backpacking adventure?” I smiled.
“What?” she spit out some coffee. “What do you mean your first real backpacking adventure? You’ve never been hiking before?”
I nodded sheepishly.
“I thought you went backpacking all the time with your brother’s friends from Skyline.” Mary said.
“Uh, not really. I just hung out with them.”
“Shoot, Donna, I hope this trip won’t be like our fishing trip last year. I really thought you knew what you were doing. You always talked about fishing, I thought you were a pro, and then you couldn’t bait the hook, and when you caught that fish…”
“I couldn’t kill it, I could feel his heart beating in my hand.”
“Yeah, in your industrial gloved hand, I don’t know how you could even feel anything in those gloves. Admit it, Donna, you’re a wimp.”
The sun rose in a beautiful display of reds and oranges while we drove through the flatlands of Central California. We arrived in Yosemite around ten. As we parked the car, we could see Half Dome. We walked around the village for a while, stopped at the Ahwahnee and took pics of the great rocked hotel my grandfather was a part in building.
Mary bought a trail guide, and we decided to take the Twin Falls trail. We wanted to get out of the Valley before it became overrun with tourists. We grabbed our backpacks and set out for Twin Falls before noon. I laced up my new, unbroken-in boots, and flung my backpack onto my tender shoulders, strapped the hip belt and I was ready for my first authentic backpacking adventure. Mary didn’t seem amused, she was all business.
“Let’s go.” And off we went.
That day we climbed six miles up the trail only to find out there were no sleeping areas and no water supply. We took a break before we trudged back down the hill.
“I think I have blisters.”
“Did you bring your tennies?”
“No, I left them in the car.”
Spying a pile of dung, I asked the expert, “What’s that deer poop?”
“No, that’s too big for deer….I wonder if it’s bear poop.”
“Really….that looks pretty fresh. Maybe we should hit the trails.”
“Yeah, good idea.”
Quickly, I adjusted my socks to minimize the blister pain, tied up the unbroken-in boot and grabbed my backpack.
In hindsight, I realized hiking didn’t turn out to be such a leisure sport after all. I always thought hiking was an extra strenuous walk, but I was sadly misinformed. Not only does your backpack shift around and give you a painful backache, but the armies of mosquitoes were the last straw.
“So I take it you don’t like backpacking?” Mary asked as we hiked down.
“Mary, honestly….I’d rather be by a pool, reading a book, drinking a soda….I don’t know why I think I’d like these things.”
“Donna, I think you like the idea of backpacking and fishing. It’s OK. Next trip, we’ll go to Reno and sit by a pool.”
“I love that idea.”
When we got back to the campground it was well into dusk. We got out the gear from the car and found a campsite.
“Be sure to keep the food separate…there’s a food box over there.” Mary pointed to a metal box.
“No, the bears.”
“Mary, you said the bears stay in the high country.”
“Yeah, but at night they come down here for food, that’s what I heard.”
“What? I missed that part of the conversation. Do you think we’re gonna see any?”
“I hope so…”
“Speak for yourself.” I mumbled.
We packed the food in the metal box, and then set up the tent facing the creek. We crawled in our sleeping bags and soon we were being lulled to sleep by the gurgling creek. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw something move across the creek. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but, much to my horror, I realized the big, round, burly animal coming across the creek was a bear. I turned my head ever so slowly and mouthed the words in Mary’s direction.
“Mary,” I whispered inaudibly, “Mary, there’s a bear coming.”
She didn’t move.
“Mary…..” I said again, hardly perceptible, “a bear…” I was beginning to become paralyzed with fear, the thought of being some bear’s dinner was a real threat at the moment.
“Mary….” I urged….
Suddenly, Mary sat up and said quite loud…
“Donna, look, there’s a bear!”