Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, October 15, 2012

California, 2012, 6

In which we meet Joe Btlspflk, a fool, and a very large bear

Hiking gives one appetite and thirst. Energy bars and trail mix, when chosen wisely, deal with the hunger. Water at close to body heat satisfies the inner engine's requirements, but it does build up a psychological desire for something really cold. As usual with us, there were no bears, no deer for a change, but we had the company of a very stubborn raven at lunch.

I'm convinced that Dewey Point isn't named for an individual, but from the universal question among hikers there. "Do we go on from here, or turn around and head back?" Motivation initially overruled legs and we set off for the next promontory west, Crocker Point. This added two mile round trip would give us a first day's hike of ten-ish miles and bragging rights pertaining thereto.

The motivation didn't last more than halfway. Realism said we needed some energy for the next several day's hikes. Em looked like she wanted to send for his and hers walkers for us.

We had not gone long on the return trip before we began talking about the next stages of our plans. At this point, I thought I'd prevailed, at least with Em, and that evidence-based decision making would rule. At this point Em piped up to say, "Oh, I thought you understood. The latest hantavirus case was at Tuolumne Meadows." Tuolumne Meadows was where we meant to spend the second half of the trip.

People who know my wife well call her determined when she is on their side of an issue, and stubborn otherwise. At this moment she became stubborn. Just how stubborn? Try to envision a person simultaneously hiking forward and digging her heels in. I had pledged at the start of this trip to observe majority rule and to avoid being a grouch as much as possible. It took only a few minutes of conversation to show me I was in the minority. I acquired two concessions. First, that the majority would do all it could to get facts from someone in authority before writing off Tuolumne, rather than relying solely upon news stories meant to gin up numbers.* Second, that if we did stay with the squirrels at Housekeeping Camps, we'd leave a day early to have a little time for San Francisco.

I was still grouchy, and felt I'd been had. So that my ill temper wouldn't show too much, instead of swapping positions as we had done coming up, I took permanent last place, where the dust cloud would obscure the Joe Btlspflk** cloud over my head. I felt then, and still do, that my last chance at staying in the high country had come and gone because of panic over a half-million to one risk.

By the time we reached the car, hunger, thirst and an urgent need for a privy helped to distract attention from my mood. We drove down to the nearest john, then headed for the camp, when something happened that distracted all of us.

Em came around a slight curve and jammed on the brakes. In front of us were stacked up half a dozen cars, all over the road, with doors open and people outside. "Accident?" I said aloud. Em pointed into the woods across the road: "No, a bear. And look!"

I have seen few live bears, only one in the wild on the last trip, but I have seen several dead, and I can't recall seeing a bigger black bear than this one. It was very lean, or I would have put it above 350 pounds. As it was, call it 275-300 pounds: cocoa coloured. And there was also a man; presumably the driver of one of the cars ahead. He was stepping through the brush directly toward the bear with a camera to his face.

I was always told this about bears: when they stand up and roar, they don't want to fight you. They want you to be scared and get lost. It usually works. When they don't stand up is when they mean business, and you want to act like Bigfoot whilst backing slowly away, and things end up with both you and the bear backing away.

This bear did not stand up (bad sign #1), and this bear was not backing away (bad sign #2). He (I say he from the size) was trying to move off to the man's side, shaking his head (bad sign #3). Even from some distance off, I could see his shoulder muscles flexing (bad sign #4). This was no Yogi Bear: this was a high country bear in a very bad mood.

So then, here's Camera-Boy, already no more than 30 feet away from a very uncooperative bear. What does he do? He goes closer, still with a face full of camera. When the bear started sidling around him, giving (to me) a convincing demonstration of a very pissed-off bear, the idiot cut the bear off. They were now about 20 feet apart. Had the bear turned on the fool then, nothing short of a high-power rifle already aimed could have spared the man from a severe mauling, at least: a bear can leap 20 feet in a second.

We then had one of those "time slows down" moments: I don't know for sure how long the standoff lasted. At the end, I guess, the blowdowns and the underbrush made the man pause, pause just long enough for the bear to break away. He still didn't run; just kept up his sidling until he was able to disappear. The motorists, with the surly reluctance of a crowd breaking up after a car wreck, began to get back in their cars, and enough of them moved out to break up the bear jam. When we got going, I think Camera-Boy was still in the woods, looking for the bear.

Last trip, and this one, I've seen people pull potentially dangerous stunts with deer (more on this later). On farms, they can be similarly stupid around livestock. This was an act of the most incredible, willful stupidity, the most brazen I've ever seen. In those slow-mo moments of the standoff, one felt as if one chance thing, or one still more stupid act, would set the whole tragedy in motion, a tragedy in which the bystanders could have done almost nothing for the victim. One chance, one second, one tick of the clock: life, death, or mutilation. The bear looked unhealthy, and I'm glad it got away. But I'd consider mauling Camera-Boy, or any of the other jackasses who left their cars to be spectators.

Linux subsidio est.

* Late news. My skepticism was justified, as I would have found had we brought a laptop. An NPS bulletin that went online a couple of days later said that the latest case was tied only to one of four High Sierras Camps, including Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. And it wasn't a fatality. It was a case so mild that the patient didn't realise he had it until the media hype led him to his physician, by which time it was about over.  But we're all panicking about fungal meningitis now, so who cares?

**You'll have to click the link to see Joe. The Al Capp people are very anal about their intellectual property rights, although that seems like an odd term to apply to L'il Abner.

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Blogger massmarrier said...

Isn't the stay-in-car message ubiquitous in parks? I'm a photo-fool sometimes myself, but not with big toothed/clawed animals. I bet this bozo will try it again sometime and someplace.

1:34 pm  
Blogger Uncle said...

Perhaps he'll try it at Yellowstone, where there are grizzly bears which are much less forgiving.

4:57 pm  

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