Friday, July 15, 2016

Day 76 : Bears Like People Food

17 miles today
1295 miles to go

How gloriously comfortable. The air is cool and dark, though not as dark as before. In fact it's light enough to see, but it's so comfortable. I'm sleeping in today. I get up a half hour later than normal and have the traditional in-tent breakfast. I am going to Drakesbad today. It's only about ten miles. I hope my box is there. Not sure about anything else they have or don't have. I need the food from my box to continue to travel north without delay.

I start hiking and immediately the trail starts climbing. It's funny how I don't feel as frustrated with climbing now as I did yesterday. I even called the hill stupid. The hill can't be stupid as it is an inanimate object. I think it was the combination of tiredness and heat and lack of snacks that led to my feeling they way I did. The trail climbs through the forest. Forest, forest, and then where there is no forest there are trees. I can't see the forest for the trees. Nothing to take a picture of, so I don't.

Drakesbad, it's about ten thirty, too late for breakfast to early for lunch. Just as well, I need to eat my own food. They have my box! Yay, I commandeer a picnic table and spread my food across the top, sort breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and group them into the same bags. I'm so much faster at this than I used to be. The squirrels seem to be very curious about my food. The moment I turn my back they jump up on the table. Apparently they seen this done before and been rewarded for their persistence. I don't reward, I teach them fear. Not very well, them don't seem to be very afraid. They refill my water container and tell me about the free showers down at the bath house. I take a shower then put on my dirty clothes, seems kind of pointless especially since it's so hot that five minutes on the trail it'll be like I haven't showered at all. Free is free, the water is hot, it feels great to be clean. Ok, now it's time to go get dirty again. It's noon by the time I leave. I have to pay attention to the water sources here they aren't as frequent as south from here. My pack feels heavy. It is heavy, I've got enough water, I've got food to get me to Burney Falls State Park. It's hot. The trees provide shade, but it's still hot. Not much breeze so the still hot air is stifling. Old Station up ahead has the last water for a long stretch. I hike to Lower Twin Lake. On the way I pass two day hikers. Father and son, hiking together and doing a little fishing. They had to go into the ranger station and get a permit. I forgot about that. My permit is good for my entire hike on the PCT corridor. They ask where I'm camping. “I think the lake up ahead,” I say. They said the ranger warned them about a mother bear and her cub are paying too much attention to campers in that area. Apparently they have successfully stolen food from someone. Too bad, that means the bear and the cub have a bullseye on them. They used to relocate recalcitrant bears. Now they kill them when they become too habituated to humans and dangerous. They thought the ranger might be just trying to scare them but then they met a group at the trailhead who said the bears bothered them all night. I've hiked in my places with nosey bears, no big deal. Just store your food properly, no problem. 

Lower Twin Lake is a beautiful clear lake. It looks so inviting as I come over hill and see it. It's hot out, all I can think of is jumping into the water it looks so cool. I meet a troop of Boy Scouts camping by the lake. The Scoutmaster asks about my trip and PCT hiking in general. I ask if he minded if I camped close by. “Sure, no problem, just know, there are bears. We had two trying to get our food bags all night.” 

I look around for a good site . The primary thing needed for a good site here is an large old dead tree with long branches. I look around and can't find what I'm looking for. I move on following the trail around the lake. I see a promising spot ahead a spot with a sandy beach. I go and check it out. I find just the right kind of old tree. I set up my tent. Then I unload all my food wrappers and trash into a trash bag that I put into one of my food bags. Then I also put my stove and cooking pot in one of the food bags. I don't think they have any food smells but these bears sound super curious. 

All I need to do know is get my fifty foot spectra bear hang line over that branch thirty feet over my head. It needs to be at least eight feet away from the trunk. It sounds so easy. All I need to do is put a couple of rocks in the throw bag and toss it over the branch. my first attempt is an overhanded baseball style throw. Oops, not enough arc, the bag flies upflies past the branch about five feet beneath it keeps going until it hits a tree about forty feet away. I collect the bag, untangle the line, lay it out, I wrap a couple of turns around the bag. I lean back in an attempt to create my arc and let the bag fly. Perfect angle the bag zooms towards the branch, it looks really good, the arc looks like it should pass about a foot over the branch. Then something goes wrong, perhaps not enough oomph, it runs out of energy and turns to head back for the ground about five feet too soon. Smack, it hits a rock at the foot of the tree. Dad-gum, I didn't think it would be this hard. I collect the bag and untangle the  again. This time underhanded, perhaps I can throw it further underhanded. I let the bag fly slow-pitch softball style. Oh Yeah! Plenty of pizazz on that one. The problem is an early release sends the bag shooting out at a forty-five degree angle into the forest. I attach the carabiner on the other end of the rope to my belt so that when the bag does go over the branch the entire line doesn't follow it. In this case the bag flies until it runs out of line, there is a brief tug on my belt and the bag falls harmlessly to the ground. Now, I'm not the swearing type. Cuss words around not part of my vocabulary, but someone said some words that sounded an awful lot like four letter ones. Perhaps it was my mouth, although I think it was involuntary. I go get the bag and untangle the line. Not untangling the line is a recipe for another failure so I always include this important step. I throw the bag, perfect, right over the branch, except it's only a foot from the trunk. The branch is so high that my belt is tugged while the bag is still about the height of my head. That's okay, at least it's over the branch. I can just whip it down to the end. Like a fly fisher man, I am waving my arms over my head sending a loop traveling down, or in this case up the line. It works once. The line moved three inches down the branch. Now when I send the loop it bumps into a different bench and dies before moving the line. Sadly this isn't going to work. I pull the line down. That's when I notice a different branch on the other side of the tree. This one doesn't having the other branches to interfere. I try tossing the bag, over it, early release again! Arrgh! Again and again. I throw the bag through the trees, over the wrong branches, useless, utterly useless. How lame can you get? I cannot seem to throw the bag to safe my life, ur food. Then suddenly magically, the bag sails true, up and up and over beautiful shot. I'd say, “That was easy!” But it wasn't. I hang my food, finally. 

I go for a swim! That's right. For the first time in over thirteen hundred miles I go swimming. The warm water a perfect temperature , I wade out till it is deep enough then I dive under the water. It feels so good, so freeing, I'm weightless, this is so good. I scrub my head and dive again, nothing but the sound of bubbles floating past my head. I swim around a bit. Then I go back to shore and rinse my shirt and pant legs of the trail dust. I rinse my socks and gaiters. I hang my wet stuff from some dry old stumps and I collect some water. I head back to camp after collecting my stuff. I feel so clean. Not sweaty and sticky like I normally feel. I pull down my food and make dinner. Being careful to leave my line in place of a quick and easy rehang.

There are a lot of people camped at this lake but there is plenty of room. I am camped by myself far from the other camps. I'm hoping that the bears will ignore my boring, non food-smelly camp and bother the others. I'm sure the Boy Scouts camp around a quarter mile away will smell way more interesting than mine. After dinner I rehang my food the get into my tent before the sun sets. I take a nap then review my maps for tomorrow's hike. It cools down quickly when the sun sets. I pull out my sleeping clothes and bag and climb inside. The cozy down surrounds me and I drift off to sleep.

I awake around midnight. I think I drank too much water. I need to pee. I climb out of my tent, um, what about the bears. I look around. I can't see anything except forest. Just in case I won't go far from my tent. Ten feet, that's far enough. Agh! That's better. Back in my tent I quickly fall asleep again.

Snap! “What was that?” A heavy foot falls in the forest, and I'm here to hear it. It makes a a sound. Branches break. Something heavy jumps over the log by my tent. My imagination has night vision. I can see the role-poly cub bouncing around the forest. His actions match the sounds I hear. Further away but moving closer by the second is the heavier more sure footed steps of mama. Sounds on both sides of my tent send my imagination into overdrive. Do I yell? Do I turn on my light? I learn that there is a big difference between theoretical bears and real ones. Real ones are terrifying. My tent which seemed to be my protection from the forest suddenly seems flimsy and illusionary. The moon is out and I am waiting to a see the bear’s shadow across my tent, but the angle is wrong. I peer into the gloom on the dark side of the tent. Something bear shaped is sniffing the air as it moves over the log. Foot falls crunching branches as it moves through the dark. I imagine Jr. bumping awkwardly into my tent and squealing and mom coming to help. My muscles ache from the tension. I try not to move. When I move my mattress rustles like Christmas wrapping paper. They appear to be moving away. The sounds grow fainter. I lay still, barely breathing, I slowly relax. I drift off.

Crunch! Footfall again. They are back! What's so fascinating about my camp? Snap! Crunch! Steps all around my tent. They seem to be circling! A dark form is visible in the gloom in front of my tent. “Hey,” I say in the deepest scary voice I can muster. Not very deep or scary. The form stops moving briefly then resumes its motion. It stops about ten feet away. Crunch, crunch. It sound like someone eating granola. Only chewing at double speed. I grap my head light. The rustling noise makes the figure stop crunching. I turn on my light. A large doe stares wide-eyed at me. She's eating the pine needles where I pee’d. I've heard about the mountain goats in Washington doing this, which is why you're suppose to pee on the rocks and not green plants. I turn off my light. I suppose a deer in the neighborhood means there are no other threats. Then imagine a mountain lion jumping on the deer’s back and slaughtering it in front of me because the deer was distracted by my light. No mountain lion appears. The deer eats down to the dirt and scratches a bit to get the last little bit before moving off. I drift off to sleep to blessed silence.

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