Saturday, May 28, 2022
May 28, 2022

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Everybody Has a Story: Trip of a lifetime in national park

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Suzie invited me with two other girlfriends to attend a five-day wilderness survival class at Yosemite National Park. This was in 1979, when times were glorious in our national parks, not as crowded as now, and with wild animals in abundance.

It was a wonderful class, with good people and lots of learning about insects, trees, boulders, plant life and so forth. The last day was a daylong hike carrying 40-pound backpacks of gear and food.

We started hiking in a lovely dawn at 5 a.m. Soon we were threading single-file through trees and shrubs under hot sunshine. A stop for open-faced raisin bread with cream cheese and grape jelly for lunch, while overlooking the valley floor, was heavenly. The bird’s-eye view was fantastic and nothing has ever tasted better since then — nature at its best.

Suddenly the sun disappeared as clouds, rain and thunder moved in. We were really hoofing it when finally our guide called a halt and counted: “One thousand and one, one thousand and two …”

We heard a loud crack: lightning! He ordered that we camp and tie all food high in the trees. And, when coming back from nature calls, we must pick up fallen tree limbs for our fire. No problem.

I was picking up kindling as my friend Suzie called out to please wait for her. So I picked more wood and she joined me for the walk back to camp. Suzie was talking away. I kind of turned back, although I don’t remember why. That’s when I spotted a bear.

Three things came into my mind like lightning: One, we have been wanting to see a bear. Two, bears are dangerous. Three, don’t worry Suzie.

I casually interrupted Suzie with, “Suzie, let’s walk faster.” She gave me a funny look for interrupting her and kept talking. I took her elbow and insisted, “Suzie, let’s walk faster!”

“You’ve seen a bear,” she responded.

I could only nod “yes.”

She tossed her load of kindling and left me in the dust.

Running scared threw off my internal compass. Running for safety and camp seemed impossible, as there was no trail. Escaping the bear was our only thought. Seconds later, we finally located the camp, but our appearance startled the others, who could tell we must have seen a bear. Some started for the direction we came from. My loud “No!” brought them to their senses.

The bear was already stalking on four legs at the edge of our camp. Yes, there was stew cooking on the open fire. As per orders given at start of the adventure, our guide encouraged everyone to round up our “noise items” to scare the bear away. We got out our tin cans and spoons and whistles and shouted loudly, “Go away!”

Maybe we didn’t actually scare him as he casually lumbered through camp. My camera was cold, even with underarm squeezing to warm it up, so the only photo I could get was the back end of the bear, lumbering away.

Afterwards, several people commented that I was so calm.

“I was?”

“Yes, you stacked your wood in the pile before getting your camera.”

“I did?”

The next morning we found a still-smouldering 40-foot tree top, felled by that lightning crack we heard, about 20 feet from camp.

Yes, this was the trip of a lifetime!


Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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