My Dad vs. the Bear

I had to be about 9, maybe 10, years old when I went to go visit my dad in Vallejo near San Francisco. He was working in and out of the city and sometimes making trips to Silicon Valley but for the most part he worked out of an office in his apartment. Whenever he had time he’d take me fishing. We’d go out to some lake or stream and set up our rods and sit for a few hours. We always caught fish but since it was just the two of us we kept maybe one or two a day and threw the rest back.

Amazing

When school was about ready to start and I had to go home, my dad stopped in Yosemite on the drive back down to Los Angeles. I’d been there a few times before but never was quite old enough to truly appreciate how amazing the place is. We hiked along footpaths, went up the sides of waterfalls and stood on top of peaks admiring the landscape. We spent an entire day walking around the area and getting eaten by mosquitoes but it still remains one of my fondest memories.

I’ve always wanted to go back to Yosemite but never had the chance and now that I’m in a totally different country it seems so far away. A few coworkers asked me about Yosemite and I couldn’t but tell them about how great it was and how it would take weeks to see everything. But I always add one word of caution, bears.

When my dad and I got to Yosemite, it was summer and all the hotels were booked (not that he would have paid for one). I never could sleep in a tent so he got us a room in some kind of stone housing. It was basically a cabin with a door, slabs of stone with blankets on top for beds, and a locked trunk outside for storage. The entire structure is actually smaller than those community bathrooms you find in camping grounds. Apparently my dad (who is actually quite handy in the outdoors having grown up on a farm) decided to store some food in the trunk. So did a few other campers who were staying in similar structures around us contrary to signs and warnings.

It was maybe 9:30 when I needed to head to the bathroom. We had been sitting in the “room” talking about the day when nature called (horrible pun intended) and we headed out to the community bathroom where I admired the space. We were gone maybe five minutes and when we returned, there was a growing half-circle standing about 40 yards from our little stone house. We walked closer and from the light of a dying campfire we started to make out the form of a bear sitting in front of our door staring at the locked trunk.

(Left) What I thought the bear looked like. (Right) What the bear proabably actually looked like.

My dad would later tell me he was only a half-grown cub but to me he looked like a large hulking brown mass of teeth and claw. But now later I would realize that as large and fearsome as it looked, it really just sat there and stared at our little stone cabin as if wondering why the knob wouldn’t turn.

We stood there eyes wide open as campers around us whispered and were relieved that their cabin wasn’t unlucky enough to be at the forest edge. I was voting for leaving and sleeping in the car but my dad had already paid the night and wasn’t about to sleep in our nice and comfy van. As he tells it, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do until the bear started swiping at the door and then at the chest with heavy paws. Whether it was adrenaline or pure insanity that gripped him, he grabbed the nearest rock he could (a large one) and chucked it at the bear. It landed a few feet behind so he threw another that landed in front harmlessly but we definitely had the bear’s attention now. The other campers took a few steps back while my dad took a few hazardous steps forward, picked up a new rock (now heavier) and threw that one as well. He threw maybe four or five more, two of which hit the bear (one in the snout from what I could tell) before the bear had enough and called it quits.

He (looked like a he to me) lumbered off back into the thinly wooded forest and apparently onto the 10 ‘o clock news. The next night when I got home there was a story of a black bear that had wandered towards one of the restaurants and basically sat outside the door (I’m guessing) waiting until closing time. Park rangers came in and got him out of the area but not until they showed footage of how he got to be there. Apparently after my father chased him off, he walked straight through a thin patch of trees, across the road on the other side (the entrance to the camping grounds) and straight to the food court.

The moral of the story?

Bears are freaking scary.

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