The Birthday Gift
Posted on March 16th, 2012
I had worked all day making hundreds of loaves of bread by hand. I was tired after driving four hours to Yosemite with overnight backpacks, cigarettes and enough food to last for two days. I was ready for some sleep. We got into our campsite at 11:30pm cranky, hungry and bickering. We rolled out of my pickup, donned our headlamps and set to constructing the tent. We were arguing about which pole should be inserted first (we did it wrong every time, no matter whose idea it was) when we heard a mighty “WHUMP”. We swung our headlamps over to the truck; “my backpack is gone!”. Of course it was MY pack; I carried the food on trips. And now this could only mean one thing – Bear.
We ran to the truck and saw muddy footprints and only one backpack. There! across the camp road – a medium brown bear with my 50lb pack in its mouth looking like a dog that had run way with the string on the Sunday roast. My girlfriend started running at it shouting, “I just bought that fucking pack for her birthday! I paid 400 dollars for that pack!” The bear took off in terror of my girlfriend, and I, rather reluctantly, after them both.
My girlfriend had always coached me that when there is a bear at a campsite that it was good etiquette to let the other campers know of its presence. Therefore, we tore through the entire campsite shouting “BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!” waking up half the Valley with our ruckus at midnight. As we ran through the back edge of the site, we passed some campers who were awake, standing around a fire. Greatly alarmed by our running and shouting, they tried to communicate in broken English mixed in with what sounded like Arabic. Several years before when I was in the military, I had learned enough Modern Standard Arabic to read a newspaper and tell someone a made up story about my brother’s washing machine. I reflexively started answering their terrified questions (“what!? what!?”) in Arabic explaining the situation (there is no translation for bear, but they seemed to get it), and they promptly joined the chase. So we ran shouting in English and Arabic, “HEY BEAR! DROP MY PACK! HEY BEAR! DROP MY FUCKING PACK!”. Through a stream, out of the campsite, throwing rocks and cursing, the bear finally dropped the bag and took off into the night. Panting, exhausted, and soaking wet we retrieved my Fucking Backpack.
The bag was ripped from the bear’s teeth gripping it and covered in a large quantity of slobber mixed with what appeared to be the peanut butter. Gone were the power bars, the apricots, and who knows what else. It smelled like a wet dog; there was no way in hell I was going into the back country smelling like this.
My fellow pursuants then turned to me and we appraised one another; six young Arab men in 80’s fashion wear – stone washed jeans and puffy high top sneakers squishy with creek water. How on Earth did I know Arabic they wanted to know. Well, I had been coached to not reveal how or where I had learned Arabic or why, so I gave them some bullshit answer and began to speak only in English trying to hide a mix of flattery and fear. We separated with many thank yous in both languages.
This was the unanticipated end of my much anticipated birthday hike in Yosemite, but it turned out to be not so bad. We promptly stashed the pack in a bear bin (which should have been the FIRST thing we did upon arrival) and drove off in search of the Yosemite Lodge. I have to say that I wasn’t too upset to be faced with sleeping in a warm bed away from bears and being a tourist for a couple of days instead of hiking and camping in the snow.