Day 80: Awakened by Bears, A Thousand Miles, and Such Different Beauty

We awoke with a start this morning, just before six A.M., to our tent shuddering. I thought maybe one of the side poles had fallen over, but, peering out from underneath, everything looked intact. Then we heard a noise like a bear can falling over.

There, about fifty feet away, was a juvenile black bear, trying to get into our bear cans. (Just to be clear: even juvenile black bears are very large creatures.) And, after further looking around, there was not one bear, but two — the second one wandering around near our tent, curious about everything. We put two and two together and realized the sound we’d been awakened by was a bear, tripping over one of our tent lines. (Our tent/tarp has very lightweight, very thin lines that extend quite far from the tarp…human beings trip over them all the time.)

It’s probably good that it wasn’t until later, once we were out of the tent, that we realized just how close that meant the bear had been. In the mean time, we lay in the tent and just watched our new bear companions. (We weren’t sure if Mama Bear was around, and really didn’t want to find out.) One of them slowly wandered up some rocks, maybe fifteen feet from the tent, looking in at us, just watching…and we watched back. Were we scared? Maybe some, but more just…very, very aware, and curious about what was going to happen next.

Fortunately, we’re very good about making sure we keep all food in our bear cans, and the cans far from the tent. Also, fortunately, there were other people camped a few hundred feet away. So, after a few minutes, the bears got bored with us and our bear cans — no food, you’re no fun, I could almost hear them think — and wander off to investigate the next campsite.

It was still some time before either of us got out of the tent, as you might imagine, to make sure the bears had plenty of time to leave. We found nothing amiss, and so went to retrieve our food. Look closely at one of the pictures above: that’s bear slobber all over one side of the top of my bear can…and Bucket’s bear can has a brand-new gouge from a bear tooth in the top. War scars? Proof that they actually work? Whatever they were, it’s kind of cool to actually have our bear cans get used in exactly the way they were designed.

These are the first bears we’ve seen on this trip, and, compared to other bears we’ve seen in the past, these were extremely used to humans. Most black bears we’ve seen were running the other direction as fast as they possibly could, while these juveniles didn’t seem to care one way or the other about our presence. I’m sure if we made enough noise, we probably could’ve scared them away…but, like I said, we weren’t sure if Mama Bear was around or not, and really didn’t want to find out.

Once we finally got going from camp, less than two miles down the trail, we came to something we’d been anticipating for quite a while: a giant 1,000 arranged in small rocks beside the trail. Yes…we’ve been hiking this trail for over a thousand miles. That’s a long ways to travel no matter what way you move, and the idea of actually walking that far…well, it’s also pretty clear proof that yes, we really are insane. A thousand miles! I feel incredibly proud of it, and still in awe that that means we have over sixteen hundred miles yet to go. The proportions of this trail are still difficult to wrap my head around, even after being on it for months. It’s crazy!

As I mentioned yesterday, we left Yosemite National Park late yesterday evening. Something I really wasn’t expecting at all: within just a few miles of crossing the border, the mountains changed dramatically. Something I was expecting even less: the mountains we’re now in are absolutely gorgeous, and I had no idea anything like this was here. Yosemite, and the High Sierra we’ve been hiking through for the last couple of hundred miles or so, are all granite domes, pine forests, and splashing waterfalls. But here, suddenly we’re in beautifully barren red-rock mountains that look almost volcanic, with valleys in between so lush they seem almost out of place, and high mountain lakes in between.

It’s almost impossible to do it justice, either with the lens or with words, but I’ll have to leave you with the best I can do. We’re camped very close to Sonora Pass — the crest of CA–108 as it traverses the Sierra — tonight, and it makes me think this must be one of the quickest ways to see solitary mountain beauty that there can be anywhere in California. Drive up here, take the PCT only a few miles in, and you’ll see things that are just amazing. My memories of hiking slowly across mountainsides, looking down at the highway twisting slowly across the passes, seeing how green the valleys are, walking across snowfields and that maroon rock of the mountainside…those will last for a very, very long time.

It’s a beautiful place up here. The mosquitoes of last night are long-forgotten, and instead there are just all these newly-formed memories of this beautiful place we’re in, the sun slowly setting over the mountains, hearing the rush of a stream as we slowly fall asleep. Right now, I don’t want to be anywhere else in the entire world.

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