Warm In My Sweatshirt
I was dreaming about baseball. I was up to bat and wearing my favorite black game over sweatshirt but there was something very wrong with this dream. I had a very bad feeling and my subconscious was telling me to wake-up. There were no players on the field, not even the pitcher. I was at home plate in the batting stance with bat cocked, elbow out, knees bent, and butt pushed out; wearing only my sweatshirt, a pair of bright white boxers and heavy grey wool socks with liners but no shoes. Pitched balls were coming toward the plate from an empty mound and odd sounds were coming from the empty stands. Strangely, just before getting to the plate the balls were stopping mid-air and falling to the ground, creating a large scattering of baseballs.
The reality was I was comfortably tucked into my ice-caked sleeping bag with my sweatshirt, boxers, and socks, while resting on a thick layer of pine needles under one of only 5 trees. Just one was suitably strong and tall enough for hanging our food. It had a perfectly located strong branch for hanging about 20 feet off the ground. We were around 9,500 feet elevation. That’s the approximate tree line in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
It was time to put on my sweatshirt.
We had stopped here because it was getting late. It was the last half-way decent place to camp for the night. The path ahead was nothing but rock and icy cold winds for the next 6 miles in the late afternoon. You see when you camp in nothing but rocks it’s not only uncomfortable and colder, it’s more difficult to hang and protect your food from bears and in particular everything you have from mice. Those little buggers chew holes in anything and everything they can’t freely get into; like your sleeping bag and back pack pockets. Everything must remain open and fully accessible unless you are right there with it and paying close attention.
There was not enough time to make it over the pass and down below tree-line before dark. That is why we stopped here. Since my friend Larry and I had only been out 6 days our packs were still very heavy with 4 large bags of food each. Enough to cover us for our 30 day trek across the 211 miles of the John Muir Trail. We were lining ourselves up to go over the 11,600 foot pass in the morning while we were fresh and before the warmer temperature of mid day could make it more difficult.
Only a sweatshirt to keep me warm.
Suddenly I awoke to the sound of limbs crackling over in the direction of that big tree; oh shit our food. I scrambled out of my bag into the icy cold dark night with only a tiny penlight sized flashlight in-hand and the sweatshirt on my back while shouting to Larry, ”Larry, I think some big ass hungry bear is going for our food”. Larry didn’t want to get out of his nice warm bag. I didn’t blame him, damn it was cold. So we just listened a bit. We did not hear a single sound from over there. All we could hear was the little stream down the opposite direction from us. Although still fearful, Larry convinced me I was just dreaming. So with penlight in-hand I climbed back into my bag. I was freezing out there with bare legs and only a sweatshirt.
I wasn’t able to fall back asleep right away so I just laid there, mind spinning, thinking about stuff. I was thinking about the one year we had been planning this trip, scrapping up the money for this expensive down bag, and a whole bunch of specialty backpacking equipment. I was remembering our after work conditioning hikes with rocks in our packs to simulate the weight of our food and equipment; very heavy @ 85lbs. I got this one really funny picture in my head. It was of me charging a bear in my sweatshirt and boxers from a bear’s perspective. I laughed silently to myself as I pictured only my bright white boxers charging towards me. In the darkness of night I could not see the dark sweatshirt. What a frightening vision even to a bear I thought.
That light hearted sweatshirt moment turned to panic.
The sound of crackling and falling things hitting the ground filled my ears – again! It was the beginning of a nightmare, but this time I was not dreaming. I knew if we didn’t get our asses and my sweatshirt over there right-away our trip would be ruined, if it wasn’t already. I shouted at Larry as I sprang out of my sack. Again with penlight in hand and only the sweatshirt on my back we raced over to that big tree area; the one where our food used to be hanging. As we approach we began seeing packages of food scattered all around the base of that big old tree and a pair of reflective beady eyes staring up at us. They belonged to the biggest fattest brown bear I had ever seen. He was hunkered over our food, mouth to the ground, slobbering and munching away as his eyes peered upward toward us. His eyes and body language said it all – screw you I’m not going anywhere until I finish everything.
I knew a cougar sweatshirt couldn’t protect me from a bear.
Larry and I looked at each other. We could see the shock and panic in each other’s faces. We quickly agreed to attempt chasing the bear off by charging him while screaming loudly and throwing sticks and stones. We each picked-up a few small rocks and charged the bear while yelling at the top of our lungs. Stopping about 20 feet away we pummel him with our rocks. No reaction, nothing, not even a flinch. That son-of-a-bitch just kept eating our food. Apparently he had been here and done this quite a few times before without encountering someone willing to risk the sweatshirt on their back. We immediately grabbed more rocks and whatever was handy right there at 20 feet close. We charged closer, yelled, and unloaded again. This time he at least looked up. But almost immediately he lowered his head back down and continued feasting on our precious food. In all my numerous run-ins with bears I had never encountered a bear this brazen. By now we were out of sync as we franticly charged, yelled and threw rocks over and over.
We finally succeeded in driving him back several steps only to be disappointed when he came forward again to settle on a different group of snacks. With a glimmer of hope and even greater determination I grabbed a rock so huge I could barely hold it with one hand. I thought to myself this is it; we’ve got to hurt this bastard to let him know the food is ours. I charged all the way right up along-side of that son-of-a-bitch and guided that big bolder with everything I had right into the side of his head; bull’s-eye! He immediately cried out shaking his head as he lurched back and rocked up on his back two legs then back down. All the while he was crying and shaking his head. Fortunately for me the bear was so stunned and disoriented he didn’t attack me. Obviously I hadn’t thought this out too well; my sweatshirt could have gotten shredded right then and there. Right about then Larry unloaded on him again. At this point that big fat bear turned around and lumbered over to a nearby ridge disappearing downhill into the vegetation.
My Weightlifter Sweatshirt Survived
We sighed with relief but still in shock we raced back over to our camp area to get into our warmest clothes and boots on our nearly frozen feet. We returned as fast as possible to assess the damage; hopping we could salvage the majority of our food. As we were standing in our sea of food discussing a plan of action here came that damn stubborn bear slowly back over the ridge toward us and our food. Unbelievable, what’s it going to take? At this point we had started to regain some of our common sense. We almost gave up the food. But in nearly an instant our anger returned. We grabbed more rocks, bigger rocks this time, and raced over to the ridge area where the bear had paused. He looked a bit angry and was doing some bear talking as we approached. We didn’t pause. We just let him have it all over again – hard! That was all it took. He spun around and high-tailed it back over and down into the vegetation for the second time. Now, we were really beginning to worry about our safety. How many times can we pummel that bear before he decides to fight rather than retreat? We agreed that we had already pushed our luck to the max; we would not to challenge that bear again.
We gathered up the food that appeared to be good, took it over to our camp, started a camp fire and keep it going. We left the trash and slobbered-up food around the tree as a decoy should the bear return. We hoped it would keep the bear away from our salvaged food and my sweatshirt. Admittedly it was not a very good plan but under the circumstances it was about all we could or were willing to do. In the morning we meticulously cleaned up our mess around that bear’s sucker tree, thoroughly burning all trash and food we weren’t taking with us.
Sweatshirt Goes On A Diet.
As the trash was burning we cleaned, sorted and inventoried our remaining food. The result was a devastating 50% overall loss, particularly heavy on dinners. We were pretty bummed out but figured that if we rationed our food we could go for another 3 weeks to make our destination, Yosemite National Park.
By the time we finish burning our trash it was already mid-day. We were pretty tired from last night’s ordeal and the accumulation of the previous 6 days hiking while carrying the bear’s food and that heavy sweatshirt of mine. We wanted to take one of four planed no-hike screw-off days to rest, but didn’t dare. We really didn’t want to do the assent portion of this pass at the warmest part of the day. But this was not the right place since we might not survive another encounter with that frickin bear.
Tale Of The Sweatshirt
We sure had a lot to talk about that day as we headed for the pass. We shared and explored every detail of the previous night from each other’s unique perspective. One of my takes was about how my sweatshirt helped save us. Here is a shortened version of how it helped scare the bear. My story went something like this; “Since my dark black sweatshirt is so highly contrasting to my bright white boxers it was responsible for scaring the bear away. So much so that from the bear’s perspective it looked like he was being attacked by a pair of white boxer shorts; like a ghost. Now just imagine how frightening it would be to be attacked by a pair of my 3 day old white boxers”. So now you know the story of how my favorite sweatshirt became my lucky sweatshirt.
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