I didn’t even think about the bear footprint I saw until the next morning. I had collapsed into a coma in my tent; I left the food in my backpack just a few feet away from my tent. Bear, obviously, are in the area but I was lucky: no ursine visitors during the night.
I heave the pack on my back and begin the walk to Sierra City. It is a delightful walk. Cool. Refreshing. Easy. Much needed.
But the adventure isn’t quite over yet.
I am hiking a very narrow drainage, v shaped canyon. The side walls are steep and relatively narrow. I come around a corner in this drainage and there, maybe forty feet ahead of me, is a female sow bear with one cub behind her. The sow has a beautiful cinnamon color to her.
They are walking the Pacific Crest Trail too.
Now I am carrying lots of smelly trash in my backpack. I have salmon and spam wrappers. In addition, I have around ten pounds of food in my pack. I freeze when I see them. Only one cub? Is there another cub nearby? Am I between the sow and another cub? And why doesn’t this bear acknowledge that I’m here? Should I make a noise and get the bear’s attention? Should I stay quiet?
I do try and get my camera out of my pocket. And then I start to think that making any movement is not a good idea. I wait for the bear and her cub to leave the trail and head to the creek. I notice the huge paws on the mama bear as she leaves me behind.
The drainage is only fifty to sixty feet wide. That bear is down by the water. How long should I wait before resuming this hike? Again, should I make noise? I elect to wait for a few, very long, minutes and then scurry ahead on the trail as fast as possible. I look over my shoulder as I go through the section to see if I am about to become Bear Chow. One might say that I make record time the rest of the way to Sierra City.
At long last I turn off from the trail and take a short cut through Wild Plum Campground. From there a pickup truck stops and offers me a ride into town. I’d hate to have this good man’s generosity be rejected by turning him down, so I accept the ride. The gentleman who picks me up just happens to own The Red Moose in Sierra City. This is the place where all the hikers stop as they pass by on the PCT. Robert, the owner, has an “Obummer” bumper sticker; we don’t share the same politics; we do share a love for the PCT.
The owner tells me that I am welcome to camp in his backyard as long as I want to. He offers me a free shower. He tells me that I am the 1,249th hiker who has visited his restaurant and haven for hikers this season.
At The Red Moose I order breakfast (biscuits and gravy with eggs, delicious!). My cell phone doesn’t work, so the owner lets me use their phone to call Joni. Joni answers on the first ring: she had just posted her fears on Facebook and was thinking about driving to Sierra City to start looking for me. Joni is relieved that I am okay. She agrees to come get me: I am done hiking for this year.You see the next section I had planned to do would have been much tougher. Even lonelier. Water is getting hard to find and I just didn’t think I had it in me for any further adventures. Time to go home.