For two of my favorite people.
Seemingly rock bottom. That is where we were, mentally, walking along a roasting hot Bishop street. Our VW Westfalia was left behind us, a carcass of a vehicle, blown engine, cratered roof, shredded interior. In one little mistake in planning, we had lost our home, office and car. In our bank account we had enough for perhaps a new set of windshield wipers, which we actually needed, they had been torn off. This was 2001.
Walking along, in hopeless silence, a car passed by with a message that, while just a bumper sticker, and just a cliche, made us laugh at the absurdity of our situation. Determined, we put our heads down and charged.
“Tough times never last, tough people do.”
And so it is.
It all started with a Backpacker Magazine assignment, to head into the Sierra for a few days to shoot some work. The job came about suddenly, as we were on our way back to Bishop from, among other things, an influential to the story Trader Joes run to Sacramento. Arriving to Bishop, we packed our backpacks and headed for North Lake in our not so trustworthy VW, which, for the previous two years had served as our home and launching pad to great things. We cherished the faded yellow van, had extraordinary adventures from it, and loved the lifestyle it afforded us as we built our photo business. Lovingly, she had been named Maggie.
Arriving to North Lake, we parked, threw on our packs and disappeared into the backcountry. A few days later, after a job well done and a much needed return to town, we returned to our awaiting friend Maggie. Strolling up to the van we noticed some shredded bits of shattered fiberglass laying about. “That sucks, car got broken into by a bear.”, we observed, remembering the truck with a camper shell that had been parked next to us. As Janine dug in her pack for the key, I stood with my pack still on, surveying the assortment of fiberglass shards. One was larger than the others and so I kicked at it, turning it over and there, to our horror, was a recognizable feature, from.. the ceiling’s interior.
If someone had been standing on the other side of the van, they would have seen, like synchronized swimmers, the tops of two, skinny, sun burnt hiker’s concerned faces both rear up with eyes peeled to what they might find on the top of the van. What they did find was of great sorrow. A crater.
And so there followed a very difficult time from that moment of realization to the moment that the key was found, inserted into the sliding door and the door opened to reveal complete and utter devastation. Yes, a bear had climbed on top of the van from the front windshield, in doing so removing the previously mentioned windshield wipers (which luckily we could afford to replace), and then proceeded to rip open the skylight, causing weakness in the fiberglass top and thus permitting the bear to plummet into the vehicle where he/she landed in a paradise of Trader Joes bags filled with pasta, jams, ginger snaps, Nutella, honey, and various other carbohydrates much to the liking of a bears sweet tooth. Based on the fact that the pop top’s canvas was shredded beyond repair, we can only assume that the bear had some difficulty exiting the interior after gorging on $150 worth of groceries.
But the tragic story of a violated home does not end here, no, sadly, it continues.
I will leave the description of our frustration, especially any comments, to the imagination and begin part two of the tale; The starting of the engine.
Once accepting of the fact that our home/vehicle/office was destroyed, we climbed in, shut the door, and started for Bishop. Not 5 minutes into our drive the engine, in an eruption of smoke and violent noise, dramatically, and with a real sense of finality, blew up. Not missing a beat, we carried on pedal to the metal, the engine nearly melting down, plumes of blue smoke billowing from the rear, shredded canvas trailing in the wind and the occasional Clif Bar wrapper being sucked out one of the pop top’s many orifices.
Amongst all of this we realized one positive. Bears, in some sort of gleeful and final add insult to injury kind of action, typically divest of their harvest prior to leaving a vehicle. A kind of icing on the cake for the returning owner of the car. But in our instance, nothing. The bear had politely waited until clawing its way from the van to offload. We’d been defiled, yes, but shit upon, thankfully, no. We would survive.