That One Time When I Almost Took a Shower With a Bear

Now, I know that Craigslist is chock-full of opportunities to take showers with a bear. But I mean an actual, big, hairy, bear. No wait, I mean, a grunting, rotund…crap. I mean Ursus americanus californiensis. A real four-legged bear.

stelprdb5396801I live in Northern California, in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains. One of my great joys in life is getting out into the wilderness and going camping. Also some of my fondest memories. Ever since I was a little snot, my parents would take me and my brother out in the woods for at least a week every year. The crisp chill of the morning air, the burble of a tiny mountain stream, the breeze whispering through stands of Jeffrey pine and Douglas fir, the scent of pine needles and campfire smoke…dang it, I need to go camping.

Anyway, where was I? The only thing better than camping is camping with hot showers. Our favorite campground had wonderful, wonderful bathrooms. (My readers who are camping enthusiasts have no doubt seen and smelled some vile, horrible bathrooms, and will appreciate the simple joy of flushing toilets and hot water.)

I do love backpacking and the more pure forms of camping, I know what it’s like to go a week without a shower or a real bathroom, but good Lord. How wonderful a thing, to go out hiking all day, fishing, playing in the creek, doing camping things, getting filthy and sweaty, then being able to take a scalding hot shower until your skin pinks and then go off to your sleeping bag freshly scrubbed.

black-bear-dining-out_NPSIn fact, the only downside to this little slice of campground heaven was the bears. Once they lose their fear of humans and learn that campgrounds are chock full of tasty tasty human food, it’s game on. My family had the unique experience of being there when this particular campground’s bears figured out that fact. One summer it was okay to leave your ice chest out, the next summer it very much was not.

People adapted pretty quickly. It didn’t take very many dismantled ice-chests before campers started leaving their food in their cars. The park rangers made sure to pick up trash before dark. But still, it was a bit unnerving, these roaming gangs of bumbling assholes wandering down from the hills every evening, going from trashcan to trashcan. In the middle of the night, you’d hear a clang! as a trash can went over, then a few minutes later you’d hear another.

All in all, black bears are pretty docile. A loud noise usually scared them off. Like so many giant, lurking, vague, hairy 300 pound threats in life, you just learn to live with it. They were really nothing much to worry about.

But try telling that to a naked thirteen year old in a shower.

There I was in the late evening, the only one in the bathroom, enjoying a nice hot shower. The shower stalls were private. Sort of. There was like a public bathroom type door, with a flimsy latch and a one foot gap between the door and the floor. A psychological barrier only.

shower-feet1So I was taking my little shower when I thought I heard something. It was a public bathroom of course, people go in and out. But Something was odd. I stood still, straining to hear over the spatter of falling water. Yes, I heard something. A snort. The click of nails on a tile floor. I crouched down and peered under the door of the shower stall. And what did I see but four black bear paws, claws the size of ballpoint pens, standing there not ten feet from where I crouched, naked and wet and alone.

The bear paused, becoming aware of my presence, then continued on. Click-click. Click-click. Snort. Snorfle-snark snort. Grunt. WANG! KA-WHAM! CLANG! The bear had found the metal trash can in the corner of the bathroom, and sent it ricocheting around the room with one casual swipe of his paw. Wrappers and used tissues and strands of dental floss sprayed across the floor. I still stood, crouched in the shower, the hot water still spraying down on my back. The bear sniffed his way through the wreckage, gave the trash can one more thump, snorted again in my direction, and walked back out the door.

Being the brave sort that I am, I only hid in that shower for another forty-five minutes.



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