Olives, Yosemite and Bears, an ever present danger

The olive farm has a more regular schedule than Skipley did. I get up at about 7:30, putter around for a bit, admire the sunrise over the valley, eat breakfast, and am strapped into a 5 gallon bucket pulling olives off of the tree by 8:30. We work until about noon, break for lunch, then back into the fields until about 3. Picking olives is not hard work; I spend most of my time pretending I am a giraffe, gripping the willowy branches and pulling my fist down, so all of the olives are plucked along the way and drop neatly into my bucket.  It’s not exactly interesting work, but it gives you time to chat with your picking-buddy, and the weather and scenery are beautiful.

The farm has about 20,000 trees that need to be harvest. I feel like in the 2 days I have worked, I have maybe done 300. I think the term that was used was “Sisyphean.”  The owners have the west coast attitude I have come to expect, that part of me loves and the part of me that is my high strung mid-western work horse-like lifestyle cannot abide.  That part of me keeps screaming “WHY are you breaking for lunch? WHY are you stopping when there is still daylight! You have 20,000 trees that need to be picked!” I’ve been working very hard to ignore that voice.

Ignoring that voice is what led me to take a trip over to Yosemite during the weekend.  Yosemite Valley is about 2 hours from where I am staying, and was well worth the drive. The 35 mile drive from the park entrance to the actual Valley, with Visitor center takes about an hour, due to the winding roads and high elevation. It must be a pretty drive for a passenger but as a driver, I was somewhat distracted by families of deer, other drivers and sudden turns. But it’s all worth it when you get your first spectacular view of the valley. Coming from the west, people enter the valley, made all the more poignant by the mile tunnel you drive through that opens up onto one the most stunning views I have ever seen. Like with every National Park I’ve been too, it’s impossible not to be overcome with bullshitty amounts of feelings.

I am arriving in the office season, so the famous Yosemite Falls and Mirror Lake are all dry, but the granite cliffs are stunning all the same.  I think the fall colors on the trees makes up for the lack of water makes up for it.

I decided to book a tent cabin in Yosemite Valley at the Curry Village. This decision was motivated by the fact that the only available campsite was about 45 minutes north. Through the mountains. Oi. At the time I booked it, the hefty price tag seemed worth it to avoid the hour and half round trip to set up camp and come back to see what I wanted to see, plus adding 45 minutes on to my drive home. I was already planning on taking the scenic route home so as to visit Glacier Point, and the thought of that much more time in the car made me feel sick.

What I did not know, however, was how serious the threat of bears is. I had to sign multiple disclaimers about keeping food in my vehicle, as well as listen to many stern lectures about it from rangers. It doesn’t seem that bad, but I have roughly 3 months’ worth of food in my car. Oh, yes, and the tent cabin is about half a mile from any parking. Oi. According to the “Map My Run” app, I did 3 miles just in locking up my food. It really helped appease my guilt at eating an ice cream sandwich with lunch.  And I get to do it all again in the morning. Oi.

All of this lends Yosemite a different vibe than Glacier, and especially Roosevelt. The first two national parks had a very relaxed mood to them, and I am starting to appreciate what good luck I had at those parks. The feeling that I am getting here is that camping in Yosemite is a Big Deal. There is no eating in tent cabins, no using scented products such as shampoo or deodorant. Also have you heard of the Hantavirus?

Bears damage 100 cars a year, (that’s 2 a week), and I find myself wondering what my odds are, given how many cars are parks. On top of that, looking at the food storage lockers provided to each tent cabin, I am preetttttty sure my trailer is more secure, and is roughly the same design. But I love my trailer and it’s not my car, so I dutifully hauled all my food in. I wish this had been explained to me a little better when I asked at the Yosemite Lodge about accommodation. In addition to storing your food, there is no cooking in Curry Village. This means that the only food available is at one of the two restaurants, with impossibly long lines, even in the off-season.

Another warning about bears comes along the roadside. “Speeding Kills Bears”. In every park building the same video plays about bear-person relationships, which almost always amounts to the same message: “If you’re a dumb-dumb, a bear will die.” The main reason for keeping food out of vehicles, and no cooking is that bears come into populated areas and pose a threat to people. Once bears become disruptive, they become a threat and are shot. Speeding around hairpin curves leads to cars hitting bears. (Personally, I can’t believe anyone speeds on those mountain roads, as my anxiety level at 30 miles per hour was about through the roof. I can’t imagine anyone tricking themselves into believing that it is ok to go faster. But it turns out, people do, and bears die. Because they were being dumb-dumbs)

The most incredible view I experienced while there was the view from the Sentinel Dome. The Dome itself is a rounded piece of granite resting at just over 8,000 ft. While not the most impressive rock structure in the park, there is a view of the entire valley that is absolutely remarkable. The best part though is that is easily accessible for those (like me) who are not brave enough to tackle more rocky terrain without an accountabili-buddy to go for help when I inevitably fall and crack my head open.

It seems the real danger of hiking alone in these areas is it’s hard stick to what you set as your acceptable risk threshold. I tell myself very firmly that I will stick to mark trails, and be honest about my physical and mental limitations, including not only the strain of steep climbs, but also my anxiety about heights. All that is well and good, until you’ve made it to the top without a problem, and every step calls you further into the wilderness and further from the trail. It’s like some kind of National Park siren song. Only instead of beautiful ladies at the end, you get to tumble to your death in beautiful scenery.

Even though this whole adventure is about being able to roll without a plan, this is one occasion where some research ahead of time and little more planning could have saved me some headaches, and definitely some money.

In all honesty though, it’s hard to be upset in such a beautiful setting, and will definitely give me a better sense of what I am doing next time.



Oh, and in case anyone is wondering the wildlife count for Yosemite is as follows: 5 deer, 2 coyotes, a blue egret and bushy tailed red fox. No bears.


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