You Have Died of Bear

Date: July 3 / Origin: Boise National Forest, ID / Campsite: Olive Lake, OR / Time in Westy: 5+ hours

The next morning, we woke and had breakfast beside the river. We fished a little, catching nothing, then washed our dishes in the sand and river water. I could live like this.

It was a long drive up to Oregon today, so we stocked up on more beer and food from the market in Crouch just in case we didn’t make it to civilization until Bend a few days later. We also thought it prudent to purchase some American flags to hang on the van for the 4th of July.

Two young boys stood in line behind us, and we soon discovered they’d been far more successful in fishing trout than we had.

“Where did you fish?” Laura asked incredulously.

“Y’know the Dirty Shame?” they asked, alluding to the saloon and restaurant we’d passed the day before. “The river back there.”

It was a fitting farewell to Crouch.

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‘Murica.

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A comfortable sleeping position…

The drive north to Oregon became more lonesome and dry once we’d left the green pines of Idaho. Along the road, signs sprang up detailing historic Oregon Trail sites, and Laura and I wondered why no one has made a film about the Oregon Trail yet.

And so began a 3-hour oral screenwriting session I’ve recorded in my phone. When you have no WiFi and a long drive ahead, your imagine runs wild – like it should. We came up with dozens of characters and twice as many questions about the Oregon Trail that we looked up in a nearby town when we stopped for lunch at an old diner with a prairie schooner wagon wheel mounted to the side.

The road took us through a number of small gold rush towns that boasted little more than a post office, general store, and bank. We lucked out and found a fly shop in a small town with a historic bank vault.

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I’ll have a club sandwich and a mounted half-deer, please.

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Taking a trip back in time

Inside, the co-owner seemed very confused as to why we were there, though once we started talking about fly fishing, he was quick to help us procure flies. (We had purchased 18 back in Idaho and had lost 14 of those in two days. Clearly we have some practice ahead of us.)

“Where ya headed?” he asked.

“Summit Lake,” I told him, referring to a lake we’d circled on a gas station map. He nodded knowingly.

“Great fishing up there,” he said. “You planning on hiking to the lake?”

“Hiking?”

“It’s tough to get to. High elevation, and then you got a mile hike from the trailhead, at least.”

Well darn. Our little van struggled with high elevation – Laura and I had come up with a game for much of our drive called “Guess the Altitude”, and we rejoiced in not pushing anything over 5500 – and there was no way we were lugging our fly rods and the inflatable kayak a mile up a trail.

“You could go to Olive Lake instead,” he suggested. “Just past the town of Granite, you make a left and you’ll see signs. You can camp there, too.”

This sounded much more feasible, so we gathered our flies and hit the road. Olive Lake was pretty crowded, which was not something we were used to by this point. We’d been spoiled in snagging campsites tucked into the woods and well away from people, so when we pulled up to the lakeside to find the shoreline packed with RVs, one running a loud generator, we felt a little disappointed.

We circled the lake and found a hike-in site on the road away from everyone else. We parked the van and hiked down to a respectable-sized clearing with a fire pit, and then followed a trail a little ways down to the lake where we could put our kayak in.

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The pay box for the site was back at the main campground, so we thought it’d be easier to inflate the kayak, load it up, and kayak over to pay. This we did, though Laura could not find any envelopes, so we didn’t pay at all.

I assembled my fly rod as I waited. This seemed promising. Fish were leaping out of the water and splashing all around us. Below the kayak, I could see small fish darting about. I felt good.

We paddled the kayak out to the middle of the lake and fished. We fished until the sun was almost completely gone.

Nothing.

Sorry, I lied. We did catch something. Mosquitos.

I can’t complain, though, because sunset on Olive Lake is a stunner. The air was cold, the water was warm, the sky was every shade of pink you can imagine, and the sound of the line slicing through the air over your head like a graceful lasso is enough to wash away any stress you might’ve brought with you. (Which was none at this point. Camping and the wilderness and good company will do that to you.)

At one point, we looked around the lake to see another woman fishing from the shore.

“Everyone fishing this lake right now is female,” Laura noted, and that felt kind of cool.

The woman on shore seemed to have more luck than we did, so we made our way back to the trees we’d come out of. Pulling the kayak in, I slipped on a log and fell into the lake. It was the closest I’d come to a shower in nearly a week.

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Sun going down…

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Lots of pinks

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And oranges…

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And rainbows, but not rainbow trout. There weren’t any of those.

Back at the campsite, we left the kayak inflated and scrambled to make a fire before it got too dark. It was hard to find dry kindling at this campsite, but we luckily had some newspaper leftover from a previous site and got a fire going eventually.

For dinner, we made meat pie packets. Using aluminum foil sheets and folding them into pockets, we tossed in ground beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, beer, and some spices. Believe me when I tell you it was like a gourmet meal – and warming on a cold evening. The rest of my beer chilled nicely in its coozie. It was shaping up to be another good night.

Until both the dogs suddenly perked up and trotted to the edge of the campsite, looked into the darkness of the woods, and started growling.

It’s important to add here that Laura is a seasoned camper. Growing up in Alaska, she’s seen it all – moose, bear, mosquitos. Laura is the logical, even-keeled companion you want with you to survive in the wilderness. So when she looked at me uncertainly and said, “I think we should go up to the van and get the bear spray,” it was all I could do to keep myself from panicking.

We calmly walked up toward the van and found the spray, turned it over, and tried to figure out how to use it.

Back at the campsite, the dogs were stationed at the edge of the wood, stiff and sniffing the air. Our campfire roared. All of our tools and lights were scattered around the table. We breathed a sigh of relief.

Maybe it was nothing.

Then Chaska started going crazy. She bounded back and forth along the woods, barking wildly and growling.

“I think we should go back to the van. Now.”

“What about the fire?”

“Leave it.”

We walked as quickly as we could back to the van and closed the door, watching out the window.

“I’ve never heard her bark like that,” Laura said.

In the end, we made our way back to the campsite one more time to extinguish the fire and all of our lights.

“We’ll come back for the kayak in the morning,” she said as we collected most of our things, talking calmly to each other in case a bear was nearby listening. The dogs settled down eventually, but we were spooked already.

The comfort and safety of the van made it easy to fall asleep, but I was certain that a bear – or worse – was hiding in wait in the woods.

I don’t think I would’ve survived the Oregon Trail.

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2 replies »

  1. I am SO enjoying camping vicariously through you on this trip. Minus this whole bear thing.
    But talking about the dogs barking at the whatever-it-was made me think – what did you do with the dogs when you were fishing/kayaking/whatever? Do they come on the kayak? Or just hang out at the campsite while you’re out and about?

    • Yay thanks đŸ™‚ The dogs came with us when we were fishing in the rivers. The one time we took the kayak out, we left them at the campsite – my friend has a stake and long leashes, so they could walk around. They were so well-behaved!

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