It’s a question I’m constantly asked: Isn’t it dangerous to hike by myself in the Sierra or Death Valley?
To be honest, I have yet to come across a bear on a smartphone or a mountain lion riding an electric-powered bicycle at night without benefit of a light.
I feel much safer hiking along a four-foot wide trail hugging a mountain on one side and a 2,000-foot drop off on the other than I am walking/jogging across a street when I have a green light. I know where the danger is on Mt Whitney. I have no idea where it will come from at intersections such as Yosemite and Commerce avenues.
Two weeks ago I was almost two thirds of the way across Commerce when I noticed the car in the curb lane on eastbound Yosemite Avenue that was going straight come to a sudden stop. I didn’t take my eyes of the car — or the driver — as I kept heading toward the curb by McDonald’s. It’s self-perseverance in the wildness known as the streets of Manteca. All of a sudden the car from the middle lane cuts in front of the stopped car and is headed my direction. It is not a turn lane in case you are wondering. Now I’m watching the jerk in the vehicle from the middle lane as I pick up my pace to reach the relative safety of the sidewalk. Instead of slowing down the driver picks up speed driving a banged-up Kia as if he were auditioning to be a stunt driver for Starsky & Hutch. The passenger leaned out of the window as they passed perhaps four feet behind me and laughs as he yells obscenities at me.
I’ll be honest. Although I kept going forward, I turned over my shoulder and yelled that he was the equivalent of where the sun doesn’t shine. I can’t think of one encounter on my hiking trips that even comes close to that as long as you don’t count tourists in a rented Cruise America RV gawking at some sight driving on a highway and not keeping on their side of the road.
I almost made a guy that looked like one of Manteca’s meth zombies a hood ornament Thursday at 2 a.m. as I was heading home from work. I’m turning right on Powers off of Yosemite Avenue and he comes zipping down Powers on an electric powered bike on the wrong side of the road without a light. Fortunately I had the windows down and the music off allowing me to hear the buzz of the motor and slowed down not knowing where it was coming from. I’ll give the guy credit. He didn’t extend the finger as he went flying by me and into the intersection where he was lucky there was no cross-traffic since it would have had the green.
He did however act like Slim Pickens (a Hanford High graduate and Hanford FFA member just like Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum) in the movie “Dr. Strangeglove” as he whooped it up as B-52 commander Major T.J. “King Kong” as he rode the H-Bomb waving his cowboy hat as it fell toward the Soviet Union.
That pretty much describes the bicyclists that populate Yosemite Avenue in greater numbers between midnight and 4 a.m. than noon to 4 p.m. Most of them act as if they are half out of their gourds.
As for the bear with a smartphone, I’m serious.
Rule No. 1 you don’t startle any bear — even a black bear — in the wilderness. I’ve encountered bears three times in my life — once bicycling up Spooner Summit west of Carson City, another as I was driving from the trailhead to access El Capitan from the high country when a bear was chasing down a deer, and once hiking back from Mono Pass as another bear was chasing two deer that cut in front of my path about 20 yards away.
The closest I came to being mauled was on the bicycle. I was with Gary Pogue some 30 years ago and he had bicycled past the mama bear and her two cubs that seemed to be trying to cross Highway 50. For whatever reason the bear didn’t take too kindly to Gary and his bicycle. I don’t exactly fly like an eagle pedaling up fairly steep grades. Gary kicked up the pace, the bear turned away, saw me, and then moved toward me. She started picking up speed at about the same time my heart started doing a rendition of the William Tell Overture. (For those under 50 think Van Halen singing while jacked up on a case of Red Bull). To this day I cherish the sound of truckers hitting the air horn because if it wasn’t for a succession of three or four truckers hitting their horn as they passed by the bear would have nailed me.
The second encounter I was in a car so that doesn’t count. The last time I was on foot at 8,700 feet near the eastern boundary of Yosemite National Park. I was glad I wasn’t with someone else because my inclination would have been to shout out a warning. Startling a bear under any circumstance — even when it is galloping like a Kentucky Derby entry after his dinner — can have deadly consequences.
The same is true of motorists yakking on cellphones as they are pulling out parking lots across sidewalks or rolling through red lights to turn right without looking to their right after they started coming to a stop and then gun it when they see no car coming from their left.
I’ve seen drivers who see me at the last second just as they start passing several feet behind me drop their phone, look like they are yelling due to being startled, or — I wish I was making this up — take both hands off the steering wheel.
When I’m hiking I pay attention. But when I’m jogging or walking across parking lot entrances or intersections in Manteca I constantly assume major injury or death could be barreling down on me at any second because some self-absorbed idiot can’t wean themselves off their cellphone long enough to drive.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.