(by Ruth, from Goose Lake, OR)

The thing about summer is, it gets light around 5am. The thing about border collies is, they get up at daybreak. And want to do five miles.

On my morning walks this past week, I’ve had a range of encounters, from cows to stag deer, from crack dealers to bears.

Part 1: Bear

On our first evening camped in the Sierras near Truckee, I took Gyp on a walk away from the highway up, up, up a well-groomed trail towards the top of the mountain. I needed the exercise almost as much as Gyp, so I chose uphill, but the whole time I was thinking, “If there are bears around here, this is where they’ll be.” It’s spring, it was snowing lightly when we arrived, just the time for hungry, cranky bears to be out looking for something to eat. Luckily, there was no one or no thing on the trail but Gyp and me.

The next morning, again thinking about a possible bear encounter, I guided Gyp down towards the river, which happened to run right up next to Interstate 80 – practically deserted at this time of the morning, though an occasional semi roared by every few minutes. We found an old unused road littered with rocks just the right size to easily twist an ankle, and I negotiated my way with care, the river and highway easily visible to my left. When the trail petered out, we found ourselves next to a highway bridge, and a nice flat sloping rock with a view of the river. I sat down, enjoying the sunrise, and watched Gyp stare at the rapids, looking like she wanted to herd them.

A few cars, but mostly semis, drove past, the just-rising sun glinting off their windshields. At one point, a CalTrans truck drove by, and the driver honked his horn in greeting. I waved back, thinking, “Gosh, they’re awfully friendly for 5am.” After a time, we turned and hiked back to camp for our breakfast, me thinking how I’d cleverly avoided any early-morning bear encounters.

Later that morning, a ranger dropped by and said, “By the way, don’t leave any dog food out. One camper did last night, and a bear raided his camp this morning. And then the bear went down by the river right over there” – pointing to the exact spot where I’d started my riverside hike – “but he’s gone now.”

“When, exactly, was this?” I wanted to know.

Nonchalantly, “Right about daybreak.” Oh. So that’s what that CalTrans worker was trying to tell me.

Ruth’s next post: Part 2: Dogs, deer, cows, and crack dealers.