Tough Times Never Last

Happy van days in the Eastern Sierra, 2000

This story is part of a collection of humorous moments we found in the way back when archives. They have little to do with Alps’ mountain sports, but everything to do with the moments in between. We found them funny and wanted to share.

Summer 2001

We’d landed on rock bottom.

Walking along a roasting hot Bishop street, we knew times had swung. Just the day before, we’d had it all, a buffed out VW Westfalia that we lovingly called Maggie, and our first major magazine assignment. But today, our sweet Maggie was a ravaged carcass, with a blown engine, cratered roof, and shredded interior. In one little planning error, we’d lost our home, office and car. In our bank account we had enough for perhaps a new set of windshield wipers, which we actually needed, they’d even been torn off.

Walking along, in hopeless silence, a car passed by with a message that, while just a bumper sticker, and an annoying cliche, made us laugh at the absurdity of our situation.

“Tough times never last, tough people do.”

And so we did.

It all started with that magazine assignment, the one we’d been hoping to land to secure some work and notoriety. Backpacker Magazine hired us to head into the Sierra for a few days to shoot a story. The job came about suddenly, as we were on our way back to Bishop from, among other things, what would turn out to be a very influential stop at Trader Joes.

We returned to Bishop, packed our backpacks and with the knowledge that we were, “on assignment”, held our chins high as we headed for North Lake in our not so trustworthy VW.

We cherished that faded yellow van, had extraordinary adventures from it, and loved the lifestyle it afforded us as we built our photo business.

Arriving to North Lake, we parked, threw on our packs and disappeared into the backcountry. A few days later, after a job well done and a much needed return to town, we returned to our awaiting friend Maggie. Strolling up to the van we noticed some shredded bits of shattered fiberglass laying about. “That sucks, a car got broken into by a bear”, we observed, remembering the truck with a camper shell that had been parked next to us. As Janine dug in her pack for the key, I stood with my pack still on, surveying the assortment of fiberglass shards. One piece was larger than the others and so I kicked at it, turning it over and there, to our horror, was a recognizable feature from… Maggie’s ceiling’s interior.

If someone had been standing on the other side of the van, they would have seen, like synchronized swimmers, the faces of two, skinny and sunburnt hikers both rear up with eyes peeled to what they might find. What they did find was of great sorrow. A crater.

What followed was a very difficult time from that moment of realization to the moment that the key was found, inserted into the sliding door, and the door yarded back to reveal complete and utter devastation. Yes, a bear had climbed on top of the van from the front windshield, in doing so removing the previously mentioned windshield wipers (which luckily we could afford to replace), and then proceeded to rip open the skylight, causing weakness in the fiberglass top and thus permitting the bear to plummet into the vehicle where he/she landed in a paradise of Trader Joes bags filled with pasta, jams, ginger snaps, Nutella, honey, and various other carbohydrates, all items that bears seem to enjoy.

car damage by bear

Welcome home!

Based on the fact that the pop top’s canvas was shredded beyond repair, we can only assume that the bear had some difficulty exiting the interior after gorging on $150 worth of groceries.

Sadly, this story is only half complete.

I will leave the description of our frustration, especially all the many phrases we used, to the imagination and begin part two of the tale: The starting of the engine.

Once accepting of the fact that our home/vehicle/office was destroyed, we climbed in, shut the door, and started for Bishop. Not five minutes into our drive the engine, in an inexplicable eruption of smoke and violent noise, dramatically, and with a real sense of finality, blew up. Not missing a beat, we carried on pedal to the metal, the engine nearly melting down, plumes of blue smoke billowing from the rear, shredded canvas trailing in the wind and the occasional Clif Bar wrapper being sucked out one of the pop top’s many orifices.

Amongst all of this we realized one thing positive. Bears, in some sort of gleeful and final add insult to injury kind of action, typically divest of their harvest prior to leaving a vehicle. A kind of icing on the cake for the returning owner of the car. But in our instance, nothing. The bear had politely waited until clawing its way from the van to offload. We’d been defiled, yes, but shit upon, thankfully, no. We would survive.

By Dan Patitucci


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