Every story has to begin somewhere. On November 12, 1997, in a Starbucks in Danville, California, fate was so kind to me to introduce me to my future wife Gineth (I call her Gina for short). She had the house coffee and I had a double mocha. We talked until the place closed down, and then kept talking while the workers stacked the tables on the outside patio. Gina was already living a life of adventure, being a young woman from Costa Rica who had come to the United States studying English. At the time I was working a dreary dead-end job in a machine shop in Concord, and her tales of her life's journey to that point fascinated me. I grew up in Wyoming, which embedded in me a great love of the outdoors. She grew up in Costa Rica, but had the same love of outside spaces and the freedom to explore unknown places. I fell in love with her quickly, and by May of 1998 asked her to marry me, a proposal she graciously accepted.
Even before we were engaged, we had set up a camping trip together to Lake Tahoe. This worked out greatly to our advantage, as we just added an extra day and night to first take in Reno, Nevada, and the Silver Bells Wedding Chapel. We did not tell our parents we were getting married. I was making only $9/hour at my job, and was worried they would think we weren't ready for the big step of matrimony. On the drive to Reno, we stopped at the first sign of snow and made time to walk around. Gina had seen snow once before, on a ski trip the previous year, but it was still very new to her. Coming from Wyoming, snow was like an old friend to me, and I relished the opportunity to show Gina how to start a snowball fight! As we continued up into the Sierra's, Gina could not stop herself from exclaiming how beautiful the scenery was, the huge forests of evergreens, rushing Truckee River, and of course, the fantastic snow-capped peaks. I knew I had found the right girl for me.
Upon arrival at our hotel, The Hilton, in Reno we had a little time to kill before our reserved nuptial time. We wandered through the casinos, playing mostly just the nickel and dime slot machines. On one of her first pulls at a machine, Gina struck paydirt and we soon had a whole cup full of nickels and dimes, which we steadily lost over the next hour or so. We returned to the hotel and I phoned the chapel to send the limo to pick us up. I had bought a suit jacket from a thrift store, and Gina had a simple, but very pretty, white dress. She had a simple bouquet that was made of plastic flowers, that we had also bought at the thrift store. We went down to the front of the hotel and waited for the limo. And waited..... and waited...... and waited. No one was showing up! My bride-to-be was quickly losing patience. After about 30 minutes of waiting around (in our wedding clothes, remember) I hastily suggested we go back to the room and call the Chapel (this was before the advent of cell-phones). "If I go back to that room, then the wedding is off!" a frustrated Gineth announced to me. I found a nearby pay-phone instead, and explained the situation to the Chapel people. It seems the original driver had become "lost" or at least that was their explanation, and a new driver was sent immediately. Finally, after another 15 minutes or so of pensive waiting, our limo showed up and we were on our way to begin our life together as man and wife.
The day after the wedding we headed up to Tahoe City and the National Forest campground to begin our honeymoon. We had bought all the gear for the adventure new, and it had certainly strained our tiny budget at the time. Still, we were able to book ourselves onto a tour of the Lake, and spent a wonderful first few days in the mountains together. On our last night, I had purchased my favorite barbeque cut of meat at the time, a large tri-tip, for our dining enjoyment. We had no portable barbeque though, but the campsite grill would suffice. Not knowing how much we would eat, I of course bought too much meat, but we gladly stowed this away in our cooler, for this would make great sandwiches when we returned home the next day. We stayed up with the fire late, then retired to our tent. Everything was fine until about 3 am. That's when Gina woke me up from my peaceful slumber. "Honey, whats that noise?" I could hear a gentle scraping sort of sound coming from outside. Gina started to sound a little alarmed, "I think there's an animal out there." Slowly, I came awake. "It's probably just a raccoon or something, sweetie. I'm sure we can just scare it off." But then we heard something that was surely NOT a raccoon. Large, grunting noises and more sliding sounds as if a heavy object was being pushed across the ground. Since I wear contacts, and was still searching the tent for my glasses, I suggested to Gina to peer out of the tent and see what the clamor was all about. Her next words were what really woke me up in a hurry though, and sent my mind scrambling for the next action to take. 'HONEY, IT'S A BEAR!" she told me, although her voice had now shrunk to barely above a whisper.
My mind reach far for a solution to our new rather desperate situation. A bear was in our campsite, and was rummaging through our cooler, in search of the tri-tip that he had no doubt smelled from miles away earlier in the evening. We agreed we should try to scare him off, maybe with some loud noises or something. Our tent was maybe about 25 feet away from the picnic table where the cooler, and now the bear, was. We were afraid too, to draw too much attention to ourselves, it's better that the bear eat the contents of the cooler, rather than turn his attention to us. I then remembered that my car, a 1990 Firebird (my pride and joy before I had met Gina) had an alarm on it. Not a good alarm with a panic button, like the one I have now has, but an alarm nonetheless. When activated it made a chirping sound and the emergency lights flashed. It was our only hope, we decided. I activated then de-activated the alarm, and the chirping noise and light show was enough to just startle the bear for a minute. Gina and I raced from the tent over the Firebird and jumped in. The bear, seeing now the ruse that had momentarily interrupted his meal, had run halfway up a small hill adjacent to our site. Seeing the danger was passed, he now started to saunter his way back to our picnic table. "He's coming back!" Gina alerted me. So I started up the engine and hit the horn a couple of times. Not the most heroic of rescues, but it was enough to scare him off for the night. Too worked up to sleep, Gina and I spent the next couple of hours in the car, until there was enough daylight for us to feel safe enough to get out.
Our cooler had been completely emptied of all its contents, save one Coca-Cola. "I guess bear's don't like Coke." There were bite marks in the top of cooler too. "I guess he didn't like the taste of the cooler, either" Gina joked, as the good humor and optimism that always serves our relationship well was already a part of us. We laughed about our experience - how I had been too blind to see the bear, and didn't speak of how close a call we had just had. The night before, the cooler had spent the night right next to our tent. Had we not moved it out to underneath the picnic table that night, we might have had much more of a close encounter with our bear friend. We packed up our site, and went out for breakfast that morning before heading home. I should have known right then, our marriage was not going to be the dull ordinary kind. Our exciting and eventful life together had begun.