After arriving at Sacramento International Airport late Thursday evening, I grabbed my bag off the luggage belt and walked into the cool California night to meet my buddy Brian and Yoda, his 1980s Toyota pickmup truck. What was odd was that for as old as the truck was, there was not a spot of rust to be seen. Oh those rough California winters, eh? We ride off into the night and talk about current events, how things are going, and where to grab a bite to eat. We made the right choice and grabbed some iconic California Food, In N Out Burger. I ordered the Double Double and went Animal Style on the delicious food. It's getting to be 11pm and we roll into Brian's place where I meet Kona, a friendly Chocolate Lab. Kona likes visitors and we play around a bit before I crash on the couch.
The next day we pack up the grill, the food, our bags, and tent. On the way out of town we stop by In N Out again where I actually meet Brian's girlfriend. What makes this notable is that Brian has been dating his ladytype for about two years, but no one has ever seen actual proof of the girlfriend. We hear good things, but never really saw evidence of existence for quite a while. Well, she does exist and she's a nice girl for Brian. I'm also pretty sure Brian didn't hire an actress to play the part of his girlfriend.
We have our Garmin and our directions. We are on the road like Jack Kerouac and on the road again like Willie Nelson. The population density California is staggering...no matter what time of day or where you go, the place is full. It's a huge cluster and it was great to escape all those people. Along the way there was a disagreement between the Garmin and Google Maps. We chose to use Google Maps and ended up near a prison and a landfill. Blast you, Google Maps! We are back on track after asking for directions from a guy out for a run in an orange jumpsuit. Ha!
The way to Yosemite is a long and winding road. The Sierra's many mountains, sharp curves, and huge RVs keep us alert. One wrong turn and you fall long ways. Go bye bye. The only thing memorable about the drive there, besides passing by the prison, was this guy we saw rowing his bike up the mountain road. My buddy Jesse rode his bike cross country and told me about riding climbs that were miles long, but this guy put a rowing machine on a pair of wheels and was going up the frickin' mountain! Craziness! After stopping in a town a few miles from Yosemite, Brian and I roll into the northwest corner of the park and settle into the Hodgdon Meadow Campground, about 45 minutes northwest of the Yosemite Valley. We put our food in the bear locker, popped up the tent, and played a bit of Stratego before crashing. The moon and night stars were shining bright that night! After being in the city for so long, you forget how nice it is to look up and see the stars.
The next day we pack our sandwiches, make a bit of oatmeal, and head off to hike to the North Dome. We read in the park newspaper about this strenuous 11-mile guided hike that will take around seven hours to complete. Why not, we thought. We meet up with Ranger Andrew Smalldon and a couple from Holland at nine bells. What's strange about hiking is your body freezes while standing, but heats up after your feet start moving. We hiked in our tshirts and pants and threw on our jackets after stopping at the top. Along the way, the ranger told us park information, forest ecosystems, animals, and his experiences in other national parks. His stories like the firefall make the three and a half hour hike to the North Dome easier.
Even for being in reasonable shape for the shape we were in, Brian and I sucked wind at the mile-plus high elevation. Slow and steady is the approach you gotta take while hiking at this altitude. The view at the North Dome was spectacular! To the left was Half Dome and to our right was the Yosemite Valley. We stake out a rock, snap some fotos, and enjoy the view for about 30 or 45 minutes before heading back. The way back took forever. We blamed our poor endurance for our slow feet and sagging heads. Ranger Smalldon scared me when I asked him a question about trees as I pulled the bark off of a dead tree. He was like, "Dude, I'm gonna hafta write you up for doing that to a tree." My eyes widened and I was like, "Oh shoot...but the tree's dead!" And then he was like, "im just givin you a hard time...Gotcha!" He and Brian laughed a bit while my pulse recovered a bit. One thing that I must say is that park rangers are probably the nicest and most optimistic people you can meet. These folks always seem positive and why not. You are out in the middle of nature, you get paid to hike on a trail, and you get to wear a cool uniform.
The last mile and a half took forever. I'm pretty sure the last portion was measured as the crow flies and not how the trail winds. Brian and I get back to Yoda and relax on the tailgate. We snack on the WheatThins and watch the traffic whiz bye. The number of motorcycles we saw in the park that day was large. Tons of Harleys in large groups and a few solo BMW riders whose bikes reminded me of the Long Way Down/Long Way Round riders. That's something my brother and I would like to do...one of these days.
We pick up some firewood at one of the turnouts and head back to our campsite. Why buy firewood when you can grab the stuff from the forest for free? While prepping dinner and enjoying some beverages, we see the rowingbike guy coast into our campsite and we do a double take. "Wanna beer?" we ask him as we prepare the yardbird, rice, and beans. We exchange hellos, offer him a drink, and invite him to dinner. Joeri is a 30-something who is taking a break from Holland and rowing his bike all around the U.S. The rowing bike really is a series of complex levers and pulleys. The setup is just like a recumbent bicycle, but the rider does not propel himself by peddling. Instead, the chain has been replaced by a nylon rope and the rider pushes with the legs while pulling the arms. Talk about a full body workout. Joeri was in shape, but he loved cigarettes During the three hours we ate and drank he prolly smoked at least seven Marlboro Reds...We talked into the night about America, Holland, soccer, the president, and many more topics. I think there was some definite bonding going on between Brian and Joeri when the topic changed to soccer. Both guys talked about the soccer players who they admired and all that…that stuff still is Greek to me. The only soccer players that I know of are Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona. The activity from the long hike and the good drinks took their tool. At about 930 I hit the wall and was dozing off. It was lights out after about two minutes into the sleeping bag.
My body was still on Omaha time and I awoke at 530. I wondered around the campgrounds for a while and returned with some water for the breakfast oatmeal. Day two would be nice and easy after the 11-mile hike did a number on us. Our feet were sore, our muscles were stiff, and our clothes were a blend of BO and campfire. But to be in a place like this will always puts you in a good mood. We ate some breaky and said our goodbyes to Joeri.
It was time to hug some trees so Brian and I set our sights on some Giant Sequoias. There are two groves of these massive trees in Yosemite, the first was about 1.5 hours away from our campsite in the Maraposa Grove and the second was along the way to the Valley in the Merced Grove. Brian and I picked the closer grove and hiked in to see these massive trees. These trees were wicked amazing! You don't appreciate how big they are until you get next to them, crane your neck back, and try to see to the top. Amazing what comes from nature. In all we saw about 15 of these behemoth trees and were astounded by how they dwarfed other large trees around them. The only bad part about hiking into the grove was that we went downhill the entire way…this required hiking uphill to get out. We took our time and enjoyed the sites…this made the hike a bit easier. Check out the size of these things!
It was back on the road and into the Valley. Ah Yosemite…a shrine to human foresight, strength of granite, power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra. This is one area of the national park that you really can't take a bad picture in. Horizontal trees growing from small cracks in the hard granite, majestic views of waterfalls (when they are turned on), and the pine tree smell affect your senses as you cruise through this place. Brian and I stopped for a quick lunch at the Yosemite lodge where I developed some serious hiccups after putting too much Tabasco into the chili. When hit up the local Yosemite souvenir shop where we quickly took advantage of the $1.50 Yosemite Pale Ale craft brew and found a great spot to admire El Capitan while we relaxed. It was during that time I convinced Brian that El Capitan's English translation was The Lieutenant. Gotcha! We then hike our way to Yosemite Falls to people watch and write some postcards to friends back home. The falls weren't working that day, but nature will prolly turn things back on in the spring. It's gotta be impressive when these falls are flowin during the spring snowmelt. We hung out at the falls for a while and then wandered across a few meadows until we came to Sentinel Bridge where we captured some epic shots of Half Dome reflecting off a calm stream. The foto reminded me of the shot that Rafal took of Fitz Roy when he came down to Patagonia for a while. We hung around the bridge, snapped a few fotos, and visited the small Yosemite Chapel afterwards. Nice little place. Overall, I would say that Yosemite was one heck of an experience and would recommend the national park to anyone interested in seeing some great sites and hiking some of the 800 miles worth of trails