The One and Only Yosemite National Park

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From Andrew: After leaving chilly and rainy Vancouver early on a Sunday morning, we made as Alan Guebert would say “serious tracks” to Salem, Oregon to settle in, catch up with the rest of the 21st century, and re-familiarize ourselves with our iPhones.  Gracie caught up on Sunday news shows as well as her writing and editing, I worked on a few client projects, and we enjoyed the return of our unlimited calling plan by chatting with friends and family. Our Salem hosts were kind Airbnb’ers who felt a lot like an aunt and uncle — one was dressed as Raggedy Ann when we arrived since she was heading out to a Halloween party and the other host put his leaf blower to excellent use to clean the maple leaves off Fordy post-thunderstorm. (We think they were secretly Midwesterners.)

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From Salem we made our way past the powerful vortex of Mt. Shasta (we waved to Grandma Jill) and on to Redding, California for the night.  Here Airbnb connected us with what has to be the coolest couple in northern California.  By coolest we mean they were scarily just like us. Josh and Megan, you are our California twins because 1) Josh wears fleece vests and drinks Bridgeport beer — our recent Portland find!, 2) Megan is a nonprofit fundraiser and shares Gracie’s fondness/hatred of Raiser’s Edge, 3) Work potlucks are taken seriously by all — Josh’s rosemary chicken and homemade Snickers cheesecake were awe-inspiring, 4) Megan’s obsession with lavender made her Gracie’s immediate Provencal pal, and 5) their dog Sally and Sally’s beloved one-legged, one-armed Spiderman toy is all we’d ever want in a future dog. So in summary, Megan and Josh went from total strangers to road trip besties in about 5 minutes.

Josh and Megan also proved to be encouraging and helpful friends when it came to discussing our next stop: Yosemite National Park. They had spent part of their honeymoon there and they graciously shared helpful hiking tips and must-see parts of the park. So that said, Megan and Josh — we hope our Yosemite experience doesn’t disappoint — here goes!

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As we approached the west entrance of Yosemite through some of the recently wildfire ravaged forest and began climbing through the Sierra Nevadas at over 8500 feet, we were quickly greeted by snow and slushy roads.  Now, I’ve done some serious Midwest winter driving, including the three times I drove my parents’ VW Bug out of the ditch thanks to a favorite field driveway and the memorable time Alan and Catherine asked me to drive their old Ford Taurus back from southern Illinois on a very snowy Christmas Eve. (Hmm were they testing me?) However, I’ve never been at the wheel on the edge of a cliff heading into snowy Yosemite valley. Our $1 million in travel rescue coverage soon crossed my mind, specifically where the hell is the emergency roadside assistance number.

But thanks to The Lord Above and Fordy’s fearlessness, we arrived into the valley and immediately our eyes found the big guy: El Capitan. When I spotted El Capitan with my own eyes, I felt like I personally discovered it. I turned to Gracie and the first words out of my mouth were “GRACE look!” As if she wasn’t already looking at this granite monolith directly in front of us. (She was.) That afternoon we hiked and explored more of the beautiful fall foliage in Yosemite valley and throughout the Merced river valley. I was hankering for a kayak, bad.

For lodging we had hoped to score a room at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel, but it was $500/night and as you all know I recently quit my paying Silicon Valley job, so we settled on a little hostel outside the park named Yosemite Bug. “The Bug” thankfully had no bugs, but did have plenty of hippies, a communal kitchen, a cafe, and a bed in the “Hetch Hetchy” room for us. Even though it was chilly and technically off-season, we soon learned that Yosemite doesn’t really have an off-season, and the Bug was still bustling and full of travelers. Case in point, when we ventured into the shared kitchen to cook some pasta on our first night, we found it full of Bug guests speaking German, Russian, and French. It was like the UN cafeteria in there. No one could communicate with one another, two pots of water were boiling over on the stove, and one guy was hovering over a bizarrely large cauldron-like bowl with two tea bags in it. Since we didn’t want to fight our way into International Iron Chef, we saved our pasta for another night and grabbed a bite at the Bug cafe.

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Day two in the park held breathtaking hikes through the famous Mariposa Grove, more of the valley, Tunnel View, and then onto Mirror Lake and speech-defying Half Dome. The snow had closed Glacier Point and Tioga Road, so we visited the Ansel Adams studio and Gracie bought about $56 worth of of postcards. We than met a Yosemite mega-celebrity: Park Ranger Shelton Johnson. Ranger Johnson is a main character in Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Upon meeting him, I pretty much lost it entirely and asked him everything I could about parks, what it’s like to be a ranger, what is Ken Burns like, how often does he see bears, where is he from, you get the idea. He politely answered all of my questions and wasn’t the slightest bit fazed by my obsession with him. He must get a bunch of us weirdos a lot.

My man Shelton suggested that we set up our camp chairs for happy hour in the El Capitan meadow for sunset, which we promptly did once we enjoyed an early happy hour at the Ahwahnee lodge bar. (The bill for two drinks came to a very reasonable $35.)

So we’re in the meadow, looking up at the big guy, enjoying some drinks and snacks, and after about 10 minutes, Gracie asks if those microscopic specs on the side of the rock face could be climbers. I quickly threw out the idea as totally ridiculous because who climbs El Capitan?  It extends more than 3,000 feet from base to summit and is a sheer drop. But we pulled out the trusty binoculars (thanks Tom and Susan Smith!) and sure enough, there were seven people on the side of that insanely huge granite slab. Upon further research, these ambitious human beings also camp and sleep on the side of the monolith during their ascent — for an average of 5 days. The climbers reminded us of Joe The General and Adrianne in Seattle — WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

We took in the valley’s vast beauty and basked in the setting sun that evening, promising each other that we’d make another Yosemite visit and we wouldn’t wait another 28 years to come again. It’s now part of us and we are already longing to return someday. John Muir said it best,

I must return to the mountains—to Yosemite. I am told that the winter storms there will not be easily borne, but I am bewitched, enchanted, and tomorrow I must start for the great temple to listen to the winter songs and sermons preached and sung only there.

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