As I mentioned, last weekend I went to Yosemite National Park. I go at the same time every year for a veterinary conference. It doesn’t matter who is speaking. In fact, it could be the most boring topic on earth and I’d still pay my money and get in the car and drive the three plus hours to get there, in a snow storm, if need be. Because it’s Yosemite. And Yosemite saved me.
Now how did a national park save my life, you ask? Well I’ll tell you. And no, this isn’t really about books, but I hope you will all forgive me, just this once. In my post about PAT CONROY MONTH 2013!! I talked about my life-long struggle with weight. I mentioned then that I began to think about exchanging my sedentary life for a more active and healthy one while on a trip to Yosemite the weekend before my thirty-fifth birthday in 2012. The story sort of starts there, but really my love affair with Yosemite goes back way longer than two years ago.
When I was a kid, we stayed at Camp Mather for a week every few summers. This is the San Francisco Park and Recreation stronghold just outside the boundary of Yosemite National Park off Highway 120. I loved going there. Well, I would have loved going to Disneyland more, but Camp Mather was pretty fun, too. It was a big family trip: my mom, aunts, uncles, cousins, and me. There was lots of stuff to do at Camp Mather. There was a pool, and a lake (which was dirty and scary and I wouldn’t go in), and horses and donkeys, and hay rides and marshmallow roasting and movies. There was also dirt. I really didn’t like getting my feet dirty when I was little, so the dirt was kind of a problem. And it was hot, too. For a kid from San Francisco, the heat of the middle of the state was pretty unbearable. But there was a pool, so that made up for it. And once a trip, we would drive down into Yosemite Valley for the day. That was amazing because there was a giant gift shop. People who know me know that I have sort of a shopping problem, so my early love of a gift shop will come as no surprise. I also remember Half Dome, of course, Bridalveil Falls, and torturous hikes at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. So hot! So far! And there’s no water in these dumb waterfalls! Why couldn’t we just be playing in the pool? Or at Disneyland? Or back at the cabin reading? Nothing changes with me, I swear. Not in thirty-seven years.
And then I didn’t go to Yosemite for a long, long time. I had a special place in my heart for that park, but no burning desire to go back, really. What would there possibly be to do there? But my husband had never been. In the summer of 2008 my high school friends organized a camping (blech) trip to a campground just outside Yosemite, so we took a couple trips into the valley while we were there. And it was amazing. Beautiful. Why didn’t I remember how beautiful it all was? The heat wasn’t so bad at that point because after fourteen years living in the Sacramento Valley, the San Francisco has basically been cooked off of me. The problems that I had on that trip were that we took a hike up at Tuolumne Meadows, which was “kid friendly.” Only the kids had an easy time on that hike. We adults were not used to the elevation up there, and the hike we took had a six-hundred foot elevation gain. So we went from about nine-thousand feet to about ten thousand feet. In a little over a mile. This was not easy for me in 2008. And I was angry at my friends for picking out this hike and then leaving me in the dust, but mostly I was angry at myself for being such a damn wimp and so freaking fat and out of shape that it was so hard for me to do this “kid friendly” hike. Tuolumne Meadows is beautiful, though, and I saw the back side of Half Dome for the first time, which was pretty cool. Of course I had to refer to it as “Half Dome’s ass,” because I’m that kind of person, but I promise to not call it that again in this post. I wanted to return to Tuolumne sometime, in better shape.
In the meantime, my vet school BFF Christina had been going to this Yosemite conference for a couple years, but I never ended up going for one reason or another, until 2011. Thank heavens she was pregnant that trip so wasn’t up for much hiking, because there was no way I was physically capable of much that year. That year, I got to see Yosemite with snow for the first time. And it was so beautiful. I knew this was the time to go, not just because of the snow, but also because there aren’t any people in Yosemite in March. And the waterfalls were so much prettier with water in them. So since then, Christina and I and our families have been going to this conference. I fell in love with the view of Yosemite Falls (and the falls themselves) from the Swinging Bridge across the Merced River on that trip. It’s the picture that’s permanently on my desktop.
The trip that I mentioned in my other post was my 2012 conference trip to Yosemite. This was also the first year that my boss and I went at the same time. She told me about other waterfalls besides Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls. She and her husband went to Nevada falls that year, but the hike up there sounded really hard. This was the year we actually did some hiking, such as it was. Just to Mirror Lake and up to Mariposa Grove. And I was sore for a week. It was on the way down from Mirror Lake that I had my breakthrough. The more I saw of Yosemite, the more I fell in love with it. I wanted to see more. I wanted to see all of it. But to see all of it was something I could not do in the state I was in at the time. I saw pictures of the other waterfalls and I wanted so desperately to be able to see them. Christina and I made a deal that the next year we would be in shape to do Nevada Falls. Of course then I went home and sat and thought for another six months. But eventually I got up and did something.
But by the time 2013 rolled around I was in much better shape and did some hikes, but no Nevada Falls because it was too icy and we didn’t have poles or these things called “Cramp-Ons.” But I saw Vernal Falls for the first time, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Pictures simply do not do it justice. And from that moment I was hooked. I wanted to get to the top of all the waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley. Every single one. No matter how much snow was on the ground.
And that brings me to this year. Last week. My boss did Nevada Falls on the first day of the conference, and the next morning came running up to me, and said, “You have to hike to Nevada Falls this trip. There’s no snow up there! You may never have a chance like this again!” So we did it. It was so beautiful up there. And again I saw “Half Dome’s ass,” only closer this time. And I thought, “Oh my God. I want to go up there. I need to get higher.” The next day we hiked Yosemite Falls. Seven miles, 2500 foot elevation gain. Not fun. I loved every minute of it. I got a bit sentimental up there on Sunday. Thoughts of how much I had changed since the first time I came to Yosemite as an adult six years ago. I never thought I would see the Yosemite Valley from that high up. I almost cried with joy that I had left that unhealthy, weak, lazy version of me behind. But it was on the way back down from Yosemite Falls that Yosemite tried to kill me. Those stupid granite rocks on the path up to the falls are slippery and awkward. I fell twice on my way down the hill. I have a bruised arm, skinned knee, and slightly swollen chin. I’ve been clumsy my whole life and it’s prevented me from doing a lot of things. But not this, not anymore. I laughed both falls off, said, “I guess you can fix fat and out of shape but you can’t fix clumsy!” And I was sore this time for a few days, but I felt like I was entitled this year.
So there you have it. This is the story of how I fell in love with a place, a sport, and a way of life. My annual trips to Yosemite have spurred me to be more active, more prepared for more and more difficult hikes. Next stop: the top of Half Dome.
And because I promised that I would mention books in my post, here are the books I’ve been reading for each trip I’ve taken to Yosemite in the past six years.
June 2008: The Feast of All Saints, Anne Rice
March 2011: Island Beneath the Sea, Isabel Allende
March 2012: Enduring Love, Ian McEwan
March 2013: Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
March 2014: The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, Sebastian Barry and Ever After, Kim Harrison