As Yosemite reveals itself, the Meander begins

I left the city in a mad rush. The dash from Fresno’s airport to Fresno’s REI was frantic. I needed more food, more fuel, and warm socks before heading to Yosemite. And I hoped to get there before dark.

The Meander officially began on May 9, but it was vastly different than I’d expected. It was busy. Too much company and commotion. Too much Griswold-ing. I divided 18 days between tourist time with Jamie and my dad in San Diego, then fun time with Keena’s family in Burbank, then three go-go-go days with Jamie driving the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur. These were positive experiences, but whew …

Mt. Watkins reflects in Mirror Lake.

Mt. Watkins reflects in Mirror Lake.

Finally, with 60 miles of open road between me and three nights alone at Yosemite, it was time for the Meander to begin. Except, it didn’t. I was ready for my cathartic moment. I tried to prime the pump with the Into the Wild soundtrack. Nope. With sun setting, I played the second side of Darkside of the Moon. Still nothing.

And then, as Roger Waters let out his last long “mooooooooooooon”, I rounded a corner and the sign for Yosemite National Park appeared. Finally, I started to cry. Soon, I was preparing for bed at Wawona Campground about an hour south of the famous Yosemite Valley.

That night I dreamt that access to the valley itself had been barred. The entry point immortalized by countless Hudson River School landscapes and Instagram selfies was closed. All I could see was ferris wheels, roller coasters, and other commercial recreation in the distance. Wally World was closed. I was crushed.

Day One

I woke up to the light tapping of rain on my tent. I stepped out of my tent into a pine forest and learned my first lesson of Yosemite. Never separate from your camera. A deer stood less than 15 feet away. Welcome to Yosemite!

My first item of business was a stop at the campground reservation office. To my surprise, I was able to extend my stay to a fourth night and relocate to the coveted valley floor the following morning. Not wanting to spoil the surprise of the valley before moving, I honey-badgered coffee from the nearby lodge and headed to the scenic south rim of the valley en route to Glacier Point.

4,000+ feet of Yosemite Falls.

4,000+ feet of Yosemite Falls.

The hour drive toward Glacier Point meanders through thick forest as it ascends 3,500 feet from Wawona. It was under 50 degrees and the whole place smelled like a Christmas tree lot. I stopped for a short stroll to a meadow where I hoped to see more wildlife. I watched trout (?) swimming in the stream for a while before heading to a five-mile loop hike that passed scenic overlooks Taft Point and Sentinel Dome.

Ignite Phoenix presenter Indiia Wilmott said, “I hate the phrase ‘Words can’t describe.’ Of course they can. They’re words. That’s what they do.” So, I’ll avoid hyperbole and accept that words can indeed describe Yosemite. However, I will not accept that words can do it justice.

After two miles at 7,500 feet, I was a tad short of breath. When I made the final ascent at Taft Point, the rest of my breath was literally taken away. I shed multiple tears and cracked a wide smile as I stared across the valley floor 3,500 feet below me to Yosemite Falls.

I’d never seen anything like it. Not even close. The water doesn’t cascade. It free falls 1,400 feet. It doesn’t form a smooth ribbon. It’s blown, spread, and turned into mist by the wind before collecting in a basin.

Half Dome from Glacier Point.

Half Dome from Glacier Point.

I was mesmerized. Imagine my surprise when a few hundred yards later, I discovered that I only saw the upper falls. Beneath the basin, the water falls further – 2,425 feet in total – before collecting and cutting through the valley floor below.

I spent the rest of the day similarly amazed by the setting. From Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point, I saw the back half of the valley. More waterfalls. More granite formations. Snow-capped mountains.

Day Two

The next morning, I packed up my tent, honey badgered another cup of coffee, and embarked on the hour drive to my new campground in Yosemite Valley.

Just before I entered, I was offered a brief glimpse of the valley and then shoved into a mile-long tunnel. When I emerged above ground again, I was treated to an unreal view – and a sudden turn into Valley View overlook.

The valley opened before me. A light mist shrouded the valley floor, adding a surreal quality to the scene. On each flank, granite cliffs El Capitan and Sentinel Rock protected the entrance like the Argonath river statues in Lord of the Rings. Bridalveil Fall dove 620 feet to the floor. Half Dome peaked out from behind the guardians. In the distance, the snow-capped peaks of the high sierra were partially covered in clouds.

The entrance to Yosemite Valley.

The entrance to Yosemite Valley.

As I parked, I instinctively looked away. Why? I have no idea. It was incredible. I shed another tear or two. John Muir said, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of nature I was ever permitted to enter.” I won’t argue his point.

I determined that my next stop would be the reservation office, where my stay was surprisingly extended for a fifth night. A Friday, no less.

With three guaranteed nights on the valley floor, I suddenly had all the time I could possibly need. That’s when time stopped. There were no more points of interest to get to. There were no more sights to see. The play-by-play blended together into an infinite series of tress and trails and rivers and mountains.

The Meander had finally begun.

Shedding some busy-ness, so I can shed more tears

“There’s no such thing as no man’s land to me. A man just needs a place where he can be wild and free.” ~ the Dr. Pepper Mountain Man

I’m getting restless. The Meander begins exactly two weeks from today. And I cannot wait! (What’s the Meander?)

Dr Pepper Mountain Man

Will my cathartic moment come on a canoe with a bear?

When I started this blog, I thought I’d document my plans and preparations. Alas, that has not happened. March and April were a total blur of busy-ness.

I’d rather not have spent the time working and shopping, but I don’t want to survive on bark and hand-caught Dr. Peppers while on the road. (See the video below.)

Here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to …

  • Making money. I spent March and April overwhelmed and homeless as I worked on freelance projects and rented my house to Airbnb visitors. I was overworked and I didn’t even have a job!
  • Gathering stuff. I severely dislike shopping. Alas, I’ve been on a spree the last few months – from my new Subaru Outback (the Meander Mobile) to minor stuff like my sleeping bag and National Parks pass.
  • Saying goodbye. Six months feels like a long time to be gone. I’ve offered a lot of farewells. I’ve scheduled my going-away party, spent time with my mom, taken my nephews to the zoo, and planned a trip to see my grandparents.

Sadly, the busy-ness has impacted my excitement for the trip. When things were really slow over the holidays, I often shed a tear or unleashed a wide smile in anticipation of the trip. I was so present and aware that little things set me off.

It would happen when I got on the freeway. It’d come while looking at maps of California. When I posted the photo of my new Outback on Facebook, I covered my eyes in my hoodie and had a good little cry as the likes and comments rolled in. (Love me some juicy social engagement.)

As I hoarded dollars in March and April, the lead-up became less emotional. That’s changed in the last week or two as I’ve worked less and prepared more.

Saying goodbye. Planning my party. Even buying just enough coffee to cover me until May 9 but not beyond. All bring a smile – if I’m present enough.

I don’t know if there’ll be a huge cathartic moment between now and May 9. I’ve thought about what music will be playing as I pull onto I-10 West. For the record, it’ll be the Into the Wild soundtrack.

Maybe I’ll break down then. If not, at least I’ll know that in the weeks leading up to my departure, I’ve created enough space to crack some smiles and shed some anticipatory tears.

My itinerary is very fluid. Got a friend with a couch? Let me know in the comments! If not, I may forgo personal grooming and live off the land like the Dr. Pepper Mountain Man …

Departing May 8 in the footsteps of Chris McCandless

salvation mountain

Salvation Mountain: A highlight of the Chris McCandless Tour.

My departure date is set! The Meander commences on May 7. (What’s the Meander?)

People have asked why I’m waiting until May. First, there’s nowhere in the U.S. I’d rather spend springtime than Arizona. Second, my Tempe Leadership commitment doesn’t end until graduation on May 3. So there you have it.

Brothers Birthweek is jumping up a notch in 2013. (Here are pics from Brothers Birthweek 2012.)

On May 7, we’re seeing Built to Spill at Crescent Ballroom. On May 8, we’re embarking on the first leg of my trip: The Chris McCandless Tour. We’ll explore the deserts of Southern California for three days before I put him on a flight back to Phoenix in San Diego.

I know. Chris who? Chris McCandless (a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp) is the foolish adventurer who donated $25,000 to charity, cut off ties with his family and friends, and wandered the West until he starved to death in an abandoned bus near Denali National Park in Alaska.

McCandless’s story was popularized by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild and Sean Penn’s movie of the same name. Eddie Vedder’s song below is just dope on a rope.

Into the Wild-themed stops will include the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain, and Slab City. We’ll also explore Joshua Tree National Park and I may try to drag my brother through the General Patton Memorial Museum.

McCandless, the Into the Wild character, not the man himself, is one of several inspirations for the Meander. To me, his journey was a protest against materialism and an attempt to live one day at a time—to live in the now. Of course, he was also an extremist and isolationist. Trust me, I don’t plan to go off the grid. I doubt McCandless would’ve started a blog.

I’m inspired by the concept of McCandless’s journey as one of exploration and discovery – both external and internal. May 8 can’t get here soon enough!

My itinerary is very fluid. Know a can’t-miss spot? Got a friend with a couch? Let me know in the comments!