It did not feel right to me to enter this turning-over-a-new-leaf (if you will) phase of life by simply driving away and starting class…a desk job to a classroom desk?
No. Not quite right.
I felt I needed to go to the woods immediately, needed to be among trees, in quiet, and alone. I needed time to process, time for silence. I needed time to be in my thoughts and also to not think at all, which I find I can only do when I’m intoxicated by the aroma of sap + pine + decomposing leaves.
So I decided to do something I’d long talked of and have long been ashamed of having not got around to – I went to Yosemite National Park.
Even the drive in was enough to send me into a childlike state of glee. I felt like I was driving into Jurassic Park when I saw the sign: a sense of make-believe and giddy anticipation. Every bend in the road offered gifts and I was hard-pressed not to pull over constantly to take a picture and just take time to look. I was swooning at the sight of so many trees – vast canopies in the valley viewed from above, an aesthetic border to the road for sunlight to play with shadows, a canvas for lichen to decor.
I didn’t know if or when I’d get a view of the valley on the drive in. I was happily listening to a mixed tape made by a friend, and the long “Let Down” by Radiohead was on, and I took a bend in the road, and suddenly – there it was. The Ansel Adam’s image I had stared at daily growing up, framed in my bedroom: Yosemite Valley. Needless to say I couldn’t have been anything further from “let down” (although that Radiohead song is now my Yosemite theme for henceforward, any listen will bring me to this moment instantly). I was at a loss of breath. I cried alone in my car as I drunk in the sight, confused by my own emotions. Apparently, this was just what I needed.
I had a brief hike in a meadow near Hodgdon Meadow Campground first. No real route in mind. The lighting was spectacular – this was mostly a photo safari for me.
My day hike of choice, however, was a fusion of 2 routes (essentially the reverse loop option described in the post linked here):
- I parked (for free) at Curry Village where you can then either take the free shuttle (leaves every 15 – 30 minutes depending on what time you are trying to catch it) and get off at the Happy Isles stop or you can walk about 1 mile to the Mist Trail trailhead.
- I started on the Mist Trail, then at Vernal Falls footbridge I took the John Muir trail option up to Nevada Falls
- At Nevada Falls I went down the Mist Trail option to make a loop, ending back at the same trailhead
If you want to replicate the same loop, I recommend going the direction I went : go on the John Muir Trail on the way up and the Mist Trail on the way down. The John Muir Trail has more switchbacks with a challenging but gradual grade. The Mist Trail is mostly granite stairs with a pretty significant, almost vertical, grade. It requires caution going down, but going up seemed to be breaking many-a-spirit of people I passed on my downward journey. Takes about 4-5 hours I’d say.
The weather was perfect. The light just beginning to have a tinge of autumn in it. And – the early bird get the trail to herself! Since it was a week day and I got an early beginning, I had many sections quite to myself on the way up. On the way down, I felt a salmon swimming upstream. But I had my first taste of Yosemite as if it were my own, almost as John Muir must have seen it for himself many years ago.
There is a larger truth to my Yosemite trip, which is this: choosing to leave my home and all those most treasured in my heart was a heavy thing to select. That might sound over dramatic, but it feels as such. So – I needed something to look forward to, something that would make driving away less impossible. Yosemite became a salve, and I cannot wait to revisit its spirit healing powers again – as soon as possible since it is now my neighbor.