Yosemite has a grip on us. It came on slowly as we made our way from the coast of Big Sur wondering what would top the mystique of that dramatic coastline…
Discovering Big Sur
The waves crashing over rugged rocks sending pools of deep blue swirling back to the sea. We drive to one of several pull-offs, pop open our camp chairs and dig into a couple of fresh tamales that Colin picked up from a little road side market. We are several stories above the Pacific, off the only road that winds through this part of the coast. As we scan the ocean a spout of mist captures our attention and then another. Three whales glide up from the surface and show off their smooth backs. From binoculars we spot seals bobbing up and down along the waves. They are hanging in groups and are playfully zipping around each other. It looks like the sun is dipping directly into the ocean transforming the sky with this change in the day. It is a powerful force that seems to pull everyone off the road to watch. And we do, until the sun leaves the sky painted with a burst of brilliant colors.
It’s not just the cliffs that drop into an everlasting ocean, or the sea life that glides just above the surface, or the gleaming sun that still shines in winter. It’s not just the air that smells as if it can only come from something green and fresh, or the thick forest with redwood trees standing strong and towering over everything else. It is each ingredient, stunning on its own, but blended perfectly together to create this place.
It’s also the place we found the most expensive camping. Over New Year’s weekend and we roll in a little late in the day. Every camp spot in every campground (there are several) were full. Until we pulled into a private camp that would gladly sell us one of the last three spots available for $70.00. “Did you just say $70.00…with no hookups!?” I ask the lady who just gave me the price and then confirmed the price. “Yes, that’s correct,” she said with a little attitude to match mine own. I didn’t mean to give her my “what the hell” face. But, what the hell. It was my reaction of pure shock. This isn’t the first time – it happens a lot at the veterinarian’s office. Colin has to have a talk with me while we are in the car before the appointment. He tells me to not make the what the hell face, that the cost will be more than I am ready to pay (always more) and then he will remind me to just smile, handle Sprite, go back to the car when it is all over and he will pay the bill. I know I am not the only one out there who has this look of shock when a price is so much more than you could imagine paying. It’s camping! No hook-ups! We ended up at a hotel in Monterey for less than $70.00 with electricity and indoor plumping. The next morning we head back down the coast when everyone is back to work leaving the place almost empty. At night we scheme and plot ways to acquire riches so that we can own a piece of Big Sur. But we fall asleep before the perfect hustle comes to mind.
The Grip of Yosemite
It’s hard to peel ourselves away, but we have an appointment in Woodland to get more shocks added to our camper (making it much easier to pop-up). We also had a custom fuel holder made by AT Overland Equipment, who so kindly got everything done over the phone and mailed it out to Woodland in just a few days after our initial conversation. This place is worth mentioning. The type of place that you look for reasons to go, to call them, to order something. They are awesome! Thank you so very much, Mario Donovan; http://adventuretrailers.com/
We are so close to Yosemite we feel giddy. On our way there we stop to take a break and eat some lunch. We meet Clete who arrives in a Sprinter van, a bike strapped to the rear and has the same idea about lunch as us. He is heading to Yosemite to check out two climbers who are trying to make history by free climbing the most difficult route on El Capitan. Colin has been following them online and knows about the climb, but we both don’t realize how wide spread the news has traveled and how many fans these climbers have gained.
Climbing on Granite
“Do you see the split down the middle, and then the white crack just above? They are directly under the crack,” says the owner of binoculars that I am borrowing to see these climbers for the first time. They have been working their way up for days and at this point the only way to see them is with a very strong zoom lens or binoculars. El Capitan stands before us. Its grayish-white granite body rises up to 3,000 feet. The climbers have a portaledge set up at the halfway mark secured by ropes. Like a couple of hammocks flowing in the breeze…about a thousand feet up. The longer we stay the more we learn about these two climbers and this feat. Tommy and Kevin have been working towards completing this climb for more than 7 years. They have a crew to help them haul supplies and set ropes. They have fans huddled in small groups along the valley floor and closer to the base. Every day we take the loop around El Capitan and stop to hear about the progress from a few people watching from the base and then we swing back to the valley floor and see what’s cooking there. Everyone with interest has their necks cranned back and binoculars in place. We hear cheering and then learn the climbers have reached another pitch – they must complete 32 to summit. We are so fascinated with this climb that it’s an exciting part of our day to check in and hear about their progress. Several people make a tight circle around Tom in a green puffy coat, who seems to know the most about the climb. He stands behind a camera with a zoom lens that looks about the size of an orange construction cone, which is too big to hold and sits on a tripod. A group of kids gathers around and he allows them to look through the lens while explaining the details of what they are seeing. We are as curious as the kids and I work my way towards the lens. It is the first time I can actually see them as people instead of two colorful bugs. As I take a quick look others are lining up and asking Tom questions. Colin and I are looking at each other and wondering why no one has asked the one question we are dying to know, “Where are they going to the bathroom?” We don’t ask now but find out later from a very reliable source.
Yosemite unfolds its alluring spell the longer we stay. Every morning we walk to the ranger station and say “one more night” and hand over $20 bucks. The ranger smiles and says, “I knew you would be back,” and asks what our plan is for the day. Cherry (the ranger) is very helpful and whips out a map before I can respond. She uses a highlighter and circles a few of her favorite spots. We venture towards several. Waterfalls crushing down in thin streams, lakes reflecting the landscape like mirrors, granite mountains with bold faces as if they have been carved in their spot forever. We find ourselves back at El Capitan but this time we hike to the base. It’s a short hike that works through the woods and leads us to boulders that we scramble over to reach the base of the mountain. Without a second thought we both reach out and press our hands over the smooth surface and look up. It’s a perfect vertical face so polished and slick we both can’t imagine actually climbing this, so we jokingly take turns trying. Our attempts end less than a foot off the ground. How are they sticking to this surface?
The only logical explanation is that for a few days gravity was kind enough to grant these climbers a pass and it flipped its role to lifting up instead of pulling down. We discuss this with Clete (who we met at the lunch spot on our way in) over cheese, crackers, Heineken and a little pickled Herrring in his Sprinter rig. I dive right in but Colin’s stomach was feeling a little less adventurous after watching Clete give the jar a sniff and shrug his shoulders and say, “maybe its turned.” Clete was nice enough to invite us over (including Sprite who sat under Clete’s chair and made herself right at home). A retired principal from Minnesota, but since moved to Phoenix, Clete said Road trips are more of his thing than his wife’s so he set out alone…visiting old friends and making new ones along the way.
On our last day, we make our final loop around and hear news that Kevin and Tommy are going to summit. The smallish crowd has grown into media trucks, satellite dishes, cameras and lights – the circus has arrived. Colin notices a truck hauling a four wheel camper (same as us) parked on the side of the road. He mentions to me that they were camping in the loop next to us the night before and wants to go over and say hello. About 45 minutes later, I can still see him chatting with a woman who owns the truck & camper. He comes back to give me a quick update…the guys are not going to summit until later this afternoon. He has also found out about the bathroom situation. They are using wag-bags and send them down in tubes for a crew to pick up. We both find this funny because we have wag-bags. Very useful! Although we don’t have a crew or tubes. The woman Colin has been chatting with is actually Kevin’s step-mother. She and Kevin’s dad have come to watch and cheer them on. They discuss the training and the time commitment that these two have taken on to get to this point. Meeting her was a facinating way to end our stay. We leave Yosemite and I catch myself looking in the side view mirror secretly hoping we could just turn around. I think a year is too short, you need a lifetime and then some. There are so many beautiful places to explore.