Friday, May 08, 2015

Western Lemonade

Sometimes life doesn't even throw you lemons.
Sometimes the sweetest, coolest lemonade pours straight from the sky and quenches the thirst of your soul. 

We left Kentucky for a little vacation time only 4 days ago. 

Sure, it's beautiful. Land of bourbon and bluegrass and equine champions. But we were craving some mountains; the kind of the west, the kind that make you wonder. A wonder so deep that you feel like you just shot up with Monet and Van Gogh and have beauty pulsing in your veins.

So powerful and vast and wild. 
Just seeing these makes my head spin.


We rented a car for convenience, hit up an REI for supplies and a groceries for foods and lunch. Dried fruits, nuts, and an array of dehydrated meals lined our packs: onward to Yosemite.

We arrived in the afternoon around 4pm on Tuesday. Having been up since 3am Pacific time, we were not pleased to find throngs of people lining every roadway and sidewalk throughout the valley. Shards of rock and peaks of magnificence caved in around us as we waded through tourists to sort out backpacking logistics. This was the Disney World of Nature and apparently everyone and their mom wants to stand below the falls and take a picture. Arabians stood with their arms out atop their bright yellow hummer posing for a photo. A teenager runs to catch up with her group, selfie stick extended. A young set of lovers gaze out into a field while 3 photographers attempt to capture their personal "moment". A school bus unloads 20 pimply, loud adolescents... And we soon found ourselves off trail in a little green woods near a river: a moment of silence. The clearest water gushing over the smoothest rocks and I am reminded of Oregon. God, I love the West.
"Let's get out of here!"
We arrived to our backpackers camp and finally found some quiet. We decided against hiking out that night (having only 3 hours of daylight to hike 4 miles straight up didn't seem very appealing). We pitched tent and dined on meat, cheese, and wine while warding off the raccoons out for their evening meal. Sleep came early since we'd had so little since leaving the bluegrass. 

We woke up when we woke up.
That's what you do when you're on vacation.

This is what I had to tell Kenton, who wanted to set five alarms so we could climb out of our tent before any other mammal was alive. We still woke up with the sun and began our climb out of the valley in the cool of the morning. 

Mosquitos pelted us anytime we slowed for the first couple miles, so stopping was out of the question. Thankfully, as we rose in altitude and sunshine, the vampires let up and soon our only enemy was the steep of the climb. In ~3 miles we gained 3,000 ft of elevation. The sun was hot and wonderful. The hardest part of the trip: that's what we kept telling ourselves. (Later we found out we were each caring about 10lbs more than what is considered safe; my pack weighing in at around 40lbs and Kenton's was about 50.) Silly humans. 

Maybe halfway up, we heard a commotion at our feet and, to our terror, we saw a rattlesnake; his tail tremoring only a few feet from our ankles. My lord, did we fast as you can run uphill and with over a third of your body weight clamped to your back. We saw the second rattler not a half hour later and even closer than the last. This, with us deciding to be vigilant. After that I was pretty sure we were going to die.

We had lunch at the top of the switchbacks next to a river. More wine, cheese and meat. For being in the wild, we were dining rather glamorous. 

Our path continued on through the woods: A smooth walk on the soft forest floor lined with towering pines occasionally sprinkled with a neon green moss. The sunlight sliced through spattering our world with brilliant greens and golds. After a few hours I heard a rustle and maybe 50 feet from our trail I saw a black bear hop onto a fallen log. I gasped, shocked, then hooted and clapped. He looked as surprised as I was when he saw us and then clambered back into the forest in response to my ruckus. Thank goodness!!

Our trail eventually led us to one of the most spectacular views of my life... Which I failed to photograph with my camera, but Kenton captured with his. 

We decided not to camp there, which ended up being a massively great decision on our part. Snow was on the forecast so we chose to hike til the near end before setting up camp.

As we hiked through more woods, I scanned our surroundings as had become our habit and there, only 20 feet away, was an even larger blackbear. She sat on her butt and stared.
"Holy shit"
I yelled at her. Clapped my hands. Hooted. She didn't move. I stomped my feet. Behind her a much smaller cub shot up a tree (don't even think about climbing a tree to avoid these guys). Kenton, behind me, "hold on while I take a picture!" 
Finally, she turned and lumbered off into the bushes. I said a few more curse words as my heart throbbed through my chest wall and we continued on our trek. 

We camped here that night:
Clouds illuminated by sunlight encircled the valley walls, but the clear sky opened up into the heavens above us. We hydrated our deliscious chickpea curry and southwestern chicken dishes and devoured them, rinsing them down with the last of our Pinot noir.
The universe has opened up her blessings on us. 

We woke up to snow. 
Stuffing an energy bar into our mouths and our tent supplies into our packs, we made way down the mountain. Soon the snow became slush and areas of the trail became gateways to danger. Still, we dropped our packs and took a detour in order to possibly glimpse a close up of the great falls. We held fast to a metal railing with our feet literally inches from the edge of slush covered rock steps overlooking the valley thousands of feet  below. Once at the bottom of the hundred step detour, we saw nothing of what we expected and our actions were deemed "the stupidest thing we have ever done". We risked life and limb to see the edge of a river and I couldn't wait to be out of there. 

Headed back to the main path, the snow had covered the earth. Suddenly we were in a winter wonderland of cliffs and pine trees taller than houses. Silence of snowfall enveloped us.  Ahead we saw a bobcat and Kenton began tiger calling to send him away. Thus began our descent. Snow, sleet, rain. Step by step we made our way down. Around every corner we saw a new view of the falls, which held us, captivated us, and drew us in. How wonderful is this world of erosion and water and earth. What beauty erupts from the performance of time. 

With each downward slope, new sounds reached us: the dump truck beeper, cars, people.. We erupted from the climb back into an unchanged reality as though we had never left: a school bus of children, a girl with her selfie stick, loiterers consuming the few tables of the deli. We consumed some sandwiches and soup and couldn't wait to evacuate this cold and rainy valley. Onward to the west.