Resting on the Third Evening.
“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” — Raymond Inmon.
When the sun sets and the evening glow permeates the horizon line, the Valley is filled with an essence unobtainable by any camera-filter or travelogue. Even if you go to the internet-search-engine of your choice and type in ‘Yosemite Valley,’ you will be hard-pressed to find an image rivaling the beauty of being there. Pictures behind a computer-screen don’t do the scene justice. People often stare at the stars when they want to feel insignificant; you can gain the same effect when looking at certain parts of the ground.
Sitting on a fallen log and trying to ignore my body’s joints screaming in unison, I simply took in the evening-glow and waited for supper. A portable gas-grill was boiling water our hiking-group had filtered from a nearby stream .Freeze-dried fettuccine-alfredo was on the menu tonight and truth to be told, I couldn’t wait. Lunch had been a healthy breakfast of Pop-Tarts and beef jerky — out here in the sticks, a meal reaching the threshold of ‘edible’ was considered a minor miracle .
For a serious backpacker, even freeze-dried food could be considered a luxury.
I tried standing up and my knees protested to the point where I fell over. By comparison, it hurt less to crawl. Three straight days of hiking had taken their toll.
My backpack carried all the wilderness-necessities: cooking utensils, some food, a change of clothes, a water-filter, and even a sleeping bag strapped on top. On a man barely surpassing five feet (1.6 meters) and holding a physique you might see at a comic-book-store or video-game-emporium, a venture into the wilderness was a recipe for muscular disaster. The people hiking with me all stood at or around six feet high (1.8 meters) and even though their horizontal-shapes varied, they had more mass to work with than I did.
My dad was one of them. He said he was ‘a little sore’ but laughed when I told him it how it hurt to sit down. He’d done backpacking trips into the wilderness for fun all the time and this was the first time he’d asked me to join him. Months ago — when he first popped the question — I said something along the lines of ‘yeah sure, that sounds pretty cool. When do we go?’
Fast-forward five months later.
If my body was sentient, it would’ve killed me.
The orange glow descended into a purple-blue haze and the last few sun drops disappeared behind the horizon line. In our little camping area, the smell of freeze-dried pasta wafted and unleashed a ravenous hunger like I’d never felt before. There were five of us — my dad, my dad’s hiking-buddy, the hiking-buddy’s two kids who were around my age (late teens and early twenties), and myself. When we doled out the pasta into five bowls, I downed it all in about three bites. Flavorless to be sure…yet satisfying all the same.
On that night, I learned just how good freeze-dried food could be if you were hungry enough to eat it.
The three other things I learned while hiking in the Valley will stay with me until the day I die.
Hardcore Hiking vs. Casual Tourism.
“If there’s a bear attack in the woods, all you have to do is run faster than the slowest person.” — Dad, on bears in Yosemite.
If you’ve never been to Yosemite Valley, allow me to paint a picture for you; one you can’t get by doing an image search.
There are the regular tourist-trap areas of Yosemite Falls: the museum-cabins where Native-American tools and memorabilia are held, the grocery store containing every single kind of ‘civilized’ comfort food you could imagine, the tents and campers for those only in the Valley for a few days, the public restrooms, the showers, and the park rangers willing to help out if a problem arises.
Then there is the Wilderness.
The Wilderness was where we made our home.
For backpackers like my Dad, merely being in the Valley is not enough. Taking a rental car from the airport, driving to the Valley, and pitching a tent are things only done by filthy casuals who are too scared to embrace man’s natural inclinations.
For the real adventurers, only strapping a backpack full of necessities and then venturing off will satisfy their thirst to flirt with different kinds of death. To them, starvation, dehydration, possible injury, disease, or a casual bear encounter was a better way of playing Russian Roulette. You might meet other groups of people on the trails. You might not. Everything else was left up to nature.
This has a technical term. It’s called backpacking.
I call it insanity.
Yosemite is divided into multiple zones. The zone we were traversing was the Highway 120 area of the Park — up the northeast corner. The area was closed off during the winter months, so Dad and Co. saw our July-trip as the perfect opportunity to exploring areas only available at certain times. We planned to be out there for at least four days — maybe five if we slowed down and took our time. It was a leisurely pace but the backpack made sure every step felt heavier than normal.
Even a vacation-journey was not for the faint of heart; on the second night of our intrepid adventure, a bear sneaked into the campground when we were sleeping. Somehow, miraculously, none of us woke up — the only evidence of a bear in the campground were the massive teeth-marks on Dad’s backpack and Vaseline dripping from the punctured first-aid-bag inside. Evidently, the bear disliked the taste of Vaseline and decided humans weren’t worth the trouble.
The pictures I took were on a basic flip-phone that died before I could even do anything with them. As a result, I don’t have any photos to upload in addition to this piece.
What I do have is the wisdom what the Valley was trying to tell me.
The Scenes Which Changed My Thinking.
1. You Don’t Have to Travel Out of the Country to Experience Something Alien — As a resident of the Midwest, I’d never seen anything resembling the mountains and valleys I saw before me. Rolling hills, maybe. A network of peaks and valleys with the almost-Pacific-Northwest as the architect? Not in a million years. This was an America I’d only heard about or saw on Google images. Maybe if the National Geographic Channel was on, then you would get an idea of what a different side of the country looked like. Seeing it up close was a revelation in not only what America could look like but factual evidence that a different America existed from the one I was accustomed to.
2. Family Bonding Works Better Away from Home — When you’re in a familiar place, such as your home state — or your literal home — the surroundings breed comfort. In a place like Yosemite, where you’re far away from Midwestern hills or flats, no fancy hotels or fast-food-chains will bring you back down to modernity. When your family, your friends, and you all decide to take a backpack out in strange lands, it forces you to get creative in how you communicate and interact. What would be a normal cell-phone conversation turns into trying to decide the best way to move around the fallen logs or hazardous zones. When the stakes of well-being are increased, it forces family-and-friends talking about scenarios they wouldn’t normally talk about.
3. The Best Scenery Provides the Best Thinking — I will admit upfront that I am not a sand-and-surf fan. If you asked me to pick between the mountains and the beach, I will pick the mountains almost one-hundred-percent of the time. On a beach, clairvoyance still arrives like the waves lapping against the shore. You see the ocean — maybe a couple of clouds — and it gives you the opportunity to think. In a place like Yosemite, you don’t have a choice; the massive trees, crumbling mountainside, and snow-capped peaks demand your intuition. If writer’s block ever makes you stumble, taking a trip to a National Park is a good recipe to cure it.
Back to the Campfire.
Letting the food digest, the five of us watched the evening turn almost completely black; only the moon and the portable grill provided any light. Every single muscle in my body cried out for a tent and sleeping bag. I couldn’t blame it. An owl hooted. Maybe two. Sounds of a small animal rustling through the foliage. My dad and I had already set up the tent we shared and as the other group-members returned to their tents, he turned to me and said:
It doesn’t get much better than this.
A million things objectively better than not having access to unlimited toiletries and air-conditioning raced through my mind. Then the owl hooted in the darkness and I looked at the moon — a brilliant orb hanging high — daring man to make a verdict on nature.
I thought about the sunset and the freeze-dried-fettuccine after a solid seven hours of hiking.
No. No it doesn’t, I replied.
I crawled inside the tent and fell asleep immediately.
 The events described in this piece happened eight years ago and I’ve still never felt a hunger come close to that night.