Monday, August 29, 2005

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

So I finally did it—took the plunge and left the city for a spell. Headed out on that highway, looking for adventure with the Herman brothers. Before I left, a coworker, a friend, another friend, and a stranger—all women—suggested that maybe it wouldn’t be wise for me to head into the wilderness "alone," i.e. alone with men. In other words, the speculation was that some harm might befall me, a solitary woman, in the company of unchaperoned men. In fact, I’m putting it in much nicer terms than the cautionary comments that were levied my way, including the very blunt, “You’re gonna get raped.” I have to say I found these well meaning reactions to be very bizarre and … well… quaint. I’ve known the older Herman brother for five years now. We’re buddies. The other brother I’d only met once before, but we got along right well. It never for a moment crossed my mind that I might be endangering myself by agreeing to drive to Central California with friends.

Anyway, I wasn’t worried and given that I’m back in one piece, well, hey. Women and men can be friends without anything untoward happening. The only injury I did receive occurred on the first day of our trip, when I sliced my hand open right nicely, while trying to shove a pinecone up Soyboy’s ass. He was bent over, stretching or some such. I saw a pinecone nearby and couldn’t resist. I charged him as perhaps my reproving women friends thought might happen to me. He batted it away in such a way that the edge ripped into my hand. But what’s a little bloodletting among friends? The next day, from a distance of about 30 feet, I lobbed a desiccated mushroom at him, nailing him right in the back of the head. I was rewarded with sound of it striking a hollow gourd. Violence doesn’t stem only from men; musta been all that fresh air.

The trip itself was grand in its own way. We spent the first two nights in a tent cabin in Mid Pines, about half an hour outside of Yosemite and the third night at a tent cabin in Curry Village, at the heart of the Yosemite Valley. During the days we explored the Wawona area, Lemke and Pothole Domes, Lukens Lake, Dog Lake, the Merced Grove and Tuolumene Meadow. On Day Four we drove to June Lake and pitched proper tents for a couple days of more "primitive"-style camping.

The trip actually began on Monday evening. Marc had arrived earlier in the day, flying in from Ft. Lauderdale. That night he and I met at Azie, the French-Asian fusion restaurant where Soyboy dallies as a sous chef. We had a number of tasty treats as well as the treat of watching Soyboy in action. Highlights there included some damn fine short ribs; duck w/ mashed edamame and stewed cherries; heirloom tomatos, goat cheese, and bacon; oysters w/ wasabi tabiko; and cinnamon rubarb gelato. Marc and I also had the chance to interact a bit more than we had during his previous visit. After dinner, he and I left Soyboy to his work. During the walk to our respective homes, Marc recounted a recent trip he’d taken with his brother and his brother’s friend. Apparently this woman and Marc didn’t quite hit it off so well. Interesting as it was, I wanted to know why he felt compelled to share that with me. That’s when he point blank asked me if I was going to be a bummer during the trip. I told him I couldn’t make any promises….

The funny thing about his question is that for possibly the first time in my life, I had difficulty slipping into vacation mode. I was a bit stressed out for the first couple days, and while Marc’s question probably helped me keep it under wraps more than I might have, holding it in probably didn’t help me feel better. Still, I really can’t blame him. Vacation is sacred.

The truth is, I’ve really needed a real vacation, and it’s simply been too long, especially under high stress conditions. The first couple days I worried about everything it was possible to worry about, mostly cash flow and how to resolve or learn to accept some situations at home. The other factor is that I was extremely ill-prepared for the trip, which is not my typical vacation m.o. I even had to stop and get trail shoes immediately after the guys came to get me, and many items that I'd had in my hands somehow never made it into my bag, including my camera. Fortunately, the tenor of the trip was that we were flying by the seat of our pants the entire time, which was part of the adventure. We didn't have any firm plans or ideas about where/how we'd be staying except for the last couple nights when we'd be meeting up with a group of Marc's friends from L.A.

I’m surprised I didn’t loosen up right from the get go, when the boys arrived with the rental: a PT Cruiser. When Soyboy called and sheepishly said, “I just picked up the car. You’re not gonna believe what they gave us,” I knew from the tone of his voice that it had to something ridiculous, and I was right. There’s hardly anything more ridiculous than driving to Yosemite in a gold PT Cruiser. The car actually handles pretty well, considering that it’s a glorified Neon. It got pretty decent mileage, which was particularly helpful given gas prices these days. We did have to fill up at one pump that was going for a very painful $3.50/gallon. But overall it proved to be a worthy, if utterly silly, vehicle. We had fun making fun of ourselves in it.

The first two nights we ended up at The Yosemite Bug Lodge, Hostel & Campgrounds, located in Mid Pines, which is 25 miles from Yosemite Valley. We wound up in a decent tent cabin—a canvas tent set upon a wooden frame—surrounded by a lot of pine trees and oaks, which we explored in the dark the first night we arrived. After congratulating ourselves with a bottle of Jack Daniels, we scrambled up a series of boulders until we reached a plateau upon which we laid ourselves out, beneath the canopy of stars and a textbook Milky Way.

The next day, we criss-crossed the park, hiking in and around as many spots as possible, and as sunset neared we scampered up some rocky explosions to watch the sun take a dive, its fiery light cast upon the Sierra Nevadas as if it were a real-time film projected on granite. We toasted the occasion with Tecates and burning sage.

My fear of heights and subsequent vertigo kicked into gear more than I would have liked on the trip, but for the most part it didn’t keep me out of the game. There were moments, for example at Lemke Dome, where I simply got to a point where I wasn’t willing to ascend any further, but I told the boys to continue onward and they did, waving to me from the top. Meanwhile, I discovered that I was sharing my resting place with a rattler that I heard but never saw thanks to a highly motivated rapid descent on my part. I also experienced pretty acute vertigo while steering the Cruiser through the Tioga Pass with both boys napping soundly. After that, I refused to take the wheel for the rest of that day.

We never saw any black bears, although we heard plenty of tales and received several warnings. On one road, bear lockers were strategically positioned next to a turn off, and at Curry Village, we were told the next day that bears had ripped into a couple cars in the parking lot. Not our little Cruiser, though; no, our car was attacked by crab apples from the tree we’d unwittingly parked beneath, having arrived at our overnight home in the middle of the night. That morning as we were packing up to leave, several deer came into the vicinity, absolutely fearless. It was kind of sad, actually to see these wild creatures completely turned onto human ways: raccoons climbing on picnic tables, chipmunks and ducks willing to be hand fed.

While we were in Merced Grove, the least oft visited of the Park’s three giant sequoia groves, I thought about how on the one hand, environmentalists and conservationists such as John Muir, have done an amazing thing, preserving all these natural resources. But I also thought that if a Native American from way back were brought to this day and age via a time machine, he or she would surely cry for what we have done.

At June Lake, we met up with a group of Marc’s friends—Ed, his girlfriend My and her 14-yr-old sister Christine, Brian and May, Tim, and Rachel. The group of us had three campsites and pitched our tents in proximity of one another. There were plenty of shenanigans punctuated by microbrews and a variety of sakes and wine, distributed amongst the large group. We also had many fine sober moments of boating and troll fishing on the lake and an excursion to nearby hot springs. The last night was filled with star-gazing and a campfire joke-off between Marc and Ed. Then came morning goodbyes and the long drive home.

And that was my summer vacation: granite peaks, glacially carved valleys, meandering meadows and glittering lakes. I don’t know how I’m gonna swing it, but going away made me realize I must manage to do it more often.


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