We woke up on the floor; Yosemite Valley buried somewhere below the stiff climbing crash pad under our bodies. The single-room employee cabin smelt of stale trash and bouldering sweat and we were crammed between two twin beds, one that held his roommate who was snoring six inches from my face.
I blindly fumbled around until finding my glasses: the room was a sight. I climbed out from underneath the thin wool blanket and did my best to remain undisturbed while crawling through the door.
Outside was a picturesque summer camp scene: the voluptuous curves and majestic peaks of Yosemite Valley towered over two thick rows of wooden employee cabins.
Chalkboards hanging above each cabin door exclaimed hand-written messages like “Life is an Adventure!” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough!” Front porches were decorated with small propane grills and fold-up REI chairs and chalky hiking boots.
It was Saturday morning, just after 10:00am and not another soul was in-sight. And so there we were, Yosemite and I, alone together at summer camp.
After a morning of slow rising, we sipped coffee on his friend’s apartment terrace and discussed the day ahead: rocks to climb, land to traverse, direction to go. Once decided, we threw ourselves into a silver Xterra, fairy pouches full of climbing chalk in the backseat, and made way to the Yosemite Valley General Store.
The parking lot was packed with tour busses, rental RVs, and pedestrian excitement. Our friend, Matt, was working inside of a wooden box enclosure they called the Welcome Booth, reciting to tourists the most “bang-for-your-buck” lookouts in the Valley. When he wasn’t offering insights, he flipped through John Muir’s “My First Summer In The Sierra.”
Inside of the store were provisions ranging from water filtration systems to bear spray to dehydrated dinner packets, all of which pitted us, “The Humans,” against it, “The Nature.”
Next to the provisions were novelty items awarded only once you had conquered it: stuffed red foxes, plush grizzly bears, picture frames bordered with mountain peaks and running waterfalls. I smiled sweetly at the red fox and contemplated how it would fit next to my stuffed red panda, Rusty.
Away from the General Store, cars were stacked like pancakes along the single-lane road. A beautiful, towering blonde woman, a park ranger, directed one car after another. She was a sight. It was a sight. It was a sight that didn’t resemble a Yosemite postcard. And a reminder that, when traveling, experiences rarely do.
Time on the road is often dominated by the hours threaded between one postcard image and the next. It is evanescent landscapes that drip below the horizon, muddled between lookout points. It is insipid details too often overlooked: songs sung along to, how badly you had to pee, the awful taste of gas station coffee. It is incidental moments of self-awareness reflected by translucent lake water on warm September days.
Adventure is easy to confine to a diorama – it makes sense to chronologically arrange journey by destinations and achievements. Progress from point A to point B is easily tracked, and the distance between the two, too often dismissed. Reciting where we were doesn’t require remembering the way.
But what we gain in repeating dry milestones, we lose in experiencing textured magic.
A recent trip to California reconnected me to the magic.
It invited the sacred space between mile markers and exit signs.
It sung of radio static, incessant laughter, and awkward playlists. It felt of heart-filled conversations as heavy as L.A. morning smog and as light as San Francisco fog lifted by the afternoon.
It offered grace and connectivity, clumsiness and disconnect; it moved hurriedly and flowed free of measure.
It was introspection in picturesque scenery and boundless contemplation in empty space, too. It was unpredictable. It was without expectation. It was never where we were headed or where we would end up: it was what happened in-between.
And in this space we reconnected with each other.
And in this space we reconnected with ourselves.
And in this space we lost sight of what we saw, and we learned to see the way.
And even though the trip is over, I’m here, in this space, and I’m learning to see the way.
It’s always learning to see the way.