We come from Earth, I: Yosemite

One day I'll be adult and plan. Not today
Published April 29, 2013
I: Yosemite II: Death Valley III: Zion & Bryce Canyon IV: Grand Canyon V: California

Chance is strong that my idea of planning differs wildly from what other adults might consider sufficient. I’ve wanted to ride my motorcycle to the Grand Canyon for years now, but waited until a week ’til takeoff to plan. When I say “plan” I refer to five minutes spent fiddling with the blue route line in Google Maps before texting a link to my hopelessly trusting riding buddy.

Any dirt roads? I didn’t check. Where are we sleeping? We’ll find out. Are there too long stretches without gas? Hope not. How long will it take? Precisely who knows. What do we do when we get there? Come back, I guess.

My wife had these questions and didn’t like my answers. My good friend Brian asked nothing, which shows I’m cashing in on some undeserved trust. He came with me.

I fitted saddle bags to Mighty for the first time in nearly three years, packed a few necessities and a lot of unecessities, and spent a Sunday morning rolling to meet Brian at his home in the Foothills.

April 7, 2013

Of course I had no plan for the day, but still managed to fit in many past-due family visits. I grew up in the Sierra Nevada Foothills and still have lots of family and a few friends left there. Got lunch with a cousin, dinner with my mom, spent an evening with my dad and little brother, and then met with Brian late at night. Brian’s brother, another good friend, showed up even later, and we stayed awake ’til 1:00 am, catching up and chatting competitive League of Legends and Marvel vs. Capcom.

April 8, 2013

Brian prepared about as well I did. He wadded up some clothes and stuffed ’em into a backpack alongside a phone charger and Bluetooth headphones. A power outlet and 3G connection will satisfy him for a week, I reckon.

“We can leave at 9:00 in the morning,” I suggested with all the conviction of a tumbleweed. We left at 10:00. I docked my iPhone on a handlebar mount and let it point our motorcycles toward Yosemite.

Though April seemed the best time of year for this particular trip, there was no guarantee we’d stay dry. Any later in the year, the desert stretches might bake us. Any earlier, the mountains might dump snow. But April showers…

Charming ’49er towns broke up the monotony of road

Indeed it seemed the sky might leak. Even dressed in my Aerostich, I still worried, though more for Brian and our bungee-corded camping gear than for my own skin.

Looking back, our first day on the road was easily the best riding. The planned travel distance was modest, Highway 49 suitably bendy, and charming ’49er towns broke up the monotony of road. At lunch in Angel’s Camp, we were happy to stop only because the air kept blowing colder.

“Are your feet cold?” Brian asked me. Nope. I looked at our feet. Goretex Alpinestars riding boots on mine. Mesh summer sneakers on Brian’s. And ankle socks.

That wasn’t the beginning of cold. We turned east and upward on Highway 120. This time of year, 120 is closed at Tioga Pass because of snow. We didn’t need the pass, but before dropping into the valley the air was still snow cold.

I can only try to imagine how Brian felt, but I can describe in detail my experience. Cold is cold even bundled up on the couch at home. Remove the bundle, replace the couch with a thin foam seat and rocket it through 3D space at 60 mph. The sights are nicer than my living room — lovely sprawling views of peaks, trees and remnant winter snow accents — but the cold bites. In time, the cold slipped between all layers of clothing and circulated past the entirety of my body, for hours.

I fully expected to endure that cold all evening, but when the road winded down into Yosemite Valley the temperature mercifully winded up. Relatively speaking. And it wasn’t the cold that made me scream “Holy shit!” in my helmet. It was Yosemite.

I have memories of Yosemite from childhood, but only vague ones. My family visited at least a couple of times, but all I remember is crawling large boulders and later badly tumbling down one of them. The expletive in my helmet came from genuine surprise. I didn’t remember this.

All my old memories are eye level. Weird because once in Yosemite Valley, towering rock walls in all directions dominate the view, me like a speck at the bottom of a stone bowl surrounded by sheer marbled mountain. Waterfalls from miles in the sky free-fall vertical drops of staggering scale. My bizarre first thought: “Looks expensive,” and then the humbling realization that no amount of Man’s money could make Yosemite. Exquisitely nature.

Our dumb luck rewarded us a camp site minutes before the check-in office closed, and we gingerly rolled the bikes through a muddy lot soaked in the previous night’s melted snowfall. We unloaded our bikes into steel bear lockers by the tent and spent the early evening walking the valley, snapping photos and tip-toeing within arm’s reach of lazing grazing deer that hardly minded us, more friendly than some dogs I know. And certainly more quiet while we slept.