My journey pushed me on to Yosemite National Park. I made the three and a half hour drive from San Francisco to the park and planned to use the remainder of the day to look around, get a feel for what is there, and plan out how to best tackle the park the following day. After spending the previous two days battling crowds in San Francisco, I was looking forward to a little forest solitude. What I ended up with; however, was something completely different.
As luck would have it I arrived in Yosemite at quite possibly the worse day of the year. Not only was it a weekend, it was a National Park Week and Earth Day weekend. This tragic trifecta managed to bring in unimaginable hordes of people. The fact it was a weekend brought in the usual weekend warriors, Earth Day brought in the nostalgic conservationists, while National Park Week, with its free admission, managed to bring in everybody else who are too cheap to pay for admission any other time of year.
Once I passed the entrance to the park I headed towards Yosemite Valley. It was not long before this two lane road became a parking lot full of brake lights as far as the eye could see. The slowly creeping traffic lasted for hours as I made my way to the heart of the park. I took this opportunity to enjoy the scenery and the slow pace gave me ample time to thoroughly examine everything off the roadway. I passed by raging rivers as the road weaved through the forest. Granite cliffs began to suddenly appear on every side and towered high into the sky. It was difficult to grasp the size of the massive rock faces staring down at me until I noticed the numerous waterfalls shooting narrowly down the vertical surfaces, providing a sense of scale. Yosemite has an undeniable beauty, one that somehow feels slightly more patriotic than the other national parks. I thought to myself, if there was one park used to visually represent America and its perceived greatness, this would be it.
I finally made it into Yosemite Valley, an area surrounded by granite cliffs and the location of the visitor’s center, a small grocery store, a museum, and other similar resources. After an extensive battle to find parking I slid into a spot beside a large grassy field not far from the visitor’s center. I could see from across the field a line of cars in bumper to bumper traffic with no sign of letting up anytime soon. Having officially reached my destination, I became increasingly aware of the exhaustion I was feeling from the day of driving and I began to get a slight headache. I looked across the field again at the line of stagnant cars and decided I would stay put, take a nap, and wait for the sun to set to clear out the excess traffic.
When I woke up I noticed the sun was falling behind the mountains and a large herd of deer were grazing in the field outside my window. The line of cars on the opposite side of the field were moving steadily out of the park now and I knew it would only be time before the darkness would finish clearing everyone out. I made myself a sandwich, watched the deer meander by, and waited for the sun to finish falling.
It seemed like only minutes before the daylight disappeared and the last of the headlights leaving the park vanished through the trees. I was able to get a signal on my phone here if I pressed it up against the car window, so I took this time to search for a place to stay for the night. My trusty freecampsites.net website came back with several options surrounding the park. There was no camping allowed inside the park so all of the options required a bit of a drive. I chose a campsite that appeared to be the closest to me, plugged in the coordinates, and headed out of the park. Although I did not have any traffic to contend with at this time of night, the drive still took the better side of thirty minutes, maybe longer. I eventually passed by the park entrance and merged to the right at the first fork in the road. I followed this winding road for several miles until the GPS spat me out at the entrance to a campsite with a large sign stating: NO ENTRY-CAMPGROUND FULL. It was late and the only place I knew of with cell service to search for another campsite was back in the valley were I just came from. Judging by the amount of traffic I witnessed earlier on in the day I had my doubts I would find anything available within any reasonable distance, so I drove past the sign and hoped for the best. The campsite was laid out in a big circle with the entrance and the exit meeting each other at a single point. I began the drive around the one-way loop and noticed tents, lanterns, and campfires blanketing the area. It appeared that each section of five campsites had a designated group of parking spaces to share. I circled around to a sign indicating parking for campsites six through ten and I wedged in between a car on the end of the row and a tree. I was glad I wasn’t toting around a camper or anything else large and conspicuous, otherwise I would not have been able to sneak into a spot for the night undetected.
I woke up early the next morning and immediately had flashbacks of the traffic I dealt with the day before. I quickly got dressed and hit the road, hoping to beat any onslaught of visitors to the park. The drive into the valley was much more pleasant than the day before. I found parking without a problem and I stopped by the visitor’s center for a map along with some advice on what to see. I started off my tour by driving up the road to the Mirror Lake trailhead. I took my mountain bike off the roof of my car and reattached the front wheel which was stored behind the front passenger seat. After packing up some water and snacks I hit the trail. I covered a lot of ground quickly on the bike as I sped along the rocky path feeling the rush of wind on my face as I leaned hard around the sharp corners of the trail. I had my doubts about whether or not I was actually allowed to be biking along this particular trail but I reasoned with myself that it was early, I had beat the crowds, I had a lot of park to cover in a short amount of time, and I was simply having too much fun. The path followed the course of a river, passing by a couple of small falls before arriving at an area which opened up into a motionless lake covered with what appeared to be a sheet of glass. The still waters gave off a flawless reflection of the tall mountains and trees surrounding it.
I made my way back to the car and after arriving I loosened the quick release of my front bike wheel in order to remove it. I leaned the wheel up against the rear bumper of my car as I hoisted the bike back onto its rack. My mind drifted to where I needed to go next as I secured the bike down. I jumped down off the running boards and hopped behind the driver’s seat, eager to get to the next stop. As I slowly turned the steering wheel while backing out of the parking space, I heard a slight clunking noise somewhere in the general area between me and the engine compartment. Given the fact I had been essentially torture testing my vehicle over the last month, I just thought it was finally starting to complain a little bit and I hoped the noise would be an isolated incident.
My next stop was Yosemite Falls. I parked at the trailhead and hiked to the base of these enormous cascading wonders. The upper falls shot off a high hanging cliff above and landed on a level area halfway up the mountain before falling from a second cliff, creating the lower falls. The upper falls were roughly twice the length of the very impressive lower falls and the combination was quite a sight to behold.
Before leaving the park I made my way to a trail promising great views of the famous El Capitan rock formation. Once considered an impossible climb, it is now a worldwide standard for elite rock climbers. The smooth granite face slopes inward halfway up before gradually sloping back out, daring even the most competent climber to ascend it. I graciously bowed out and made my way back to the trailhead from whence I came.
With Glacier Point being closed and having seen the major sights in the park, I made my way out of Yosemite and started the six hour drive to Las Vegas, Nevada. Three hours into the drive I noticed the slab of Maple I picked up at a woodshop in Southern Oregon and the air pump for my bike, both sitting behind the front passenger seat, were shifting wildly back and forth whenever I applied the brakes. Coming to the realization this was an annoyance I did not have before, I reached behind the seat to examine what had changed. It took me a second and then I realized what was missing; my front bike wheel. I thought back to the suspicious clunking noise I heard when backing out of the parking space at Yosemite and it became clear this was the crunching sound of a lightweight alloy bike wheel being smashed, not complaints coming from the engine compartment. I briefly ran through my options in my head and decided not to turn around. Even if the wheel had not been destroyed, the additional six hours of driving was not worth the effort to retrieve it.
It’s your life. Demand adventure.