Road Trip #5: Yosemite National Park, Thru-hikers, and hitting my limit
After our backpacking trip, we had planned to free-camp somewhere on the way to Yosemite. We piled in the car and headed out of the park, acutely aware of the dirt that was caked on our faces and feet. When we got service, I pulled up the Campendium app to find free sites in our path. I starred at the screen, silently dreading the long day we had stopping in Fresno before heading back up the mountains. I found a hotel for $80 in Fresno and barely proposed the idea before we were both on board. Hot showers. Real Beds. We restocked our food and fed ourselves, before retreating into the hotel room to watch tv and lay in beds.
The next day we headed to Yosemite-- planning to meet up with our friend Ian and find a place to camp for the night. We pulled into Yosemite Valley that afternoon and never stepped foot out of the car. There were people EVERYWHERE. So many parking lots. So many cars. So many people. Neither of us had any desire to stop and see the falls or the views with so many obstacles (people are obstacles). Instead, we headed straight to Tuolumne Meadows where we hoped to camp.
Driving another hour into the park without service, we lost communication with Ian but made it just in time to get a campsite. Tuolumne Meadows was a dreamland filled with only the most serious of hikers. Thru-hikers congregated at picnic tables outside of the store. They bought food and beer and got packages from the post-office. Just before the trip, I had finished up my second read about hiking the PCT, Thru-hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Carrot Quinn. I was (am. AM!) obsessed with watching them, so envious of their journeys and longing to be one of them, taking a zero in Toulemne meadows before continuing their 2,650-mile walk. This was an important moment for me-- as I have been at a bit of a crossroads and hoped the summer would bring clarity. Would I get a good job back in Kansas City, or somewhere else? Rent another apartment, or stay where I am? Watching these hikers and being in the environment, I started to challenge those ideas of settling. And currently, I'm leaning more towards not. Though this is a much bigger discussion I hope to post about later explaining a bit more about these crazy ideas.
After we were finished gawking at the thru-hikers, we went back to our campsite, leaving a note on the board at the front of the campground for our friend to find us. We started a fire, ate dinner, played a round or two of Bananagrams, waited. It finally got dark and our fire needed putting out- we climbed in the tent cold and bummed we missed our friend. We had plans to hike Cloud's Rest early in the morning but decided against it before falling asleep. Instead, the only goal was to get up and find Ian before we missed him entirely. We climbed in the car the next morning and began driving around the campground. Not even 2 minutes into this drive, we pulled up on Ian, packing his things away in his car at a campsite around the corner. (Thanks universe!)
We met up back at our campsite and slowly got ready for the day. We reserved a campsite for the evening and decided to hike the cloud's rest trail around noon. This hike was really important to me-- I had planned the trip around it, hiking the Lakes Trail to get ready prior. Originally, we were hoping to get a permit so we could camp in the backcountry and hike back the next day. When that didn't happen and we lost Ian, I wasn't if sure we would get to hike it at all.
We started hiking the 15-mile trail late morning, I felt strangely sluggish. I tried a caffeine pill and lots of water, trying to wake up and get going. About 7 miles in my heart was beating rapidly and I was having difficulty breathing. I was puffing inhalers and pausing constantly trying to catch my breath. Ian was far ahead, and Celeste stayed right behind me. I kept pushing, wanting badly to complete this hike and get to the top of the mountain. But my breathing got shorter and shorter with every switchback. I have had Asthma all my life, but it hasn't affected my adult life much, so when I gasped for air for just a moment, my anxiety rose. I imagined myself at the top of the mountain, barely able to breath and in need of rescue. Not cool. I'm still not sure if it was the elevation, the caffeine pill, my asthma, or a combination of the three, but I was at my limit. Hiking is the most athletic thing I have done in my life, and up until that point, I hadn't hit any walls. But that day I did, and I had to tuck all of my pride away and climb back down the mountain. The relief my lungs felt was so great, I hardly minded. Celeste and I laid our towels out by the lake at the trailhead and napped in the sun while having our last beers. Fair. Fine. I'll hike Cloud's Rest another time.
That night we finally camped with Ian. Around the fire drinking and laughing, it was much warmer than the night before. So many things went 'wrong' the previous days, but so many things went right: we spent time in the better part of Yosemite NP(:D), we fangirled over thru-hikers, we found Ian, napped by a beautiful lake, and we were going to Lake Tahoe the next day. Nothing gets better than this.