Monday, October 12, 2009

sometimes you get what you came for

My life seems to be least stressful not when I don't have things going on, but when I can organize what I do have going on into lists. I make lists on a daily basis. Sometimes I number the tasks, or I assign times or make lists within lists. If I'm worried, I list. If I'm bored, I list. I have been making packing lists since elementary school--for such things as sleepovers and trips to Grandma's house. I'm sure this indicates some kind of pathology, but for now let's just consider it a charming quirk.

So this alleged charming quirk came into play once again when packing for a trip up to Yosemite with a class from my university. As a class, we split into teams, and our objective for the weekend was to complete a digital scavenger hunt throughout the park. I had one teammate, Chelsea, and we decided our team uniform would be tie dyed t-shirts. I managed to save this little arts and crafts project for 2 a.m. the night before we left for the trip, nevermind that it was my first tie dye project to date. I was relatively pleased with the results, however, despite the fact that they didn't turn out exactly how I expected.

After a day at work that was sorely tainted with the knowledge that comes from being tortured by the awareness that your car is completely packed for an adventure, I picked Chelsea up at her apartment and we set off to meet our cabinmates at the supermarket. I informed her that unless she flat-out objected, we would be listening to at least three episodes of the Dirtbag Diaries on the way up to camp. Luckily, she obliged.

The ride up was uneventful if not boring, save for Fitz (@dirtbagdiaries) and his colleagues to every once in a while leave both Chelsea and me with goosebumps. There are some things that resonate deeply and unexpectedly, and I was glad to get to share that with Chelsea as well.

We arrived at Curry a little early, so we camped on the deck outside the Mountain Shop for a spell, where I notified Pang (@pangtastic) that we had arrived. He and I had tentatively planned to meet up because, well...why not? Twitter friends should be real friends too. Once he came over and Chelsea and our cabinmates realized I was going to park myself on the deck and talk climbing for a while, they went to grab a pizza for dinner.

After talking with Pang, I most certainly have a stronger interest in learning to ice climb. It's not something I have ever really aspired to learn, but the more I read about it and talk about it, the more I think “that could perhaps be on my radar sounds promisingly miserable--right up my alley”. I have learned that I am much happier when bruised, cold, tired, and covered in camp dirt.

Eventually, we unpacked and our instructor came around to the (blech) tent cabins to give us our lists and mascots. Chelsea and I selected a small plastic lion we named Excelsior Lionel, and what a photogenic plastic feline he turned out to be. Our ambitious cabinmates decided to set out on a nighttime hike to the summit of Half Dome. We determined that wasn't for us this trip and instead donned our “uniforms” and removed our shoes for our own leg of the hunt. For whatever reason, we thought it would be a fun idea to do the whole scavenger hunt barefoot. Probably my idea, to be perfectly honest.

So, barefoot and clad in tie dye, plastic lion in tow, we managed to check a fair amount off our list. We visited the cemetery (at night!) and the post office and the dental office. The highlight of the evening was our high-speed gallivant through the Awahnee, where we surprisingly didn't get in trouble with any of the employees for our blatant disregard of socially acceptable ambulation speeds.

By now, spirits were riding high and we were just about convinced jumping in the Merced River in the dead of night was a good idea. All of the excitement and adrenaline came to a screeching halt when we accidentally took a wrong turn. Instead of turning into the proper entrance to the Camp 4 parking lot, I pulled in too early into a clearing. Realizing my mistake, I promptly pulled out, only to be met with flashing red and blue lights.

Now, despite what you may believe about me, I am absolutely terrified of getting in trouble. I have a knack for being in the wrong place in the wrong time, though, and have no talent whatsoever for arguing my way out of a ticket. I have never once been able to successfully do so. Apparently being cooperative and scared out of your mind does not incite police officers to be merciful.

So I got a citation. In a national park. For offroad traveling. I DRIVE A CIVIC. Talk about a buzzkill. Chelsea and I had no desire to keep on going that night, so we went back to the tent cabin to plan out the next day's agenda.

After only a few hours of sleep, the alarm I had set for 4 a.m. woke us and we groggily assembled our wits for the 45 minute drive up to Glacier point to see the sun rise. It was kind of cold, especially in bare feet and sweatpants, and I'm pretty sure the other early risers only had a moderate appreciation for my obnoxious sense of humor at that hour of the morning, judging by their responses to my probably-too-loud comments and observations.

It was pretty incredible to see the Valley transform as the sun rose behind Half Dome. Perhaps my favorite part of any day, especially a day outdoors, is the twilight just before the actual sunrise. It's so full of potential and anticipation, but in a way that I can count on. Each new day brings that new potential with each sunrise. It's anticipation, but with structure. I like that.

Despite rising early, our day didn't really kick off until about lunchtime. Once the sun rose, we drove on back down to camp for breakfast and coffee (which I require daily without excuse) and an evaluation of the day's plans, with an itemized to-do list so we could check off specific objectives. The day turned into mostly a series of silly faces and interesting conversations. Luckily, neither Chelsea nor I had any qualms about approaching strangers, and given the global appeal of the Yosemite Valley, there's quite a diverse population of strangers to choose from.

My “favorite experience of the day” is a toss-up between getting one move higher on Midnight Lightning (which is going to take me about a decade to send, seeing as I'm no V8 climber) and jumping into the (very cold!) Merced River in my jeans. By the end of the day, though, Chelsea and I were happily tired, and headed back to camp an hour early, where we met up with our instructor and his wife to shoot the breeze and eat some dinner.

Dinner turned into a marathon gab session as a few friends of mine stopped by our table throughout the evening. While we were sitting there, we found out that one of our class teams was still on Half Dome. This wouldn't have been a big deal, except for that they had begun the hike about 20 hours prior, had an injured/severely dehydrated team member, and were more than five miles from the trailhead. Quite a disaster. Our instructor left immediately as soon as he realized they would need some assistance getting down the trail. He made it up to them and managed a couple updates here and there when they got cellular service. Ultimately, they didn't get to the trailhead until approximately 24 hours after they had started their hike.

There is value in knowing your limits and preparing for achieving an objective. There is also value in testing those limits. If I was in a similar situation, when would I have quit? When would I have turned back and for what reason? If I was capable but a teammate wasn't, how would I have proceeded? Would I have been a leader, and if I was, would I have been a good one? While I was not immediately connected with this particular situation, it most certainly resonated with me. Thankfully, everyone made it down to camp okay, and in remarkably good spirits considering their ordeal.

The next morning, we slept in, which meant that we had to rush to pack up to make it to the Mariposa Grove by our 10 a.m. appointment. Chelsea and I had a hard time getting ourselves together and arrived about 30 minutes late. Thankfully, because of the excitement of the night before, we weren't the last to arrive nor did anyone mind that we were late.

Those trees are so...big. Looking at the sequoias in the grove, perceiving their mass and presence--you can't help but wish they could speak and tell their stories. Who has been there? What secrets have been told among those trees? When all the people have left, what remains--what sounds, what smells, what thoughts? It's places like that where I feel present, when I am at a definite point in the universe, where before collides with after.

I made it home in time for one quick jump at my dropzone, which seems to be how it goes these days. I'm too busy to come out for a whole day, so I end up squeezing in a jump or two on an afternoon when I should have been studying instead. But being at the dropzone and being part of that activity and that pace helps to make the rest of it--the massively busy balance of classes and work and home life--a little easier. There's nothing like 10,500 feet of perspective to help the rest of it all make sense.


  1. If you're thinking about ice climbing, this doesn't seem like a bad option...pretty cheap!

  2. Sounds like you had crazy fun. Silly police officer. Couldn't he tell you weren't doing it on purpose? Ah well.

    Been thinking of you some - drew from references in Rock and Ice June 2008 - and I'm looking forward to scanning and uploading them.