There was light streaking across the sky. Actually, it was fire streaking across the sky.
“Something tells me we’re experiencing what the Dinosaurs did. Like, ‘Oh, look! It’s so beautiful! OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!’ And the T-rex turns to the Brontosaurus like, ‘All this time, I never told you.. but I’ve always had feelings for you’.”
Just sharing giggles to belly laughs, random banter, small-world friend-of-friend linkage, and connection with good people beneath a meteor shower at a random pull-off just outside of Yosemite. These are the kind of moments in solo-traveling that make the trip, and I loved each and every one of them over the past week in CA.
Climbing, running, hiking, catharsis – it was all there this week in spades.
HAVE WEIGHT, WILL TRAVEL
When I rolled my van and my pup out of my driveway about a week ago, I was seeking more than escaping into nature – I needed salve for my soul. My heart has been heavy as of late and as a result, I’ve been inadvertently keeping all things at a comfortable distance. I’m a happy adventurer, someone who seeks and examines myself and the world, who roots to places and people with ubuntu, am generally warm-hearted. But the more recently erected protective space between the depth of who I am and the rest of the world has grown a bit cold, and I just haven’t been able to shake the chill.
Since I can remember, I’ve been open – open to the world, open to trusting intuition and life’s currents, open and loving towards peoples’ authentic messiness.
But being open is a gamble.
You either roll fully embodied experience and connection or deeply wounding less-sunny capacities of humankind. I may be a hippie woman in a van, but I care. I care deeply. And while I open immediately to those I intuitively trust and offer kindness without bounds, I do not give of myself lightly nor naively.
But, apparently, I have given of myself unwisely.
Atop a week welling with summits, crags, and trail miles, I was determined to reclaim my heart by thoughtfully peeling back its protective coat to people and experiences that opened themselves to me.
When I started planning a trip down to Yosemite, it revolved around a single goal: Half Dome. Despite the rock fall and subsequent bolt ladder at the top, it’s still a climb on my bucket list, and I was hoping to find a climbing partner who’d be willing to train and give it a go.
Alas, no one would join me, so I did as you do when the undulations of life land you on unplanned shores – I decided to head south and wing-it.
All now revolved around an originally planned meet-up with my BAMF friend Jen who’s hiking the JMT. I’d meet her somewhere along the start of her North-to-South trek for a proper send-off, doing any and everything that I felt drawn to along the way.
Meeting her in Tuolumne Meadows on my final day became my primary guide post, and eventually I decided on Lake Tahoe as my starting point.
TRAILS, GOOD PEOPLE, AND CRINGE-ENDUCING ENTITLEMENT
At midnight, after deciding en-route to scrap an evening on Klamath Lake and just gun it down to CA for a summit sunrise, I pulled into the wonderfully cool and breezy campground at Mount Rose at 9,300ft. The camp host was asleep, the place was packed, so I just nuzzled Helga, my campervan, inbetween two cars at the end of the campgrounds. At 5 AM I was up to see the sunrise on the mountains around the lake and wander a bit off-trail with my pup before heading out, unbenounced to anyone that I’d even been there.
Day one: trail run of 2.5-ish hours between Mount Rose and Spooner Summit on the Tahoe Rim Trail. Thanks to Mallory, another BAMF I’m lucky to know, for the recommendation. The trail is gorgeous, rolling, and perfect for running and MTB. The biking only occurs on even numbered days, which it happened to be.
Tahoe! There’s a beautiful lake! Treeline! Peaks! Elevation! Climbing! Awesome outdoors enthusiasts! An unpleasant aroma of condescention wafting from wealthy, entitled tourists… Wealth is in no way a scarlet letter, but entitlement can be abrasive.
I left early enough on my run to avoid most of the world, met a few lovely backpackers and bikepackers who I chatted with fully and openly (success, round 1), and then came the multi-thousand dollar MTB riders who gave exasperated moans and verbal-jabs of anger because my 13 year old dog had momentarily gotten in their way…
Let’s be clear – I ride bikes. I know how much it can suck to get stuck behind someone on an incline, near an obstacle, on a flowing downhill. But the trail belongs to no one – it’s an invaluable resource we’re all lucky enough to maintain and share. I’ve had to step aside for people even when I wanted to keep running or riding. But especially a hobbly, elderly pup on one of his last long trail runs? The assholery was not lost on myself nor others who witnessed it. Being open to the world, it seems, means also differentiating what is and is not worth your emotional energy. I shook my head and moved on.
The run was gorgeous, my legs felt wonderfully sore, and super-pup made it through the whole thing. Those views, the dirt on my feet, the sun on my skin… it was a gorgeous morning, and as I lunched in the van with my furry adventure partner, I couldn’t stop smiling with gratitude and love for the world. Afterwards, the pup and I napped on the beach, I bathed in the lake and wandered barefoot around the rockier parts of the shoreline. I found some boulders recommended by a barista I chatted with (success, round 2) and scended some beautiful evening climbs.
In search of a spot to sleep for the night, I found an abandoned rich-person-ville (aka row of secluded, vacant, ENORMOUS beach-front vacation homes) and guerilla vamped (van-camped) near the woods at the end of the block. Some people may have felt they owned the trail that morning, but at least for the night, I openly shared some breath-taking sunset views.
Early the next morning, I wandered down a side path to dip my feet in Lake Tahoe on a stretch of shoreline awakened only to me, my pup, and the birds. All felt right with the world, and I could feel my heart filling with the familiar warmth of joy.
BISHOP DIRT ROADS 1, VW WESTFALIA 0
After a full day of amazing climbing with Lauren, yet another BAMF I’m now lucky enough to know and who convinced me to bite the financial bullet and start gathering a Trad rack, I spent the next evening meeting some great people and having a bar-b-que at a shared house in Truckee. Everyone was amazing, and I feel so lucky to have met and spent the evening just chatting with them (success, round 3). Thanks again to Mallory for the original connection!
The next day, more hours of trail-running near Donner Pass, another entitlement scuffle – this time related to the apparently imminent death of my pup while he spent a handful of minutes in my window-opened, sun-shaded car as I grabbed a to-go sandwich – and then a pull-off on the Truckee river, where I sat down in the current, closed my eyes, and just listened to the water and took in the breeze. I lost track of time… the beautiful culmination of being completely immersed in the simplicity of where you currently are.
It’s nice to sit still sometimes, and it’s also nice to move where the breeze calls you. That night, I scrapped my plans to hang around Tahoe another night and headed towards Yosemite. The directions I pulled up showed another marker on the map – Bishop, CA – a place I’d never been and wanted to go. I called the hostel, got myself a space, and drove in for a late evening meeting more wonderful people, hearing their stories, and sharing some smokeables (success, round 4). The next morning, I played some sunrise guitar, packed up the pup, bid farewell to the awesome hostel staff and my UK roommates, and drove out to Happy Boulders for some climbing.
Note to self: VW vans cannot handle 4×4 roads, particularly when you back them up onto a rock. Officer Beavers and Mr. K’s towing are saviors.
The experience took hours, and it gave me some space to think. How much of these experiences is me connecting with myself, and how much of it is temporarily running away from sitting with my thoughts? I’d need a rest day and I’d need the clarifying discomfort of examining myself. I fit in both, and some wildnerness-yoga, tears, and journaling later, I felt I’d shed an anchor that needed to be released.
AND SO IT ENDS, THOUGH IT NEVER DOES
I took that day then several more for climbing and exploring, another for paying some hitch-hiking trail-angel support forward, and a memorable evening outside of Yosemite with other vanlifers, watching meteor showers and chatting about dinosaurs and Donald Trump (Climber 1: “I built a wall… in my house”, Me: “Did you get your neighbor to pay for it?”, Climber 2: “Dear Donald, I’ve been reading Art of the Deal and there’s not even a MENTION of 2×4’s!”).
The good, the bad, the everything, and all of it imprinted on my heart, in my skin, in me. Perhaps what my heart needed, what my soul needed, was to remember that I am always and never alone. That no matter where you go or who you’re with, you’re forever by yourself while you’re forever part of a bigger whole. Separation between yourself and the world is entirely in your head, and no matter what we’d like to believe, none of us can do it alone and none of us really does. There’s warmth in the connection of all things. I hope I carried even an ounce of that warmth home with me, that I retained even an ounce of the lightness arising from connection to the world beyond my walls.
Keep exploring the world with an open heart, Ladies! XOXO