August 10th – No Holier Temple

Though we had gone to sleep in the hammocks, we awoke in our tent. The night air had been too cold to be completely surrounded by it. At least in the tent, we had several layers of stuff, including a thermarest, between us and the ground. Plus, the ground was warmer than the air at night. I peeked outside the tent, and saw the swarming mosquitoes just itching to get in. Arguably the main downside of this otherwise amazingly beautiful campsite was the evening and morning mosquito swarms. Interestingly, they subside during the day and at night, but the transitions are brutal. I applied some 40% DEET lotion to my exposed skin, and headed out of the tent to prepare breakfast.

We’d been carrying around pancake mix for a month now, so we decided this would be a good place to try to make them. We placed our cast iron skillet on our stove, and added some vegetable oil. It was a pretty simple “just add water” type of mix. Something I had not anticipated was how vigorously the pancake batter would stick to the cast iron surface. In the end, we produced something that very closely resembled funnel cake, and we called it scrambled pancakes. Overall, pretty delicious, though definitely not what we set out to create.

We’d noticed some nicely stacked bundles of wood by the side of the road when we’d ridden in the previous evening, so we decided to head out and try to strap some to the bike for use as firewood. It only took a few minutes, and we had quiet a large bundle strapped onto the bike. Some of the park service people managing the fire gave us a thumbs up as we drove by. We’ve hauled firewood with the bike a couple times now, and people are definitely amused by the sight of it.

Once we’d gotten camp cleaned up and ready for our return, we set out to see Yosemite. We first went to the Hetch Hetchy area, as controversial as it is beautiful. The Hetch Hetchy valley used to be essentially a sister valley to Yosemite Valley, but with the passing of the Raker Act of 1913, it was dammed, flooding the valley and forming the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The dam provides water and electricity to 2.4 million people in the San Francisco area, but of course has had devastating effects on indigenous ecosystems. Environmental groups, and the park rangers of Yosemite National Park, advocate the removal of the dam, and the restoration of the valley to it’s natural state.

We pulled away from the entrance station slowly, beginning the 45 minute ride down into the valley. Granite cliffs protrude from the dense coniferous tree cover. The air has that delightful piney scent to it, and I can’t help but smile at the trees rush past us. Getting bolder as the road continues we wind in and out of turns with increasing speed, giddy on the natural wonder all around us. Eventually we came to a parking lot, not surprisingly full of other bikes. This was hands down the most beautiful riding country I had been to so far, so it was no surprise to find other riders enjoying the area, too.

It was perhaps a half mile hike from the parking lot down to the dam. The lake itself was quite pretty, as was the forest extending from the waters edge up the sides of the mountains forming the valley. We walked across the dam, reading the information signs along the way, which explained the controversy of the dam. On the other side of the dam, the path continued through a tunnel cut through the rock. We came through the other side and hiked a short distance along the rim of the lake, eventually stopping to smoke a bowl. Despite the dam, the area is still quite beautiful, though I can only imagine it’s original glory. Before too long, we headed back across the dam and hiked back up to the bike. This area was not connected to the rest of the park by road, so we would have to leave and drive around to the other entrance.

The ride back up and out of the valley was equally exhilarating as the ride down. The place looks completely different from the other direction, but still very beautiful. Our camp was in between the two park entrances, and we stopped back in to eat lunch. It took perhaps an hour, and then we were ready to go investigate Yosemite Valley.

Coming out of the tunnel and into Yosemite Valley defines the word breathtaking. Diffuse sunlight sparkles off the magnificent granite cliffs. Waterfalls cascade down into crystal clear streams flowing through vast meadows of wildflowers in full bloom. Mighty redwoods dot the landscape. The scene enters my pupils my diaphragm constricts, forcing the breath from the lungs. I struggle to restart the flow of oxygen to me, but I am filled with such overwhelming bliss that I must pull over and recover. It is a beauty to defy and redefine my very idea of the word. It is the smiling face of Gaia, reassurance of the fundamental goodness of the world, and forgiveness that you used to doubt this. The air smells of dreams and inspiration, and one can’t help but feel the timelessness of the epic scenery. This is my God, this is my temple.

Our first stop in the valley was a redwood grove where famed naturalist John Muir met with one Theodore Roosevelt to discuss the creation of the national parks service. A wise setting for the discussion, as it impossible to not want to preserve this beautiful place. The grandest columns of Athens and Rome are but puny imitations to the mighty Sequoia. When you are among the ancient woody giants, there is a feeling of awe and reverence, an implicit suggestion of respectful silence. These trees can be over 300 feet tall, and live to over 3000 years old. Whole pantheons have been born and forgotten since many of these trees sprouted. It is humbling to be so viscerally out of scale with one’s surroundings.

We ran through the wildflowers in ecstatic joy, overwhelmed by majestic visions in every direction. Little known fact: this is where they filmed ‘Bambi’. We hiked to a waterfall past a frolicking doe and her fawn. Everywhere is the smell and sight of wildflowers and nature thriving. I immersed myself completely in the moment, rejoicing in the cool mist coming off the waterfall against my face. All too soon the sun began it’s decent, bringing down with it the temperature. It was time to return to camp for the night. As usual, we found ourselves riding west into the sunset, one of the most spectacular we’d seen so far. I could spend a lifetime in this paradise.

We returned to camp and built a fire from the wood we’d gathered earlier. The temperature had dropped quite substantially over the course of the ride back, and it was now quite chilly. Fortunately, we’d packed many layers of warm clothing, and we were finally in place with no burn ban, allowing us to actually enjoy a campfire. We wrapped up some carrots in foil with a little brown sugar and oil, and tossed the package into the fire. We also took an onion, cut out the center, and filled it with a bullion cube and some oil, wrapped it in foil, and placed that in the fire as well. They both came out incredibly delicious, the carrots sweet, and the onion both sweet and savory. I would highly recommend both of these things as easy camping food/snacks. I believe we also had some nice spicy lentils with that meal. We both reapplied the DEET lotion as the evening swarm was ravenous as always.

The day had been transformational and amazing, and I went to sleep feeling incredibly blessed, and very excited to go back into the park the next day. This campsite was bar none my favorite of the trip. We were very secluded in the woods, and at night often only the rustling of mighty oak and redwood boughs in the wind would break the perfect silence.

“Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the hearts of man.” – John Muir

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