Day Six, September 18, Mileage 237, 2664 total
In what ends up as the shortest driving day of the whole trip, I enter almost simultaneously two new, different worlds.
The first is humanity. I did my usual rising at the crack of dawn and was heading up Tioga pass around 6am. It was a blast driving up the switchbacks with no traffic and I was early enough to bag the “early bird” discount into Yosemite, as they do not staff the toll booth until 8am. My moral compass was comforted by the fact that this was just a through trip with no stops. The park was just in my way between Nevada and the Bay Area.
Shortly after I entered the park, the hordes appeared. Car after car lined the sides of the road at every turnout and trailhead, with literally hundreds of puffy jacket hikers gathering for their day or overnight hikes, as it was Saturday morning. Without getting on a soap box, it was a bit shocking to go from the wilderness of Utah and Nevada to the pseudo-wilderness of California. This shock hit harder as I was in the middle of reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, which goes into great detail his distress over the paving and development of National Parks and other wilderness areas. For me, wilderness is emptiness, and I feel the most whole surrounded only by what existed before man came along. I could choose many quotes from the book that angrily talks about his negative views, but I’ll leave you with one of his closing thoughts:
A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power lines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life go to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it is there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.
The second world I encountered on this day was home. I spent 15 years living in Northern California, and I have so many memories around every corner of the road. Driving through Yosemite in the early morning (as the British say, it was “spirited” driving) reminded me of hiking up to the John Muir trail to launch a friend on a week-long hike. I hit Oakdale to see that Sno-White Drive In, my favorite small-town burger and ice cream stop, was still open. It has been there since my first trip to Yosemite and have stopped almost every time I go through.
Further on, I hit the flats of the Central Valley and pass the oddly comforting rows of almond trees, grape vines, and farm stands, all calling out with fresh, local produce. I stop by and pick up some blackberries, blueberries, almonds, and figs for lunch and a treat for my hosts tonight. There is absolutely nothing like fresh ripe figs and it is an example of something you just can’t get in Nashville.
I roll across the Altamont pass with all the windmills I worshipped as a kid. I still remember being giddy with excitement the first time I saw them in real life. It was 1997, my first year in the Bay Area, and I was heading to the mountains for the first time. I almost teared up when I saw them, with all the images from Popular Science and other technology rags floating in my adolescent memory. For most of my life, it was the largest concentration of windmills in the US, but now has been eclipsed by many, many other farms scattered across the plains. Seeing them this time, they seemed almost quaint in scale.
I continued on, with both humanity and home combining to provide a reminder of the traffic in the Bay Area. Even on a Saturday there was stop and go traffic.
Early in the afternoon I pulled into the urban yet rural spread of the Freeburgers. They are part of my deep community we built in California, and as an example, we still call cow’s milk “Fox’s milk,” because whenever we had a playdate we had both almond milk for Evie and regular milk for Fox.
They now have quite a few acres on the very top of a mountain in Los Gatos, which leaves you this surreal feeling of being remote while having a metropolis at your footstep. At night, you get a great view of the sun setting over the Santa Cruz mountains and, if you look in the right direction, a view of the lights on the peninsula almost all the way to San Francisco. It was great catching up with them and getting some time with their two kids, two dogs, 30 chickens, and one pig. It is impressive how they handle all the responsibilities of work and home, and now they are starting on construction of new house!
After a nice shower and meal, it was great to sleep surrounded by humanity instead of wilderness, connecting with people instead of nature. Different worlds, but equally valuable.