The night was going exceedingly well; I had just finished a half-successful skype session, only interrupted by a poor internet connection, and after making the finishing touches to my blog, I headed to bed at around midnight. There, laying in what has been my designated bed for the last five nights, was a well-built gentleman, not much older than myself, yet carried comparatively more muscle and a poor attitude towards fellow guests. Not wanting to tackle him personally, I very politely asked a gentleman on reception to leave his film momentarily to sort out this bedding complication, and unexpectedly wilfully, he came and attempted to sort out the issue. Unfortunately, the chap in my bed didn't co-operate and certainly didn't want to change to an upstairs room, so it was decided there and then, that I would have to move upstairs instead. Having hauled all my belongings up a steep flight of stairs in the most ungraceful of fashions, I located room 303, and entered. Close to 1:00am by this point, I expected everyone in this new room of mine, to be fast asleep, and furthermore, not wishing for disturbance from me, so I made the quietest entry as possible. But where was I to sleep? I couldn't turn on the light -this would instantaneously make me the 'uninvited guest'- and so I persisted with using the faint glimmer of my iPod, shining it around, and eventually found the one and only free bed; the top bed on this bunk, without a ladder. I considered taking a run up, swinging like a gibbon from bunk to bunk, and accessing the bed that way. Alternatively, I could step up on the lower mattress and crank myself up in a move not a million miles from looking like a gymnastics routine, but I considered that I could very easily step up onto someone's face, and whilst it would make me internationally famous for being the most irritable hosteler ever to have lived, I didn't like the thought of the conversation I and this being would have the next morning. I relinquished, scooped up my belongings, and left the room, heading down to the theatre which has a rather comfortable seating area, if a little bit cold and unhomely. Very soon, I was sleeping in my selected armchair, with my iPod (in hindsight, foolishly) propped up on my knee, set to alarm at 5:45am, so that I wouldn't sleep in, though the chance one of these days would be a welcoming opportunity. An hour passed; I woke up and discovered my iPod was no longer on my knee, and furthermore after a rapid search, hadn't dropped onto the floor, and what's more, I was inhaling smoke, evidently from each exhalation of a person next door. It turned out to be that well-built guy I had previously had an exchange with, puffing large clouds of undesirable vapour in my direction. Without a moment's hesitation, I proceeded to the hostel reception (it must have been around 2:30am now) and reported the theft. During this early morning interchange at the desk, I happened to look up at the CCTV screens and to my astonishment, witnessed the thief -the well built guy, no less- place my iPod underneath my chair. I retrieved it in an instant; the thief thought I had accused him (which I had) but diplomatically, I apologised; all I wanted to do was to go to sleep. It was now heading towards 3:00am. Tucking myself back up, this time clinging onto everything I possessed, I set to sleep, but only a few minutes in, was stirred back to consciousness again; the guy now choosing to watch The Hangover which by all means is a good film, but not one for 3:30am. I deliberated on whether to argue the matter with him, and considering the potential scenarios (including one with me loosing, not my iPod again, but a few teeth) I chose to sit there, and hope that extreme fatigue would force me to sleep. It didn't; 4:45 came around, the guy was now in deep slumber, snorting away on every couple of ticks of my watch, and now desperate for at least 20 winks, I turned off The Hangover and I was asleep in minutes. 45 minutes passed, my alarm sounded, and it was time for me to get ready for Yosemite.
If you've just skipped that mighty paragraph, you won't know exactly why I can't remember the journey to Yosemite; it was all very episodic. I would wake up to the driver- a great guy called Steve with a perfect radio voice, sustaining a strong American twang- detailing where we were and in true guide fashion, letting us know where and when the next rest-room break would be, and always ending up with the words "as we cruise along to Yosemite National Park", as if he thought we might have forgotten why we had so generously relieved our wallets of $150. So I enjoyed several power naps, and by about 10:00am, after four hours on the road, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of our surroundings.
There's a brief 30 minutes or so of cruising through wildly undulating ranch farms, before reaching the start of the Yosemite National Park. Almost if they had just been produced, we instantly left the hillside, and were now parading through a mighty valley. On each side of the road, soaring peaks of granite supporting only a few resilient trees, stood proudly welcoming us to this oasis of profound natural beauty. Soon we were following the meandering course of a frenzied river; its course as sinuous as a snake track, and I took a moment to think that this same watercourse had throughout inconceivable lengths of time, gorged it's way through the rock. The capabilities of water never cease to amaze me as a geographer. We progressed, gradually getting deeper into what was now a U shaped valley; carved out thousands of years ago by a glacier, and as I pressed my face closer to the window, I noticed erratic boulders, that it had deposited so easily in its slow but grinding journey.
Yosemite National Park sits on the trophy shelf along with the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River for truly being a "special temple of Nature" if I'm allowed to use a phrase from John Muir. (I'll come onto him later!) It's a spiritually powerful area of wilderness, that has the ability to move the most stubborn of person with it's indescribable diversity of scenery; vistas far beyond human comprehension. It's a space shared by both bear and lichen, deer and moss; from the towering yet thin trunks of pines, to the internationally famous Giant Sequoias. Yosemite (pronounced, by the way, Yo-set-i-me) is not just a haven of flora and fauna; it's the remains of a long natural battle, a war between the climate and the rock. We took the scenic route and stopped in a turnout, for a photo stop. What you see when scanning the landscape is a wilderness that doesn't look alive at all, but from each angle, you can strangely identify with just how dynamic this national park really is. Bare patches in otherwise densely vegetated areas indicate dramatic landslide events. The smooth face of Half Dome presents thousands of years of weathering. As you peer down to the valley from this viewing spot, it seems to smothered in thick leafy vegetation; not one tree stirs, but you just know that down there is a hub of activity, comparable to any city's downtown district. All of this passed through my mind as I stood there, in close to zero degree C temperatures.
I proceeded through the park, gradually becoming reacquainted with wilderness, and the wintry weather only made it seem more like Alaska. There was a chill in the air, which would at unpredictable points on my journey, catch me by surprise and send shivers down my vertebrae. From several vantage points, I stopped and scanned the mountains ahead of me; thickly coated with snow like an iced bun is dusted with caster sugar. Winter had arrived here in California.
Wildlife, of all kinds, seemed scarce on my hike. But I was lucky to enter into an opening and caught a few deer enjoying the views, nearly as much as I was. They occasionally grazed on what was left of their meadow, now similarly covered with snow as the mountains were. For wild deer, they didn't seem frightened by my red jacket, and I managed to obtain a few modestly good photos.
As my hike was reaching its conclusion, I entered into the 'Yosemite Village', surprisingly kitted out with what seemed like an exhaustive supply of resources. A local hospital, a post office, a library; all here, surrounded by some of the most pristine wilderness in this country. I took myself into the community theatre to warm the areas which had been exposed to unsuspectingly low figures. Showing today was a film called The Spirit of Yosemite which provided an inspirational tale about such an extensive array of geological and ecological forces which have made their mark on the park over the last millennium. Making Yosemite a national park was not an easy process from my understanding, but Lincoln signed the Yosemite National Park agreement, and it was John Muir- an enthusiast for nature- that set to map out this vast expanse. John Muir reminded me a bit of Dick Proenneke, that Alaskan explorer whose resilience to the powers of subzero temperatures still astound me to this day. Muir writes beautiful things as well, and so I left with yet another book in my bag. I know I shouldn't have done, but it was too good to leave without. (I promise no more book purchases from now!) Outside the theatre, by way of digression, was a trunk disc of a Giant Sequoia; this one reached 1100 years old, but I'm told they can reach the mighty 2000 mark. On this one were a number of notable dates of history aligned up to that year's tree ring: Battle of Hastings, Domesday Book etc. I moved my hand over these rings, knowing and yet simultaneously struggling to believe that I was rubbing my palm across growth that occurred thousands of years ago. What's so incredible is that we do this everyday, as we touch rocks or stone that were created from lava, but to touch something that was actually living in those years is mind boggling. I left amazed.
The tour group met back up again, and we boarded the coach to head on out the park. On our journey, we made two photo stops. Firstly, one from the base of Half Dome. Can you believe that it takes up to three days to climb it; those brave enough have to build hammocks. It makes me queasy even as I sit here!
Aboard the coach, we left the park in the same graceful fashion that we entered with, and soon we were heading towards San Francisco. By way of a treat, Steve- the driver, if you've forgotten- drove us to Treasure Island, where we were able to gain a perspective of the city in twilight. We drove over the same bridge that I had entered on, not even a week ago. San Francisco- the city by the bay- would be very soon just a memory; tomorrow I head to Monterey, but what a memory it will be! I tipped Steve, gathered up my belongings, and entered the hostel for my last night in this amazing city.