With a fraction over four million visitors present year in, year out—what on Earth did we expect when we entered the theme-park hub that for us, was Yosemite National Park? An exquisitely stocked and of course exorbitantly priced supermarket, conjoined with a labyrinth-inspired gift shop alongside heaving restaurants and other amenities of convenience, comprised the initial spectacle. Granted, it was Spring Break and unlike the droves of epically organized tourists—who had taken the time to book a lifetime in advance to reserve their Easter spot at the natural wonder—we had simply rocked up on spec.
Namely as a pair of wandering walk-ins on our motos that had detoured 250 miles, having been denied access to YNP’s mountainous passes still laden in snow. In fact, our desire to ride for a good hour from the park’s centre in order to glimpse the high country’s dramatic glacier-sculpted panorama, encapsulating El Capitan and Half Dome from above, was dashed. The said road was closed until late May or early June where only highway 89 remained accessible. Darn it! At least we glanced at the imposing granite from the ground, along with the odd marmot and squirrel scurrying around. Alas, we were unfashionably early. Commanding views of wild Yosemite and its towering craggy peaks, high sierra, giant sequoia groves and mirror lakes in the valley would just have to wait.
After receiving a heated hollering from a scarlet-faced woman—whose camping pitch I was sharing (temporarily and unofficially), during the baking afternoon hours that saw Jason’s bike stator malfunction, followed another jolly good yelling from a school teacher. One who was inclined not to mind his own beeswax. Rather, shouting goodness knows what at me from a far, competing with a park ranger doing the same.
Why? For illegally parking our motorcycles in a non-designated spot: an elongated bus stop with no buses. It was almost comical. Jason had fortuitously if not cleverly wandered off with his camera, while I politely acknowledged my shameful wrongdoing as Britishly as I could convey to both militants from a distance; tantamount to squirming in my suit like a fish on a hook until Jason’s casual return. High time we got the hell out of Dodge. Holy smokes, my face didn’t fit there.
In a similar vein, despite the raging opposition from various San Franciscans, Joseph Strauss’ Golden Gate Bridge was eventually approved by the War Department, which owned the land on both sides of the strait. No less than 600,000 rivets in each 746-foot tall tower (227-metres above the water) comprise the structure. As iconic bridges go, it was impressive.
A lovely local named Mary, with whom we’d made her acquaintance in San Ignacio on Baja California, ensured our San Fran stay in Berkeley was all the more vibrant. An amiable and unpretentious woman, fast and certain as science itself—who cared more about good living than she did about order. The cast-iron skillets were always oiled, the bees well tended and I lost count of the jars housing homemade concoctions, sauces and condiments in her fridge. She kept a homely, nourishing house that had little to do with neatness. Things caught and held there.
It seemed more stellar good fortune was in store. For sure, there has to be something about bikes on the Baja Peninsula: when you meet a couple with whom you hit it off without a hitch or hesitation, and their offer to hang out not only comes with a recommendation to taste the best fish tacos in town (Alfonsinas, Bahia San Luis Gonzaga Bay), as well as an invitation into their home, you’d be plain daft not to join them. Sincerely, having had a blast with this pair in Mexico, it was inevitable for the same to occur in Santa Rosa, northern California. Don’t you love it when your sense of humour sings the same tune as your host’s.
Think spirit-level straight and the length of around 53 Pearls from wheel to wheel. That’s greater than the Statue of Liberty herself and nigh on up to 500 tons. Yep, we’re talking gargantuan trees since time immemorial—dawn redwood, giant sequoia and coast redwood in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park that neither really kink nor curve. The highest of which was recorded close to 400-feet (116-metres). They are the tallest living organism on the planet which implausibly, germinate and take root from something the size of a tomato seed. Dating back to the Jurassic period, its foot-thick bark makes the tree all but impervious to fire and insects. Screw the dying red-hair gene, I’m coming back as a redwood.
Dwarfed on a terrific scale by such grandiose conifers in perhaps one of the most lush green settings I had set my eyes on for a while, I stepped out of reality and into a living forested fairytale. Ewok style. Primeval in its setting as much as enchanting, the place was tranquil but shrouded in an eerie mist. An early morning fog seemed to silence the dense greenery and me, while distant birdsong blended with the rippling sounds of the nearby creeks.
Ewok film settings aside, the Yurok people have lived around the redwoods for generations, where its temperate climate and abundant wildlife promoting a rich way of life, doesn’t take much to comprehend why. Shame the natives were ousted by overwhelming numbers of settlers when gold was struck. Disease and conflict hit, and that age-old sad story in the name of progress ensued. Today, I understand the Yurok have made a remarkable recovery as the most populous tribe in California, some 5,000+ live in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Revitalizing their ancestral language and customs almost lost to the past, a humbling outcome to one and all.
Post a breezy ride of sandy beaches along a rocky coastline, we got eight miles outside of Crater Lake, south-central Oregon. So close, but so far—the way of it sometimes. Knowing the replacement bike parts were waiting just a day’s ride away farther north and having trickle charged the battery at a local garage in the day time, was enough to spur us and Jason’s struggling moto on.
A heated tête-à-tête took place between Jason and a cluster of Crater Lake National Park staff, whose request to plug in his dead battery drew venom from one of their snarling faces. Chiefly from the one in charge. Studying him with open sourness and a fierce anger in her eyes, all became clear when she pragmatically argued that helping him would conflict with her having already reached the end of her shift. No can do, she had to go home.
Theresa Wallach’s words sprung to the forefront of my mind: “I would rather grapple with the sands of Sahara than the sands of contemporary society.” As she also said, that’s true-life reality for you. The dreadful tedium of knocking one’s head against a brick wall continued. Jiminy Christmas—thank the iota of conscience she still had to refer this untimely predicament to the police, the law enforcement park ranger on-call. An influx of gratitude flooded my mind where the code of courtesy prevailed at the eleventh hour.
Despite feeling like a ball bearing being bounced in a pinball machine, convincing someone else gave Jason hope. Exasperated by the unrepentant woman, having gotten nowhere fast against her peals of thunder, Jason explained with a degree urgency for his need of immediate electrical assistance. Daylight was fading fast. Simply, plugging our motorcycle charger into their mains overnight was all that was required. Quite forward and firm.
“Well if you’re going to be like that, I could just impound your bike! No. You’re going to have to get your bike towed. Passport. I need to check you out.” was the icy response, hackles up in a manner indicative that he’d been forewarned about the monster waiting for him. Jason had blundered, obscurely, and rather than go on worrying over his behaviour, he decided to just give in and dislike him. The official was worse than a wood tick in the folds of a man’s scrotum.
Upon meeting the armed chap who refused to remove his sunglasses after dusk, there was something in his economy of movement, the coiled energy, that made me think not to toy with this guy. In love with his own self-importance, which swirled around him. Progress with this guy was like swimming in syrup. Steering a new course through a minefield of totalitarianism, permission was eventually granted. In spite of himself, he responded to reason and facilitated the process of restoring power back into Jason’s flat battery overnight.
Still, however, leaving us without a spot to camp legally. A predicament so easily remedied to my mind if it weren’t for arduous types and their ingrained ‘jobsworth’ tendencies (derived from the phrase “I can’t do that, it’s more than my job’s worth”, meaning taking the initiative and performing an action that is beyond what the person feels is in their job description). A smart person knows when to break the rules, right?
Indebted to the universe, which had seen the despot’s living in England for 15 years, permitted me to worm our way out of trouble and accompany him down memory lane. Turning into a particularly long affair, he took endless joy in reminiscing his time on British soil before darkness enveloped us. And with what he saw as reckless abandon, agreed to turn a blind eye in sanctioning us to make a one-off complimentary camp. What a trooper. He came good in the end.
A stark location of almost impenetrable forest: remote as it was raw in natural beauty and temperature respectively, a day-dreamer’s paradise. Killing my engine and the staccato noise put-putting from my motorcycle, I took a moment to survey my surroundings. “Why don’t we just hang the hammocks tonight? Just look at all this stunning forest blanketed in metres of snow! Let’s wrap up really warm, and do it. What say you?” I propositioned Jase with sheer charm and all the Morris persuasion I could summon. “Lisa. I’ve just seen massive prints in the snow, which could belong to a big cat. So no, I’d rather not offer myself up as an tantalising kebab tonight,” I heard something to that effect. Party pooper!
I’ve read guidance galore on how to behave in bear country. Specifically around the relatively shy ones—and having heard on the grapevine—which are still naturally fearful of people in the Crater Lake region. That said, a black bear can smell a dead deer from three miles away, see in colour so are perfectly apt to recognize grocery bags, food containers and my appetizing jar of peanut butter for that matter. At least we don’t carry dead deer in our panniers, if that helps me. Pre-emptive action such as generally keeping my distance is one thing, but what about when I actually encounter one?
Oh that’s quite simple, according to Jason. “When you see a black bear, Lisa, just back away. Slowly. ONLY if it charges you, must you fight back. Hit it with rocks, anything.” Do what, now? If you’ve watched the bear scene from the film The Revenant: simply scaring said animal away that can reach 7-foot tall and weighs on average thrice my weight, isn’t what I’d deem “simple”.
Knowing me the way I do, I’m likely to freeze on the spot with my eyes on stalks, than begin behaving like a crazed human hollering “Shooo, go on, SHOOO!” A leaf ant would be more intimidating. A friend of mine recommended employing the ear-bleeding sound from a referee’s whistle before I even spot a bear, when going about my campground activities as a preventive measure. That or shaking a tambourine, which could be at least double up as our campfire fun too. I had neither.
Ignorance repaired and properly apprised to the magnitude of our wild whereabouts, it dawned on me that we were about the only ones tent-camping in the park. One that receives around 15-metres of snow each year, we actually had to punch foot holds into the snow, enabling us to climb atop a snow drift in order to make shelter.
Wisps of cloud scuttled through the leaden sky, glowing with a pale wash of moonlight and featuring in their own silent film. The windswept formations were like castles in the air. Birds clattered up out of a fir tree and turned at the same instant, transforming themselves from steel to silver in the snow-blown bright. Everything looked radiant and when the clouds weren’t taking the lead role, shone an intensity of light on us. Battening down the hatches, I hunkered down in our ‘Dome Sweet Dome’ concealed from what was out there, including a sky bursting with stars, and made myself snug as a bug.
The black bears, if they had any sense I reasoned to my unruly imagination, would still be hibernating. But what about the mountain lions?—also known as puma, cougar, panther, catamount or whatever name you might attribute to them. They are still the largest and perhaps most ferocious of any wild terrestrial animal in the Western Hemisphere. My mind wandered into unexplained, heart-fluttering territory as I heard a rustling noise. Close and sporadic.
Perhaps not a cat, Uncle Google had previously informed me I am more likely to: drown in a bathtub, be killed by my pet dog, or hit by lightning than gobbled by the aforementioned cat. Oh my, the encroaching noise might be a black bear. What if it is? Ripping my tent open and then me is a sure thing compared to foraging for roots and berries over hours on end. It’s probably starving after its winter-long slumber and I’ve just lapped up a meal of Madras lentils on a bed of fragrant jasmine rice. My breath will be the death of me amid all the nocturnal goings-on. Oh wait, it’s just my eyelashes brushing erratically against the hood of my sleeping bag.