The year had started off bright, with a few sun-bathed days of wandering around the wine country and the Northern California coast, but I hadn't been able to get away on the motorcycle - somewhere, anywhere, for a few days at a time since then. I foresaw in January - that this year, I may ride, but I may not write as much. True to that vision, I have been able to ride on some weekends, but I haven't been writing about those rides, neither have I really been riding anywhere to write much about. As a matter of fact, I am feeling quite rusty as I am writing this right now. Work has been keeping me very busy this Winter, and while I am enjoying the challenges at work, with long days and dark cold nights, filled with puzzling problems to solve with methodical detective work - the longing to once again roam wild and free on the motorcycle has only been growing stronger, and overpoweringly so. I needed to get away, and decompress, the best way I know how.
To let the visor filter in the sun again. To ride the conduit towards the glimmer at it's end, and come bursting out on the other side.
The first opportunity of it's kind in almost 4 months, came in mid-April. Those long hours were taking it's toll and I needed to unplug. Fortunately, my manager agreed and almost magically - an invitation to camp in the Yosemite Valley materialized from my good friend Albert. He had the campsite to himself all week, and he was inviting friends to join him for the weekend. I hadn't seen him in almost half a year - and we had a lot to catch up on.
Besides, this would also be a great continuation of my moto affair with Yosemite, the earlier episodes of which were (Scouting the Guardians) and (Out of my Comfort Zone).
Incidentally, the weekend of my arrival would coincide with the start of the "Free Week" to visit the National Parks. I was unaware of this till I reached the gates of the park, and wondered why the lines snaked almost double the length of what is usual for April.
"You are going to encounter very heavy traffic in the valley!" The Ranger informs me.
"It's OK. I am here for a couple more days." I counter.
She smiles and says - it will be all right once it's past Sunday afternoon.
She wasn't kidding either - Yosemite Valley is infamous for it's late Spring and Summer gridlocks once the tourists start pouring in - and this day in early Spring was just as bad as any other you would encounter later in the season. Needless to say, I had neither the patience nor the stomach to take on the stresses of dealing with the hordes of tourist cagers. I was here to unwind, not for vehicular combat.
Heading straight for the campground. I found Albert chilling in his hammock, fiddling with some puzzles. Now, that's exactly what I was talking about! Our campground was nestled at the confluence of Tenaya Creek and the Merced River. The campsites adjacent to the river are at a premium and are usually the ones which get snatched up first. Perfect to picnic while dipping your toes in the (freezing waters of) Merced River. The view from these premium campsites, is unmatched from any of the others.
With Albert assisting, unpacking and setting up camp took only a few minutes. A quick change into street clothes, bike covered, and we set off on foot to explore Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) and grab some very late lunch, about 1/2 a mile from the campground. Even with the roads in the Yosemite valley reduced to parking lots, walking or bicycling in the valley is always a pleasure - and during these logjams, the fastest way to get to anywhere!
That night we were joined by 3 others at our campsite. None of whom we knew before we met this evening, but were friends or acquaintances of friends of Albert.
Bruce and Suzanna from Orange County and Ricardo the Bear from the Bay Area. Ricardo the Bear, because he couldn't figure out how to get into the Bear lockers. Guess they do work! :)
Bruce is a hard core bicyclist, and had done the 'Death Ride' in the Sierra Nevada Mountains more than a handful of times. 129 miles on a bicycle, 15,000 feet of climbing, and 5 mountain passes - starting at 5AM and finishing by 8PM one the same day. Talk about the REAL IRON BUTTS! Suzanna on the other hand was content to let him indulge in his "silly mountain rides, and his silly British classic cars (Triumph)" as she put it. Great people to hang out with, and they kept us great company till Al and I left - whilst they enjoyed staying an extra day.
Although, on this first night, the campsite next to us got very interesting. Six young men speaking a foreign tongue, brought Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park by deciding to have a hookah (or was that really a gigantic bong) party at the campground. Loud music, dog left to wander around, bathrooms trashed, yeah Los Angeles all right. Meriting a visit by the Park Rangers, who politely informed them - this is neither the right place nor the right time for these antics, and they better put that Mutt on a leash, lest it become food for the Bears. To top it off, all six of them were going to sleep in one tent! We had some good laughs at their expense, joking that we didn't care if those guys spooned in that tent, as long as there was no forking - nobody wants to hear that!
When the rubbernecks from the weekend had ebbed, we decided to indulge ourselves with a visit to, and breakfast at The Majestic Hotel (which was formerly called The Ahwahnee Hotel, but has changed it's name due to a trademark dispute). A grand luxury hotel built in 1927 in rustic architecture, and is now a national historic landmark - and it really is a treasure.
Yosemite valley was in the onset of an early Spring bloom. We were here a bit too early for it to be in the lush of Spring, another week and it would be a veritable eruption of color!
The Majestic Hotel sits perhaps aptly with the Royal Arch Cascade as it's background. I am not sure what the name of the waterfall is in the background. Neither do I know if it even has a name. It probably flows early snow melt, but is long gone by late Spring or Summer.
As grand as The Majestic Hotel is, it is still dwarfed (as is everything else in the valley), by the sheer size of the granite monoliths which pose as their backdrops.
Breakfast was in the Grand Dining Room of The Majestic Hotel. It's 130 feet long, 51 feet wide, with a 32 feet ceiling supported by massive wooden beams and rock columns. The high ceilings and the stained glass windows reaching for the ceiling give it the appearance of a Basilica. There were other patrons enjoying their breakfast in the dining room, so to respect their privacy and to let them enjoy their meal without disruption - I decided to not be an ugly tourist who pulls out his or her camera to photograph the entire dining room, whilst others are in the midst of their breakfast. This one (and only) picture of food, with the permission of my breakfast partner will have to qualify for food-porn.
It's rare to see the Great Lounge of the hotel so deserted. There is a fireplace on either side of the lounge, with a piano in the middle, and both sides are floor to ceiling plate/stained glass. The Majestic Hotel's Great Lounge design inspired the set design for the lounge/lobby of the fictional Overlook Hotel in the horror movie 'The Shining'.
Fully fueled, Al and I then decided to loop the entire length of the Yosemite Valley. Approximately 14 miles for the full loop adding a couple miles for Mirror Lake, and other detours from the loop. This was the 'Moderate' hike that we chose to do as neither of us had done this before. I had learnt my lesson from the previous year, and decided not to lug my 35+ lb camera gear along with me, and save my back a visit to the chiropractor/masseuse on my return. We had a late start due to a leisurely breakfast, so we didn't stop much for breaks or photo opportunities.
At least not until 12 miles into the hike, when I had to take a break because my Keen hiking shoes had rubbed my left big toe raw. Either my feet are growing, or they swelled up enough from the hike, for the shoes to not fit as well anymore. I do love my Keen hiking shoes - maybe I will pick up another pair a 1/2 size bigger.
This one picture from the hike is of El Capitan from the Valley loop trail. It is much more imposing in person - than what the cell phone picture below portrays.
The next afternoon, I decided to loop the valley again - this time on motorcycle, to make good on my promise of 'Touristy Images of Yosemite Valley'. Unfortunately, on this day, there was nary a cloud to be found, making for a very bland and blank sky. I should note that all of the mounted or moving shots are from my GoPro attached to my helmet.
El Capitan beckons in the not so distance. It is closer than it appears due to the super wide angle lens on the GoPro, however, any closer to El Capitan and it would no longer all fit in the frame. :)
Only faint wisps of clouds from Valley View. I was having so much fun, enjoying watching Bridalveil Falls flow. Although, the swell of the flow didn't surpass what I have seen a few years ago, it is still so much better than the last couple of years.
Tunnel View - the herd is much thinned out on a weekday in early Spring.
A different profile of El Capitan, with Horsetail Falls (or is that Ribbon Falls - I am confused). This is one of the many falls which won't be flowing later in the season.
Facing Horsetail (or Ribbon as the case may be) Falls and El Capitan is Bridalveil Falls - as seen from the roadside. It is actually an easy hike/walk to get to the base of the falls from here, but even though it is do-able in full motorcycle gear, I didn't indulge in it this time.
Yosemite Falls is featured prominently in the write-up this time. Perhaps because it is both very easy access and very photogenic. It's easier for me to take pictures of what is already so very beautiful!
The FJR enjoying it's moment in the sun. The bike may be over 11 years old, and has been through hell and has risen again like the Phoenix, but as it's rider and beholder, I still find it a very good looking motorcycle! :)
Yosemite Chapel was next on the agenda - no, not to get hitched. It hasn't been in the cards for me so far.
The Chapel, has been the venue of many a wedding - I am sure. I personally know of at least one! :)
|File Photo: May everyone's brides be this lovely!|
I would have preferred not to have and could have done without the cars at either end of this frame - but I ended up with those cars framing this shot instead.
Almost back to the campsite, which is just a mile away from the foot of Half Dome, hidden by those tall pines, which are also hiding the Merced River which is flowing behind them.
Posing the FJR one last time in the valley, before heading back to camp, and before heading home the next day. Still not a cloud in the sky. The weather gods had opened this ideal window for a visit to Yosemite. It had stormed a few days before, and the weather forecasts were calling for a very chilly visit. Lows down to the mid 20F at night, which fortunately didn't materialize. I was bemoaning the lack of white fluffy clouds, but I was also thankful that otherwise the weather was absolutely splendid. T-shirt and sandals weather during the day - and only a light jacket sufficed at night. I had been wary of the weather and had packed way too many layers - half of them I would end up not using at all. Better to have stuff and not need it, than to need stuff and not have it!
As I prepared to leave the next day, the window of good weather was closing. The clouds I had been asking for throughout my visit had now floated into the valley. A storm was in forecast for later that night, but it's much more amiable and fair harbingers had already arrived - much to my welcome.
I was pressed for time - mostly because I had been delaying going back home to the very last moment I could, yet I decided to loop the valley one last time before I headed home.
The skies are so much prettier when they are painted in with some puffy clouds.
I had mostly good luck with traffic on the way home. Found some good 'rabbits' as well. The storm was still hours away - and it was still a terrific day to ride!
These speed advisories usually signal tons of fun on the motorcycle, but sometimes they also signal there are 20 cars ahead, going 5 under the suggested speed. Lucky for me, not on this day! :)
The passage out of paradise and back into reality. A few days spent in paradise had already worked it's magic to brighten my mind-set and perspective, as I prepared to plug-in and once more be a productive member of the economy.
Back home safe and sound - both the ride and rider none the worse for wear. The optimal consummation of any motorcycle journey.
I find the veteran FJR is just as good a 'truck' for camping as the young-buck V-Strom.
Thank you very much for reading! :)