Riding through the Big Valley
We awoke to a lovely, sun-drenched day and headed out of Santa Cruz by about 8:30 or 9am. Making our way east, we entered the vastness of California’s central valley farming area. Stretching for hundreds of miles in every direction, we got to see some of the crops that were being grown in unbelievably huge amounts. Fields of strawberries which were fragrant in the warm sunshine, artichokes and soybeans, sunflowers and corn, almonds and walnuts, and many types of fruit trees as well. Lots we couldn’t recognize, but we spotted actual cotton being grown, something I’d never seen before!
The day grew warmer and we pulled off near Gilroy, “the garlic capital of the world,” so we could shed our inner linings and take off our windbreaker pants. For the first time on the trip I had nothing covering up my jeans! Often I wore both my black windbreaker pants and my yellow weatherproof pants too, so I was amused that I felt bare in my jeans.
Riding along, I found myself staring at the endless farmland with stunned amazement. Of course I’d seen crops before, but it’s different when you’ve got some wisdom in the mix and the last time I’d really seen farmland like this, I was just a kid. I spent a lot of time thinking about what all of these crops were for, and where they might go. The issue of GMOs was something to ponder about, and so was the problem of pesticides, the decline of bees all over the world, and the possibility of creating sustainable crops that would feed our growing world population. Looking at the groups of migrant workers had me thinking about so many other topics as well. It was a very interesting time to ride along taking pictures while considering the fact that we were cruising through the heart of America’s biggest agricultural producer.
Mariposa, one of the gateways to Yosemite!
The miles rolled by and we drank up the fabulous agricultural scenery which gradually tapered off and changed to scrub brush and ranch settings. One thing that surprises visitors about California is the dramatic change in scenery within the distance of an hour or two. We started the day with waves crashing on the beach, and two hours later, we were heading into the Sierra Mountains!
We rolled into the tourist-driven town of Mariposa a couple of hours after leaving Santa Cruz. I was relieved. It was getting warm and I was extremely tired today, so while the boys were buying some coffee drinks, fueling up and tinkering with their gear, I sat in the shade of the building, leaning against the wall and dozed for a few minutes.
There would be no other places to eat for many hours—except for expensive tourist fare in Yosemite—so we were happy to find a Subway Sandwich shop with parking in the shade. We were soon seated by Andy, who was munching on his lunch with a contented look on his face. Steve and I shared a truly delicious Chicken Caesar Melt with a bag of chips on the side, and yes, we had a pair of chocolate chip cookies too (Did I mention that I am the original Cookie Monster?! 😀 )!
Satiated and caffeinated, we hopped on our bikes and turned towards the nation’s #5 most popular park, Yosemite!
Yosemite is not a great place for a spewing radiator!
As we headed to Yosemite National Park, the elevation climbed steadily as we traveled along the narrow, twisting highway. The scenery was beautiful! Huge rock formations jutted out next to the road which criss-crossed the lovely and swift-moving Merced River. The forests were changing from broadleaf to conifer now, casting dappled shadows onto the road. All three of us were oohing-and ahhing over our intercoms…what a sight, and we weren’t even IN the park yet!
Our mapping software warned us of slow-going traffic, and we were soon crawling along at a stop-and-go pace. Not that we minded. It gave us a chance to appreciate the lovely forest and river, and to smell the scent of the trees and plantlife. We came to a detour caused by a January rockslide which involved stoplights, lane-sharing and maneuvering across heavy-duty but temporary bridges. Riding by the jaw-dropping rockslide, I wondered how long it would be until it would be fixed. (I would read at a later date that the January rockslide had been cleared away in just two days. What we had experienced were the long-term effects from an enormous rockslide that took place in 2006, and the slide we saw was the remnants from that one…whoa!)
Eventually we made it to the park’s entrance and the three of us were beaming as we approached the entrance kiosk. Steve was exchanging money for the park pass when the radiator suddenly started spewing large amounts of steam and coolant with a great hiss…EEEEK!!! I was very alarmed but Steve wasn’t too concerned as he told the ranger, “I’d better get out of the way and see what’s up with that.” Looking doubtfully at the billowing steam, the ranger replied, “Let me know if you need a tow truck.” Nodding our thanks, we pulled into a parking area so Steve could determine what was going on.
All we can figure is that when Steve checked the radiator coolant before we left, he must not have screwed the cap on all the way. The heat of the day, combined with the stop-and-go traffic caused enough pressure to force the coolant out. It all just happened to hit a crescendo when we arrived at the kiosk…mystery solved!
Happily, Steve planned ahead and had enough coolant to refill the system, and soon we were on our way again. Steve was initially worried because the bike’s temperature was elevated for a while, but as the radiator fluid and water cycled through the engine, the temperature slowly eased down into a normal range, and after we left Yosemite, Steve was relaxed and confident that there were no other problems going on with the bike’s engine.
Yosemite Valley is breathtaking—even when it’s full of traffic!
Once Steve had the bike ready, we took off up the road and into the heart of Yosemite. There’s a reason this park is one of the most popular in the nation. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen, or what you’ve read, there is no preparing yourself for actually being there. Even if you’ve been there more than once, every visit will blow you away. I should know. I have had the privilege of visiting Yosemite three times before—in fact, Steve and I were engaged on the top of Half Dome! And yet, when we entered this valley again, my jaw dropped and I could hardly believe my eyes. Yosemite is truly spectacular!
We cruised slowly all the way to the far end of the valley, ogling at the scenery and enjoying ourselves immensely. Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, the Valley’s gorgeous meadows and forests…it was glorious to see! We were on the motorcycles though, so we could not stand there and appreciate each highlight for long moments of contemplation. With a tinge of frustration, I made a mental note: Steve and I need to come back to Yosemite for at least several days so we can fully enjoy the park with our cameras in hand. Truly, Yosemite is a place you must visit on foot to get the full impact.
The traffic was so congested that at one point, I asked Steve if it would be ok if I walked. My legs were dying for some exercise and I nearly catapulted from the bike when Steve stopped to let me off. Oh, the joy of stretching my legs! I was able to walk faster than the bikes for the most part, and when we got to Yosemite Village (sadly, only about a quarter of a mile walk), they parked the bikes and we met up to go into the ginormous store there. That place is seriously huge. As in Walmart huge, but with the opposite of low, low prices! Steve wanted a bumper sticker for the trailer, and we thought it would be nice to have a bottle of water to complete our pricey little shopping trip.
As we began to walk back to the parking lot, it suddenly dawned on us—there was a seriously unbelievable amount of traffic! Granted, Yosemite Valley is always packed, but this was ridiculous. There were four crosswalk monitors at every intersection directing traffic and pedestrians. THRONGS of pedestrians and long lines of cars on every side. Pedestrians and cars were forced to wait for at least 5 minutes before they were allowed to go, and the pile-up reminded us of the worst of downtown San Francisco traffic at rush-hour. I mean come on, what the heck was going on?! How could Yosemite get so crowded in just a few years? To make matters worse, the cross-walk/traffic monitors were being very rude to cars and pedestrians alike. Obviously they were having a bad day, but taking their frustration out on the park’s visitors was a really good way to get fired. Annoyed, we finally made it across the choked intersection.
We arrived at the bikes and found Andy laying on a picnic table, chilling out and totally enjoying himself as he stared up into the trees with his camera, clicking away contentedly. I couldn’t help smiling. I know the feeling. Steve and I could have never come back and Andy would still be there, happily taking pictures! There really is nothing quite like being “in the moment” with one’s camera! 🙂
Ready to go, we immediately discovered a big problem. You remember all that traffic I was telling you about? Yeah, that. Traffic had backed up all the way to our bikes in the parking lot! Yes, seriously. By this time we were starting to hear honking horns and expletives from pissed-off vacationers. People were getting out of their cars and demanding answers from the ornery traffic monitors, accusing them of letting cars through who hadn’t waited as long. Most people were just wondering what was going on because, clearly, this was not usual.
Oh, Obama! Thanks for visiting Yosemite at the same time as us! *cry*
Slowly the word started getting around. Obama. What about Obama? Was someone using the popular dis, “Blame it on Obama?” I looked around at people’s faces when I heard “Obama” and when I didn’t see laughter, it finally became clear. President Obama chose today, of all days, to visit Yosemite. *loud groan* Because of Obama, the entire park was locked down. Nobody could leave or enter when Obama was there, hence the mind-bending traffic. He and his family enjoyed a lovely visit, took lots of pictures, and went on a hike. They took a helicopter as their mode of transportation. In the end, they stole hours from every person’s life who had the unfortunate timing to be at Yosemite that day. (No, we didn’t see them.)
The thing about that situation is there’s no real solution except for complete anonymity or not going at all. Neither is reasonable so I guess it’s just the luck of the draw if or when you get to be held up by the president!
In the end, we sat there waiting for at least an hour—perhaps as long as an hour and a half—before cars were finally able to go ahead. The bummer for us is that we’d planned to use that time to visit Mono Lake on the way up to Bridgeport, but with this set-back, it would likely be nearly dark when we got there.
Before we left the parking lot, we decided to take our leather riding jackets off. It was just too hot. We depended on the wind to cool us off and slow speeds meant we would begin to cook. We were all so much more comfortable but it was an odd sensation to feel the wind on my exposed arms as we rode along.
Obama’s silver lining
Winding our way slowly up and out of the Yosemite Valley, we followed an endless trail of vehicles held up by Obama’s visit. The incredible scenery was even more enjoyable because of the leisurely pace, and we loved the rich, warm fragrance of pine trees to go with the views. However, not everyone was happy about the progress. Steve and Andy paid careful attention to frustrated drivers who were taking dangerous risks to pass cars around blind curves or shoot around cars with unsafe passing distances. These people were ok with endangering their families and everyone around them to gain the space of one vehicle. We wisely kept our distance.
Cresting the hill out of the valley, we emerged from the deep forest and were suddenly hit in the face with Obama’s silver lining. Because we were forced to wait so long to leave Yosemite, we arrived at the jaw-dropping Glacier Point lookout precisely at magic hour (this is the hour just before sunset and just after sunrise. The light is soft and golden, the shadows are less intense—it is the ideal time for photography.)
We spent about 45 minutes there, taking pictures and enjoying the incredible views. The magnitude of seeing Yosemite from above took our breaths away. As a bonus, Andy had been to this spot in 2013 and pointed out an awesome age-old bristlecone pine that made a perfect photography subject. We couldn’t be happier!
The sun was setting when we hopped on our bikes and headed out. Riding past the verdant sight of Toulumne Meadows brought back memories of the wonderful day we hiked here with our parrot, Pumpkin, in a backpack cage that Steve built. I made another mental note: Steve and I must make sure to spend a day here when we come back—Tuolumne is a jewel I’d really like to spend time revisiting with my camera.
Let’r rip, boys, we’ve entered motorcycle nirvana!
Soon we were heading down 140 east of Yosemite on a road which motorcycle riders dream about. Long, sweeping turns on a wide lane that dove down the hill on a perfect, grippy road. We encountered only a couple of other vehicles and they were quite happy to let us roar around them. I could almost hear Andy and Steve’s high-pitched cackles of glee as they opened up and let their bikes fly.
I was on my own high. The views of Mono Lake spread out far below us and the amazing light combined with crazy angles had me clicking away, shifting my camera effortlessly from left side to right. Tiny bristlecone pines clinging to the rocks silhouetted with light behind them, the shapes of the massive walls of boulders and cliff faces, the light and shadow of days’ end illuminating trees and rocks to catch my attention—it was all so awesome and memorable! That particular stretch was one of my favorite parts of our trip and I will never forget it! 🙂
Mono Lake in near dark and the sad panda
Passing the tiny blip that is the town of Lee Vining, we pulled into the nearby west-side parking access for Mono Lake. The light was fading fast and it hit me how exhausted I was. On top of that, I was a bit depressed. I’d really been looking forward to photographing Mono Lake, but this wasn’t what I wanted. Without the energy to set up the tripod, my images would be full of grain with a high probability of blur, so I took some pictures but my heart just wasn’t in it. The annoying thing is, I’d already reconciled the fact that Mono Lake wasn’t going to be in the cards because of our late start out of Yosemite. But now that we were here, I still couldn’t help feeling disappointed. I made yet another mental note to myself: Plan the time to go to Mono Lake so I have several hours to explore and enjoy it.
A deer-shaped blur = near-death experience
With no time to waste, we left Mono Lake after ten minutes and raced off towards Bridgeport like a pair of bats outa Hell. Andy was in the lead, ripping up the highway, and I was looking off to the right when I saw a strange blur pass by. It was such an odd sensation, like I had a bit of filmy material in my eyes that I blinked away and then it was gone.
I was trying to understand what I’d seen when Steve yelled over the intercom, “WOAH!!! Did you see that?!!” I answered with dawning horror, “I saw…a blur… What…was that?” But I realized that I didn’t really need an answer. In fact, I didn’t want to hear the words because the reality was almost too much to deal with.
“A deer just ran across the highway and leaped in front of the motorcycle…we just barely avoided it.” I had no words. Steve spoke up, “Did you hear me?” and I finally answered with a feeble, “Whoaaaa….” Steve went on. “It happened so fast, there wasn’t any time to even react…it was just THERE and then it was gone…”
Mumbling a shocked response, I sat there, my mind reeling with the reality of our near-death experience. How strange that we came so close to a deadly accident, and yet, there we were, racing along at the same speed without slowing or altering our course. Andy didn’t even know what happened. It was completely surreal.
Steve got Andy on the intercom and told him what happened. Andy asked in alarm, “Do you guys want to pull over and collect yourselves? Are you ok?” Steve answered, “I’m ok…Janet?” I answered in kind. We weren’t hurt and nothing had happened to us, except for the knowledge that we’d come within a nano-second of being vaporized. What do you do with that? We rode along thinking about life and how easily it can be taken away. An experience like that makes you really stare at your life. We are all so very small and insignificant, aren’t we?
A cool guardrail on the way to Bridgeport
Andy had a mission. There was a very cool guardrail that he’d seen the last time he’d come this way and he wanted us to see it. I’ve learned that when Andy says he’s found something cool, it’s going to be awesome. With that in mind, Steve and I tried to forget about the near-deer-miss and in a short while the highway left the shores of Mono Lake and climbed up into the hills. Coming around a tight turn, we slowed to a stop behind Andy, and we parked the bikes next to a long guardrail.
Holy cow, what a sight!! Even though there was only a bit of light left in the sky, it was just enough to see the incredible view. The guardrail overlooked Mono Lake far off in the distance. The moon had risen and the last colors of the setting sun left a pink blush that lit up the few clouds.
Then I took a look at the railing itself. I couldn’t help myself from exclaiming, “Wow!! Check that out!!” The railing, which stretched for quite a distance, was covered with hundreds upon hundreds of stickers…and judging by the different languages, they were from all over the world! Amazing! Out here in such a remote place, a sort of “I was here” sticker monument lived. I was sorry that I didn’t have anything to offer. I also wished it wasn’t so late so I could take pictures. Sadly, the light was gone, so we’ll just have to come back for some proper documentation at a later date. As it was, I was completely drained of creative energy and couldn’t have taken any more pictures even if it were high noon. (I did manage to find a page that shows some of the stickers, just scroll down once you’re there.)
In the gloom we made a beeline to Bridgeport, and both Steve and Andy had a blast on the way! It was another road that riders fantasize about—in pristine condition, gentle curves and zero traffic—and they roared down the road as fast as they dared, what a rush! It wasn’t long before we entered Bridgeport and split up to go to our rooms.
Dinner at Rhino’s Bar & Grille and off to bed, what a day!!
It was 8:30 now and we were worried about getting dinner, so we checked into our room at the Walker River Lodge and took off to see if there were any restaurants open. Lucky for us, the other restaurants had closed because we normally shun eating establishments that have “Bar” in their name.
Pushing the door open with a creak, we were greeted by the mouth-watering smell of burgers and fries. It was obvious that this place was a lot more like a family-style pub than a hard-core bar, and we immediately relaxed. Pool tables lit by circles of warm light were surrounded by patrons enjoying themselves. Classic rock played over the speakers and we heard people laughing and having fun. We were seated at a comfortable nook that didn’t face huge televisions showing the favorite sports teams—hooray!
Steve sent a quick text to Andy to let him know we’d found the perfect spot and soon the three of us were relaxing with tasty beverages and eating our bacon burgers, baked potatoes, and buffalo wing appetizers, all of which were delicious. The service was fantastic and friendly—what a great way to end a very long and wonderful day.
Full of great food now, we were all about to fall asleep where we sat, so we said goodnight to Andy after dinner, made our way back to our room and tucked ourselves in to bed. What a long and amazing day! I fell asleep thinking about all the cool things I’d seen, and how thankful I was about a little nano-second.
My photography nightmare: ALL of my pictures from this day are gone
Every night of our trip, I copied all of the pictures from my camera card onto my portable hard drive. However, when we got home from our trip and I copied my files onto my computer, I discovered that the folders for day three and four contained duplicates of day four. Stop the car, say that again? Yes. Me, who is so very careful to always back up my files. I COPIED OVER ALL OF MY PICTURES FROM TODAY. POOF. GONE. NADA.
When I realized that every picture I took on this day were gone, I pretty much totally lost my mind. It probably looked a little bit like this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Cameron Goes Berserk.
There are no words to express what it felt like to learn that I’d lost over 1,000 pictures of this amazing day. Farms and crops and migrant workers…cows and horses and fields of flowers…old barns, houses and broken-down buildings…Steve and Andy and our bikes in amazing settings…so many great images. Just thinking about the stunning sights of Yosemite that I no longer have…wow. Let’s just say I don’t know the last time I’ve been so upset with myself. Oh, and the pictures I took of us travelling through the valley and out the other side, down to Mono Lake, and the cool sights there too. GONE. Yeah…I was over-the-top pissed-off. I felt so stupid and embarrassed that I could do such a thing.
Poor Steve knew there was nothing he could do to console me. I couldn’t stand the way I felt so I took off on my bike and yelled and screamed for the first 10 minutes while I sweated and burned up the miles. Exercise was the best remedy and soon the endorphins kicked in and I slowly started feeling better. Steve told me that now we had an excuse to return to Yosemite sooner, and this time we’d spend several days there. Of course that doesn’t make up for all the lost pictures, but it was something to look forward to, and it felt good that Steve wanted so badly to console me.
In the end, I had to believe that this happened for a reason. That night I’d been distracted in the middle of my copying. That’s all it took. Who knows about these things? I’m extremely fastidious about paying attention to files and copying from one place to another. I double-check what I do. And still, I managed to lose those pictures. Maybe I’m supposed to go back to Yosemite and spend time there, and if I hadn’t lost these pictures, I wouldn’t get around to it with all the places I’d like to visit. But now there’s no question. I’m going, and the sooner the better! And, our solution in the future is to bring a camera card for each day of our trip so I don’t need to transfer the images to a hard drive and wipe the card for the next day. Live and learn. It sucks that I lost all of those pictures but I still have the memories, and we can go back and take more pictures! 🙂