So. I realized I left things kind of eliptical when I said that I’d had things stolen. I’m not going to tell the whole story – I’ve got plans to write about it for an essay – but y’all deserve a little bit more.
So, the plan was to land in San Francisco, pick up the rental car and drive from there to Yosemite Park. I’d rented a car for a week, I had two places to stay in (one towards the north end of the park, one towards the south) and I had use of the car for the week. Everything all planned out, i’s dotted, t’s crossed. I made my flight with time to spare, I made the connecting flight, and I even upgraded myself to first class on a whim and it was great.
And then halfway across the state to Yosemite, I stopped for a food break in a McDonald’s, spent 15 minutes eating a cheeseburger and got out to the car to discover that someone had broken the window and stolen both of my bags. At that moment, the only things I had to my name were my wallet, my iPad, my hiking boots, my credit cards (although initially I didn’t know that, and it was a relief when I found that), a bunch of random electronics chargers, a rented car with a broken window and the clothes on my back.
Fortunately I got a bunch of help from very kind strangers – to a nigh-miraculous level – and even got some of my stuff back when a Good Samaritan saw one of my bags abandoned at the side of the road and turned it over to the police. As luck would have it, that bag contained my house keys, passport, a couple clothing items and all of my books and travel journals. But ultimately I’ve had some things I need to replace – some specialized hiking clothes and gear, my laptop, and my camera. I’m typing this on the replacement laptop – purchased at a discount thanks to a Groupon that A discovered for me when I got home – and I stumbled upon a used version of my original camera (which got discontinued by Canon) which seems to be working well.
While I’m saving most of the “rescue stories” for another time, I can tell you about three sets of couples that helped me out – my parents were the third people I called (after calling the police and rental car company), and gave me a whole hell of a lot of moral support after things went pear-shaped. “It’s just things,” Dad kept reassuring me. “We can help you with replacing it if you need it, but – it’s just things. You are okay. You’re about to go to Yosemite, and it will be fine.”
My friends Colin and Niki were the second couple. I actually texted them while I was stuck on the phone with the rental car company, asking them to call my parents and give them a heads-up that I’d be calling with more details – Colin spoke with my father about five minutes before I did, telling them what I’d briefly texted him. But while Colin was on the phone with Dad, Niki was on line – researching camera rental shops for me near Yosemite. It turns out the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite has a small collection of cameras they rent to inconvenienced travelers like me, and so by the time I got off the phone with my parents, Colin and Niki were back in touch with me, sending me a link to the gallery desk with more details. Niki had the same outlook as my father, as well – “people have been enjoying Yosemite for hundreds of years without cameras, anyway.”
But the third couple started as strangers. I met them two days later – after I’d had a full day to round up a replacement rental car and embark on the mother of all shopping sprees – and had driven into Yosemite Park to pick up the camera before stopping in Tuolomne Grove, a smaller grove of sequoias at the edge of the park. It had a short, easy hike, partly on a disused auto path, circling past some especially stately trees; it also took you through a long-dead tree that had had a tunnel cut out of it for people to drive through. I parked my car, and stepped out onto the path, brand-new daypack stiff with newness on my back. I was ten minutes down the path, when a couple behind me – whom I’d heard speaking in French for a few minutes – stopped me. “We were wondering,” they asked. “Some of the trees look burned…do you know if that was an accident, or did people start the fires?”
I actually knew about this. “A bit of both, actually,” I said, and explained how the park service used to stop forest fires in the park until they learned that occasional forest fires actually help the plants in the park. They nodded, thoughtfully. And then the guy – a big rugby-player build guy with a shaved head and a rock band t-shirt – grinned. “So we humans messed things up again.”
And that is how I met Julian and Jade. We fell into step together and kept talking, and within a couple minutes it was just generally understood that we were now a party of three. They were from San Francisco, and had lived there 20 years; Julian worked as an EMT, and was an avid outdoors-extreme-sports kind of guy. As we walked, he regaled me with stories of snowboarding along peaks in the Sierra Nevada that were on the California/Nevada border – “It’s like, I turn one way and I’m in California! Turn another and I’m in Nevada! I can go back and forth!….”
Julian was basically an overgrown kid, stopping for pictures of every major sequoia we found – even going so far as to lie on the ground to get the best perspective. The path brought us to a couple of downed trees, and Julian bounded right up to them and stuck his head in any hollow spots he saw; that’s how he discovered that one tree had an entirely hollowed-out trunk, turning the whole thing into a sort of cave. “Come on in!” he called to me and Jade, disappearing inside. The pair of them crawled all the way through, but the pack on my back and 46-year-old knees made me turn back halfway. I ran into another party of people just discovering the tunnel at the entrance, and Julian met them because he’d stopped to take another picture from inside. We all met back up at the far end of the tree, chatting a bit with some folks from the other group, then we wished them all well. When we were out of earshot, Julian turned to us with a grin and said “I just want to come back and spend all day hiding in there dressed in a bear costume.”
I didn’t tell them anything about my burglary – we were having too much fun, and it simply didn’t occur to me. We said our goodbyes when we got back to the trailhead, and the pair sat for a break as I head to my car, eager to get out onto the road before nightfall. When I got a closer look at my daypack that night, I saw that it had been well and truly broken in. I was also pretty much done with fretting about the burglary for a while, too, and I was prepared to enjoy myself again.