Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Great American Roadtrip Part 4

When we woke up on Tuesday morning, we wasted no time. After Andy's long wait in line at the Mountaineering and Backcountry permit office on Monday, we knew there were lots of vacationers who were anxious to obtain Half Dome permits. But, I did pause long enough to look at my sleepy-haired husband and announce "It's your birthday!" which I followed with a big hug. But then, I think I said something like, "Now, we gotta get going!" The birthday boy moved pretty quickly. We had packed up all of our necessaries the night before, so all we had to do was grab the doggies and jump in the car. We wanted to be in Curry Village around 6:30 AM.

We succeeded in arriving with plenty of time, and while Andy went into the visitor's lounge to get logged into the correct website with his Droid, I got us some coffee at the coffee bar. Curry Village was just waking up, but there were enough early birds for there to be a line at the coffee bar and for space in the lounge to be just a little bit scarce- already at this early hour a handful of visitors were logging into cyberspace in the rustic-looking lounge, which is reminiscent of an 80's movie about summer camp.

Andy kept refreshing the screen on his Droid, waiting patiently for the clock to strike 7 so that he could pounce on the correct link and get us a couple of Half Dome permits. But as soon as 7 came, the permits were unavailable. Within milliseconds, it seemed, the fifty permits were completely gone! Andy hadn't even had a chance to click on the link that would have allowed us to register. We were dumbfounded. How could they have possibly gone so fast!? In less than a minute it seemed! Disappointed, Andy stepped out onto the lounge's large porch and paced back and forth between the rocking chairs, trying to reach the Mountaineering Office on the phone.

I sat inside waiting, more shocked than sulking, barely able to process what had just happened. A moment later, a man sitting to my left (whom I had not even noticed before now) let out an excited shout!. Another man (also unnoticed until this point) responded to the gleeful cry with, "Have you got a permit, then?" in some sort of European accent that I never could place. The guy was beaming, "Yep!" I just stared at them for a long time, half-jealous, half-happy that someone was able to log in to get permits. The guys conversed about how tedious the online sign-up is, and then they told me about the permits getting taken early on, just to be sold on ebay. At some point in their conversation, I chimed in- I don't remember about what exactly, but apparently, I conveyed our predicament clearly enough for the American guy to respond by shoving his own smartphone into my my hands. "Here," he said, "my phone is already logged into the registration page on the site. Maybe it will let you register your info, too. That way, at least your information is in there, so if you try to do it tomorrow, you can get in a little faster." I was tempted to just say, "no." Anyone who knows me well knows that technology and I are reluctant friends. I can hardly operate my own smartphone, much less a total strangers. But, before I even realized it, I was poking at his digital keyboard, entering Andy's information into the registration page on the National Parks Service website. Meanwhile, Andy was out on the phone, finding out the cold hard facts from the Mountaineering Office. He came back into the lodge while I was entering email address, phone number, zip code, etc. into the site, still using my new friend's cellular device.
"No permits. Already completely gone," he said.
"That's incredible," I said, still punching keys.
But what I was realizing, while I was punching said keys was that the site was going to let me register for permits. I was very wary about the situation. It seemed too good to be true. At least ten minutes had gone by since Andy had last refreshed the webpage on his Droid and received the bad news that all the permits were already gone. How could I possibly be able to register for permits so many minutes later? Unless...
The American guy had said something to the European about needing to go ahead and log into the registration page before the permits became available. Apparently, that's what he had done and he was able to successfully obtain four permits right off the bat. The thing was, he had never logged out of the registration page, but had just passed the phone off to me and allowed me to clear out his info and enter in Andy's. My heart started pounding faster and somewhere around me I could hear Andy conversing with the two guys, but I was zeroed in on what I was beginning to think was a tiny birthday miracle. With another couple of clicks, I completed the transaction- it worked! Somehow, by God's amazing planning, we had permits! I still don't quite understand how this happened. Apparently, the website only allowed a certain number of visitors to access the registration page at 7AM, but, once logged into the registration page, visitors could register for multiple permits at a time. In any event, at least fifteen minutes after being told that there were no permits available, Andy received a confirmation email on his Droid. We were going up Half Dome on Wednesday. We were pretty sure it was God's way of saying, "Happy Birthday, Andy!"

We thanked the American guy again and again for generously letting a total stranger who hadn't showered for two days use his cell phone. He was very gracious and said, "We'll see ya on the trail!" (Which, we actually did the next day!) Having given this kind stranger and the Lord plenty of thanks, we walked out stupefied at our birthday blessing!

We had planned ahead to clean up at the Curry Village shower house before making some more phone calls. So we got clean (the shower felt fantastic!) and then called a kennel that I had seen in a small town called Coursegold as we were heading toward the Park on Sunday. Now that we were definitely going to hike Half Dome, we would have to board Gatsby and Daisy overnight because dogs are not allowed on any hiking trails in Yosemite. They can walk around the Valley, and they are welcome in campsites, but any other trails are off-limits. So we called Graydon Kennels, and thankfully, they had available space for the dynamic duo. Andy and I decided we would take the doggies on a good walk around the Valley, though, before imprisoning them for almost two days. So off we went, for a nice morning walk on the Valley floor...

Andy and Gatsby walked down toward the Merced River for a few moments. Everything was still so quiet, like nature was still just waking up.

Our objective on this little excursion was the foot(ish) of El Capitan. Andy wants to someday climb "The Nose," a very difficult route on El Cap. Here, you can see El Capitan in the background. I guess this was just a time for them to get a little better acquainted with one another. :)

I'm completely in the shade, so not a great pic of me, but doesn't El Capitan look daunting in the background!? That's all you, Andy.

Andy wanted to get a closer look at The Captain, but...

Daisy had other plans for Daddy's attention.

But, it's Daisy, so she is easily distracted.

And Andy got a good look anyway.

In fact, I think he inspired Daisy to stare down the rock, too... or maybe she was sniffing out a squirrel. Who knows?

After a good walk, we drove the doggies out of the Park the hour-long drive to Coursegold. We ran a few errands while out of the Park, but wanted to head back and do a little hike before it got too late in the afternoon. We decided to hike a trail called McGurk Meadows, which was just down Glacier Point Road from our campground, but was absolutely beautiful in the late afternoon sun!

Lupine (which looks a lot like the Texas Bluebonnet) was blooming en masse on either side of the trail. The fragrance was incredible!

The birthday boy!!

Andy explored this little cabin while I stopped and smelled the everything...

Before too long, the trail opened up into this beautiful meadow.

We hung out on this little low water bridge for a moment or two.

We kept walking on toward Bridalveil Creek (which feeds the famous Bridalveil falls) and I gave Andy a birthday kiss!

After a little smooch, I led the way on toward Taft Point. We were hoping to make it all the way to this overlook, but knew we'd need to turn back, regardless of our position on the trail, around 6:30 so that we would have enough daylight to make it back to camp. We were moving quickly, so quickly, in fact, that I completely missed out on the fact that we had some company out in the woods. I was just trucking along when I heard Andy's voice behind me say, "Keep moving. There's a bear over there!" I looked to the left and saw a mass of brown fur about fifty feet away. I moved even faster after that, and kept my eyes wide open.

We didn't make it all the way to Taft Point, even though we were moving plenty fast after our bear encounter. But we did venture just slightly off-trail for a moment to this little spot, where we were reunited with our friend, The Captain, who was looking even more majestic in the fading sun than in the morning light we saw earlier that day.

It would have been cool to have dangled our legs over the edge for this foot picture, but, acrophobe that I am, I was not having it- it was a sheer drop from here. I was doing well to even walk out on this rock in the first place! But it was good practice because Wednesday's trip up Half Dome caused me more chills and thrills than this hike!

On the way back, Andy took this shot of moss growing on the North side of the trees. It almost looked like it was glowing.

We had a little more welcome company on the hike back to camp. We sang songs and said the 23rd Psalm out loud when passing through the place we saw the bear on the way out. People say black bears (which inhabit Yosemite and aren't always actually black in color) aren't all that bad. But I was freaked out anyway and needed to Psalms and verses to keep me calm.

We got back to camp with just enough daylight to get our daypacks ready for Wednesday's trek up Half Dome. We made sausage, egg and cheese breakfast tacos for dinner, then used the remaining tortillas to make some turkey and cheese wraps for the next day's lunch. I offered to make some sort of birthday dessert, but Andy declined, saying he wanted a Devil's Food Cake when we got back home (which I made earlier this week) But the day was plenty sweet anyway, and we went to sleep excited about the next day's journey up Half Dome.

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