Off-Beat San Francisco

July 2, 2012

Who goes to a crematorium when they visit a new town?

Crazy geocachers, that’s who.

Scenes from Columba:

DSC_1877 DSC_1879 DSC_1881 DSC_1882 DSC_1883 DSC_1884Oh, and another boon – AJ has decided he wants to be interred here when he goes, in the Columbarium in San Francisco.  They are building a new Hall of the Olympians that he thought was really intriguing.

Yosemite’s Treasure

So, after talking to a friend who has seen my posts, I realized I needed to clarify, for those who might have missed my ButterFingers and a Broken Leg post, that these stories I am posting now are from the past.  They are stories from the road trip that we took this summer.  I am still recovering from my broken leg and am not out hiking around in the West in the moment.  My days are spent on the couch, in my bed, and lately also at my office some days, and at physical therapy the others.  I am hoping I can be hiking again by this summer, and walking again in the spring.  For now, I am stuck on crutches, teaching the muscles of my ankle and leg how to walk again.

I will post the dates of the stories from now on.

We reached Yosemite on July 1, after hiking around the Mono Lake area and getting a little dehydrated.  I think the youngest boy was just wiped out from the rough night in the tent the night before, because he fell asleep pretty soon after we got into the park.  So, regrettably, the only views of Yosemite were ones we got from the car window and a few parking lot stops.  We kind of wanted to go hiking, of course, but also we were all worn out from the morning and also thought there would be time for that the next day.  We had miraculously gotten camping reservations in the park and were headed to the Valley, hoping we could find a place to wash the pee out of the youngest’s sleeping bag.
DSC_9471 DSC_9467 DSC_9470
The above shots were on the way to the Valley.
So the first problem with Yosemite was this: everyone loves Yosemite. We were certainly not alone in the park. Our early stops had a lot of people around, but once we got into the Valley, there was no breathing room at all. Our search for a place to get some food and wash a sleeping bag were fruitless. There were no parking spots available in all the lots we were trolling around in. We were short in patience and high in frustration. Finally we decided to get out of there.
On the way out of the park, the adults in the vehicle had made the decision that we would forego our camping reservations for the night and head for a hotel, due to the pissy sleeping bag and the sheer exhaustion we were feeling. But little K missed that part of the conversation, and when we pulled up to Crane Flats to sit in the line at the campsite headquarters just to tell them they could give our site to someone else, we discovered the second problem with Yosemite.
The second problem? Bears. No, we didn’t see any, but the bears are notorious in this park for raiding vehicles for food. I had read so many warnings about this before we got here that I had been OCD about keeping the rental car food-smell-free this whole trip. I had talked to the kids about this, probably to the point that I caused them paranoia as well. How much it was affecting them, though, I didn’t know until this moment, when we pulled up at the site.
Suddenly, the little one was awake, and screeching, and holding his stomach. He told us his stomach hurt, hurt so bad. NO, he had to go to the bathroom really bad, that was it!, he says, but he was crying and distraught. I ended up getting out of the car and walking up to the ranger shack to ask them if I could just walk him to the bathroom in the campsite, and they told me that actually it would be faster to walk to the nearby gas station. I let them know about our canceled reservation, and a horrible scene then ensued in said bathroom, as I tried to insist my son actually use the bathroom and he tried to tell me that he didn’t have to and he was suddenly fine.
And maybe he was right, after all. Because he was fine, as soon as we started putting distance between us and that campsite, and I came to realize that his stomachache was really just a case of extreme anxiety about camping there, due to his picking up my bear preoccupation and distorting it into a actual phobia. Arktophobia or ursophobia, depending on who you believe.
I think it was safe to say that although we were all excited about the idea of a nice hotel room in San Francisco, he was easily the most excited of all of us.
Here are some of the views we did get in before we left.
DSC_9481 DSC_9485 DSC_9484
Also, one last clarification. In my last three entries, the Mono Lake MonoMyth series, I was trying to use elements of our journey to represent parts of the “hero’s journey”, or “monomyth”. This is a literary device described by Joseph Campbell that allegedly is evident in some of the classic stories of our times; Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix. Ancient religious figures were held up against this story frame and it could be diagrammed the same way: Buddha, Moses, Christ. In a way, it could be said to be a classical structure of a myth.
Well, in this framework, towards the end, the hero is said to obtain a “boon”: a great gift that is bestowed upon the hero. Part of the quest of the hero is the decision to share this boon with the rest of the world, or keep it to themselves as a sacred secret. In the words of Campbell: “This miraculous energy-substance and this alone is the Imperishable; the names and forms of the deities who everywhere embody, dispense, and represent it come and go. This is the miraculous energy of the thunderbolts of Zeus, Yahweh, and the Supreme Buddha, the fertility of the rain of Viracocha, the virtue announced by the bell rung in the Mass at the consecration, and the light of the ultimate illumination of the saint and sage. Its guardians dare release it only to the duly proven.”

Well, in our case, our journey did have a boon, and I don’t know if I can put it into words yet the meaning of it. But it was this moment that made the whole journey worthwhile for me and my oldest son; standing in Yosemite Valley, looking up at the face of El Capitan. I told him stories about men who had climbed it before, and he looked me in the eye and said he would like to be one of those one day, that he would like to learn how to climb so he can come back one day and conquer this mountain.
I have a mountain or two of my own that I have been inspired by, so I hope he does, and I hope this boon is something that came alive in him this day that we have yet to see fully materialize. I do know, though, that even now, a half a year later, if you ask him, like I did just now, what his favorite part of his vacation was, he will tell you, “Yosemite.
El Capitan.”

Mono Lake MonoMyth, Episode 3

A Claustrophobic’s Nightmare/Just Say NO to Crack
Black Point, Lee Vining CA
This was the scene of our next adventure. One of our friends placed this cache back in 2004, and we had heard a lot about it since. We had to give it a try, so we drove our rental vehicle as far as we could along the dirt road out near the Mono Lake County Park. At some point the road becomes impassable for 2WD vehicles, and we had to stop to park and then hike the rest of the way out to the lava fissures.  It was a longer, warmer walk than expected – you can see me and the youngest in this picture above, from Jason’s vantage point ahead of us on the trail.
These fissures exist because of the tremors of an underground volcano 13,000 years ago. The volcano in the area is still active, and every 250-700 years the geology shifts a little as a result.  The last time there were such shifts was around 1980.

You can walk among the cracks in the wall, as you see above, and in this case, there is a small geocache hidden within the crevices.

It took teamwork to find this little bugger; Jason spied from above as I tried to both make sure the kids were being safe (ha!  impossible!  they were trying to jump around like goats and see if they could scale the walls) and look for the cache.  Jason’s sharp eye spied the cache before I did – a small lockbox – and threw a small pebble to the area to let me know where to look.  I had actually already looked there!  But I didn’t reach in deep enough.  We also looked for the answer to the questions for the nearby earthcache.

The walk back to the car seemed more arduous due to the heat, even though it was only the beginning of July and mid-morning; probably was not even that hot but we felt closer to the sun here in the high desert.  We drank a bottle of water each, and I remember being annoyed at the youngest for wasting a fifth bottle – he had either dropped the bottle, lost it, or poured out what was left because he wasn’t thirsty anymore.

After returning to the car, we drove back out on the rough dirt road we came in on, and then decided to find some more caches in and around Lee Vining.  We had eaten breakfast before our hike at the only restaurant open in town – Nicely’s – which was a bit of a misnomer because the service was almost as bad as the food there.  It was pretty terrible.  We should have drank more water there, though, or brought more with us, because we felt pretty dehydrated and only searched for two caches (also hidden by our friend Snoogans) before stopping back at the Whoa Nellie Deli to gas up the vehicle, and sit in the AC with drinks and snacks to recharge before we headed back out on the open road.

Mono Lake MonoMyth, Episode 2

Supernatural Aid

Ok so finally we reached the Mono Valley and started looking for camping places.  We drove down a dirt road to a campground that I thought would be a good choice – the Lundy Lake campground.  Google images and reviews showed this to be a very beautiful place.  When we got there, though, it was not living up to expectations, although we didn’t go all the way back to the lake.  Jason did not feel comfortable with the campground, or maybe just the mix of people we saw about it.  They were a little rough.  So we went back out to 395, and ended up searching for sites along the beginning of the Tioga Pass.  We stopped at one – I think it was the Tioga campground- but it seemed too exposed to the elements.  I was starting to feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears when finally, we found a campground that everyone could live with – Big Bend Campground.  It was very beautiful -see below – but if you camp there, be prepared for no amenities.  The lack of running water was somewhat disconcerting to me but otherwise it was very relaxing.
The Crossing of the First Threshold

After getting set up, we had to go find dinner.  We hadn’t brought any provisions, due to the unknown element of where we were staying night to night, as well as the concern about bears.  And, we HAD to experience the Whoa Nellie Deli, or so first hand accounts and reviews would suggest.  So we drove back out of the pass to have dinner there.  We sat on picnic benches outside and watched droves of hiker types coming out with their food as we looked out over Mono Lake and ate giant hamburgers.  It was an experience worth having, although the food might not be as good as the price would indicate.

And then the night started.
The Belly of the Whale

The night here was rough.  The youngest child had gotten himself really worked up about bears.  And I think the oldest child ate too much at the deli.  He complained about a stomach ache, and then came out of the tent and puked on the ground.  That was nice.

In the wee hours of the morning, Jason decided that the urge towards photography was greater than the desire to attempt more sleep.  He got into the rental vehicle, taking all our possessions with him.  I thought I was okay with this, wanting to lay in the silence of the morning light listening to the sounds of nature all around us.
The Road of Trials

Soon, though, the sounds of nature were pierced by a different, more abrasive sound: the sound of my oldest raising his voice in anger, and my youngest crying.  Soon they were tumbling out of their tent, and I was tumbling out of mine, bleary eyed and trying to understand what happened.

And what happened was this:  during the night, my younger son needed to get up to go to the bathroom.  The bathroom at this park, a open latrine, was quite a ways away from our site, especially in the dark.  Really, all he needed was to find a tree…but he was too scared to go outside the tent by himself.  He tried to wake his brother, but his brother did not want to escort him into the scary dark night…or even contemplate getting out of his warm sleeping bag.  And then, the rest is my fault probably, for filling their heads about warnings about bears in this part of the country.  All the counseling I had done about not having the smell of food in our car, and even putting our dirty clothes and toiletries in the bear box before bed, had my poor little guy in such a panic about the dangers of the wild animals that he just curled up in his sleeping bag; then during the night, either consciously or unconsciously, relieved himself of his physical need in his sleeping bag.  A RENTED sleeping bag, mind you, in a rented tent, that we planned to use the next night in Yosemite before shipping it back.

So now they are up, and he is wet, with urine soaked clothes, and crying.  And Jason is not back yet, nor is he answering my call, and I have nothing to clean him off with or change him into.  Then I remembered yesterday’s dirty clothes in the bear box, luckily, so we got him changed into that.

When Jason came back, we were all irritated and not in the mood for the campground any more.  So we got ready, instead, to turn the SUV back towards Mono Lake and begin the next day’s adventures.