The last leg of our drive to Yosemite was the most terrifying and nerve-wracking part of the entire trip. When we were planning the trip months before we were too slow and missed our chance to reserve one of the campsites which book up faster than concert tickets. However, there are still several campgrounds at Yosemite which aren’t reservable and operate on a first-come first-serve basis. We knew how popular Yosemite is in the summer and that it would take us about four hours to get there from San Francisco, so we got up at three in the morning in order to pack up and leave by four, to get there around eight.
I don’t need a lot of sleep, but considering we went to bed at midnight, three hours just didn’t quite cut it. I had a large coffee and was perfectly fine all the way up until after we had entered the park and were only about 15 miles out from the campground. The caffeine wore off and I was crashing hard. All of a sudden it was impossible to keep my head from nodding, although my eyes remained open and focused on the road the whole time. I know my limits and I knew I needed to pull over as soon as possible. But there was nowhere to pull over. We were in the middle of the park on a two lane highway with no shoulder and nothing but trees and ditches on the side of the road. The boys were both asleep and I was basically on my own, struggling to stay awake for a good ten or fifteen minutes as my head nodded and I searched for somewhere—anywhere—to pull over.
It was one of the scariest and worst driving experiences of my entire life. I wasn’t afraid of falling asleep and driving off the road; I was way too tense and focused for that to happen, and in fact it took me a long time to relax enough to fall asleep once we finally set up our campsite. What I was worried about was my reaction time. If an animal were to jump out in front of us or if another car did something stupid my reflexes were so slow I’m not sure I would have been able to react in time.
I finally found a place to pull over only nine or so miles away from the campsite. The boys woke up as I pulled off the road and I explained what I had been going through. I tried to take a short nap but I was too tense to sleep so I got out of the car and did jumping jacks to try and get my blood flowing. Once we started driving again I rolled down the window so that the cold air might keep me awake, and we turned up the music. The boys watched me warily, talked to me to keep focused, and were basically terrified shitless as my head continued to nod.
I kept my eyes on the road and never swerved although we got passed by a couple cars. Eventually we made it to the campground in one piece. Leaving so early paid off since we were able to find an empty site, but I’m never doing that again. I slumped over in the car as soon as we parked. The boys set up the tent on their own, and then I immediately went in and slept the best I have ever slept on a mat in a tent. Moral of the story: always book your campsites in advance.
I slept for a few hours while the boys gathered firewood. Then we decided to go find a visitor center and figure out where the nearest grocery store was. The park ranger we talked to was super helpful and gave us information on hikes we could do near our campsite. Then we drove about 45 minutes outside of the park to the nearest small town. We ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant and used the free wifi at a nearby real estate office to check in with our families and let them know we had made it. After getting ice and some other supplies at the grocery store we drove back into the park.
That evening we decided to walk down the road and check out the Ten Lakes area we had seen driving in. It didn’t seem very far from the campsite when we were in the car, but I guess we didn’t take into account that we were going 50 miles per hour in the car and not even a tenth of that walking. We walked for about 45 minutes to an hour before giving up and deciding to turn around. Yosemite is beautiful, but walking along the side of the highway while trying to avoid getting hit by cars is not the best way to see it. Our hike the next day was much nicer.
We drove to the Yosemite Creek Trailhead the next morning, which was one of the hikes the ranger had recommended to us. The hike was meant to take us past Yosemite Falls and all the way into Yosemite Valley, sixteen miles roundtrip. We set out with intention of doing the entire thing, then changed our minds to maybe just making it into the Valley and hitchhiking back, since there’s a visitor center there. However, we didn’t even make it to Yosemite Falls before deciding to turn back.
There was a part of the trail that was basically just rock climbing. Since you can’t easily wear a path into a rock face, our only indication of where to go were small rock piles that other hikers had left. These rock piles weren’t always easy to follow and some of them were misleading, so we spent at least 45 minutes lost on the side of a mountain.
When we did eventually find the way down the other side where there was an actual trail again we decided it wasn’t worth walking all the way to the Valley which was still several miles out. We didn’t want to get lost again and there was meant to be a thunderstorm later in the evening. So we went to an easily accessible part of Yosemite creek, took our shoes off and rinsed off all our sweat and dirt in the water. We relaxed there for a bit before heading back the way we came.
All in all, including the time we were lost, we were gone for about six hours. We got rained on a little bit as we walked back, but it was actually pretty refreshing, and it stopped by the time we got back to our campsite. The mosquitoes were fans of my sweaty, sunburned shoulders and I ended up with eight bites a side.
Even though we didn’t finish the hike (and got lost and eaten by mosquitoes along the way) we had a lot of fun, and it was one of the better hikes I’ve ever been on. The trail was pretty quiet and we didn’t run into many other hikers. It was actually kind of fun to do some rock climbing and test our navigational skills when we got lost. Going in the river was refreshing and fun.
One part of the trail had a downed log over a creek we had to walk across. Sean was too afraid to walk it the first time and crawled across instead. He walked it the second time though, and took a video of me doing the same. Sean had his speaker with him and we listened to music on the way back. We saw some lizards and squirrels but not much other wildlife, and no bears. I was slightly disappointed but I think the boys were quite happy not to encounter any bears.
That night we had our MREs for dinner, and we got the water boiling much faster this time. We had s’mores for dessert, and since we were exhausted we went to bed unusually early, long before the sun had even set. This made it easy to get up early and pack up in the morning. People were already there looking to take our campsite once we left.
We drove into Yosemite Valley that morning before leaving the park. We saw El Capitan and some waterfalls, and then grabbed some snacks at the small grocery store in the visitor center and set out for San Jose.
Want more? Read about our next set of adventures in San Jose!