There are some places you go that will always hold a special place in your heart. I’ve traveled to many countries and seen incredible sights – the Coliseum in Rome, the Astronomical Clock in Prague, the stunning vistas of New Zealand – but they lack the emotional draw of one place – Yosemite National Park.
I’ve been going to Yosemite since I was a small child, my parents bundling me into backpacks before I could walk and hiking up trails into the backcountry. A photo from my first year of life shows my dad proudly holding me amongst pine trees, the distinctive Merced river flowing along behind him. When I got older and could walk longer distances, I’d be bribed into going on day hikes with promises of dried fruit and chocolate. Sometimes my mom would have to lure me up the trail with a bag of trail mix in her hand.
One of the first things I learned in Yosemite was how to sit still and observe the natural world around me. After scaring my first deer half to death by shouting “DAD! A DEER, I MEAN A DOE!!”, I learned to be quiet. I would sit amongst the pine trees in the still morning air and wait, my mug of hot chocolate steaming as I scanned the clearings for deer, squirrels and the rare coyote or bear. When I got tired of being quiet, I’d don a pink helmet and test my newfound bike-riding skills on the paths around the campground.
Beginning the year I turned seven, my family began to host exchange students from Iceland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Each year we’d load up the car and introduce another European girl to the glorious heat of a Yosemite summer. Some of them fared better than others. Our Icelandic exchange student, used to long winters and cool summers, wilted like a flower in the 90+ degree heat. Me, I loved it. In my mind, there was nothing better than spending the day building rock piles by the river and dunking in the glacial water to rinse off the sand and sweat. Nights brought campfires and s’mores and stargazing in the meadows with our newfound friends from the next campsite over. It was the perfect place to be a child, and the perfect place to find yourself as you grew into an adult.
The last time I went to Yosemite I was in high school. I brought a friend along and we spent our afternoons in the tent, listening to Radiohead and Green Day, sharing headphones and bags of chips. We went on long hikes and I introduced her to the magic of Yosemite Valley – Half Dome with its distinctive sheer face, El Capitan with a scattering of determined rock climbers clinging to its sides, the ethereal beauty of the Mist Trail, where you climb through rainbows to reach the top of Nevada Falls. We lay on wooden walkways in the meadows at night, staring up at the stars above us in wonder. We reveled in the beauty of nature, so raw and so changeable.
Time moves differently when you are camping. Away from the noise and highly structured tasks of daily life, you are left with a lot of alone time. There are few things more enjoyable than getting up early and watching the sun slant down through the pine trees as the world around you wakes up. The air is fresher, cleaner. With weak cell service and internet, you are forced to interact with those around you as your truest self. There is no barrier between you and the world. You are fully present in a way that daily life in the city rarely offers. There are no regrets to be had here – what would they be? No one ever regretted a swim, or a beautiful hike, or a starry night lit only by the glow of a campfire. No one ever regrets Yosemite.
About the Author: Ravina Schneider is a snarky brunette living in Berkeley, California. She does not attend Cal but she likes to run through the campus sometimes. She enjoys cooking, reading, hiking and traveling the world.
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