Nate Farrington is an outdoor professional at Cornell Outdoor Education. He is a full-time vagabond who prefers to travel on two motorized wheels. This is part four in a journal of his trip across the country on his motorcycle.
It’s 5:23AM and I am awake. Today is my departure from the Giant Sequoia National Forest and the Whittaker Plantation. It’s bittersweet. This place has a pragmatic comfort that will be hard to leave behind. Today is also the first day of my ‘no destination’ trip. The sudden freedom is almost intimidating.
Sadly, I get out of the tent 3 minutes too late and miss saying goodbye to some new friends. One has left me a blow-up camp pillow. Small objects of comfort mean a lot on a long trip, and the gesture touches my heart.
I say my goodbyes, pack up, and ready myself for the road. But when I push the start button, it just clicks. Not again!
Yes, this has happened before. I decide the battery has been drawn down too low, so the next step is to pop start it. I push the 900 lbs of bike and gear around and get it pointed down the hill. The brakes are sticking now. I finally get a little speed, shift it into 2nd gear, and vroom. The bike starts. I keep it going with the throttle (the choke cable has been stuck for years) and once again ready myself for my trip.
These small issues are starting to snowball. I will need to deal with them soon.
Leaving these roads, holy mother of all things decent on earth, it’s hard to pay attention to what I’m doing. The trees, the topography–how can I leave here?
I wind up in Oakhurst, CA, just before the park. I’ve stopped at an independent coffee shop. As I’m taking my time with the coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I notice the NAPA across the back parking lot. A quick conversation later and I have myself some borrowed tools, a jug of oil, an oil filter, and a drain pan. I’m doing my first oil change of the trip.
About 30 minutes later, I’m all set. I clean the tools, thank the guys inside, and make my way to Yosemite valley. Even typing it, I’m still in disbelief. I’m heading to Yosemite. Mecca. Climbing, USA.
At the gate of Yosemite, I didn’t pay because I was visiting my facebook friend, an employee of the park. I was surprised to learn how big Yosemite National Park is and I was 35+ miles from her location. Note to self: do some more research next time you go somewhere.
Coming down the parkway, I’m absolutely shocked at the size of these mammoth structures jutting out of the world. These are the climbs. This is the place. And no wonder these multipitch endeavors take so long. It’s gigantic.
Then I see a family pulled over with their hood propped up on a rental van. I stop and check in with them. At first, I’m waved off. I explain I’m a mechanic on the side and can probably help. The father relents and accepts my offer. The interior light won’t go off while they are driving. They have their engine management fuse box opened up. I close that and after some searching, I realize what the problem is: they have their dashboard illumination up all the way. I explain the issue, they thank me and I move on.
I’m going to speed things up slightly. I arrive in the valley. I’m ambivalent again. Always that ambivalence. Yosemite Valley. I’m looking at some of the most famous climbs in the world. And I’m looking around at the sheer number of tourists. The whole area seems to be setup for tourism. My heart breaks a little and is quickly stitched up again with a look at the walls. I finally say meet my friend and we make plans to climb later that day.
I stick around the area for the most part. The layout of the park is confusing, especially the valley area, thanks to one-way roads. I walk around, mail some packages, take a look at the falls, and disappear into the woods to read for a while. Around 7, I head back.
This is where it gets a little strange. Let me explain myself before I head into the rest of this: I’m a lone wolf (maybe a lone fox, considering my nickname). And solo motorcycle travel does something to a person. Every time on this trip that I have been in a large group of people, I have either known or had many things in common with them.
The climbing turned into pizza and beer for her and pizza and soda for me. Next thing I know, I’m sitting, staring at these huge rock faces and getting antsy. I’m feeling uncomfortable. I need to either get on a climb and disappear into my thoughts for a bit, or leave.
We move locations and sit. We move locations again and sit. I’m trying to be friendly. I’m meeting people. But as I’m standing in a makeshift recreation center near where the employee housing is, I realize I need to get out of here as quickly as possible. It’s 1AM and getting colder, and have already stubbornly decided
that I will not be remaining here. I have friends waiting for me just outside the park. Besides, I still need to collect my dropshipped gear.
I make my move. I say goodbye and ninja my way out of there. The next thing I know, I’m vrooming my way through Yosemite in the wee hours,attempting to get to my next stealth camping spot. I set my mind on getting out of the park and hit it. My friends are at Tuolomne. I will find them.
Nobody warned me about Tioga Pass. High elevation, 2am, icy roads and cold. I mean, cold. Can’t feel your hands any longer cold. Screaming at yourself to keep going because your sleeping bag will not keep you warm in these temperatures cold. Punching yourself cold. Painfully cold.
I can’t see anything on either side of me. I feel large, giant structures encompassing me. I feel sheer cliffs dangerously close on my right. I see rock slide signs and other hazard warnings. I see foxes and deer. I speed up. I feel like I might die. I just need to get out of here.
Finally, around 3:30am, I come through the other side of the pass. I start to descend. I have no idea where my friends are, but I decide they’re too high up anyway and I want to get to where it’s warmer. I suddenly feel the temp begin to rise again. My hands and fingers burn and ache.
To my surprise, I wound up at Mobil. The Mobil. The Dirtbag Mobil in Lee Vining, California. This particular Mobil isn’t so much a gas station as it is a climber’s social club that happens to carry fuel as well. I parked up top, next to a sign explaining some lake, but my exhausted eyes are too cloudy to read it.
I take out my sleeping pad and bag, I throw them down next to the motorcycle, and I pass the hell out as the bike exhaust ticks next to me, cooling down from my wild ride through the mountain pass.