Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Towards Yosemite

When I was learning how to improvise on the mandolin, someone explained to me that you have to start with the melody and then find the “corners.” The melody is something that everyone knows and that is predictable, and the “corners” are the places where it “turns,” either with a chord change or perhaps starting to resolve to go back to its starting point. As long as you hit the corners, you’re free to be more creative in between, and the results can be pretty exciting.

Our plans for this fall have been a interesting exercise in improvisation. The corners were that we’d be leaving from the Bay Area early in September, had an interest in maybe getting to Yosemite, had to make a bachelor party in the Tahoe area at the end of September and needed to work in a visit from Ann’s dad to meet his newest granddaughter. For the spaces in between, we’d have to be creative.


As often works in music, we tried a couple things just to see how they worked.  We quickly found that even in early September, camp sites in Yosemite were pretty solidly booked on the weekends. So there was another principle that was going to make this improvisation work; Book private campgrounds on weekends, reservable park campgrounds starting Sunday nights and arrive at first come first served campgrounds no later than Thursday.


Like most solos, this trip took a little while to get interesting. Our first stop was a so-so RV park in Groveland, CA, about 20 minutes outside the entrance to the Yosemite Valley. We chose it as a good first landing spot within striking distance from home that would give us a couple days to get back acclimated to life in the trailer. As it turned out, it would also give us a bit of time to see how the large Meadow Fire burning just east of Half Dome would progress. Thankfully, the site had full hookups (despite the sewer lines being uphill from the trailer – once again, people, are you not familiar with the saying relating to the likely flow direction of feces?) because the 100+ degree temps required the AC running on high throughout the day (and no leaks since my drip pan fix!).

It was HOT.



Of course, there were other ways to cool off, like heading for the pool.


Even Mae quickly got the hang of lounging by the pool.



We’d managed to find an available site for Sunday at Crane Flat, about 30 minutes outside of Yosemite Valley through the Recreation.gov web site. However, the site has a frustrating glitch in that, while it lists the driveway length and type (pull through, back-in, parallel) of each site, it further lists a maximum vehicle length and a maximum trailer length that is typically half of the former. That means a 30’ back-in site may have a max vehicle length of 30’ but its max trailer length is 15’, explained under an asterisk on the site as being due to “maneuverability.” This makes no sense to me since if a 30’ motorhome can make the turn into the site, my 25’ trailer certainly can, and I’ll worry about where I can tuck my tow vehicle in later. I did manage to find somewhere else on the Yosemite National Park site a statement that they do not enforce maximum trailer lengths but can’t guarantee another site if you don’t fit in the one you booked. So with that, we were required to enter our trailer length into the reservation form as 15’ and would cross our fingers.

The morning before our planned move to Crane Flat, I used the little connection I could from the “NoTengoInternet” service offered by the campground to do one more search for available campsites in the Yosemite Valley on my iPhone. This time, one came up at Upper Pines, right near Curry Village, and was available for four days. I kinda couldn’t believe my eyes but proceeded through the booking process and triple checked the confirmation email. Okay, add another principle to the improvisation; Surprises can be the best part!

That evening, we went down into Groveland for dinner at the historic Iron Door Saloon which claims to be the oldest continually operating drinking establishment in California.



While the sign, said “Families Welcome!” the sour milk that came with Wynne’s frozen corn dog bites and the biker gangs gave a slightly different impression. Still, we saw it, had a beer, ate and were home in time for bedtime, all the requirements for a successful outing!

And speaking of bedtimes, I’ll mention one revolutionary addition to our routine. With me kicked out of my own bed (not for the usual reason tho, just to make room for Mae) and sleeping on the lounge, I decided to add a curtain to close off the front area so I could turn on a light to read or work on the laptop in the “oh-so-rare” few minutes a day without kids around. At first, I was going to template out the curves of the ceiling and sew a curtain to fit perfectly. Then I just realized I could crimp my metal snaps (like the ones used on the blinds, to hold cushions in place on the dinette, etc) right onto the panels of velvet black out curtains I’d found at Bed Bath & Beyond and let the excess just hang on the inside (for only me to see). Much easier. These male snaps attached to female snaps screwed into the ceiling which just blend in with all the rivets.



Above, you can see Wynne’s bed all made up with throw cushions from the lounge tucked under the fitted sheet working as a bed rail. The heavy velvet curtains also really control the temperature. My “room” can stay nice and cool with me under a down comforter (fancy word for the sleeping bag I’m in) while the furnace only needs to work a little to keep her warm. And at night, I can have as many lights as I want on in the front area without any bleed into her “room.”

But somehow, everyone still manages to find me in the morning…


Or join me in the middle of the night…



The next morning, we stopped for gas outside the park and had some Russian (?) tourists take a picture of our Airstream. At the entrance to the park, the ranger complimented us on our trailer. At the campground entrance, that ranger did it again. Kinda fun traveling with an Airstream.


Sure enough, our 25’ trailer and 20’ tow vehicle fit just fine in the 30’ back in site with a max trailer length of 15’. Oh, and probably half of the sites remained empty on any given night during the duration of our stay. Interesting reservation system…


For the next couple days, we just puttered around the Valley. It’s pretty much a small town down there with two grocery stores, a movie theater, ice cream shops and delis. And the best part, is that everything in the Valley is accessible by bike path, not the case if we’d been up in Crane Flat.





This deer was here along the path starling tourists every time we went by. I almost expected to see it collecting its paycheck at the end of the week.


The only complaint from our time in the Valley was that it was hot. We basically needed to run the Fantastic Fans 24/7 with all awnings up and shades drawn to be comfortable in the trailer. Add to that the fact that the sun disappeared behind the magnificent backdrop of Glacier Point at around 4:00, and we were hurting for solar by the end of the stay. With each fan pulling about 1.3 amps on high, that’s over 60 amp/hours a day *just for the fans.”



I always feel a little “over-deployed” with all the panels tilted and the portable out. Like people are walking by and thinking, “What the hell do you need all that power for?” Of course, then they go back to their trailers and fire up their generators for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. Still, someone did knock on the door one evening and ask if we were the camp hosts. Guess it does look like we’re planning to be here for a while.

A couple campsites over, we noticed a couple about our age with a boy about Wynne’s age. We figured, if they were anything like us, they’d appreciate another little being to absorb some of their kid’s energy, so we walked over. They were visiting from Scotland and had actually been coming to the US and renting an RV for a few weeks every year for a few years now. Very nice folks, and we appreciated them not calling us on the blank looks we gave them when they mentioned that Scotland was voting on whether to leave the UK in the next few days. Excuse us, our internet connections have been crap and NPR reception terrible!

The best part was that when they told Wynne their son’s name, Adam, she heard it through the thick Scottish accent as “Awesome.” Add to that the fact that she refers to motorhome’s as school busses, and it’s pretty amusing she asks 10 times a day when she can go over to “Awesome’s school bus.” That children’s book would pretty much write itself.

Awesome’s dad played a very weird version of football in which he used his feet to dribble the ball around!


To escape the heat, we did manage to find our way to a couple nice beaches along the Merced…

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…and even found some sand to play in in the dry bed of Mirror Lake. No reflections of Half Dome today, but Wynne didn’t seem to mind.



And speaking of Half Dome… (to be continued)