And then I got the flu! And it was terrible! And it still is terrible!
But the unifying link is that Barry was fantastic in both situations.
We left for Yosemite on Sunday, February 25. We'd made the reservations back in December; it was my idea, and Barry had to be talked into it a bit at first. Then we'd spent December, January, and early February buying a lot of warm clothes to prepare for the trip, and worrying about whether we'd freeze to death. I started tracking weather reports from Yosemite Valley (it's important to search specifically for Yosemite Valley, because the weather in other parts of Yosemite can be very different) and following webcams that showed views from near our campground. I had reserved campsite #1 in Upper Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley. A week before the trip, I packed my pets and most of my camping stuff into my car and went to Barry's house, so Barry and I could spend the subsequent week packing whatever was left to be packed (most notably, Barry's clothes and all our food) together at his house. In the final week, I read on an official Yosemite blog that people hiking at middle elevations in Yosemite should wear ice cleats, so Barry mail-ordered us some last-minute ice cleats. A few days after that, Yosemite announced that it was closing the Mist Trail for the winter - it turns out they normally do this every winter, but they hadn't done it this week until a few days before our visit because they hadn't gotten much snow at all this winter until a few days before our visit. The Mist Trail, otherwise known as the trail up Nevada-Vernal Falls, was the main trail I had been planning to hike on with Barry, so having to cancel that hike derailed my plans significantly. There was a detour available that would still have allowed us to see the tops of both Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, but it was a substantially longer hike, and I felt that if we were going to make such a long hike, it ought not to be just for the sake of seeing something that we'd be able to see on a much shorter hike if the weather were different. So I just brought a list with us of various possible hikes and figured we'd decide after we got there exactly what we felt like doing.
We packed the car on Saturday night with everything but the ice chest and Barry's hydration pack, which he wanted to fill before we left "so we'll have something to drink if you flip the car on an icy road and we're stranded." Then we got on the road first thing Sunday morning, leaving the pets in the care of Barry's parents. We took Highway 140 to the Arch Rock entrance because it's the lowest-lying entrance and therefore least likely to require putting snow chains on the car. (The entrance that I'm more used to taking is the Big Oak Flat entrance on Highway 120, which would have been a shorter drive.) The drive on Highway 140 was remarkably uneventful; compared to the steep cliffs on Highway 120, this seemed like a leisurely stroll, even when there did end up being a little snow and ice on the roads. Barry later commented that it had been a relaxing drive. We stopped for gas in Mariposa and began seeing snow on the roads almost immediately afterward: I pointed out snow on the distant mountaintops and a second later realized there was also snow by the side of the road.
We arrived in Upper Pines at about 1:30, only to discover that someone else's tent (but not their vehicle) was still in campsite #1. Campsite #1's inhabitants were supposed to have left by noon, but they had not. We flagged down a park ranger for help and got reassigned to campsite #111. I was a bit irritated about this, because I had spent time looking at the campground map back in December and trying to pick out the nicest campsite for us, and I had specifically preferred #1 because it had few neighbors and was located just across the road from the river. "Campsite #111 is actually, in my opinion, a little better of a campsite," said the ranger. I think he just uses that line to placate everyone, because I couldn't see anything distinctive about #111 at all. But it wasn't worth arguing over, so we accepted #111. It did at least feature a substantial piece of ground that was not covered by snow, so we pitched our tent in that spot.
Because hey, that was the other big surprise upon first arrival: The majority of the campground was covered with snow! For months, I'd been reading web pages of tips for winter camping but blithely disregarding all tips about pitching a tent in snow, because I didn't think there would be snow in the campground. I thought we'd have to drive uphill a bit to find snow. Even though the webcam view from near the campground did start showing some snow on the ground a few days before our arrival, the webcam hadn't made it look like a large amount of snow, and I figured it would all be melted away before we got there. Well, it was a considerably larger amount of snow than I had thought. Even so, we still didn't really need any snow-specific camping techniques. The ground was still accessible through the snow, so we drove our tent stakes into the ground as usual, unpacked our stuff, and set up our camp. I spent time duct-taping mylar blankets to the inside of our tent to reflect our body heat back to us, because a tip on the Internet had said this would help keep us warm. It turned out to be awfully difficult to get the Mylar blankets to stay up, and I'm not at all sure whether they made any difference for keeping us warm. Just laying one over the top of us would probably have done as much good with less trouble.
Slightly shaken by the discovery of just how much snow there was, but also excited about the snow, and pleased about having successfully set up our campsite, we walked to the nearest shuttle stop to have a look around the rest of the park.
I photographed Barry waiting for the shuttle. Note: It took me almost 23 months of dating him before, in Yosemite, I got to see Barry wearing jeans for the first time. He got to see me wearing jeans long before I got to see him wearing jeans. And I own far more pairs of jeans than he does. (He owns exactly one, this one.) Yet, if you asked almost anyone who knows both of us which of us would be least likely to wear jeans, they would probably guess that I am, just because I'm far less likely to wear pants.
And he photographed me. (Technically those are jeans, although they're not blue. Actually, I don't own any pants that aren't jeans.)
We took the shuttle around to the various souvenir shops that afternoon and looked around without buying anything. Then we came back to camp, where Barry discovered that the cookwares I had packed were rather inadequate for his cooking. (I had only packed a set of tiny, camping-specific pots and pans that all nest inside each other. They were too small to fit some of the foods we had planned to cook in them.) We built the worst campfire that either of us had ever made in our lives (the firepit had snow inside it, the wood we found at the campsite was all wet, and the fire kept going out, over and over), and Barry managed to cook some pot pies over the camp stove. But we needed something better to cook our future meals in.
So on Monday, we took the shuttle around to the various souvenir shops again, looking for pots and pans. We found some, but Barry said they were overpriced and he could make do with just aluminum foil, so we bought aluminum foil instead, because I hadn't packed that either. (Note to self: Next time, ask Barry for help with packing cookwares.) We also bought souvenirs - a magnet for Barry in the shape of a bear, and a Swiss army knife keychain with my name on it for me. We kept looking for both our names on all the souvenirs with people's names on them. Both our names were hard to find, but Barry's was more so. We did find one mug that said "Barry" on it, but Barry didn't want it.
In addition to shopping in Yosemite Village, we went to the museum there. As we arrived, snow started to fall on us. We had been expecting this; the weather reports before we left home Sunday morning had forecast one to three inches of snowfall on Monday. Here is Barry in front of the museum. (No, those are not jeans anymore.)
And here am I in front of the museum.
And here is a replica of a traditional Ahwahneechee hut at the museum. We walked around the self-guided trail that informed us that Ahwahnee means "yawning mouth" (referring to Yosemite Valley) and Ahwahneechee means "people of the yawning mouth" and Yosemite means "some of them are killers" (referring to the Ahwahneechee in the language of some other nearby peoples).
We waited for another shuttle. Here is Barry looking at a map while waiting for the shuttle in Yosemite Village.
This is a regional bus, which follows a different (longer) route and is painted in different colors than the free shuttles. But the free shuttles are the same size and shape and similar in appearance. They stop at some of the same stops. The buses, but not the shuttles, are outfitted with snow chains that can be deployed with the press of a button while the bus is in motion.
We took the shuttle to Curry Village to buy a dry box of firewood, which Barry had to carry a very long distance from the nearest shuttle stop to campsite #111. (I pointed out that the walk would have been very short if we had gotten campsite #1 like I had planned on. But we also could have just brought my car with us instead of carrying it at all.)
I photographed the icicles on the edge of a building in Curry Village.
Then we went back out on the shuttle again. We went to the Visitor Center to try to sign up for a Night Prowl, but they told us we had to go to Yosemite Lodge to sign up for that. So we took the shuttle to Yosemite Lodge and signed up for a Night Prowl. It was still snowing. When we had brought the firewood back to our campsite, we had also filled up our hydration packs and put on our rain ponchos over our coats, so while waiting for the shuttle to pick us up from Yosemite Lodge, Barry photographed me in my new gear (including fingerless convertible glove/mittens to be worn underneath my larger, waterproof mittens).
Then he photographed both of us.
Finally, and as the sun was beginning to set, we calculated that we still had just enough time to take the shuttle to the trailhead for Lower Yosemite Falls and walk the quick half-mile trail to Lower Yosemite Falls. So that's exactly what we did.
Barry liked the image of my footsteps as the only mark in the newfallen snow on the bridge.
We were both interested to see how Yosemite Creek under that bridge had partly frozen over.
Even though the sun was setting and it was February, this trail still attracted a substantial crowd. An older couple on the bridge asked us to take their picture and offered to take ours.
The view at the end of the trail was amazing enough to explain the crowd.
On Tuesday, the main thing we did was drive to the Tunnel View and hike from there to Artist Point (a.k.a. Inspiration Point). Here is the Wawona Road Tunnel. Off to the right of the frame, there's a parking area where you can park and look out over the edge of a cliff to see a spectacular view, which is known as the Tunnel View because of the tunnel.
And here is the Tunnel View: the view over the cliff from the parking area next to the tunnel.
Across the road from the parking area was the trailhead for Artist Point Trail, which led uphill to a higher vantage point that had apparently provided past visitors with artistic inspiration. This is a typical example of what most of the trail looked like.
We definitely needed our ice cleats for this hike. It was less than three miles, and coming back downhill was very quick and easy, but the uphill was agonizing. Also, ice cleats sometimes pick up giant snowballs and make you walk on top of the snowballs, at which point they become less than helpful.
We got lost a couple of times near the bottom of the trail. It should have been easy to find the trail, because there were footprints in the snow ahead of us the whole way. But early on, it wasn't yet clear to us whether we could rely on continued footprints the whole way, so we didn't initially realize that an absence of footprints meant we had stepped off the trail. We wandered around a bit, gave up, tried to return to the car, and then stumbled across the correct trail again and decided to hike it correctly this time instead of getting lost.
Climbing uphill was hard work, and we soon realized we were wearing more layers than was comfortable. At my suggestion, we left some shirts in a tree along the way and picked them back up again when we came back down the hill later in the day. That way, we didn't have to carry them with us.
Unfortunately, we missed out on all the artistic views that are apparently usually available from this trail. The higher we climbed, the more that the view into the distance became obscured by clouds.
Soon, even the view in the much nearer distance was obscured.
Finally, we reached the top. It was marked by a sign. The 1.3 miles to the Wawona Tunnel Parking Area is the trail we had followed, although we must have wandered an additional quarter-mile or so while we were lost. We would return to my car on the same trail we had come up on.
Another sign indicated other trails that continued from here: to Stanford Point, Crocker Point, Bridalveil Camp, and Glacier Point.
Barry was happy to have reached the top.
How's that for a "happily exhausted" expression?
There was no artistically inspiring view over a cliff, though. In fact, if there was even a cliff here at all, we couldn't find the cliff in all the mist and fog. We sat and ate lunch though, on that rock in the lower right of the picture below. (Barry cleared the snow off it for us first.)
Here's one last photo of Artist Point.
The hike back down from Artist Point was startlingly quick and easy. Going down took only a tiny fraction of the time that going up had taken us. Barry and I had previously discussed the relative difficulties of going downhill and uphill, in the context of running in Woodland, and he had claimed then that downhill was harder than uphill. In the context of Artist Point, however, he readily conceded that downhill was clearly much easier than uphill. (Downhill can put more stress on your joints, but uphill requires a whole lot more energy. An experienced but aging athlete with a great metabolism but chronically bad knees might legitimately find uphill easier, but since both of us are rather the opposite - free from injuries but not great athletes - downhill should be easier for both of us.)
After the hike, we went to Degnan's Deli in Yosemite Village for dinner. Yosemite contains many restaurants, but most of the others were closed for the winter; aside from the various hotel restaurants, this was pretty much the only thing open in February. It had kiosks for ordering food in any of a dozen or so different languages. We ordered a single, personal-size pizza and split it between us, and we had a soda fountain soda each. We went back for several refills at the soda fountain so as to sample all the different exotic flavors. Our favorite flavor was Pineapple Cream, but Black Cherry with Tarragon was also pretty good, and Lemonberry Acai was all right too. I didn't care so much for Orange Hibiscus.
Barry used the deli's wi-fi to let his parents know we were alive and to check in on his laser business. Then we headed out to Curry Village, where we bought two more boxes of firewood, since we had my car with us to transport them in. (The Artist Point trailhead had been outside the area covered by the shuttle system.)
We had planned on ice skating at Curry Village, but after the Artist Point hike, we spent the rest of the trip feeling too tired to be capable of ice skating for more than a couple of minutes, and it didn't feel worth the $14 each for skate rental if we could only ice skate for a couple of minutes. Instead, we walked over to look at the ice skaters, and Barry said we could make fun of them and pretend we would skate better than them. There turned out to be no one on the ice, though.
We drove back to our campsite with our firewood and then took the shuttle to the Ahwahnee Hotel (currently operating under the alias name "The Majestic Yosemite Hotel" due to an ongoing lawsuit with a former vendor company over trademark names) to attend the Night Prowl event we had signed up for. We arrived a bit early, so we spent a few minutes touring the Ahwahnee Hotel's gift shop and sweet shop and exploring its extremely expensive sitting rooms. Then we went out on the back lawn to wait for the night prowl to begin. It took a while for anyone but us to show up, but eventually there were about 14 of us, plus a guide who told us his name was Dakota. ("Of course your name is Dakota," Barry and I both thought.) Dakota was young, probably in his early twenties, and enthusiastic about his job. He also happened to have heard a recent weather report. He said we were about to get a major series of winter storms from then through the weekend. He said this storm might even bring snow to Sacramento. (It seems to have ended up only bringing some heavy hail to Sacramento.) So we were a little worried about surviving those storms.
Contrary to what we had thought, the Night Prowl event was not intended as a way for us to find and look at wildlife in the forest, but rather as a way for us to imagine what it would be like to be wildlife in the forest. This did not at first sound very interesting to me at all, but it ended up being okay. We took a little walk in the dark, without any flashlights, and felt things (a giant sequoia cone, some giant sequoia bark), smelled things (a clove-scented candle), and attempted to listen to things (bats using echolocation, theoretically, but the bats failed to be particularly audible). The moon was nearly full, so it was a fairly bright night, and we could see fairly well without flashlights. I found it interesting just to see how well I could see.
One of the main messages of the Night Prowl was, "None of the wildlife here wants to eat you." Black bears are a big issue in Yosemite because they break into people's cars to get at people's food, but no black bear has ever killed a person in Yosemite. The only wild animal known to have ever killed a person in Yosemite was a mule deer, and that was because apparently some parents were trying to have their child ride on the mule deer's back. Do not put your child on a wild animal's back, the message was, and no wild animal will try to kill you or your child. Seems reasonable. We agreed not to put any children onto the backs of wildlife.
Instead of a regular shuttle, a little forest service SUV came to pick us up after the night prowl. The driver also picked up some other forest service employees and drove through the employee housing area at the back of Curry Village to drop them off. The rangers were having a dance party in one of the tent cabins, and we could see spinning lights in psychedelic colors from a disco ball. The driver was talkative and told us that his parents had met each other while they were working in Yosemite themselves, and he had now been working in Yosemite himself for something like 50 years. I guess he has done a thorough job of carrying on the family tradition.
As we went to bed on Tuesday night, I noticed that my throat had started feeling sore. When I woke up Wednesday, it was still sore, and I had also lost my voice a bit. I felt fine otherwise though, so we stuck to our plan for the day, which was to rent snowshoes and use them in Tuolumne Grove. We had mentioned this plan to the bus driver on Tuesday night, and the bus driver told us that Badger Pass was closed but Crane Flat was open. So we went to Crane Flat. But the gas station attendant at Crane Flat told us that only the gas station was open; the store that rents snowshoes was closed for the winter. I thought that was stupid, since winter is the only time there's any point in renting snowshoes. But I think Badger Pass and Crane Flat had both not opened their snowshoe rental businesses this particular winter because there hadn't been enough snow to merit snowshoes.
Anyway, we couldn't find anywhere to rent snowshoes, so we just went to Tuolumne Grove without any snowshoes. It turned out that the snow wasn't deep enough there for snowshoes to be useful anyway, so we just walked around the trail. We had our ice cleats with us, but we didn't really need them for this hike, and we ended up deciding it was easier to walk without them.
The road we took to Crane Flat and Tuolumne Grove (they're right next to each other) was Highway 120, and we had been advised that Highway 120 required snow chains. We brought snow chains with us, and we saw a sign along the road saying "snow chains required 5 miles ahead." We drove quite a bit past that sign, but we never came to the point where snow chains were required. We did encounter some snow and ice on the road, and I was not thrilled about driving on snow and ice on the edge of a cliff, but we ended up never having to put chains on the car at any point during our camping trip.
We walked a mile before we even arrived at the entrance sign for Tuolumne Grove. Here is Barry at the entrance sign.
And here am I. My throat was sore, but no big deal, right?
We walked to the Dead Giant Tunnel Tree. The tree was apparently already dead before they carved a tunnel through it. That's good, because a lot of other huge trees elsewhere have been killed by people carving tunnels through them.
We each posed for pictures inside the Dead Giant Tunnel Tree.
It was a good dead tree. As dead trees go, you won't find many better ones.
Continuing forward, we arrived at a small bridge over North Crane Creek. Here is Barry on the bridge.
Here am I on the bridge.
Here is the water under the bridge.
And the water in the other direction.
We ate lunch at a picnic table near the bridge. This raven sat with us. There were ravens at our campsite, too; they were the main wildlife we saw. Except for Monday night, when a brazen raccoon hung around for a while, they were the only wildlife that took much notice of us.
When we got back to our campsite after the Tuolumne Grove hike on Wednesday, it was only 4:00. We had already done everything we planned to do, and we were worried about the impending storms, and I was worried about my sore throat, so I asked Barry if he wanted to just pack up and go home that night, rather than spending another night in freezing weather. He said yes, so we started packing things into the car. I rolled up four sleeping bags (we were using the extra sleeping bags for extra layers of warmth) but got intensely frustrated by how much effort it was costing me to do anything. I kept calling Barry over to help me tie the sleeping bags in rolls because I couldn't seem to do it myself, and then when one of the sleeping bags was missing its ties altogether, I melted down and just started wailing about how the ties ought to have been there. Barry told me not to shout at him and said that if I was tired I should just sit down and not do anything else, just don't shout. I had not fully registered how utterly depleted of energy I felt until Barry registered it for me. So I sat down after that and just accepted the fact that I basically couldn't do anything else at all. Barry packed up almost the entire remainder of camp by himself. After I'd had a long rest while he worked, I did a couple of very small things - I put the two folding chairs into their containers, and I carried the trash bag and used propane canisters over to the dumpster and the propane canister disposal bin. Other than that, though, I just sat and watched Barry do everything. Barry said that as a Boy Scout, he used to win competitions in which the goal was to set up a tent and a sleeping bag, build a fire, cook and eat a pancake over the fire, then put out the fire safely and pack up the sleeping bag and tent faster than anyone else could. He said it took about seven or eight minutes to do all that, but the biggest trick was to not cook the pancake very much and just put up with eating it rather raw. Anyway, he packed up the rest of camp by himself. Here are a couple more pictures of how it looked while it lasted.
I learned some interesting things about how to pack for snow camping. First, we got away with using a smaller ice chest than we would have needed for summer camping, because we didn't need much ice to keep the food cold and therefore didn't need to leave much space for ice. Second, clothes take up a lot more space when you're wearing more layers. A lot more. Third, I could have packed fewer layers than I did. That is, if you're wearing four layers, you don't have to change all four layers every day; you can pretty much just change the closest layer to your skin. and maybe a top layer for variety and appearance' sake, but keep wearing most of the same in-between layers. I had packed more than I really needed to. Fourth, I had packed a lot of baby wipes for keeping our hands clean, but whenever I wanted to wipe my hands clean, I ended up just grabbing a handful of snow. We used precisely zero of the wipes I had packed; there just wasn't any need to use them. Fifth, there also wasn't much need for insect repellent. I did see one mosquito on the day we arrived, but it was the only one I saw. Sixth, making a fire is much harder in the snow. We had anticipated that and packed enough lighter fluid and firestarters, but it was good that we had packed a lot of them.
Anyway, we decided to go home. We hadn't gotten around to using up the two latest boxes of firewood we had bought, so Barry wanted to take them home with us. But it's not good to move firewood - it spreads plant diseases - and anyway, from having packed the car at Barry's house, I knew there wasn't room to add anything as big as those boxes of firewood. Barry eventually conceded that there was no room for them, so he left one box of firewood in our bearproof food locker and the other box in the bearproof food locker of the campsite next door ("Because why not spread the good fortune around to more different people?")
I said I thought I was capable of driving - I had no energy left for doing anything physical, but I still had the ability to concentrate. I drove us through all the snowy, winding mountain roads to Mariposa, where we had planned to stop at Happy Burger Diner. I felt mostly okay through that, although my face felt kind of hot, and I wondered whether I had a fever. As soon as we stopped at the diner, though, I felt much worse. I could barely stand up to get out of the car, and as soon as I got inside the diner, I started shivering uncontrollably, even though I was wearing about sixteen layers of clothing. I got Barry to do the standing in line at the counter to order for both of us, but I couldn't eat much, so Barry also ended up eating half my food. I handed him my keys and let him drive the remaining three hours home, although he had never driven my car before (aside from a brief couple of minutes during our previous camping trip). It started pouring rain around the time we got to Sacramento, and Barry commented that a marathon trip in pouring rain in the middle of the night was a less than ideal way to learn to drive my car for the first time. But he got us home safely.
I again had a very hard time standing up to get out of the car at Barry's house, and I had to get Barry to take off my hiking boots for me, because I couldn't. Then I asked him to get me a thermometer, and it showed that my temperature was 99.5 °. It fluctuated over the course of the next several days; the highest I measured it at was 100.3°. I did get a flu shot this year, back in late September, but this was clearly the flu. Barry had also gotten a flu shot, and his flu shot actually protected him. I now believe that when my flu shot was administered, the person administering it must have missed my vein, because my veins are perpetually tiny and notoriously difficult.
Barry went shopping Thursday morning and returned with generic NyQuil and DayQuil, and two types of sore throat lozenges, in addition to the sore throat spray he'd previously provided. On Friday, he went out again and returned with a Robitussin syrup labeled "for SEVERE cold & flu." On Sunday, I happened to stumble across an article about the antiviral effects of elderberries and mentioned it to him, and he went out again and brought me some elderberry- and honey-based syrup. All in all, he was the most doting boyfriend I could ever have wished for, readily ceding his bed to his coughing, germ-spewing mess of a girlfriend for four days and sleeping on his couch so I could be miserable without having to worry about making him too miserable along with me. During the few hours a day when I was semi-functional, he made himself available to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with me, and he kept making me canned food because canned food was the only thing I could deal with eating for a while. (It was warm and predictable and uncomplicated.) And when I wanted to go back home to my own house on Sunday, he offered to drive me but accepted it when I told him I felt I was ready to drive myself as long as I did it during my best hours of the day; he made clear I could call him for help if I changed my mind along the way; and he packed stuff into my car for me so I didn't have to wear myself out by lifting any heavy objects.
One weekend later, I still don't have much of a voice, but I feel considerably better than I did. Yesterday I even mowed my front lawn! So I am on the mend, and it is all with much thanks to my wonderful boyfriend, who rescued me when I got the flu in pretty much the worst possible location and climate that I've ever been in, and took care of me until I was well enough to take care of myself. He is the best. <3