Embracing the Solitude: Yosemite Solo
No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. ~Jack Kerouac
Do you know what is a bad idea? Driving around a national park listening to the country station. This is a bad idea for two reasons. One, the combination of amazing, epic American landscape and songs touting the other various benefits of living in ‘Merica may result in an unfortunate swell in patriotism the likes of which might actually cause a person to get an eagle bursting out of a flag tattooed across their back (fortunately there are no tattoo parlors in or near Yosemite). And two, country songs are often very sad. Tears do not go well with twisty, cliff-edged roads. Trust me. I actually turned the volume completely off once because the song I was listening to sounded like it was going somewhere bad (the dad came to the son’s ball game, and then to the birth of his first child—I’m pretty sure the son was there when the father died, but I refuse to even Google to find out if I’m correct).
Which brings me to my main point—when visiting a national park solo, there is something you will be missing: the endless chatter of a travel companion or companions. And given the looks on the faces of most of the vans full of people I passed during my two days in the national park, that’s something I will gladly give up.
Yosemite is huge; it requires lots of driving and lots of hiking. I did all of this driving and hiking in silence (or, occasionally, with afore mentioned country music soundtrack. It’s the only station that comes in here, ok?) And in Yosemite, silence truly is a blessing. It allows you to focus on the reason you came—the beauty of your surroundings. I drove over a hundred miles in the last two days, and hiked maybe ten miles. The entire time I was looking, listening, and appreciating what was going on around me. Some places are just too beautiful to fill with small talk.
I almost didn’t come to Yosemite. I actually got up at 2:30 in the morning on my last night in San Francisco and started packing my bag for the 6 a.m. flight I could have taken home. I was feeling lonely far more often than on any other solo trip I’d ever taken, and a very large part of me just wanted to go home and be near my friends and family. I even missed my dogs. That same large part of me thought ‘if you’re lonely in this city, you’re going to be way more lonely all by yourself in the wilderness’.
That part of me was wrong.
I was not lonely in Yosemite, though I was very alone. I was half right–it is not as easy to make friends in a national park as it is in any of the other places I travel solo. I’ve never been lonely on a cruise ship, in Disney World, or at any of the way-too-many bars and restaurants and museums I’ve visited in the cities I’ve been to. Heck, I made friends in San Francisco at the pub across the street from the laundromat I was using. In Yosemite it was all families and couples and large groups of foreign tourists. The only solo travelers I’ve seen in Yosemite were all old men with large beards, tall socks, and floppy hats; not a woman in her 30’s among them. So yes, I was alone. But strangely, in Yosemite, alone is ideal.
Yosemite is so beautiful that you don’t need anyone else to appreciate it with you. In fact, it’s the solitude that makes it so stunning. I was fortunate enough to visit mid-week in early May—a time when one of our nation’s most popular (and thus most crowded) national parks was all but empty. At one point on my first day in the park, I pulled off into a tiny little turnout, got out of my car, wandered down a path worn into a meadow, and spun around with my arms outstretched reveling in the beauty and the aloneness. It was the most vast, most amazing space I’d ever seen, and I was totally by myself. It was perfect.
Even at the more ‘crowded’ places, I still managed to find complete privacy. Glacier Point, the most amazing lookout I’ve ever seen, was being visited by maybe twenty people when I was there on a Thursday afternoon (anyone familiar with Yosemite knows that this is beyond fantastic). Still, that was nineteen people too many for me—so I once again wandered down a ‘you’re probably not supposed to be here but clearly lots of people walk down here’ path, and hung out with Half Dome for a good half hour—all by myself.
I’m admitting that I had my doubts about this kind of solo trip. I mean, who walks around the forest alone? Well, John Muir for one. He walked around that wilderness alone all the time. I think he may have been onto something.
On my first day in Yosemite I covered quite a bit of ground. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m, I explored Yosemite Valley, stopping absolutely everywhere to get out and walk and take photos. I walked to Lower Yosemite Falls, wandered around a meadow, strolled across hanging bridge, and pulled into almost every parking area in the park to gawk and point my camera at things. I then ventured up to Glacier Point, also stopping along the way. After Glacier Point I completely intended to drive directly back to the lodge, but a rest stop at a parking area resulted in a walk up to Bridal Veil Falls, where I witnessed a perfectly circular rainbow (that I did not photograph because I was shielding my camera from the freezing cold soaking mist coming off of the falls).
Having missed my evening guided hike at the lodge due to 56 miles behind a super-slow RV (and the resulting encounter with a coyote or wolf which totally made me glad that RV guy was going so slowly) I then retired to the Lodge’s tavern for a bowl of gumbo and a drink made with ginger beer and lemongrass—a luxury never afforded to Muir (though I’m sure if he’d had that option he would have taken it).
On day two I drove Tioga Road, which had just recently opened for the season. I stopped to hike two different trails along the way—and to take photos at more than a dozen turnouts as well. I hung out with giant redwoods, gaped at the beauty of Olmstead Point–which is more stunning than the guidebooks can even describe–hung out on the shores of a crystal clear lake bordered by snow topped mountains, hiked up a mountain along a river that should really be called a waterfall, and tromped through a meadow still partially covered in snow.
Does any of that sound terrible? At any point during my description did you think ‘oh she must have been so sad to be alone?’ I’m thinking your answer to those questions are ‘no’ and ‘no’. Because it sounds amazing–and it was. My visit to Yosemite was wonderful–quite possibly the highlight of my entire year of travel. And I almost didn’t go because I was afraid to go solo. What a mistake that would have been.
Yosemite solo—it’s a great idea.
I would like to once again thank the wonderful people at Evergreen Lodge for inviting me to stay with them; without that offer, I would have flown home from San Francisco without having made the trip to Yosemite. I could not be more grateful.