Things I Don’t Write About: Sometimes Travel Sucks

You know what does suck? My hair in this photo.


The Suitcase Scholar has come a long way since I began travel blogging back in 2009.  It has evolved from a rather me-centered travel and travel planning journal to, well, whatever it is today.  I like to think about it as a collection of helpful travel articles that attempts to point those travel-researching in the right direction.  Always playing the role of the teacher, I try to inform my readers about various travel-related experiences; my blog search term stats tell me that I’m doing a pretty good job.

This is how I ended up with a blog full of posts about Segway tours, or unique hotels, or Photo workshops.  And all of those posts are happy, positive posts because really, all of those experiences really were happy, positive experiences.But I’ve discovered that, in my quest to inform, I’ve left out one important aspect of travel–sometimes it sucks.  I used to write about these things–like the ever-popular Why This Trip Sucks post (poorly) written in Paris in 2010.  But since I started sharpening my point of view–that is, answers to travel-related questions–those sort of rants have fallen by the wayside.

And that’s unfortunate.  You see, one can learn as much (if not more) from bad times as from good.  And so, I bring to a post where you can learn–from my mistakes.  And maybe laugh a bit at them, too.  And so I bring to you the first in a five-post series featuring Things I Don’t Write About.  Yeah, that’s right–I’m writing about things I don’t write about.  Wrap your head around that, why don’t you?

My Failed Yosemite Hike

This–the view from Olmstead Point–most certainly does not suck. But my day was about to take a semi-sucky turn. Just wait.

It was a beautiful late-spring day in the High Sierras.  Tioga Road had just opened for the season two days prior–on May 7th, one of the earliest opening dates on record.  There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground, which was shocking to me given that, well, it was the 9th of May and I’m used to living at or around sea level.

That last part is important later in the story.

See? Lots of snow.

So I’m driving down Tioga Road in my little white rental Kia listening to the country station and getting out every now and then to hike around a lake or into a grove of sequoias, gape at a stunning view, or take a photo by the side of the road.  During all of this driving, hiking, and photo-taking, I encountered maybe a dozen other people.  All day long.  It was the middle of the day on a Wednesday in May, well before anyone planned to be able to be up there.  I’d never been so alone.

That last part is important later in the story.

Of course, seeing Yosemite by car is one thing; seeing it on foot is entirely another, and I aimed to do both.  So at some point in the late morning, I pulled into a parking area, consulted my Yosemite guide book, and started off on what promised to be a ‘moderate’ 4-mile round trip hike.  Let me first say that either 1.  I was reading the map wrong and was instead on a much more difficult trail or 2.  I have a totally different opinion of what constitutes ‘moderate’ than does that particular travel book.  After a rather nice saunter through a totally deserted and still partially snow covered meadow, I began my ascent over rocks and roots, along side a river that should really be called a minor water fall, around trees and always up, up up.

Maybe three quarters of a mile in, I started having trouble breathing.  Serious trouble breathing . I stopped frequently to rest on various rocks and roots, and may even have assumed the lotus position at one point and had a little meditation session while focusing on some water flowing over a rock to calm my breathing.  I continued on for maybe another half mile–all the while wondering what the hell was up with my inability to breathe–when it occurred to me.  I was hiking up a mountain that was already ten thousand feet above sea level. I was all by myself, in the middle of the semi-wilderness, huffing and puffing and scrambling up rocks a good seven thousand feet higher than I’d ever been before.

Hiking through the meadow on the way to the trail.

See?  I told you those two points–about the aloneness and the elevation–would be important later in the story.

It was at this point that I did something I rarely do when traveling–especially to somewhere as epic as Yosemite.  I gave up.  I thought about it rationally, and I assessed how I was feeling physically, and I hiked back down the mountain and towards my car.  I’m sure the view was stunning from the top, and perhaps some day I’ll return and find out.  But that day I chose what I believe was the smartest option: quitting.

Was I sad?  Yes.  Did I feel defeated?  Yes.  Will I go back to Yosemite some day, spend more time acclimating to the altitude and more time on the trails?  Hell yes.  It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been (quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been) and I’ll be damned if I allow a little thing like ‘the inability to breathe’ to keep me away.


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