Yosemite – Big Walls, Big Dreams
Life often aligns opportunities and events seamlessly. When this force occurs, it is a waste to not cease the occasion. Zen had undergone surgery a week before to get his tonsils removed, and I had just quit my job of eight years. We had both been under quite a bit of stress. Zen was required to miss a minimum of two weeks of work for recovery, he was drugged up on pills to manage his pain and his activity level was extremely restricted, especially compared to our active lifestyle. For some, this might seem like just an inconvenience. For Zen, this surgery was a huge life-changing event, and being reliant upon pain meds was devastating. As for me, my passion for my old job had dwindled, I felt stuck and unmotivated. So when an opportunity presented itself at another company, I decided to make the career change and leave my safe-zone. I not only committed to start a new occupation, I also decided to start attending school again. All at once, we were both hit with big changes and scary challenges. In the midst of my transition and Zen’s recovery, a good omen was presented to us: both of our schedules were open for six days including Memorial Day. Without hesitation, we threw together our gear and packed our bags. We then began to think of our summer bucket list and some of the bigger destinations worthy of the extra time. We both came to the conclusion that this much time had to be spent in Yosemite, California, which has been a desired destination for both of us, even before we met. We also wanted to include Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and San Francisco, but more on those later. Little did I know; this impromptu trip would also lead me on a spiritual journey that changed my perspective in life.
Since my normal chauffeur was doped up and impaired, I was tasked with driving. Don’t get me wrong, I have always appreciated Zen for being the main driver, but I had a major humbling moment when I realized just how annoying it is to have your driving buddy passed out and snoring instead of keeping you company. It gave me a bit too much time alone with the vast wastelands of Nevada. I started to get mentally lost in the nothingness. Just when I thought it would never end, a mountainous oasis started to materialize. Stunning pine forests and giant granite slabs engulfed us as we began to ascend down the canyon. The river water raged passed us, racing us to the paradise that awaited. After driving through the desert for so long, and feeling as if the dryness and heat was draining the life out of us, we were instantaneously rejuvenated. Everything was alive and vibrant. The song of nature serenaded us, so we slowed down to listen.
At first, I felt as if we were being held back and doing Yosemite injustice since Zen’s activity level was restricted. I wanted to sprint through the park, top speed, and gorge myself with as many sites as possible. I pined after climbing the cold-rock faces and feeling the spirit of legends who had climbed before me. I had this preconceived experience planned and now, I couldn’t be happier that it was drastically altered! We didn’t run. We aimlessly walked as our jaws hung open and our eyes gawked. Sweet, crisp air flowed through us as we meditated under the trees. As cliché as it sounds; time almost stood still. We took in our surrounding and noticed how the earth’s breath made the tall meadow grass sway. Our expectation was to trudge down every path, claw up the rocks, and trample through fields. The actual experience was tender and peaceful.
I’ve always had a respect for nature and the peace it creates when you engulf yourself in its beauty. However, I have never experienced nature commanding me to just stop. It was in that halted silence that I found true inner peace for the first time. Suddenly, my perspective started to change and I received a deeper understanding of my surroundings. The mountains weren’t just grandiose granite slabs, they were temples. The trees were our churches and the soft hum around us were angels singing. The meadows and fields were pews which encouraged us to sit in reverence as we worshiped. Right then, I forgot about my stress. That moment is what life is all about! Immersing yourself in what you love and letting it flow through you. Seeing the naked beauty for what it truly is, removing all expectations and assumptions and just experiencing the moment in the moment.
Not only was I in the right place at the right time for spiritual growth, we also happened to sync seamlessly with Zen’s and my favorite climber, Alex Honnold! As we were driving past the daunting El Capitan, Zen burst out with excitement, demanding that I turn the truck around. I promptly parked concerned that maybe he was having some sort of medical emergency. Instead of being hurt, he just started rambling on about, “ALEX HONNOLD!” Zen had spotted Alex’s iconic red shirt and we immediately began to strategize how we were going to approach Alex without seeming like crazy, annoying creeps. We didn’t want to impose, but we had to take the opportunity to engage with such a great legend. We set up our camera and tripod in front of El Capitan and took some test pictures hoping it looked as if we were just casual tourists capturing the magnificent beauty of the great wall. After making sure we had the right shot set up, we waited (not stalkerish at all). When Alex walked by, I swooped in and introduced myself, saying how we were HUGE fans!
I’ve always thought my fingers were thick and meaty (especially for a female), but when I shook Alex’s massive hands, I realized I had some more finger exercises to do to become a better climber. Zen and I were both greeted with a big smile and a lighthearted chuckle as Alex realized we had staged the picture waiting for him. After snapping a quick picture, I tried to keep it short so Zen and I didn’t burden Alex’s time in Yosemite. I was pleasantly surprised that Alex didn’t seem the slightest bit phased and continued asking US about ourselves and how we connected with climbing. It was an incredible moment. He was kind and down to earth. Alex seemed to warmly embrace the interaction and talked to us about our home town of SLC, Utah.
The timing of our crossing couldn’t have been more ideal. Alex had just free solo climbed Freerider on El Capitan the weekend we met him. It was a monumental moment in Alex’s climbing career and we were lucky enough to cross paths at the same time as his huge feat. Inspiration has coursed through Zen’s and my veins, sparked by Alex’s courage and determination to not just push, but break boundaries. Congratulations, Alex Honnold! Zen and I naively like to think that we were part of Alex Honnold’s journey as much as he was a part of ours. We hope to see you again, Alex! And if you ever decide to take a permanent residence, Utah is a spectacular place to do so!
Exhilarated, Zen and I gushed to each other about our adventure. We ranted and raved too excited to talk in complete sentences, leaving thoughts hanging in the air for the other person to interpret and understand on their own. As we made one last loop through the park in the truck, our fingers never seemed to leave the air, pointing at one site after another. It was painful to leave. It felt like Christmas and Yosemite and Alex Honnold were perfectly wrapped presents just for us.
For me, our Yosemite adventure was such an emotional experience that it’s difficult to put into words. I’m starting to understand that emotion is the language of nature, and sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to leave it untranslated.