I’d been up since 5:45, after which I went back to sleep since I knew my friends were never going to make it to my place by 6:00. I didn’t need a text or a call to know this. This is Los Angeles. Nobody arrives on time. They got to my place at 7:30 and we drove for several hours, first stopping at a river just after the entrance to the Sequoia National Park. I felt good at the river. Everyone did. That extra 30 minutes of sleep did me good and I was excited to go someplace I’d never been before–or at least hadn’t been in recent memory.
But the river didn’t wow me. Not in the classical sense. During the drive up the park this big hunk of granite pops out of the mountain side and sits above you, perched like a crow. It seemed too high up for our trip today, but then one of my friends said he could see movement at the top. Rock climbers, I thought. But they weren’t.
The walk up to the top of the boulder is short enough that I could run it without the steps tiring me out too much. And so I hopped up the steps, sidewinding up the side of the boulder, not really expecting much when I came around a corner and…well…I stopped. High country has a certain grandness to it. Some of it has to do with the elevation and how you can really just see that the trees can’t survive that high. The rest has to do with perspective. You are tiny, the plains are big, the mountains are bigger. The mountains seem to be more in touch with the sky than with anything we’re walking on.
It was my wow moment of the trip. I didn’t even need to get to the top of the boulder. We could have went back and I would have been satisfied with the trip. The last wow moment I really remember wasn’t even one of my own. It was my mom’s. My mom, my dad, my brother, his wife, my girlfriend at the time, and I were backpacking in the Sierras. Our goal was a place called Thousand Island Lake. My brother and his wife never made it. The first few days we were stuck in this valley where they’d had a big winter and the mosquitoes were out in literal clouds that you had to wade through. Nothing stopped them. I could put on a jacket and they’d find their way through. It made it a rough trip for two people who were fairly inexperienced campers and backpackers and they ended up turning around after I think the third or fourth night.
The day after they left we marched. We walked farther than we had walked on any other day. We hiked past one lake that was fairly magnificent and one of us–I don’t remember who–thought maybe we could camp there. Instead we pushed on. I don’t remember if I saw the lake first and then came back or if we saw it at the same time. I just remember my mom’s reaction as we climbed over a ridge and settled onto the valley below the minarets where the lake is. She started crying. My mom’s not much of a cryer. She doesn’t just go ahead and weep at every rock thrown in a pond. But she cried then.
That wow moment seems to be rather simple. It’s when nature–or nearly anything I imagine–punches you in the gut and all the air goes out of you. I mean that both ways. The air really DOES seem to get sucked out of you and after a few moments you have to remember to take a breath. But all the air–the thoughts and the worries and the pretensions, whatever they might be–also gets sucked out of you. Like getting punched in the gut, the feeling doesn’t last forever. For at least a few moments though you simply fucking chill. Everything else goes away.
I can’t think of anything much better.