“Warning: Mountain Lion area,” read the black and white poster in the dingy, smelly toilets that were the only nod to civilisation at our campground in Yosemite National Park.
Already, on entering Crane Flat, we’d been warned by a ranger that bears had been spotted within the campsite that day and extreme vigilence was necessary to prevent attracting one to our tent. All food and fragranced items had to be stored in the bear locker provided. The metal trunk was not three foot from our tent. Even a babywipe left in the car could attract a bear, we were warned.
With the tent set up, light fading and a realisation we would soon be laying down to sleep in this endless sea of wildlife-infested trees, I felt a thump or two of doubt regarding the wisdom of it all, not entirely helped by our woefully inadequate lighting arrangements. Two mobile phones and one torch-cum-glow stick from Sports Direct. There was not a single outdoor installed light on the campground.
We just about managed to cook tea using a gas stove and set of pots we bought at Walmart on the way, not realising the pans were so tiny they were barely up to cooking a meal for one. With washing up prohibited in the toilets, where frankly you would not have wanted to take anything you were going to be eating off again anyway, and at the drinking water tap, we eventually opted for a kitchen roll and baby wipes combo which meant we weren’t running the risk of emptying food-scented dirty water anywhere near our site either.
Feeling slightly out of our depth we decided to resort to the security of a DVD in our tent. Totally inappropriate given that we were there to enjoy the great outdoors.
The laptop we had tested at home and carted with us on the trip, primarily to facilitate a little remote working but partially to act as a DVD player, refused to work.
Our run of disasters led us to the conclusion that an early night was the only way to go. Thankfully Our Little Man was extremely forgiving and rolled with it. He fell asleep within moments and my husband and I lay silently side by side pondering the evening. I don’t recall who began giggling first but we were both doubled up crying with laughter before succumbing to sleep ourselves.
When the dreaded call of “I need the toilet” came in the dead of night and made me realise I did too, the shuffle to the thankfully fairly close block was done with my heart in my mouth and a wish I hadn’t recently read a thriller involving dark American woodland. In an act of self preservation I tittered slightly hysterically to myself at the thought of what a particularly nervous friend would make of it all.
The thought of the cosy life and home we left behind crossed my mind. Why were we doing this again?
Adventure, I told myself, wondering not unseriously whether a three-week five-star break somewhere that didn’t involve leaving work, renting out our home and not seeing wider family may have been a more sensible way of shaking things up than this six-month budget madness.
I fully expected to endure rather than enjoy the following two nights, but, as the saying goes, what a difference a day makes.
On night two, having wolfed down the simplest of meals from plastic plates in front of our tent, OLM seeming to enjoy it more than any of those I spend time and effort on at home, I had astounded myself with a total shift in emotions.
We toasted marshmallows, gazing at the stars, gathered around a roaring fire (thanks Real Family Holidays for teaching us a little Vaseline on a cotton wool pad is an excellent fire lighter).
And I was glad to be there.
I can’t lie, had the complimentary five-star hotel shuttle bus rocked up I would still have got on, but had I done so, I couldn’t have had a happier evening at that hotel.
Yosemite delivered lots of highlights especially in its wider reaches outside of the most popular Yosemite Valley.
The cliff-edge road from Crane Flat was breathtaking in every sense, with the car perilously close to the edge. We took our cereal and ate breakfast with the most amazing outlook in one of the pullouts.
Famous Tunnel View with El Capitan as its showpiece and Bridal Veil falls blew us away.
Then there was Tuolomne Meadows, the deserted and almost entirely undeveloped Soda Springs just a half hour hike from a car park delighting us with carbonated water to scoop into our mouths as it literally bubbled straight out of the ground and made us feel like we had personally discovered it. Followed by the Tioga Pass out of the park toward Mammoth Lakes.
Those moments and sights were unforgettable but no more so than the simple campfires we enjoyed. I suspect they were special because we were all so content having experienced days brimming with delights and the certainty of more to come.
Or maybe I’m not so different to my seven-year-old and my revelling in a simple campfire which could have just as easily been lit in our own backyard, is comparable to his delight in an Etch-A-Sketch in San Francisco.
Either way, Yosemite, you were worth the effort and investment. Adventure was the aim and adventure is what we got.