Early fall morning, cloudy, cool. Samson and Jack bouncing around with excitement, confined to stare out the back car windows as the city fades to fields. A Trader Joe’s stop for Middle Eastern bean salads and Thai lime cashews. An entire jug of cold brew coffee concentrate squeezed between knees to keep from spilling.
Mountains growing on the horizon.
Before I moved to California, I dreamed about this day, the day I finally got to venture into Yosemite. Hiking, looking for bears, bringing the dogs, climbing half dome. Sleeping under the stars, opening a bottle of Cabernet with Brian from a tent. I had all these visions and things I wanted to experience.
I thought I knew what I would love most about it. I thought I’d anticipated the sweep and grandeur. But I could have never known. Maybe the best experiences in life are the ones you don’t see coming. Here is a little list of unexpected lessons I learned on my first trip to Yosemite.
- Don’t stay within the safety of the outskirts. When we entered the park, my initial thought was to take one of the main roads near the entrance and find a “safe” little hiking trail. When we couldn’t find anything, we continued driving deeper and deeper into the park. Those roads turned into twisting, turning, railing-less mountain paths. Driving over a cliff felt like a real and present danger. But the experience we ended up with in the end was quiet, lonely, off the beaten path, and utterly perfect. Sometimes you have to venture beyond the safe zone to get where you truly want to be.
- The more lost, the more beautiful. Again, I had this safe and sane game plan. But the hiking trail we ventured down ended up leading us deep into the woods, away from parking lots, bathrooms, people. We didn’t see another soul. I had visions of bears behind every tree. At first, it was really uncomfortable. I had to will myself to go deeper into the unknown, but when I did, the peace and beauty that rewarded me were far beyond anything I could have anticipated.
- I am not the center. For goodness sake, why do I think I’m so important? When I look at the world from the top of a mountain, I remember that I’m just one person. I’ve been struggling with some situations at school lately, and it’s caused some anxiety to bubble up. But that little memory jolt was all I needed to plant my feet back on the ground, and humbly press forward.
- Awe is optional. Sometimes it’s easier to view the world through a lens. Being moved makes us feel vulnerable, and sometimes it causes us to hide behind a camera. But a thousand perfect Instagram photos cannot repay you for the real-life moment they stole. Sitting in awe, or choosing not to, is totally up to you. Choose well.
- Don’t be afraid to be changed. When you do choose to bask in something truly bigger, more impressive, and more lovely than yourself, don’t be afraid of the effect it has on you. Drink it in with your eyes, let it stir creativity in your soul, let it birth gratitude in your heart. On Sunday at noon, when my belly usually begins to rumble, I was staring at the world before me. I never got hungry, or thirsty, or bored. It took me a moment to realize that’s okay. It’s better to let things be what they truly are than to try and fit them into the box of our own status quo.
If you ever have the chance to go to Yosemite, take it. But don’t just take it and spend all day doing what everyone else is doing. Put the camera down, wander off with someone you love, let whatever experience may come wash over you. This weekend I learned not to cheapen priceless things. It was a beautiful lesson, one I hope I’m reminded of again and again.