This is Our Church – Finding Love in Yosemite
The first time I drove into Yosemite Valley, I was fresh off a bad break up and newly dating a travel photographer that had spent about 90% of our very short time dating in other places. I needed to get out of the city and clear my head. Being recently introduced to climbing, I knew it was time for me to make the pilgrimage. So, I invited the travel photographer, a.k.a. my future husband Benny, to come with me. I needed a climbing partner, you guys, and I trusted him the most to not kill me.
With my brother making me take giant knives and pepper spray, and what would be the beginnings of a ridiculous amount of gear in the trunk of my Toyota FRS, I left LA. I would come back a changed person. I am not the world’s best climber or even the world’s most OK-est climber, but after that trip, I finally felt comfortable at least calling myself a climber.
Driving into that magical place the first time, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders and I knew this was the work of a higher power. This was church. The time we spent there together that first summer brought us a connection that has proven to be unbreakable. For that, I thank that higher power every day. Benny and I owe so much to Yosemite and we are ecstatic to be making this year’s trip with our little mountain baby, Whitney. And making it even better, we get to see two of our favorite people (climbers, of course!) get married. This is OUR church.
I started writing this as we drive, watching the changes in the topography of California, listening to Benny talk about random local facts. Babes is quiet in the back having fallen asleep (I may not be far behind her, to be honest). I love these road trips as a family and being able to share this with our daughter from the beginning. It makes me feel like we are doing at least this part right. My heart darn near explodes at the thought of her running through the grass field of the valley, with the beautiful granite walls framing her exploration.
As we approach the valley, the evidence of recent fires becomes more and more apparent and our GPS begins to guide us away from the Route 41. We start to hit smaller and less paved roads, until we finally hit dirt. We look at each other and wonder where Google is taking us this time. In our usual fashion, we say “why not,” turn on the 4x4 and keep going. We know we need to get to Fish Camp and this is the only way, right?
The further we went, the more and more shocked we were that this was even the suggested route – you would definitely not be able to make this drive without off road capabilities. We pushed on further. There really wasn’t any turning back at this point. We hit a fork in the road and found a fellow traveler also pondering the driving instructions. With Tenaya Lodge as his destination, we invited him to follow our lead. A quick glance to the back seat proved that once again, dirt roads provide the best naps when you’re an adventure baby.
Soon, we were driving past burned and still smoldering forest. My stomach ached as I looked up into the orange, smoky, tree-lined sky. I’ve seen a lot of forest fires living in Southern California for the last 17 years, but there was something different about seeing it this fresh and so close, on this crazy back road that we took a risk on. Driving into Yosemite this way was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced, and I believe we were given it to welcome us home. The view from a dirt road running alongside a mountain – a view that you know very few have actually been blessed enough to see – is something that pictures just don’t do justice.
Then, all of a sudden, we were at the gates. We were in the park. We headed for Big Trees Lodge. Neither of us had ever stayed in this part of the park, so we didn’t really expect to see the camp from Dirty Dancing. It’s freaking gorgeous, y’all. I was also ignorant to the fact that there is a golf course in the park. Guys, it’s like an old timey country club.
Thankfully, this old timey spot has pretty decent wifi and a spectacular patio to sit on while you post yoga videos to Instagram. You can even manage to get rooms with bathrooms – a luxury in Yosemite. All in all, we would definitely stay there again, if only for the cocktails on the porch every evening. It made the perfect base for our stay.
When climbers fall in love, it can be a different kind of connection than most. Trusting your climbing partner is almost more important than trusting your life partner (ALMOST!) and having your climbing and life partner all rolled up into one person makes for an intense level of trust and love. I know and understand that level of trust, love, and commitment as we stand and watch our friends promise each other lifelong belaying and love.
I’m proud of the people our daughter gets to grow up with as role models. Watching true love being proclaimed from the mountaintop as your tribe howls in appreciation and joy is a feeling that I struggle to describe. The Germans probably have some cool word for it, but the closest that I can come to is Love. The love for these people and this place overwhelms me and brings me to tears.
As a bohemian by blood and nature, very few places make my heart say “home.” In fact, most of the time it isn’t the place as much as it is that Benny is by my side. But Yosemite is home.
The emotion that ran through my body when I first stood at the base of El Cap is how I imagine most people feel about going home to their parents. Amplifying the emotions of homecoming was all the love we were bringing with us. I felt the need to present our mountain baby to the gods and feel the warmth of their approval.
Love brought us together here years before. Love created a pure light named Whitney. Love brought us here this summer to see friends proclaim their love for each other in front of our village. Love is Yosemite.
Written by: Blair Haddad