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Eric Vliegt: From the noisy city to the calm wilderness

As the distance from San Francisco increases the temperature is rising. From a chilly 15 degrees the digital display climbs to 30 C when we arrive in the mountains to Yosemite. Suddenly the road gets more narrow and we start climbing and climbing. At a certain moment everything is green around us, nature is still dominating men here, although we see acres of burned down trees along the way. When we enter a small town called Groveland, it seems like we are back in the Wild West, including a saloon. The scene of 20 bikers in their tough leather jackets and helmets sets the whole thing in a movie type kind of thing, where the bikers get their ass kicked by the local sheriff at the end of the day. The hotel is easy to find and is the best we had so far.

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Yosemite calls

Next day around 6 am we are on our way to Yosemite National Park. After 20 miles a deer stands on the side of the road, staring at us when we pass, we will see more of them later that day. After 1,5 hour we park the car at the foot of the impressive mountains that surround Yosemite valley. The waterfall completes the beautiful painting that nature has composed here. John Muir, an American adventurer born in 1838 has explored most of the trails in the area and you will find his name everywhere on the signs. We decide to do the 11 KM hike to Nevada Falls, including the mist trail. The park ranger warned us that we will get wet and an hour later we are indeed soaked to the bone. The path we follow is amazing although we walk on concrete during the first mile. ‘This is not really hiking, in New Zealand Luke brought me to places where ….’ This name and country keeps on popping up several times during our hike (I mean the rest of our mutual vacation). After a mile we leave the convenient path and follow the John Muir trail up the mountain. We cross the wild river that carries a massive amount of melted water this time of year (end of May). The path becomes steeper and my breath more heavy. I have to stop every now and then and I see the worrying face of my daughter who seems to have no trouble at all to conquer the mountain. The roles have shifted. Marieke carries the day bag including camera, checks her father and leads the hike while her 55 year old dad, tries to stay in his daughters footsteps and to catch his breath at the same time. Marieke is extremely fit and reveals that she did several hikes in Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii. I comfort my thoughts that this probably makes the difference and not the age, slightly overweight and lack of experience. When we reach the first platform on top of the Vernal Fall, the sight is amazing. It was worth it. We dry our socks, shoes and coats in the warm mountain sun. We notice the marmots are quite aggressive here and take everything that can find even from bags.

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Further up we go to Nevada falls. The nature again is breath taking and so are my lungs while the path is going extremely steep at a certain moment. I try to take small steps, as instructed by my drill instructor Marieke, who keeps on smiling. She is definitely in her comfort zone here. Up and up it goes till we finally reach the top. I cannot believe my eyes when I look around, never seen anything like this. We sit down, take a sandwich and watch, wonder and enjoy. After taking pictures from every angle we face the decent, much easier however it’s a long way (to Tipperary) down. When we finally reach the bus stop that will bring us to the parking lot, we have done 11 KM, half up, half down the mountain. I am tired and back at the hotel the pool waits and so does a cool beer and later a well cooked diner. I don’t even feel the pillow when I hit the sack around 11 pm.

Biggest tree in the world

When I wake up at 7 the next morning my back makes the wrong angle. I cannot stand straight, a known weak part of my body. I am happy the only room left in the Hotel was the one with special supplies for persons with a handicap. I clamp on to all the extra rails in bathroom to get to the bath and after half an hour in warm water and a pill to relax the muscles in my back I feel reborn. When I walk back to the room I feel my legs, my feet, my knees, my arms, to make a long story short: I feel my body (I am getting too old for this sh*t) but also that I am alive with a great experience. Surprisingly also Marieke has some muscle pain in a place that most women want to keep tense and tight, the buttocks or butt. It’s so good to know I am not the only one. We will enjoy the aftermath of the hike for the next two days.

We set course for Three Rivers, near the entrance of Sequoia National Park. It takes about 5 hours driving to the Sierra Hotel. A simple room that has an old fashioned TV set (still working) and a phone from the last century. Diner at the river is marvellous where we even get to see hummingbirds in the garden of the restaurant.

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Next day (May 31st) we drive to the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. The trees are indeed gigantic and you feel like Pinkeltje (a Dutch gnom) when you stand next to the 3000(!) year old trees on the top of the mountain. It is a cloudy day and soon it starts raining. Before the first drops fall, we manage to climb the stairs of Moro Rock. The reward is an astonishing and beautiful view over the valley and mountains of the park. The scene gets spooky when the clouds fly in and transform into a net of mist over the trees on the mountain site. They keep moving and one moment we are covered in mist and the next moment we have a view on the surroundings again. Magic moments.

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After we have taken the inevitable pictures at the Sherman Tree, the biggest tree in the world, the rain starts falling more intense and we stop at the park visitor centre. It has a Laundromat service, so we combine lunch with Mary’s laundry that was luckily in the car. We get some soap from a very nice generous Canadian couple that are on their honeymoon and travel 6 weeks through the national parks of the USA with their trailer. We say goodbye to the Sequoia trees and drive back to our room. Tomorrow San Diego is waiting.

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