Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yosemite in a Day

It's not my first time to do Yosemite in a day. It's not common, and just because people are often confused/impressed/whatever, it's also not wrong. It's not misguided to wake up around four or five in the morning, to load up your car and start driving north east. Instead, you feel very, very right as stretches of orchards replace the cityscape, and then rolling hills with grazing cattle replace the planted rows of trees, and then tall, tall pines that form a thick wall of forestry welcome you in the Stanislaus National Forest right before you reach the gates of Yosemite National Park.

Rolling past the admissions booth around eight or nine am, you can't help but smile. As you drive toward the valley, holding your breath through the tunnels, and losing it all over again as you behold Half Dome or the sun lighting the river that snakes through the valley, you know you've won big. Stop by the natural spring and collect some fresh water just as if you were passing "Go." Then drive through the valley framed by giants — El Capital, Cathedral Rocks, Sentinel Rock — and behold majesty.

For Thanksgiving, Morgan and I stayed in California. We did the Black Friday thing, we went to our respective Friendsgiving celebrations and then we got the heck out of town. The woods were waiting. We raced there and then began to climb the Mist Trail. We raced time and the coming snow. We skipped lunch and marveled at waterfalls instead. We kept an eye on the newly forming ice, we took a long, long detour, we shed layers and just as quickly, we put them back on. We finally ate an early dinner and then exited the park to the holiday tunes of James Brown, all whilst the snow began to fall and stick to the ground.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

New York at 25

One of the best books I read in 2016 was Just Kids by Patti Smith. It made me nostalgic for New York of old, and romanticized the life I could have in New York now. It convinced me that I should leave San Francisco and go be young and seemingly free in this famed city.

I decided this work trip was going to be a definitive moment symbolized by the purchase of a rad leather jacket. Patti would approve, of course. I was going to find a leather bomber, I was going to attend jazz clubs and drink cocktails at bars alone, even eat alone. I was freshly 25 and was doing New York solo. But I learned that I'm not so brave, and I'm not a rock and roll poet, and I don't like doing things alone.

I arrived in the rain and didn't like the New York I met. Patti had me fall in love with her version—even though there were drugs and poverty and hunger and uncertainty. Suffering only rain, I felt the romantic haze washed away. This wasn't the New York of the late '60s.

Still, the sun came out and I found my jazz clubs, my friends recently moved to Brooklyn, new spots to star in the West Village and East, old friends from college and I found myself having my first New York all-nighter. I found Crawford near Chelsea and we explored the Whitney, and all these names go well together. No leather jacket though. No rock and roll dreams or poetry... at least, this trip. I wasn't ready for the move to New York, and I'm still not quite there. Maybe I never will be. But San Francisco is mighty fine, and these little work trips are just enough.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

You Can't Camp Here: Big Sur

If you can get away with it once, twice... why not go for it again? Especially a second weekend in a row.

The unfair thing about camping is the necessity of planning. WHY. It's already enough of commitment to have the gear—sleeping bags, tent, headlamps, camp stove, camp pots, food of course, cans of Tecate, emergency Clif Bars and extra layers of clothing—and then you also have to worry about booking a campsite days, weeks and sometimes months in advance.

It can be more complicated to return to nature, to sleep on the ground, than to just rent a hotel room. You might be reading this and nodding your head and saying, "Duh, Vic." I'm doing the same thing, but also in my naïveté, I romanticized camping (and still do) and I think it should be simple, that it is simple. I can be wrong about this.

Anyways, after the high of last weekend's camping trip, a group of us decided to trek down to Big Sur. Yipee! "Where will we stay? What will we do? What's there to see?" I took the reins on this one, but I think my friends are learning how much I love not having a plan. Things will work themselves out, and they always seem to do so.

Big Sur! We left the city around mid-morning and made several stops along the way. Chick-fil-a? Check. REI (because caravan members realized they were going to FREEZE in Big Sur and that we collectively had no food)? Check. Bixby Bridge for photo op? Check, McWay Falls to catch the sunset? Check.

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After our last stop, we raced along the winding Highway 1, searching for our campsite. It's technically not a legal spot. After an hour or more, my fellow passengers grew less certain of their trust in me. Turn after turn, I grew less certain of my recollection of the place. Had we passed it? Where was the pull-off with the "No Trespassing" sign? I kept our landmark a secret until finally, I shouted upon seeing it.

They all asked if I knew about the "No Trespassing" sign. Of course! This is the spot. Best little campsite around. I led them through the high brush and into a grove of trees. I mumbled a warning about poison oak, but eh... we were in to deep to worry them now. We reached a clearly within the trees and I declared it as our campsite. Interestingly enough, some sort of predator had been here first... probably a coyote or wild dog, and there was a few deer bones... but no matter! It's a great camp spot! I was slowly regaining the trust of my friends.

IMG_5363 With the yellow four-person set up, we sat down to prepare a balanced camp meal of freeze-dried chicken fried rice. We poured wine from a box and we began a simple question-based conversation, the kind that helps four loosely connected people get to better know one another. The questions got more serious too, turning to family and the difficulties of living in the city and plans for the future. All in all, it was a good conversation.

Tucking in to sleep, the trees kept us cozy + protected from the coastal breeze. A good night on the ground. As with most all camping trips, we woke with the sun. We explored the copse of trees until we found the cliffs overlooking the beach and from there, we watch the sun rise, the waves roll in and we meditated on an unplanned camping trip that worked itself out.

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

You Can't Camp Here

It was a spur of the moment thing. We tossed around the idea all afternoon seemingly as a joke, and then around 9pm we made an executive decision. Let's go camping. Braydon had this goal of sleeping so many nights on the ground in 2016 so he needed to get in a tent. I forget what all my other friends were doing, but this definitely had more appeal. Kyle was along for the ride. Or more correctly, Kyle drove us.

"What's the plan?" Kyle + Braydon navigated us toward Tennessee Beach to pitch a tent on this cliff that they've visited once or twice before. "Do we need we need permits?" Nah. And here's where I will become somewhat vague because the deal is... you can't camp here.

Thanks to Google Maps and thanks to headlamps, we reached the beach about an hour later. It was deserted, which is good because we started to climb. Real path? Who's to say at this time of night. The recent rains had definitely picked this route for run-off, but also made the terrain a bit questionable at points. We collectively huffed + puffed as we maintained a decently fast pace and gained in elevation. Soon, Kyle took the lead and took us out along a cliff.

We set up this massive family tent that could easily fit four or five. Not inconspicuous in the slightest... but we're not supposed to be here, right? We counted and then estimated to the footsteps from each side of our tent to each side of the cliff. Right... it's still a good spot. Then we popped open some beers, kind of tuckered in and drifted off to sleep.

We woke with the sunrise and the view was something special. The ukulele came out along with the Clif Bars and we sat their simply. Until I pulled out my camera and entered obnoxious photog mode. We took a little morning hike to watch the sun continue to rise and the fog continue to roll in and to claim everything that the light touched. Pretty soon after, it was over. We packed up and trekked out of there, less than 12 hours after arrival. Not a bad night of sleeping on the ground.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fall in Denver

From the day that Kaity and David started dating, it was pretty inevitable that these two were going to spend forever together. I had the very special and unique opportunity of getting to live with Kaity for two years in San Francisco, and get to witness the relationship between these two wonderful people—how he pursued her, how they made tiny sacrifices for one another, and how well they simply fit together. It was just a matter a time before they got engaged and then a wedding date was announced and then we were flying to Denver to watch these two get married.

It was a perfect fall weekend in Denver for a wedding, with the leaves taking on every color imaginable, the warm air beckoning every one outside and the Colorado landscape lighting up for these two. The wedding meant several reunions, a taco bar (!!) and the start a great adventure for the new Benacs.

The photos that follow don't capture the wedding and the real intent for being in Denver, but they do highlight what might be my first ever, very true fall.

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