“You’ve reached the desk of Alyssa Ochs with Wexler Wallace. I am current out of the office and will be returning on Tuesday, March 20th. For immediate assistance, please dial zero and your call will be redirected to someone who can assist you.”
In the corporate world, there are few things more satisfying than setting the”out-of-office” reply on your phone and email. For the next several days, I would not be answering phone calls from angry clients or frantically preparing documents for last minute filings. For the next several days, I would hiking, climbing, and camping in Yosemite National Park with my boyfriend.
Planning outdoor excursions was the only thing that really got me through the daily grind of working at a law firm recently. The legal field never really did fit my interests or my personality, but yet after seven years I still found myself wearing a suit and pushing papers around.
My boyfriend and I caught a late flight out from Chicago to San Francisco so we could get an early start the next morning. The sun had barely risen when we set out on the winding, mountainous roads from the bay area towards Yosemite. We could barely see through the rear window of the rental car because of all of the tent supplies, sleeping bags, cooking gear, and duffel bags stacked up on the back seat.
Even though there was no park ranger on duty, we easily found our reserved campsite #74 in the Upper Pines Region and parked the car once we arrived. The drive seemed to have taken an eternity because we were so anxious to get into our hiking gear and onto our first trail of the day. I couldn’t help but notice how my toes felt so much better in my hiking boots than in the high heels I usually had on during the day.
With a quick glance at the map, we decided to start hiking the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. The terrain was rugged and unpredictable. An uncertain combination of rock, sand, snow, water, and ice kept us guessing with each cross-back of the trail.
Out of a sense of pride, I tried to hide the obvious fact that I was becoming short of breath and starting to wheeze with the increased elevation. Although I suffered from a moderate asthma condition as a teenager, it rarely affected now, and I always thought of myself of being in pretty good shape. But then again, I had also gotten pretty accustomed to city life, flat terrain, and minimal physical challenges.
At least I wasn’t alone in my struggles. he had somehow forgotten to pack his hiking boots, so we had to stop at an REI on the way to pick up new ones. Apparently the grip on the boots wasn’t as good as his tried-and-true pair because he slipped and fell on the icy patches on several occasions. Fortunately, we were prepared with the basic $14.99 first aid kit and wrapped his bleeding hand and elbow with some bandages and gauze.
As we were getting more accustomed to the terrain and elevation, the sun started to dip below the mountain tops. It was about 6:00 and with a quick calculation, we realized that if we kept ascending to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls, we would never make it back down before sunset. After some time of mulling it over, we decided to be safe and head back down even though it was less than a mile to the top of the summit. We were both a little less chatty on the trek down, silently brooding about not accomplishing what we set out to do that day. However, I finally convinced myself to look at this situation as an opportunity to come back to Yosemite another time in the near future to finish what we had started.
I knew I would be back because this place felt like home to me. More than this one specific national park, Yosemite reminded me of the beauty of nature, the peacefulness of solitude, and the open-minded perspective that I truly desire in my life. Back at my law firm in Chicago, I ride a jaded roller coaster of restlessness and discontent…responding to friendly inquiries with “Same shit, different day.”
After we arrived back at our campsite, we pitched our tent and were finally able to get our campfire started after many unsuccessful attempts. I grabbed a six-pack of beer from the bear-safe container and was finally able to relax and reflect upon my day.
I stared into the flames and asked myself, “Why can’t more days be like this? Why can’t I find a way to spend my days outdoors doing what I love? Why don’t I ditch the Midwest and to move to a place like that feels like home to me? Why can’t I give the middle finger to societal norms and travel around the world to learn and to grow before obligations catch up to me? Why can’t I try to make a living writing about my travels and have more confidence in my abilities to make something happen?”
I couldn’t come up with answers to any of these questions. If I had those answers, I would have my life figured out and this wouldn’t be my story. After excusing myself to take a pee behind some nearby bushes, I kicked aside some logs to make room to lie down upon the cold, hard ground and look up at the stars.
Yosemite was once place where I felt at home. This made me wonder how many other places could make me feel at home too. I had always felt the pressure to keep a tight grip on my steady job, my nice apartment, and my stable routine. But as I stared up at the night sky, I realized that I truly didn’t want any of those things at this time in my life.
I heard my boyfriend calling me and I snapped back to the reality to help him clean up the campsite and return the food scraps to the bear-safe container. We put out the fire and snuggled into our sleeping bags, exhausted but still excited for the next day of exploring the Vernal and Nevada Falls.
The brightness of the stars shone through the mesh of our tent just enough to illuminate my face and reveal a tear running down my cheek. My boyfriend pulled me an inch closer and whispered, “I know. I want those things too.” I brushed my tear away, adjusted my makeshift sweatshirt pillow, and fell into a more peaceful sleep than I ever did back home on my Memory Foam king sized mattress.