Big, freakin’ trees – Upper Mariposa Grove

Texas is always arguing that everything is bigger in Texas. Suck it, Texas. California has you beat by a mile.

Big freakin' tree

Seriously, these are big-ass trees. The kind that make you say Holy Sweet Baby Jesus when you see them.

I would sweat bullets in an ice storm living below these

I don’t know why I am writing a post about trees. Except they are huge.

100 feet up, the first branches.

The best place to see them in my opinion is Upper Mariposa Grove in Yosemite. Fair warning: the hike is hard, steep and long and it’s over 6500 feet in elevation so you’ll suck wind 100 feet into the hike. It’s the kind of hike that makes you question why you started in the first place. After the Grizzly Giant tree, you won’t see hardly anyone on the trail. Because it sucks to hike that steep a trail. Jean’s Pain rating: 7 out of 10 for steepness, lack of oxygen and the occasional old lady with a hiking stick who makes you look bad.

Troy hiding in a sequoia tree

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Yosemite Bingo: Passenger Fun

Traveling is frequently very annoying. Traffic, crowds, weather issues – they can all totally screw up an otherwise pleasant trip. It is my lot in life to ride shotgun as I am never the one driving and I suffer extensively as the perpetual passenger. Troy complains that I am way too aggressive behind the wheel (doubtful) and that he is the sensible one (this from the man who would scream at someone holding a rocket launcher for cutting him off). Apparently, I must have been drunk* when Troy and I married because I missed the part in the vows to always let Troy drive. But I digress.

For those moments when life sucks in the passenger’s seat, I invented National Park bingo. Playing is easy. Print your card and observe.  Mark off the spaces as you see the items in question. When you get an entire row, casually lean over and then yell loudly in your husband’s ear “Bingo!”  When playing solo, you win when your husband nearly drives off the road so you can lecture him about his lack of driving acumen.

Your bingo card:

 

 

All of these things can be found at Yosemite National Park

Happy hunting.

* It was Vegas. And also, I was drunk.

 

 

Another day in paradise: Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon

It just wouldn’t be a Harrison vacation unless the weather sucked and in keeping with tradition, this year’s California trip did not disappoint. Or, actually, it did disappoint, and the weather sucked. While Tennessee baked mercilessly in 100 degree heat, northern California could not buy a ray of sunshine. Troy and I detoured from Yosemite for a day to see the giant sequoias that populate the aptly-named Sequoia National Park. Sadly, they were hard to see.

A canopy of giant trees or the poster for the next Twilight movie: Sequoia shrouded in fog.

Giant sequoias are giant. It’s hard to define giant until you’re standing next to it. Rest assured, these are big fucking trees. Even if the fog was so heavy you couldn’t really see them.

Troy standing inside a fallen sequoia at Grant's Grove in King's Canyon National Park.

Perhaps you missed the white stuff on the ground. They call it snow. In June.

General Grant Tree. In snow. In June. Guess that's why it's called the Nation's Christmas Tree.

I desperately wanted to make a snow ball and hit Troy in the face but he said if I did, he would wrestle me to the ground and shove snow down my cleavage and then I would be really wet and cold.  Having some experience in ignoring threats like this to my peril, discretion won out and I stayed (reasonably) dry. Every giant tree is named after a Union general or other Yankee. I suppose this is because the trees were set aside during Lincoln’s tenure, but it could also be because Yankee generals really wanted to have something long and giant named after them to make up for other shortcomings. Sequoias have really soft, spongy bark and they make crappy wood for building anything because it splinters. Lincoln had to save them from wholesale slaughter because, even though they could really only be used to make pencils, our ancestors had the social conscience of fleas and would have cut them down to make mulch because they could. I am amazed sometimes that we survive as a species despite ourselves.

Troy and I at the world's biggest tree (General Sherman) which we could not really see and now neither can you. This is a crappy vacation picture to be sure.

We finally decided to drive to the far side of King’s Canyon National Park and were rewarded with sunshine and warmer temperatures. We saw no one. This has to be the most deserted park we’ve been to. This would have been a totally awesome place to see Bigfoot, but I was again denied. No ‘squatch for Jean this trip. Just a waterfall:

Grizzly Falls, Kings Canyon National Park. I don't know why they call it that. They have no grizzlies here.

Yosemite: The Uphill Death March

Yosemite is a beautiful place. Waterfalls, lush meadows, young European men on holiday- it’s a feast for the eyes. The most famous of hikes in this very famous national park is known as The Mist Trail. Aside from the insane climb to the top of Half Dome, the Mist Trail was the trail Troy wanted to hike. I do not understand what it is about my very competitive nature that mandates that I attempt to kill myself following Troy on hikes I have no business doing, but there was no way in hell I was not going to go.

To begin with, the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls climbs about 1000 feet or so over one-and-a-half miles.  Simple math shows this is pain in the making. It’s short, but steep, and at the end, it’s evil. Steps carved straight into the granite cliffs next to the Merced River which tumbles over Vernal Falls.

There's a happy rainbow to cheer you as you break your ass on the granite steps

Vernal Falls is pretty:

Vernal Falls

Had I only been less stubborn, I would have stopped here at the footbridge looking over the Merced River up to Vernal Falls:

The Merced River

I was not smart enough to stop here. As usual. It will be days before I can walk without pain. As usual.

Yosemite, Day 1: I look like a drowned rat

Mark Twain once said the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. I get this now. It was 59 degrees here yesterday. In June. The only good thing about this was an unexpected benefit for my fellow travelers as this means it is too cold to show off my extremely white legs in shorts as they will have to be encased in long pants.

Yosemite is not quite what I expected. I saw the news before I left about the sheer volume of water spilling over Yosemite’s very famous waterfalls. I was stoked to see them  as they have said it is a once in a generation chance to see that kind of volume. I was not prepared. It is loud. Jet engine loud. These are very, very big falls and pictures do not do them justice. I’ll try with a short video:

What this all means is that I got soaked. Drowned rat kind of soaked. The kind of soaked that when your hair finally dries you look like Chaka Khan on a bad hair day. I brought a change of shoes but not clothes. Planning wisely is not my strong suit and I would have sucked as a boy scout.  Good thing I was never required to be prepared.

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I am too weak to hike Burgess Falls in Tennessee

Every spring when the trees turn green and the flowers bloom, I get the itch to hike. This is not an itch I had before I married Troy as I was very much a city girl who smoked, wore black and swilled martinis regularly. Once married, I developed a fondness for seeing places that you have to work to get to and that most people are too lazy to ever see. This fondess is in direct conflict with my intrinsic laziness and my loathing for sweating, chafing, etc. Since late April, I have been trying to get a weekend free to hike Burgess Falls, which is a picturesque little state park an hour or so east of Nashville not far from Cookeville, Tennessee. Since the state parks allow dogs on trails, we take our more athletically-inclined dogs with us.

Only two get to go hiking. Also, I suck at vacuuming.

The weather has been a problem this year. Lots of tornadoes, tons of flooding. I am not fond of the duck and cover approach to outdoor events, so it took a while to get a weekend when it wasn’t raining, hailing, blowing, etc. Finally, we loaded up and headed out. As someone with legendarily bad knees, this hike is one I can even manage without a lot of trouble. However, I failed to consider the effects of taking chemo dugs on my hiking abilities. (note to readers: I do not have cancer, I have lupus which sucks, but not nearly as badly as cancer). I take a cocktail of things to keep the lupus at bay and recently started on the chemo route again when my eyes started to swell and other drugs did not work.  On the plus side, I no longer look like an extra from Twilight with blood red eyes. On the downside, I can’t drink martinis and I find that I am really missing the red blood cells I used to have in abundance.

Burgess Falls is a gorgeous hike and with all the rain, the falls are in full show:

Burgess Falls, Lower Cascade

This is the easy part and pretty much the first thing you see in the parking lot. The climb up starts after this:

Burgess Falls, Middle Falls

Getting to Middle Falls requires a mild cardio workout with lots of steps and a steady incline over a short .5 mile climb. On chemo, it’s painful. When I have to rest at the overlook, this is a problem. I really miss my red blood cells.

At the end of the trail, you see the big falls which are really quite impressive and a good 50+ feet tall:

Burgess Falls, the reward for breathing hard at the end of the trail

Inexplicably, the trail was heavily populated by tourists from India, some of them swathed in saris and sandals, which I do not consider a good choice for hiking on rocky trails. Their children all wanted to pet Bess and Zoe:

Zoe, Bess and their Daddy pose for the camera, and Indians.

One last little bit of pretty:

Cascade at Burgess Falls

A simple little 1.5 miles and I am nearly defeated. This bodes badly for the upcoming trip to Yosemite. Encroaching old age sucks.

Athletic apparel catalog models must die

It’s that time of year when Troy and I start planning the vacations we will take. On the agenda this year, kayaking in Congaree National Park  in South Carolina, possibly a quick trip to kayak in the 10,000 Islands in late March, a trip to Yosemite in June for a week to hike (and die) and then Zion National Park in September where I am determined to hike the Subway before I keel over and hang up my hiking shoes. I am trying to talk Troy into kayaking the Na Pali coast in Kauai in July but Troy is not jazzed about it. With all these impending trips, it’s time to start ordering outdoor clothes for the season.

If you ever want to feel totally inadequate, a quick scan through the Athleta catalog should do it. Exhibit A:

Seriously? Who is this chick and why is she trying to scratch the back of her head with the sole of her foot?

Let’s look at this. This woman has an ass you could bounce a quarter off of. I hate her and I don’t even know her. She’s probably really sweet. I tried this pose tonight and all I got for my trouble is a badly pulled hamstring and a bruise from where I fell over and hit the dining table. Fortunately, Troy had already gone to bed when I tried this.

Sure, she can do this, but if she had a 40DD chest, it would add a little challenge.

This woman is perky even upside down. That’s unfair to the rest of us. Someone needs to hold her hostage and force-feed her twinkies. I started to try this one but was greeted by four very curious dogs who are not helpful yoga partners. I gave up and poured a martini. Fuck it. I’m wearing a rash guard and khaki shorts this year.