Retreat In the Mountains.

06 October 2021

After things slowed down a bit at work over the summer, I finally took some advice given to me by a number of people in various capacities and took a vacation. When your boss orders you to take a couple of weeks off because he's afraid that you'll spontaneously combust, it's kind of hard to argue the point. So, I put in for almost a month off, rented a car (because my family wanted to retain the option to travel as necessary), and scouted out someplace suitably far away in the mountains for as long as I could afford (which was about five days). When the last day of work before vacation came, I turned everything off and headed right for the comic books for an evening to unwind.

In mid-August I packed up an assortment of stuff (perhaps overpacking a bit, truth be told) that I've been ignoring for far too long, caught a ride to pick up my rental car at the agency, and was floored to discover that I'd gotten more than bargained for - instead of the hybrid sedan I'd asked for they gave me a 2020 Camaro. "Enjoy your free upgrade!" the person behind the counter said cheerfully as she handed me the key fob.

I think I rented my mid-life crisis.

I've never been much of a gearhead. Cars aren't my thing; they're necessary to get me to and from work and for shopping. But I have to say that this was a beautiful car, driven hard and well maintained by the rental company. It was also sufficiently different from my Camry that I had to take an afternoon to read the manual cover to cover because they controls were just different enough that guessing wasn't a particularly good idea. Especially when the official manual has two entire chapters of non-street legal modifications and configuration changes that can be made if you want to race with said car. While I don't think I would have accidentally toggled an option that I should not have, sometimes it's nice to cut out the brute force search and just use stuff. Camaros are also really small inside. The car I rented was a two-door and I had to use the controls to move the seat as far back and down as I could before I could even get in. They just aren't built for tall people. There was absolutely no way I was going to fit into the back seat so I didn't even try.

Once I got on the road it was fairly simple to get to where I was going: Head due east and put the hammer down. Simple enough that even I couldn't screw it up. I made a point of stopping to refuel whenever I hit half a tank, just in case I'd miscalculated travel time or gas mileage. As it turned out the rental Camaro's ongoing fuel efficiency calculations put it around 510 miles on a tank of gas. I don't know how accurate that is, that's way more than even a top of the line hybrid these days, but when I tanked up on the way out I'd already gone a couple of hundred miles.

Audiobooks listened to on the way out and the way back: Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams and Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

To my delight, the route I was driving cut directly through the mountains of Yosemite for a couple of hours. I hadn't been out that way before but enjoyed every moment of it. It reminded me so uncannily of when I was in the high desert some years back it was almost like coming home.

I've always had a fascination with deserts and mountains. Despire their desolate, sometimes bleak landscapes they've always felt like home to me. Moreso than cities ever have. I've often felt that I could happily shut down my exocortex, hike into one or the other landscape, find a cozy hole someplace, and live out my days happily. However, my family taking exception to such a lifestyle choice aside, I am a being who greatly enjoys creature comforts. Namely, hot showers and flush toilets. While I could, theoretically, become a survivalist of some kind and live a fully analog life in the middle of nowhere (down about 25 IQ points without all the software and implants), that's just not my bag. Plus, if I ever had to go survivalist it would be a consequence of a terrible, massive disaster.

There's also the fact that almost every 50 feet in Yosemite National Park are signs warning of bears, plus heavier-duty, padlocked shut dumpsters to keep said bears from raiding the garbage. The prospect of running into a hungry bear with little to no fear of people is enough to make one significantly more honest with oneself about one's chances of becoming the next Grizzly Adams.

That said, there were a great many switchbacks on the highway that passes through the mountains. Most of them don't have guardrails so it's a drop straight down if your concentration wavers for even a moment. There are also large-ish bare places off the shoulder where drivers can pull over and steady their nerves^W^W^Wtake pictures of the beautiful scenery. I don't mind saying that I was white-knuckled driving on the way out and the way back. The posted speed limit on this part of the highway is 20 miles per hour, and I think that's a bit too optimistic. I was doing 15 the whole way, and nobody seemed to complain about it.

That said, it never ceases to warm the cockles of my hearts to see an impatient teenager in a riced out car get pissed at me for driving the speed limit (this wasn't in the mountains, by the way), shift gears, floor it to blow past me by swerving onto the wrong side of the road (into oncoming traffic), and nearly getting into a head-on collision with a California Highway Patrol cruiser (the reason I was driving the speed limit). Nobody got hurt and there was no crash (else I wouldn't be amused but in fact horrified) but the kid was probably wishing there was. Generally speaking, if somebody's doing something that irritates the hell out of you, find out why they're doing it first or you could wind up in a world of hurt.

Something that caught me completely by surprise is that, if you're just passing through Yosemite National Park on route 120 you have to pay a toll of $35us. It makes a certain kind of sense when you think about it: It keeps people from saying that they're just passing through on their way to wherever, when in fact they plan on camping for a few days without making a reservation and paying for permits. Paying the toll gets you a pass good for between 2 and 4 hours which, in my experience was more than enough to get from one gate to the other (including stopping off for fuel and lunch). They only take credit and debit cards at the gate so don't bother bringing any cash with you.

Something I found out after the fact is that the mountains have pretty much no cellular connectivity of any kind. In hindsight, that isn't terribly surprising. What I did not expect was the combination of zero cellular data connectivity but excellent DSL service as the condo I'd rented. By "zero cellular data connectivity," I mean just that: No e-mail, no maps, no instant messages. Phone calls could be made but forget doing anything else. While that seems only moderately annoying that also meant that the app I had to use to interact with the door lock to get in... couldn't contact the door lock. Thank you, Internet of Shit. A quick call placed to the folks I was renting the condo from got me an access code to punch into the keypad to let myself in. Once I'd unpacked the car and gotten settled in, I got my phone and laptop on the condo's wireless network and was able to get access to the August doorlock, though only when on the wireless network. Not a big deal because coverage extended onto the front porch but also not something I really wanted to run into after driving a couple of hundred miles.

Once I got the car unloaded and settled into the condo, I set about getting things moved around just so, plugging my portable Kodi box into the television, and.. well, doing whatever I pleased. I was on vacation.

Most of what I did isn't that interesting. I was getting my head screwed back on straight by doing nothing conventionally productive. I worked out. I got back into my daily practice. I wrote. I read books. I walked around town and did a little shopping. I practiced my locksport and got a few of my nemesis locks open; I also spent some time trying every tensioner I have to see which ones work well and where, which ones don't, and which ones are going into my regular kit (I'm nowhere near done). I watched Masters of the Universe: Revelations (if I hadn't stumbled across the Youtube channel Spector Creative some weeks ago it would have made no sense to me). I did some swimming and bummed around in the hot tub for a while. Maybe I made a few people happy.

One thing I absolutely did not expect was having trouble acclimating to the altitude of just under 8,000 feet. I found myself out of breath just walking up the front steps, and my usual workout nearly flattened me. I even had trouble swimming because I kept getting out of breath. It wasn't that difficult to walk around town, though due to traffic and taking extra care to memorize landmarks I wasn't exactly chugging along. I also found myself getting badly dehydrated. Warning: Bodily functions ahead.

Ordinarily, if one drinks between seven and ten 16oz glasses of water a day, you'd reasonably expect to be hitting the head with some frequency, and you'd be peeing clear or nearly so (hence, the name of the daily newspaper at Burning Man). I wasn't. Pounding a lot of water resulted in maybe one bathroom trip a day (aside from bathing). However, just towelling off after a shower, or walking from the pool back to the condo left me soaking through my clothes with sweat. I don't know if it's my age, my endurance tanking because I can't hit the gym like I used to (I was working on getting down to a six minute mile in the Before Times), the heat (which is on its way up as I type this, and it's socking me a good one), or the air quality. More likely it was a combination of the above factors as well as a few that I can't think of at the moment. As I type this post I'm just now getting back to more or less normal in terms of hydration.

Unfortunately, as happens so often, my mountain retreat passed all too quickly. I was just getting settled into life in the condo, figuring out where everything was, and even relaxing with the diminutive wildlife in the back yard (mostly the sassy and altogether too high strung bluejay, whose singing woke me up most mornings). I'd even felt comfortable enough to not need a map with me. But, things are what they are, and I re-loaded everything into my rental car, gave my rented condo a lick and a promise, dropped the parking pass off, and set forth for the Bay Area and home. The drive back took a bit longer than arrival due to road work backing up traffic on route 120 west, but a good audio book and being stuck behind an occupied horse trailer made the wait somewhat relaxing. That, and being able to roll the windows down and kick back with a warm breeze certainly helped, though it did get fairly hot once I actually got back into the mountains for the drive back down to sea level (more or less).

If you want to see the pictures I took while I was on retreat, here they are. Please forgive the crappy selfies, the sun was so bright it was painful even through my sunglasses.