Yosemite Ryan Ramble

Through the Wawona Tunnel

I grew up about a three hours’ drive from Yosemite, so I’ve been there probably a dozen times or more. And my family has always been in the horseless carriage hobby (pre-1916 era cars), so I’ve driven around more remote back roads than I can count, and as far back as I can remember, through northern California, Oregon, and Nevada. It’s one of the unique experiences that defines my childhood, and gives me a continual touchpoint to some of the fondness of my youth as I continue to participate with my family in this activity now that I have a wife and child of my own.

Somehow, it took over 30 years for us to take the cars into Yosemite, but that all ended last month with the 2009 Ryan Ramble, a Horseless Carriage Club tour my younger brother puts together annually. It was Yosemite as I’ve never experienced it before: climbing the high passes and cruising through the valley floor with the top down in a Model T was epic.

 

Below Left: Left pedal: all the way down is low gear; halfway down is clutch/neutral; all the way up is high gear. Center pedal: reverse. Right pedal: brake. The throttle is the lever on the right-hand side of the steering wheel; the lever on the left is the spark. Below Right: Yes, Virginia, that’s how you start it.

Below are some long-exposure night pictures from my sister-in-law. Top: midnight long-exposure picture in front of the classic valley view from the Wawona Tunnel overlook (source of light at upper right is the moon). Bottom left: our friend’s speedster emerging from the Wawona Tunnel. Bottom right: some of the cars parked near the base of Yosemite Falls.

 

Tour du Mont Blanc with a Baby: Epilogue

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Tour du Mont Blanc with a Baby: Introduction


(This is part of a 14-post series. If you landed directly on this page, we suggest you start at the beginning and navigate through in order using the Next >> link at top & bottom of each post. Enjoy and thanks for visiting!)

We enjoyed a relaxing day off in Les Houches—lounging around the Skier’s Lodge, playing with Fiona, and taking the bus to the Chamonix town center for ice cream and a raised relief map of the Mont Blanc massif. Others at the lodge were getting ready to start their journeys and wanted to know all about it. Having put so much into planning and training for it, it’s strange to think that ours is over. Back home, friends and family will be happy to see us again, possibly impressed that we did a trip of this sort with a baby, or possibly not quite as interested in the whole matter as we are.

There is a strange dichotomy to what we feel about the feat of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with a baby. In one sense, it was a natural, almost obvious, choice of vacation for new parents who are outdoor enthusiasts—a way to incorporate our child into the enjoyment of our favorite pastime and expose her to God’s wondrous creation while foregoing the more extreme aspects of “roughing it.” In this respect, choosing to embark on this with Fiona seemed strangely normal, like anyone could (and should) do it, not like we did something all that spectacular. At the same time, we feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and epic nostalgia when we think back to our experience on the trail and the memories that will live with us forever. There is a sense that we have pulled off something amazing that others will never truly be able to fully appreciate without doing it themselves.

And so we live in this paradox that we did something great and perhaps unprecedented, yet at the same time something akin to what we believe anyone can do with their passion in life. We hope to inspire others to take hold of an adventure or dream with the same conviction and not use “the baby” or [insert excuse here] as a reason for not living life to the fullest.

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We didn’t dare leave the continent without indulging in one of Europe’s proudest traditions: a quick-layover-turned-24-hour fiasco in London’s Heathrow airport as our terminal was shut down and all flights were canceled. Waiting in unmoving lines with other stranded passengers proved futile, and we had to find a patch of floor to sleep for the night, using foam mats provided by airport personnel to the thousands of us scattered across the floor like refugees. We had to buy our own tickets back to Seattle the next day with promise of reimbursement from the airline, and spent July 4th hopping from airport to airport across the country until eventually arriving in Seattle. A friend picked us up at the airport, and we glimpsed fireworks shows from the highway as Fiona slept on the car ride home.

We went backpacking a few more times that summer. Being in the best shape of our lives, we didn’t want to waste a weekend in the city. Fiona continues to grow and require more wiggle time each day, and getting her to sleep in the tent can be a challenge. We are glad to have done this trip when we did. She may not remember the Tour du Mont Blanc later in life, but it is a joy to watch her unabashedly discover the world around her, realizing that we have and will continue to plant the seeds that give her a zeal for an adventurous life.

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Tour du Mont Blanc Introduction

July 1: La Flegere–Le Brevent

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Tour du Mont Blanc Introduction


(This is part of a 14-post series. If you landed directly on this page, we suggest you start at the beginning and navigate through in order using the Next >> link at top & bottom of each post. Enjoy and thanks for visiting!)

A fifteen-minute walk got us from La Prairie to the telepherique, which whisked us back up to the trail where we ended yesterday’s hike at La Flegere (where we would have stayed had it not been full). We started hiking this morning in very warm weather. It was an hour and a half before the trail diverged from the ski area serviced by La Flegere, and during that time we were overlapping with the route of the marathon that would be happening today. Luckily, we were going to be well off the route before any runners arrived, although we were passed early on by some runners who were setting up and staffing checkpoints for the race.

As the day grew hotter, Fiona grew crankier, probably because we kept forcing her against her will to wear her sun hat by clipping it to her shirt. She became very adept at unclipping it. We grew frustrated by her whining and defiance as well as having to pull over every few minutes for day-hikers wanting to pass, and fuses began to grow short.

Mercifully a nice breeze picked up, and the crowds thinned out the higher we climbed up the ridge toward Le Brevent. As we climbed we were able to look back down on the finish line of the marathon at the top of the ski area, and from a distance we saw the first runners complete the race. Further up, we leap-frogged a few times with an arrogant Dutch hiker who kept posing pretentiously for his girlfriend to take pictures, then leaving her in his dust as he sped further up the trail. He gave unsolicited accounts of his recent summit of Denali to us and others. At one point he asked Clay where we were from and if he had climbed any mountains, and when we told him about summiting Mount Rainier in our own home state, he responded with, “Oh, yes, Rainier—that is an easy one, no?” After passing him for the last time as he strived to look suave, puffing on a cigarette while waiting for his girlfriend to catch up, we shared some good laughs at his expense.

After a short series of ladders, a rock scramble, and a couple snowfields to cross, we reached the high station at Le Brevent and celebrated our completion of the TMB! Le Brevent is the site of another telepherique station that leads back down to the Chamonix Valley. We opened our sack lunch at a table in the cafeteria, and ordered two large beers to wash it down.

Although there is a trail that leads back down to the valley floor from Le Brevent, it is nothing more than a punishing march downhill with no new scenery or payoff to speak of. Not wishing to make ourselves pointlessly sore on a day we were already hot and tired, we contented ourselves to take the telepherique back down to the valley. From there we caught a bus back to the Skier’s Lodge, where British ex-patriot owners Andrew and Sarah had a room waiting for us. Since we didn’t use our second “cushion day” on the trail, we have all day tomorrow to relax and enjoy the town before heading back to Geneva to catch our flight home the following day.

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Tour du Mont Blanc Introduction