The story of our epic adventure in 1996-97 is best introduced by this entry written almost 14 years ago. It was about 5 months into our journey; we had traveled over 15,000 miles and become seasoned travelers. Enjoy…
After a week in the great city of San Francisco, we left on March 23 for Yosemite National Park. It was a typically beautiful sunny day in California as we made our way through the mountains toward the park. The driving was difficult but scenic as we entered Stanislaus National Forest. Closer to the park along Highway 120, one sheer mountain road near Buck Meadows climbed in an endless series of switchbacks with outstanding vistas.
This excursion inland away from our planned route along the coast from San Diego to Seattle had been debated. As we drew closer to Yosemite and embraced the beautiful views, our doubts were erased.
A short time later, we began the white-knuckled, heart-pumping descent several thousand feet into Yosemite Valley along a smooth but tightly turned road. As we approached the valley floor with about a mile to go, smoke unexpectedly began to fill the motorhome. Panic struck as we realized the brakes had overheated. The pedal was at or near the floor with little or no brakeage.
Slowing down 34 feet of motorhome and towed minivan became increasingly difficult as downshifting became the main tool. Plunging ever closer to the valley floor, the Merced River lay directly ahead of us. With visions of our motorhome bobbing in the current, somehow wildly pumping the brakes slowed us down enough to gently roll though the stop sign at the T, where we came to a blessed halt a few feet short of the Merced.
Two rangers witnessed our stop sign infraction, and not knowing about our brake failure, came over to talk to us. Taking deep breaths and waiting for the heart attack as we listened to their lecture about coming to a complete stop, it was all a hazy blur.
We inched off the road and waited for the brakes to cool and pulses to return to normal. About an hour later, we pulled into a campground.
Yosemite was just opening after the severe flooding a couple of months earlier in January 1997. The devastation was everywhere and the hard work to get two campgrounds open to the public obvious. While reading the National Park literature, we noticed for the first time a 32-foot limit for campers. Just what we wanted to discover. The campsites looked very tight and the roads narrow.
Some of the many National Parks we visited were seemingly over-regulated and by-the-book. The rangers seemed a tad hardened to tourists and their questions. Quite frankly, they sometimes seemed like bureaucrats rather than rangers. Rangers at the larger parks with huge visitor counts tended to fall into the trap of enforcing the rules rather than fulfilling their roles as facilitators and educators.
So with trepidation and our earlier near disaster clear in our minds, we sought a ranger and asked, “Can we get this rig into one of these campsites?” He looked at our almost 50 feet of vehicle that seemed to infringe on more than its share of valley space and said with a chuckle, “You don’t know until you try.” We laughed at the insightful, unexpected and refreshing response and will never forget the simple phrase or how important it would come to be.