A Season Cliffhanger

By Ernie Witham   |   June 10, 2021

Early on in the drive, I was thinking I should have brought my thermal underwear. And my gloves. Now I was thinking I should have upped my life insurance. “There’s no one behind us. You don’t have to go too fast.”

“I’m doing 20 miles per hour,” Pat said, without turning her head. Her knuckles were colorless, and she was gripping the steering wheel so tightly I thought she might leave handprints that even Armor All Heavy Duty Cleanser couldn’t get rid of.

We were on our way to Yosemite National Park. The projected high temperature per my iPhone was 50 degrees. The low was 28. I should have brought heavier socks.

We took a wide, sweeping turn as we headed higher up a section of Route 120 that looked like was designed by a former jigsaw puzzle cutter and might lead to a Sherpa camp. We were on the outside lane, and I was on the sheer drop-off side.  

Normally, driving from Santa Barbara, we would be entering Yosemite from Route 140, but this trip we were driving from Lodi, the Old Vine Zinfandel capital of California. I could use a slug or two right about now. Though if I popped a cork, it might distract Pat and we could become airborne. Not sure how well a Honda CRV does flight-wise, but I’m guessing not all that great.

“Can you look at the GPS and see how long this section of the road lasts?” Pat asked.

“Why? Please tell me you are not thinking of turning around!”

A truck towing a large camper approached heading down the grade. He was riding the yellow line. Pat moved over a little. I thought about praying but all I could remember was “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and “If I die before I wake…”

We had never been to Yosemite in the spring before. Usually, we go in the winter when the waterfalls are trickling. I wanted to get a photo of roaring, thunderous water, maybe even one of those rainbow effects, if everything didn’t ice over during the night.

Another driver approached in one of those really tall vans that don’t seem all that safe on level ground. It was rocking a bit. I swear the driver had his eyes closed. I leaned way forward to make sure Pat’s eyes were open. Yup. Wide-open, even bulging a bit.

“Can I get you anything? Water? Fruit rollup? Forehead compress?”

“If we live, I want a very large cocktail from the Ahwahnee Hotel.”

I tried not to dwell on the word “if.” I checked the GPS. The upcoming turns were not even “S” turns. They were “V” turns. Building this section of road must have been fun. I was sure if I looked over the edge long enough, I would see the rusting hulks of long-lost graders and pavers.  

“Only a few more minutes to Priest Station, where it looks like the road levels out and straightens,” I said in my most encouraging voice. I wondered briefly how many survivors of this part of Route 120 converted at Priest Station. 

Just before my entire body froze into one big clench, the road indeed got flatter and wider, and soon we were at the Westgate entrance kiosk. We handed the ranger our Senior Citizen Lifetime National Park Passes. “Lifetime” had taken on new meaning. There was a chalkboard on the outside of the kiosk with updates. At the very top it said: Valley Floor Temperature 71 degrees.

“71! Seriously?” I knew I should have packed my shorts. 

“Yup,” he said. “Odd weather. Two days from now we are expecting snow. Then it will really warm up. Should be an interesting fire season, but I’ll be gone by then. You folks have a nice time.”

Descending into Yosemite Valley wasn’t quite as steep or twisty, but it did offer another challenge. “Pullout with views!” I shouted.

Pat whipped into the tiny parking lot and we both stood for the first time in hours. I looked at our faithful Honda CRV. It wasn’t even breathing hard. I felt like I should give it some oats or something. Instead, I took the first of more than 300 photos.  

“Road trips are great, aren’t they?”

“Cocktails,” said Pat. “Soon.”


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