Note: click on photos to view larger versions; cameras: Nikon D60 w/ an 18-200mm lens, and my iPhone.
Leaps of Faith
"Where's the end of this?" Sam asked. The two of us were pedaling our bikes up the final grade leading toward Tioga Pass, almost 10,000 feet above sea level, in Yosemite National Park. High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the forest here is thick with tall, gray-barked lodgepole pines, while the supply of air is thin.
Most of the time, too, Sam led the way, beginning from our campsite at about 8,600 hundred feet, in beautiful Tuolumne Meadows. It had taken me most of the seven miles we'd come to control my breathing. My ragged breath had taken a backseat, though, to the magnificent scenery through which we rode.
We cycled over the bridge spanning the unusually fast-flowing Tuolumne River, and we cycled along roaring, foaming, ice-cold creeks, filled from bank to bank with a long winter's snow melt. Rounding a bend well above 9,000 feet, our eyes traveled to the sky-splitting summits of some of Yosemite's mightiest peaks, their slopes still covered with patches of sugary-white snow, reflecting the bright morning light of the sun that blazed down on the earth from an impossibly blue and cloudless sky.
"The road might climb for a while, but the climb ends somewhere around the bend," I answered Sam, just as we passed a little parking lot at the trailhead to Mono Pass and Mount Dana.
As we rounded the bend, Sam took a look at how much farther we had to go – perhaps a quarter mile – before the road flattened out. Though he was demoralized, having expected a quicker end to our struggle, Sam began to pick up the pace, anxious to reach easier ground and to shed me. For some reason – perhaps because it felt good to work my muscles (after the "Death Ride" and my subsequent episode of myoglobinuria, described a few posts back) and because my breathing was under control – I challenged myself to stick to his wheel. We didn't have to say what both of us knew: we were in a race.
After following Sam for a few seconds, I made a leap of faith by shifting up a couple of gears. Swinging left, I accelerated around my young friend. A sudden belief took hold in my heart: I could top the grade before Sam would.
His combative spirit rising to the challenge, Sam accelerated, too. A glance back showed me his front wheel was now perhaps even with my back wheel, yet I would not yield. My legs spun faster, while my lungs sucked deeply for air that wasn't there.
Sometimes in life we have to give our all. For a few seconds, I gave my all to a quarter mile of pavement.
Had it been a long sprint, I'd have watched Sam's back wheel pass and then shrink before me. In this short sprint, though, the top of the grade was close, and Sam didn't have enough time to catch me.
"You win!" he called out as he dropped back, a few moments before first I and then he topped the grade. Grunting from his effort, Sam coasted past me as I slowed to a stop. I put my head on my handlebars and took the deepest breaths I could, trying to force oxygen into my lungs. When Sam circled back to me, I looked up long enough to hand him my camera and ask for a photograph, before dropping my head back onto my bars.
On our return to camp, after reaching the little kiosk marking the top of the pass and the entrance to Yosemite, we reached 47mph on the last downgrade as we cut through the thin air. We were in the saddle for the return for less than 15 minutes.
Sam and I and a few others were in Yosemite National Park, conducting a couple of camping trips for families on behalf of the Yosemite Conservancy. We returned to camp before our guests arrived. A couple of nights later, after a hard, hour-long rainstorm that flooded the lower part of the campground, we walked out with our group into Tuolumne Meadows, to take in one fine sunset. The show lasted a long time, perhaps because the skies above Yosemite wanted to balance out the damage they had inflicted on campers a few hours earlier.
Below: reflection of sunset in the waters of Elizabeth Creek, as it spills out into Tuolumne Meadows.
There would be another leap of faith, that night in the meadow. John lifted his daughter, Rose, high above his head. Then he tossed her up, to catch her a long moment later as she headed earthward. Rosie loved the game and John threw his daughter into the sky twice more. Father and daughter had absolute faith in each other. Here was the literal leap of faith, in the heart of the incomparable and incomprehensibly beautiful meadows and granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.