Monday, January 16, 2017

Day 2: Already taking a zero day!

Although I'd only been on the trail for one day, it was time for a zero day. Not because I needed the rest, but rather it was time for Karolina to join our ranks. Unfortunately for us, she was arriving in San Francisco--a four hour drive away. So Amanda and I woke up yet again at an ungodly hour (5:30), and hit the road. We left everything in our campsite since we planned to returned that evening.

Today we would pick up Karolina. I let Karolina ride in the passenger seat so she could enjoy her first views of America. This was taken in the parking garage at the San Francisco airport, mere minutes after taking her first free steps in America.

The drive was uneventful and we arrived at the airport about an hour before Karolina's plane was due to land which I used to charge my devices (we didn't have electricity at the campsite) and get on the wi-fi while I could.

In San Francisco, they have monitors showing the passengers who are about to exit from customs and immigration into America. Presumably, it helps reduce the large numbers of people crowded around the exit point. So Amanda and I watched the monitors, looking for Karolina. It seemed to take an unusually long period of time, but we had no idea what the lines were like, nor where she was within it.

Eventually we spotted a girl coming out, and Amanda asked if that was her. And.... I wanted to say yes. She fit Karolina's description to a T. A girl with long, blonde hair, traveling alone and carrying nothing more than her backpack. If I had been given a written description of Karolina, it was a perfect match. But... she didn't quite seem right. I couldn't pinpoint any particular feature that made me think it wasn't her, but I hadn't seen Karolina for a year. Maybe she changed her hair style or something and that's why this particular person didn't look quite right.

We wandered over to where the passengers were exiting to get a better look. The woman stepped out into America and paused briefly, looking around. Her eyes skipped right over me, though. No hesitation. She wasn't looking for me. Then she walked off, seemingly confident of her direction. She wasn't looking for anyone, I realized, but rather was getting her bearings. She stopped just long enough to figure out where in the airport she was and which direction she needed to go. I doubted that she was even meeting anyone.

"That's not her," I told Amanda, and we went back to the monitors to continue watching.

Another half hour passed, and I joked with Amanda. "Maybe they're deporting her," I said. By now, Karolina's plane had landed over an hour ago. Eventually another woman turned the corner in the monitor. Long, blonde hair. Traveling alone. Carrying nothing but the pack on her back. And it totally looked like Karolina. No doubts or hesitations on my part. "That's her!"

Seconds later, she came out of the exit where she stopped to look around and caught sight of us waving towards her.

"Welcome to America!" I said. It was, after all, her first visit to the United States.

Apparently she did have trouble getting through the immigration line. When she applied for a visa, I had her use my mom's address as where she'll be staying for lack of a better address. We did plan to stay there, although not until after our hike was over. And writing a non-address like "camping on the JMT" seemed like a bad idea. But she figured they already had all that information in their records and was surprised and not prepared when they asked for the information again. She didn't know it! She told the guy that I was picking her up, but that she hadn't written down the address or remembered it, although she could remember that it was in San Luis Obispo.

Apparently, they gave her a hard time about not knowing where she'd be spending the night tonight, but eventually let her through.

We headed back to the rental car and loaded up for the long, four-drive back to Yosemite. We did make a few stops along the way, however.

We didn't really need anything at Bass Pro Shops, but we figured it would be quite an event for Karolina! Even before we entered the store, she was amazed at all the antlers on the front. "It's just like the movies!"

First, we stopped at a giant Bass Pro shop we noticed on our drive in. Neither Amanda nor I had ever been to it, but from the exterior, it looked like one of those giant stores with an aquarium and shooting range or whatever else you could imagine. I was pretty sure Karolina had never been to one, though, and she might find it interesting. "If you need any gear for the JMT," I told her, "you can probably find it here!"

She was amazed at the store, eyes falling out of her sockets. "It's so American!" she exclaimed. We spent maybe 15 minutes there poking around and taking photos.

Later, we stopped for lunch. It didn't have to be elaborate--we were on a mission to get back to Yosemite, after all, and we headed to Jack In the Box. What's more American than fast food anyhow? Part of the reason I pushed for this particular fast food was that I knew a lot of them now had those fancy Coke machines with a hundred-plus flavors. I didn't know for certain that this particular store did, but I hoped so. I was pretty certain Karolina had never seen anything like that before.

It did have one of those machines, and it nearly made her head explode. Even more surprising for her, she could refill her cup as often as she wanted while we were there. The bottomless cup. "It's so American!" she exclaimed some more. "Just like the movies! Everything is bigger in America!"

Ha. And she wasn't even in Texas.

Inside Bass Pro was a waterfall feeding an aquarium, giant (fake) trees, and Karolina seemed dizzy at the scale of things.

She filled her cup three different times, each time picking a different flavor from the machine. And she wanted photos of her doing it. She wanted a permanent record of the event. =)

As we left, Amanda reminded me about the "gifts" we had in the car for Karolina. The giant pine cones. Oh, yes! I had forgotten about those! I went to the back and pulled them out. Karolina's eyes about popped out of her sockets. She'd never seen anything like it before. "Now you know why I was so un-impressed with those 'giant' pine cones in Corsica last year," I told her. "These are my idea of what counts as a giant pine cone!" =)

She wanted a few photos with the pine cones, and we told her that she may not take them home with her like she did with Wilson last year. "Customs tend to frown on stuff like this," we told her. "They'd probably confiscate it and incinerate it if you tried to take pine cones home with you."

I also gave Karolina a book to look at: Opowieść o dwoch szlakach. Our book. It's the Polish translation of my best selling book, A Tale of Two Trails. (So far as I know, no book called A Tale of Two Trails has ever sold this well in the history of mankind! That makes it a best seller.) Karolina translated it for me. It started a few years ago when Karolina had mentioned that she was thinking about taking some classes to become a translator--at least as a possible part-time job, and I joked that if she wanted something to translate, she could translate my book. And she liked that idea. She emailed me a rough draft of the translation fairly quickly, but it mostly collected dust because she wanted some of her Polish friends to read her translation and find spelling or grammatical errors that needed fixing. The final draft she didn't send me until earlier this year, and a month before, I had finally gotten it published. There was exactly one copy of the book in the entire world, this was it. A proof copy that we could look at before I committed to buying more copies. (You'll also be able to purchase autographed copies on Atlas Quest soon, if it's not there already. Only autographed by myself, though--not Karolina. Sorry!)

I also wanted to find out how many copies of the book Karolina wanted to keep for herself. We'd have them shipped to my mom's house where she could pick them up before she traveled back home to Europe.

We made one last stop to supply our food for the first four days I expected we'd be on the trail. I had planned out a rough itinerary to Mammoth Lakes, a leisurely four days of hiking to get there where we could resupply again. Karolina couldn't bring much of her own food from Europe because of those custom and immigration problems, and inside Yosemite was a terrible place to resupply (limited selections and very expensive), so we'd supply ourselves outside of the park before our arrival.

Karolina was astounded at the number of drink selections from the Jack In the Box.
We probably could have done the necessary distance in three days, but I wasn't sure about how Karolina would do. Last year, on the GR 20, her painful knees slowed her down. And this time, we'd be traveling at elevations that Karolina had never experienced. There was some question as to how well she could handle it--especially coming from below sea level. And she was already severely lacking in sleep, nine time zones off, and probably jet lagged. It wouldn't be a bad idea to take things slow the first few days. Better safe than sorry!

So we went to a Safeway where we helped Karolina navigate the dizzying aisles of goods. I wanted a small, travel-sized container of Gold Bond which I couldn't find at Safeway, so afterwards, walked into the nearby WalMart to see if they had it. Karolina, never having been to a WalMart before but having heard of it, joined me, while Amanda went to the car and refilled the tank with gas.

"It's just like the movies!" Karolina exclaimed again looking around the WalMart with eyes wide open like a child at Christmas.

The refrain "It's just like the movies!" I quickly realized, would be common on this trip. Pretty much everything she's seen about America has come from movies and TV shows.

If you've never shown someone around America for their first time, I highly recommend it. It's a heck of a lot of fun. They aren't used to packaging, or the layout of stores, and simple things we wouldn't think twice about can confuse them. I couldn't help but laugh a little when Karolina picked out some yogurt from the shelf at Safeway--one of those containers that tapers so it's narrower at the top than the bottom--and she put it upside down in the cart.

Holy, giant pine cones! She was amazed to see pine cones bigger than her head!

"Why did you put that upside-down?" I asked her, pointing to the yogurt. Not that there was anything wrong with it. It didn't hurt anything, but it seemed odd to me.

And she had absolutely no idea that was upside-down. It was just a shape of container that she just wasn't familiar with and to her, it made sense that the bigger end would be at the top where one could get a spoon into it to scoop out the yogurt easier. "America is so confusing...."

Karolina also gave me a wad of euros for my upcoming trip to Portugal, in payment for the sleeping bag and bear canister I had purchased on her behalf.  (I also gave her a few US dollars to spend, which was also a part of our agreed on transaction.)

The last of our stops done, we continued back to Yosemite. It was near sunset when we entered the park so there wasn't much we could do in the park at that point. We did catch a beautiful view of the sunset from a roadside pullout, but it was mostly dark by the time we arrived at camp and that was that.

Karolina set up her tent in our campsite and tried out her new sleeping bag for the night. This was the test to see if it kept her warm during the night. Camped at over 9,000 feet above sea level--an elevation higher than she'd ever been before (outside of an airplane, of course)--it was going to get cold during the night. She also tried opening her bear canister but struggled to get it open. "Don't worry," I told her. "They're Amanda-proof too. If there's a present I have for Amanda, I hide them in the bear canister and I know Amanda can't get to it either." =)

Karolina went to sleep relatively early. She'd now been awake for about 48 hours and was exhausted. Amanda and I stayed up a bit later but eventually retired to our own tent for the night as well.

Karolina was very excited to be going into Yosemite National Park!
We didn't have time to see much of Yosemite, but were able to witness this sunset from a roadside pullout before getting to the campsite.

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