December 12, 2012
A Fellow Van Dweller
The sun sagged in the west as I rounded a bend near Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. Up ahead, a handful of rented RV’s and cars filled to the brim with backpacks and climbing gear dotted a large parking lot. At 9,000 feet, the Syncro’s engine labored at 5,000 RPM’s in second gear. Fifteen miles of this climb up from the Valley had warmed the oil up. Shifting into neutral, I coasted into the lot and pulled into a parking space. A lone Vanagon with a hand-painted mural stood a few hundred feet away.
Grabbing a down jacket, I locked up the Syncro and checked out the Vanagon. It was an early 80’s aircooled hard top that, based on the bike, curtains and artwork, was most likely someone’s home. Scanning the parking lot, I saw no likely candidates.
I turned on some Pink Floyd on my iPhone and shoved it into my breast pocket, as I often do when alone. Marching to the tunes of Wish You Were Here, I followed the setting sun’s rays up the hill. Following no defined path, I saw a group of Teva wearing, DSLR brandishing hikers heading down the hill.
“Certainly not van dwellers…RV’ers for sure..” I mumbled to myself and continued up the hill. My sea legs, and lungs, were burning by the time I finally made it to the top. Scanning around the 360 degree view, the last rays of light bounced off the granite. Picking a ledge, I sat down and turned up the volume on my phone.
The sun lowered over the sheer granite faces. Zoning out, the Pink Floyd songs meshed together. Slowly, I realized that I wasn’t the only one on top of the mountain listening to my playlist. Sometimes you can sense it. Turning around, I saw a man in his late forties sitting a hundred feet behind me watching the sunset. He sat calmly and without the anxiousness of a most tourists on a weekend trip. He had been traveling for a while and was very familiar with spending time by himself. He didn’t fidget or fire away blindly with a digital camera. Instead, he sat with watching the sunset over Yosemite Valley as if he does this every evening.
“He must be the van dweller…” I thought to myself.
For a moment, I felt like breaching the silence and starting a conversation. For a song or two, I debated in my head. A certain type of person is drawn to traveling by themselves and that type of person, although often lonely, values solitude.
I kept to myself.
Back in the parking lot, I fired up the Syncro and blasted on the heat. The late October evening was chilly, and according to a Park Ranger, Tioga Pass would soon be closed for the season. Backing out of the space, I rolled down the parking lot towards the exit. The lone man from the hill was just getting back to his yellow Vanagon. Rolling past, I waved in approval and respect.
He nodded in return with a smile.
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