The worst year ever?
The end of 2019 finds us in the outskirts of Los Angeles, in Pomona, California where Mary is working at Pomona Valley Hospital. The pandemic touches us early - the first death in Los Angeles County is at Mary’s hospital and when we arrive one morning to drop her off, the news vans are waiting outside. We’re still at the early stage, when a death makes national news.
Pomona Valley is a wreck - Mary comes home having been on her feet running for 12 hours, skipping breaks, being assigned double the patient load from what she’s used to dealing with. We have also found ourselves sharing a house with a three generation Chinese family, the only AirBnB listing within a reasonable budget and commute. They’re plenty nice and we get along just fine, but the room is small, the kitchen is crowded, and we find a lot of reasons to try and escape the city.
Luckily California is home to incredible natural beauty and we’re within a reasonable driving distance to a lot of amazing stuff.
We spend New Years at the National Park, climbing frozen rock amidst piles of (rare) snow. The desert is cold and clear and we get to boondock with professionals in a nearby dried lakebed.
A few weeks later and we decide, almost on a whim, to drive to Yosemite. I was a few days from starting my school semester so this seemed like as good a time as any. We’d been scared of Yosemite for a while now. As self-avowed outdoors-people and climbers, it was our duty to know and love and be intimately familiar with Yosemite. And yet, a visit had never worked out. The longer and longer we went, the more intimidating it became to plan a trip around the crowds, the permits, the lottery based reservation system, the epic tales of traffic jams circling the valley.
We decided a winter trip was the perfect solution to our Yosemite woes. The crowds would be minimal, the trails snowy and empty, and zones that normally required permits were walk-up during the winter. With that in mind, we bought two pairs of snowshoes and set out.
Our first goal was a winter hike up Glacier Point Road. Normally a thoroughfare in the summer, the road is gated in the winter and groomed for snowshoes and skiers to reach the overlook. Even better - you can camp at the overlook! The road is long but easy walking and we enjoy the cool winter air and the towering trees. when we reach the end, we find a perfect place to set up a tent and watch the sunset over Half Dome.
We find time to see Bon Iver in concert at the M3F festival in Phoenix, meet up with friends at Mammoth Mountain for skiing and Red Rocks in Nevada for climbing. The pending panic creeps along, at the periphery of our awareness.
By the time Mary’s assignment is up, things are more serious. Originally, Mary had planned to spend a weekend in San Francisco with her mom and I was going to meet up with friends in Colorado to ski. Both of those plans were cancelled and instead, we picked up Mary’s mom and drove 30 hours non-stop back to Minnesota to shelter in-place.
And…We Head Back West!
In the waning days of the Pomona assignment, we tried to find a more relaxing follow-up destination. Our original goal had been to make it to Alaska, Mary even had her license. But that was looking less and less likely, as no assignments were opening up. At the last minute, Mary snagged a spot in South Lake Tahoe, a truly incredible (and lucky!) find and we took the opportunity right away. After our lockdown in Minnesota, we loaded the CRV down once again for a trek west. This time we were headed to the clear mountain air of Tahoe and we had rented an entire house in a quaint neighborhood where the roads dead-ended into a national forest.
It was perfect.
We had a huge backyard, walking distance to trails, biking distance to the lake. The shutdowns kept the town quiet and relatively free from tourists and Mary’s hospital was blissfully slow. We spent our days soaking in the summer sun, running along the lakeshore, hiking in the mountains behind our house. We could follow the restrictions on staying with five miles of your house to responsibly enjoy recreation and still go climbing! What a place.
There was beautiful landscapes to enjoy:
And wildlife galore.
Although we tried desperately to get Mary’s assignment extended into the fall, the hospital was so slow to justify keeping her on. Frankly, it was a minor miracle she got the original assignment. As the three months came to a close, Mary found a job posting for a daytime position at her old hospital in Overlake in Seattle. She applied and almost immediately her old manager got in touch. The job was hers and we were gearing up for one last move.
Classic Roadtrip Incoming…
We loaded up poor Billie with our world possessions and started back to Minnesota. The plan was to relax in Minnesota for a few weeks, pack up the rest of our stuff and move, for real, to Seattle. On the way east, we stopped in Wyoming to visit Grand Tetons National Park.
There was a free campsite listed near the park. We took an…unfortunate route to get there. Up and over an entire mountain looking for an open campsite. At one point, we realized we were on an ATV trail with a fully loaded CRV - bikes hanging off the back and top, chair strapped to our roof. We eventually found a spot after coming off the mountain, about a mile from where we started if we had just stayed on the main road. But such is life when you’re searching for the freebies.
Our campsite was spectacular and the wildflowers were in full bloom.
We made it back to MN in one piece where we regrouped, relaxed by the pool, and headed out on our own individual adventures - Mary with her sister and niece to the Boundary Waters and Ross and I to the Wind River Ranger in Wyoming (trip report here).