My eyes opened at 4:50 am. The windows were open. Curtains shuddered as air chilled my hairy back, and made me want to stay under the covers. But no way. Today was the day.

“Let’s do this,” I said aloud and got up. While getting dressed the thought randomly occurred that once upon a time I would have been thrilled at California’s decriminalization of weed. I would have bought some the day before, and I certainly would have lit up right then. Wake and bake.

I also thought how excited I would have been to walk Yosemite’s Mist Trail and stare at waterfalls spewing rainbow mist under perfect blue – stoned out of my mind of course. Then, I quickly remembered why I don’t partake any more. Marijuana’s just paranoia and anxiety now. Frankly, it’s living hell, and I’m happy with that. I never felt comfortable being so dependent on the drug to get me through the day – or just to start it.

I guess I’m just commenting about this because there was nothing under the sun I could have had to make my anticipation of the day more joyous. Nothing.

God is good. I’d come a long way.

Well… there is coffee. There was no way I wouldn’t have some. We’re probably not supposed to love it so much. But, I don’t care. Steaming black French roast at 5 am made grogginess from the 13-hour drive yesterday go away. Inside me poured invigoration and optimism. Seriously, you know dang well coffee puts an optimistic spin on the morning.

At 5:15 I was gone. My Sexy Sienna was heading north on CH 41 towards the Wawona entrance of Yosemite national park. Though trees and hills were black silhouettes under still-visible stars, the blue of civil twilight was getting brighter. God’s Creation was waking up. I knew this would be a fine day in California.

The drive was pleasant. I sipped my hot, black goodness. The radio was silent. The breeze through cracked windows cooled as I got higher in elevation. Into my Sienna wafted that vanilla smell of ponderosas in this part of the Sierra National Forest, one of twenty of California’s national forests. Though, I must say that smell was interrupted from time to time as result of large swathes of burnt trees that may be dead for a thousand years. Thank state and federal governments for that, but more on that later.

Then, after about 15 miles, I got to Yosemite’s gate. It was unmanned. Not a single car was waiting. Not a soul was around. So, I drove right in.

That was a relief. I had the notion that getting into Yosemite would be a nightmare. In July and August the lines can be hours, even with required permits to enter now. Surely others, knowing how miserable it is to arrive at Yosemite late in the morning, would arrive early like me too, no?

No. In fact, after entering the park, the only cars I saw were those pulled off to the shoulder where people were sleeping. This too surprised me. I thought park rangers would have already thrown such people in dungeons.

From the roundabout that leads to the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias to the Yosemite Village is about 35 miles. At 40 – and I’d not drive faster on that dark, winding road – I figured it would take 50 minutes. So be it. The buzz of coffee, sweet air, the relief of getting in, and decades of anticipation for this very day made time pass quickly.

Knowing I was soon arrive at one of the most sought-after places on Earth made all residual stress from the day before gone. Today I’d see my mind’s most romanticized place on Earth. It didn’t make one bit of difference how little reality would live up to the hype. Today was for bliss and joy and freedom.

Then, lo, the Wawona Tunnel leading to the Yosemite Valley Overlook…