My first trip to Yosemite was alone, for exactly 24 hours. I left home at six in the morning, and pulled into the park just before ten. I had eight hours of daylight to purchase a park pass, decipher a generic topographic handout, and make sense of the parking situation in the midst of Yosemite’s peak tourist season: summer. I wound up parking in a place I shouldn’t have, and hiked just one trail for five hours. By the time I had returned to my illegal parking spot, I had another 45-minute drive out of the valley to Yosemite Bug, where I booked a dorm bed for $30. The next day I had to be back in Monterey before dinner. It was a long day, and it didn’t matter. It was my first glimpse of Yosemite, and I was smitten.

My second trip to Yosemite was with Justin. Together we crammed the Xterra with food, hoodies and hiking boots. Tioga pass was still open, so we detoured to the high country. It was cloudy and slightly stormy, the sound of thunder rolling on the horizon. We parked at Tuolumne Meadows and layered up for the 7-mile loop to Cathedral Lake. Cathedral is along the John Muir Trail, the same trail Justin and I plan to trek this June for 25 days, 220+ miles.

By Yosemite trip three, we had tagged a campsite at Camp 4 for $5/night. It was the first week of January, and the crowds were gone. We set up our tent and put together a hot meal with our small backpack-size stove. Pasta with cheese and vegetables, wine to wash it down. As the sun set, winter whispered through camp. I don’t know how cold it was, only that it was. We bundled up, drank up, and stayed snug enough by the fire.

I love to travel and challenge my comfort zone. When I spend time doing what I love, I meet people who both inspire and push me to new heights. When I do something because I think I should or others think I should, the relationships forged are usually half-hearted and forgettable. We all have things we have to do but would rather not, like laundry. The little things. As for the big things, you know when you are doing what you love. You would do it for free. And you know when you are with people who share the same love for life. You keep them in your life, no matter the distance. Yosemite drew in a tribe of inspirational people that first weekend in January, my kind of people. Adventure seekers, road warriors, free spirits. We stood together at the base of El Capitan and watched as Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made history on the Dawn Wall. We shared campfires, a few roasted marshmallows, and a whole lot of stories. We made plans to make plans.

After four days of camping sans shower, we caught a brief whiff of what 25 days on the trail will be like this summer. Ripe. Still, I have never looked forward to anything so much in my life. Before heading home, we hiked through the snow to Glacier point and looked out on Half Dome. I had been to Glacier Point twice before, each time lost in a crowd of camera-waving tourists. This time, the only sound was of Yosemite Falls, purring in the distance. I decided that if I should ever decide to stay in one place, it would be a lot like this.