‘I know the way, I’ve been here before!’
And so began our hike on the Upper Yosemite Falls trail, one my uncle had certainly never been on before. This, I realised later, was some of the best preparation I could have done for my exchange semester at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Before I started class in Edmonton, I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Yosemite National Park, California. On our second day, we went for a hike in the Valley, following the signs to Yosemite Falls. What we didn’t know was that there were two directions we could go – one to the Lower Falls and one to the Upper. The Lower hike was just over a kilometre, whereas the Upper Falls was 12 km with an elevation gain of 800 m (equivalent to walking up all the stairs to the Empire State Building… twice).
Needless to say we didn’t make it all the way up to the Falls, but did make it to Columbia Rock; a 3 km round trip but with a 328 m elevation gain (almost an Empire State Building). Here we had the best views I saw all weekend of the Park. Looking back (and looking at the photos) I am so glad we took a wrong turn. I’m grateful to have realised so early on exchange that being lost isn’t a permanent state, and sometimes the routes you take by accident lead to even better experiences – or at the very least, new friends who will help you get to where you need to be.
It’s been a big adjustment to not only learn how to be lost, but also how to be lonely. Exchange takes you literally and metaphorically out of your comfort zone and everything you know university to be, but without the support system you have back in Canberra. You see so many people every day, but it can feel at times like you are completely alone – in a different country and different time zone. Yosemite is one of America’s most visited National Parks, but because of its size it isn’t unusual when on a hike to feel like you are the only person on the trail. Embracing this feeling, and learning how to be with yourself, has been a gift of exchange.
I didn’t have this feeling for long though, with O Week and different events and support systems at the residence I’m staying in, I feel like I’ve been here for longer than my three weeks. An Australian accent has proved to be a valuable tool here in Canada, and it helps that Canadians are widely considered to be the nicest people on the planet. More on that in another post though!
My weekend in Yosemite was more than just an opportunity to see a Mac screensaver in real life. It was a reminder that even the best laid plans can go awry, and to take that in your stride because you never know where you might end up. You can never be lost for too long.