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My dad came in on Friday night and on Saturday morning it was time to leave San Jose forever. Though I had thoroughly trashed my apartment (I invented smells that no visitor was able to identify), it took about 15 minutes to move out since the whole thing is roughly the size of a broom closet (196 square feet). I loaded up the Corolla, said my goodbyes to one of my Extreme teammates Phil, who was also up at 8 for some reason, and headed east to Yosemite. About 3 hours down the road, we veered off the road in response to a sign advertising Tie-dyed Elk Jerky; this turned out to be just a clever marketing ploy - they only had seafood (somewhat strange for 250 miles from the coast). We ran into Phil there, who was apparently stalking us.

A few more miles down the road, we stopped at the Yosemite information center and discovered that snow chains were required to drive on highway 120 into the park; our options were either to forge on and pay whatever they asked at the gate (the rangers assured us this would be no higher than 10,000 dollars), or we could go back the way we came and run into the valley along the southern route. Being a bunch of cheapskates, we opted for the latter option and drove 2 hours around; we checked into the Yosemite Bug Hostel which was pretty similar to summer camp, it even had a barely-navigable half-mile gravel drive into the place.

Since driving in and out of the camp was doing irreparable harm to my car, we opted to take Phil's rental car into the park. Prior to the actual entrance is a twenty-mile stretch along the Merced River where we saw a number of rafters and kayakers going down some intense April rapids. Despite the fact that the last four months in California have been nothing but warm temperatures and sunshine, on this particular day it was below freezing, hail, and zero visibility. We stopped at some falls that I don't recall the name of, but they seemed to spark some great childhood memory in my dad; he ran off along a trail and left us wandering around in the cold and rain trying to figure out where he'd gone. I spotted the awe-inspiring El Capitan a few thousand feet off, but two minutes later when I pointed it out to the others, it had completely disappeared into the clouds. We drove the rest of the way into the valley and after waiting half an hour for Phil to buy a poncho (he had come equipped with a sweatshirt; I don't see what he was complaining about - he spent the winter in Indiana, 30 degrees with freezing rain should be downright balmy) went on an easy, somewhat aimless hike around the valley floor and up to mirror lake (which has no reflective properties whatsoever).

We got back to the hostel just in time to grab dinner at the lodge (in a town of 200, there's not too many options); it was amazingly good - I never got pumpkin chicken with cous-cous at summer camp. Afterwards, we hung out and played bingo and Trivial Pursuit, before returning to our luxurious cabin which we shared with a couple of guys. My dad kept complaining about it being too cold (he's apparently used to those fancy, American, heated rooms) so we had to tempt fate and ignite the gas furnace.

The next morning, we got up around 5 (much to the chagrin of our roommates) and bumbled around in the dark for an hour before saying our goodbyes to Phil (for about the 5th time) and taking off for the park. Despite some cloud cover on the way in, the park itself was completely clear and we finally got to see all the cool rocks and waterfalls that people had assured us were there. We hiked a few miles along the mist trail, but this plan was fatally flawed in that at 29 degrees mist turns to ice, and we found it quite impossible to get to the top of Vernal Falls in tennis shoes. Next we returned to Yosemite Village (an island of civilization in the middle of the valley, complete with several 4-star hotels, a barber shop, grocery store, tennis courts and swimming pools) and went to Mass which was run entirely by one guy and was hosted in an auditorium that showed movies the other 6.5 days of the week. After this, we checked the road conditions; our plan was to exit through the south entrance along highway 41, but we found that the snowfall overnight had caused them to put a chain advisory in effect (though the one on 120 that had prevented our initial entrance into the park had been lifted)

From here, we went south on 99 to Fresno (home to 99% of the world's raisin production) and cut over to the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park area. Though there were signs that claimed that chains could be required at any time, no enforcement was made. When we got to the entrance at about 6500 feet, we discovered that the ground and trees were covered in snow; water covered the road and the temperature hovered right at the freezing point. We opted not to take the ridge road to see the world's biggest tree; the rangers claimed it was safe but the totaled car that was being towed out as we arrived suggested otherwise. Instead, we ran up the road a few miles to see the grove there, which included a fairly huge tree named after General Sherman and a fallen one that now served as a pedestrian tunnel. Since the hilly path was covered in ice, we soon retreated to our car and made our way back down the mountain.

From the map, we came to believe there was a shortcut in the form of a highway that cut off halfway down; we soon learned that this was about the most convoluted road ever devised, and even with my dad's stomach-lurching acceleration into every turn, we never got much above 30. Eventually we were both getting sick, so we pulled off and I took over driving; my (better) approach was to put it in neutral and coast; after about 5 minutes of this, I got pulled over by a cop. As far as we could tell, he had no legitimate reason for stopping us; there were no posted speed limits and my 25mph average was hardly in conflict with the 55 default; it seemed that he was simply amazed that there was actually a car using this road and that it was from Florida of all places. By this time, we were getting fairly sick of the winding, so we decided to take another shortcut on what turned out to be a much worse road. For 14 miles, we went along a barely-paved, winding, one-lane tractor path; any traffic from the other direction would result in backing up for a mile or so. Luckily, there was no other vehicular traffic, only a few cows and a bobcat. I was convinced that this road would abruptly empty into a big pit, but when the mile markers reached zero, we fortunately found ourselves in a flat orange-growing town with plenty of well-maintained highways.

Next we went down through Bakersfield and grabbed a Motel 6 in the town of Mojave on the edge of the desert. From here, we set out for the Valley of Death.