A Love Story

Although I didn’t live there until I was an adult, California holds some of my earliest memories. I’ve always had family and friends there, so visits were a regular part of my childhood — grandparents in Santa Cruz, cousins in San Diego, my parents’ friends from Stanford in the Bay Area, and so on.

My early memories of the Sierra region are circa the late 1990s, going to the Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather, due west of Tuolomne Peak and almost due south of the place I would later stage my first solo backpacking trip. While the adults drank beer and talked about taxes (or whatever my young-child self thought adults did at these things), the kids ran wild, chasing frogs during the day and fireflies by night, having our faces painted and then promptly smearing them with popsicle juice, and generally being little outdoor gremlins for days on end. What can I say, my parents raised me well.


The face of a triumphant frog-catcher • Camp Mather, c. 1998 • photo by one of my parents

Our Strawberry days, however, were numbered. Yosemite was within reasonably easy striking distance when we lived in a house near Seattle, but much less so when we moved onto a sailboat and struck out (slowly) for the Panama Canal. It would be a long time before I returned to the Sierra.

Ten years after we left the Pacific Northwest, I moved to California for college and immediately headed straight back to the mountains. Quite literally immediately: the week before I started at Stanford I went on one of the highly-coveted Stanford Pre-Orientation Trips (SPOT). My SPOT group headed into Inyo National Forest for a week of trail maintenance and other wilderness stewardship work before returning to campus to officially kick off our freshman year. Shockingly, we discovered that building trails is hard. My eternal gratitude to all the trail crews out there!


A break from trail-building • Inyo National Forest, 2012 • photo by our group leader

College itself kept me pretty busy for the next several years, and also all my backpacking stuff was at my parents’ house (by then in Virginia and with a lot more storage space than either a sailboat or a dorm room), but when I moved into “the real world” in the Bay Area after graduation, all my stuff moved with me, including the backpacking gear.

My California-bred dad leapt at the opportunity, and off we went together into the High Sierra. Then I took a friend. Then I went by myself. I returned multiple times to a particular little slice of Stanislaus National Forest, watching how it changed across the seasons. I dodged wildfires on the drives to and from the mountains and hiked through the ruins of past fires once I was there. I trudged through lingering winter snow and staggered through sweltering summer sun. I fled covid, going to places where I could spend days maskless and far from people. I took countless photos and amassed countless stories.

And then I moved.


Stanislaus National Forest, 2021 • photo by me

Technically one could say I moved “back east,” back to Virginia, but to say it like that always felt like a denial of my west coast roots, roots that I had returned to and strengthened in young adulthood. When I left California, I had at that point lived my entire adult life and a third of my total life there, and many of my biggest backpacking milestones were in the Sierra.

I haven’t been away from California for more than a few months at a time since I was seventeen. By this summer, though, it will have been three years since I was last truly in the Sierra. Three years of only looking down on the range from planes as I fly back and forth between Virginia and the Bay Area. Three years of only looking through photos and stories from past times in the Sierra. That’s about two years and eleven months too long, for anyone keeping count.


Stanislaus National Forest, 2021 • photo by me

California has been part of my life since before my life even began, and the mountains entered the picture not all that much later. Although I didn’t grow up there, when I go back to California, it still feels like going home. Although I’ve never been on the High Sierra Trail specifically, returning to the Sierra will be its own sort of homecoming.

I am so, so ready.

Feature photo: Sierra National Forest, 2017 • photo by me

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Comments 3

  • Michael Harvey : Apr 22nd

    Yes, but before we hit the High Sierra Trail in July, we’re going back to the Strawberry Music Festival in MayJ!! I don’t think your t-shirt from when you were five is going to fit, however!

    • Vienna Harvey : Apr 22nd

      Very true!!

  • Michael Harvey : Apr 22nd

    Yes, but before we hit the High Sierra Trail in July, we’re going back to the Strawberry Music Festival in MayJ!! I don’t think your t-shirt from when you were five is going to fit, however!


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