Tuesday, September 09, 2014

MoFo Noshtalgia: "The Walker" of Yosemite

For many, many years, my family and I went to Yosemite every summer for a week. It was always my grandparents, my mom, my two aunts, me, and then any number of other people who would come each year. We stayed in the tent cabins at Tuolumne Meadows, where you had simple cots and wood stoves in your cabin,  and you could walk to the showers and bathrooms. It wasn't luxury camping, but it certainly wasn't roughin' it either. My grandparents were in their late 70's and 80's and  after decades of backpacking together, they appreciated the enhanced comfort in their later years. The rest of us youngsters had no excuse, but it sure was nice.

During the day we would wake up early, pack some sandwiches and granola bars and then head out for a day of hiking and exploring the High Sierras. Over the years we went on so many amazing day hikes together. Some hikes were just perfect, some were comically difficult (only comical after the fact), some years there were jillions of mosquitos, some years it was so cold, and other years it was so hot. There were some special spots where you would almost always see the wild deer, or marmots, or my grandpa's favorite bird - the water ouzel. And one of the things about going back, year after year, is that the memories build upon each other, and the same places gain meaning and resonance.

All these years later, my mom's parents have both died, but when I go to Yosemite I feel so close to them. I feel their presence and the memories of all those beautiful hours spent hiking and talking and appreciating nature and swimming and reading and playing Scrabble together.

The last two years, I haven't been able to go to Yosemite, and I really miss it a lot. Last year, my dad was sick, and we cancelled our trip. This year, I went to Italy. Also, since my grandparents died, the momentum for a family trip seems to have disintegrated a bit... which is both sad and understandable. So. In absence of a beautiful week in the High Sierra... I did the next best thing and celebrated with a memorial meal: "The Walker."

authentic presentation of "The Walker"

What's "The Walker," you ask? When you stay in the tent cabins, you are supposed to eat your dinner at the "restaurant" there at the campground (a giant tent) - partly so they make more money, and also to attract fewer bears and wild animals to the tent cabin area. So, at night, after a long day of hiking, we would all gather for our nightly meal. But here's the thing: there was only ever one vegetarian option on the menu: "The Walker," featuring a baked potato, the steamed vegetable of the day, and a side salad comprised of 95% lettuce. I think that for one or two years they secretly had vegan veggie burgers, and if you knew to ask, they would make you one... But that came to an abrupt halt.


You would think that a national park in California would have lots of vegetarian visitors, but the menu was not at all accommodating. In our group we usually had anywhere from 3-5 vegans, and night after night after night, we would order the dreaded "Walker." Maybe they just figured vegetarians didn't eat enough protein to have the physical stamina to do more than walk, but after some of our long hikes, that damned baked potato could be quite a bummer! Plus, the only vegan thing they had to put on it was ketchup. Ha ha. It was simultaneously disappointing, annoying, and hilarious.

slightly enhanced walker-experience: extra veggies on my plate, extra veggies on my salad.

And so today, in absence of a trip to Yosemite, I could quickly bring back all those most treasured memories of days spent with my most beloved people with this "excellent" meal! Ha ha. Somehow, even in its total mundaneness - it still felt so special and meaningful to eat this lunch and think of all those summers together. I miss those days a lot. 


  1. I love it that you recreated a ho-hum meal. That's really special that you feel closer to your grandparents in Yosemite. I hope you're able to go next year.

  2. HA! The Walker!!! Part of the total Tuolumne experience ... kind of a shared hardship thing. The stark, unadorned nature of each of the elements was so incomprehensible, and yet so constant ... as if ordained by a strict higher power. At least we had our good humor and "carry on" attitude to make the best of it, including -- now -- happy memories. XO

  3. That's such a sweet story. It's funny (but also disappointing!) about the only option being the potato! I guess it's easy for them to cook...but it seems like a lazy vegetarian option!

  4. oh fail, but nice story. The thought of a baked spud with ketchup in makes me gag a little. haha

  5. We had an English teacher who was from the US and we would drive him mad by pronouncing yosemite wrong. Since those days I always wanted to go there. And I could totally deal eith the walker, I think. That's what you get in German restaurants on the countryside, too. I can't believe you recreated it.

  6. Baked potatoes are so good, but I can't imagine being faced with that as the only option after a long hike. Your plate looks lovely as always though! Maybe it's the corn that makes it so cheery.

  7. I love this, and I love baked potatoes and part of me suspects I could eat one for every meal for a week... but probably not. I love that you recreated this.

    Fear of boring food is one of the reasons I carry around hot sauce in my purse all the time. Just in case.

  8. Ah, Yosemite! I need to go back one day. I loved it there and I'm glad the vegan options have improved because I don't think The Walker would work for me after a day of hiking, kayaking or cycling!

  9. Yosemite! Be still my beating heart. My family also went up every single summer for a few weeks. We did housekeeping though (followed by a weekend at Wawona to recover), so we had a slightly better time of it food-wise. I still try to go back every year as an adult, but it gets harder and harder - particularly now that I live in Texas. The vegan scene has changed so much though! The grocery stores have so much vegan food now, and all the restaurants will make you a decent vegan meal if you ask. There was even a burger and soup clearly marked vegan at the Yosemite Lodge dining hall. The only thing I feel like I need to pre-pack these days are vegan marshmallows. Because a campfire without marshmallows is a crime.


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