Bit of backstory here: ^this^ is Derek. He lives in Seattle near Andy and, over the past few years, has really gotten into astrophotography. After hearing about him, we checked out his Instagram and DAMN. I like to consider myself a pretty media savvy guy, but I'd be a big fat liar if I said I wasn't giddy with the opportunity to meet him and maybe learn a thing or two about what he does.
Friday morning quickly rolled around, and we were up early to greet it. The car was stuffed to the brim with tents, chairs, cameras, treats, beer, and more treats. We (myself, Mark, Ashton, and our pups Ollie and Neely) piled in and headed North.
5 hours, 2 pee breaks, and a $30 entry fee later, we were finally in Yosemite National Park.
The drive through the park was breathtaking. Towering trees and jagged rocks framed the asphalt road- the only indication of humanity anywhere around. (Well, besides all the other cars and people. It's a poppin' place, henny!)
Winding deeper and deeper into the giant green blob on our GPS, we made our way into the heart of the park to meet Andy and Derek at Glacier Point.
As the true #millennials that we are, we had done our Googlin' and thought we were ready. "It's a big park, but hey I'm adventurous and ready!" I silently thought to myself in the passenger seat.
Then we went through this tunnel. It was a long tunnel, taking us about 2 minutes to drive through. As we flew through the mountain, I was busy trying to get some cinematics on for the vlog that I didn't realize we were almost through until BAM! There she was.
The popular Mac desktop that we all know and love:
El Capitan and Half Dome, in all their grandeur. AKA the Beyoncé of nature.
We had to stop and be "those tourists." I mean, if you're gonna do it anywhere, let it be this place. So, after an hour of taking all of our selfies and stereotypical group shots, we were ready to go set up camp.
Gotta say one thing: God bless a portable air mattress pump.
Once the campsite met our specifications, our attention turned to one thing and one thing only: food.
Making the most out of my barely-one-bar-service, I scoured the Internet for a pizza joint that could deliver us 3 large, stuffed crust pepperoni pies. Could you believe that the closest Pizza Hut 55 miles away turned down our request?
Luckily, Derek and Andy brought a box full of gourmet dehydrated meals. On the menu: beef stroganoff, three cheese chicken pasta, and spicy thai pasta. (I thought I was just going camping, not astronaut training.)
With our tummies full and the sun setting, it was almost time. The thing we were all waiting for: the Star Party!
About a hundred other people had gathered around at Glacier Point, as well. Everyone patiently waiting for the sky to start falling. I had seen two shooting stars before in my life, and I was excited for the chance to see another one and sneak in another wish.
We piled into Derek's 4Runner and all headed to the party.
Yes, a Star Party is exactly as exciting as it sounds. Telescopes bigger than children, eager eyes waiting to look through them, and educated minds ready to share their knowledge about the sky above us.
There's only one rule: don't fuck with people's night eyes. And what I mean by that is do not ever shine white lights. At night, our eyes acclimate to the dark, which allows us to see the stars better. But if you shine a white light in your eyes, they become diluted with the brightness and you can't see anything for shit. Red lights, on the other hand, don't have this effect. So, when attending your next Star Party, remember to pack your red light. You're welcome.
The last time I saw a moon this big was in 4th grade when my teacher's belt malfunctioned. Okay, I'm kidding, but woah! Seeing it through these huge telescopes was amazing. Actually, it was kind of like looking in one of those vanity mirrors- you know, the ones that look normal from one side, but if you get your face reeeeally close to the other side all of your imperfections are like "HEY WHASSUP LOOK HOW UGLY YOU ARE!!!"
One more thing about Star Party's and astrophotography: the moon is an a-hole. We're all there to see the stars, and the moon doesn't help that. So, to really get the party started, you've got to be patient.
While we waited for total darkness, we decided we needed to find a better spot to set up Derek's camera. And he knew a great spot that was "just a short hike from where we were." So, at the prime hour of midnight we packed our bags and hit the trail.
We were heading to this vantage point at Sentinel Dome. (Cool name, right?) Little did Derek realize, from where we parked at Glacier Point, it was an hour hike. And not only was this hike an hour long, it was steep.
I don't know if you've ever climbed straight up a mountain at midnight with a large bag on your back, but it's an experience I highly recommend. (However, try not to do it after you just binge watched Stranger Things and are paranoid about the faceless monster coming out of the tree beside you to pull you into the Upside Down and eat you.)
But then we made it to the top...
Growing up on a farm in Indiana, I thought I knew a gorgeous night sky. Whereas, in reality, I only knew her shy side. But this night, on top of a huge mountain in the middle of California, she was DRUNK and FEELING HER SELF.
What I saw above me was unbelievable. I mean really unbelievable.
The moon was gone and the sky came to life. Shooting stars flashed through the darkness, about 5 every minute. It got to be so many that our wishes couldn't keep up, but that was the least of our concerns.
What was more important: the Milky Way.
I took ^that^ on Mark's Sony RX100. A small, handheld point and shoot with a 20 second exposure. I only say that to elaborate how magnificent the night itself was, so that I could capture a glimpse of it with a manmade tool.
We lay on our backs for hours, becoming one with the night. Minutes turned into hours, and pretty soon it was 4AM. Derek had gotten his shots, and we had seen more meteors than we could count. It was back to the camp we went.
Not until after I crawled into our little tent at 5:30AM did I finally get a chance to think about the day I just had. With my boyfriend, and my sister, and my dog, I traveled to one of the most beautiful places in North America, made some interesting new friends, went to my first Star Party, witnessed my first meteor shower, and took my first night hike.
I don't know if it was the exhaustion or just 'cause I'm gay AF, but tears filled my eyes. Even though the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees, I became overwhelmed with warmth when I thought about how lucky I am to be able to live this life.
The Internet brought us all together, but now we were all here, in the flesh having the time of our lives. Life can be truly incredible if you're willing to say yes.
Thank you for being here for this adventure. Now, go make one for yourself.