As much time as we spend on the internet these days, I am sure that we are all well aware of those contests that are posted on various websites or blogs that say something along the lines of, "Leave a comment below for your chance to win a..."? Well, I would like to you inform you that these contests are very real, and winning one of them led me to capturing my favorite photo that I have ever taken, even several years (and several thousands of photos) later. Here's how it happened:
Several years ago, JetBlue Airways offered what many would think was, an unprecedented deal. For $699, hungry travelers could purchase an "All You Can Jet Pass," which entitled purchasers to one month (set by JetBlue, not at your leisure) of unlimited flights to anywhere that JetBlue flies. Yes, unlimited. You want to fly to the Bahamas on Monday, New York City on Wednesday, and Los Angeles AND San Francisco on Friday? Pick your flights, and go for it.
One day, I happened to catch a post on Jaunted.com, a Conde Nast travel blog that I had been following at the time, in which Jaunted offered one of those very "leave a comment" contests mentioned above, to win an All You Can Jet pass. I went ahead and left a comment about what I would do were I to win an All You Can Jet pass. I went back to my work, thinking that there would be thousands of entries and that my comment would be lost in oblivion. A more cynical person might even think that these types of contests are merely excuses to get more registered emails from site visitors for marketing purposes, and that no one really wins these things. Well, a few days later, I received an email:
My name is [redacted] and I am the Editor of the Conde Nast travel blog Jaunted.com. We held a contest this week to random award one of the Jetblue All You Can Jet passes to a lucky commenter, and after the contest closed last night, we randomly selected your comment as the winner.
Unbelievably, I had just won the opportunity to fly anywhere in the country, as much as I wanted, for an entire month…for free. Also unbelievably, I only had one week to plan my trips. While many passholders that I spoke to were given All You Can Jet passes as college graduation gifts and got to spend a month whizzing around the country (and some Caribbean islands!), unfortunately, I was working a full-time job. At this particular job, I was constantly swamped, always behind schedule, and very stressed, and as much as I would have loved to, I simply did not have the ability to take an entire month off to jet around the country, in order to make the absolute most of my incredible prize. In the end, I decided to take four long-weekend trips to each corner of America: Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, and finally, a trip to San Francisco, where I rented a car and headed east on the four-hour trek to Yosemite National Park.
With such a limited time to prepare for each trip, I was only able to wrangle a travel companion for one of my trips (Miami), and I visited a friend in Los Angeles. This meant that my trip to Yosemite would be made solo. While perhaps not ideal, I was not going to let that get in the way of visiting the park, as I had been dreaming of seeing beautiful blue skies, the beautiful Yosemite Valley waterfalls, and sights like these for many years:
Unfortunately, as can happen on any trip, Mother Nature had other plans for my weekend. The drive from San Francisco to Yosemite was gloomy, and the weather forecast did not look good. Upon my arrival at the gate, much to my dismay, the park ranger informed me that rain would be coming and that it would most likely be staying awhile.
Nothing could be done about the impending weather, so I loaded up my rain and cold gear (it was running in the 50s/60s during the day, and 40s at night) and began exploring the park, taking in gray, cloudy views from Glacier Point, doing my best to make out Yosemite Falls through thick clouds of mist and fog, and sloshing along with wet shoes, wet socks, wet pants, wet gloves, and a wet heart. Rain poured down for a good portion of my time in the park, with one night's lack of sleep being attributed to monstrously loud crashes of thunder echoing through the deep Yosemite Valley for 10-15 seconds each time, making for the most frightening storm experience of my life.
Still...this was my DREAM trip, right? I had to push on. I awakened early on the morning of day two, strapped on my cold-soaked hiking boots again, and started up the Four Mile Trail, which led to Glacier Point, likely the most famous overlook in the entire park. From Glacier Point, one can see right down the middle of the one-mile deep, eight-mile long Yosemite Valley, surrounded by the magnificent Half Dome and El Capitan summits. Yosemite Valley only represents 1% of the entire park, but it is where most visitors of the park opt to stay, and it features many of Yosemite's most well known trails and attractions. There is a nearly endless amount of exploring of the park that can be done, so with my limited time, I needed to try to hit some of the "greatest hits," with hopes of a return visit with much more time and MUCH better weather.
The Four Mile trail leads hikers twisting and turning along a climb from the valley floor all the way up to Glacier Point. While the rain had seemingly let up for most of the journey up the Four Mile Trail, that did not prevent massive clouds and thick waves of fog from obscuring nearly every possible scenic view of the valley from the trail. At some points, I could only see twenty yards ahead. This led to some rather moody photos, but still a disappointing hiking experience. Luckily, I had Aerosmith's "Love in an Elevator" stuck in my head for nearly the entire journey.
Finally, upon reaching Glacier Point, I was met with crushing disappointment. The entire valley (and view) was encased in fog. There was literally nothing to see here, folks.
There's nothing like some good old complaining to bring a group of people together, and after spending some time bonding over the awfulness of our Glacier Point view, suddenly, the clouds started to break. The valley began exposing its lush, pine-covered floor, and Half Dome began peeking through the sea of white.
Eventually, something truly spectacular happened. The clouds broke apart, and we were treated to an incredibly unique and beautiful view of Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome battling against the onslaught of the rough weather that had colored so much of my time in the park up to this point. From little children, to previously-grumpy adults (like myself), and even the park rangers who see Half Dome every day, no person was unaware of the special moment that we were witnessing. I was lucky to be there and to have my camera handy, so that I could capture this image...in my opinion, the most beautiful photograph that I have ever taken, and quite possibly, will ever take.
It is a rare thing to experience an event that while it is actually happening, you think to yourself "Wow. This is one of those moments that I am going to remember for the rest of my life." After a cold, wet, and sleepless day in Yosemite National Park, the clouds broke, and I got to experience one of those moments. It may have only been 15 minutes before the clouds returned, and the magnificent view once again disappeared, but hopefully, the memory (and this photo) will last a lifetime.
For more images from this moment, as well as much more of the clouds and rain, please click through the slideshow below: