September 10, 2007
Margarita at 8,800 Feet

IMGP1754_edited.jpgAt noon Friday, I stood atop Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and had a margarita.

The margarita wasn't the surprise. That I still could stand was. From our tent cabin in Curry Village, we'd hiked a good eight miles to Yosemite's most scenic overlook. The day couldn't have been more perfect - warm but not wilting, no threat of lightning, a soothing breeze, the trail more in moonlight and shadow than sunshine. We started at 5:30 a.m., got to the top of Half Dome at 11:30 a.m. From the top, Yosemite Valley itself is a surprisingly narrow and dark slash in the landscape far, far below.

At any rate, it was time for a celebratory margarita, which in this instance, given how hot, tired and thirsty I was, wasn't the usual slushy and tangy cocktail, but an "organic energy chew" by Clif Bar & Co., the Berkeley firm celebrated for its inventive line of energy bars. The margarita is one of the company's "Shot Bloks," small cubes with a texture akin to Jell-O, packed with carbohydrates and electrolytes. No alcohol is involved, though they sure replicated the refreshingly salty flavor of a margarita.

I'm sure there's a science behind energy bars, and that they do what they claim to do, but I just wish they were more appetizing. I took seven with me, and still had six and a half after getting back to camp, even though I'd chosen several of my favorite flavors - peanut butter, pecan pie, carrot cake, chocolate, lemon. But when I was hot, dusty and bushed, none of them sounded appetizing or invigorating.

Afterwards, I asked my hiking companions what foods they carried that they found to be most satisfying during the trek. For one, it was dried tropical fruits. For another, fresh blueberries. For another, the packaged meat sticks Slim Jim. And for me, the teriyaki-flavored beef jerky I'd picked up at Trader Joe's. Ordinarily, I'm not a big jerky fan, but on this day the sweetness, smokiness, spiciness, tenderness and moistness of the jerky hit the spot one stop after another. Altitude and exertion do strange things to a person's appetite, I'm convinced, and I look forward to reading a dissertation on the topic some day.

One other culinary note: I hadn't stayed at Curry Village for years, and remember it as a concessionaire's dream - a captive audience on holiday, tolerant of apathetic service, limited choices and exorbitant prices. Several visitors apparently were put out by all that, however, and they must have complained. The dining options in and about Curry Village have improved remarkably. We had friendly, attentive service, a couple of first-rate pizzas, a wide range of other dining options, plenty of cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and prices in line with what we pay in Northern California restaurants and markets not nearly as remote and isolated.

I look forward to returning, and hope by then the folks at Curry Village are firing up the coffee makers before 7 a.m. When you want to set out for Half Dome at 5:30 a.m. it helps to have a jolt of java, though we somehow managed without it.

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