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As I tag along – always behind, no matter how fast I move my legs – I wonder if I’m actually following a 20-year-old boy. His gait is effortless, a skip in his step, jogging here and there up some of the slopes.


Most impressive, there is a compassionate contentment that hangs in all of his words. Twenty minutes into our day-long hike and Gnanasekaran has already shared enough positive insights to fill an inspirational quote book.


He talks about mankind: “I tell people, we are all of the same family, of the same color and of the same creed. To deny that is ignorance. To believe it is faith. To know it is knowledge, but to have experience is divine.”


Living a balanced, harmonious life: “Anything overly done is poison. … Like a blade of the fan, when all three turn in unison in the same direction properly, then we get the air. If one starts in the other direction, then it doesn’t work.”


Capitalism: “I’m into profit, but my profit definition is: Anyone who comes to me, I want to maximize their profit, not mine. Maximize their profit, yours will automatically be taken care of. Don’t worry about yours. So I’m that kind of capitalist.”


Growth: “Use your strengths that are easier for you to assist and improve in your weaknesses. Don’t pamper the weakness. If you do, you’ll never get out of it.”


And something I already recognize as foreshadowing: “Everything has limits. You have to keep that in mind when you do things. You know, sometimes we don’t know what the limit is. That’s when we have to exercise caution.”

Before he left last month, I called Gaal and his fiancée Lisa Graves, expecting to be inspired by what he was setting out to do. And I am, of course, but for so many more reasons than expected.


Halfway through our interview, Gaal said, “I don’t remember a lot from before the injury. … I try to remember, but I don’t remember.”


When we got off the phone, I was shaky.


I grew up with Gaal. We sort of knew each other, the way small-town kids sort of know everybody in their quiet corners of the world. He was a friend of my best friend’s older brother and a fellow athlete.


And although we weren’t close, something about the realization that he couldn’t remember much about that loud, energetic boy I knew rattled me.

The family has 131 of the letters Floyd and Violet wrote to each other between 1946 and 1948. On at least one occasion, Floyd wrote Violet five times in one day.


In May 1947 Floyd wrote from Johnston Atoll in the Pacific: “Hi honey, just a few lines from this lonely blue sailor of yours. Miss you darling and so in love with you. … Honey, I’ll sure be glad when I get out of this. It sure isn’t for me, though at one time I thought the Navy was pretty swell. That was before I fell in love with the sweetest girl in the world.


“Love you my dearest and want you so. Vi, I heard our song this evening and it sure did make me homesick for you. Honey, did you ever get a record of it? I certainly hope so as I want to listen to it and have you in my arms at the same time.”


It wouldn’t be long until Floyd would have that moment, listening to “Till the End of Time.”

As Whitmore fields questions about the climb from Taft Point, a group of couples from Florida stand in awe. 


“The only mountain we climbed was a sand dune,” says one of the men, “and it was pretty easy.”


When they realize Whitmore is 85, the awe mixes with concern. The only thing keeping us from certain death at Taft Point is a metal railing Whitmore leans over.


“You’re not really there until you lean over the railing,” Whitmore says with a sly smile. “That makes it official.” 


The Florida couples eventually head back, but not without giving a word of caution.


“Take care of yourself,” says the sand-dune climber, “and stay off them big mountains.”


“That’s how you take care of yourself!” Whitmore exclaims. “That’s the best way.”



  • Larping in a magical land

  • 1,000 Buddhas on a reservation

  • Friendship Park at US-Mexico border

  • Mindfulness walking through a CA city

  • Vietnam vets returning a stolen statue

  • Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park

  • A craft beer pilgrimage in Montana

  • Admirable architecture in a small town

  • Explorations in pain with a super hiker

  • Vet cycles after losing legs & memory

  • Wilderness hero George Whitmore

  • California red-legged frogs hop back

  • Lost Marine reunited before a quest

  • DNA test reveals a new father

  • Hero who saved a baby is finally found

  • WWII vet's remains found on island

  • Native village returns to Yosemite

  • A woman who loves waving at traffic

  • Three generations in the "fertile dress"

  • Race car driving in retirement

  • Fresno Nightcrawler, a beloved cryptid

  • Larping in a magical land

  • A volunteer rattlesnake wrangler

  • Montana's biggest craft beer

  • Buckshot, Yosemite's stagecoach driver

  • Homeless baby's death shows a lack of shelter space for families

  • The death of a young man highlights widespread opioid issues and a large number of children addicted to drugs

  • Cancer patients denied drugs by pharmacies, even with doctor prescriptions and good insurance

  • Campaign to rename road signs in a mountain town is a microcosm of the Black Lives Matter movement 

  • Yosemite ousts homeowners from homes near the national park with little notice and no compensation

  • Native Americans leading campaign to rename Squaw Valley face opposition

  • Colossal plantings in unique, burned giant sequoia grove reveals challenges facing land managers 

  • Scientist studying unprecedented natural regeneration in a giant sequoia grove hit by severe wildfire challenges heavy-handed forest management

  • Inmates and shelter dogs train 

  • Formerly incarcerated teens finally get the Christmas they wanted as kids

  • An 18-year-old is adopted

  • Yemeni girl who fled civil war excels in an innovative compassionate classroom

  • A plumber works to reopen a shuttered sawmill in the wake of wildfires

  • A 102-year-old Fresno benefactor who befriended writer William Saroyan 

  • An 88-year-old birder / conservationist  

  • Interfaith group champions social justice 

  • Help for the kids of Motel Drive

  • Blind Laotian musician gets a big award

  • Need prayer? tents spread across a city

  • 100-year-olds still very much in love

  • Fresno's faithful protect Syrian refugees

  • Yosemite community grieves together before being ousted from their homes

  • Yosemite worker dies a few days after being forced from her longtime home

  • Lightning strike takes backpacker's life

  • Blue Christmas display touches hearts

  • A man volunteers in the cemetery where his wife and father are buried

  • A mother shares photos of her drug-addicted son 

  • Deported Marine comes home the only way he could, in a casket

  • A man cycles with empty seat on his tandem bike - it belonged to his wife

  • Children rally to give their teacher with terminal cancer the year of a lifetime

  • Stolen basketball hoop belonged to a boy who died - his parents got it back

  • Elderly couple dies within hours of each other at home after 67 years of marriage

  • James Taylor plays with heart and humor

  • "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" movie brings lots of love 

  • U.S. WWII veteran was among interned in America because of Japanese heritage

  • 16-year-old loses her family to an earthquake while on a foreign exchange

  • Human trafficking survivor gets a tattooed mark of slavery removed

  • Segregation determined where 100-year-old lives in a California city

  • Surviving a severe case of West Nile 

  • COVID-19 nearly kills a pastor

  • Native Americans tell their Yosemite story

  • 85-year-old widow loses her home

  • Defiant mountain man cares for pets 

  • Pack station reopens after Creek Fire

  • Hikers flee flames in Sierra Nevada

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