Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Three Lessons from Ten Months on My Duff

I woke up this morning with my muscles feeling ... well, not in pain, but tomorrow will be trouble.  Technically, my soon-to-be-hobbled walk will be because I played soccer last night for the first time in a long while. The real reason for my aches, though, is that my life is returning to "normal."  The travels are done, work will begin soon, and I am finally in one place long enough to resume a routine.

It is time to get real and share more in-depth thoughts on the sabbatical.

 When I first contemplated my big time off, I asked myself:

What if you had ten months to do whatever you wanted with your life? What would you do?

That made me think about what I want out of my life.  Whoa, mama.  It is not the most comfortable exercise.  But you know what the hiatus taught me?

Uncomfortable is wonderful.

Without a doubt, my best experiences are those in which things go wrong, sometimes even horribly wrong.  Like when my many confused, lost, or death-defying adventures on Bolivian buses ended with me loving the country even more.

Or the time I drove - and crashed - a motorbike in Hoi An. 
Or when Kristin and I took the longest, dustiest, sweatiest, somewhat-sketchiest journey through Laos to get to Savannahket, and yet I loved every inch of that town and that trip.  Or the time we got lost, jet-lagged and exhausted, in the bowels of Shinjuku Station in Japan, only to end up with delicious bubble teas and a Tom Cruise-sighting.  Or my hiking trip to Utah, and every backpacking trip I've ever taken, the allure of which I could not come as close to capturing as Wilfred Thesiger did in Arabian Nights:
In the desert I had found a freedom unattainable in civilization; a life unhampered by possessions, since everything that was not a necessity was an encumbrance. . . .  I had learnt the satisfaction which comes from hardship and the pleasure which springs from abstinence: the contentment of a full belly; the richness of meat; the taste of clean water; the ecstasy of surrender when the craving for sleep becomes a torment; the warmth of a fire in the chill of dawn.
Struggle can be wonderful and failure hilarious. It's something I would do better to remember well.

Experiencing that "second type of fun" on the windy, cold descent during our unsuccessful attempt on Chimborazo in January.

Travel isn't the answer for me.

When I decided to take the big trip, it could not start soon enough.  But then I got on the road, alone, and discovered that I was having a great time except that I desperately missed my family and friends.  I derived little sustenance out of the casual acquaintances that count as a social life on the backpacker circuit.  I felt much more like John Hillaby when he encountered some hippies sleeping on a beach during his walk across Europe:
They wander slowly from city to city in groups of different sizes, sharing discontents, the searching of youth, and its quick kinship.  By contrast I was alone: in theory free as a tramp.  Yet unlike me with a carefully worked out route to follow, with little time to spare, and a need to let a loving and anxious wife know where I had got to, regularly, they seemed far more free than I was.  But what is freedom?  At that moment I thought in terms of lack of constraints, of being able to act, to choose, to determine one's own fate, and all of that.  True, but . . . all lack of constraint is at best relative and perhaps the freedom in which the youngsters seemed to luxuriate was no more than my own inability to see their problems because I was so intensely caught up in my own.
Excerpt from Journey Through Europe

(I read this book in Bolivia.  So it was in Bolivia that I learned that I identified more strongly with a 50-something man from the 1960s than with the 20-something backpackers around me.)

Travel: better with the ones I love.
I have not converted into a homebody, but how I travel and why I travel has changed.

You have to be the change.

Speaking of changing, this is a phrase I have never truly understood, until now.  Sure, my sabbatical gave me time to think about and do new things.  I developed an interest in science news podcasts.  I took up ceramics again.  What surprises me, though, is how little I did compared to that list of things I thought I would do "if I only had the time."  There are all sorts of projects and ideas that I never followed through on.

A minor victory from the fall.
Yeah, I had some constraints to deal with: ten months isn't actually that long of a time; things cost money; there were those whole "taking the bar" and "planning a wedding" phases.  It's just . . . I still have to be the change I want in my life.  Giving myself time (away from work/life) isn't enough.  I have to get up off my duff and actually do those things I want to do to be that person I would like to be. 

And that, my friends, is where I am going to leave things for now.  There may be more updates on our future adventures, but it is time for a sabbatical from the sabbatical blog.  Thank you for reading.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hot and Sunny: The Alaskan Honeymoon

Ah, your honeymoon. The chance to go somewhere where the sun is always shining, away from the crowds and modern-day stressors, where you can spend the days indulging in your favorite treats with your loved one while you lather on the sunscreen.  I know - you're already booking your ticket to go climbing in Alaska.

Yes, folks, we're back from our big Alaskan honeymoon.  It was amazing, and I have wayyyy too many photos to share.

The sun truly was always shining - this was near midnight. 

We flew onto the glacier in a ski plane, strapped on snowshoes for the first time in our lives, and set up camp.  Or at least, Mike and our guide set up camp.  I was still tripping over myself in my incorrectly-attached snowshoes.

To answer a few FAQs off the bat:
  • Yes, we slept in tents. 
  • No, no showers or running water.  Yes, on our honeymoon.
  • Dinners were dehydrated meals I'd put together in advance; chicken chili, tex-mex night, and beef stroganoff were the favorites. 
Camp dinnertime.

The climbing was very good for the first part of the trip. We bagged "Mt. Miriam" first, a relatively easy ascent.  The showshoeing across the glacier to get there and back, on the other hand, I could have done without.

Taking a break during the first of several death marches on the trip.  As Paul said, it looks like we're almost there, so that must mean we have at least 2 hours to go. 

Part of the view from the climb up Mt. Miriam.

Combined with a few rest days, we also summited the Control Tower and an unnamed peak we dubbed "Honeymooners,"  before attempting the Kahiltna Dome 8 miles up-glacier.   Ah, rest days: the time to take shelter in the tent from the blazing sun, eat lots of hard candies, and listen to dozens of avalanches falling off the nearby peaks.

 The ridge up to the top of Control Tower.

Honeymooners on the top of Honeymooners.

We didn't get to the top of the Kahiltna Dome due to high winds. It was another beautiful day when we started, and the lack of clouds or loose snow meant that we didn't have much warning when it started gale-ing on us near the top. So, a good climb, some hairy moments, and no summit. 

Moving camp up to the Kahiltna Dome.

 Eyeing our objective.

 Starting the climb.

 And (1000 vertical feet from the summit)... descending.

The intense sun kept up, and that meant that basically all the other routes we could have climbed were melted out.  Funny how we showed up prepared for storms and frigid cold, and our main problem was that the weather was too nice.

Solution to our extra free time? Ice-climbing and crevasse rescue skills review.

Mike working on a practice rescue.

Falling in a wide-open crevasse on purpose for rescue practice is much more scenic and fun than when a snow bridge collapses under you for real, I imagine.

 This looks much more daring than it actually was.

After 12 days, we were really looking forward to the hotel luxuries of a shower and black-out curtains.  Imagine our surprise when we woke up on the final morning to this:

 You bring a few extra days' worth of food for a reason. 

Thankfully, the fog cleared in the late afternoon, our ride off the glacier arrived, and we finally got out.

Mike even got to sit in the co-pilot's seat.  He was ready to take over in an emergency.

A few days before we left for the trip, Mike and I learned that we would be able to extend it by an extra week.  We decided to chill with a roof over our heads for that time and toured around the Kenai Pennisula searching for wildlife.  In addition to a porcupine, black bear, bald eagles, seals, sea lions, mountain goats, and puffins, we saw ...

Sea otters!

  Whales of the killer and humpback variety!  (Though orcas are technically dolphins...)

 Brown bears!  Including one nursing her cubs (camera + binoculars: not great).

 Moose!  In our yard!

And Ellens!

Many lazy days in Homer at the end, eating and reading and enjoying the view, and the honeymoon was over.

Over and out.

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