Posted by: stacylynn12 | January 2, 2020

Smoking Mountain

When last I left you I was heading to Argentina and the boys were still out in the soggy wilds of Chile’s Torres del Paine.  I’m pleased to report they did make it out alive and I did enjoy my solitude. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  After 6 days alone, there was a lot more love flowing amongst the Earlywine family.  The rest of the W trek unfolded for the boys with more rain, some sun, a few tears and lots of laughter. I’m pretty sure I’m not privy to many of the details but I did learn that the boys earned new nicknames…  JB and DJ. Otherwise known as Jesus Bodhi and Dammit Josh. They all seem to think it’s hilarious so I’m not asking questions.  

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The boys in Valley Francais

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Lago Nordenskjöld with Josh (can you find him?)

 

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The boys with the Cuernos del Paine in the background

While they were doing whatever 3 dudes do when the mama is away, I visited the vast and surreal Perito Moreno glacier and saw pink flamingos at the Laguna Nimez Reserve.  I slept as long as I wanted to, read books, soaked in a hot tub and sat in a sauna. I put my things exactly where I wanted to (and no-one touched them!!) and kept a perfectly tidy, clean room.  Ahhhh…. 

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Me and the Perito Moreno Glacier 

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Perito Moreno Glacier – one of the few glaciers on earth that is in a state of equilibrium… it advances in winter and recedes in summer but has not lost mass for the last 80 years! 

I’m writing now from the airport in Saõ Paulo, Brazil and I’m hopeful that by the time this posts, we’ll be happily poolside in our Windhoek, Namibia cottage we have rented for a couple of days to recover from the long days of travel to get there.  So far it’s been an interesting day. We were detained in Buenos Aires after being told that Nambia will not allow us to enter the country because we lack the Yellow Fever vaccine. (Some countries require proof of vaccination to enter if you are coming from a country where the disease is present.) Apparently there is Yellow Fever in a small part of northern Argentina (we did not travel there) but they finally allowed us through with the understanding that we may be quarantined in Namibia for 6 days upon arrival.  Awesome!  

Next up on the “fun with traveling” itinerary was being held in Saõ Paulo security because we didn’t have boarding passes for the next leg of our journey.  Since we don’t speak a word of Portuguese we wondered for quite sometime how long they would detain us when a friendly Argentinian said someone from the airline would eventually be along to collect us.  They did and now we wait to cross the Atlantic to a new continent. Now let’s just hope we don’t have to spend the first 6 days in Africa in an airport quarantine.  (Please assume if you are reading this that we made it!)

Our last week in Argentina was spent in El Chaltén, a tiny mountain village located in Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia. One can walk from one end of town to the other in about 15 minutes. It is the Argentinian equivalent of Chile’s Torres del Paine. Mountains like Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre are renowned the world over for their austere beauty and are among the most technically challenging mountains in the world to climb.  In 1992 there weren’t many more than a dozen buildings in the village.  It was more of a basecamp for climbers who would come and wait for weeks for weather good enough to make their attempt.

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The town of El Chaltén from a nearby trail

Today it is a vibrant and bustling town with most of the amenities a traveler would want. During the summer months the streets are filled with rain gear clad hikers carrying backpacks and hoping, just like the climbers, for a window of good weather to enjoy the hiking and the views.  Chaltén is an Aonikenk word meaning “smoking mountain” as the peaks are seemingly pretty much always at least partially hidden by clouds.

El Chaltén is a place that has filled my imagination for 20 + years.  An avid reader of climbing and mountaineering literature, I’ve been drawn in to harrowing tales of success and challenge in the mountains surrounding the village.  I arrived on my own a day ahead of the boys and was lucky enough to get a partial glimpse of these majestic peaks through the window of my hostel. I hurried out into the street to snap some pictures, completely enraptured being in the presence of these giants.  

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A peek of Fitz Roy and Poincenot from El Chaltén

Fitz Roy, the grandest of them all, steals the thunder of it’s lesser known but no less inspiring neighbors.  Alongside peaks with names like Poincenot, Saint Exupery and Techado Negro these mountains make up the logo of the well known Patagonia clothing brand.  I took an afternoon hike up to the Mirador Cerro Torre, a mellow trail meandering through a wide valley and up to a ridge where one may have the pleasure of seeing Cerro Solo, the Glacier Grande and the second most famous peak of the area Cerro Torre…also the most elusive.  (I did not see it.)

The Southern Patagonian Ice Field blankets the geography to the west of the Fitz Roy range and creates weather that is neither predictable nor, let’s be frank, pleasant.  The wind blows fiercely and unexpectedly.  It rains and when it’s not raining, the clouds loom threatening rain.  We wore our down jackets and winter hats every day… and this is the summer season!  Nevertheless, we spent a glorious week, waking each day with the hopeful possibility that today would be the day the mountains would present their shy faces.  

We rock climbed in the wind and rain.  To my climbing friends in Seattle… I feel I may be entitled to reclaim just a wee bit of the heartiness I lost with my rapid retreat from the rain of Torres del Paine with my ascent of a sporty climb where the water literally ran down the sleeves of my jacket and the route turned to more of a waterfall.  Ok, I wasn’t leading and I never would have climbed the route in the rapidly deteriorating weather were it not for the need to retrieve the anchor gear left by Bodhi’s awesome lead, but still… throw me a bone ok?

When it wasn’t raining it was really fantastic to see Bodhi’s growing enthusiasm for climbing.  To watch him walk up to the rock, look at a climb and lead it successfully incites both terror and pride in Randy and me.  I can only hope we are teaching him well.

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Checking the knot!

 

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Anchor building lesson

 

 

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Sharp end!

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Bodhi leads up with wind blowing and clouds looming

On the day with the best weather forecast we hiked to the magnificent Laguna de los Tres at the base of Fitz Roy.  It was Josh’s biggest trail day ever at 14 miles and it started in brilliant sunshine and ended in a drizzle with lots of variation in between. We arrived at the lake under cloudy skies with no views of the mountains but in awe of landscape regardless. Within moments however the cold rain began to pound and we were drenched despite our expensive alpine gear.  We retreated down to a lower elevation and enjoyed a damp hike back to the dry warmth of a cozy restaurant in town and our hotel.  

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Glacier Piedra Blanca on the way to Laguna de los Tres

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Some of the Fitz Roy range in view on our hike up to Laguna de los Tres.  The lake is on top of the hill ahead of us on the right.

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Bodhi in marginal weather at Laguna de los Tres… the peaks are all in the clouds

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Bodhi in further deteriorated weather at Laguna de los Tres

On our last day in El Chaltén we were given a local insider’s tip and hiked a trail off the tourist map.  After joining the masses of hikers on the final stretch up to Laguna de los Tres it was a refreshing change and a final Patagonian gift.  We hiked a trail to the mesa atop the climbing wall that seemed to stretch for miles.  We wandered and scrambled and happened upon a hidden lake.  From there we had partially obscured views across the valley to the Fitz Roy range.  She simply would not reveal her whole self.  But the sting of spending a week and not seeing these mountains on a clear, blue sky day was soothed by the enormous landscape all around us.  The glaciers spilling into lakes below, the beech forests and the windswept plateaus.  The lesser peaks and the suggestive peekaboo views we were treated to. 

I’m trying hard to be grateful for what Patagonia shared with us and not dwell on what I feel she withheld.  Over the last week I hearkened back often to a lesson Bodhi learned in his kindergarten class… you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.  Each day I awoke to more clouds I wanted to throw a fit.  But I don’t think mother nature gives a damn.

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Hidden lake and wide open space in Patagonia

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On a clear day you would see the entire Fitz Roy range behind us but instead, you just get us.  

I’m sure as is the nature with traveling…with time, the rain and the clouds will recede to the shadows of memory and what will shine through are the highlights of our time in Patagonia.  Our improved Spanish, the genuine kindness and warmth we received from nearly every person we met (a clear exception is the curmudgeonly bus attendant who yelled at us in ridiculously fast Spanish for eating on the bus and having stinky feet, but I digress…) our time together as a family – enduring, growing, laughing…watching our children experience the world.  

As if to test my resolve to be grateful for her gifts, on the day we flew out from El Calafate, the regional airport just north of El Chaltén, the sky was clear and from 10,000 feet we saw the Fitz Roy range in all her glory.  

We’re about to board a plane to Africa.  A whole new world awaits us.
Gracias Patagonia, te extrañaremos.  We will miss you.

A few parting shots…

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Josh and I visit the Chocolateria Josh Aike… an indigenous name that is pronounced “Hosh”.

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The boys begged to buy these superhero boxing mitts… oh hell no! 

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It is amazing to me that this delicate little beauty can survive in such harsh conditions

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One of our bleaker accommodations.  We’ve got gear hung up and strung out in every corner of the room to dry.  This place was on the heels of our lovely two bedroom Christmas condo and well… let’s just say I’m glad we didn’t stay too long!  

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We found some very hard bouldering and pretended to climb it!  The best part… it was out of the wind and overhung just enough to be out of the rain!

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Josh gives it a whirl on Vescho Wall.  He was wise enough to stay home the day we ended up climbing in a downpour.

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And sometimes, just when you think all is lost, you realize that without rain, there would be no rainbows.  

Posted by: stacylynn12 | December 20, 2019

Torres del Paine

25 years ago, when I became a climber and met Randy, I read stories of the wild, vast, isolated region in Patagonia called Torres del Paine.  Expert climbers flocked there in the summer to climb the unparalleled, extreme routes up the towers, sometimes waiting weeks for a window of good weather to have a chance at success.  I never had the skill or the fortitude to attempt such a climb but I knew the park had trails where the less competent (less crazy?) could go and wander in solitude to absorb the magnificent beauty of the landscape.  I imagined it as a true wilderness, unspoiled by human development.  I saw photos of hikers and I knew it was a place one could go and wander for days or weeks to be immersed in natural beauty. It seemed a paradise of perfection. 

But everything is perfect in dreams no?

Flash forward these 25 years to when the Earlywine family is planning their sabbatical.  When Randy mentioned Patagonia, I began to research, as is my nature.  What I saw of Torres del Paine made me write it out of our “itinerary” completely.  I saw photos of campsites packed with literally 50 – 60 tents.  Reports of trails jammed with people and logistical challenges for getting to and into the park.  It seemed the yesteryear of solitude was gone and this experience no longer appealed to me.  We’d go instead to El Chaltén in Argentina where the crowds were less, if not absent and one can walk from town right into the mountains.  

But things happen and a couple of friends we trust convinced us we should not miss Torres del Paine so off we went.  Puerto Natales is the jumping off point for trips to the park.  In town hikers stock up on food rations, rent gear as needed, buy bus tickets to get to the park and attend a free talk about everything there is to know about making the trip happen.  The park is vast but the majority of people come to do one thing… the “W” trek, named after the 3 distinct valleys the trek follows.  People make reservations for the campsites on this trek months in advance but of course, we had none.  So Randy and I arose early and went the first office in order to try and secure some sites.  Having success, we went to the second office.  You see, there are 3 different organizations that control access to the park.  Seriously?  Luck seemed to be on our side and we pieced together a decent plan.

From town it is a 2 hour bus ride to the entrance where you must disembark, check in and watch a video about the park.  Next you pay again for a shuttle up to the Welcome Center and once you pass through here you have officially arrived.  The Welcome Center is complete with a coffee bar, beer and wine for sale, a gift shop and a rental center.  Moving along, hikers have 3 options if staying in this area for their first night.  Camping Central (basically a big campground), the Refugio where you can have a bed for $116 USD per night and anyone can order meals, hang out, dry out, charge electronics, access wifi (for a fee) book horseback riding excursions and more. Then there is the Hotel las Torres.  For around $600 a night you can have a fancier and private room.  There is something for everyone here.  

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Our glorious view arriving at the park entrance! Those are the famed Torres (towers) on the right in the distance.

When we arrived the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. We pitched our tent so as to have a view of the glorious towers and anticipated a hike to the Mirador de las Torres (lookout) the next day. 

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Randy in our campsite

We’d do it as a day hike and return to our camp so we wouldn’t have to carry full and heavy packs.  The boys and I decided to take a walk, Randy having just returned from a little wander, and we walked to the hotel where curiosity got the best of us.  Walking down the halls we noticed a door to a room ajar (are you having flashbacks to some hot springs in Pucon yet?)   The room was empty, beautiful and inviting.  We joked about just moving in… maybe no one would discover us!  Josh had a plan if we were caught – we’d just say “Lo siento, no entiendo español!” “Sorry, we don’t understand Spanish!” I wasn’t so sure that would work.  But not to worry, we aren’t quite that mischievous!

Back in camp Chef Josh cooked us up a dinner of tortellini with red sauce and parmesan cheese and Bodhi did the dishes.  Dreamy!  That night, cozy in our tent, rain began to fall.  By 11am the next day it had not let up.  The boys were getting restless and wanted to go for a walk so we decided we might as well go ahead and walk up to the Mirador if we were going to go out in the rain.  

Torres del Paine, pronounced Pie-nay is an Aónikenk word meaning “blue” and refers to the massive glaciers that used to blanket the area, a magnificent blue color I imagine. The Aónikenk people were a southern Patagonian indigenous tribe, now declared nearly extinct in Chile and with only a few remaining (less than 200) in neighboring Argentina. Of those, less than half still speak a native language.  That a human race can become extinct is deeply sad to me. I wonder what they would have to teach us if they were still here and we had the wisdom to listen?

We donned our rain gear and set out.  The towers and just about everything else was shrouded in clouds.  I focused my mind on staying positive.  I remembered something Bodhi learned in kindergarten.  “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Bodhi and I hiked together on the way up and enjoyed conversation and periods of silence.  The landscape below us was vast and verdant. 

The trail climbed up and up and still it rained.  Bodhi and I arrived at the Refugio Chileno, about 1/2 way to the Mirador.  We went inside to warm up and dry out and found a boisterous scene of mostly young people, chatting, eating and drinking.  Randy and Josh followed shortly and after a break it was decided Randy and Bodhi would continue on up and Josh and I would head down.  It was unlikely we’d make it to the Mirador before they closed the trail for upward travel at 5pm and even if we did, we’d be in a sea of clouds.  Josh was keen to descend and I was happy to join him.  He and I had a lovely hike down despite the rain, talking, pontificating and stopping frequently. 

Randy and Bodhi didn’t quite make it to the Mirador due to our late start but perhaps it didn’t matter given the weather.  The view from the Mirador is what draws so many people to this area.  But how many people stop to consider that they may never see it?

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If you are lucky, this is your reward for the efforts of your hike.  It’s easy to see why people flock here.  (Please note, this is not a photo I took.)

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This, in contrast was our reality.

Patagonia is known for its fierce winds.  When we attended the informational talk we asked, not in jest, if we needed to be concerned about Josh getting blown away.  In 2013 wind speed at 180 km/h (over 100 mph) was recorded in the park. During our visit wind speeds in parts of the park were predicted to be upwards to 50 km/h.  That’s no joke.  We were told the weather can change 15 times in an hour.  I thought I was prepared for all of this… wind, cold, some rain, some sun, even snow… but camping and hiking in nonstop rain is difficult for me I must admit.  That night it continued and in the morning we woke to more rain.  

Thoughts swirled in my head.  Why had we come here?  Why hadn’t I stuck to the original plan and skipped it altogether?  We braved the crowds, the logistics, the fees (it’s not cheap to hike this trail even when camping) and now here I was facing another day of walking in the rain without the benefit of the views I’d come for. All those years of dreaming of Torres del Paine and it just wasn’t adding up for me.  So many emotions arose.  I am not strong enough. I do not have what it takes.  How can it be that I see people walking these trails in jeans, so underprepared, sopping wet, yet I am the one who wants out?  At some point I shifted the negative self talk to “I am smart enough to know my limits.  I could do this if I wanted to.  I simply don’t want to.” 

On this trip, I am in search of more joy.  I am not a joyless person but over the years I have become more stressed, more anxious and I hope my travels will help me find more balance, more joy, more calm.  To that end, I told Randy I wanted to go back to town.  He and the boys would continue on and we’d meet up in a few days time.  It was hard to walk away from them.  Hard to admit defeat.  Hard to imagine all my hearty climbing friends back in Seattle knowing I couldn’t hack a few days in the rain.  But in the end there is a cost/benefit to everything and knowing when the costs outweigh the benefits is perhaps a step toward wisdom.  

Torres del Paine is no longer the empty, isolated place I dreamed of visiting all those years ago.  I don’t know how long ago that was lost. Things change.  More people means more management, more rules, more services.  These are necessary to protect the fragile natural environment.  But something is lost along the way as well.  Frankly, I don’t know if I could handle the empty, isolated Torres del Paine anymore even if it were still there.  In my mind it is achingly beautiful solitude.  In reality it can be harsh and unrelenting.

Impermanence.  It’s a concept we humans struggle with.  We want things to stay the same, we embrace change tentatively, if at all.  But everything is impermanent. Many people will continue to come and enjoy Torres del Paine.  I am glad I went, grateful I caught a glimpse of the shining towers before the clouds swallowed them whole.  Often, we cannot control our experiences or our circumstances, we can only respond to them.  I am learning to listen to my heart rather than the noise in my head when responding.

As I was leaving the park, a rainbow appeared, arcing over and perfectly framing the place in the sky where the Torres would have been if not for the clouds.  I thought about photographing it but instead I paused to simply enjoy it.  It seemed metaphorical somehow.  Perhaps telling me that beauty is there, even when you cannot see it.

As I write this, I am on a bus to Argentina.  I’m going to check out the Perito Moreno Glacier, something I’d wanted to see but the timing of our W trek plans ruled that out as we have a reservation in El Chalten for Christmas.  Every day I wonder about my boys.  Are they wet?  Are they having fun?  Has the sun come out for them?  Are they drinking excessive amounts of Fanta and eating Pringles in the Refugios?  I know they are in Randy’s capable hands and I cannot wait to hear their stories.  

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Wouldn’t you know, the clouds lifted from the towers and the rain paused momentarily once we were all back in camp.

Posted by: stacylynn12 | December 12, 2019

But for the Kindness of Strangers…

…I’m fairly certain I’d be back in Seattle by now begging our tenants to let me rent a room in the basement of our house or even the garage.  There’s just enough room left in there for me to throw down my sleeping bag and… my espresso machine is there.  I must say, it’s tempting.

I’m not gonna lie, international traveling is a wee bit harder than I remember it to be and it hasn’t been the softest of landings.  I should clarify that I’m really speaking for myself as the rest of the family seems to be rolling with the punches better than me. I speak Spanish but only barely and it’s exhausting to have to work so hard to communicate.  Food is another challenge.  It did not occur to me that Chileans don’t really eat rice and beans (something I could manage every day for a month no problem.) I’ve grown a bit weary of the bread, cheese, meat rotation, haven’t found an excellent coffee shop yet and generally have food apathy.  Chileans seem to love an empanada that has cubed beef, onions, boiled egg and an olive.  It’s not bad but I’m not in love. Oh and the olive is never pitted so there’s that bite to look forward to.   Nothing overwhelms me more than walking into a grocery store in a foreign country.  Hell, I can barely handle the Safeway since my go to store is PCC so that tells you something. 

Moving anywhere takes effort and sometimes a ridiculous amount.  I don’t know how we ended up with so much gear.  There are days I am wondering what we have done.

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On the bright side, Chileans have proven time and time again to be some of the kindest people on the planet.  After several lovely days in Cajon de Maipo we made a plan to head south to the town of Chillan (pronounced Chi-yan which, if you are a non Spanish speaker makes no sense until you stop to consider the pronunciation of tortilla. Ah, yes.)

We arranged a ride to the train station where our trusty app – Rome2Rio – said we could catch the train to Chillan. Turns out we couldn’t buy tickets to Chillan at this station. Enter our first helpful stranger.  She held our hands (I would have literally held hers but she might have thought it weird), used her subway metro pass and walked us through the process of riding several stops in the opposite direction from where we actually wanted to go, to get a long distance ticket to Chillan.  We arrived at the station where the helpful new friend thought we could get the correct tickets.  Wrong again. At least now we knew how to buy our own metro passes.  Back on the subway we went to the Central Station in downtown Santiago. 

Now please imagine these few short sentences took many, many minutes of back and forth trying to understand the Spanish, trying to find the right words, thinking maybe I comprehend what’s being said but totally not willing to bet even a single peso on it. Lots of Chileans standing and staring at the gringos who don’t know what the hell they are doing and our children standing back with a mountain of backpacks and duffel bags around them while we try to sort it out.  Stress rising, spirits falling.

In downtown Santiago we were befriended by another woman who seemed to be warning us repeatedly to NOT leave the train station.  I don’t think the situation was quite that dire but the protests and the civil unrest in the city clearly has many people on edge and rightly so.  We were told the train left at 6:30pm.  Then we were told that it left at 3:30pm.  Randy left the boys and I with our mountain of gear to go in search of a ticket to Chillan.  I told him if we were directed to yet another train station that we were getting a cab to the airport and flying some freaking where… to where at that moment, I couldn’t have cared less.  Luckily he came back with tickets in hand. The 3 + hour ordeal to buy train tickets to Chillan was over.

We boarded the train without further incident and had an uneventful ride.  Of course then we had to find a hotel to spend the night and a place to eat dinner but such is the path we have chosen.  

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Chillan Market

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Chillan Market

We spent several lovely days in the mountains outside of Chillan and visited some hot springs after getting kicked out of the first ones we tried.  It’s true, we did.  We drove up to Nevados de Chillan at the base of the smoldering Volcan Chillan one evening – a local ski resort in the winter (now closed) – with thermal baths literally adjacent to the ticket window. There was no one in sight and the gate was ajar.  We tiptoed in, figuring we probably weren’t supposed to be there but with no one to stop us… well?  Please don’t tell our parents how mischievous we are. We’d all been in the pool for less than 5 minutes when out of the ethos two official looking men arrived and it was quite clear that we needed to get out.  Playing dumb gringos got us nowhere but again, they were kind, even friendly and waited for us to exit before locking the errant gate.  

We did a lovely hike to the top of a waterfall but perhaps the most fun we had was some mellow rock climbing.  Josh officially completed his first lead in Chile and Bodhi can pretty close to out-climb both Randy and I.  It was pretty awesome and then after the most expensive meal to date at the fanciest restaurant any of us had patronized in months if not years, Randy got sick.  And traveling is fun right?

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The volcano belched plumes of smoke continuously.

From Chillan a 5 hour bus ride took us to the town of Pucon on the shore of Lago Villarrica (now don’t forget that double L pronunciation we talked about).  This impressive volcano was not smoldering but it apparently did have a small eruption not long ago.  Locals will tell you of looking up and seeing the top of the mountain glowing red.  There is a system in place that is both odd and unnerving.  One siren sounds each day at noon. I have no idea why.  Two sirens sound each time there is an emergency in town.  Again, why?  Does everyone in town need to know someone is in trouble?  Perhaps it’s to remind everyone just how much work the completely volunteer run fire department does so that when they ride the truck through town with their bullhorns asking for funding, people will shell out.  And then, there’s 3 sirens.  That means, she’s about to blow, get the *%@! out of dodge.  I’m guessing people pay attention to that one.  We were just hoping that if 3 sirens sounded someone would take pity on the gringos and let us jump into the back of their truck.

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Volcan and Lago Villarrica

Which brings me to my last stranger story.  

Pucon has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast.  We opted first for another day of hot springs because, well, who doesn’t love a hot spring?  I’m pleased to report we did not get thrown out of this one and it was oh so lovely.  Spa like really.  For some reason, in this spot the water comes out of the ground clear, clean and scentless.  One of the typical downsides of hot springs is the unpleasant sulphur smell that accompanies them so it was a total treat to have pure, warm water to while away the day in. 

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Divine hot springs in the mountains near Pucon.

The following day we rented mountain bikes and headed out to the “Bike Park”.  We didn’t totally know what we’d find but we had adequate first aid supplies and water and were told it was a 10K ride to the park.  Sweet!  We found a little empanada shop just a couple of kilometers from where we though the bike park was so decided we’d ride for a bit then go get lunch before riding back to town.  LOL!

We made the turn onto the dirt road leading up to the area called El Cerduro and after riding up and up for longer than some of us wanted to (not naming names here) there was a bit of a mutiny. There we were, sitting on the side of the road wondering how much farther this “bike park” was and trying to console the less enthused in the group when up comes the angel Ruben in his white truck. He, being a serious rider had this fancy rig and could easily throw 4 more bikes on.  He offered to give us a ride up to the park.  And, it keeps getting better… he spoke English.  We joyfully accepted his offer and as the road kept going up and up and up, we all realized we would have never in a million years made it.  Of course, in the back of my mind I was thinking ahead and wondering how we’d ever make it back down and very keenly aware that we had almost no food.  

Arriving at the park we learned it was private land owned by a dear friend of Ruben’s and it was being developed and preserved as a natural playground.  Hiking trails to waterfalls, hammocks among trees, picnic spots and mountain biking trails, but sadly no food for sale.  Ruben explained the situation to Gabby, whom he referred to as his second mother, and this wonderful cherub went to her tiny A frame cabin and came back 30 min later with boiled eggs still warm from the pot, bananas, bread, yogurt and oats.  I’m pretty sure not every guest gets this special treatment. 

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Our new friends Ruben and Gabby

After we filled our bellies, we asked our new friends to point us towards the start of the trails and Ruben jumped up out of the hammock and said, “Follow me!”.  Josh and I made it to the first waterfall and then sensing the “easy” trail up was a little more than we were up for, opted to visit the river and waterfall instead.  It was a lovely choice.  I have no idea why this water wasn’t icy cold as it was coming straight off the glacier from Volcan Villarrica but it was a warm day and the pool we found was just right for a refreshing dip.  We took our time and then made our way on bikes back down the mountain.  Meanwhile, Ruben guided Randy and Bodhi up to the top and back down the “easy” trail, though he was clearly an expert rider.  When they all rolled into the basecamp 2 out of the 3 looked a little worse for the wear but also quite happy for the success of the adventure.  

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Josh and I opted for a refreshing dip in the river after biking part of the “easy” trail.

Ruben generously gave us a ride all the way to town and along the way picked up 3 of his buddies who were walking the long dusty road back to Pucon.  He also stopped to help a couple jump a dead battery.  This guy.  We need more of him in our world.  

I suppose these are the adversities that make for good stories.  I’m not sure my writing can do it justice. The frustration, the feelings of helplessness, of WTF are we going to do now?  People like Ruben, Gabby and the other kind folks who have helped us along our way renew my faith in humans at a time when it is greatly needed.  I’m writing this on yet another 5 hour bus ride to Puerto Montt.  As a side note, Chilean busses are fantastic with ample room to stretch out, comfy seats and some that turn into full beds for long trips.  And they are cheap.  Tomorrow we will take a flight to Punta Arenas near the southern tip of South America and begin our true Patagonian journey.  I’m looking forward to less bus rides and more trails.  And hopefully more of the kindness of strangers.  

With that, I leave you with our family’s collaborative poem “Ode to Pucon.”  We are learning a little bit about the poetry of Pablo Neruda, Chile’s beloved “Poet of the People” and boy does he love his Odes.  Here’s to you Pablo!

Ode to Pucon

Green parrots flock to huge, ancient trees
near Lago Villarica.
We see them as we walk the town
in the evening, just before dark.
Chileans like to stay up late.

There are markets with mangos and cherries,
shops filled with cotton candy and people,
restaurants with strawberry juice, pizza and steak.
Mmmmmmmmm.

Hot water bubbles from the earth
and is captured in thermal pools.
Everyone enjoys a good soak.

The volcano peaks through the Auricaria trees as we ride bikes
along the dusty, dirt road up to the bike park.
We sweat and struggle and in the end kindness overcomes. 

Posted by: stacylynn12 | December 2, 2019

Alone Together

Greetings friends, from Cajon de Maipo, a gorgeous canyon just an hour outside of Santiago, Chile in the foothills of the Andes mountains.  I sit here on a sweet patio with my cup of Nescafe, looking across the Rio Maipo below us at the cactus covered canyon slopes beyond.  I am contemplating the sometimes overwhelming efforts it took to get here and the unknown journey that lies ahead.

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Our material life, stuffed into our garage

We began our trip on November 27th with an early morning northbound train to Vancouver, BC; customs, immigration, baggage collection and a taxi ride to the airport hotel. Another early morning followed with more lines, luggage shuffling, getting scolded by an immigration officer for checking the “no” box when we actually had agricultural products to declare. Ooops.  Innocent mistake, Randy filling out the form but me having knowledge of the apples stowed away. Since the apples were of US origin we were spared a $500 fine.  There are lines, always lines at the airport and we stood in many of them.  We flew to LA, disembarked and were shuttled to the international terminal which was oddly and unsettlingly, empty.  Wasn’t anyone flying anywhere?  4 hours later we boarded another, larger jet and settled in for the 10 1/2 hour flight to Santiago, Chile.  I don’t know, I guess I’ve grown soft.  This flight wrecked me.  There was no sleep to be had throughout the long night and we lost 5 hours somewhere over the Pacific. Arriving in Santiago we once again went through the dance of immigration, customs (making quite sure we had no apples this time), baggage claim and finally found our driver, Eugenio waving a “Stacy Earlywine” sign.  God bless Eugenio.  After a 1+ hour drive we arrived at our sweet cabaña in the Canyon.  I know all of this line standing, baggage schlepping, sleepless exhaustion is necessary to get where one wants to go but wow, teleporting would sure be much easier.

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The view from our cabaña with the Rio Maipo below

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This pool was awesome and you can guess how this ended for Josh.  Our cabaña also had a pool table and a ping pong table which entertained the children for so many hours they nearly forgot the partial phone ban we’ve implemented.  Definitely 1 point in the mom and dad column.

 

Now I know many of you dear friends in the northern hemisphere, you are looking at these pictures and salivating.  As one friend messaged me – So. Friggin. Jealous.  But 3 of the 4 of us arrived here in this paradise and broke every travel rule. We went straight to bed and slept 1/2 the day.  Randy was the only hearty soul to brave the jet lag.

It’s been 3 days since I started writing this post and we’ve slowly, slowly started to adjust to this crazy new life.  We took a horseback riding trip today and rode a dusty, bumpy, at times scary ass trail in the blazing heat up to a mesa top overlooking the canyon.  It was beautiful. Our guide spoke only Spanish and my Spanish is slightly less sketchy than the trail we rode today.  Language is one challenge we face.  Having difficulty communicating can at times leave one feeling quite alone.  Yet we are together as a family and this is both a great blessing and another challenge.  At home we all have our own lives.  The kids head off to school and increasingly out with their friends.  Randy goes to work in downtown Seattle and I head to our backyard cottage to work with my amazing clients for much of the day.  We come together in the evenings and on weekends, on vacations, for sporting events, for rides to and fro and in many other ways.  But now it’s different.  We are really together even in moments when we might not want to be.  We all have our own hopes and desires for this adventure as well as our own fears and trepidations, some of those voiced and some kept quiet.  We have shared goals and excitement as well.   I wonder how our little family will have changed three months from now?  How will we be better, both alone and together?

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Posted by: stacylynn12 | October 29, 2019

Prelude

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, in the age of Facebook and Instagram and all the newfandangled social media things that I’m not even cool enough to know about, where we only present our very best selves and our messy, ugly, less than perfect lives get left offline; where no-one is ever unhappy and no one’s kid ever throws a tantrum; well, I aim to keep it real.  So here’s a look at the messy side of a year-long sabbatical.

We’ve got 28 days until the first leg of our trip commences.  There are 3 things people want to know, almost without fail, when they see me these days.

  1. What are you going to do with your chickens?
  2. What about the kids school?
  3. Are you soooo excited?

The chickens took care of themselves… well, sort of.  We had two left in our flock and one fell ill. Like crazy ill, the kind of ill you never want to deal with.  You know it’s bad when you call your vet friend and describe what’s going on and her response is “that’s gross, even by my standards”.  I would tell you the name of this unfortunate illness but some of you curious types would google it despite the warning and I promise you, you DO NOT want to see those pictures.  Sorry, I clearly have some PTSD around this one. Anyway, let’s just leave it at… that chicken is no longer with us and her buddy put up a “single female searching for single female to coop up with” ad on the local online farm blog and has since packed her clucks and moved across town.  The new farmer reports two happy hens.  Chickens – check!

Number 2.  I’ve already mentioned that I was quite stressed out about Bodhi missing 1st grade and now that just seems downright silly!  The kids will be fine.  As the high school counselor I met with said, “don’t get me wrong, school is important but what you are doing is more important.”  Trading a few months of school for the experiential education field trip of a lifetime is just a no brainer.  That said, there is a fair amount of effort that has gone into making sure that he stays on track with his required credits for graduation. Because while he is all too happy to be skipping out on school for a few months, I’m guessing he doesn’t want to graduate high school at age 20.  As for Josh and 6th grade, the consensus even at his middle school seems to be – meh (insert shoulder shrug)… do some math. He’ll be fine.  He’s cool with that.

Now, about the excitement. Yes, of course I’m excited.  But it’s a little more complicated than that. In the year 2000 when Randy and I quit our jobs and jetted off to Asia for 6 months, I was freaking excited.  I don’t think I had a worry in the world.  I was also 29 years old, had no kids and the worst thing that had ever happened to me was a broken wrist.  We went to Council Travel (a budget, student travel agency), walked out with actual paper tickets for our flights and that was just about the extent of our planning. The internet was kind of a thing but not nearly the all consuming beast of today.  I poured over the Lonely Planet guidebooks (actual paper books) on Nepal, India and Thailand and got more excited by the day about our trip.  We landed in Kathmandu, late in the evening without so much as a hotel reservation.  It was awesome.

Flash forward 19 years.  I’m no longer 29 (I’ll let you do that math if you really must know) We’ve got two kids and the world is a vastly different place.  The first thing I did after we booked our flights (online of course) was to jump to the CDC website and research all the various things that could kill us in the places we are traveling to.  Then I researched evacuation insurance, bought a satellite emergency communication device and booked us appointments at the travel clinic.  There was a little excitement mixed with a moderate amount of fear. The list of non vaccine preventable diseases on the CDC website is long.  Rather than getting excited about the possibility of seeing elephants and lions in the wild I was fretting over barely  pronounceable maladies such as African Trypanosomiasis and Chikungunya. This is not so exciting.

Randy and I fretted about getting renters for our house and our cottage. I set about making checklists and budget lists and to do lists out the wazoo.  My head spun looking on Booking.com and Airbnb just trying to find a place to stay for a couple of nights when we landed in Santiago. (Which, coincidentally, is currently erupting in crazy political turmoil.  Awesome.) There were undertones of excitement to be sure, but it was all a bit overwhelming.  No, it IS all a bit overwhelming.  Cause with sub 30 days and a whole lot more to get done and a family who is reluctant to pack anything away lest they need it between now and November 27th… lawd where’s the bottle of wine?

Alas, when I get my panties into too much of a bunch, I’ve decided it’s a good idea to pause and consider just how much we’ve checked off our to do list already.  We’ve purchased airline tickets for our first leg.  Randy renewed his passport, we’ve successfully rented our house and cottage and dog proofed the yard for the tenants.  I researched (for hours) the above mentioned safety devices and plans, filled epi pen prescriptions for our first aid kit, shopped for insect repellant clothing, booked accommodations where needed (mostly just those precipitating or immediately following an airport departure or arrival, purchased needed gear (Josh’s sleeping bag covered approximately 2/3rd of his long, tall drink of water body last time we checked it), purchased a washer and dryer for our cottage (where we will live in the spring) repaired drywall in the house, met with Bodhi’s high school counselor and exchanged countless emails with teachers about the plan for his schoolwork, cleaned out the garden (in progress) dental visits, health check ups, travel heath appointments, vehicle parking places (Thank you Brekke-Hutchings and Tucker families!) Audiobooks, Permethrin spray, auto replies, googlemaps,outletconvertersmailholdpackhousecleanoutfridge….

Woah… so sorry! I don’t know what happened there.  I think I got bored reading my own to do list and the line between what’s done and what needs to be done blurred into a mind numbing, panic inducing tailspin.

Ok, I’m being dramatic now, I know.  Things will get done.  I’m adding “monitor situation in Chile and make necessary adjustments” to my to do list.  Don’t worry Mom, it will be fine, really.  One way or another November 27th will arrive and we will hop on that train to Vancouver to begin our adventure.  Chances are there will be some things left undone. I figure if we have our children and our passports in tow everything else will work itself out.  Now, I just have to rinse and repeat that mantra.  You have my permission to remind me of this the next time you see me all in a dither.  Now,  back to the checklists!

Posted by: stacylynn12 | July 19, 2019

Back in Business

6 years ago I wrote a post called Travel Blogger Blues. Our sabbatical had been over for a year and I was looking at another 6 years before I’d have a “job” as a travel blogger again.  I did find a few occasions to blog… I wrote exactly 3 posts in those intervening 6 years.  But I’m happy to announce that as of right now, I’m back in business.

For those of you not in the loop, let me explain.  Randy has a job where every 7 years he is eligible to take a 1 year leave of absence from his job.  Us being us, well we are not a family to let that opportunity slip by.  If you’ve been reading along on this blog you’ll know that we’ve been planning for this next sabbatical basically since the day we got home from the last one. This week we took the plunge and put down cold cash in the form of plane tickets.  On November 28th we fly away.  Here’s the itinerary:

YVR – SCL – EZE – WDH – CAS – SEA

In the event you like to guess or you are a puzzle sort of person, you might enjoying trying to figure out what the hell I’m talking about.  If not, no fear… all will be revealed by the end of this post.

There’s a few things that are different this time around.  First and foremost our children have grown up and adopted opinions of their own.  When we departed on our last trip Bodhi was 6 and Josh was 3.  Now they are 14 and 11. They have friends they care about leaving, things they worry about missing and sports they want to participate in. (Please note, math and spelling are not on their list of concerns.)

Whereas last time I fretted immensely over Bodhi’s 1st grade homeschool plan, I have rather little stress about homeschooling 6th and 9th graders.  I guess I realized that fretting last time didn’t net us much.  I’ve spoken to both the middle and high school and they were unfazed by the idea that we were planning to take our kids out of school for a year.  Some online math, lots of reading, some writing and they’ll be fine.  We’ll have to manage credits for our high schooler but it’s completely doable.  We might even be able to wrangle him a credit of two from some of our adventures.

On our last sabbatical I had recently left my job in the non profit world to be a stay at home mom.  I had no job to walk away from.  I’d be bringing my “job” right along with me.  Now I run a Structural Medicine private practice and I feel a sense of obligation to my patients who trust me enough to include me in their health care plan.

In 2011, we got in our 86′ VW van and loaded it on a ferry boat to Alaska.  We had no plan beyond that.  We literally had NO idea where our year of travels would take us.  This was both thrilling and terrifying to me.  This time we have the year more or less mapped out.  We’ll be getting on a plane and flying away. We have a return ticket. Yet there is much to be determined still… a good compromise for the planner in me and the free spirit I married.

So where are we going?

Here it is!

YVR is Vancouver, British Columbia.  No, we aren’t really starting our trip there.  For some reason known only to the mysterious airline ticket pricing gods, it is far cheaper to fly out of Vancouver than Seattle. To almost anywhere. So we’ll be taking a train up to Vancouver to catch a flight to

SCL – Santiago, Chile.

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We’ll start our one month Patagonian journey just north of Patagonia proper.  We’ll travel overland taking buses and trains to wherever looks amazing and enticing and hopefully avoid the purported crowds along the way.  As climbers, Patagonia has always danced in our dreams as an enchanted land of alpine peaks and empty windswept endlessness. I don’t think it’s so empty anymore but hopefully there is still some magic to be found. We’ll make our way at the month’s end to Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE) and catch our next flight to

WDH – Windhoek, Namibia.

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I know. If you are like I was a few years ago, you might have to look on a map to find out where Namibia is.  But thanks to our friends Steve and Tamara who came back from there with amazing photographs and stories, we decided it was the perfect African destination.  I’ve never been to Africa but when I first imagined myself traveling, it was Africa that filled my dreams.  I’m pretty excited to finally make it there.  We have about 2 months to explore.  Apparently the “thing to do” in Namibia is the self driving tour. Sounds like another name for a road trip to me and we are good at nothing if not a road trip.  We’ll rent a 4×4 vehicle with a rooftop tent, cause you know, lions can’t jump on top of a vehicle. After tooling around Southern Africa we’ll somehow make our way to Morocco (CAS).  I’m guessing this will involve a flight.  If not, god help me.  Our good buddy Pete lives in Morocco and we’re pretty excited to finally get to visit him.

On February 29 (yep – it’s leap year, one bonus day of travel!) we fly back to Seattle. This was our compromise, a way to meet the needs of all family members.  My need to not leave my business for an entire year.  The kid’s need to see friends and play baseball.  Truth be told, we may have planned this entire trip around baseball season.  I will neither confirmnor deny this absurdity. The boys and I will resume our “normal” lives for a few months and Randy will plan some as yet to be determined solo adventure that may or may not involve bicycling in New Zealand.  He’s not one to be pinned down.  I support his desire to take full advantage of his sabbatical.  And while he’s off doing something incredible, I will remind myself that it was my choice to come home and work. You may need to help remind me.

When July and August, 2020 roll around we plan to spend 2 months backpacking on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).  You may recall that this was part of our original plan several years ago when we began dreaming up our next adventure.  For a few reasons, we decided tackling the entire trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border did not make sense right now.  We hope to complete the Washington section and maybe some of Oregon.

In September, I’ll cram in a couple of weeks of work while Randy prepares us to hop on a plane for the last leg of our journey.  Maybe the kids will go to school for a stint, maybe not.  That’s just too far away for me to think about now. We’ll head to Japan (Josh’s pick) and Nepal and some dreamy tropical paradise yet to be determined but likely in SE Asia (Bodhi’s pick).

And then, it’ll be December again and we will return to Seattle with a 7th grader and a sophomore (what?!) and our city life will resume as though it were never interrupted. I’ve traveled just enough to know this is true.  One plans and plans for months or years for a trip like this, the trip happens in the blink of an eye and then you are left with the memories made.  Sometimes the really awful parts of the trip become the best stories. As I sit here researching Patagonia and Southern Africa I wonder what stories we will be telling a year from now…

Posted by: stacylynn12 | February 10, 2019

Balancing Act

It’s an early February day in 2019, a little over a year since I last wrote a post.  The city of Seattle, the place we call home, has all but shut down with the arrival of a wintery wonderland.  We are in the midst of the third snowstorm in less than a week and there is another big one on the horizon.  New Englanders and Midwesterners turned Seattleites often roll eyes at the ridiculousness of Seattle in the snow.  Grocery store shelves run bare, school is cancelled or delayed or released early and crashes abound… often with no more than an inch or two of the fluffy (or not so fluffy as is usually the case) white stuff. But I get it.  This is not Maine or the Midwest.  We have limited resources to deal with these rare events and Seattle is hilly.  Like really hilly.  I challenge any Mainer to get down (or up) a steep, icy hill sans sand, salt or plow.

It would be nice to be skiing but we’re not.  We have had two amazing ski adventures already this year.  One to Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada and one sweet road trip to Big Sky, Montana, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Sun Valley, Idaho.  I’m pretty sure I’d make a great ski bum.  But alas, we are back to life in the city.  At least for now.

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Sun Valley Bluebird Day

In 2013 I wrote a post titled “Call to the Wild” about our big ideas for our next sabbatical. It’s hard to believe it’s been 7 years since our last one.  7 years ago we had an about to turn 4 year old and a recently turned 6 year old. We were in Huaraz, Peru living in and loving the Cordillera Blanca and the wonderful friends we made there.  Now here we are staring at the possibility of another “year off”. Randy’s job with the City of Seattle affords him the opportunity to take a one year leave every 7 years.  We’re not the sort of people to let those opportunities slip by. And yet, life is a little more complicated now.  We’ve got kids with opinions, sports and friends.  It seems a little more challenging to homeschool a 6th grader and a freshman than it did to homeschool a 1st grader, especially since that didn’t go so well.  I own a business. We own a home.  Some days it feels like an insurmountable logistical challenge to walk away from it all for a year.  And yet, we are aware that the next time this opportunity rolls around another 7 years from now, our children will have launched into the world, pursuing their own lives in whatever form that takes.  This is it.  Our last chance for this kind of adventure with our little family unit as we currently know it.

The boys doing a little trip planning.  It was super exciting to see them tabbing pages in our World Travel book, writing and mapping out possible itineraries!

 

When we began discussing this next adventure, we planned to start the trip in April or May walking on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which would require the kids to miss both the end of their 5th and 8th grade years and the start of their next school year, both of them at new schools.  More recently whenever we’ve had a family discussion about our sabbatical plans, we noticed that our teenager would begin the conversation excited about the possibilities and then morph into a sad and sullen, well… teenager.  With time he was able to reflect and communicate with us that the idea of leaving his friends for 12 months was not his idea of a good time.  He wanted to go but the social sadness was real.  The tween was resistant to the idea of walking for 6 months on the PCT.   Truth be told, I was too.  Not that spending that amount of time in the mountains is unappealing to me because it absolutely is appealing, but I was having trouble with the idea of closing my newly thriving structural medicine practice for such a long time.  I enjoy my job but I would be fine not doing the work for a year.  The problem I was coming to understand, was a sense of responsibility.  I have amazing clients who I thoroughly enjoy.  I’m very lucky to be able to play a role in their health and well being.  I’m not able to help every person that comes to see me but there are some who tell me that I am making a significant difference in their quality of life, their ability to move and do the things they love to do.  They entrust me with the care of their physical body and it is a great privilege to be able to serve them.   I was having a hard time with the idea of just walking away from them.  The plan we had in our heads was rapidly falling apart.

At that point we decided that we’d need to be creative and flexible. Since then we’ve tried on about 15 different versions of the time we have to spend.  We decided to leave in July, then February and now December.  We decided to walk 1,000 miles of the PCT, then Washington and Oregon and then just Washington.  We were going to leave and come back to Seattle… flying to Asia and Africa with a Seattle break and the PCT in between.   We’ve wrestled with the added costs of this plan and the realities of our finances.  We’ve tried to come up with something that works for everyone.  It’s not so easy.

So here’s where things stand at this moment, on day 7 of Seattle’s 2019 snowpocalypse during which we’ve been dreaming of possibilities in between bouts of rare city snow play.

We’re leaving the first of December.  Uhh… that’s less than a year away.  We’d been anticipating a mid February departure and counting down to the “1 year to go” mark. Then just like that, the one year mark was more than a month behind us.  I momentarily panicked.  Breathe slowly, drink heavily… or something like that.

We’re heading to Patagonia. What? Where did that come from? South America has not been part of the discussion but all of a sudden, with very little debate, it seemed like an obvious place to start. December is summer in southern Chile and Argentina, the countries that make up the geographic region of Patagonia.  For our entire lives as climbers we’ve had visions of the outrageous granite spires of the Torres del Paine in Chile and the Fitz Roy massif, that straddles the border between Chile and Argentina dancing in our heads. We’ve never been and the time seems ripe.  As a side note, my humble husband Randy has 4 Patagonian first ascents.  In 2000, he and 4 other climbers traveled to Hornopirén National Park in Chile and climbed 4 remote, previously unclimbed peaks. A short summary of the trip can be found here if you are so inclined: Randy’s Chilean Climbing Adventure.

Hornopirén however is a coastal Chilean range so the trip to the heart of Patagonian Andes will be new for him too.

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Fitz Roy Massif  (photo by Todor Bozhinov)

After a couple of months of tromping the wilds of Patagonia we plan to head to Columbia and maybe Panama for some tropical wonderfulness.

We’ve decided to let these 3 months unfold as they will albeit with this loose plan in place.  We used to travel this way and then somewhere along the way I decided I needed more certainty.  I’ve enjoyed the past couple of trips where we booked accommodations in advance but this leaves little room for spontaneity, something we all missed.  With 3 months instead of two weeks we can afford a little less certainty.  Randy is thanking the travels gods that I have come to my senses.  Now if we find ourselves wandering around some Argentinian town on Christmas Eve looking desperately for a place to stay and are told repeatedly that there is no room at the inn, I may regret my decision but for now, I’m all in.

We plan to return to Seattle in March.  Here’s where the creativity and flexibility come in. I’m not entirely confident we are making the right plan here but for the moment it feels like the best option.  The kids will go back to school, I’ll go back to work.  Randy will go to New Zealand to cycle the North and South islands and then to Morocco to see his bestie. I’m shaking my head as I type.  Why on earth am I choosing this?

I want Randy to be able to take full advantage of his time. At any point in the next 7 years if I want to leave my work and go for a month somewhere in the world, I can (in theory if not in practice) do that.  Randy has much less flexibility for a big chunk of time like that outside of the amazing once every 7 year sabbatical opportunity.

The boys really could use some academic touchpoints. I’m not sure I’m up for the task of homeschooling them completely independently for an entire year.  And there’s baseball.  I truly can hardly believe baseball is a consideration.  But our family values athletics. Participation in high school athletics in Seattle is competitive for many sports simply due to the sheer number of interested students and the limitations of coaching and field time.  For Bodhi, missing his freshman year of baseball could be the difference between the opportunity to play or not play in the subsequent years. I’m just not willing to take that chance away from him.  So the boys and I will spend the spring in Seattle, living in our cottage since our house will be rented.  Good times. Please send wine.  I’m beginning to stockpile.

We’ll hit the Washington PCT in July and August.  Then at some point we plan to head to Asia to visit Japan (Josh’s choice) Thailand and Nepal.

This is all still unfolding.  I’m beginning to search for flights to Patagonia.  I’m almost ready to actually purchase some guidebooks after months (years really) of checking books out of the library.

 

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Early Research 

I think this plan has struck a balance… we’ll get to travel as a family.  Randy will get his year off.  The kids won’t have to be away for 12 months and I’ll get to intersperse some work with the play.  I do wonder if I’m missing the big picture… One year goes so fast – the blink of an eye really as any parent will tell you.  I can scarcely believe it’s been 7 years since we last did this.  Maybe we should just pack it all up and hit the road.  But this feels like a better approach that honors all the important things in our lives. Stay tuned to see how it all comes together!

 

Addendum:

For anyone planning some long term travel, these are some websites we have been using to research and gather data.  Let me know any gems I’m missing!

Discover how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry & car

Round the world / multipoint flights

Travel budgeting

Calculating travel costs

Secret Flying – flight deals

Sky Scanner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: stacylynn12 | January 8, 2018

No Bad Days?

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I’m stunned. Has it really been 4 1/2 years since I wrote a blog post?!  Where has the time gone?

In the intervening years since I last wrote, our children have somehow grown up as I suppose children are wont to do. I have started and completed school and begun to grow a business. We bought a house and built a backyard cottage.

We’ve been on lots of mountain adventures including a 14 day circumambulation of Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail to celebrate Randy’s 50th birthday.  During those long, glorious days of hiking I crafted many a blog post in my head but somehow they never made it to print.

We’ve skied, run races, played sports, gone to school and work, visited family, celebrated marriages and mourned the loss of friends and family members.  We’ve contemplated the daily grind, had barbecues with neighbors, rode bikes, swam in the lake…  In short, we’ve done all the things that make up the meat and potatoes of life.

Except, we haven’t really traveled.  Trips to Maine, while magical are not “traveling”.  Nor do I count trips just north of the border to British Columbia.  And before you say it, yes I know.  Spoiled, privileged, lucky… nuts?  Travel Blogger Blues revisited.

This Christmas I aimed to change that.  I was tired of getting caught up in the commercial craziness.  The expectations, the decorating, the stress, the money spent on toys and gifts that will be collecting dust before the tree is composted. The baking and eating of cookies that will be lamented and sworn off as soon as January hits.  I know some people love this stuff.  I used to but anymore… no gracias.  I fear I have begun to turn a Grinchy shade of green around Dec 1st. That and frankly, the weather sucks in Seattle in December.  Skiing is often not quite up and running, the days are short and dark and it rains.

We discussed going to Cuba and got excited about that idea.  But then “he who shall not stain my blogpost” stole that from us.  Next up was Panama but the cost of getting there proved to be more than we could justify for a 2 week trip.  Enter:  Baja.

Affordable, warm, dry, tropical.

Check.

Ocean, mountains, pools and beaches.

Check.

Bonus:  opportunities to practice Spanish, reasonably close.

I kinda sorta checked in with the family to get their input but I’m pretty sure they’d tell you it was the kind of question where there was only one answer.

On Dec 17th we hopped a plane to Los Cabos.  This is the story of our two weeks traveling a loop around southern Baja, Mexico.  It is a tale of teal blue ocean waters, margaritas, whale sharks, baby turtles, ATVs, and lest you sign off before the tale even begins, thinking I’ve written a boastful, self-indulgent tropical dream story… let me tell you – there were antibiotics and IV fluids too.

Let me also tell you up front – we had a great trip and I would, without a doubt go back to Baja.  But in the age of Facebook where everyone posts the good stuff and omits the not so good stuff, perhaps leaving the readers feeling inadequate, I want to give you a real glimpse of our experiences and maybe even a life lesson to ponder.  It’s a bit long but I figure every 4 1/2 years I can ramble on a bit. I promise if I start blogging with regularity again I’ll shorten things up.

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We arrived late in the afternoon on a Sunday to San Jose del Cabo’s international airport. Anticipation had been building for this trip for months  (perhaps for some of us more than others). We had about a 1 hour drive to our first stop in Los Barriles on the Sea of Cortez, where a fabulous ocean side pool awaited us.  I could already taste the margarita at the swim up bar.  Then we turned the corner in the airport to the immigration area and our little internal happy dances fell flat on their faces.  The line was long.  Like unbelievably long. It snaked its way back and forth around retractible, crowd control stanchions.  Row, upon row, upon row of pasty gringos all trying to get themselves poolside by happy hour.  After an interminably long wait, passports were stamped and we found our way to the rental car agency and hit the road.

This trip was different for us.  We’re not usually a rental car kind of family.  For some reason we find it much more entertaining to suffer long, arduous bus rides where our children are exposed to violent Arnold Schwarzenegger films, livestock may take up the seat next to us and pee breaks are few and far between.

We have never taken a trip where our lodging was booked in advance for the entire trip. We’re a budget backpacker kind of bunch and not so much a condo crew.  As such, I (being the planner in the family) usually end up in one location, frantically searching guidebooks and the internet for where we will go next and where we will stay once we get there.  I struggle to feel present in the moment in the place we are in.  That said, we really like the freedom to go where the wind takes us,  to capitalize on spontaneous opportunities and serendipitous encounters.  I thought perhaps having lodging planned would give us freedom in all other aspects of the trip yet allow me to relax and go with the flow.  Randy, the ultimate “go with the flow-er” dude, begrudgingly agreed.

The road to Los Barriles was extremely narrow and winding.  The all too frequent roadside shrines bearing crosses, flowers and inscriptions did little to inspire confidence. Though happy hour was long out of the question, we were happy to be arriving just as daylight was turning to darkness. We looked longingly from the patio of our condo at the beautiful pool, only steps away, that had drawn us to this place and decided to wait until morning.  (Turns out one of the upsides to condo living is the magazine worthy pools. You just don’t find this in the dirtbag digs and I wanted beautiful pools on this trip.  I wanted a taste of how the other half travels.)

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This was taken from our patio… infinity pool, swim up bar, ocean… divine.

 

Morning dawned, Josh and I awoke early and set out on foot for coffee at Cafe Encinalito, purported to be the best in town.  It was a bit further than we anticipated.  A couple of hours later we wandered back, sweaty, arms loaded with lukewarm coffee, smoothies, fresh squeezed OJ and to die for homemade bagels and scones.

The moment had arrived.  Pool time!  Kids donned suits and dipped toes, testing the waters.

“Mom, it’s cold.”

Certainly not.

OMG.  The pool is cold.  This is NOT what I imagined all those months ago, taking deep breaths and telling myself before long we’d be lounging poolside in Baja.

To make matters worse, after approximately 30 minutes of braving the cold water Bodhi walks over to me – where I am making the most of the situation and lying in a lounge chair attempting to read a book – and says in his most obnoxiously tweeny, bored voice “uhm, so what are we going to do?”

You have got to be kidding me!  We are in Baja, at a pool (albeit a cold one but since when does a kid care?), next to a beach and I get 20 min before boredom sets in?  Bat shit crazy mom head exploding.

Turns out lounging poolside is not a 12 year old’s idea of a good time.  And despite the fact that this is what I long for when it’s 40° and raining in Seattle, I’m not so sure it’s my cup of tea either.  As it turns out, I’m good for about 30 min and then my antsy pants start tormenting me. Which is to say I had about 10 more minutes before I was ready to be interrupted by kid boredom.

Thank the goddess that Randy is still a big kid at heart.  He and the boys set about building a sandcastle fortress while I tried to reconcile myself with the fact that the water was too damn cold to sit at the swim up bar all day.

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The next few days were highlights for all of us.   Josh successfully snorkeled for his first time and we saw a nice variety of fish right off the beach at Cabo Pulmo – a marine national park and sanctuary to the only living coral reef on the western side of the continent.  I could stop there and lead you to believe that it was a paradise of underwater magic and of course in many ways it was.  What’s not to love about the privilege of entering an entirely foreign world of colorful creatures?  In the interest of keeping it real however, I’ll tell you that December is not the best time of the year to visit Cabo Pulmo. It’s colder and more windy which churns the waters and makes snorkeling suboptimal.  On top of that there was also a random algae bloom predicted to last a few days and tour operators in the area were advising against shelling out money to visit the prime spots.  Ah well…

On to ATV riding.  This was day 3 and we could have packed up and gone home on day 4, the boys having experienced nirvana in the form of the illegal operation of a 4 wheeler up a dry, sandy river bed, known in these parts as an arroyo. We made our way, surprised by the verdant landscape.  Baja California Sur is a desert ecosystem and yet the landscape was dotted with so many varieties of palm trees and cacti in green glory that one would think we were in the middle of the wet season where torrential rains turn the dry arroyos into rushing rivers and quench the thirsty landscape.

 

The further we went up the arroyo the more narrow, rocky and wet it got until finally we reached a point of vehicular impermeability.  We set off on foot to explore the canyon. After a while we reluctantly made the decision to turn around due to dwindling water in our bottles and a complete lack of snacks.  The pull of what is around the next bend is strong and I loved seeing the adventurous nature of the kids.

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One of my favorite lines from the trip came the next morning when Bodhi awoke and announced “It’s 10 am, the bar must be open!” Oh my… trouble ahead.  In fact, it opened at 11 am and while Randy returned our ATV, the 3 of us shivered our way through two virgin piña coladas and a cerveza just to have the experience of the swim up bar.  Yes, I drank a beer at 11am.  The swim up bar didn’t serve lattes. We did see huge rays (manta?)  rocketing themselves skyward right off shore and that took the sting out of the cloudy, chilly day.

Post aquatic libations, we moved on to our next planned lodging and our first ever glamping (i.e., glamorous camping) experience in La Ventana, a North American kiteboarding mecca during this windy season.  The large canvas tents were equipped with comfortable queen beds, comforters, pillows, a bedside table with a lamp and nothing else.  Adjacent to our tent was a perfectly acceptable open air bathroom with a view of the stars.  Emerge from the tent and boom!, you are at the beach! However, Mother Nature was delivering epic conditions for the kiters and that sent those of us who do not partake seeking fun in the hills.

Windy Glamping

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Bodhi testing his slack line skills

 

A day trip to the sweet mountain town of El Triunfo revealed a once booming mining town turned ghostly, now slowly coming back to life.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a cafe with a lush garden setting and Bodhi, doing what Bodhi does so well, made friends with some local kids while we wandered the town.  It’s amazing what a smile and a football can do when there is little common language.

 

 

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The highs and lows of the trip continued and we found ourselves wrestling with some health issues.  Randy had a cold before flying that had given him significant trouble during the flights in the form of ear pressure and he hadn’t been able to hear a thing out of one ear for days.  We decided to seek out a health clinic as it seemed to be moving to his lungs and he was feeling pretty crummy (though being quite a trooper I must say.)

My Spanish is bueno enough but dealing with medical issues is a different ballgame.  We found a pharmacy (which will dispense the likes of xanax, viagra and an array of antibiotics at will), with a doctor’s office al fondo (in the back).  But of course, the doctora was not in.  “Come back at 3 o’clock.”  At 3 o’clock we were told to come back at 3:30.  Finally we saw the doc and I fumbled my way through Randy’s litany of symptoms.  He left with a diagnosis of bronchitis, an antibiotic, a renewed hope of feeling better and an uneasiness around taking the prescription.  Having had allergic reactions in the past, taking medicine is not his favorite thing.

Our evening plans included the unique experience of thermal hot springs right on the beach.  The caveat being you have to dig them yourself.  Armed with buckets, shovels and a tarp from our glamping digs, we hurried to get things going before the sun set. The idea was to prepare your “tub” and then sit in warmth and awe as the moon rose, the stars shined and the surf spilled gently into your tub, mixing with the thermal waters and creating bliss.

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But, in keeping with the theme of things being not quite as perfect as you might imagine, the thermal water was scalding hot and the tarp had a hole.  We feverishly poured buckets of cooling ocean water into the tarp which sneakily drained out returning the temperature to “burn your buns hot”.  At least we tired the boys out.  C’est la vie! Oops, wrong country.

Christmas Eve found us in our new upscale digs in La Paz.  Each boy had his own bedroom with a super fluffy, down comforter on a queen sized bed.  Talk about a diversion from our norm.  They are accustomed to sleeping on a Therm-a-Rest on the floor. Historically, if they get a pull out couch and real pillows they are pretty stoked. Within an hour of checking in, Josh had managed to lock himself out of his private quarters and our gracious Airbnb host had to attempt to track down someone locally with a key… did I mention it was Christmas Eve?  Instead of watching the Santa Tracker (I’ve admittedly stayed up watching it after the kids have gone to bed) and leaving out cookies and milk for the jolly ol’ fellow, we drank margaritas and played Uno.

 

Balandra Beach on Christmas Day… one of my favorites!  The boys played football, we rented a paddle board and a kayak and explored the shallow bay, paddling out                  to some fine snorkeling spots and enjoying the multi generational Mexican families sharing the beach with us.

 

La Paz delivered a few trip highlights including the ONLY warm swimming pool of our trip, a multitude of Shirley Temples, a day trip to Isla Espiritu Santo to snorkel with sea lions and linger in a gorgeous bay and… the grand finale – snorkeling with whale sharks!

 

 

The whale shark is a behemoth creature – the largest fish in the ocean.  (Mind you, whales are not fish so the grey whale takes top honors for largest creature.)  The relatively warm waters in the Bay of La Paz are home to a pod of about 100 whale sharks – filter feeding, plankton eaters that pose little to no threat to humans.  Though we did tell Josh they sometimes liked 9-year-old boys as dessert to encourage good behavior since we couldn’t use the “Santa’s leaving coal in the stocking” threat this year.  He laughed heartily at this, which I’m pretty sure means he wasn’t buying it.

We were encouraged to see that visiting the area where the whale sharks are known to be was a highly regulated affair.  Only licensed commercial operators are allowed and boats have to basically “take a number”.  As we made our way around the bay in search of these gentle giants the excitement built.  Finally, our guide spotted the darker shaded water that indicated the presence of a shark just below the surface.  With snorkels, masks, flippers and wet suits we jumped in.  The water was not as clear as it had been in the protected waters around Isla Espiritu Santo but we followed our guide and within a minute I turned my head to find myself quite literally face to face with a 30-ish foot beauty!  The first two we saw were eating and running, which is to say they were swimming along, filter feeding near the surface and weren’t too concerned about welcoming their newly arrived guests or inviting us to tea.  The third one we encountered however was feeding vertically and just hanging out in one place.  I don’t know how long we floated there in awe of this creature but it was most certainly a life highlight.

 

 

It’s not much of a video but you at least get an idea of how close we were to the whale shark.  Next time… underwater cameras!

 

On the 4th and final stop of our Baja adventure we visited Todos Santos, up and over the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range and on the Pacific coast of Baja.  Todos Santos is a quirky mix of artists, fishermen, locals, tourists and surfers. It has a decidedly walkable vibe and is home to the fabled “Hotel California” and though it appears that the association with the Eagles song by the same name is urban legend, the hotel and it’s associated gift shop are having no trouble profiting off the misunderstanding.

Wandering the town, Josh got his shopping fill.  This child, who still tries to get me to order for him when we go out to eat at home, was bargaining for his wares, in Spanish no less!

We got overloaded on cuteness with the Tortuguero Proyecto (Turtle Project). This group collects vulnerable leatherback eggs from beach nests and keeps them safe in a fenced off area until they hatch.  Once the hatchlings emerge, tourists can join in the fun and release them.  It’s a win-win for conservation and tourism and it’s about the most adorable thing you’ll ever do.

That said, it’s a bit heart wrenching to see these tiny creatures scuttle their way toward the sea only to get set back 20 feet by an incoming wave.  The worst is when the wave lands them on their shell and they can’t flip themselves back over.  Imagine watching helplessly (you aren’t allowed to touch them) as they struggle in vain until another wave comes and rights them if they are lucky.

Once your turtle is victorious, disappearing into the swell and you begin to celebrate their success, you notice a frenzy of activity just beyond the break.  You ask the group leader in your broken Spanish if fish are eating the turtles and he says “fish, whales, birds, crabs, grown up turtles”… basically you name it.  It’s not easy being a baby turtle.

As I watched and contemplated the meaning of it all, we saw migrating grey whales breaching off shore.  The wildlife encounters were enough to blow one’s mind.

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Our days in Baja were dwindling but we had one more adventure planned.  We were staying near Cerritos Beach a well-known surfing enclave, perfect for beginners due to the small(ish) size of the waves and we were all excited about a lesson.

‘Twas not to be.

The morning of our surfing day we were at a cafe in town for breakfast.  I’d just ordered and received my first latte since Los Barriles and was about to take a sip when a wave of cold chill and ickiness rippled through my body.  I sat there for a while hoping it would pass but when I couldn’t get myself to drink my coffee I knew something was wrong.  I calmly told Randy I wasn’t feeling well.  I was shaky and tingly and my face felt weird. No bueno.  We were barely coming out of the woods with his illness and I was none to excited to be having my intro to surfing interrupted.

Discovering a clinic just around the corner, we opted to stop in for a visit.  Luckily,  I wasn’t having a stroke as I’d feared with my weird tingling face.  I was dehydrated.  Me, the water nazi.  Ask my children how often I warn them of the perils of dehydration.  At the risk of TMI…  4 days of travelers diarrhea, a day on a boat in the sun, too little water and a cerveza had apparently done me in. The regular evening margarita probably didn’t help either. They offered me blood work and urine tests to check for infection, a test for parasites (aka the “poo poo test”) and suggested IV fluids for quick rehydration.  I opted for oral electrolytes and reluctantly agreed at Randy’s insistence to stay for an hour of observation.

An hour later we were on our way thinking we’d put this behind us.  Little did we know that night we’d be back at the clinic, but this time not for me.  Randy, who had been steadily improving and had just finished his last dose of antibiotics, suddenly developed an intense sore throat.  So many questions… too short a course of medication?  Allergic reaction?  What happens in remote Baja when emergency medicine is needed?  After talking with our angel emergency physician neighbor, Krissey (muchas gracias amiga!) We decided to leave the kids at the condo and drive back into town to the clinic.  It was determined that the course of antibiotics had been too short and there was no allergic reaction.  The doc offered him a shot of dexamethasone, he declined and armed with naproxen to reduce his throat swelling, we were on our way.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the medical part of the story ended here and we could resume with the fun?  But no.  I awoke the next morning feeling fine but immediately began to decline.  When we told the kids we were heading back to the clinic Bodhi respectfully but perhaps with a twinge of irritation asked “What is it this time?”  I feel you buddy… this is NOT the bees knees.

This time, I got the full monty.  Blood draw, poo poo test and IV fluids.  For 4 dreadful hours I was hooked up to that bloody drip.  Well, not actually bloody.  Britishly bloody. But given the setting I could see the confusion.  Tests came back indicating that it was likely nothing more than dehydration.  Bullet, dodged.

Randy and the boys were absolute champs.  Not one ounce of complaining about the situation. Of course the kid’s situation was greatly improved by giving them our phones to play video games and thus breaking our technology ban for the trip.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The events of the last couple of days had taken its toll and I couldn’t eat my dinner that night.  We’d saved our last night at Cerritos Beach to go to Free Souls – a place overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a salt water infinity pool and a focus on farm to table cuisine.  I could no longer tell if I was still sick or if the scariness of being sick in a foreign country was getting the best of me.  I wanted out.

How is it that Randy and I traveled in Asia for 6 months and never once visited a clinic? We spent 3 days holed up in a tiny village in the Himalayas with no way out but on foot, sick as dogs.  No problem.  I passed out on the floor of a Tibetan squat toilet from lord knows what.  Big deal.  (These are good stories by the way but they were pre blogging days so you’ll have to come visit us to hear them. 😉  Yet here we were in little ‘ol Baja for two stinking weeks, falling apart.

So what of this popular Baja saying “No Bad Days”?  I’m not sure I agree and yet I suppose it’s all how you look at it.  “No Bad Days” is like a Facebook post where all the world is a rosy shade of goodness.  But even in Baja there are cloudy afternoons, people get sick and things don’t go as planned.  Pool water is cold and kids get bored. The question is, can you still find meaning in the muck?  Can you still see light through the darkness?

I’ve been pondering our Baja experiences for a week now.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

Despite our best attempt, I’m not sure the Earlywine family is a pre-planned vacation kind of family.  I did an internet search of travel vs. vacation and I read a piece that said “If there were umbrella drinks involved, it was probably a vacation.”  I think we had a couple, but I’m not so sure there’s not more to it.  For me it was our final moments in Baja that highlighted the difference.

We arrived at the rental car agency to drop off our vehicle.  As we emptied the contents of the trunk onto the sidewalk – backpacks, plastic bags containing souvenirs, sweatshirts that didn’t fit inside a pack, a bag of empty water bottles, a couple of pairs of shoes, books, headphones and sunscreen – and began to attempt to organize it in a way that would allow us to get through airport security, I looked around and noticed the other half.  Every other person dropping off a car walked to the trunk, opened it and took out a neat, compact suitcase on wheels with a pop up handle.  Some had a small handbag slung over one shoulder.  Nothing exploded from their trunks, nothing required further attention before they could proceed to the shuttle van that would whisk them away to the airport.  I’m certain they were relaxed from lounging around the pool drinking umbrella drinks all week.  I bet their pools were even heated.

Now that I’m sitting back in Seattle, drinking a latte on a Sunday morning and looking out at the rain, I think maybe I wanted a vacation but I went about it all wrong.  I tried to bridge traveling and vacationing.  I’ve learned that’s like trying to mix water and oil. You’ve kinda gotta go one way or the other. Perhaps a couple of days booked into one of those all-inclusive resorts would have been a good choice, and then we could have commenced with traveling.  I don’t know.

What I thought it would be like was nothing near to what it was actually like… this rental car driving, condo living.  Sure rental cars and condos make things a little easier, perhaps a little more comfortable.  But something is lost in the trade.  Connection to other travelers and to local people is diminished and there’s more of a feeling of us and them – the haves and the have-nots – instead of a shared humanity.

The other thought that has come to me as I have been trying to compose this little tale is that if you are not content where you are, you are probably not going to be content where you are going.  There is no perfect “there”.  Don’t get me wrong, a little sunshine, warmth and blue skies does a lot to lift the mind’s fog from Seattle’s dark, grey winter doldrums but expecting the “there” to be perfect and without flaw is setting one’s self up for disappointment at best and possibly even discontentment.  I suppose the moral of the story can be distilled into the idea that one should not put all of one’s happiness eggs into some future, utopian basket. Baja is magical but let me tell you it’s no more magical than right here, right now.

In July of 2019 Randy is up for another 1 year leave from his job with the City of Seattle. We are in the throes of deciding what to do with that year.  Our Baja trip has given me a lot to chew on.

Before heading to drop off our rental car we did have a few moments of bliss on a Cabo beach.  The calm, clear, teal water is still with me.  I will return.  Maybe someday I’ll even try one of those suitcases on wheels.

 

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Baja California Sur, Mexico 2017

 

Posted by: stacylynn12 | July 12, 2013

Call to the Wild

“The mountains are calling me and I must go.” John Muir

PCT Trail Marker

Thanks for playing my game friends. About half of you were spot on with your guess. The other half of you were oh so close… A mere 3,000 miles off. While the Appalachian Trail is near and dear to me and I aim to thru-hike it some day, the object of our 2019 (ish) adventure is its west coast cousin.

The Pacific Crest Trail or PCT as it is commonly referred to is roughly 2,650 miles long and winds across and through sweltering, dry desert and high altitude mountain passes often covered in snow year round. It spans three states – California, Oregon and Washington – on its journey from the Mexican border to the Canadian border or vice-versa… depending on your world view.

The PCT was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968 and officially completed in 1993. Walk the trail in its entirety and you will visit 7 national parks, 25 national forests and 33 federally mandated wilderness areas. You will traverse the mighty Sierra Nevada and the bold Cascades. You will gain over an estimated and seriously whopping 300,000 feet in cumulative elevation. That’s a freakin lot of up.

By any account 2,650 miles is a long way. It’s a long way to drive let alone walk. Why on earth would anyone want to walk that far? The reasons for undertaking such a challenge are as numerous as the people who attempt it. I can only tell you why it appeals to me.

Let me distill my reasons for wanting to engage in such foolishness down to one word.

Adventure.

I do love an adventure.

An adventure is an exciting or unusual experience; it may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome.” – Dictionary.com

Oooooooooohhhhhh! Doesn’t that sound good? I believe it was Helen Keller who said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

You go girl.

Of course the above stated definition could be interpreted in many different ways. An exciting or unusual experience could result from a wrong turn on a Sunday drive. (If anyone actually does Sunday drives anymore?). A cook attempting a new recipe for a crowd of hungry people is perhaps a risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome. What is bold and risky to some is paralyzing and unthinkable to others. Simply put, we must all define our own adventures.

For me, an adventure is born when the potential benefits and rewards outweigh the risks. Risks may include anything from the relatively harmless possibility of discomfort to the potential for serious physical harm. These risks may be real or perceived but must present in order for the adventurer to reap the maximum feeling of reward. It is a delicate balance though. Encounter too many serious risks and the rewards and benefits begin to diminish.

On the Pacific Crest Trail, one is all but guaranteed an adventure. The potential risks are plentiful. Everything from the ubiquitous and mundane blisters and mosquito bites to the threat of hypothermia, sunburn and dehydration. Drowning during dangerous river crossings, lightning storms and falling on steep snow slopes are all real hazards not to mention the threat of a nasty case of Giardia from drinking unpurified water and the challenges associated with trying to maintain proper nutrition. There are bears, cougars and poisonous snakes to contend with. There will be fatigue and quite likely, physical overuse issues on joints, muscles and bones. There could be cuts, bruises, strains, sprains, rashes, bites or breaks. There will be bad weather.  Wet, soggy, miserably cold, unbearably hot… for days on end. There will be dried, dehydrated food meal after meal after meal. Yuk. We haven’t even begun to address the psychological toll an adventure like this can exact. Morale and motivation can ebb and flow like a tide gone mad.

Now multiply all of this times 4 since this will be a family adventure. If one of us goes down, we all go down. Though possible, It’s unlikely that any of the more horrifying hazards on my list will get us. In all my research I could find no evidence of attacks by wild animals on PCT hikers, ever. I found one fatality attributed to a slip and fall on a steep slope and many reports of hikers getting into trouble with dehydration, illness or navigation (aka… being lost), but getting rescued by local authorities.

It’s more likely that we’ll be waylaid by blisters, fatigue or illness all at different times so that instead of needing to rest for a few days and recover, we’ll need to rest for a few x4 and then we’ll get way behind schedule and never make it through to Washington before the snow flies and renders the trail impassable.

Or, the swarms of mosquitos will drive us all absolutely batty and run us literally out of the woods.

Or one of us will just get sick and tired of walking and want to quit.

Or maybe the physical demands will just to be too much for our bodies… some of us being on the slightly young side and others of us being well, not quite as young.

It’s possible that we won’t actually embark on this journey at all. Maybe we will decide that the Washington section at 500 miles is a worthy goal for our 11 and 13-year-old hikers. Or maybe we will tack on Oregon. The two states combined add up to just under 1,000… a nice number. If we are really feeling burly, maybe we will toss in another 210 and do the John Muir Trail through the High Sierras. I hear it’s spectacular. But I’m kind of a “Go Big or Go Home” gal so chances are, if I have anything to say about it, I’ll try to convince the boys to buy in to the long haul.

I just read accounts of two different families – a mother and her 9-year-old daughter and two parents with their 10-year-old daughter who thru-hiked the trail in 2012 and 2004 respectively. As I mentioned before, it’s not exactly a trip you can drag an unwilling participant on so the boys will have to want to do it. They are both hearty outdoorsmen now so there is reason to be optimistic.

But why? Why would we face such risks? Even if all goes swimmingly, there will be mosquitos, blisters, aches, pains and bad weather. There will be no pillows. Randy and I have both become quite particular about our pillows. Huh? When did that happen? They have to be a certain thickness (or thinness really) (Randy) and they have to be positioned just right. (Me) And I need two. Can I really do with a down jacket for a pillow for 6 months? And oh!!! My espresso machine! I survived without it for a year. Can I really be expected to do another?

I would. I would brave it all for the rewards the PCT has to offer.

Like traveling, long distance hiking presents an opportunity to break away from the routine of everyday life. I was tempted to write “escape”  but I guess I’m lucky in that I have a good life I really don’t feel a need to escape from. Yet, if given a choice (or an unlimited amount of money) I’d be out adventuring in equal proportions to the time spent at home.

I’ve never walked on a trail for months but I’ve spent enough time in the mountains in short bursts and a couple of long-ish stretches (10 days on the AT and 22 days in Nepal) to know that when I get out there, away from what normally consumes my time, that something magical happens.

Time slows. Life simplifies. Taking care of basic needs and putting one foot in front of the other is all there is. You have what you can carry on your back. Non essential items that a typical backpacker might include for comfort on a weekend adventure are discarded. Comfort comes at a cost on the PCT and hikers are rarely willing to add the extra weight in exchange for the added convenience.

I guess it makes me a little odd but not having all that stuff that normally takes up time and space in everyday life, well, I like that. Imagine if you could, for example, wake up and not have to decide what to wear. You wouldn’t have to decide because well, you only have one outfit. And, imagine now that no one would care that you wore that outfit day after day after day!

Dreamy.

Now if I haven’t convinced you with that last “perk” of the trail, hang with me. Imagine coming to the end of a 2,650 mile walk.  Imagine what a freakin rock star you would feel like! You would be able to stop, look at yourself in the mirror and say “Dude!  you just walked from Mexico to Canada!”  You’d feel invincible!  From that point forward in your life you’d face challenges and think… “How hard can this really be?”  Can’t be harder than walking 2,650 miles.

You’d feel resourceful and tenacious.  You’d be as strong and fit as you could ever hope to be in your life.  In general, and forgive my outburst here, you could rightfully and righteously consider yourself forevermore a bad ass.

Now think of the lessons the trail could teach your children.  Imagine having that kind of self-reliance, perspective and confidence in your ability to overcome challenges and achieve a goal… all before the age of 18!

Wow.

Mountains are a thing of beauty and I have a deep reverence for them. They are at once gentle; inviting contemplation and quiet…and violent; capable of unleashing a fury not meant for humans to endure. The reasons stated above are, in and of themselves, reason enough for me to embark on such a journey.  There is however something more.  I’ve been pondering it for days now.  It’s a rather intangible feeling associated with the power of wildness.  I can’t seem to put it into words but luckily for me there are many brilliant writers and champions of wilderness that have come before me who say it much better than I could ever hope to.  Here are a few of my favorites.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” – John Muir

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”  – Rachel Carson

“But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had eyes to see.” – Edward Abbey

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey

“In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world.” – John Muir

800px-Hortense_Lake

Hortense Lake, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California

Now, if you are still unconvinced that the rewards of hiking the PCT outweigh the risks, I invite you to join us somewhere along the trail and experience a little bit of the magic for yourself.  You’ve got a few years to consider it.  🙂

Note:

It has long been a dream of Randy’s to hike the PCT.  Wherever I have used “me” in this post, I think I could fairly have used “we”.  The inspiration for these plans come from him and I am grateful to have such an adventurous mate.

Photos reposted here with permission from Wikimedia Commons

Posted by: stacylynn12 | June 20, 2013

Travel Blogger Blues

A year.  365 days.  8,760 hours.  That’s how long it’s been since we arrived home after traveling for a year.  That would make it 2 years, 730 days or 17,520 hours since we left Seattle, bound for Alaska and with no real idea what would transpire in the year that would follow.

And oh what a year it was!

And now?  Well, we’ve spent the last year doing all kinds of exciting things.  Soccer, baseball, Aikido, bicycling, school, swimming, work, gardening, cooking, camping, hiking, skiing and … we even bought a house!  Very exciting I know…yet I fear if I start writing about all the goals our kids scored (or didn’t score) in soccer, how they ripped it up on the snow slopes all winter, how we are debating paint colors for the bathroom…. well, I can just see the yawns and hear the snoring sounds.

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is totally possible to write about everyday life and make it interesting.  I read lots of parenting, gardening and cooking blogs and I love them.  But as Randy pointed out, this blog is not about that;  It’s a travel blog.  But since I don’t  really like to wander further than about a 2 mile radius from our house unless I’m on my way to the mountains or the airport, well…  you can see the problem.

What’s a travel blogger to blog about when not traveling?  It’s a sad thing really… a travel blogger without a trip.

Pause.  Sigh.

I could tell you about all the trips I take in my head.  You won’t believe the places I went last year.  Or, we could play a game.

We’ve got plans.  They are 6 years in the future  –  that’s 2,190 days or 52,560 hours but we’re not really counting.  Yet.  Bodhi will be 13, Joshua will be 11 and I can’t imagine anyone really cares how old Randy and I will be.  Or maybe I just don’t want to tell you.

So, the game… It’s a guessing game of sorts where I give you hints and you guess where we are going.  Here it is folks…

  • The trip will be approximately 2,650 miles.
  • It will take us 5 – 6 months to complete.
  • It may be difficult to finish but if we do, we will be super burly and very svelte.
  • It will be amazing… and hard.
  • Our children will either be thrilled with this idea or we will have to abort it.  It’s not the sort of trip you can drag unwilling participants on.  It’s too early to call which way this one will go but I’m optimistic.
  • There will be highs and lows.  Pay attention people.  I do not mean this in a metaphorical sense.
  • And possibly the best part about this plan is that it will leave us with another 6 months to go play on a beach somewhere…. cause you know how I feel about my beach time.

Now you get to guess what and where our trip will be.  Sadly, the winner gets nothing but the satisfaction of feeling smart.  Sorry folks, no sponsors offering up freebies on this blog.  Yet.

**Please note… plans are subject to change without prior notice.  Readers may not hold us accountable for anything that is stated, pondered or proposed herein these pages. Thanks for playing folks.

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