We traveled through Myanmar for two weeks and there is so much to say about our trip, but first - can you believe that Spencer actually took this picture? It's incredible. Last year we were talking about our goals for 2017 and he said that he really wanted to become a better photographer. I think that he totally succeeded.
a long flight across the water
I don't especially love to fly. Actually, that's an understatement. Two days before a big trip I start to get nervous about what might happen while we are in the air. Will there be bumps? Where would we land if we are over water? Has the pilot ever made an emergency landing before, and if not, how will he really know what to do? My dad was a pilot in the Marines for 20 years and has explained exactly how an airplane works and that no, they cannot fall out of the sky, even in really heavy turbulence. That sort of helped, but I still like to sit by the window to make sure that everything is going according to plan. It makes me feel better to know that I would be one of the first people to notice if a wing fell off.
We flew Denver --> Tokyo --> Bangkok --> Yangon. The only reason that I am mentioning all of the stops that we made is because the Narita Airport in Tokyo was almost too wonderful to leave. Yes, that is correct. Not only can you buy every flavor of Pocky Sticks that have ever been introduced on this earth, but all of the bathrooms have heated toilet seats! And three different water temperatures for the bidet! Who cares about a public airport bathroom, right? Wrong. After sitting for 12 hours on a plane you deserve a noise canceling option to ensure privacy and a warm stream of water in the bathroom when you land. Ok, enough, enough. I love the airport in Tokyo, that's all I'm saying. On to Thailand...
Temples, Markets, and Tofu in Thailand
Some genius (who I married) decided that we should spend one day in Bangkok on either end of our trip. This was a surprisingly brilliant move. It allowed us to take a break from a million hours of traveling and actually relax and adjust to the new time zone and check out some of the incredible spots around Thailand for a minute. Three things were especially wonderful in Thailand:
SHWE (GOLD) All Day
And then we went to Myanmar...is a great way to start explaining the strange, magical, overwhelming, tranquil at times, insanely hectic at times journey though this country. Honestly, I still don't know what to say about this experience as a whole. It feels like too much to actually describe. I was telling my brother how I had never been to a city like Yangon before. There were so many people, so many cars driving in every direction, bikes, carts, trucks, animals - you had to just jump in and be absorbed into the pace of it all. You certainly could not attempt to change the flow of the direction or go your own speed. David had this great analogy. He said "I felt like that in Cairo. It's like jumping into a revolving door that doesn't stop moving." That was it precisely. If you jumped in at the right moment, you'd be ok.
The Shwedagon (Golden) Pagoda sits on top of a hill in Yangon. This is considered the most sacred Buddhist place in Myanmar, and is thought to contain relics of the Buddha himself, most notably - eight strands of the Buddha's hair. When you enter through one of the four gates the volunteers guarding the entrance will make sure that you are dressed appropriately (shoulders covered, long pants or skirt below your calves) and remove your shoes before you enter. This is a sign of dignity and respect, it sets the tone for true appreciation of this magnetic place. When you walk around the Shwedagon, your direction will always be clockwise, keeping the pagoda on your right side.
Our good friend Carl (who Spencer served with in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia) is currently working and living in Yangon, which is one of the main reasons that we booked this trip. He put together an incredible itinerary that allowed us start our travel individually and then meet up after a few days. Carl is a total pro at navigating Yangon and seems totally un-phased by the chaos. He's found all of these amazing places, and took us to many of them. A personal favorite was the BBQ restaurant with "pig dog." I wish I had a picture of this dog! He is a street dog (I think) who just hangs out at this Burmese BBQ joint and every one feeds him. Hence, the name "pig dog." He is super duper chunky, and always looks like he has a big smile on his face.
Stay tuned for Part Two...Inle Lake, Bagan & Secret Beaches
A long time ago in a place far away, I decided to ride my bike down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. I was a newbie, green to the sport. I’d never heard of bike touring until some dude I had a crush on mentioned that he was into it. Wanting to prove that I could do anything a guy (who didn’t have a crush on me) could do, I started to do some research. I had a bike. I borrowed a trailer. I bought some maps, learned how to change a tire, and found a really cute jersey. I booked a flight to Seattle. Then I rode my bike. That was it. Yes, it took planning and navigating, and a bit of organization. But I was on my own, every turn was either right or wrong, and there was no one around me to be excited or disappointed by these moves. Solo. Self supported. There was no one ahead or behind me gauging my pace, my packing skills, or if I had a milkshake at lunch every day (I did). Someone along the road asked me "do you feel human again?" and I answered, "yes."
Sometimes it takes riding a bike to feel human again.
Ten years later I finished my second tour, in the San Juan Islands of Washington, this one quite different than the first in some ways. This was a group tour, instead of camping we poshed it up in B&Bs with real beds every night. I rode with panniers instead of a trailer, and this time instead of a laminated map, I had Google maps. But the essential qualities of bike touring remained. There was always a hill to go up or down. Strange mantras and single lyrics to songs I didn't quite know popped into my head. "Despactio, this is how we do it down in Puerto Rico" on repeat. I still amassed a mini library along the way. Books are obviously counterproductive to the goal of light and fast packing, yet there they are, accumulating in my bag. And I love them, so I carry them.
Here's a little story about my first friend in Missoula. It's relevant, promise. When Spencer and I first moved to town I was unpacking, missing all of my friends in Colorado, and feeling lonely and glum. I texted my friend Dan and said "I have NO friends here!" He texted right back and said "didn't you just move there four days ago?" He told me to treat the experience of living in a new town like the experience of showing up at college. In other words, be friendly. Be social, take risks. Ugh, I thought. That sounds like a lot of work.
In the process of putting our house together there were a few things that didn't really serve a purpose, so we listed them on Craigslist. This gal showed up to buy a kitchen cart we were selling and I thought huh, she seems cool - what did Dan say again? So, I sent her a follow up email asking if she wanted to hang out. Ha! I really did. And she said yes! And that's how I met one of my bestest friends.
As a job perk of working at Adventure Cycling Association (coincidentally, the organization that made the maps I used on that first bike tour), Cassie got to sign up for a group tour and take a friend. And she chose me! When she invited me on this San Juan Islands tour, I might have been almost as excited as when Spencer proposed.
The roads were amazing, it felt like traffic watched for and anticipated us. We rolled through deep, dark forests. We rode through small fishing villages, over bridges, out on an isthmus, around islands. We ate muffins and drank espresso to start, split pizza and wine to finish. In between there were so many views, so many miles of beauty.
The most challenging day of this ride was a long climb to the top of Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. After the first hill, I thought to myself what do I have to prove? I should turn around. But just as quickly another thought popped up. It said you literally have nothing else to do today except to climb this sucker. And that was true. There was no reason to give up. And there were a lot of reasons to commit. The two biggest reasons popped into my head, the mantra said you are alive and you have legs.
Being alive. That is a gift.
Having legs. That is also a gift.
Those two statements are not lost on me. To be able to do one simple thing like this in a day is a privilege. So I rode my bike up that giant hill. I rode as slow as a human can ride a bike while staying upright. I passed people who smiled and said "you're so close," only to find out that "close" is a very relative term, especially to people driving cars. The road wound steeply up through the trees, through the moss and dirt and dense, dark woods. There were overlooks along the way, and beautiful sign near the top that announced the small, first summit. When I saw that sign, I started to cry. Because of a friend I missed, and because I knew I was close, and because many things that were too big to let go of were just gone like that.
And and the top, there was a pretty awesome reward. Yes, the view. And also, the reminder of what it means to be a human, again.
This climb was for CLM, who I think of and miss every single day.
There are so many places to get lost in Montana, and the many bumper stickers, t-shirts, and kitsch stamped with that slogan "Get LOST - Montana" is constantly there as a reminder. I love getting lost out here, it's my childhood dream come true. Except now, instead of building a fort and a fake fire with sticks for lunch, we have espresso in the morning and Spencer's pumpkin chili for dinner. I can hike for hours without seeing another human. Sometimes that's scary (not as much so now that I've started carrying bear spray), but mostly it's just sublime. Hanging out here in nature totally solo is a reminder that the world is huge, and still untouched in some places. And at this moment, the untouched places seem to be the best ones.
We were 100% checked out this weekend, meaning zero cell phone service or access to an internet connection. Disconnecting is always a double edged sword, it's tough because I want to be available if my family needs to call me, but also want to try and be less reliant on being plugged in. And what can happen in 48 hours that could be so horrible?
Coming out of two days lost in the woods and reading about what had happened in Charlottesville, VA - a group of ignorant, hateful people marching to spread their small, petty, horrid message in front of the rest of America. And then, the violence those people inflicted towards a crowd of people who bravely showed up that day to protest. To propel a message of love and human connection in a time of fear and division. There are no sides in this. There is one side, humanity, goodness, love, and acceptance. Acceptance isn't even the right word. Tolerance isn't either. Togetherness?
It would be so easy to get lost again. To walk back into the woods and ignore everything that feels awful. It would be easy to move four hours north to a place that doesn't have a racist running their country. But that's not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to speak out against this shit. When I was in 7th grade Jason Edwards would come up to me after school when I was at my locker and whisper "nazi" under his breath, you know what I did? I smiled at him. Isn't that crazy? I smiled because I was too scared to say anything brave. When he started yelling "nazi" out of the bus window, I still smiled. But I'm not smiling now. Not fucking smiling. I'm speaking. I wish there was more I could do. I'm sure there is, it's time to figure out how.