Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

It’s been years since I’ve been taken in by the New Year’s resolution racket. I’ve always thought putting together a wish list before the New Year was, as Milan Kundera would put it, utter kitsch. After all, if resolutions are supposed to be things you covet, things that you truly want to accomplish, or even things you want to change about your life why would you wait until the end of the year to enumerate them?

On the other hand, maybe taking stock as one decade ends and another begins makes a great deal of sense.

Unlike some of my prior lists, these resolutions are, by design, more selective, generic and ill-defined. They purposely lack a sense of measurement and accountability. And maybe that’s a good thing. Letting go of checklists and time tables allows these resolutions to breathe the open air and become, collectively, what they really represent: a long-term hope that I can become a better person.


*Be More Open to Love: I think I might be getting beyond this. And this. And definitely this. I want to be in love. Now, if I could only figure out how…

*Be More Open to Others: I am recognizing that a person cannot understand the contours of love without first caring for others. And not just people you happen to know. Beyond family. Beyond friends. Beyond even yourself. Love without boundaries is my goal. I have a lot of work to do.


*Delve Deeper: I’ve been hinting at this all year. The more I embrace Simple Living, the more I recognize a vacuum somewhere deep inside of me. I’m starting to take the first tentative steps towards filling that vacuum. Let’s see where it leads me.


*New and Improved Diet: After a new-found focus on my diet, I’m gradually moving towards a more cohesive sense of how I want to eat. Still dealing with the basics: less red meat, more salads, more fruit, and more awareness of what’s in my food and where it comes from. It will be interesting how this one evolves this coming year.


*Be More Organized: It’s probably the dude in me. I usually don’t let it get out of hand but when I do my place becomes an obstacle course of clothing, empty water bottles, and pizza boxes. I find that I have more energy and a clearer mind when everything is in its place. I think it helps that I have almost nothing at this point. But still…

*Stop Rushing: Yup, I’m one of those people. If I have a meeting somewhere I will wait until I have just enough time to get moving. What ends up happening is that I suddenly drop what I am doing and rush over in a panic to make sure I get there on time. There is just no need for all that stress and frustration. I think the solution is to plan to get to meetings 5 minutes before I have to be there and to leave a lot earlier than I do now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Jack as Santa: Merry X-mas!

That's right my dear reader. That is an actual photo of me waiting patiently by an elevator right before walking into a family X-mas party to play the part of Santa.

And how did it go you ask? Well, let's just say that (1) the right-hand side of my beard started falling off as soon as I walked into the apartment, and (2) Santa had to walk barefoot because otherwise it would have been obvious he was wearing jeans and flip flops. But all was well...not sure the 3 and 4-year-olds noticed a thing...

Merry X-mass everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Follow Your Dreams. Always

Still recovering from my trip to Ecuador. There will be plenty of time to talk about the raw beauty of the Ecuadorian countryside and the wonderful indigineous culture I encountered. Truth is, mountain climbing is still on my mind.

While I was able to climb the northern side of the Illinizas volcano I stopped short of summiting Cotopaxi (5,900m/19,347 feet) by about 350 meters. At that point, I made the decision that I just couldn't go on. And it wasn't because of the altitude. From the start of my ascent I had been battling the worst stomach bug I've had in years (thanks to a couple of yummie street donuts I ate on the way to the volcano) plus I had developed severe congestion in my sinuses. Every breath up Cotopaxi was laborious. Every step a reminder that my stomach wanted to explode.

At about (5,550m/18,200 feet) I had a flashback to a time of similar distress somewhere in the Oregon desert. Back then, a bit vanity and bravado mixed with just plain stupidity put me in a pretty dangerous situation. Not this time. At that point I turned to my guide and said, “no mas/no more.” It was a good decision.

I may not have made the summit. But at least I tried. I fucking tried. And that is more than some people are willing/able to do.

I've said it before. I'll saw it again. Follow your dreams. Always.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bogota, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador: Visit to Colombian Congress and Other Stories

[Actual photo of me standing where the president of the Colombian senate sits during a private tour of the Colombian congress. I think I would have made a great dictator...]

After a crazy 12-hour bike ride into Bogota from Villeta my trip was just beginning.

Surprising Bogota
I have to be honest, Bogota was just not what I was expecting. I was picturing a pretty rundown urban mess but instead I found a super modern metropolis with a pretty crazy nightlife. Beyond having to bike an additional 2 hours to get to my hotel once I crossed the city limits (let’s just say I’ve never been that close to death on a bike), my stay was pretty awesome. I need to come back and see more of this place.

Visit to Congress
One of the highlights of my visit to the Colombian capital was being able to take a private tour of Congress, courtesy of a local contact (thanks Isabelle). From sitting in the chair where the president of the Senate sits to discussing how the internal conflict has affected Colombian politics in congressional staffers, this was truly special.

The most intense moment came when I passed by a poster (see below) with a photo of kidnapped military and police officers, some of whom have not seen their families for over 10 years.

Colonial Quito
After a quick stop in Bogota, I took a flight over to the Quito, Ecuador where I began the gradual process of acclimating to high altitude. Check out a photo I shot walking/puffing up the various hills that make up the Ecuadorian capital. While this was pretty awesome, the focus remains climbing Cotopaxi later today. Wish me luck.


Bogota, Colombia

Quito, Ecuador

Sunday, December 13, 2009

GUEST POST: On the Body



The following guest post was written by Rhiannon, a regular reader of Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity. I think Rhiannon's post shows that embracing simple living goes beyond de-cluttering your house and eschewing materialism and consumering. It can be a process as internal and personal as embracing the person staring back at you in the mirror.

I, like you, have a story. And it can be told... but how best to get my point across? You see, some people’s story can be told by the company they keep. Some by the place they reside or the car they drive. Some by the job they hold or the degrees they display. Some by the photographs of family sitting on the mantle piece. Some by the way the walk or talk. Some by the words they write.

Me? I guess mine can be told by my clothing or, rather, the lack there of!

My story may sound similar to a soap your mom watched at home each afternoon while you were at school: mom and dad become alcoholics, mom and dad begin swinging, mom leaves dad, dad divorces mom, dad dies of cancer, their daughter gets married, has a few kids, husband has affair, husband leaves wife,
ex-wife/daughter, well... gets fat!

I guess it’s fair to say, my story can be told... in my thighs! The swell of my breasts. The girth of my waist. The movement of my curves.

Because within this story, within these full folds of flesh, between these lines. I fret. I fret about my health. About my looks. About the example I teach. Fret... Fret... Fret...

And... I doubt. I doubt myself being true to who I really am. That others will truly be able to see me. That I’ll ever feel beautiful enough, worthy enough, sexy enough, to get out into that big fish bowl of men again. Doubt... Doubt... Doubt...And... I am mean. Mean to my soul. Mean to my heart, my lungs, my knees. Mean... Mean... Mean....
And I wonder. Does all this, fretting, doubting, meanness, serve me?

A healthy self image is something everyone talks about. Something everyone wants. A sexy body is something women want and men desire. I'm no different than everyone! But there seems to be two of these images. One others see and one I see. The two merging would seem to benefit, would they not? But they won’t. No matter how hard I try, the me others see (confident, funny, strong willed, self assured, woman) just will NOT merge with the me the mirror sees (chubby, unsure, scared, selfish, single mama). And although I only see this other me when I happen to be standing in front of a mirror or looking into a photo or in a room full of "pretties," it's still there, looming!

So one day, as I stand in front of the mirror I begin to wonder. Is this image I see in front of me the same one others see? And I already know the answer. So then I question, how can I take away all this fluff? How can I see ME? Just ME?

And the thought hits me. Could it really be that SIMPLE?

So as I stand there in front of the mirror... I begin to peal. Peal off my shirt. Peal off my socks. Peal off my pants. And as I peal, I look! I look and I look. And then I do it... I take off the little bits. (Okay not so little!) And I stare! I examine. I poke. I prod. And I enjoy! I enjoy this piece of art, this vehicle of mine. I spend the rest of the day, walking around the house, cooking meals, doing laundry and I realize I LIKE MY BODY! I like me a lot! Is it super model? No. But it’s mine! My very own story... of making it through.

Will it ever change? Sure! Hard work has proven that. Will I like it even more. Probably! But this body, the one I have now, it’s served me. Because I've lived and I've loved and I've cried and died a million times over. And my body has enjoyed and hated it all, right along with me. My spirits vehicle, will do my every bidding. So for sure I can! I can love me for who I am right now at this moment. The me I see, the me others see. They are all, after all, just me!

Would YOU dare take it all off and see? It is Voluntarily Simple!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Doradal, Colombia to Bogota, Colombia: Bat Snuggling, Floods, and the Toughest Climb Ever

Miles Per Day: Day 4=75; Day 5=47; Day 6=REST; Day 7=REST; Day 8=REST; Day 9=52.

Total So Far: 256

Inspiration: the smell of clear mountain air (it smells different somehow); Colombian women; the many rivers along the route; Guns n' Roses; the natural beauty around Honda.

Spirits: HOT; strong; amazed; pensive.

Things Seen on the Road: a bat in my motel room; the Magdalene River; flooded roads; hot, hot hot Colombian women; snakes crawling along the road.

Favorite Quotes: After telling a local that I was heading to Honda: “Oh, so you are heading to the furnace of Colombia.” [translation] After telling a hotel guest in Villeta that I was climbing up to Bogota via La Vega highway on a bike: “Only a Gringo...”

What a crazy week it's been. This short trip turned out to be the toughest, most intense I've ever had. But it has made me realize that I can, in fact, tour outside the US without too many problems. The one thing that I need to better plan for is the mountainous terrain of countries like Colombia. Gone are the days when I could cruise 70-80 mile several days at a time. If I am to do more trips in this region I have to be prepared to slow down on distance and embrace the inevitable, unending elevation change.

Natural Beauty of Honda
Heading into Honda, Colombia, I witnessed some of the strangest natural beauty I have ever seen on a bike. On both sides of the road, for miles around, I saw what I can only describe as mountain sculptures. They looked like rocky outcrops that have been weathered over time and that are covered with the greenest of vegetation. I had to stop a couple of times to take a closer look just make sure I wasn't on the set of a Jurassic Park movie.

I think I was just stupid, but coming past the Magdalena River I saw that the road was flooded in several places. There was never a place where the road was completely flooded, but it is clear that recent rains had flooded the entire countryside and water was now spilling over the main highway. Just check out the video below...I probably should have gotten off the road. But everyone that was driving past didn't seem to mind. Not good on my part I think.

Of course, snuggling with a bat in Villeta was a highlight this past week. And just to be clear, I left the bat in the motel room with the window open. I just hope the critter was able to leave on his own.

Climbing to Bogota From Villeta
Total elevation change=>2,200 meters (>7,000 feet) in less than 18 miles; road temperature change= 90f to 45f; change in climate= hot and humid to freezing rain.

Absolutely, positively, undeniably the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike. Period. Man was it fun!

Photo ROll


Monday, December 7, 2009

Snuggling in Bed With Dracula

So, I get to this small village called Villeta right around 7 pm. It's already dark and I am absolutely wiped. The heat on the road has been almost unbearable and the day's elevation change totaled close to 1,800 meters (>5,700 feet). By the time I stumble into my motel room I'm a bit delirious. I immediately strip naked, run into the shower and let the cool water wash away all the grime and dirt I've picked up from the day's ride. I dry off and collapse on the bed face down, naked and exhausted. The room in pitch black.

By this point, there is a part of me that is absolutely starving and wants to go out to forage for food, but there is also an equally demanding part of me that says that what I really need is a good night's sleep. It is in this fog of indecision that I first hear what I can only describe as chirping or crackling right above my bed. At first, I'm not even sure the sound I am hearing is real. I am sort of going in and out of consciousness and the chirping/crackling is being drowned out by the sounds of salsa floating up from a couple of bars right below the motel.

And then, it happens. Twenty minutes later, still lying on my chest, butt-cheeks up in the air, in the pitch blackness of a Colombian motel room, something suddenly falls on my back. SMACK! CHIRP, CHIRP, CRACKLE, CRACKLE! I jump 10 feet in the air and reach for the light. Fifteen seconds later I record the following video. My apologies for erasing my 10-year-old girl screams.

Those of you who follow me via Twitter and Facebook know that after my initial bat-induced heart attack I decided to rent a separate room for the night. I didn't want to alert management because I feared they would just kill the poor critter. I had left the window open hoping that it would scamper out into the night. But I just didn't have the energy to move all of my stuff into the new room.

This morning I went back to the scene of the crime. At first it looked like my plan worked. I cautiously went through all of my things, one at a time. Everything checked out all right, until I looked inside my bike helmet. It's hard to see in this video, but believe me, it's in there.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Medellin, Colombia to Doradal, Colombia: Intensity and Natural Beauty All Around

Miles Per Day: Day 1=31; Day 2=27; Day 3=24.

Total So Far: 82

Inspiration: the crisp mountain air of the Andes; strange, beautiful flowers along the route; the smiles of the people I meet along the way (people here are super friendly);

Sprits: elated; exhausted; content; amazed.

Things Seen on the Road: a talking parrot in the middle of the road; tons of trucks; tons of poverty; school children running alongside my bike as school was letting out.

Favorite Quotes: Colombian soldier with an automatic weapon walking up to me at an abandoned bridge: “So, you are riding on this road all by yourself, huh?” [translation]

So far, this trip is turning out to be tougher, more intense and more interesting than anything I ever did back in the States. It was probably not a good idea to start riding into the Andes with just a few weeks of training under my belt. The elevation has also been a factor. By the time I hit the Rockies back in Colorado I had increased my elevation tolerance pretty gradually. I can't tell you how weird it feels to go from 0 to 4,500 before climbing to 8,500 feet on a fully loaded bike in just a few days.

But, hey, what an adventure this is turning out to be. I'm not sure all the photos and videos in the world would be able to capture all the “realness” and beauty I am seeing from my saddle.

It's a beautiful time to be alive.

Let's just say that I should have known better.

Apparently, there are two ways to leave Medellin towards the small town of Rio Negro, my first destination on this trip. I could have traveled over the Andes via Las Palmas OR I could have reached Rio Negro via the mountaintop town of Santa Elena. One would mean a tough but workable 2,800 foot climb into the Andes while the other involves an absolutely insane 4,000 foot climb over just 12 miles full of 14 to 16 grade inclines. Guess which I chose.

Beyond the sheer intensity of that climb, despite not having had the time for adequate training and conditioning, and even though the altitude quickly became a problem, the one thing that really destroyed me that day was the NOT KNOWING. Unlike my Bike Across America trip, I didn't have a good sense of how much further I had before reaching the top of the climb. The map I am using is pretty useless in that respect and the internet is hit or miss when it comes to planning this trip. You have NO idea how frustrating it is to reach what you think is the very top of this monster climb, only to realize that there is another mountain range worth of pain to go. I definitely need to invest in a GPS device for my next trip.

Heading from Rio Negro to Doradal the shittiness of my local map became evident. You see, I had decided not to buy the local topographical maps (not all that helpful for bike riding, in my opinion) and instead invested in a more general road map with an elevation graph in the back. Looking at this graph the morning of the second day I thought I had it made. The graph showed a clear 6,000 foot drop between Rio Negro and my next destination, Doradal. Heading out that day I was feeling pretty good. Until I hit the first of three monster climbs. Seems like the graph failed to show intervening elevation climbs between random towns along the route. Half-way through the second climb I gave up. The sun was horrendous and I had NO idea how many more climbs I had left before reaching Doradal. When I found a roadside motel I decided to stay for the night.

Map frustration aside, the evening of my second day on the road was just awesome! I had stopped at a roadside motel that consisted of a primitive restaurant on the first floor and a super mall room on the second floor with what I guess was considered a shower in the back. There was NOTHING around for miles. That evening, the owner, an elderly lady in her 60's, cooked me TWO separate dinners of rice, beans and steak while the family and I watched Colombian soap operas until 10:00pm.

As I headed upstairs, I did my best to avoid stepping on hundreds (thousands?) of insects of all different shapes and sizes. Attracted by the only lights around for miles, these insects filled the floors, ceiling and all the walls along the hallway right outside my room. Not thinking much, I turned the lights on inside my shack/room to do the basics: organize my stuff for the next day, brush my teeth, and get ready for bed. Ten minutes later I noticed them...dozens and then hundreds of insects crawling into cracks along the walls, all of them attracted by the lights inside my room. I quickly shut off the lights and turned on my portable headlight. Let's just say that I fell asleep that night with tons of creepy crawlies walking all over me...