Friday, July 19, 2013

From Squaw to Sequim

I spent a week at Squaw Valley, CA, and then I moved on to Portland, Oregon. Over the past two years, I have been to Portland three times, and each time I like it more and more. I have yet to be there during a winter, however, so I'm not sure if I would retain that feeling of love.

Portland was a whirlwind, meeting new people and catching up with an old friend. But I guess that's what this summer has been for me so far, lots of new people, catching up with old and busy all the time. It isn't the sort of busy that filled my work days though. It is the type of busy that is relaxed with places to be and people to talk to, but it is calm for the most part. There's downtime without stress where you can let your thoughts wander, or not. You can read a chapter of a book or just stare at the bird cutting through the intense blue sky. And that's what I have been doing.

Amsterdam seems like a distant land full of distant memories especially since I am now on the other side of the world in Sequim, Washington listening to a babbling fountain, sitting in the sun with my computer and a dog named Jessie to keep me company. Life is good here, but it has been much too easy to completely disengage from thinking about my future plans. I feel like a recent college graduate with no prospects. The difference now is that when I first graduated I had hundreds of things that I wanted to do, but now I don't have the first clue what I want to spend the next decade doing.

But like Cheryl tells me, it's all about the journey. And since she is one of the smartest people I know, I tend to trust her judgement.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hiking Squaw Valley California: Shirley Canyon Trail

I am not a hiker. I don't like to sweat. Bugs buzzing in my ears drive me mad. That said, I do appreciate nature, and I do like being out there once I'm there. Luckily I have a very good motivator to get me to put my sneakers on.

Earlier in the week, I went on a .3 mile hike up to a waterfall. It was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and crisply cold. Lounging on a flat rock nearby was just what I needed, and I was actually excited about going on a bigger hike later on in the week.

The beginning of this bigger hike up the Shirley Canyon Trail started out like any hike with lots of wildflowers, such as Indian paintbrush and mule's ear and many ancient, towering evergreens. The broken tree branches scattered on the forest floor looked like sleeping snakes hiding away from the blazing sunlight. There were four of us trudging though the terrain with the creek on our right and the Lake Tahoe mountains (home of the 1960 winter olympic games) on our left. The day was perfect with not a cloud in the sky and a cool breeze to provide relief from the sun. We were doing exactly what we set out to do: go on a leisurely hike.

Four turned into three when we stopped at a small waterfall to drink the last of the one bottle of water we had between two of us. While the guys lounged like lazy lizards on the rocks, I noticed that the water was flowing over the smooth rocks like yards of clear silk down the side of the mountain that we had just breathlessly climbed. That quiet moment of reflection didn't last long, however, because soon we were off again in search of a lake. 

The next stretch was going to be the most difficult according to what our local guide, Melinda, had told us before she left. When we got to the steep granite cliff faces (I thought of them that way, but they were really just large rocks I'm sure), I saw a chipmunk and was motivated by his agile movements over the rocks. With a burst of energy I scampered up the stretch of steep rock feeling quite proud of my catlike movements. It didn't last long, however, because the incline never ended. "A few more feet and we'll be at the lake," I kept telling myself, but a few feet turned into a half a mile and then another half a mile. Each time we saw a fellow hiker that was the reply. I was beginning to think that there was no lake at all. 

Eventually we came to the lake which actually looked to be no bigger than a pond. While beautiful, it wasn't worth stopping for more than a couple minutes. What we were really thinking though was that if we stayed any longer we weren't going to make it up to the top of the mountain. Fatigue was starting to set in and we still had at least another mile to go. We were hoping that we would have some relief and some more level ground, but we were not so lucky. We soldiered on. 

The older man, Alan, the mathematician who was with us, seemed to be faring much better than me. At least two decades my senior, it was a bit embarrassing to have to be the one to initiate the breaks to catch my breath. With biting flies coming close to my ears, buzzing around my head, we continued to climb the 45 degree incline. 

Wheezing, sweating, dehydrated like I had never been before, we finally reached the summit. Standing  proudly at a par 3 frisbee golf flag (there couldn't possibly be real golf up here) to smile for the camera, we had made it in one piece. That small feeling of triumph quickly faded as we crossed to high camp. 

Just as I thought, a beautiful hike filled with all things nature was quickly dashed by the smell of chlorine and the sound of resort life. The giant pool and tourists clouded the victory, so we descended down a flight of stairs to find a water fountain and a place to sit before we could catch the next tram down the mountain. 

After a slightly scary, but lovely cable gondola ride to the base of the mountain, we said goodbye to Alan and dragged ourselves to the pizza restaurant to have a celebratory beer and "mountain top" pizza. Then, with muscles aching and slowly tightening, we shuffled back to the room like two elderly people.  After a dehydration-induced nap, Tim went to get fluids and came back with coconut lime juice and a coke. Perfect. Stretching ensued (in an effort to be able to move in the morning) on the floor after many protests from me. Shots of coke were had and the work of the night, reading manuscripts, resumed. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Notes from Amsterdam: Riding a Bike

Riding a bike is like, well riding a bike. I fell into the category of expat who didn't get a bike right away. Then winter came. So here is my take on riding a bike in Amsterdam. 

Do I have to ride a bike in Amsterdam? That is one of the questions that I asked myself before moving here. At first, I was excited to be able to get around town by just my own leg power. There was a romance to having a shiny bell and a basket to carry things like bouquets of flowers, wooden shoes, or miniature windmills.

When I arrived, however, the romance was still there, but the reality also hit. Amsterdammers were very serious about their biking. While it is fun to do and a great form of exercise, riding a bicycle is the primary form of transportation in this city. So it can be a little intimidating hearing ringing bells and watching people fly down the paths darting in between other riders.

My first bike riding experience happened yesterday (January 11) after almost 6 months of living here. How could I have managed for so long? I asked myself the same question. Was it laziness? Was it fear or intimidation? What ended up happening was that I had built up the bike riding experience as something that was more than it was. Because I didn't buy a bike right away, I began to put it off. I had put it off for so long that I learned other ways to get around, and soon, riding a bike snowballed into something that began to feel like an insurmountable task.

The time had come. I was going out with friends after a training workshop, and I was the only one without a bike. The brewery was too far to walk to, and there wasn't any direct public transportation that I knew of. One of the girls offered to let me take her bike while she rode on the back of another. The first thought that entered my mind was that it had probably been almost two decades since I had been on a bicycle, and this made me very nervous. Luckily it wasn't raining, and there was no ice on the paths. I hopped on the seat and gripped the handlebars tightly; I was off. I was very careful and a little wobbly, but riding a bike was what they say, just like riding a bike. I pedaled hard, feeling the icy air in my face and feeling as though my hands were becoming numb. My bag slowly slipped down my arm, but I couldn't stop; everyone was getting far ahead. My legs soon started to burn, and muscles I hadn't used in years were beginning to scream. I was cold yet sweating, and about ten minutes later I was there with the waffled handlebar pattern in my hands from holding on so tightly. I felt both a sense of accomplishment and relief that I didn't cause any accidents along the way.

Will I be buying a bike as a result of my first ride? That is still undecided at this point, but I did prove that I could do it. So do you HAVE to ride a bike in Amsterdam? No, you can absolutely get around without one, but it definitely makes you feel like more of a local if you do.

I never ended up buying a bike while I was there, but I did develop a strong appreciation for all of those bikers around town especially the ones wearing heels or fancy business clothes. 

Notes from Amsterdam: Fred the Cheese Man

This post is taken from my other, mostly unknown blog Amsterdowd. I met Fred my first week in Amsterdam, and he remains one of the highlights of my time there. 

The first time I went to see him he gave me a little Amsterdam house on a key chain. He told me it was my first house in Amsterdam.

The second time I saw him he gave me a small wheel of young cheese to share with my class. I didn't share it with my students; I used it for cooking instead.

The third time I saw him. This is what he told me...

Advice from Fred:

The first thing you need to know about your boyfriend is that he needs to be good in the garden, a good cook, and have a good job.

The second thing you need to know about your boyfriend is that he is there to support you when you need it.

The third thing you need to know about your boyfriend is that he should make you laugh.

The fourth thing you need to know about your boyfriend is that he should be good in bed.

And the fifth thing you need to know is not to tell your boyfriend about the other four guys.

Then he gave me some free Camembert to share with my girlfriends.

If you happen to visit Nieuwmarkt Square during the week, be sure to stop by and see Fred.

The End of an Era

About a year ago I embarked on an international journey and moved to Amsterdam. I had ambitious goals to blog every week about my experiences. I even started another blog with a witty name, but it never got off the ground. Life happened, as most often times it does. Amsterdam was not the amazing international experience I thought it was, so I stopped writing. Now, sitting at a shady picnic table in Squaw Valley, California and chatting with some locals, I am trying to find my voice again.
Squaw Valley Inspiration

While life abroad wasn't quite what I thought it would be, there were some really fantastic things that happened and inspiring people along the way. Since last year I have also amassed a slew of other travel stories that I will try to catch up on over the coming months.

There is no doubt I am blessed, and things do tend to work out for me as my sister's boyfriend reminds me. But I have worked very hard to get where I am. Where is that exactly? I have decided to take some time off, to write, to explore, maybe to find a passion that I didn't know that I had. For ten years I devoted myself to being an educator, and while I'm still a BadAss Teacher (some of you will know what I mean), I just have to get out. Education is in my blood, and I'm sure I'll come back to it someday, but for now I'm an explorer. I'm scared, I'm excited, but above all I know I am doing the right thing.