Well it’s been just over a month since finishing our hike of the CDT.  Strangely, I was able to update the blog more regularly when we were hiking through the wilderness and had internet access only once a week at best.  Now that I have daily access to the web, I can’t find the time.

On the trail I had only three concerns:  1) walk  2) eat  3) sleep.  Yes, we did have to plan where we were going to walk (deciding our route) and do a fair bit of navigation at times, but life was simple. All we had we could carry on our backs.  Life moved at a slower pace. We were walking for goodness sake!  Think about where you’ve gone today (perhaps by car, train or bike) and now imagine doing the same activities but with only your 2 feet to carry you to and fro. I’ll be surprised if someone can report it wouldn’t significantly change their daily routine.

+ As winter approaches, I’m grateful for the roof over our heads and our warm (free on Craigslist) bed. I’m thankful I can eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies everyday, rather than the junk food we ate on the trail. It’s wonderful to be close to friends and family again. And I’m finally getting to live out some of my HGTV daydreams as we decorate our condo.  I’m enjoying being a dog owner too!  But…

– I miss the slower pace and simplicity of life on the trail.  I miss the stellar community and instant connection with other thru-hikers.  I miss being able to pig out with the knowledge that none of it would go straight to my thighs.  I miss the mountains and the unexpected sights that each new mile brought.

Our last re-entry, after the PCT, was difficult but we also knew our time in civilization was temporary. We devoted ourselves completely to work so we could earn money for the CDT. Now, things are different. We definitely want to hike the Appalachian Trail sometime in the next few years, but for now we’re putting down roots after being nomads for over three years.

The Winds: Rock & Ice

Moose mama & calf

8/11/10 – We were excited to re-unite with Kombucha, Hawkeye, Joker, Rolling Thunder, Myke and Stretch that morning…. they’d had a shorter but also arduous bushwack to Clear Lake. The next day I got sick, vomitting several times before sadly deciding to skip the Cirque of the Towers, a cirque of mountains that required an bushwack up to 11,000+ feet. Everyone else did the Cirque, except Myke who was eager to meet his wife Naomi in Lander. Hawkeye had had a similar stomache bug the past few days. I don’t think the 1.5 days of insane climbing cross-country put my imune system in a very good state.  But despite my bubbling, aching tummy we made it over Temple Pass on 8/13 and met Pace, Coach & Whitefish by Little Sandy Lake. We’ve named them “Team Flip Flop” because they’re thru-hiking the CDT this year but have flip flopped all over the place. They started in New Mexico, hiking North, then flipped up to Canada and began hiking south with some other sections in between.  Coach & Whitefish also did the PCT in 2009. I’m pretty sure that the majority of the CDTers this year hiked the PCT in 09 like us….. so far there’s us, Kombucha, Joker, Rock Steady, Myke, Heaps, Sage, Ice Ax, Snorkel & Frogger, Pi, Coach, Whitefish… and I’m sure I’m missing some.  Total there’s only about 25 thru-hikers going north (NoBo) and about 25 going south (SoBo).  Anyhow, they were friendly but unfortuantely we probably wouldn’t see much of them since from Hwy 28 they would skip ahead to Rawlins since they’d already done the Great Divide Basin.  Our last few miles to the highway were on a dirt road, not very scenic but fast miles and easy terrain. And as we were leaving the woods we saw a mama and baby moose in a swampy meadow….. I can’t say they’re the most beautiful animals but it was still an exciting wildlife viewing!

lost in the city

Last week we had a fantastic visit with Rob, Dan’s old friend from Uni. He’s Dr. Rob now, actually, and has been living the dream… working in Australia and traveling for the year.  Estoy super celosa!  You’d be too if you saw his pics! Unfortunately I couldn’t convince him to hire me as a translator for their upcoming 3 month jaunt round South America…  Real life is cruel.

But we did enjoy some good times in Washington, DC! Tramping around the snowy mall, eating the yummiest chocolate peanut-butter cupcake from Hello Cupcake, enjoying free beer at Midtown, a tour of the Phillips Collection, enjoying the grandeur of Georgetown and the ferocious Great Falls.  It definitely made me wish were living in the city… here in Reston practically everything shuts at 9pm!

Speaking of DC, book club this month featured Edward P. Jones collection of short stories Lost in the City which feature the lives of African Americans living in DC during earlier eras. The stories all feature real DC addresses and are a fascinating peak into the city’s rich history.  All the stories carry a slight feeling of melancholy.  What I found most difficult about the stories was that they were short! Each of them left me wanting more…  so I was delighted to discover that Jone’s second collection of short stories, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, all connect to his first work.

But, as a lover of memoirs, I must say the most fascinating stories are always true…. Check out this Washington Post article about Edward P. Jones own life  here.

Rock the Kasbah

Oh Morocco. Where do I even begin? One-legged taxi drivers, mint gas masks, haggling heaven… It was complete sensory overload.

  • Exhaust, incense, urine, cinnamon, cigarette smoke, mint, citrus…
  • Walls and houses a thousand shades of red and pink (coral, salmon, rust), a rainbow of leather, beads & spices, sun-saturated brightness, green palm trees arching upward…
  • Hot and refreshing mint tea, cumin and ginger tangines, chewy coconutty macaroons, licorice sticks (the real deal)…
  • Horns blasting, “Bonjour!”, “Hola mi amigos!”, engines revving, birds chirping, “Come my friend, looking is free”, the Muslim call to prayer, and my favourite: “No money, no honey!”

All happening simultaneously…

img_0965small.jpg I was quite struck by how non-Western Marrakesh is. The majority of the adults here wear traditional robes and most of the women wear head coverings. So, with our western attire, light skin and my blond hair we screamed TOURISTS. After our first few hours there, having already been given advice and (wrong) directions by a handful of little boys (who then demanded money) and having been accosted by numerous shopkeepers in multiple languages, we were determined to buy robes and head coverings for ourselves in the desperate attempt to blend in. But unfortunately our limited cash and intimidation at haggling with the souk merchants prevented this.

So we blended in just like a punk rocker at a black tie ball.

the never-ending souks

Still, we managed to have a great time exploring souks, palaces, gardens and the maze-like streets. We got a bit better at haggling (after being ripped off grandly) and managed to do most of our Christmas shopping. All of the handicrafts on sale are unique, gorgeous and cheap… if not for our strict baggage restrictions and lack of funds, I think I would have bought enough to furnish a house.

The weather was amazing – cool in the mornings and evenings, filled with intense sunshine and a cool breeze during the day. If only that breeze wasn’t blended in with so much exhaust smoke! By day 3 my whole respiratory system felt on the verge of collapse. I’m sure visiting the tanneries, where they process leather in traditional methods, didn’t help. Among the (sometimes carcinogenic) concoctions that men are working waist-deep in: bleach flour and pigeon poo. The smells were awful! Thankfully we were given sprigs of fresh mint leaves to put in front of our noses during our visit.

Jemaa el Fna is the main plaza packed with fresh juice stalls, carts packed with robust piles of dried fruit delicacies, fortune tellers, snake charmers, henna artists, story tellers, musicians and people. At night it fills with food stalls with aggressive waiters and the smell of bubbling tangines. It’s like carnival without a tent.

Jemaa el Fna at dusk

By the fourth day we were completely city’d-out and decided to take a day trip to the Atlas Mountains. There was no public transport so the only way to get there was by taxi, which by western standards was dirt cheap. Determined to make it even cheaper, however, we set about on a hunt for others to share the ride with. After over an hour of searching, and having walked all over the city, Mohamed came like a vision of an oasis in the desert!

And thus we gave up the idea of a shared taxi and hopped into his old, light yellow Mercedes. Just accelerating to 20mph the car made enough scratching and grinding noses to make us pray it wouldn’t burst into flames at the next intersection. But soon the car’s disconcerting sounds were drowned out by loud Berber music playing on a cassette tape.

Our friendly taxi driver had only one leg. It turns out when he was a teenager he was riding a moped and got in a accident that cost him his leg. But he wasn’t even close to searching for self-pity: “It was my destiny,” he explained, “but I’m happy, I have a good job, a wife and two children.” Still, you would think loosing his leg in an auto accident would make him somewhat cautious while on the road. But no… he was quite daring in his passing exploits. Nevertheless we arrived in Setti Fatma safely.

Looking down on Setti FatmaThe minute we got out of the car we had about 10 Moroccans offer to be our guide and take us to a waterfall. We kindly refused and began our hike. We’d hiked for a while on a crowded trail that went to a waterfall and then began blazing a bit of our own trail up the mountainside. Then we found a nice trail and continued our climb passing more waterfalls until the trail really ended. Nevertheless, we knew both snow & great views were above us so we scrambled/rock climbed for almost 2 hours up the steep pink rock until we arrived at a splendid lunch spot overlooking the whole valley. We ventured until we saw a herd of goats and then we spied a shepherd coming up a trail on the opposite side of the mountain. So we tried to follow the shepherd’s “path” home but mainly succeeded in slipping and sliding down the loose rocky mountainside. But at last we made it back to the village (with bloody hands from falls) to enjoy some delicious mint tea!

The next day we returned to England, our lungs overjoyed with the pristine country air once more but our whole bodies longing for the warmth of the sunshine of Morocco.

Te Quiero Mucho Granada!

Overlooking the Albazin

We just got back from a week in and around Granada, Spain. It was such an incredible holiday… or sabbatical, as Dan likes to call it. I studied abroad in Granada for a semester in 2003 so I was eager to take advantage of Ryan Air’s £0.01 flights to Granada (ok, ok, with all the taxes & fees it is quite a lot more than that, but it’s still cheap!). And, thanks to generous wedding gifts (in euros) from Dan’s friends & family in Italy that we’d saved, we had the funds for the trip.

Granada is an magical city. Cave houses. La Albazin. Schwarmas. Flamenco. La Alhambra. Amazing tapas. Sunshine galore. Teterias.  Snowy mountains. Sandy beaches. Breathtaking views of the city from the hills. It’s seeped in mystery and culture.

At the top of Mulhacen - Spain’s highest mountain

It was so great to be back and share this place w/Dan. We also went backpacking for three days in the Sierra Nevadas and climbed to the top of Spain’s highest mountain. The next night, when we were half way down the mountain, it rained and we woke to an fresh layer of snow icing the mountains above us. I think that was a special gift to us from JC. We explored the Moorish pueblos in La Alpujarra and then shed our warm clothes and headed to the beach for a swim in the Mediterranean. There’s no need to choose beach or mountains in Granada – you can have them both, hallelujah!