Ain't All Guts and Glory
If we are being honest here, I wanted to cry the first three days of my cycling trip. I'd glance at my cycling computer, the remaining miles taunting me with impossibility. My quads burned, the space between my shoulders blades pinched, every part of me ached and I sure as hell did not feel I was capable of forging on the next 10, 15 or 20 miles. At times I caffeine sweet treats literally kept me motivated. (See the many pictures of ice cream + donuts.) Pushing passed the mental blocks proved more difficult than physical pains. But slow and steady I kept on, until we rolled into the day's planned destination.
Travel = Freedom
True freedom is found outside of our comfort zones. Traveling in general usually puts a person outside their comfort zone because of unpredictability. Even if you are one to travel extravagantly, you cannot predict an airline losing your baggage, canceling your flight, hotels making mistakes, becoming ill, missing connections, or misunderstandings. Travel has always been a way for me to shake things up, change my perspective, and a way to realize all the small and big comforts I have at home. It's okay to be uncomfortable sometimes. In fact, sitting in discomfort it is freeing. I try to ask myself why I am uncomfortable, what's making me anxious. Many times it is because the current situation is not how I perceived things would go.
My first ever zine reading happened. Finally! I may not come off this way, but I am a ball of nerves when it comes to performing. I also have terrific amounts of social anxiety, and I constantly worry that I sound like a boob, and not a funny one. You can ask the glitterati, my performing pals, because they have witnesses my pre-stage antics, self-doubt and bathroom issues. Thankfully, my girls Tess and Audrey were always there to help my in or out of a costume and talk me off a ledge. Despite my stomach problems, I really do love connecting with an audience.
Saturday evening, I joined six others at a zine reading for the Feminist Zinefest at Bluestockings Bookstore on the Lower East Side of NYC. My lovely friend Sarah and her babe surprised me and showed for support. Even though my nerves had me slightly tongue-tied, once I heard llittle Mauve making fart sounds, I looked up and chuckled, and eased into reading my essay, "On Traveling Sober."
Here is our first reference, starting our cycling adventures in San Francisco and ending in San Diego.
Two Saturdays in a row, we drove the 1.5 hours down to Trophy Bikes in Philadelphia. Why would we do such a thing? Basically, Trophy was the closet place that had a 42cm frame built, which meant that Cristina could take a bike for a spin. One ride on a 46cm framed Surly Disc Trucker hooked me. I put my down payment on the bike and C ordered a different colored frame than mine, so we wouldn't be *extra* gay. However, this meant we would have to return the following week, when C's bike was built and both of our bikes would be ready for the road.
I woke up Saturday with my crabby pants on, for no discernible reason. I hate it when that happens. On Saturdays, I have a standing commitment, my AA meeting Homegroup at high noon. I left my meeting 20 minutes early so that we could get on the road to Philly. Still in a grumpy mood, I wasn't the best co-passenger. Everything changed after walking into Trophy. My sexy new bike was waiting for me. I started riding her around the store and then around the block. Hip hip hooray for bike day.
November is the third best month for NJ teachers, (behind July + August), because it is a short and usually pleasant month. Aside from teachers convention and Veteran's Day there is the Thanksgiving break. Somehow my district figured out how to give us an entire week off this November. C wanted to show off her hometown part of Texas to me and it was also time for me to meet her family. C is from the Lower Rio Grand Valley and that's where her family currently lives. So, we planned a trip to South Padre Island, Texas.
Although the main purpose was for C to make her yearly pilgrimage to see the family, it was also a vacation for the two of us. Work has been exceptionally exhasuting so I eagerly awaited some respite. (Sidenote: the above photo was taken at the United Club in Newark Airport. It was AMAZING! I had two passes left from a previous credit card and we were checked in to our flight plenty early, so we finally took advantage of the luxury lounge.) We rented a studio condo on South Padre Island (SPI) so we would have our own space, separate from the family. We flew into the Harlingen Airport, which is an hour drive out to SPI. We rented a car to travel between C's family member's homes.
On our way to the island we stopped at the HEB grocery store to shop as it is much cheaper and there is more variety than on the island. Our condo was perfect for the two of us, only one block from the beach with a lovely pool. That strong Texas sun warmed our hearts and souls and baked our skin on the first day. There are several decent restaurants on the island and others located in Port Isabel just over the causeway. We dined on the freshest shrimp and fish and the most incredible Mexican food while we were there.
One day we rented a jetski and toured the island. Flying 60 miles an hour over the waves made me feel like a mad person. We cruised through the channels and were very close to Mexico. At one point, we were surrounded by dolphins, and they folowed us for a bit, jumping out of the ocean. Another day I took a kite boarding lesson. This was so much more difficult than surfing. There is a lot to learn before you can even get into the ocean.
One of C's brothers asked me when we were going shooting, jokingly because he knows his sister does not love guns. I don't like guns. They're weird. I've never really been around guns (except when I was drunk in Colorado visiting my folks...and some lunatic put a shotgun into my inebriated hands.) But I responded with a 'whenever'. So, on Wednesday we met C's younger brother at the shooting range. That is a weird place. We wore protective eye gear and earmuff things. Yet, when these two cops came in, with their outrageous rifles, each time one pulled the trigger, the sound reverberated through me. Every time the loud rifle released, I had to keep myself from jumping. It was an experience. I am such a northerner, such a city dweller, and I have always lived in densely populated areas that guns never occured to me as a good idea.
The area has strong community of recovery and there were meetings every day of the week, somewhere in the valley. I made it to a meeting in nearby Port Isabel.
There's also a smattering of other things to do on the island: you can visit a really sweet turtle sanctuary, a birding center, nature trails, ride go-carts and see enormous sand castles.
We spent time with all of C's family members. (I was even obliged to join in family portraits). On our final day, C's mom planned a Thanksgiving dinner get-together, which was super cute. We crashed at C's younger brother's apartment to be closer to the airport for our 530 am retrun flight. After spending the week in 80' plus weather, we returned to New Jersey, for a balmy 30'. I would be remiss if I failed to mentioned how friendly Texans were in general. Never once did I feel uncomfortable about holding hands or PDA with my partner.
Back to the daily grind is hella depressing. I was in serious denial of returning to my paying job as a high school literature teacher. Delusions of grandeur perhaps, but I still dream of paying my bills through my writing. I shall hold strongly to that dream. So, to ease the inevitable, C joined me and Billie on a Hudson, NY adventure over Labor(less) Day weekend.
I had contacted Rebecca, an amazing woman I studied herbs with last year to see if she had any surplus of herbs on her homestead. Rebecca lives on the Triform farm in Hudson. It is a shared living community and they have sizable vegetable and herb gardens. It turned out, that yes, there was enough herbs for me to come and harvest. C and I then contacted Tim, who runs the sweet Suminski Innski in Tivoli, NY to see if our little family could stay overnight. Tim had room for us, including the pup, so we headed upstate on Friday around noon. I am still discovering those little towns in the Hudson Valley. It is a fairly easy drive north or you can take the train our of New York City directly into Hudson.
Tivoli is tranquil, with only a handful of restaurants and a general store in town, compared to Hudson, which has dozens of eateries and more. The Inn is down a giant hill and beside the train-tracks and river. (The train passes all night long and roused C a few times, but Billie and I were unfazed). C and I enjoyed a short bike ride that looped out and around Tivoli and back into the center of town, although we did have to cross through a construction area.
We enjoyed some damn fine organic, grass-fed burgers at the town pub before returning to the Inn for the night. Billie enjoyed the hell out of running free around the Inn's property. The next morn, we enjoyed a fresh breakfast and chat with Tim and the other guests before heading to the farm. We arrived at Triform around 1030. Rebecca had time to show us around the community a bit and before we began harvesting some plants. There is something so immediately calming about plants. I was so zen in those fields of calendula, meditating, pruning, collecting flower tops. The incredible scent of fresh lavender soothed my mind, albeit temporarily.
After Rebecca's husband showed us the rest of the farm, including the Icelandic sheep that Billie did not approve of, we packed up for downtown Hudson. I reaped the benefits of Triform Farm, and I am excited to process the various plants we snipped. We parked on a side street and wandered down Warren Street, in search of the recently opened brick and mortar Good Fight Herb Co. Shop, owned by Lauren, one of my amazing herb school teachers. After a chat with Lauren in her magikal little shop, we meandered on to get some grub. We found a fantastic sandwich shop- I had a grilled vegetable sammy with fresh pesto and goat cheese and a cup of amazing pour-over coffee.
With our bellies full, we started for home but decided to make a stop off at the Walkway Over the Hudson, located in the town of Poughkeepsie. Billie was mostly behaved as we walked the 1.25 miles over the bridge and back again before hopping in the car and heading homeward. Although, I made one last stop once we were close to home, so that C could get the homemade salted caramel ice cream from Holstens in Bloomfield.
Elvis, C and I enjoyed a wee cycling tour around Montclair my final day before going back to work, which sadly did not include ice cream.
Below is a photo of C from our first geocaching adventure as well as photos of my herb-filled apartment and my handmade smudge bundles.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, after doing the financial math, and much consternation, I decided to book a last minute cruise. My cruise ship, a yacht called the Aida Maria, held 16 passengers and 6 crew members, not at all like the cruise ships in North America. On the first night of the cruise, we needed to cruise eight hours to reach to Genovesa, a secluded and uninhabited island in the north, one of the only places that the red-footed booby lives and nests. We were fortunate enough to see baby boobies nesting.
We turned out to have a really great and mostly young group on the boat. Among our motley crew, the Irish couple and both Australian couples, the Uruguayan fellow and Swiss girl were also last-minute cruisers like myself. There were two older couples who had paid twice what we paid for the journey because they had booked many months in advance.
I had never been on a cruise before and was not exactly sure what to expect. Meals were delicious and served three times a day plus snack times, yet I hated having to wait for my dinner. Anyone that knows me, knows that I graze all day long. I hate waiting too many hours before a meal, or my blood sugar drops and I get hangry as hell. I also prefer to eat smaller meals rather than gorging myself. Sleep was easy, after popping the Ecuadorian version of Dramamine, the boat rocked me to sleep. Although there were some choppy times and a few passengers were ill.
There were daily excursions from the ship that included walking, hiking and snorkeling. I think I have had enough snorkeling to last awhile. An important note: the water is cold! I wore a shorty wetsuit and became cold after 20 minutes in the ocean. One day we had three freaking snorkel activities, which is one more than my max. However, we swam with Galapagos Penguins and sea lions- which was so damn beautiful. Below I have links to videos that one of the Australian's took with his Go-Pro. (I am totally saving up for one.) On the last day we walked around Dragon Island, and saw many land and marine iguanas, pictured below. Looking at those creatures really made me think of evolution and how those things looks so un-evolved. I seriously can see how one of the marine iguanas would inspire Godzilla.
Cruising is probably the best way to see the Galapagos. If you are debating whether it is worth it, I say go for it, especially if you have the time to negotiate a last minute cruise deal.
Early bird gets... to see Maccu Piccu. We found out many travelers couldn't get to Aguas Calientes due to the strikes and the disruptions they caused. At our hotel we spoke to several folks who were stranded in Aguas Calientes after seeing MP.
We were up at 4:20am to have a little brekkie before catching the bus to MP at 5am. I think part of the mystique of MP comes from being a sleepy or weary traveler as I was a little out of it when the bus pulled up to this wonder of the world.
MP is strategically placed high in the mountains and between several peaks, so that it remains partially hidden and shrouded in mist. The sun appears late on this mountaintop, adding to the magic and mystery of the ancient Incan ruins.
We walked the grounds in the brisk air with our tour guide, Vilma, who explained the historical importance of the different structures. Sun burst through clouds, slowly warming up the air. The site is overwhelming, it is enormous and spread out. As I meandered, I tried to imagine what MP was like as a thriving little village. It is belivwd that the Incans observed the land and climate many years before they built upon it. This is how they knew exactly when the equinoxes and solstices occurred, and how they were able to build a Sun Temple which the sun shines through on the solstice.
After Vilma set us free, our group decided to hike Wayna Piccu, a higher mountain beside MP, with an altitude of 2,668m. The steep climb up was slow-going at points, and I kept thinking about slipping and falling over the edge. (Unlike the US, Peru doesn't feel the need to 'idiot-proof' the grounds, so there aren't any guardrails.) There are tiny steps that even my 6.5 foot cannot fit on.
The breathtaking view from the top was worth the climb. Although we were among the first groups to climb Wayna Piccu that morning, it got hairy at the top as there were too many people vying for the perfect selfie or photo.
After the treacherous climb down Wayna Piccu, C and I wandered the grounds a bit more before catching the bus back to Aguas Calientes.
Back on the bikes at 8am. I hope I am becoming a better cyclist, getting stronger. Each day pressing onward. I can't always keep track of my distance because it's told to me in kilometers, (so I'm always doing the math in my head). I just keep pushing forward.
After we dined on banana quinoa pancakes with our host family on the peninsula, we set out cycling. It was so damn frigid this morn that I had to pile on extra layers. I logged 20 miles at around 12,000 ft before 10am. I was happy to hop in the van to travel onward to the next location.
After a few hours traveling by van we unloaded the bikes. This ride started out downhill, then the road was up and down, as we rode through two villages and past the Quattro Lagunas. The ride added another 9.45 miles to the daily total. I'm feeling strong and accomplished.
Everyone has various levels of experience cycling, the 19 year-old Scottish kid is extremely fit and speeds on ahead of all of us. The hubby and wife from New Zealand have been on many trips and cycle a lot at home. The Aussie keeps a good pace. I think I'm the only one huffing and puffing at times.
C and I are different types of cyclists. My style is more slow and steady, with stops to smell the flowers (or photograph the alpacas). I'm more of a meanderer on a bike. (Whereas I'm a city walker, and keep a fast pace on foot.) C is a competitive, strong cyclist, pushing herself, very technical about things and happy to finish among the first, (and not so happy to be a long the last). Sometimes she waits for me or cycles just a bit ahead of my pace. I don't mind cycling alone, I am pushing myself each day, more than I have ever before. I have to remind myself, I've only just started this sport, cycling with a bit of seriousness since April, on my hybrid road bike. Previously, I meandered along in my beach cruiser, complete with my late great min-pin, Miss Holly Go-Lightly in the basket. (I've included an old pic of Miss Holly & I below).
We slept in the canyon, in cabanaconde. The temp dropped down but there were many warm and heavy blankets in our lodging. Usually I'm a furnace during the night, so C snuggles up close to me for warmth.
We left after breakfast so we could view the condors putting on their show. The Cruz Del Condor is a location that has thermal winds, which the giant birds catch to become airborne. This is a big tourist a lot with several local traditional women setting up shop to sell handmade alpaca items.
After about an hour, we hopped on our bikes and began our descent into the canyon. 3800m (12,844) and traveled 17k. After lunch I rode another 10k to the town of Copraque, before hopping into the support van, while the others continued by bike to the next location. I am usually the last rider in, the slowest, but I'm getting the job done.
The isolated accommodation was, by Peruvian standards, a resort. There were hot springs on the property, so we soaked our aching bones for a bit before dinner. It's been a few days since I have been able to get online. (Totally okay with that.)
Last night was chilly and we had piles of heavy blankets on us in bed. When we came back from dinner, we found a lovely and mysterious surprise of candy on the nightstand. When C got into bed she exclaimed how warm my feet were, but my feet weren't yet under the covers! Along with the candies, we were left the gorgeous surprise of a hot water bottle at the foot of the bed. Although we were in bed early, we were awake enough to watch a (pre-downloaded) episode of Orange is the New Black on my iPad. (Almost done with this season!)
The next morning we loaded the van to continue on to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Hi, I'm Reverend J, a queer+ sober wanderer, activist, writer and ordained minister.