Travel

A good, gloomy day for an existential crisis

Today I woke up feeling like it’s one of those days when I need to have a full-blown IMG_3147existential crisis.

Don’t worry. These rarely last for more than a day or two.

I wish the writing bug bit me more often when I am in a solid, content state of mind. Being solid and content does happen to me sometimes, you know. Unfortunately for my blog readers, it’s my down states that make me feel like I REALLY need to write and get it all out there. Writing to me is what food can be to others. It makes me feel better when I’m down.

Ever since I woke up I’ve been asking myself: What the fuck am I doing with my life? And… Why does it seem like every single person who locks eyes with mine wants to drain my bank account?

When I find myself in this position, I’ve learned to ask myself another question: Well, what would you rather be doing?

Now that question is starting to feel like a trick question.  (more…)

Is change on the horizon in Saudi Arabia?

Only recently did I realize that it’s a country I love to hate. I have a lot of baggage with Saudi Arabia and I so wanted to remain angry at it. But even as I got on my first flight back to the country in around 15 years, I found myself unable to quell the little bit of mounting excitement that I felt about going back.

I first went to Saudi Arabia in the 70s. I went to the 7th and 8th grades there. Before that we lived in the US. We returned afterwards to the States but went back to Saudi Arabia, where I spent my last year of schooling (11th grade) before I went off to university in Cairo, Egypt. My father remained for most of the rest of his life. He only left when his health no longer allowed him to continue teaching at university, many years after the typical retirement age.

My story with Saudi Arabia is complicated. I think I actually liked it as a young girl. During my younger years, I thrived on change. I’ve never been able to relate to children or their parents who worry about changing schools and leaving friends behind. My way of thinking was that my friends would remain my friends for life, no matter where I ended up in the world. Moving somewhere else only meant that I got to make even more friends.

Saudi Arabia was so different from anything I ever knew. But it was an adventure. (more…)

The scariness that is God-fearing America

“What do you think of America, Mom?” a young man with Down’s syndrome asked his mother, the waitress who was serving us in the now almost-empty restaurant. “I think America is in a terrible place, sweetie,” she responded. My ears perked. I wondered if she might be upset about the economy. Maybe she didn’t like one or both of the presidential candidates. Perhaps she felt America was becoming increasingly racist. “We’ve left God. ‘One nation under God’. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But now we’re just one nation.”

I felt uncomfortable. My husband and I were the only two people left in the restaurant located in a small town in Illinois with a population less than 9,000. We were blatantly foreign, my husband speaking with his Scottish accent and both of us walking around while holding iPads, kindles and a man bag. I had just asked the waitress’s daughter if the red things in the mashed potatoes were bacon bits, because if they were, I couldn’t eat it. She told me they were potato skins.

Had the mama waitress answered her son so loudly in order to make a point? Or maybe I had become hypersensitized to America’s God-speak and it was starting to get on my nerves.

It’s everywhere. The Bibles in every single hotel room, the signs in front of churches telling me I needed saving, the four older creationists sitting with big posters at the start of a trail in the Smoky Mountains, the country singers ending their show in Nashville with a gospel song, the tour guide announcing all kinds of religion existed in Nashville: Methodists, Baptists, Catholics…you name it! (more…)

Smashing the UK national three-peak challenge

Ever since I was a little girl…

…is NOT where the story of this next grand adventure begins.

In fact, I can think of only one grand adventure of mine (which happened not to be sport or activity related) that originated in my childhood. I’m constantly coming up with new dreams and new ideas for adventures.

This story actually starts here:

I'm not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let's just say it was bleak.

I’m not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let’s just say it was bleak.

Ever since about four years ago when I first heard of the UK’s national three-peaks challenge, I’ve wanted to give it a go.

I have no idea who thought of this idea or when. I’m not even going to look it up to tell you about it because to me, that part is irrelevant. The national three-peaks challenge is about hiking up the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in a period of 24 hours.

It’s not an official race. There are no official times. There aren’t marshals or registration forms. There’s no one to announce you’ve accomplished the task. There are no certificates at the end or event T-shirts. There isn’t a specific day to do it, although I hear throngs of people choose to do it on June 21, the longest day of the year.

You just go out and do it.

I’ve been nagging my husband ever since I heard of this being “a thing” that we go and do it ourselves. He had already done it twice. He wasn’t enthusiastic in any way to do it a third time. I couldn’t understand why. My husband is huge on physical activities and challenges. But after four years of nagging and an opportune relatively free summer, he obliged.

He put together a team of five. It’s better to have a few people with you because the challenge involves an incredible amount of driving. Only days before our set date, two of the five pulled out, leaving us with a small team of three: me, my husband, and one of his work colleagues who also, it just so happens, was our third team member on our grand cycle from London to Paris in three days only three years ago.

I knew the national three-peaks challenge would be challenging. It wouldn’t be called a challenge otherwise. (more…)

The cycling fall that was bound to happen

It was bound to happen.

If I was going to traipse around the world, hiking, cycling, marathoning, and triathloning, I was bound to

The day after the fall, making our way to Amsterdam by train instead of bike.

The day after the fall, making our way to Amsterdam by train instead of bike.

hurt myself somehow.

It comes with the territory. You can take as many precautions and reduce the risks as much as possible, but you can’t prevent the inevitable.

Living life is a risk. Sitting in a moving vehicle is a risk. Heck, spending most of your time in a chair in front of a TV or a computer is even more of a long-term risk than any hiking, cycling, gyming or marathoning I might be doing. Do I need to remind you about obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all the other myriad risks of sedentary living?

What was bound to happen? My bike wheel got caught in a tram track—you know, those huge, menacing, gaping linear holes in the ground present in many modern European streets. I fell—my right arm outstretched—and as I hit the ground the first thing I was aware of was that my shoulder had popped out of its socket. The second thing I did was to look behind me and make sure I wasn’t in the way of cars (or an oncoming tram). I wasn’t. I slowly pulled myself up from my strewn position on the road in downtown Brussels and as I did, my shoulder slipped back into its socket. (more…)

The soullessness of city travel

I think being able to climb mountains, dive in seas, and cycle across continents has ruined the typical city visits for me.

I was bombarded with stuff (albeit very tasty looking stuff) as I walked through the city - Turkish delight

I was bombarded with stuff (albeit very tasty looking stuff) as I walked through the city – Turkish delight

This is my fourth visit to Istanbul. I remember loving the city on my previous three visits. But that was before my adventuring began. That was before I started learning there was so much more out there.

When I learned I’d be coming to Istanbul on a quick business trip, I made sure to add an extra day to revisit the city I recalled being so enchanted with. It had been several years since I was here and I couldn’t wait to be back.

My disenchantment started at the airport. It was run down in a way that reminded me of Cairo’s old airport. The driver that was arranged to take me to my hotel was some 40 minutes late. He blamed the traffic; just the way Egyptians do. We walked out of the airport and I was hit in the face with a thick wall of cigarette smoke. Does everyone here smoke? I had to cover my nose and mouth with the scarf I had thrown around my neck. I could barely breathe.

At 4:51 AM (I know the exact time because a very luminous alarm clock was lying next to my bed), my hotel room door opened (yes, as simply as that) and I heard someone starting to walk in. “Heeeyyyyyyyy!!” I yelled as loud as I could. “Oh, I’m sorry. Sorry,” I heard a man say and shut the door back behind him. I got out of bed, opened the door, and yelled down the hallway, “How is it that you can get into people’s rooms??” (I never say the right thing in these circumstances). “I’m here for bar lock, madame, and I entered the wrong room. So sorry,” someone replied from two doors down.

I complained the next morning, of course. They said they’d find out who it was and give him a warning and they sent fruit to my room. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?)

To get to Istanbul’s old town, I took a taxi to the underground station, rode the underground and then got onto a tram. I could have taken a taxi all the way into town but I wanted to save some money and I also wanted to experience more of the city the way locals would. I eventually arrived at the marvelous Blue Mosque, took a selfie with it because I felt I had to, and then I walked into the mosque.

It was flooded with people, everyone holding up their cameras to the exquisitely designed domes. (more…)

How the dream of travel can hold you back

Recently, I’ve started wondering whether I’ve played some small part, through social media and blogging, in making some people think that the secret to happiness is to go out into the world on a grand adventure. I also wonder if I might have fallen into that trap myself.

For many years now I’ve been convinced that the thing I’m looking for is not happiness; it’s contentedness. Happiness, I now believe, comes in fleeting moments that we should be grateful for. Contentedness is a sustainable state of being: no matter how bad things get, no matter how seemingly routine and boring, no matter how complex, we can still be content.

Travel and adventure are wonderful passions to have. There is so much one can learn about life and about oneself by going out into the world. Travel and adventure have given me rare moments of clarity of mind and heart. They have made me, I feel, more tolerant of others and even of myself. They have given me so much food for thought about faith, politics, human rights, human potential, and what it means to be alive.

There are some things you can only truly learn when you expose yourself and your “givens” to others and to their givens. There are some things you can only truly learn when you shake the foundations of what you thought were truths. Travel is one of many other ways that allows you to do this.

I say this to emphasize that my aim is not to downplay the role travel can play in finding ways to learn and grow. It just isn’t the only way. (more…)

Getting the Post-Marathon Blues…Pre-Marathon

I’ve long known I have a lousy personality. I’ve written as much many times. In five days I’ll be trying to Barcelona Marathon 2013run a marathon after months of training and all I can really think about is: and then what will I do?

While I was training, I read lots and lots of articles on running. One of the things that really stood out was the amount of material available on post-marathon blues. There I was, hating almost every single minute of my training: the boredom, the loneliness, the freezing cold, the rain, the snow, the mud, the puddles, the pain, the injuries…and there were people out there telling me that once it was all over I’d feel depressed. They were saying that all that training gives the runner a sense of purpose and a routine. Once it’s done, runners feel loss. It all sounded crazy to me. I couldn’t wait for it to all be over.

Yesterday I did my last training run and I already feel a horrible sense of loss. Training for this marathon took over my life for many months. My whole life revolved around my training schedule, my workouts with my personal trainer, and my visits to the physiotherapist. I ate to fuel myself up, iced and stretched to recover, swam to get rid of lactic acid, saunad to relax tight muscles. I put many other activities on the side burner because I needed my weekends for the long runs and non-activity days to rest.

And now it’s all done.

I’m freaking out about the marathon, of course. (more…)

The pros, cons and responsibilities of popularizing adventure

This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.

Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.

I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.

I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved. (more…)

Marrakech: A Half Marathon to Remember

It was hot. It had been over a year since I ran in the heat. Am I up for this? What if I get heat stroke or

My pre-half-marathon breakfast.

My pre-half-marathon breakfast.

heat exhaustion? “Just get yourself to the next 5km mark, Nadia. Get yourself there, slow down, drink some water at the water station, and re-evaluate then.”

The past few months I had been running in the cold of northern England. In the past few weeks, the cold had reached a below-freezing stage where I could feel my leg muscles clench from the cold. But as long as it wasn’t snowing or raining, running in temperatures above freezing was not so bad, I eventually realized. I would always warm up five minutes into the run and that was that. All I had to do afterwards was focus on getting through the run without needing to make a stop behind the bushes to pee in public. Running on snowy, icy, muddy ground was when it really got difficult for me. It’s almost impossible to fall into a comfortable stride. I’d look for slippery spots and play a complicated game of avoid-the-invisible-mines to make sure to stay injury-free. I need to stay injury free.

I reached the first water station. (more…)