Travel

The Unclimbing

I may not have summited the mountain, but I did discover the amazing wonders of the pee bottle.

I would not have thought it possible for women. I’ve long heard about men peeing in

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The view from our tent at basecamp (4,300 meters).

bottles while on the road and I was always envious. With years of camping, hiking, and cycling under my belt, I had become accustomed to the quick squat behind a bush and getting my business done. When I set up my tent on a campground, I always made certain it wasn’t too far away from the toilets. I’m the type that gets up at least twice during the night to pee; more during the winter when I’m cold. It’s a bother getting up, getting dressed, unzipping the tent, going to the toilet, coming back, unzipping then rezipping the tent, undressing, then getting into my sleeping bag. But what was I to do? If you have to pee you have to pee.

But on Aconcagua, Latin America’s highest mountain, I learned that it is very possible for a woman to pee in the comfort of her own tent into a wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottle with perfect aim. Of course, this means peeing in the same tiny confined space that your tent mate is sleeping in; that same tent mate that you only met for the first time three days ago. But does that matter? No! Not one single bit. Not when you don’t have to go outside into the freezing cold to pee in a dark, smelly toilet. Not when you can get your business done in seconds and quickly snuggle back into your warm sleeping bag. Besides, who wants to watch someone else pee? No one. So all you really need to worry about is others hearing the sound of a water bottle filling up with liquid. Actually, your real concern is peeing in your actual water bottle instead of your designated pee bottle. That is why the pee bottle gets taped up with duct tape that you can clearly feel in the dark to distinguish it from your other bottles.

The pee bottle is one of my most important takeaways from an extravagantly expensive trip up part of a mountain.

Aconcagua beat the crap out of me. (more…)

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Here she goes again: But why, oh, why?

Today was one of those mornings. I woke up thinking: Why on EARTH do I keep doing this to myself?

As usual, at the time when I booked this trip, I thought it was a totally inspired idea. And also as usual, now that I’m about to set off on it, all I can think is that I hate traveling. I hate change. I just want to sit on the couch at home and do nothing.

Of course, when I sit on the couch with nothing to do, I am so incredibly bored with how

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If you happen to see a woman struggling to carry these through the London underground, PLEASE offer her a helping hand. Otherwise, I have no idea how this is even happening.

routine my life has become that I book myself onto trips like the one I’m about to go on today.

Something must be wrong with me.

Well, whether I’m totally sane or completely bonkers, I have no choice now but to set off on another epic journey.

That sentence makes me sound so ungrateful for the opportunities that I have. I promise you, I’m not.

I know that I want to give this a try. I have wanted to go on this trip for years. But there is always some sort of a struggle going on inside of me. I have learned that, if I want to achieve anything in life, I need to somehow rise above that struggle and just do the things I know I want, and sometimes even need, to do.

Today, my big job is getting myself from Leeds in the north of England to London Heathrow. It will be no easy task. I’m taking the train from Leeds to London King’s Cross, then I need to make my way through the London underground carrying 30kg-worth of stuff. I have no wheelie suitcases with me for this trip. I’ll have to carry ALL of it.

Listen, if I can get myself to Heathrow Airport today, I’ll be fine with whatever happens over the next three weeks (she lies).

I really wish I had been able to prepare more for this trip. But I was so exhausted, more mentally than physically, after completing my Ironman and the months of training that preceded it, that I just didn’t have the motivation to do the kind of physical preparation that I was hoping to do. Instead, I focused on making sure I had all the gear that would keep me as safe as possible for this trip. I also focused on just getting through a work day without feeling like I was in a constant rush to get in another training session.

I have decided that I don’t really mind how the trip goes as long as I stay safe and enjoy myself while I’m there. I am not looking for any amazing accomplishments. I am most looking forward to being forced not to connect to Internet World for the major part of three weeks. Knowing me, I’ll still manage to find that rare Internet connection so I can quickly post something nonsensical on Facebook. But it will be rare if it happens at all.

Other things will be rare too: showers, for one. Toilets. A warm bed. Clean clothes. Even a general sense of well-being might be rare!

Why do I choose to do these things again?

Ok. I’ll admit it. This post has me thinking I’m actually quite excited about what is to come. I might have been lacking motivation over the past few weeks, but this just might be worth digging in deep and pulling it back out again.

Arrrrrghhhhhh!

Focus, Nadia. Just get yourself to Heathrow for now.

 

 

Reflections Ten Days Post-Ironman

This past year, I have been a member of a Facebook group that was set up by the

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I spent one of my recovery days just walking around Girona, Italy. If you ask me, THAT is what living life is all about.

Ironman brand organizers for people who registered to do an Ironman for the first time. Can you believe that about 70% of the participants in Ironman Barcelona 2017 had done an Ironman before? The more I have spoken with people, the more I have discovered that lots of people get hooked on the race. Some people do more than one Ironman race in a single year!

The Facebook group was really helpful. Being a complete novice, it was helpful for me to see how other people trained, what their plans were for what to wear during the race (one piece vs two piece), how they planned to go to the toilet (stop at a port-a-potty vs peeing on oneself while cycling/running…yes, that seems to actually be quite common), what their nutrition plans were for the race, etc. Once people in the group participated in the various Ironman races around the world, many posted reports on how their races went, most of them successful but some not. It was as inspiring to hear the stories of those who crossed the finish line as it was to hear the stories of those who did not. In both cases, a tremendous effort was had, sacrifices were made, and strength and determination shone brightly. There was so much to learn from every story.

As my race day neared, my nerves began to fall apart. During the major part of my training I was able to keep my mind focused on getting through one session at a time. I didn’t need to think about “the race”. I just needed to get through a training session. I could do that. Tapering began three weeks before the race. I started feeling fatigued. The race was also suddenly becoming so much more of a reality, which frightened the heck out of me.

It was around this time that someone in the Ironman beginners’ Facebook group wrote that he finished his race, but he wasn’t feeling, like others had expressed, that he had done something absolutely amazing. I think lots of people took that in a negative way. But when I read his post my immediate thought was, “I want that! That’s how I want to feel about this race!”  (more…)

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…)