mountains

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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Cycling Europe Day 44: When Hope Returns

I didn’t get killer hills today!!

Turnov, Czech Republic

Turnov, Czech Republic

I got thunder, lightening, intense rain showers, and absolutely soaking wet.

BUT I DIDN’T GET KILLER HILLS TODAY!

You have no idea how happy I am. I cycled 95km today. In the best of conditions that is a lot for me. The terrain was not flat by any means. It was mildly undulating. For most of the ride it was raining really hard. I had to be extra careful so I wouldn’t slip. I got splashed on countless times by trucks and cars. I had to change my upper body clothes twice because I got so wet I was shivering. I had to pee more times than normal probably because I was feeling cold. But did any of that matter to me? Not one bit as long as I did not get the killer hills!

Everything is so relative. If I had a ride like today just some time last week, I’d have been miserable. But now that I’ve seen TRULY miserable, almost anything is better in comparison.

I’ve been thinking about my visit to Prague and other large cities and why they don’t impress me much anymore. The advantage to doing the kind of trip I’m doing is that you get to see so much more of a country than you would by taking planes or driving a car on motorways. You see the backroads and the small towns and villages. You stop and eat in the tiniest of roadside restaurants. You see how people live across the country and the differences in standards of living. You stop in towns where tourists rarely, if ever, go.

I wouldn’t say that you get to see the REAL country and people. The capital city, with its inhabitants, usually smarter lifestyle, tourists, and tourist attractions are all part of what makes a certain country what it is. But it’s only a part.

That made me reflect on Egypt. Cairenes tend to think of Cairo as being Egypt. Not only that, Egyptians who live outside of Cairo, when traveling to Cairo, will say they are going to Masr, the Arabic word for Egypt. When I think about all the horrible things I dislike about living in Egypt, most of them are related only to living in Cairo: such as the awful traffic. I’ve always said that the second one sets foot outside of Cairo, one sees how beautiful Egypt actually is. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 40: Rolling Hills, Genetics, and Hash

Rolling hills. Those are the worst. You know where you stand with mountains. You might have a 20km climb. It might even be steep. But you put your head down and pedal for the distance you know you will climb and up to the altitude you know you will reach and you’re done. Then you either coast down the other side and cycle through a valley or you stay up top for awhile. With rolling hills, it’s just up, down, up, down, like a yo-yo. You feel like you might as well not even count the descents; they are too short to make any difference.

Today I had 130km of rolling hills. In scorching heat. And 19mph winds, partly at my

The Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno

The Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno

back and partly pushing me to the side. When I crossed the border between Austria and the Czech Republic, I struggled to understand what types of roads I could use. As far as I can guess, it looks like they have two degrees of motorway that I can’t use. I used the lesser degree twice today for a brief period of time because I couldn’t see where else to go. At least no one tried to kill me or to scare me to death by giving me angry honks. I was scared anyways. It’s never fun cycling on a busy highway. I really hope I figure out the roads tomorrow.

I loved cycling in Austria. I’d recommend it to anyone. The roads are really good for cyclists. The scenery is amazing. The people seem to be nice. I left Austria with an impression about their women in particular: the ones I interacted with seemed genuine, kind, warm, strong, independent, and very hard working. If I go back to Austria one day I’d like to get to know more about Austrian women.

I’ve never been to the Czech Republic before. It’s the third country on this trip so far that I’m visiting for the first time after Portugal and Slovenia. I’m in Brno today, the Czech Republic’s second largest city. You know what I discovered about Brno only after I arrived? It’s the town where Gregor Johan Mendel put together Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance and thus founded modern genetics! I found that so exciting that I spent the entire evening looking for the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas where Mendel was Abbot. Mendel conducted his experiments on pea plants in the monastery garden.

Brno feels like a tired city to me. Its people looked tired as well. I wonder how much of

Brno

Brno

that is simply a reflection of my own exhaustion today; it must affect how I see things. I’ll tell you one thing though: I get the impression that getting stoned here is a thing the way it is in Amsterdam. I saw several people publicly smoking hash. I also saw several others who looked like they were on stuff other than hash. I wonder what the Czech drug culture is like? It seems common and open but that is merely an impression from one evening out.

The currency in the Czech Republic is not the Euro. I only have Euros on me. So I’m going to have to get some Korunas tomorrow.

Today, a friend of mine told me her 12-year-old son, Ziyad, in Cairo, Egypt, follows my blog posts about this trip regularly and wants to do something similar one day. I want to give Ziyad a huge shout-out because that is probably the best thing I could hear. Ziyad, know that you can do whatever you put your mind to. That’s something I relearned on this trip. I just can’t wait to follow YOUR adventures!

Cycling Europe Day 6: Me and My Stinky

I think of my GPS as being an over-excited puppy. I spent weeks before the trip marking out daily routes suitable to my needs and abilities. I downloaded all the routes to my GPS gadget. Then, every evening I look in detail at the route and decide which parts to follow and which not. Now that I’m actually here it’s easier for me to tell which roads are good and which aren’t so I make changes accordingly. As a result, while cycling, I’ll sometimes go “off course” from the map downloaded into my GPS and it tells me so in so many words. I’ll be cycling along a nice flat road and it will suddenly bark, “Whoof! Whoof! There’s a big hill! Let’s go up that!” And I’ll say, “Shut up Stinky!” (my GPS-dog’s name is Stinky), “I KNOW you just want to make this difficult for me.” And Stinky throws a big pout and lets me do what I want until it sees another hill. “Whoof! Whoof! Turn left! Turn left! You won’t regret it! I promise!” And I’ll say, “Oh no you don’t. I’ve seen the map this morning. I know what you’re trying to do.”

Sometimes I follow Stinky and it asks me to take the second exit in a roundabout. But if the roundabout is a big one, Stinky gets all confused and tells me I’ve gone off course when all I’m doing is still turning in the roundabout. Then I get to the right exit and turn to it and Stinky acts all relieved and says, “Whew! I found the route. That was a close one!” Other times I really do choose the wrong exit and Stinky goes all wild and crazy, “Make a u-turn! NOW! NOWWW!” Sometimes he does that when I don’t want to make a u-turn because I see signs pointing where I want to go so I ignore him while he throws a u-turn tantrum for half an hour.

Well yesterday Stinky took his revenge. (more…)

Two Egyptian Women, the Police, Lots of Bedouin Men, a Convicted Drug Felon, and Asfour the Camel

There are some places in this world that require you to walk long and far and with a certain amount of risk to life and limb in order to reach them. Months and sometimes years of training are needed to achieve the physical strength and the mental willpower necessary to take you to these places. These places are worth seeing.

Our night ascent to the summit of Egypt’s highest peak was grueling at times. We were pushing hard and were not taking breaks. The moon shone bright over our heads. Our headlamps were not required. My breathing became heavier and heavier as we went higher and higher. I began to feel the weight of my backpack that was carrying four-days-worth of clothes and snacks. “Why do I keep doing this to myself?” I thought. “I am not enjoying this. I feel miserable. What is wrong with me?”

We reached the summit in a short three hours. My best friend Arwa slumped down on the floor of the summit hut, shivering. I took her in my arms and rubbed her back to warm her. We ate a quick snack and jumped into our sleeping bags, lying side by side with our two Bedouin guides barely a meter away.

After a very restless sleep – altitude gives me nightmares – I woke up and saw the door to our stone hut was lined by a dim halo of light. I put on my sandals and fleece jacket and opened the door.

This was why I did it, I suddenly remembered. Below me lay a wide expanse of clouds and mountain range, shining under the rising sun.

Getting to this point was not easy. (more…)

My love-hate relationship with exercising

Almost every single time I start thinking about beginning my semi-daily exercise routine I feel dread. But I’ve never once regretted

Hiking in the Cinque Terre, Italy

Hiking in the Cinque Terre, Italy

exercising once I’m done.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes when I start exercising or when I go to the gym, I feel like giving up in the middle of it all. Sometimes I do the easier exercises rather than the more difficult ones. Sometimes in gym class I’ll be so tired that I do things at half the pace as everyone else. And a couple of times I’ve started an activity and I’ve just completely given up after a few minutes. But that’s only happened when I’ve chosen to do something I’m completely unprepared to do.

My journey with exercise has been just that: a long and arduous journey. It’s taken me years to understand my body, its limitations, how far I can push it, and when I just need to rest. It’s taken me years to get myself into a mindset of exercising as regularly as I can, no matter where I am, and no matter what facilities are available to me. The one thing that has convinced me most to keep pushing forward is that I want to be fit enough to enjoy my life and to do fun and exciting things. (more…)