When focusing on writing and defending my thesis, my blog posting fell to the way side–Here’s just a brief recap of what I’ve been up to since arriving back in the states in mid-June.
I arrived back into the states, did two trainer rides and signed up for my first mountain bike race in almost 10 months– and my first go back on my mountain bike in 7 months.
It was a bit ugly and 2 hours later I wondered why I didn’t sign up for the 10 mile option instead of the 20-miler. I somehow survived and was surprised that my legs went out much sooner than my lungs, so maybe running actually did something. I decided to do the race to help ‘race my way back into shape’.
Within the first week of arriving back into the states I secured a spot for Leadville (yikes!) but with no aspirations of defending my age group title. Instead, I’m hoping to be in good enough shape to ride with another WBR team rider and get across the finish together (more on it all later, promise). It should be a great day and I’m looking forward to it.
Given the limited time frame to get into shape and the fact that I was writing my thesis, I got in touch with my coach from last year to come up with a plan, which meant a lot of road and trainer rides.
I did not tell my parents about Leadville until I absolutely had to because was worried my mom would worry more about my stress level between training and writing. Riding gave me a good excuse to take a break and ruminate on what I had been working on. Only once did I go to the doctor to get some blood drawn and have a resting heart rate of 92, minor detail.
I defended my thesis and passed, if you’re interested in reading 97 pages about influenza vaccines, lettme know! I found that prepping for a thesis defense was similar to an endurance race.
You spend a lot of time, resources and energy working towards the goal. Don’t change your equipment the day of– I walked halfway across campus with the podium I had practiced with, and the night before you realize you have done everything you can at this point and just need to get some good sleep. Afterwards, I was able to spend about a week and half in South Dakota before heading back to ND for graduation. I was able to get some trail riding in with Barb why home. I’m now on my way back to South Dakota and will head down to CO in about a week for Leadville. After Leadville, it’s back to law school!
It happened to be baton twirling national championships at ND this weekend and I found a discarded baton in the grass that allowed me to relive my glory days, much to the amusement of my family- ha!
Early this year when I started to log more running miles than cycling miles someone asked me what I was training for, I responded with, “Life”. Even with the added base of running my legs were a little heavy for Day 3.
Knowing that time was a precious commodity I realized I could tackle the route I had planned even if I was hiking the whole time. My goal was to do a similar route to the day before, only on the other side of the valley. I started in town and hiked up to left towards Montenvers, I opted for the shorter route and still took a good 90 minutes to get to the top.
Only at the top did I realize that there was a train option. For only seeing 2 people on the trail the view point was suddenly littered with unaccompanied minors throwing rocks and adults wandering aimlessly around. It was a bizarre spectacle to come out of the solitude of the trail and emerge onto a boisterous scene of people.
From there I hiked up towards Signal Forbes, which was a lot of rock stairs and questioning if I took the right trail. Once I reached the peak it flattened out a bit but I still opted against running due to all the jagged rocks waiting to claim me as their victim (no need to learn about the French medical system). The trail smoothed out eventually and my walk turned into a trot and then back to a walk and then back to a trot as my quads were a little blown out. I started calling it the “wrot” and could only wonder what people thought of me (fortunately there were not a lot of people on the trail at this point). The views were still breathtaking, not so much the other side of the valley but the ridge line that I was running on offered vantage points up towards the highest peaks.
I made it to De L’Aiguille and was again mystified at the cable car running up from the town. No way was I getting on that thing. I sat down and waited a few moments hoping that the clouds would break and I could get a good picture of Aiguille Du Midi.
There is also a cable car that runs up to that peak at 3842 meters, I almost threw up thinking about that option. I wandered around a bit debating if I should hike up to Lac Bleu or head down, I saw a sign that said it was only 15 minutes so opted towards the lake. The problem with the maps and the signs is that none of them have distance and only times, and I’m still not sure who those times are based. The lake was pretty but with the cloud coverage didn’t offer as much of a view as Lac Blanc the day before. I sat for a few minutes, reapplied some sunscreen, ate some dried mangos and contemplated just how much sunscreen I had ingested at that point.
I started down, which the sign said time to Chamonix about 2:30 but I figured it would be 1:30. The first steps down the trail I wasn’t so sure, it was steep and the drop offs were more perilous than the Grand Canyon.
I was definitely hugging the non-exposure side at some moments and also scooting along to lower my center of gravity. It’s times like these that I really think about lasik eye surgery so I can have accurate depth perception (Background: I only have one bad eye but hate touching my eye so never wear contacts and only glasses for reading and school, which is probably why I crash a lot while biking or trip while trail running. My optometrist once stated, “I can’t believe you’re still alive with this depth perception.”). The trail was filled with a lot of switchbacks and continued on the steep grades, even when the exposure disappeared. I still continued to awkwardly shuffle down between a walk and a trot, trying not to jar my quads too much. I made it down in about 1:40 and bee-lined it to the grocery store to get candy (I ate all my skittles from the day before (Kara, I promise I will fit in my bridesmaid dress-haha)).
For my last day I knew I wouldn’t have too much time because I had to catch the shuttle back to Geneva. I opted for a short loop on the opposite side of the Chamonix Peaks so I could take in those views one last time. I also thought my legs would be completely shot but surprised me when they were good to run both up and down (fortunately not super steep grades). I only did about 2 hours and stopped a lot to take pictures. There is a race around Mont Blanc, I don’t think there is anyway I would survive the race and I’d probably spend wayyy too much time taking photos. It seems like the route goes through enough little towns that you can run it with minimal support, which would be really fun if anyone reading this is interested…
As I was getting packed up to leave I had the thought that I wish I could spend more time here, and I realized that I have that thought about almost anywhere I go. It’s certainly a great privilege to be able to explore this world.
I had initially planned to have a few days at the end of my trip but with some scheduling conflicts it worked out better to make a long weekend of it (my research budget did not get approved for that much time in Geneva). I had initially thought of going to Lauterbrunnen or Zermatt but one of my good friends has spent time in Chamonix, doing the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (163 km race and she crushed it) and just wrapped up a month of skiing so with someone being familiar with the area that I could pick for trail recommendations (and the fact that it’s wayyyy cheaper than Switzerland) that was all it took.
I planned to only do one posting about my time in Chamonix but rather than encumber you with an insane number of photos thought I would break it down into two days for each post. I arrived Friday night after taking a shuttle from Geneva and just in time for yoga hosted by Patagonia. Normally I avoid studios (shout out to YogaGlo on my computer) but figured it would be a good way to get some stretching in for the next day. Thus, I attended my first bilingual yoga class.
Saturday I decided to ease into being here so only sought out a trail that was about 2 hours give or take. I went up to the Cascade du Dard and then continued on the trail to the La Para. I thought about continuing on but didn’t want to overdue it with the next few days allowing for more time on the trail.
Today at the recommendation of my friend I took the trail up to the Lac Blanc. I started in Chamonix and at the recommendation of the Tourism office took the tram up the first leg (they said it would save me 3 hours of hiking and they told me to plan for a 7 hour day without the initial hike). I opted for the tram, which meant I was sweating profusely before I even got to the trail (still an abnormally high amount of anxiety in them). The signage is fairly good but because of my poor sense of direction I took off in the one wrong direction I could have gone and spent an hour getting up to Col Du Brevent. I back tracked (it was only about 15 minutes down if that gives you an idea of steepness) and got on the right trail.
It was sometimes hard to focus on running though as each step offered a new view of the surrounding landscape and it was hard to contain my excitement.
After passing through the last hut before Lac Blanc I had assumed I was nearing 14,000 feet elevation (later I saw I was only at 8,000-what?). My breathing felt labored, my legs were starting to retain lactic acid (is this what people deal with going to Leadville?!? Yikes!). It’s the only time I’ve noticeably felt the effects of the altitude but continued to scamper up the trail, hoping it would be worth it.
It was, I was in complete awe that my travels allowed me to come here, my mouth was completely open as a surveyed the landscape, is this real life—EEEEEK! Major fan girl moment. How has it taken me this long to get here?!
I was a little low on water at this point and wasn’t sure if I would make it back without running out so instead opted to go left towards Argentiere instead of right back to Chamonix (it was still about 90 minutes down as opposed to the 3 hours it would have taken because I was not going down in the tram). Then opted for the bus, fortunately I had enough left over skittles to contain me until the bus arrived
Hoping to go up the other side tomorrow and reach De L’Aiguille.
Here are a few more photos from today- if you want access to the full 150 (probably why it took me so long to get anywhere today), I’ll send you the google photo link!
And if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! To reward you here is a PSA on the use of SPF 100, it only works when applied correctly! Looks like I’ll be rocking the pantsuit the rest of the week- ha!
When I was initially packing I opted against bringing any cycling gear, thinking it wouldn’t be worth having for maybe one or two rides. I should have thought about at least packing cycling shorts.
I had some free time last Friday afternoon so wandered into a bike shop to see about renting a bike to cruise around Geneva for the next day. I opted for a fitness bike (flat bar) and asked about some routes to get out of town, it was suggested that I do the group ride on Saturday. “They’ll all have road bikes though, right?” “Yep…” “Okay, can I get a road bike.” When in Rome…errr Switzerland.
I showed up the next morning thinking it would be a 90 minute ride with an hour or so coffee break. I opted against buying cycling shorts (it was hard to justify given how many I have at home) so showed up in spandex, tennis shoes, a camelbak and casual sunglasses – I was ready. Dressing like a newbie I graciously took any helpful hints that came my way, like recommendations for shifting. What instead happened was 4 hour ride with about 3,700 feet of climbing– definitely my longest ride since Leadville. Thankfully I’ve never had saddle issues and while padded shorts would have been nice it wasn’t as terrible as I was envisioning. It was a little unnerving descending without being clipped in. I found it similar to getting into an uncomfortable yoga pose when you realize how tense you are and have to remember to breath.
I survived and even made some friends, a nice lady from Arizona who was leaving on Sunday to do some bike packing around Switzerland. We started chatting and she told me her route and I talked about riding with her for part of the way on Sunday and then turning back. We started talking with another guy who was going to do a winery tour by bike the next day and the town just happened to be on the route. We opted to ride to Nyon on Sunday and then go to the wineries with him and then figure it out.
Switzerland has amazing bike routes all over the country with really nice signage so leaving Geneva we took route 1 over to Nyon, about 18 miles or so. A few roads I was surprised to see cars on as they weren’t very much wider than a bike path. The wine tasting was fun, I keep thinking in a few more years my palate will expand to include enjoying red wines, but most I tried weren’t terrible, and there were some great white wines. It was nice to spend the day outside of Geneva and on some desolate country roads to get to the various wineries. We ended up spending most of the afternoon cruising around and when the time came I opted for the train back so I wouldn’t have to ride alone into the dark (your welcome, Mom).
The next day was a national holiday, which I didn’t find out until Friday otherwise might have tried to plan a bit more. After spending two days on the bike without a chamois wasn’t sure I was up for a third. Fortunately I have a friend who is a pro-traveler and I was texting her Monday morning about how everything was shut down. She suggested going to the train station if I wanted to get coffee and upon my arrival there was so tempted to buy a ticket on the next train out. The first place that pulled up was Lausanne and recognizing it as a recommended place to see and feeling a little serendipitous bought the ticket and took off for the day. I didn’t even bring a sweater because I had no thoughts when I was leaving the hotel that I wouldn’t be back in 20 minutes.
I’m glad I went even with most of the shops closed for the holiday it was still a gorgeous town to walk around in. Fortunately the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne was open. It was consecrated in 1275!
It even has a lookout which is open. I read that the lookout has been open since 1405, walking up the concrete steps they were certainly worn from where people had walked.
I was also able to see the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, which was shut down for the holiday but still impressive from the outside no less. I’m sure the habits of visiting churches and court houses stems from trips I took as a child but I like to think they complement each other well, as my dad says, “you get law in this life and justice in the next.”
This weekend I was able to take a few extra days and I’m headed to Chamonix, France. Hoping Get some trail running in and pick up some dirt for my soul.
The problem with doing a split location for research is as soon as I was starting to feel comfortable in Hanoi, I was uprooted to Geneva. It’s great being able to be in two different locations and experience two very different areas, but I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of things in Hanoi.
I was tied to being in Hanoi my last two days waiting for an email to come in so went to a few museums. It was a rather peculiar feeling walking through the Military Museum and realizing that they view the Viet Nam War a little differently; we (Americans) aren’t viewed as the good guys but instead as imperialists that they defeated…
The last few days in Hanoi I knew it was time to go when “Raspy Kate”
showed up*. Normally I love when “Raspy Kate” shows up, usually a day
or two before a full blown cough and lingers a little bit after with a
low, seductive should be in a cabaret voice. This Raspy Kate was prompted by smog and second hand cigarette smoke. What I assumed was developing throat cancer dissipated with one swift inhale of clean
air. It makes sense why everyone has face masks in the city. Anyone
thinking we should roll back EPA regulations should go spend a week in a country that doesn’t have them. I’ve been amazed at the amount of smokers in Geneva as that clean air was soon interrupted.
I arrived in Geneva and the next day the World Health Assembly began. I’ve been attending on and off depending on what they are discussing. And then re-watching parts of the day in the evenings. It’s been nice just to observe and see how a large international organization appeases 194 individuals countries. It hasn’t been without drama, as Taiwan wasn’t officially invited this year and the assembly elected a new Director-General that ushered in a few protests of its own.
I made time to go to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, which I thought would be more of look at all the times we’ve intervened and the lives we’ve saved but it ended up being a harrowing experience as I was compounded by all the times the international community was silent for far too long towards heinous war crimes.
I went to France this past weekend to run/hike up Mont Saleve, it’s visible from Geneva and was a short bus ride over and the easiest border cross I’ve ever had (it was non-existent). It seemed fairly simple to get on the trail so I grabbed a trail map from the start of the tram and headed off to the right. I ended up on a trail that went up so figured that was it and proceeded to go. It was steep, any thought I had of running up was now laughable as most of the time I was using my hands to help scamper up. It wasn’t until I reached a rock face that had a rope to clip into that I thought maybe I should turn around (for my family reading this, sorry the thought didn’t come sooner).
I turned around as one of my goals is to not create an international incident and I can’t imagine that injuring myself on some random unmarked trail in France would go over smoothly.I headed back down, albeit slower than going up as I would catch one tree and push off and catch the next one to prevent from just sliding down. I opted for the tram at this point to at least reach the top. Upon boarding I immediately regretted it as we were all stuffed into it like sardines and while I looked at the floor the entire time it didn’t help when upon nearing the top a girl went, “it looks like we’re going to crash”. Vowing not to ride it down I went to the look out point to figure it out from there.
At the top I ran into a French man who was willing to take my picture, I asked about what trail he used to get up and had indicated that the one I was on they call the “throat” and gestured to his neck as if he was choking, “because it’ll squeeze the life out of you”Ohhhhh. An American woman interjected and told me about the trail she had taken up that only took 1:45 and they took it pretty casual. I figured it must not have been too bad as she had an empty beer bottle in her backpack so I opted for that one. It was a smooth, buffed out, well marked and I could not figure out how I missed it. Until I realized at the end when I should have went left instead of right to reach this trail head. Next time!
The stark contrast between Hanoi and Geneva has led me to some reflecting on how we (I) showcase the two countries. My biases against Hanoi really stems from that I’m not a city girl, at all. The traffic, horns honking, constant noise, fast pace I’ve also found in Boston, Chicago, NYC. This past spring when I went to Boston for a conference and upon returning my dad asked if they were going to lose me to Boston for law school. I said the first few days there I was really feeling being back in the city, getting around no problem, fully handling public transportation, I was ready to move back. Then I got off at the wrong stop, and my uber driver took the long way around and getting back to the train station my phone sent me in the wrong direction and I was over it. I’m really good in cities that are less than 500,000 people. I did an 8 month stint in Denver once but was constantly driving back to Boulder or the mountains to get out of it.
It’s also made me think on how each country is reflected towards the outside world, a lot of photos (mainly on pinterest) coming out of Viet Nam are of the people or of food, whereas Switzerland it’s more landscape shots. I thought of how strange it would be for me to be circled by a bunch of Swiss kids on a park playground, but yet that’s often the photos coming out of low-income countries. I had the realization when I was walking to the UN in Geneva and crossed a 4 lane street in the morning without much traffic. That same scene in Hanoi prompted me to stop and take a photo. Someone told me that you’re often attractive to the unfamiliar in a new area and so I hope that I have I done Viet Nam justice as I really did enjoy my time there, especially once I got into a groove, and would have liked to have spent more time in the Sapa region as mountains and less people seems to be more of my style, no matter what country I’m in.
I digress a lot with this blog as the transition just provided a stark contrast. I also meant to get this up sooner but was hit with a 24 hour bug that led to me throwing up a lot. Feeling better now, and one day left of the WHA marks my time here almost halfway done! I can’t believe it.
*I have asthma so am more conscious of air quality and someone mentioned that the smog in Hanoi is similar to smog levels that were in the US in the 1970s. Sapa had very clean air, slightly more humid than my lungs are capable of handling. Not to put it in a negative light, but this is the bias that I’m bringing to the table.
With the finite time that I have in Hanoi I knew that getting out of the city to sight-see would be limited so this past weekend decided between going to Sapa and Ha Long Bay. It wasn’t that hard of a decision because given the choice between mountains and the sea; I will always pick mountains. Off to Sapa I went. I took the train overnight (8 hours) in a sleeper car. It’s a bit odd to share a chamber with people you don’t know but everyone went to sleep pretty quickly and only awoke at 6 am as we pulled into Loa Cai. From the train station it was was a 45km drive up to Sapa and the views did not disappoint.I knew as soon as stepping off the train I had made the right choice, the air was so much clearer and thinner. Getting in to the hotel by 8am, I was able to drop my bags off and head to go to Mt. Fansipan (the highest peak in the Indochina region at 3,143 meters and for those of you back in the states 10,312 feet). Looking at the trail map it was feasible to climb with the fastest person going up in 2:30 hours and the slowest being 22 hours, yikes! I did not bring enough snacks so instead opted for the 45 minute walk to the gondola that would take you to near the top with 700 steps up to the top.
The gondola was enough to make me grateful I opted not to hike, the sheer steepness of the peaks made me realize why the slowest was 22 hours. Getting to the top with 700 steps I soon realized that the steps were not made with a size 42 shoe in mind as they were tall and shallow leaving me a few times grabbing the railing as to not fall backwards. Getting to the top the views were incredible at least when the clouds broke. I was surprised at how many people were at the top and then remembered it was only a gondola ride up. I was more surprised at how many people at the top were smoking (a reoccurring theme in Viet Nam). Getting down the gondola was a little more nervous wracking, the first time the mountain drops off my stomach ended up in my throat.
I spent the rest of the day just walking around the town and familiarizing myself with the area, and of course stopping to stare at the views from time to time.
The next morning I signed up for a trekking route that was 12km. One other reason that I was drawn to Sapa was the Hmong people. I read a book earlier this year, The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down. A story about a Hmong child and her family as they navigate the medical landscape in America. It’s a book that stuck with me as you see the lack of communication and good intentions by both parties fall short in the best interests of the child. The opening scene of the book is the mother giving birth to this child in a small house in the same room as her other children who were sleeping. They are only awoken by the cries of the new baby as the mother is silent throughout. Damn, now, I’ve never gone through childbirth but if I do I’m definitely planning on all the drugs. My guide who was Hmong talked about how with her first child her water broke on the trail and she hiked home, hopped on the motorbike and went to the hospital because she needed a c-section; one of her friend’s had her child on the trail(!!!!).
We trekked through terrace rice fields where there was a look of the irrigation system up close. I kept thinking of how many years back this practice has gone and how incredibly intricate it was. The trails were steep and with it raining the evening before a little slick too. Some of the Hmong women hiking with us wore slip on sandals and our guide was in rain boots and they all floated along the trail. Meanwhile I’m in full on trail-running shoes and still struggling to find traction. There is an ultrarace in the area in September of each year, I can’t even imagine how intense that must be given the grades that we were hiking. , It would be fun to come back and do the ultra for the views alone, even if it would destroy me.
Part of the economy in the area is based on tourism and the handmade goods that the various ethnic groups sell. I was able to resist the first group of kids that came up to sell bracelets but it must have exceeded all my self-will for the rest of the day as each child that would approach me I gave in, fortunately each bracelet was only 5,000 Dong (22 cents USD). One group there were 3 girls selling them, and I told them I wanted 5 which made their eyes light up. After thinking they were the only ones, I was soon swarmed with many other children–I have no idea where they came from. I won’t tell you how many bracelets I’m coming home with, but if you want one, let me know!
About half-way through the trek it started raining, unlike Hanoi it released the humidity and was a warm rain. It made me think of Forrest Gump and how he talked about it raining so much, “And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.” I had this same thought until I realized I was getting sprayed by an irrigation hose leak. My rain jacket did little to overcome the wetness and it was apparently clear why umbrellas are the way to go.
I had asked our guide about snakes and she told me not to worry, they eat them so if they hear us talking they run away so they won’t get caught. This made me feel slightly better. I only saw one snake while in Sapa and someone was carrying it on the back of a motorbike, I’m assuming to go home and eat it.
It’s one area that I wish I could have spent more time in but had to get back for a meeting on Monday and took the train back overnight. Walking back to the apartment at 5 in the morning the city was filled with calmness and most of the streets aren’t recognizable with all the shops closed up instead of spilling out.
More photos from Sapa and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi:
I picked up a book before I left the States about how to be more merciful. It was a bit of a whim purchase only recognizing the author from another piece I had read. If there is anytime to explore a more merciful life it’s in another country with a huge language and cultural barrier.
One of my first meetings this week was only 2K from the hotel but not wanting to show up sweating I opted for cab and wrote down the address in my notebook. Leaving the abyss of wifi rendered me kneeling before the paper gods to help me. The cab driver spoke little English but more than I spoke in Vietnamese. I pointed to the address and he shook his head no, I shook back yes and we were off.
I watched the timer go by from what google maps had showed as a 9, max 12 minute cab ride from the hotel slowly ticked into 23…24…25. Where is he taking me, maybe I was wrong, he had never heard of the company so that was useless and there was nothing else for me to do but sit in the back of his cab and hope that he shows me mercy to deliver me on time. He didn’t and I was about 30 minutes late, fortunately the people waiting for me were very kind and still welcoming as I ran huffing into the office from the cab.
I had sat in the back of his cab for 50 minutes, knowing that something was a miss but nothing to be done about it other than pointing to my address. It was the right address and walking back home was only about a 20 minute walk. I have no idea where the break down happened and it doesn’t really matter but I went to a pretty dark spot in that cab. I cursed the whole country to get influenza, I know petty, and fortunately since I’m so close to a catholic church have already gone to confession for that one. I also thought a lot of people who are trying to get to the US (or another country), either as an immigrant or refugee. What place of desperation or hope that move must come from to abandon every comfort you have and arrive in a country where there is certainly for most a language barrier and even more cultural. I have the ability to Facetime with my parents, almost constant contact with friends by text message and email (when in wifi) and still it’s been a bit of a struggle. I’m leaving in 10 days and even knowing that my mood fluctuates between euphoria and dread.
My cultural competency was a little low yesterday when finding a watermelon and purchasing it I returned to the hotel and asked for a plastic fork and was met with glazed over stares. It only took me a moment to realize just how absurd that question was. Thank goodness for China Buffet growing up that I have some idea of what to do with chopsticks. One guy I know has told me the story of coming to the states as a refugee after the Viet Nam war, before they had left Viet Nam his family packed up all their chopsticks. He laughed when he told it because he said there were plenty of places to get chopsticks but they had no idea the world they would encounter.
Finishing the book about mercy left me with this quote, “Love and Mercy are sovereign, if often in disguise as ordinary people…forgiven and included, when we experience this, that we are in this with one another, flailing and starting over in the awful beauty of being humans together, we are saved”. My parents will often send me articles about vaccinations or anything related to a pandemic, I respond with my usual, “viruses don’t know borders.” And it seems that I’ve found being here that kindness and mercy don’t either. Not that I needed to leave the country for this lesson but it’s easy to take for granted in a familiar world.
I’ve been shown plenty of mercy and kindness: from a 4-year-old wanting to engage in English with me in a park; to the barista recognizing me and asking me about my previous order from the day before; to the boy at the hotel who not only carried my suitcase (that might have weighed as much as him) down 5 flights of stairs and into the cab and then my hosts at my airbnb carrying it up 5 flights of stairs; to a woman offering me her phone to call someone when my phone wasn’t doing the trick; to the people who engage in conversation in English with me even if they have no idea what I’m saying. I’ve been amazed at the kindness that has surrounded me.
Sorry for going soft with this post, and if it comes off with political undertones, that was not my intention but instead to express what I’ve experienced and thought while being here.
I haven’t had as much time this week to get out and explore the city but I did download an app that gives me a map offline so my radius of exploring went from about 800 meters to the city as my oyster. I spent one day (that I had a lot of free time) walking 3 miles one way for tacos. I’m still waiting to find an area where the city unfolds and it’s not chaotic or crowded but have yet to find it, so learning to embrace it.
I think the strangest thing is that being 11-13 hours ahead of most of my contacts in the states leaves me in bizarre state where I wake up with all my emails for the day already delivered and my text messages overflowing. After responding it’s radio silence until people begin waking up again and I’m going to bed. It’s almost as if I’m waiting for things to happen on the other side of the world.
My first thought upon walking off the airplane and into the Hanoi airport was, “Oh wow, I’m tall”. Most days I think of myself as being 5’5-5’6″ even though I’m just over 5’9″. I blame this on the fact that Frank and Mary tower over me. I’ve never thought of myself as being tall before arriving in Viet Nam. Most of the people stood up and I soon realized that they looked much taller when they were seated on the plane. This sense of feeling like a giant hasn’t gone away.
I walked around a bit Sunday night but with the travel and lack of sleep on the airplanes went to bed at 7pm. Both Monday and Tuesday were holidays here, first International Labor Day and then celebrating the Fall of Saigon. I woke up at 4am the next morning and was ready to go. I facetimed my parents because it was early evening for them and waited until the noise of the street crept in to let me know the city had awaken. I got up and went to walk around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or “Lake of the Restored Sword”. I also walked across the Huc Bridge into the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Right before the entrance two girls in front of me had to turn around and the man seemed to be gesturing to their shoes. Looking at my sandals I wondered if it was a problem but he let me pass. I later realized it was because they were wearing shorts and had to go back and put smocks on to cover their legs.
The temple is still active with people putting money (fake money) to burn as the offering.
I then met up with one of the guys here for lunch to talk about preliminary things, like areas to go running and what places are the best to eat.
Tuesday was the celebration of the Fall of Saigon, which is probably a similar feeling to a Brit being in America on the Fourth of July, but with less fireworks. Given that everything was still shut down I decided to make my way to the Temple of Literature and maybe the Viet Nam Museum of Art. Unfortunately both of those are off my paper map by a few blocks and ended up instead at Ho Chi Mihn’s Mausoleum and Museum.
There was a temple there as well, which I could not go in because of the shorts I was wearing and they didn’t offer smocks. I also didn’t go into the Mausoleum because it was closed, which I found a little ironic given the day of celebration. I never found the Museum of Art, which is what I was really after. I would go up to a police officer and ask, “English?” and they would respond, “Hello” and that was the just of it so besides trying to point on the map any phrases I knew in Vietnamese that I did not butcher were not sufficient enough to get me to where I wanted to be. I took a cab back to the hotel, which was maybe my first and last cab ride given how terrifying the roads are here.
Yesterday I woke up again around 4 so decided to go for a run when the daylight broke. I decided to go run around Hoàn Kiếm Lake because it was close and that way if I didn’t want to do 6+ miles I could just cut it short whenever. Within about the first 5 minutes I soon realized why I didn’t see more runners, the humidity and the heat even at 5am was miserable. Plenty of people where out exercising, either walking around or doing group fitness, but not a lot of runners. Most of them in normal clothes and a few times seeing their clothes drenched in sweat I wanted to yell, “Cotton kills!” but didn’t. The side street markets were also unfolding spilling out fruits, vegetables, and handmade goods. I couldn’t believe all the activity happening still in the wee hours. I only last 3 painstaking miles and then went back to my air-conditioned room and did yoga. I only had a dinner on the schedule for the day so spent most of the day just roaming around. The Old Quarter is a mix of tourists interjected with the locals. A lot of shops seemed tailored to tourists and then I turned a corner and found myself on a street that only sold coffins and memorial flowers.
(1) It doesn’t make much difference whether you look or not while crossing the road, there is always traffic so you just go–sorry mom!
(2) Not speaking anything more than really basic Vietnamese phrases means that I’m surrounded by thousands of people but still very isolated. My mom asked how I would do with it but it hasn’t bothered me yet, I’m actually enjoying it. I do worry that if I do something wrong and someone starts yelling I will have no idea why
(3) I have yet to a store that sells hairbrushes, and I’m in desperate need. I’m debating just cutting it so someone will have to brush it.
Way back in law school when I was looking at different programs I only applied to University of Notre Dame and the main reason surrounding that decision was that it required a 6-8 week international field research component in order to graduate. At the time not sure I would return to law school (I am going back, more on that later), I figured that having the research experience would help me to shift directions. Within about 3 weeks on campus I knew I would be going back to law school and now I am set to go into the field. I’m hoping to be able to update my blog as I travel along. I’m on my way to Viet Nam for 3 weeks and then headed to Switzerland for 4 weeks. To put it in simple terms I’m looking at the intersection of Viet Nam’s domestic policies with an international framework dealing with Pandemic Influenza Vaccines. In 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza, vaccines were donated to low-middle income countries with Viet Nam being one of the eligible countries. They rejected the vaccines citing import restrictions dealing with quality control issues. In 2011 an international framework was developed to ensure that the countries that were giving up virus samples would receive benefits (i.e., vaccines at the time of a pandemic). Viet Nam hasn’t changed it’s policies so mainly the framework is pointless if the country doesn’t allow for the benefits to be revived on the domestic level. I’ll be looking at what barriers are still in place and how to best circumnavigate them to allow the benefits be derived.
I made it to Chicago with only a few mishaps, mainly getting stuck in one revolving door with my suitcase and then again on the metro going through the turnstile. That one was a little more precarious, with me and my suitcase wedged between the bars and my only thought being, “how is this my life” I had no idea what to do to free myself and instead my body took over and I tumbled over the suitcase and out of the gate. Problem solved. A little girl ran up to me and asked if I was okay. I responded with, I just need to leave this country. And that’s what I did–and they let me!!
I hoped on a plane and headed to Dubai, landing after 13 hours. I’m currently in the middle of a 8 hour layover and with very nice visa restrictions I left the airport and did what any other white girl would do: go to the mall and eat tacos. Actually the mall was recommended to me by a friend from Saudi Arabia (thanks again, Nayef!) because it’s right next to the Burj Khalifa (160 floor skyscrapper-tallest building in the world- no I did not go to the sky deck) and they also have the Dubai Fountains which put on a show every 30 minutes. I was a little nervous to leave the airport because I occasionally get lost on the metro in Chicago, and I don’t speak Arabic in any capacity, and have no cell service except when I’m connected to wifi. Thankfully it was pretty straightforward and I didn’t encounter any hiccups. I arrived safely back at the airport about an hour ago and still have 3 hours before my plane leaves for Hanoi. I’ll land there after close to 40 hours of traveling. Fortunately, Monday is a national holiday in Viet Nam so I’ll be able to use the day to orient myself.
After some logistical planning we wrote down our route and figured out estimates of time with where we needed to be an when. We weren’t sure of what to do with the North Kaibab trail closure so just planned for 2 hours out from Phantom Ranch and then turn around which would put the total for the day at 12 hours. Perfect.
We headed to the South Kaibab trail around 7:15 and parked in a dirt parking lot and headed to the rim. I had informed Jessie that I was scared of heights and reminded her that if I’m crouching and hugging the wall, I’ll be fine just give me a minute to get over it. In truth, the moment before we stepped on the trail I had no idea just how much the exposure would bother me–I reminded myself to not let fear define my fate (and sung that song most of the way down). I had read and looked at pictures but I get nervous being on the third floor of the law school building and looking down.
We got on the trail, walked for a few yards and then Jessie asked if it was time to run, it was, and so we began going down. The trail was wide with a forgiving edge that gradually fell away instead of a shear drop off, and while a tumble would have resulted in death no doubt, I could at least trick myself into thinking I would survive. The views were astonishing and kept me focused from falling off the edge, it seemed the every corner we came around we would stop and just stare in amazement and then go, “how cool is this?!?” before proceeding on our way.
All the hikers going down were really nice about giving us room on the trail. At one point we came up on a big family and most of the group gave way, except for this 7ish-year-old girl with a red camelbak on, she stepped onto the trail in front of us with no fear and started running, so we followed her. We caught up to the next group of hikers and as we passed through, one of the group members goes, “is that for real?” Inquiring about the child, my response, “Yep, she’s our pacer!” The girl pulled off a little further down the trail, not too far from her family and it seemed like her group was spread out enough that we weren’t just leaving her.
It wasn’t too long before we saw the Colorado River and continued to navigate our way down the trail, and only encountering the two mule trains of the day on this section.
We crossed the bridge and rolled into Phantom Ranch area just before our estimated time. We stopped at the Ranger’s Station to ask about a trail that had been closed, the one going over the silver bridge to Bright Angel, she told us that it had opened this morning. This was great to hear because otherwise we would have to go back up part of South Kaibab and then over to Bright Angel on a cut-across with no access for water after leaving Phantom Ranch until back to Bright Angel. We headed over to the Canteen and pulled out some snacks and discussed the next part of the plan. It wasn’t even 10am. We couldn’t believe it, what would we do if we only went to the river and back, we’d be done so early so we decided to head up on North Kaibab trail and try to at least get to Ribbon Falls or Cottonwood Campground, even if it was longer than the allotted two hours.
We refilled our water, applied more sunscreen and set off again. We walked for a short period with a group of four hikers that were from Texas but then took off in front of them.
One thing that was sensational was how much the landscape changed from the top of the rim to the bottom, with the bottom of the canyon unfolding in a luscious landscape of shrubbery and color.
When I called a week earlier about trail conditions they said that Ribbon Falls Trail was closed and the only way to access was to cross the river, which is highly advised against. It wasn’t till we got to the trail junction that we saw this sign.
We decided to turn back around as some storm clouds began to encroach on us and at this point we were at about 15-17 miles, depending on whose watch you looked at. We started running and continued most of the way back to Phantom Ranch. Except for when we stopped to take Senior Pictures because when you’re in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, why not?
We stopped again at the Canteen to refill water and have a snack before beginning the 9+ mile trek out. We did some wardrobe changes and applied more sunscreen, then took off. We got on the trail and began going up, the miles flew by going down but the tedious task of going up made them drag on, fortunately the views did not suck. We stopped at one point and watched some rafters try to get their raft unstuck from the one rock in the river they could have gotten caught on. We ran into a few people, but not many, and kept climbing the switchbacks on our way to the top. At this point both our watches had died so we didn’t have the best knowledge of how far each point was. We were often greeted with patches of shade, which I was grateful for because it seemed that the South Kaibab trail didn’t offer much coverage and I didn’t want to get sunburned. Approximately 4 miles later we reached Indian Garden Campground, we sat down and talked to a guy who was hiking rim to river to rim, he had done it about 50 times in his life and this was his 4th time this year already–goals. He said out of all the times he’d only ever ran into two snakes. This knowledge made me feel better because in my worst nightmare I would run into a snake on the trail and try to avoid it only to fall off the ledge.
We refilled our water, ate a snack and the guy informed us we were still about 4 miles from the top and had about 2 hours to go.
We began going up, again, this time at a steeper grade than the previous four miles. Steps began to feel laborious and arduous– every 5 yards was met with a waterbar, which meant lifting our legs just a little higher than just hiking uphill. With our watches still dead (I know I was hoping they would magically turn on too) we could only go off of how far away the rim seemed. I couldn’t believe people ran up this section (the FTK on R2R2R is just over 5 hours–crazy!!). We passed time by talking about plans to come back in the fall, what we would do differently and how we would prepare (yes, we are planning on going again to get the full R2R2R). Most of our concerns centered around nutritional choices, packing sandwiches and more real food instead of makeshift protein and carbs in the form of bars and GU. We also passed time talking about what we would eat when we were done, trail mix was no longer cutting it but we kept force-feeding at 45 minute intervals to keep our energy up.
Realizing our sun was going to be going down soon, we made sure to take even more photos.
We continued up the switchbacks. My first trip to the Grand Canyon when I was 5, I have a picture of Wayne and I by this arch on the trail. Upon seeing the arch, I figured we were very close to the top, what 5 year-old with a fear of heights would venture that far down? Apparently, this one, especially if I was with Wayne. Thinking that it would only be about 100 yards from the top I thought we were almost done–I soon found it was definitely closer to a mile.
The top seemed so close but visually still far off. The day had started turning to dusk and I asked Jessie if I should put my headlight on. While it wasn’t necessarily warranted at this point, I had drug it around the entire canyon in the event of having to use it and well I wanted to make it worth it. She said no. We kept walking and came upon a second tunnel. I started laughing, I bet this is the tunnel we made it to when I was a kid, and here I thought I was a fearless individual as a child, good to know I’ve always been risk adverse. The second tunnel we went under was only .18 miles from the top (I looked it up later). We could see the lip of the rim peeking out above. It was dark enough now that I was able to justify my headlamp but only because I saw one below us. I told Jessie, “better to be safe than sorry” but in all actuality I just wanted to use everything that I had packed at least once. We reached the top of the rim, saw the trail sign, I said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we’ve made it!” and that was it. The finality was rather subdued. No fanfare, no one handing out water, no collecting a medal, and yet it was beyond comparison to finishing some races.
We grabbed some dinner showered and retrieved our car (taking enough steps already, we opted for a taxi). I think the dust I had collected on me made me close to the tannest I have ever been in my life. We went to bed early and the next day headed up to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
We’re planning on doing it again this fall with options for R2R (going before Oct. 15 to get a car on the north side) and doing R2R2R–if interested let me know!
Here’s also what I’ve been telling people, even if you have no earthly desire to ever hike or go down into the Grand Canyon- GO! I could have spent hours just sitting on the rim. We did 32-33 miles and 12 hours going into the depths of not only the canyon but my soul– being completely present and in awe of my entire life. I left with a cup overflowing of gratitude.