Maah Daah Hey 100

The morning of the Maah Daah Hey 100 I surprised myself with how well everything came together. The chaos getting to North Dakota (shipping a bike from CO after I had left– thanks again, Chris! Driving from Indiana to North Dakota, somehow only forgetting my headlight, which Barb was able to save me with an extra one!) settled and I felt ready, excited, and nervous. One of my friends put me in touch with the 3x time winner, Kelly–thanks again, Amy! I was able to pick his brain about the trail, mechanicals, and even what time zone it started in. He was very generous with his accrued knowledge. He gave me a heads up about the third section, to mentally prepare for 30 miles and not 25. He also talked about what an amazing race it was and how I would probably surprise myself. He gave me enough confidence that I felt excited but not so much so that I still wasn’t nervous about what I was about to embark on. My plan was to go as hard as I could for first 50 miles and then go from there…I mean I had 18 hours to get there so what’s the worst that could happen?

I pulled into the campground with my parents and started going through my routine.

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The first of many sunscreen sprays for the day

I noticed that my front tire was a little squishy and figured I had a slow leak somewhere but it would hold for at least 18 hours, this logic was based on nothing other than optimism. I chatted with a few other riders which also helped to take the edge off. The staging area is self-selected depending on how fast you think you’ll be. I saw the first girl a few rows back from Kelly and slotted myself behind her. She turned around and said, “if you’ve won your age-group at Leadville you should definitely be in front of me…sorry I stalked everyone online.” I laughed and told her I had no idea how this was going to go so was going to stick to my spot.the start .jpg

The race started quickly, I moved up to get a good position for the climb as I didn’t want to have to maneuver around too many people. I missed the lead group but managed to get in a pack of 4. I knew from talking to others that the first climb was about 3 miles and 800 feet up. I stuck on the back of the group until about half way up I realized I could get around them and put more distance in between me and the others.

I got to the top and it released into–maybe the only flat section of the day. It was also the only two-track of the day and I saw that my front wheel looked a little low. Hmmm, it’s probably fine but just in case took my phone out (also probably the only place I got service) and texted my dad, “bring my pump to aid station”. I rolled through the first check point at mile 10 and shouted, “does anyone have a floor pump” and drew blank stares. One woman said she did but at her car down the hill, I passed, it wasn’t that low, and turned the corner. I shouted it once again and a lady grabbed one from the back of her car. I popped it on, 20 psi…hmmm I definitely had at least 24 in it this morning, pumping it up. Just make it to mile 25 and get more air.

At mile 14 I heard a noise I couldn’t place right away but my subconscious recognized it as it sent chills down my spine. I immediately searched for the culprit and saw it right in front of me, my front tire was shooting sealant out (bet you thought I ran into a snake). Nooooooo! I hopped off and spun my front wheel like I was on the Price is Right trying to get a dollar. Please catch, please catch, please catch as I kept spinning. It did and fell silent again. Ohhfta that was close. I hopped back on and started to catch the guys who passed me.

My brain quickly went through scenarios of what I should do. This happened to me once before at my very first 50 miler, I got a puncture, got it to seal and rode it for the next 27 miles to get 2nd. The next day when the tire was holding air Sully told me, “you did the right thing, ride it until you have to put a tube in.” Okay I told myself, ride it until you have to put a tube in it and then go from there. But here’s the thing, under no circumstances did I want to have to put a tube in. Given the terrain I figured if I did put a tube in it would puncture again and would need to be replaced at least 1 if not 2 more times. Less than ideal. 

I constantly fluctuated from trying to ride gingerly, including holding my breath at moments of peril when I thought it would go again to might as well go hard while I can. It blew again around mile 18 and I pulled off to the side and spun it again, and again, and again. And then in a genius ‘past Kate’ moment I realized that I had my hand pump with me (I didn’t want to use a CO2 in case I needed it for a tube). I pumped more air into the tire and spun it again. It was at this stopping point that a woman passed me. I mentally took note and finished as quickly as I could to keep her in sight.

I wasn’t sure my strategy now, I wanted to try to stay close enough that I could be within striking distance if something happened but also with 80 miles left in the race had no idea how it would play out. We traded positions once again and came into the first aid station together. I found my parents and a volunteer filled my camelbak while my parents restocked me with maple syrups, peanut butter, and bananas. I checked my tire again and put chain lube on.

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Almost took my finger off in one of those spins…

The tire was still sitting around 25 psi. I saw the woman lead out of the aid station and the volunteer was still fumbling trying to figure out how to close my bladder. I took a breath as this wasn’t going to make or break any position. Number one rule I have when racing: Don’t be an asshole to the volunteers, no seriously, they are amazing. I told him to screw it on and then jokingly asked, “is this your first rodeo?” He said yes, I told him he was doing great and he would have plenty more to practice with during the day. I headed out knowing I would meet my parents at the next aid station mile 50.

For the first few miles out of aid one I was able to keep the woman in my sights. I really tried to not let the mechanical get in my head. I reminded myself that it’s still a long race and that anything can happen, and that I’ve benefited from other’s misfortunes before- it’s part of racing. I prayed to anyone or anything that would listen asking them to hold the seal on the tire and get me to aid 50.

At the start of the race one woman was talking how her husband (who was racing) showed her a video of Devil’s Pass and she couldn’t even watch it because of the heights and exposure. My mom was like, do you know where that is? I responded, no, I don’t even know what that is while laughing.  I found it on this section.

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Image from: Maah Daah Hey Trail Association

There was a sign followed by a cattle gate and it pretty much turned into a narrow ridge that has dropoffs on either side. I hit the ridge line and starting singing very loudly, not even coherent words, just a automatic response to the build up of fear in my body.  Luckily, no one was around as my voice leaves much to be desired. I got to the other side and was greeted again by a cattle gate. I stopped and figured I might as well take a picture but just as I did my tire burst.

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The only photo I got from the day!

I did the same thing as before, spin, spin, spin, air, spin, spin, spin. It seemed to do the trick.

A few miles later and close to the 50 mile aid station I was greeted with the Little Missouri River crossing. I hoisted my bike and shouldered it across. The passage had smooth rock on the bottom and the water hit just below my knees offering a brief reprieve from the heat that had began to coat the land. The aid station was a short climb away and on the climb up my tire blew again. Noooo, seriously?!? I got it to catch again and rode into the aid station asking if there was a mechanic there. I put more air in and got it to catch, and then not catch, and then catch, and then not catch, and had a volunteer spinning it while another lubed the chain and I debated putting a tube in. My parents were rockstars and switched out my bottles gave me maple syrups, peanut butter, bananas, and potatoes.

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The only time I ever eat pickles…100 mile races

I left the aid station but didn’t feel super confident so asked my parents to meet me at the next check point, Mile 57. As I was about to turn onto the trail another rider said, “great riding” I didn’t hear him but saw that his wife had a Santa Cruz bike on her car, “Is that a Tallboy with non-boost wheels?!?” Homegirl was dessssssperate. They both looked at me and then I explained what was happening and thought maybe she would switch wheels with me (ha!). It was a 27.5″ wheel so no luck but then her husband who is racing goes, “do you want some more sealant”? “Oh my gosh you have some, that would be amazing”. Here’s the thing, I knew if it blew again at some point I would be out of sealant and would have no choice but to put a tube in. His wife pulls out this tool box with a valve-core remover, a syringe for the sealant, and then it dawns on me…Ohhhh this is what people have if they don’t have extra wheels or a mechanic on course, huh…I’ll have to remember this. They were quick and efficient putting a full shot of sealant into my tire and pumping it up to 30psi (I told them to just in case it blew again I would have extra air in there). I thanked them profusely and offered beers at the finish line (and #42 if you’re reading this please send me your address so I can send you all the beers!). I took off with more confidence in my tire. It did blow one or two more times but it was more when the sealant monster would fall off and pull what was cauterized with it before it could reseal. There was enough sealant in there that I didn’t have to get off my bike at all.

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All the snacks!

I checked in with my parents at Mile 57. It was still at 30 so the small blows weren’t really anything. I got another potato and said I would see them at Mile 80. Kelly’s info really helped me prepare for this section and I was grateful. There were two more checkpoints after that. The first one I stopped at and there were so many women there that I said, “this is the most women I have seen all day.” They were all part of this team that were either crewing or racing, they gave watermelon and filled up my camelbak at both checkpoints. I was feeling really good going into aid 3. I met my parents, grabbed more syrup, another potato, and a fresh bottle. I told my mom, “Uh, I think I’m going to ride back to town now” she looked at me, “you’re quitting?” “Oh, no I’m just going to ride this last segment.”  So maybe I wasn’t feeling that fresh and the heat was starting to get to me.

Soon after leaving Aid 3 my stomach started to resist anything and everything. I was able to force down another maple syrup to try to get some energy but was having none of my drink mix. I kept trying to force water down.  I went by the first check point and the workers asked if I needed water and I literally just stared at them because I couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I kept pedaling and forcing down the water.

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Just a few more pushes and I’ll be there…

The last 15 miles were the hardest miles I have ever done in my life. I was so tired, I could barely keep my eyes open and even tried to closed them twice for extended periods, “I’m just resting my eyes” really only works when you’re lying on the couch. I convinced myself that was a really good way to get another brain injury. I also debated taking a nap, I had 6 hours till the cut-off so I could take a little nap but then what if the lady in 3rd is close to me and I’m napping. Then I thought maybe I would just lie on the side of the trail that way whoever the next rider was would wake me because they would think I was injured or dead, also not a great plan. Finally, I convinced myself that getting through the last few miles would be the quickest way to take the longest nap. I settled on that reasoning and kept pedaling. I topped my bottle off with fresh ice water at the last check point.

I made it to the final 5 miles that I had pre-ridden the day before. Now I should mention the cattlegates, they are spring loaded so you lift from one side, it fans up, you go under, and it releases back down. Now I have been doing one pull-up so you can gauge my strength. There are probably 12-17 on the course. There were maybe 3 in the last 8 miles, which let me tell you were a struggle. I wondered at some point if I would just have to wait for someone to show up to open it. At the beginning of the race I would hop off, bend over, lift it up, wheel my bike under, release, and hop back on. Well, by the last few miles I would hop off, squat down, load my legs, use all my strength to thrust it over my head, hold it up, wobble underneath, while praying I didn’t release it onto the back tire, and after a moment of sheer panic thinking my bike would get smashed, get back on and ride away.

After getting through the last cattleguard I was somewhat relieved that I just had to pedal home now. I got back on and started down the first little descent when I suddenly saw the first snake of the day. At mile 103, I just stopped and went, “excuse me sir, I’d like to pass, would you be so kind to get off the trail.” Yeah, I was fully delirious at this point because I definitely did my best Mary Poppins impression. I wasn’t even scared I had no energy for any kind of emotion, it was like all my adrenaline was gone, there was no flight or fight response. But he obliged and slithered off the trail. “Thank you!” And I continued on my way.

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Okay, so maybe my parents could improve on the finish line photos hahaha

I hit the last section being the only pavement of the day and went under the finish banner. I immediately pulled off to the side, got off my bike, and laid down.  I laid there for a while, taking everything in, like when you do savasana in yoga to absorb all the good juju. I laid there as everyone talked around me swapping stories of the day with me interjecting when I could muster. I remember thinking this is what it is all about. nap at the end .jpg I finally got up and talked to the woman who beat me. She was an incredibly strong rider, having done the whole thing on flat pedals which convinced me that even without my mechanicals she would have beat me.

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When you finish just in time for the awards ceremony…haha

Am I going to do it again? Ohhhh you betcha! I’m honestly a little sad that I spent so many years doing Leadville because this race and community is so amazing. Every rider that passed me when I was dealing with my mechanicals offered to help, every volunteer was so great on course, my parents also put in a long day and even drove my car through a river to get to an aid station.

I for the life of me can’t figure out why this race isn’t sold out every year. The terrain is incredible, it reminded me of the Grand Canyon, where there is just so much life and levels of vegetation–definitely not what I was expecting spending time in the South Dakota Badlands. And it’s 99% singletrack. Next summer I’ll be studying for the bar so was thinking of doing it as a team with 50 miles each (yes, you read that as an open invitation), and hoping the next year to possibly go after the women’s course record. My time was 12:45 and I had 44 minutes of stop time, for a comparison at Leadville I usually have 8 minutes of stop time.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never had a race crack the ‘Top 5 Experiences on My Bike’ list but this one definitely did.

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Taken right before I ate a whole chicken.
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Barb won her division in the 25-mile distance
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My parents should definitely win an award for how willing they are to jump into my adventures!

“That’s what the trail means. You can go out there by yourself and cry and nobody will hear you except the spirits, and they’ll help you.” -Mr. Baker.

The Best Kept Secret*

I thought for sure by this time I would have more of a reason to write but atlas, I don’t. I had planned to go to CX Nationals over break but with a lot of hoops to jump through with ND Cycling it didn’t exactly pan out and by the time I realized it wasn’t going to happen there was no way to orchestrate my logistics to get there. I was pretty bummed about having to miss it and commiserated the fact over a lot of fries with my dad. I decided over break that I would either go to Old Man Winter in CO or back to Fat Bike Nationals –both the same weekend in February. I was leaning more towards Old Man Winter (Ryan and his team put on a great event!), mainly because after I pulled the plug on CX Nats I took some time off so didn’t feel in shape enough to race at FB Nationals. I figured Old Man Winter would help me to get some early season base miles in too.

The races were last weekend and I didn’t attend either–I had decided to sign up for a three week course on transnational civil litigation and with my final being yesterday didn’t feel like I could take a weekend or day off to travel for an event. So instead I’ll catch you up with what I did over Christmas Break- which because of how cold it ended up being, it was a lot of running and hiking.

It did start with some biking- back when I thought I was going to nationals I tried to get into racing shape after finals.

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About to grind some gravel.

After about two days of riding, it got cold. Cold enough that having to ride outside would be miserable even with all my layers– and there was snow. Instead I opted to hike/run up Black Elk Peak.

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My mom worried less and my sister got her car cleaned–win/win!

The first day I was going to go up alone, but my mom always worries so my dad offered to come with. Which meant he sat and mostly cleaned out my sister’s car (finding $1.63 so well worth the trip) while I ran up and then back down. Going up was a little rough, coming from sea-level and not doing a lot of running to begin with–I alternated between running and hiking. I got to the top and was about to check in with my parents when my phone shut off from the cold. I then ran the whole way down the mountain to get back to the car before the cut-off time I had told my parents so they wouldn’t worry. I was a bit smoked at the end. But not enough to not do it again, and again, and again. Fortunately for me I found at least found a few friends who tolerated the 20 degree day (Laura) and the 7 degree day (Jessie).

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Buddy #1
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Buddy #2
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Finally had a photographer with me- haha

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I think I ended going up and down Black Elk 4 times when I was home. I’m about 25 minutes off the fastest time up and down so that’s something I have in the back of my mind.

I also made my way to the Badlands- which to be completely honest I’ve only stopped in once that I can remember. I’m pretty deterred from ever going there in the summer because of all the snakes but fortunately for me when the ground is frozen so are the snakes! I was able to run about 6 miles on various trails and just kept thinking (1) how did the pioneers reach this and decide to keep going and (2) how I’ll have to come back next winter when all the snakes are frozen again.

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And then because the pass was good for the whole week and I had spent $20 on it. I went back the next day too. Unfortunately it was under a winter storm alert so didn’t not spend that much time outside the car.

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Spending two days in the Badlands made me definitely want to do the Maah Daah Hey 100 race in the North Dakota Badlands (snakes be damned!). The race has been on my list for years but always was too close to Leadville to make both of them work and since I didn’t get into Leadville figure this is my window opening to a door closing. I’m already starting to mentally prepare- the man who has the MDH course record is really fast and it took him 8:56 – just for comparison the Leadville 100 course record is about 5:59 sooo yeah I might be in the pain cave for a while, but they don’t call them the badlands for nothing.

“Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are.” –Kathleen Norris

*I debating putting this post up at all because of how rad South Dakota is and I don’t want everyone to move there.

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And I hung out with this ham.

Thesis Training

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.

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Well

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’.

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Well, at least I wasn’t sandbagging!

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.

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This was my view for the past few weeks

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.

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At least other ND cycling people were on campus

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.

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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.   bh trailsI 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!

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Pre-graduation dinner and not cycling clothes!

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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!

Days Like These

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.

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At the start of the day

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.

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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. 3 stairway .jpg

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).3 trails .jpg 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). 3 closer to the top .jpgThe 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.

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I promise there is a cool view behind the clouds

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. lake selfie.JPGThe 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.

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This wasn’t the worst exposure but the only one I felt comfortable stopping to take a photo

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.”). 3 down switchbacks.jpgThe 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)).

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And there was minimal cloud coverage on my last day- go figure!

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). 4 views .jpgI 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…

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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.

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More photos:

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Views from the trail

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Realizing I could have taken the train
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Perfectly timed snack break looking at Aig des Drus (I think)

3 running

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Never thought about a destination wedding until I saw this place
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Sorry Mom and Dad- but at least it’s Catholic 😉

4 parting shot

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Hotel Du Montenvers
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View from Ref. Du Plan
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View from Grand Balcon Nord Trail towards L’Aiguille
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Caillet about halfway up to Montenvers
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View from Caillet porch

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Chamonix Day 1 and 2

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.

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The building behind me is La Para but I also could have been on a completely different trail too…

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.

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Cascade du Dard

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.

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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). day 2 signage .jpg 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.

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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.

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Running away from all my responsibilities

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!). day 2 ice with guy .jpgIt’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.

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Made 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?!

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The descent wasn’t as buffed out and reminded me of the Centennial Trail in SD

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!

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Lac Blanc

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You knew I was going to reenact this at some point, right?

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Last views from the trail

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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!

day 2 sunscreen.jpeg

 

 

Cathedrals and Courthouses

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.

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Visor for life!

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.

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On the way to Nyon

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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).

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This was at one of the wineries and someone mentioned it’s for sale!

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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. church.jpg Fortunately the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne was open. It was consecrated in 1275! church2

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.

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From the lookout tower

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.”

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Federal Supreme Court
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Law Justice Peace

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.

Here are a few more photos I picked up

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On our bike tour
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Lausanne from a dock in the lake
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New biking gear! haha
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By the water in Lausanne

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Another view of the lake from Lausanne

The Hills are Alive

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.

mountains

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.

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Taiwan protesting to be officially recognized by the WHO

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.

records in ICRC
6 million records to track 2 million displaced people during WWI

 

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.Short overlook 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).

rope going up
Left my climbing harness at home

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.

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Carrying the map that I never used

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.

More Photos:

in front of the flags
Inside the UN with the flags
Peacock
Peacock at the UN
Lake geneva
View from Mont Saleve
ICRC museum
Outside the ICRC
church
Never very far from a Catholic Church!
Assembly hall
Inside the Assembly Hall

*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.

The Mountains Called

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The mountains called

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.Sapa 1I 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! gondolaI 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. gondola 2

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. Sapa 2Getting 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.

jump on fansipan
I’m sure this doesn’t help stereotypes of Americans

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.

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Down we go!

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(!!!!). DCIM100GOPROGOPR0586.JPG

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.

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Giant bamboo trees

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!

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When it rains, everything just runs straight down

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.

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“One day it started raining…” and only lasted for a few hours

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.

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The calm before the storm of the day

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:

sapa tourist
This is not the first person to randomly ask to take their photo with me
pineapple
Thankfully I did not regret eating this fruit later– soo good!
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Catholic Church in Sapa
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Also had time for the Temple of Literature
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Temple of Literature
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Water I did not want to fall into
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Figurines at the Temple of Literature
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Outside the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ which came highly recommended by Sen. John McCain….
Hanoi backdrop
Pretty sure this is just a spot used as a photo backdrop–or at least for me!
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And in case you thought I didn’t do any work this past week.

It’s This Whole Other Country

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. 63947067

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.

NIHI
I had been to the building previously, unfortunately the cab driver had not

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.

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In my haste I almost ran by security….talk about an international incident

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.

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Most of the other chickens I have seen do not live in cages

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.

suitcase
This weighed as much as him, I’m sure.

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.

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Out and about

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.

all the messages
466 text messages in one night.

Good Morning, Viet Nam

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.

church better one
This church is about half a block away from where I’m staying so how I orientate myself

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”.lakeview 2 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.

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Inside the temple
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View looking onto the lake from the temple
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I’m taller than everyone on this bridge

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.

near the temple
My shorts were too short for me to go up into the temple

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.

masoleum
Not as busy as I thought it would be on the holiday

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. templeI 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.

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Slightly terrifying

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.

Hoc Bridge
On the Hoc Bridge

Other things:

(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.

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Flowers outside the Ho Chi Minh Museum