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Day 2 we planned to be one of our longer days – about 65 miles from Pismo State Beach to Gaviota State Park:

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Day 2 ride – Pismo Beach to Gaviota State Park

We figured that with how nice and easy our warm up day was, and how we’re in much better shape now than during our last trip, a 65 mile day should be a picnic. Well….we were mildly mistaken. We got started quite late – in spite of waking up at roughly 6:30, we didn’t actually hit the road until 9:45. Don’t ask me what we were dillydallying with for three hours, but that’s just how long it took that day. We had a good start, easily making the first 20 or so miles into Guadalupe. We got lunch there, and after again dillydallying for over an hour, we headed back on the road. Biking after a heavy delicious lunch is SO DANG HARD. I’m one of those people that apparently requires all of my body’s attention to digest food, so after a meal I always feel incredibly lethargic and sleepy. Nevertheless, on we went. It was a beautiful day in beautiful countryside.

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fields outside Guadalupe

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california fields

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full and content

One of my favorite things about day 2 was when we stopped by a fruit stand and bought 2lbs of strawberries. We enjoyed those suckers for days.

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getting strawberries

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strawberries strapped to the front of my bike :0)

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grapes ripening on the vine – fall in California

About halfway through the day we started getting into some hills. Now, mind you, these were not exceptionally big hills – less than 1000 feet, for sure. Still, they were the only real hills we had during this trip, and they happened to fall on our long day. It was beautiful up in the hills, and we figured we were only a couple of hours away from being done for the day. Based on our elevation map, it looked like just two slow and easy hills, and we’d be hitting camp by 6pm.

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seany’s silly face

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going down!

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you can’t tell, but I’m actually somewhat terrified of going down this hill

….well, we went up. And up, and up. And then down a little…..and then back up. The fog rolled in and the landscape took on a quiet, mystical air. The sun started to set. And still, there was no sign of civilization, campsite or park.

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fog sets in

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fog sets in

The supposed short hill turned into miles of slow uphill peddling. It got dark and cold, and the thing just kept going and going. I have to say, that it wasn’t a particularly steep hill. Once it got dark, I could barely even tell I was going uphill at all. All things considered, it wasn’t a difficult ride. But this taught me a real lesson about the importance of your state of mind. I was languishing – getting anxious and tired and overwhelmed. And most of this wasn’t due to the physical strain on my body (though, certainly, physical exhaustion was also setting in) but emotional strain on my morale. That feeling of “we must almost be there” and “I bet that’s the downhill right over that ridge”, and having that expectation shattered again and again is so disheartening. Additionally, the growing dark, the isolation, the chill of the fog seeping in – it all adds up to a feeling of extreme desolation. We started too late, we took too many breaks, and by this point it felt like we would never get there.

But, of course, we did. After biking up and up and a little down and more up up up that infernal hill for 3 hours, we finally hit the top. This was particularly exciting not only because the top of the hill meant we were a mere couple of miles from camp, but because it meant a steep downhill. I had taken my glasses off because the mist made them useless, and by this point it was completely pitch black. My bike light was partially blocked by the sleeping bag strapped to my front rack. The cherry on the sundae of this insane descent was that it was at this precise moment that the bike lane disappeared and the road we were on joined up with highway 101. So picture this – you’re on a bike weighing roughly 80 lbs. You’re partially blind because it’s dark and you can’t wear your glasses. You’re on the shoulder of a freeway speeding downhill at roughly 30mph, while your husband rides next to you so his bike light can illuminate your path.

What can I say, it was an adventure.
We arrived at camp at about 8:30, after what turned into 72 miles of biking, completely drained both physically and emotionally. Thankfully, there were hot showers and quick meals to be had. We made an instant freeze-dried dinner (which, incidentally, was delicious) which included a Shepard’s stew and chocolate cheesecake. A quick game of cards later, and we passed out at about 9:30.

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Sean, planing the next day’s route

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A few weeks ago (yes, I’m quite behind on blogging about it…) Sean and I completed another section of the West Coast on bike: San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border.

We started on Thursday October 18th. Early in the morning we backed all of our bikes and camping gear into our car and drove from San Jose to San Luis Obispo (a 3 hour trip). Sean’s sister Mariah studies there, so we planned the beginning of the trip in such a way that we would be able to hang out with her for a few hours that first day.  When she headed to class in the afternoon, we attached all of our gear to our bikes, slathered on sun screen, and headed out.

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Sean and I, about to head out of San Luis Obispo

That first day we had only planned for a brief ride, knowing we wouldn’t hit the road until 3pm. The ride was from the Cal Poly campus to Pismo Beach – roughly 16 miles. We figured it would be nice to start the trip with a warm up day to make sure everything on the bikes was fine and we were set to go.

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riding route – day 1

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lovely spot near first camp at pismo beach

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the bikes, fully-laden

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lovely spot near first camp at pismo beach

The ride out of SLO was great – beautiful, easy and short. A perfect warm up. We arrived at our camp for the night at about 5pm – with plenty of time to set up camp, make dinner, and even wash our clothes. These sorts of trips we usually bring two sets of biking clothes (shorts+top) and dry the previous day’s washed clothes on our bikes as we ride. That’s why in a lot of our pictures our bikes are covered in socks and shorts and shirts – it’s an effective way to air-dry laundry, especially if it’s warm out.

In the evening, Mariah drove out to the camp to join us for dinner and hang out with us some more (we left our car with her for the week).  We had a great time just relaxing and eating copious amounts of roasted marshmallows. Camping as it should be :0).

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Yesterday was my birthday – I am 27.  I figured it would be a good time to ponder a bit both about this past year as well as the one ahead of me.

This past year has been pretty incredible.

Sean and I have done some amazing stuff.

 

-We went to Hawaii with friends on the vacation of a lifetime – it’s not uncommon for us to turn to each other and say “man, we need to go to Hawaii”. I was always resistant to Hawaii vacations, as I am to anything that seems even vaguely cliche…but man, what a time it was.

hawaii

 

-We completed our first Olympic-length triathlon.

It hurt, but was totally worth it.

santa cruz tri

 

-We went to Ethiopia on a medical missions trip. This trip was my first foray into Africa and way out of my comfort zone. It has brought up a lot of questions about who I am and what I want to do with my life. Questions I’m still wrestling with, and probably will be for many years to come.

ethiopia

 

-My sister Anya and I traveled to Chicago and St. Louis to visit friends over Thanksgiving – an intense weekend of much needed sister and friend time. My love for the midwest has not waned.

st. louis

 

-December and January found Sean and I in San Diego for Christmas and Las Vegas for New Years. The Las Vegas strip New Years experience was decidedly more pleasant than I was anticipating.

vegas

 

-Sean and I moved yet again, into an adorable duplex with lots of storage space. We’re still working on home-ifying it, but it’s slowly coming together.

 

-We visited Denver – a city I’d never been to before. Plus, we got to explore an abandoned mining town, which was a super cool experience.

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-Spring marked the start of wedding season – I booked 10 weddings this year. A decent amount for only my second year of being a professional photographer.

wedding

 

-We made another dent in our plan to bike the entire west coast by biking from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. 140 miles over 4 days – best bike trip to date!

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-In May Sean and I kicked butt at a sprint tri in Moragn Hill – I beat my previous time by a full half hour!

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-Sean and I traveled to Houston to visit Anya and co., and even made a trip to New Orleans. I LOVED NOLA and hope to return there again some day.

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-July found us gathering with my whole family in San Diego for my grandpa’s 87th birthday. It just now dawns on me that he’s almost exactly 60 years older than me.

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WHAT A YEAR!

Man, we did a lot of traveling –

I didn’t even realize how much it was until I wrote it out!



…So now what?

Well, here’s a bit of what I’m hoping for / planning on for this next year:



-Another full length tri: I want to beat my time on the Santa Cruz tri!

-Complete a half-marathon

-Visit Tahoe

-Visit Boise

-Book more weddings! (I’d love 20…)

-Bike San Luis Obispo to Mexico! 400 miles of glorious California coast :0)

-Complete a full-size stained glass window

-Start painting again!

-FINALLY visit Russia with my hubby :0)

-I really want to start volunteering in some capacity

….and I guess we’ll just see what lies in store!

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When I think of summer, I think of St. Louis. It’s true of winter, too….I guess because we don’t have “real seasons” in that way in California. I think of the smell of sunscreen, the overwhelming humidity and the pounding heat, the lush green trees and the unexpected thunderstorms. Here in Houston, I find it’s similar – that feeling of summery-ness. I put on a shirt today that I’ve had since high school, since those days of cornerstone and missions trips with youth group and it made me so nostalgic. For swimming in rivers and lounging on beaches, days spent doing nothing but waiting for the cool of evening, splashing in the random downpours and picnics in the park.

It’s funny, how things like that don’t seem the same to me if the space looks different. We went to a beach here in Houston that was decidedly not a Pacific Beach. It had something about it that i can’t quite pinpoint – the sand was different, the grass was different, the light was different – that made it look definitively like a midwest beach (like the beaches on the great lakes) or even an East Coast beach, but absolutely not a West Coast beach. Suddenly, it was nostalgic, and I could enjoy it more than I can enjoy California beaches. It’s a flaw in my system, I think.

At any rate, summer is here, and it is also in San Jose. Whether the nostalgia is there or not. So when I get back, I’m gonna get in that summer – I’m going to splash in it and bike in it and run in it and get that summer all over me. And it’ll be some good times :0).

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moving

What I loved most about “the old place” were the windows. Huge windows which opened up unto views of rooftops and trees. Our street is lined with the big, leafy trees and adorable freshly-painted stucco houses built in the 20s. Every single one has some sort of gorgeous flowers growing in the front – a fluffy white arch of jasmine over the entry, a beautiful pink tulip tree bending under the weight of it’s enormous blooms, or even a carpet of wild lemon grass with its simple happy yellow. I loved our street. This particular day was the last day I could rightfully call it “our street”, as we tossed the last remaining dregs of “random uncategorizable stuff” into unlabeled boxes. The winter (otherwise known as “lots of rain” in these parts) had finally arrived and it was my favorite kind of weather: miserable and unpredictable and heavy. Of course, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”  was blasting.

I was standing there, looking out the window as the clouds shifted to cover an unexpected ray of sun and it once again began to pour, and I had one of those poignant moments. You know what I’m talking about. The kind of moment you think “man, I really have to write this down” (if you happen to be of the writing sort) but you don’t know what to say about it.  So I was looking out the window, and of course the song “time” started to play. The one about how life goes so fast, and we’re all just sleeping and walking when we should be running like hell. And then, icing on the cake, Sean came up to me and hugged me, and we were both just standing there looking out the window. For the grand finale, the song reached its crescendo: it started to hail, I started to cry.

I was just thinking that the life Seany and I are making….well, it’s not perfect, but its a pretty good start. It’s that combination of recognizing that things, for that moment, for you, are really quite good, and the terror that one day it might NOT be good and it would be too late to change anything. I’ve lived with this fear for as long as I can remember – the fear of the roads untraveled, the races un-run, the mistakes made and the ones that weren’t, the overwhelming amount of what-ifs and what-thens.  I live my life half asleep because I can’t bear it, and then I have these moments of being completely alert and awake and thinking of all the time I’ve wasted. But what was crazy about this particular moment, was that I didn’t think I had wasted a whole lot of it. I thought “by the grace of God, we’ve done alright so far. I have no regrets. ”

And so, we moved, and life goes on. I like moving, because of the poignant moments and the fresh starts. Hopefully, it will just keep getting better, and maybe one day I can be fully awake all the time, and it won’t be so terrifying and overwhelming. Maybe I’ll figure out how to balance it.

rainy rooftops

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Tuesday was a strange day. First thing in the morning, I took some portraits of our lovely hosts. Sean and I had breakfast with the team and said our goodbyes. As usual (funny how in a matter of a week a routine can become “the usual” ) the O.R. team headed to the hospital and the school assessment team went over to the school. Sean and I were left alone with Bete (our hosts’ son and a Chicago resident who was visiting and working there for a couple weeks) and David (who was also visiting, and was a vet connected with the farm in Chacha, though what specifically he was working on, I am not entirely sure). After much fumbling about, the four of us headed out in the direction of Addis. On the way, we stopped by the new high school that Project Mercy is working on. I swear, they have more projects up their sleeve than I can count. On the drive Bete recounted his memories of escaping Ethiopia with his family (I believe he was 14 at the time) during the communist take-over in the 70s. It was a fascinating story, and we passed the time quite amicably between listening, chatting, and watching the fields and hills pass by the window.

By the time we reached Addis it was well after noon, so we decided to stop for lunch. Bete treated us to an amazing all-you-can-eat buffet at the Hilton hotel. After lunch we rolled out of town in the direction of Chacha. The scenery began to change slightly – it flattened out, and the landscape became more rocky. We started seeing stone tukhuls replace the branch-and-hay structures we saw in the Yetebon.  It was a beautiful, peaceful drive. We arrived at the ranch in Chacha sometime around 4 or 5 pm. It is a vast swath of land which, as they aptly told us, looks remarkably like Montana. There they had several large barns and many acres of grazing fields. Oh, and of course, the cows :0) I couldn’t stop myself photographing the beautiful, still, quiet landscape and the sturdy, healthy stoic cows. I got some shots of the new calves, the result of inter-breeding between American Jersey cows and local Ethiopian cows. The calves were skittish and scared, but I managed a few decent shots. The female moms were a lot easier to photograph, and I had just a jolly time frolicking around with them and doin what I do.

We had only been there for maybe 2 hours when it was time for us to leave. I was anxious about the drive back to Addis as we were always warned not to go anywhere at night, but they assured us this particular road was safe and well-traveled. The driver (Hilay, I believe) who drove us down there also drove us back to Addis. Only this time, we weren’t in a Jeep, but were actually in a large box truck. I loved the huge front window and being so high up – we had a peaceful but surreal drive. Only large towns are lit up, and of course there are no streetlights. Hilay maneuvered expertly around random people and animals who darted unnoticed into the road, and I tried my best not to freak out. Something about being just the three of us – Sean and I and a nice young man we had only just met, in a box truck careening around the Ethiopian countryside at night – is an image that will stay with me, I think, for many years.  There is rarely a feeing of isolation in the States – between fairly consistent population, cell phone coverage, rest stops, etc, it is uncommon to find yourself so utterly on your own.

I’m not entirely sure when we got back to Addis – it probably wasn’t too late, but we were completely exhausted. Marta and Deme’s beautiful home had long go been transformed into the Addis Project Mercy headquarters, and there are many rooms available for guests to stay at. We were just climbing into bed when a knock on our door indicated that we had a phone call. Marta was calling from the Project Mercy compound, asking how we were, and insisting that the staff at the house make us dinner. We didn’t have much heart to object, and were soon treated to a delicious pasta dinner. Being served in a stately dining room in Addis Ababa, which, we were told, was likely part of the servant’s quarters, we were having a decidedly surreal experience.

Marta and Deme’s house is a whole ‘nother story – it is enormous and someone stern, speaking of the high post that Marta used to have in the government. Yet it is sparsely and functionally furnished in a style that, for the most part, is purely utilitarian. You can tell that it is now a place of business and that their hearts are far away in the Yetebon.

After dinner we fell asleep, and that’s about all I remember.

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Well, on Sunday it had been decided, rather suddenly, that on Tuesday I should go to Chacha to photograph cows.

Let me back up a minute. I’m not going to get into all of the details, because there isn’t a whole lot that I understand or that has really been figured out, and it stressed me out to think about it. BUT, suffice it to say that somehow it came about that I would be working with another team member on a long-term project: making a photobook about Project Mercy. Or…well, something like that. One of the myriad of off-shoot projects that Project Mercy is working on is a ranch in a town called Chacha. Chacha is a farming community on the other side of Addis Ababa – about a 4-5 hour drive from Project Mercy. There, they are attempting to breed hardy, disease-resistant Ethiopian cows with American cows. American cows (Jersey cows, I think) produce almost 10x as much milk as these Ethiopian cows. The goal here is to produce a hearty cow which is both resistant to Ethiopia diseases and produces more milk.  If successful, this project could help many families improve their nutritional intake.

At any ate, this would be a great thing for me to photograph for any potential book (which may or may not happen…?) so it was decided that I would go with Sean, Bete and David to Chacha on Tuesday. What this meant, then, is that Monday would be my last day to capture the goings-on with our group and Project Mercy. So I spent the first part of the day at the school clinic (in a new location for the new week) and the latter portion driving around with Marta and Deme, taking pictures of what they felt were significant parts of Project Mercy.

It was great to spend some time with Marta and Deme and hear their stories. The end of the day was sad for me as I was thinking about leaving. Leaving this beautiful place, and the new connections I had made – leaving the new way I felt about my place in the world. But all good things must end, and I was (and am) pretty sure that I will come back to Project Mercy.

 

I’m trying something new with the images – click on the first image to see the gallery.

 

 

 

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