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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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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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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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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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Sunday was our only scheduled day off. A large portion of the group wanted to do a highly recommended hike into the mountains to see the countryside. Some wanted to go to church, others to a nearby town to visit with old friends from past trips. The hiking contingent was divided into three groups: The crazy early-risers who wanted to leave for the hike by 6am and be back in time to shower and go to church by 10:30. Others wanted to leave at 7:30 for a shorter route and also go to church. The third and largest group (which I joined) decided to leave at 9, take it easy, stop often for photos and not worry about making it to church. The hike was billed as gorgeous but difficult, with a steep uphill climb for about 2.5 miles, on rocky and somewhat treacherous terrain. The end goal was a small waterfall at the top of the mountain.

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I would say it was billed pretty accurately. We started out on the same dirt road we traveled every day – the one by the hospital. We cheated and took a truck to the hospital to cut off a familiar stretch of road and get started with the interesting bits. It meandered past quiet tukhuls and farmers out tending to their animals. Pretty quickly we veered off of the road unto a path which was rocky and slippery and uneven. It’s hard to describe in words what this place is like, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.

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These two lovely ladies were among the first of the mountain kids to join our hiking group.

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Soon there were a couple of little boys as well. As we huffed and puffed, paused, snacked, drank, took photos, these little kids bounded up the mountain barefoot, often carrying heavy loads of sticks. They sure put us in our place. Once we reached higher ground on one side of a canyon, we could hear yells of “hellohellohello!”, but we couldn’t see the kids across the canyon.

Once we made it to the falls, we just chilled and relaxed for about half an hour, surrounded by a large quantity of local kids. As always, the way back was much quicker and easier.

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It was an  exhausting and treacherous  hike, especially at altitude, but it was well worth it.

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Saturday was a special day.

A couple of the docs in our group felt called to teach a course to the local midwives, nurses, and other birth attendants on basic life support for babies and mothers during childbirth. It was an all day course on Saturday, and I had the honor of photographing during it. I spent a lot of time there, listening, photographing and editing. It was a very relaxing and moving day. I would like to tell you more about it, but Sarah, one of the doctors who organized the whole thing, wrote a comprehensive and down-right tear-jerking entry on the class for our group blog. You can read it here.

At the end of the day Marta, our venerable host, told us all a story which expressed how close this issue is to her heart. Many years ago, a woman had been brought to them in a round box carried by thirty men. She had been in labor for 7 days (!). Marta drove her to the nearest town at the time, but they weren’t able to help her. They found a way to get her to the next furthest town, and when they got there – the gynecologist wasn’t there. Needless to say, the woman didn’t make it. Marta’s heart was broken – the hurt felt particularly close as her daughter was in the States, pregnant and about to give birth. She was glad that her daughter would have the best care, but deeply saddened that there was such a lacking of this type of care in Ethiopia. Fast forward to this past Saturday. She was so thrilled that our doctors were teaching this course at Project Mercy. She reached out and contacted the midwives and other birthing helpers in the vicinity and told them about the course. They came in from many miles away, by cart and bus and taxi. Well, actually, I have no idea how they arrived – I think the PM bus came to get some of them. At any rate, the attendees to this class represented 70,000 people in the surrounding region. Those men and women will come back to their respective villages and spread the news. They will teach about how to help mothers and babies during childbirth, and hopefully, the knowledge will sink in. It will spread. Lives will be saved.

What an amazing blessing it was to be associated with the group of people who could play a role in this. Even if all I did was document the process :0)

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