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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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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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On the very last day of our trip, we decided not to do anything spectacular. We woke up, packed, checked out of the hotel, turned in the underwater camera. Then we went back to the lovely breakfast place we tried the day before. This time we got brunch (fish tacos) and fresh squeezed orange juice and our last fresh Kona coffee.

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Last Kona Coffee

We sat outside, and the weather was perfect, and we looked out at the water. There was a guy with a ukelele (no joke) singing peacefully right in front of us, and it was all downright lovely. We reflected on the trip, and decided we’d come back again in a heartbeat. What a wonderful, peaceful place.

We also spent a bit of time reading about the iron man triathlon which happens in Kona every year. For those not in the know, the Iron Man is a triathlon made up of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.  The original iron man triathlon happened there 30ish years ago, and that was the birth of not only the iron man, but the whole triathlon sport. I have to admit, we got a bit of a glint in our eyes as we pondered the possibility of one day tackling that feat.

And after breakfast, there was a rooster in a parking lot

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And then we got on a plane :0)

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I have to say that all of my negative assumptions about Hawaii were pretty much wrong. I had assumed that all of it was boring and touristy and yuppie. Perhaps that is the case on some of the other islands, but Kona was really quite a treat. There was so much to explore, and do, and yet you didn’t feel guilty just taking a day to relax and sip mai tais and watch the sunset. All in all, a very successful vacation :0)

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We started day 7, our last full day in Hawaii, by walking into town (which was easy, because we were technically already *in* town…) and going to a lovely place called Lava Java for breakfast. There I ordered an enormous eggs Benedict (on croissants!) while Sean enjoyed a local treat of waffle with fresh macadamia nuts and bananas. What a way to start the day! It was delicious.

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Breakfast

On the walk back to the hotel, we shopped for some souvenirs. We saw a man sitting by the sidewalk weaving hats and bowls out of palm fronds, and we couldn’t resist getting a hat :0)

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Lizard in the Banyan Tree

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Though it looks a bit silly, it’s kind of awesome to have a hand-woven hat. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a snorkeling store and rented an underwater camera  – something we should have done at the beginning of the trip. After dropping our souvenirs off at the hotel, we changed and headed back out to the little cove from which you could see the captain cook monument in the distance.

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This pic is from when we were there a few days before, and if you squint you can almost see a teenie tiny white speck, directly behind the canoe in the water. That’s the Captain Cook monument. It’s about 1.2 miles away, by water. So, naturally, we thought we could swim it. We put on our suits and snorkel gear, grabbed our underwater camera, and jumped in.

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There are a bunch of small reefs all around that area, and for a while we meandered in the general direction of the monument while looking around at the fishies and the urchins. Sean took pictures, I just looked.

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We actually swam a good ways out – but we found it was only a quarter of the way to the monument. We weren’t tired, and could have probably made it, except I started thinking. You can’t tell in the pictures, but the further we swam, the more I realized just how far from shore we were. And just how far down it was. And because of the clear water, you could actually see all the way down, all 40 or 50 feet of the way down to the sea floor. After a while, there were no more reefs, just sand. I started thinking about sharks, and storms, and the fact that we were going to be pretty tired by the time we got there…and I decided we had had enough adventure. So we turned around. Kind of anticlimactic, I suppose, but definitely better then getting eaten by sharks.

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It took a while to get back, and be the time we finally scrambled onto the precarious beach and got changed, we were pretty tired and overall glad we decided to turn around. Especially when we realized that swimming there and back would have been the equivalent of an ironman swimming distance – something we’re not quite ready for. Yet. :0)

We drove back to the hotel, took showers and recuperated. It was afternoon, so of course, our next course of action was clear: time for Huggos.

On the way to the restaurant, we saw these guys:

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Crabs

And a couple of these guys (bleh…)

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And then we just settled in for snacking on fries, drinking fruity beverages, playing cards and watching the sunset.

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Once the sun was almost done setting, we figured it was time for dinner. We could have stayed at Huggos, but being as-ever on a quest for something new, we instead ventured into town towards a local popular diner. This place wasn’t particularly interesting on the outside or inside, but you could tell it was a favorite for those who lived there – it was absolutely PACKED. We ordered something called a “super loco moco”. What this is is an absolutely enormous quantity of heart-stopping, artery-clogging, stomach-filling deliciousness. More specifically, it’s a pile of rice, pulled pork, sausage, fried shrimp, and two eggs – all completely smothered in about a gallon of gravy.

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It was a daunting task, but I’m (sortof) proud to say we made it through about 3/4 of it before giving up. We shuffled back to the hotel and, as was our custom, fell asleep early.

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