I could live this way: spending the entire day outdoors, sleeping in a tent (or under the stars), no electronics, simple meals, hiking and good conversation. Camping is a dream for me. However, I camped with 50 teenagers for Outdoor Education, and they were a little less than reluctant to be so far from the comforts of home.
Bravery became the theme for the three days and two nights we camped. Glimpses of bravery surprised me again and again. Bravery looked like a different kind of beautiful on everybody.
Camping is not for everyone. One student captured the sentiment well: “Home is so good.”
Where do you recommend camping? What is your best (or worst!) camping experience?
I intended to use my summers off (I’m a teacher) to travel, but this summer has been a a stay-cation because I just moved back to Southern California after three years in Massachusetts. Yesterday, I soaked in the culture and the sights of Santa Barbara – a beach city with a rich history.
I started at the Old Mission Santa Barbara, which was built by the Spanish Franciscans in 1786 for the Catholic conversion of the Chumash Native Americans and to colonize California territory. I spent $6 and 40 minutes on a self-guided tour, passing through the Sacred Garden, into the Cemetery Garden (which contains the burials sites of early settlers and Native Americans), into the Church (with Mexican art influences), and ending in the Museum and Shop.
There is a magnificent rose garden at the open, grassy park in front of the Mission. It engages all of your senses: I spontaneously pulled over and parked because the sight of it caught my eye as I was driving away. What really got me were the sweet scents wafting through as I walked through I walked through the grassy paths weaving through the several different types of roses. I felt the sunshine on my skin: 80 degrees and clear blue skies – just the beginning of a perfect SoCal summer day.
Then I went to the Karpeles Manuscript Library (free admission!), a true treasure of original manuscripts from history, literature, art, and sciences. I spent about 40 minutes perusing manuscripts from Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, and America’s founding fathers. I also happened to be there while they were putting in Mark Twain’s work (they rotate exhibits every two months, through their eight locations throughout the USA). Fun fact: the man who was changing the exhibits told me that they are kept in 50% humidity — in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, the characters in the archive claim their is 0% humidity to preserve the documents. But that would make the papers too brittle! (I haven’t checked this yet).
Afterwards, I walked State Street – seven miles of shops in Downtown Santa Barbara. There are many galleries and museums to see, plazas and paseos to shop and eat, as well as several theatres for entertainment. My favorite shop, of course, was The Book Den. It is California’s oldest used bookstore, but also has new and out-of-print books. State Street ends at Stearns Wharf – an active pier with a beautiful beach, clear blue water, and a mountain in the background.
I ended my day at 1000 Steps Beach. (A misnomer, if “1000 steps” refers to the 150-step staircase to get there). I unknowingly went at high tide, so the waves came right up to the steps and I had to time it just right to scurry onto the little stretch of beach that was no more than 10 yards between the ocean and the cliffs that provide a mostly secluded atmosphere.
What has been your favorite day trip getaway?
There’s something about racing in endurance events that puts everything into perspective. Whether it’s starting your day running through the stillness of the soft, early morning light or swimming in the ocean under the summer sun, my training sessions often illuminate more than I bargained for.
I’ve realized that my love for racing is two-fold. First, racing keeps me honest. It means facing the truth about myself: because during a race, you cannot lie about how much you trained or how healthy you’ve been eating. It shows. Secondly, it deepens friendships. I am closer to the people who I run, swim, and bike with than anyone else. A whole lot of honest conversation happens during time. And a strong connection forms when you spend an insane amount of time, side by side, chasing down those miles.
Since racing and traveling are two of my favorite things, competing in the Alcatraz Challenge this summer obviously seemed like a good decision. For those who are fuzzy on West Coast geography and history, Alcatraz is a small island off the coast of San Francisco that used to be a jail for America’s worst criminals. It also served a dual purpose of incarcerating public enemies, as it is a visible icon in the San Francisco Bay. Cold waters and hazardous currents naturally isolate the island. Criminals who tried to escape either turned back to be rescued due to the freezing cold waters, or drowned before they made it to the mainland. No criminal actually escaped. Alcatraz is no longer used today, but is a huge tourist attraction. And, naturally, it has become a popular destination race for endurance athletes. I am one of those.
This past summer, I – along with the six guys that I train with – competed in the Alcatraz Challenge, a duathlon race in which the athletes swim 1 mile from Alcatraz island to shore, then run 7 miles up and over the Golden Gate bridge and back to finish.
We arrived before the sun on morning of the race to set up and to mentally acclimate to the enormity of the task ahead… and then, along with 400 other athletes, we boarded the boat that would take us just outside of Alcatraz. They assured us that their had been no shark attacks for the better part of the century, and that all 400 of us would need to clear the boat within 5 minutes so that we didn’t get pulled into the strong, toilet-bowl current immediately around the island that is next to impossible to swim out of. Nervous energy filled the air as we waited. The yacht positioned itself just outside the current, the island looking especially eerie on this foggy morning, and here we were, in our wetsuits and swim caps, attempting to escape from Alcatraz.
After some final safety tips from the lifeguards and well wishes from the race directors, the whistle blew and the race had begun. We jumped off the boat in threes – one to the left, one to the right and one straight out in front – from a deck about 5 feet above the water. One group of three right after another, and you just start swimming as soon as you hit the water. The water is rough and cold and numbs your face instantly, but you put your head down and just swim. From the vantage point of water, you cannot even see the shore. You are supposed to navigate by sighting tall landmarks in the distance, but the heavy fog has them mostly hidden on this particular morning. The choppy sea continues tossing you around, but you remember how much you love the ocean and this sport…and before you know it, the shore is within reach. When your toes finally hit the sand, you smile as you hear the crowd cheer for you and know that the most daunting part of the race is over. I trade in my cap, goggles, and wetsuit, for my running shoes, and start heading for the bridge. From sea level to get up the bridge is a long, steep, humbling climb. I remember glancing at the athlete next to me and it’s like we both knew that there was no better way to get to know this city. Running along the Golden Gate bridge, I looked down at the Bay and at Alcatraz Island, impressed with myself at how faraway they looked from my current vantage point. With only 4 miles to go and knowing that it was all downhill from here (literally, as I was descending the bridge back to the shoreline), I started chasing down my competitors believing that I might actually do well in this race. And I did.
The exhaustion of racing for an hour and a half did not at all detract from the happiness I felt in that moment. The hours of training I put in to get here and the hours of dreaming about this race made it all the more special. Life is different during the race because you are finally inside your dream, looking out. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was back out on the course cheering in my buddies that helped get me there. I remember standing on the beach with the six of them, more than half of us had medals around our neck, recounting our experiences of the race. We all had salt encrusted all over our bodies from the ocean and from our sweat, and I’m sure we smelled really bad too. But I was happy, the sun was shining, and it was all worth it. It’s worth the self-discipline, the 6am workouts, the 6pm workouts, the days that involved both am and pm workouts, the perpetual soreness, and the early bedtimes. It’s worth foregoing nights out with my friends who are still trying to soak up their youthfulness. They are sacrifices made to remember who I am: that I feel more like myself when I am running than when I am not.
Argonaut (noun). A person in quest of something dangerous but rewarding; adventurer.
[My Instagram; July 2012]
I took this picture during a summer weekend in San Francisco for the Alcatraz Challenge Duathlon to get used to my new smart phone and to get a feel for the Instagram app. I did not know the definition of an argonaut and didn’t really think much of it at the time. But the combination of a six-hour roadtrip and a dictionary.com app can lead one to look up said definition. It pleased my soul for about 3 seconds, and then I continued happily chatting away and daydreaming out the window.
My mind has come back to this picture – that definition, in particular – quite a few times since that whimsical moment. I’ve returned to this word – argonaut – so much so that I think it’ll be my one little word for 2013.
In my recent trip to Maine, I thought about how this definition was somewhat vague.
A person in quest of something dangerous but rewarding…
In quest of what?
I am a person in quest of love. Love is dangerous but rewarding. As I walked and biked and ran through the natural beauty of Maine, I thought a lot about how I am happy with who I am whether or not I end up a single woman or a married woman. I hope for that latter and I’d be a liar if I led you to believe I haven’t dreamt of having a husband and a family of my own for my entire life. But I learned on my solo adventure that I can be happy – giddy, even – as a single woman. I feared the weekend would be a hard lesson in loneliness, but found it to be a profound lesson of inner strength.
[[This post is a response to a blog challenge found here.]]
I often look back to the summer I spent living and studying in Jalisco, Mexico. At the time, I had no idea how completely that country and its people would steal a piece of my heart, form an integral part of my identity, and instill in me unshakeable dreams.
I learned a lot about what it means to love someone during my weekly trips to volunteer at the orphanage. I always looked forward to playing soccer with them because the sport transcends any of our differences and makes them irrelevant. We all just loved playing soccer, and nothing else really mattered.
It was a spontaneous trip to a place we’d been once before, and a place we’ll return to again and again.
You can be sure that any trip that starts with “why not?” will be a good one. There was no real reason to cross two state lines for a day trip to Maine. I’ve found that “just because” is sometimes the best reason of all.