"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Wanaka

On Christmas morning, I got up super early to climb Mt. Roy in Wanaka with my friend, Adrian. It was an excellent idea, but we didn't go about it the best way. To put it plainly, we were really, really stupid.

I can only attribute our stupidity to some lingering fuzziness from Sam's birthday bar bonanza the night before, because now when I remember that I set out on a seven hour hike, two and a half hours of which involved summitting a 1600 meter mountain in the blistering ozone-less sun without any sunscreen or much water but with a nalgene full of Jameson hot toddy while in a state of supreme dehydration, I'm still kind of dumbfounded.

The tramp up was BRUTAL. Over two hours of switchbacks that seemed to go straight up and never end. The-top-is-just-around-the-bend syndrome. My calves were screaming, my throat was parched, and I whined the whole way that it was worse than the marathon. It really was. But...

The top had this view:

And the way up and down had these sheep, everywhere:

Totally worth it, and a pretty top-notch way to spend Christmas morning.

When we got back, after making Christmas phone calls home, everyone feasted at our giant hostel barbeque, a bunch of orphans huddled together around sausages, crepes, enchiladas, and fritters. The pie, though slightly undercooked on the bottom because I have yet to truly understand conversions to celsius paired with ovens with settings in Italian, was still quite tasty.

Before leaving Wanaka, I did make it out to Puzzling world. Which was, indeed, puzzling. Got stuck in the maze for over an hour and sprained my brain on all the enigmas, but that's another story...

Regardless, Merry Christmas to all (and to all a good night...)!

Wanaka, Continued

From the moment I arrived in Wanaka, I was in love. For one thing, the sun was shining, which, as you may have gathered, has been a bit of a rarity during my trip. It was windy, but there was glorious blue sky, serious mountains, and a picturesque lake all laid out before me. This first photo is on the bus ride in.

The YHA hostel was also awesome--hands down the best place I have stayed in so far, with clean rooms, homey lounge, a huge kitchen, and a spectacular view. When I saw Sam and Leanne, my friends from Nelson, I knew it was going to be a good Christmas. And when, an hour after arriving, I found a farmer's market a block away with peonies, new potatoes, and sweettart cherries, I was in heaven.

The first night, I joined Sam and Leanne for a movie--Eat Pray Love (yeah, I know, haha...)--at this kitchy little theater called Cinema Paradiso. You sit on old couches and car seats, have dinner half way through at intermission, and bring wine and homemade ice cream on in with you. The way all movie theaters should be! The next day was Christmas Eve and also Sam's birthday, so we celebrated with cake and champagne first thing in the morning.

And then...

I WENT SKYDIVING. My tandem jumper was Adriano from Brazil, and on the way up we chatted and went over instructions. He had a bit of a thick accent, so I was convinced I had misunderstood everything and would jump to my death. I didn't have too much time to get nervous though, because in no time, we were up at the jump site. But as I watched the two people before me nonchalantly topple out of the plane I finally thought...Oh. Shit. Then we were scooching over and I was hyperventilating and my mind went blank and I forgot everything Adriano had told me and I thought he'd count to three or ten or say "Ready" or SOMETHING...but he didn't. He just leaned forward and we fell out of the door of a plane 12,000 feet up and for two whole seconds I thought only:

That's it. I'm going to die now.

And then it didn't even feel like falling. For the rest of the 45 second freefall it just felt like staying in one place with really fast, really cold wind surging up past me. The ground didn't even seem to be getting closer. Then Adriano released the parachute and everything was lovely. Views like I can't describe over Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring and Mount Roy. I felt like I could see the whole world. Incredible. Because I am cheap, I didn't spring for the video or disc of pictures, but I do have this supremely awkward photo of me post-jump to share for your viewing pleasure:

When I got back, I made pie (my hands were still shaking from the adrenaline three hours later, and pitting cherries was a hilarious task), and then we got a big group together to go out for Sam's birthday. Great to meet so many people from so many different places. My friends here are American, British, German, and French. Fast travel also promotes fast friendships. What a great group to spend the holidays with!

Franz Joseph Glacier

For the trip down to the glaciers, I joined up with Greg from Connecticut and Jason from California. I'd met Greg while we were both drenched in Abel Tasman, and Jason was coming from weeks of surfing in Raglan when we chatted him up on the bus.

We had hoped to join a group to hike up on the Franz Joseph Glacier, but alas, more rain. Instead, we decided to take a self-guided walk as close as we could get to it, which was around 1500 feet away because of the flooding and probability of river surges.

The walk to the glacier--around 5k--was pretty amazing itself. We crossed this dire-looking river of gray, surging water, with huge chunks of the glacier floating on by us. We each stuck a hand in to test it. Cold enough to kill you within a few minutes. We walked through a rainforest along the highway. Crazy.

And then...there it was. Even in the rain, even so far away, even having receded a crazy amount in the last 100 years, the thing left all of us speechless. Well, okay, we all said, "woahhhhhh." Truly magestic and huge and a shattering testiment to how miniscule we humans really are. Franz Joseph glacier is currently receding, and that's in response to the amount of snowfall it received five years ago--which is pretty impressive, considering it takes most glaciers at least 15 years to respond. We hung around for almost an hour just staring at it.

The rain had been big and sloppy, but not unpleasant, just long enough for us to get a good look at the glacier, and seeing we were satisfied, Mother Nature decided to really let loose shortly afterward. It was much colder by the glacier--no tropical downfall like I'd seen in Abel Tasman--and pretty soon the wind really picked up, too. This was probably the most severe weather I've ever been out in. We were completely doubled over against a wicked* headwind, the icy rain needling into our faces. Again, nothing was waterproof.

Miserable, Greg and I ended up hitching** back with a lovely Spanish couple who took pity on us. Jason was more adventurous and kept exploring the trails in the rain. On the way back, we pumped ourselves up with talk of hot showers, a dip in the hot springs, and chucking our wet clothes in the dryer. HA! Instead we got back to the hostel to find the power out, and commiserated with wine and other damp backpackers.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay another day, and I left Greg and Jason to their own adventures, as I was headed to Wanaka for Christmas. I do wish I could've gotten up on the ice and trudged through those mystical blue caverns, but the view from afar had it's own sort of appeal, and was worth it anyway.

*Wicked? Clearly I've been hanging around the Brits and the Kiwis for too long.
**Don't worry! Hitching, weirdly, is actually really safe and incredibly common in New Zealand. It's usually tourists who pick other tourists up, but Kiwis often oblige, too. Don't think I'd ever do it alone, but with a guy it was easy.
***That last image was of the glacier from the bus as I was leaving.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Longer post later, but just a quick note to say that I am in Wanaka and never want to leave. It really is the most beautiful place on Earth. Went to the farmer's market, just jumped out of an airplane at 12,000 feet, and will be spending Christmas here with Sam and Leanne--the awesome Welsh girls I met in Nelson. Life is good.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

I've really had some comically bad weather for hiking.

I set out from Nelson for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track on Friday. It's one of the Great Walks, so you have to book the huts ahead of time, and since it's the holidays and the busiest time of year, the two huts that were left were very far apart, and I had to do the track in two and a half days instead of the suggested four. When I heard that it was supposed to rain ALL weekend, I refused to be deterred! After missing the trek in Tongariro, I wasn't going to cave to a bit of drizzle.

The hike began at 9am. The first thing I learned: water resistant is not even close to water proof. I was absolutely drenched within ten minutes. Fortunately, it's summer here, so I was only wet and not cold and wet. And once I was soaked, I didn't mind the rain so much. The whole track was still really beautiful, way up in cliffs and forest along the coast, and because of the rain, I hardly saw anyone else. I've found that I feel a lot less lonely by myself in nature than I do in cities; New York has often felt like the loneliest place in the world, but in the woods I'm fine.

I listened to The Hours and A Single Man soundtracks for part of my seven hour tramp through the downpour, which added a certain drama to the whole endeavor. Phillip Glass can make even squatting to pee feel epic.

I met some wonderful people in the huts--lots of Swiss and Germans and Kiwis--and we played Uno until late into the night (okay, until about nine, when it got dark and we all hit the sack). I also met a really sweet newlywed couple from London who I shared a beer with at an upscale cafe that randomly appeared in the middle of the track--hoping to see them again at Doubtful Sound in January.

The second day was sunny (apparently New Zealand's weather predictions change as regularly as Michigan's) and ideal for hiking. After a few hours out, I had some time to kill so that I could make the river and estuary crossings at low tide (there were four), so I lounged on the beach. After twenty minutes of not seeing a single soul, I swallowed my usual embarrassment and went skinnydipping in Tasman Bay, with penguins and fur seals looking on disapprovingly. Living la vida loca* here! It's known as "the gold coast" because granite deposits turn the sand a rich bright gold (through a process that Emily Elert could probably explain far more clearly than I...).

The wildlife was out in full effect throughout the track. I had bellbirds and warblers singing their little hearts out, I nearly stepped on a possum (an opposum?) that reared back on his hind legs like a tiny bear and hissed at me, and I realized a second too late that I was very near some oyster catchers' babies, which resulted in the parents chasing me out in a flying frenzy, latching onto my backpack and trying to peck me to death. It was straight out of Hitchcock*.
Day two, though sunny, was a super long hiking day (eleven hours), so the ol' legs are really getting the work in before Everest. The last four hours were less fun, mostly because it was on a poorly-marked path through dark forest, and I didn't see another soul the whole time. And the last hour was misery as more storm clouds moved in with the quickly-approaching dusk and I had no idea how much further I had to go. I also started seeing what I believed to be a trail of blood, but which might've been berry juice. Of course I took this to be an ominous sign. If it was in fact blood and not berries (too dark to tell for sure), the sign was probably "Hey! I'm a friendly hiker with a nosebleed who is just ahead of you. Congrats--you're headed in the right direction and we're in this together!" But naturally, I took it instead to mean "Hey! I am a crazed killer who is leaving the blood of my last victim as a warning: you're next!" I felt like Ralph from The Lord of the Flies,* and had horrific visions of a stick sharpened at both ends.

Of course, I did finally make it, never learned the source of the dark fluid, and then hiked out in the rain again this morning. I met a nice American from Connecticut on the bus back, and we might travel together for awhile (would be great to have company), and I'm back in Nelson, blessedly dry and squeaky clean at last.

*Note: When left to their lonesome in the wilderness for a relatively long period of time, I'm sure many people spend their time pondering philosophy and the meaning of life. I seem to instead spend my time meditating on pop culture. Hrm.
**Note #2: All photos taken early in second day during good weather!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tongariro and Wellington

I bussed from Auckland to Tongariro National Park on Monday with the intention of doing the Alpine Crossing (an eight-hour hike that is, by most accounts "the BEST day hike in New Zealand." Unfortunately, after a three month drought, Tuesday the heavens opened up and it poured all day. I stayed at a great lodge that was nearly empty and just worked all day.
Side note: I've spent a lot of time bussing back and forth across the country and imagined it would be sort of a necessary annoyance. Surprisingly, I've actually enjoyed every bit of it. Public transit is incredibly well-run and pleasant here, and instead of reading and sleeping as I imagined I would, I've spent hours with my face glued to the window taking in the scenery, which is beautiful and varied. Five minutes out of the city center, and you have hundreds of sheep, cow, and alpaca farms, then forests that rival the redwoods, then almost desert, then mountains and jungle. It's pretty incredible; the bus drivers have the best job in the country.

Since Wednesday was sunny and my bus didn't leave until 1pm, I decided to get up at 6 and get some good hiking in. I just did a few short jaunts on tracks near the lodge, but it was well worth it. In five hours, I managed to take in a couple rivers, several serious waterfalls, and both Mt. Ruapehu (with its snowy peaks--the picture doesn't nearly do it justice) and Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom to Lord of the Rings fans). The Kiwis love to make tourists try to pronounce those mountain names!

I only had one night in Wellington, sadly--it was clearly a super sweet city--so, feeling a bit lonely and homesick, I decided to go out on the town before catching the ferry in the morning. Never have I had a worse idea. You will never feel like a sadder sap than if you head to a bar to drink alone while listening to live folky ballads. Take it from one who knows.

Then it was on to the South Island, where I spent the first night in Nelson salsa dancing with some hilarious Welsh girls. Nelson is wonderful and I'll be spending a few more days there to recoup.


After almost two weeks on the road, I've already reassessed the items in my pack for function and weight. Jenn Yeomans, you were so right--you find that you really do need very little.

Thrown Away/Given Away/Sent Home:
2 cotton t-shirts (smelly fast, WAY too long to dry)
cotton tank (stretched beyond recognition)
synthetic tank with built-in bra (most uncomfortable item of clothing imaginable)
shoulder bag
mini moleskin
dry shampoo
peppermint bark (ate half, but it made my whole bag smell minty sweet)

dashing red pashmina scarf (left on bus)
two more toenails (down to five now; six weeks later and the marathon is the gift that keeps on giving)

day pack
merino t-shirt
merino tank
food storage containers

Wish I Had:
actual rain gear instead of a wind shell
waterproof hiking boots
sports bra

Love More Than Anything:
Zaphod, the Bro Haven (little mouse from Dana)
quick drying, light-weight hiking pants
awesome braided laundry line
red lipstick!

It's been amazingly difficult trying to figure out what to do about food while on the road. I want to eat healthy, and I don't want to constantly be eating out (NZ is REALLY expensive), but it's difficult when I'm constantly moving and can't keep leftovers refrigerated. I keep buying one thing at a time and eating it for days; I spent three days only eating boiled eggs, two eating broccoli, and four surviving on mostly bagels. I'm kind of sick of the whole thing and have actually started just replacing meals with protein shakes and trail mix because it's easy. Seriously depressing. Ideas?

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I don't know where to start. It's only been a couple days, but I feel like I've been gone for months already. Actual travel details are pretty boring, so I'll spare you. The trip over can be summed up thus: slept for 20 hours, arrived at hostel, slept for another 5.

Now when I'm awake, I feel like I'm sleepwalking, so Auckland's taken on a twinge of the surreal. Rather than fight jetlag, I've just been keeping ridiculous hours, going to bed around 8pm and waking up at 4am. I have barely spoken to anyone in three days. Though I can fake being gregarious fairly well for short periods of time, when left to my own devices I realize I don't actually like to talk all that much, especially to strangers, and I worry a bit about just turning into a total hermit while on the road. I imagine I'll get over it when I start to get lonely.

As long as hostels are cheap, I don't care too much about the accomodations, but staying in them has made me feel like a washed up old lady. Since most of the Western world encourages a gap year after high school, almost all of my comrades are 18-20. Let's just say I've had a glimpse of popov flashbacks from freshman year and woke up this morning to my ceiling shaking in time to drunken moaning. Ah, youth! It's been interesting. Today is rainy, so I'm inside booking stuff and catching up on some work. Looks like I'll be down to the South Island by later this week.

Biggest surprises so far have been how capable and confident I feel (starting off in an English speaking country definitely helps, and with a little patience, most everything feels manageable), and how annoying loading and unloading my backpack has already become. It seems every time I get the thing done up, I need something that's buried right in the middle. I need to come up with a better system, or else ditch half of my stuff.

Also, despite the complexity of this trip, I've already started to realize I won't be able to sustain constantly being on the move for long. I've never visited any of these countries, so my tendency is to want to see everything I can, but I think it's probably necessary for me to find a home base in each place, instead, even if it means I miss a lot of the "must-sees." A Kiwi told me that "Auckland is the armpit of the country!" I don't know if I buy that, since it's still pretty gorgeous, but it made me laugh because that is exactly what my dad says about Ohio.Auckland has everything you could need, but I think I might need a base in greener (literally) pastures. Goal: find a sheep farm.

Yesterday I took a ferry to Waiheke Island ("Wa HEH keh," according to the Kiwi who corrected my "Wehiki"...and then asked me to accompany him home). Waiheke looks like Hawaii (or what I imagine Hawaii looks like, based on 5 seasons of LOST) crossed with Italy: imposing cliffs, rolling, vibrant greenery, tropical plants, turquoise water, and lots of vineyards. I spent the day reading in the sun, reapplying sunscreen religiously to combat the ozone hole (Kiwis have the highest skin cancer rates in the world), and sampling wine at the vineyards. Definitely a nice day to recoup. Also, it's true that New Zealanders are the nicest people on the planet. I asked a girl manning an ice cream booth in the middle of nowhere if I could find internet anywhere nearby, and she offered up her laptop.

I'm reading On The Road, which is both contributing to my excitement and vague homesickness (teared up when I heard that awful Kid Rock song about Northern Michigan--ha!). Kerouac feels very appropriate, regardless. "I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future."
More to come, I'm sure...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Down to the Wire

Wow. So much to do, so precious* little time.

I am trying to get as much work done as possible before I go, but my head is a-jumble with a screeching that can only be described as a high-alert stress sound reminiscent of a rape whistle (included in my headlamp, BTW), and it is blocking out all other coherent thoughts. Since no one is home, I thought it would help to just scream for a minute to sort of, you know, clear out my system and start fresh. It didn't, but I did succeed in scaring the crap out of the cat. Stella is not amused.

In short, I'm starting to panic a bit.

Tonight will be spent with the sisters, tomorrow morning Ad arrives, the weekend is wedding and friend-tastic, and then I'm back in New York for two days until departure. Which means I have to do last minute errands, complete all necessary work, do laundry and have all of my things of value squirreled away where the sisters won't be able to locate them for eight months...by this afternoon.

I've been going to bed late and getting up at 5:30a for many days to squeeze it all in, which I guess will help me avoid jet lag on Wednesday as I sleep through the whole 5+13 hour flight. (Who am I kidding? I can sleep anywhere, anytime anyway. I am a sleep champ.)

But! I'm already completely packed, and it all fits into a carry-on-sized backpack and a small messenger bag. Behold:

My hiking boots are even in there! So are my jeans! And my lightweight cooking pot! Osprey bags coupled with Eagle Creek stuff sacks are a truly magical combo. It also helped that, due to your suggestions, I cut the number of clothes in half and left out a few other things, like the stove and bug spray (list has been updated, as such). Honestly, I haven't been bitten by a mosquito in YEARS, and I've got $700 worth of anti-malarials stashed, anyway. Shudder.

I've started saying goodbyes, which has been strange because it doesn't feel real at all. How will I not see Gina until her wedding in September? I can't believe when I hug my grandmother and say "See you next August," that that can possibly be the case. Or my parents. I'm already getting weepy. I know... me, weepy? Ha.

I am almost 28-years-old, but my family is super big on traditions, and this is the first time in my life I won't be with them on Christmas. That means no How the Grinch Stole Christmas read-aloud ("Dahoo Doris, fahoo Forest, welcome Christmas, Christmas cheeeer!"); none of Dad's famous hors d'oeuvres, wine, blaring Christmas tunes, and ornament hoarding while we decorate the tree (drunk Santa must be positioned to look as pathetic as possible, while the hanged baby needs a prominent position); and no new shot at finding the hidden pickle. Not to mention Christmas Eve dinner and the elaborate who-can-open-presents-slowest competition. Mom gave me my yearly supply of peppermint bark already since I won't be around. I usually wolf down the entire tin as soon as it's out of my stocking, but I'm trying to ration it out so I can have some Christmas morning and feel a little closer to the fam (even though Santa will come a day ahead of time in New Zealand).

Okay, I guess I can't complain too much, though. I still can't believe it's even possible for me to do something like this--something a lot of people wait their whole lives for. And despite the vague melancholy at leaving everyone I love to go so far and for so long, despite the daunting task of tackling so many new places alone and navigating through cultures in which I don't speak the language, more than anything, really, I'm so freaking pumped! Six days! Ahhhhhhh!

*Note: whenever I use the word "precious"--which is rarely, mind you--I think of Gollum. Every. Single. Time. Damn you, Tolkien.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Round the World Packing List/Check List

With fewer than three weeks left until I take off for 13 countries in eight months on my round the world solo trip, I'm getting down to the nitty gritty. I just notified the bank, scheduled a final doctor's appointment, called H&R Block, and picked up my anti-malarials. I have my final pack list and all the items that need to fit inside my carry-on-sized backpack, so I feel like I could take off at any moment. Scary! Now I've just got to find time to finish ongoing jobs and spend as much time with friends and family as possible.

Here are my Packing and Before You Go odds and ends lists, if anyone is interested. Let me know if I'm missing anything, or if I should definitely leave something behind. Looking to shave off ounces wherever possible. (Note: will pick up heavier stuff for hiking Everest and Kilimanjaro along the way.)

Important Documents:
debit card
2 credit cards
10 extra passport photos (for visas)
copies of above and birth certificate
copies of e-tickets
travel insurance info
small amount of cash

2 long sleeved shirts
2 tee shirts
2 tank tops
1 button-up camp shirt
jeans (despite weight and slow-drying time)
hiking pants
1 dress
1 pair of shorts
hooded fleece
lightweight sweater
lightweight cardigan
Northface waterproof windbreaker
long underwear bottoms/leggings
bathing suit
7 pairs of wicking undies
regular bra, sports bra
1 pair of low cotton socks
2 pairs of hiking socks
pashmina scarf

Shoes: kick-arounds
hiking boots (Mom's Merrells)
flip flops

2 oz shampoo
2 oz conditioner
2 oz anti-frizz
body wash
face lotion/face sunscreen
extra contacts
contact solution
nail clippers
make up (mascara, eyeliner, tinted chapstick)
sample of perfume (a luxury, but is a pick-me-up sometimes)
ear plugs
bobbie pins, elastics

small pack of tissues
antibacterial gel
large quick dry towel
silk sleep sheet (pricy, but supposedly worth it)
neck pouch
Pacsafe portable safe
TSA approved combination lock
luggage tag
laundry soap/mini clothesline/universal sink plug
deck of cards
mini pot/tupperware/spork
steripen (to avoid pitching hundreds of plastic bottles)
fake wedding ring (as discouragement)
protective charm Dana gave me when she was 12
2 energy bars

Med kit:
6 Ibuprofin (pain, fever)
6 extra strength Tylenol (headache)
6 Benadryl (allergy)
6 Dayquil (cough, cold)
Cipro (traveler's diarrhea)
Malarone (anti-malarial)
anti-itch swab (after bite)
3 rehydration packets
band aids in various sizes
medical tape
moleskin (blisters)
steri strips
skin glue
duct tape
safety pins
mini sewing kit
rubber bands

netbook (+ charger, case)
ipod (+ charger)
digital camera (+ charger, extra battery, 16 GB SD card, 4 GB SD card, otter box)
phone (+ charger, SIM card)
Skype headphones
flash drive x2
universal adapter
watch with alarm

Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack (comes with rain cover)
Pacsafe laptop bag/daypack
Eagle Creek stuff sacks
ziplock gallon bags
ziplock quart bags
large trash bag
toiletry bag

moleskin notebook
moleskin info book
2 reading books
mini colored pencil set
talking items (pics of family/friends, MI/NYC postcards)

What I did before I left:
- Dentist/Doctor/Gyno check ups
- Immunizations for Cholera, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hep A/B (had already had Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Tetanus/Diphtheria boosters)
- Gave my dad power of attorney so he could handle signing contracts, cashing checks, filing taxes, and monitoring my bank accounts/bills
- Made a folder for Dad to help with the task
- Made sure my passport would be up-to-date at least 6 months past my travel dates
- Notified banks and credit cards of my travel plans
- Had my phone service suspended
- Scanned important docs to save in an online vault
- Checked the travel advisory for countries I planned to visit
- Copied key information from guidebooks into moleskin info journal so I could carry less
- Set up an international phone service
- Got addresses of friends who wanted mail
- Set up a blog/flickr account/Skype
- Set up car/pet care
- Paid any bills in advance
- Set up auto-transfer of money from Savings to Checking each month, to stay on-budget
- Got travel insurance
- Confirmed flights
- Started eating small portions of meat (after being veggie for 10 years) to get my digestive system in shape should I have to/want to eat meat in local cuisine
- Got a HI (Hostels International) membership
- Set up parts of the trip that needed booking in advance (flight from Auckland to Christ Church, hiking Everest Base Camp, Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand...)
- Made a list of important phone numbers/addresses in case of emergency (US Embassies, Amex global assist, etc.)
- Read up on safety, scams, climate, culture, etc.
- Figured out a plan for continuing to work while traveling

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My first marathon!

On Sunday, November 7, I ran the ING NYC Marathon, a distance that seemed impossible to me even a month ago. I trained for 16 weeks following (or trying to follow) Hal Higdon's Novice Marathon Training Program--I admit I slacked a bit at the end. But I did it! And it was one of the best, and definitely hardest, both mentally and physically, things I've done in my life.

I had been sick since the Tuesday before, nursing a nasty head cold, and I was also worried about a bruised tailbone I'd suffered from getting my foot stuck in the toilet and hitting my butt on the tile floor (but that's another story...). On Friday, I was getting seriously worried I'd have to back out, but by the Groundwork pep rally and carb-loaded dinner on Saturday, with the help of copious amounts of Dayquil, Airborne, Zicam, kombucha, ginger tea, and sleep, I was feeling a lot better. It also probably had a lot to do with Ad babying me and Dana flying 700 miles to cheer me on!

Sunday morning I felt surprisingly good and totally ready to tackle the thing. Instead of just wanting to get it over with (the way I'd felt days before), I was REALLY excited about seeing all of the boroughs, experiencing the camaraderie of the runners, and feeling the real strength and power of my body. With a forecast of 51 degrees and sunny, it was also absolutely perfect running weather.

For breakfast, I had a salt bagel with peanut butter and banana, a gatorade, and a coffee. At 5:45am, I set off in my hot pink throw-away sweats, armed with tissues tucked into my shirt sleeves for my still-runny nose. I didn't see ANYONE in running gear on the C train, and started to get really worried I was headed the wrong way, but at Chambers Street I finally found a huge cohort of marathoners and followed them to the ferry. The next few hours seemed to fly by as I stretched, drank an obscene amount of water, and got to my corral. I made a friend there named Erin. She was around my age and running her first marathon alone as well, and we bonded over strategies and nerves. Then, at 10:40am, it was finally time to start.

Erin and I surged over the Verrazano Bridge together. It was an incredible rush (I'd never been to Staten Island before), and clothes were flying left and right like colorful flags. I was practically sprinting through miles 1 and 2, despite warnings to conserve energy, but soon I waved Erin on--she was much faster than I was!

Erin had warned me to keep to the middle of the bridge since people pee off the sides, and I have to admit I wished I was a guy about half way across, my bladder already bursting from all the gatorade, coffee, and water I'd slugged before the start. I didn't have to wait too long, though--a water station and porta-potties were set up at mile 3, and pretty much every mile after that.

Running up the streets in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was a great way to start the race. Lots of vibrant music, and the crowds felt really intimate. I ran behind "Bob from Jersey," who was carrying two American flags, for a long time, and let me tell you, people LOVE Jersey! I laughed when I saw a sign that said "You're almost there! Only 21.5 miles to go!" I was feeling great, and that feeling just grew as more and more people were yelling my name. It felt like all those people were out there cheering just for me.

My former coworkers, Alvina and Sarah, were the ones who initially got me running, starting with the Chase Corporate Challenge 5k three years ago. I remember watching them run the NYC Marathon in 2006 and being totally in awe of their accomplishment. I was convinced I would never be capable of such a feat, but they were so encouraging, insisting anyone could run a marathon if they trained for it.

I reread Alvina's marathon blog post a few weeks ago for motivation, and took her advice (and Rose's before her) to write my name on my shirt. I'd also gone with my cousin, Cullen's, call to "dress like a superhero so you'll feel like a superhero." Standing in front of the mirror at 5am that Sunday, I was having doubts and feeling a bit self-conscious about the neon yellow shirt and huge black letters spelling my name. In all probability, I was going to spend the day sweaty, in serious pain, and with facial expressions ranging from scowl to suicidal. Did I really want to essentially wear a flashing sign saying "LOOK AT ME"? Turns out, yes. At times, people shouting my name was the only thing that kept me going!

I unexpectedly saw Elliot in Park Slope at one of the water stations. He was the first person I knew, and I was thrilled and totally shocked to see him, since I didn't think I'd be able to pick anyone out on the sides of those very wide streets!

By Clinton Hill I was really hitting my stride. It was great to be back in the familiar territory of my old neighborhood, and the dance parties along the Lafayette sidelines were epic. And of course dear friends were waiting for me there. Karl, Amy, Sharon, and Jon were great motivation, and were also able to take my gloves and ipod shuffle off my hands. (I should've listened to Ad--headphones were an absolute nuisance.)

The first 12 miles flew by! I was averaging 9-9:30/min miles--WAY under my training pace--without even feeling winded, and smiling from ear to ear. I saw Serena and the Groundwork crew in Bed Stuy shortly after. Team Groundwork raised over $26,000 for leadership programs for kids in East New York and Bed Stuy, and it was thrilling to be a part of that effort.

Ad, Dana, Bryn, Neil, and Kari were waiting for me among shrieking hipsters in Williamsburg, and I stopped long enough to slather my mouth (and most of my face) in vaseline, pose for a picture for Dana to send to Mom and Dad, and shriek "I can't slow down! I really need to slow down!" Turns out I didn't need to worry, because slow down I certainly would.

I loved Queens, but I might be biased by the fact that I was given a fist bump, a banana half, an orange, a cookie, and a hug all within five minutes of entering the borough, right when I needed it. And the jam bands were seriously out of control! So were the firefighters all in a line giving high-fives.

When I hit the dreaded Queensboro Bridge at mile 15--a very steep mile, made more harsh with the sudden silence of no cheering crowds for the first time in the entire course--I started to feel a twinge in my lower right leg, but I tried to shake it off and breathe into it, sure it was just temporary.

What they say is true: turning onto First Ave, with the people on the sidelines ten rows deep, was so inspiring. But the pain in my leg was getting rapidly worse, pulsing through shin, ankle, and now knee, so it felt like a long, straight road to hell. I still don't know what went on there--I hadn't had any trouble with that leg in any of my training runs, and it didn't take long to feel better in the few days after the race, either. Regardless, I was pretty miserable, and started counting down the streets until mile 18.5, where I knew I'd see Ad, Dana, Bryn, and Neil again. I needed a familiar face. A hug and a kiss and a bit of encouragement. Thirty blocks until Ad and Dana. Ten. Five. When I finally reached them, I downed my first goo, said "I'm not in as good of shape as I was last time you saw me," and then braced myself and got going.

There were a lot of Achilles teams--able-bodied runners flagging others with disabilities that made it tough for them to complete the race alone (blindness, a bad heart...). I ran behind a man with a leg amputation for a bit, and felt so inspired and grateful that I started to enjoy every second I could keep going.

Getting into the Bronx was a huge relief, because I knew there was no way I'd quit now. The crowds were enthusiastic, and I probably got more "GO JILL!"s and "You can do it, girl!"s at mile 20 than anywhere else. And boy did I need it. 20 was my longest training run, and those extra 6 miles were truly brutal. I didn't ever hit "the wall," exactly, but by then my whole right leg was absolutely throbbing, a blister was getting serious on my left heel, and I was just exhausted. But there was no stopping, and I even avoided water stations for fear I wouldn't be able to get going again.

Harlem was full of music, loud cheers, and really excited little kids handing out gatorade. One of the best parts of the course for me, for sure, especially since I was in the home stretch. Memorable signs on the way down 5th Ave included "Who needs toenails?", "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon!", "Your feet hurt because you're kicking so much ass!", and "Just finish your f*cking race!" That last one, in particular, really hit home.

By the time I got to Ad, Dana, Bryn, and Neil for the last time at mile 23 (they were all over the city that day!), I was in pretty rough shape. I teared up as I limped toward them, but didn't stop for a hug because I knew I'd never get going again if I stopped for even a second. I think I whimpered something like "I'm going to die here" to Dana as I passed. I believed it at that point.

The last 3 miles were slow, uphill torture, but the crowds were seriously going crazy! A man who had to be at least 80 sprinted past me in that final stretch, and I tried to push my legs to follow his example, but I didn't have much left in me. I thought about walking (or just quitting entirely) constantly, but someone was screaming my name and words of encouragement literally every ten feet. It really helped. And as I rounded that last curve and passed the 400, 200, and 100 meter signs, it suddenly all felt worth it.

Getting handed that medal and Mylar cape after I crossed the finish line was as incredible as I'd imagined it would be, and tears were streaming down my cheeks. On the walk back from the finish, I ran into Peter Brown, who was waiting for his girlfriend, Gwen. Check out Gwen's awesome stop-motion video of the marathon (shot from a camera on her head) if you get a chance.

I had no time goals for the marathon. I'd estimated I'd been training at about an 11 min/mile pace, but for my first marathon, my goal was just to finish, not keel over, and run (jog) the whole way if possible. With a finish time of 5 hours and 50 seconds, I accomplished all of those goals. And looking through the Brightroom Photography photos posted online a few days later, I was proud to see I was grinning in every picture, looking like I was having the time of my life, even when it hurt, doing something I never, ever thought I could do.

Ad and co. were waiting for me after at 72nd street, and wrapped me up in warm sweats and lots of hugs. When I called my parents to reassure them I wasn't dead, Mom said, "You're done with marathons now, right?" and I said yeah, I thought one was enough. But when The New York Times posted the names of the marathoners in Monday's paper and I missed the cut by 11 minutes, I went straight to the New York Road Runners web page and put my name in the lottery for the 2011 marathon. It'll be easier the second time around, right?