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I'm coming home

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I'm coming home

In just under a week I'll be on a plane back to the U.S., ending one of the most incredible years of my life. Trying to sort out a year of memories and experiences is futile, but here are a few things I've already realized: 

The people were even better. I got to meet some of the most playful and generous people on this planet. In the midst of reading about all that is going on in Paris, Beirut, Nepal, and Syria, despite all of the horrific things that have happened, I am still convinced that this world is full of good people. People whose kindness and compassion blew me away. I was given the benefit of a doubt from Vietnamese who suffered in the war. I was invited into someone's home that was the size of my bedroom growing up. I was given couches, equipment, food, directions, hugs, and so much encouragement from strangers. People are incredible and I can only hope to pay it forward someday when I have a home. 

The adventures were way bigger. Last week I ran with (okay, away from) a bull with flaming horns in Spain. I will never forget what it felt like to trek with a 15 kilo pack to 5,416 meters, or to wake up on a mountain in the Austrian Alps the morning of my birthday. I got to climb the longest routes of my life in the Dolomites and Arco, care for 433 wild dogs in Thailand, swim in waterfalls in Laos, jump off a moving train in Prague, compete and actually place in a climbing competition in Kathmandu, trek in the Laotian jungle, the high Tatras, the Alps, and the Himalayas, and volunteer with the most inspiring organization I've seen in a long time in Nepal. 

And the hard times were worse than I imagined. I struggled with being developing country sick, injured, exhausted, more lonely than I've ever felt in my life, and injured again. I've had bed bugs, wiped out on my motorbike, almost drowned in a tunnel in Vietnam, fainted a few times, had a lung infection (maybe altitude sickness, actually?) at altitude, left my purse on a train, slept on the sidewalk, cried every time my tendinitis kept me from climbing, unknowingly hosted generations of lice in my hair for a month, and shit my pants in public...twice. 

Even though there are always going to be more places I want to explore, I couldn't be more ready to see my family and friends again. Truthfully, I can't wait to settle down and have things like a toothbrush cup, mugs, books, a dresser, a bike, a garden, and heaps of chipotle. America, you're beautiful. 

I don't know what's next or where's next yet and that scares me. So don't ask about that yet, just for now join me in saying, holy shit this happened. Thank you for believing that it would happen and for encouraging me along the way. Thank you, thank you, a million times, thank you.

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Babes in Thailand

How do you know you've found a good one? When he flies 8,000 miles across the world to spend two weeks with you. And when he arrives he says things after dinner like, we should get some chocolate tonight. And when I'm tying in to the sharp end, you've got this babe, swift and brave. And when I ask him what we should do tonight, oh I don't care, I just want to hang out with you. All of this following the time he pulled rain pants, a steripen, a solar charger, and tampons out of his bag. Freaking love this guy.

We had our ups and downs. Days filled with brapping around the island in search of chocolate and coffee, reading by the sea, and getting to explore the beautiful limestone rock in Laos together. And we had long travel days, filled with sticky humidity, heavy bags, miscommunications, bad sleep and bad food. 

The best parts though, were the parts we didn’t bring a camera for. That long afternoon spent hiding from the rain in a veggie café, drinking beer and ginger tea while listening to the old rasta hippie owner talk about everything from the Thai political system, to his beliefs in what happens when we die. The mutual excitement over filling our bellies with banana nutella pancakes, psyching out on tufus and stalactites, being lazy in the mornings and little punky gremlins in the evenings. Here are a few of my favorite moments with this sweet dude of mine.

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Must love dogs

The Dog Sanctuary at Elephant Nature Park, home to about 430 dogs. The sanctuary was started in 2011, as a result of the Bangkok floods trapping thousands of dogs on rooftops. Volunteers gathered together and when all was said and done, over 2,000 dogs that were pulled to safety and with a little food, water, and medical treatment they were ready to survive on their own again. But there were about 155 that needed more attention and thus, the Dog Sanctuary of Elephant Nature Park was born. 

Today there are over 430 dogs living in the Dog Sanctuary. That's 430 different personalities and unique and often heartbreaking stories as to how each dog arrived at the sanctuary. I volunteered alongside a group of animal loving hippies from around the world and together we focused our attention on the sickest and most injured dogs, the ones in the Dog Clinic.    

This is Long. Long was found beaten half to death in a bag. He somehow survived but can't control his bladder. He's still the sweetest dog and I wished so much I could have taken him home.

Swooning over Looch, the first dog we got to help re-integrate back into his pack after being in the clinic.  

Gladys never got used to this cone and would ram her head into all the things. 

Lucie and I perfecting the cuddle, cuddle, detick. 

Steel was hit by a motorbike but is too badass to slow down. Put him in this trainer and he freaking runs

Digging his way to Canada

Poor Ahn is passed out after ear surgery. 

We could have hung out with them for hours oh wait, we did. 

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8 reasons to go to Koh Lanta

1. More than 30 kilometers of coastline looking like this.
There is a beach for everyone. starting on the north end of the island, the beaches are more rasta/hippie and crowded. The further south you go, the quieter and more relaxed they get. We stayed about halfway down, on Klong Nin Bay and loved it! 

2. The Lanta Animal Welfare Clinic
Wykstra and I both love animals and were psyched to support this clinic. They're run almost entirely by volunteers and they take in dogs and cats that have been abused or abandoned and give them the necessary medicine, treatment, and love to get better. We got to take little the little punk Bang-Bang for a walk on the beach. 

All of that lovin' is supported by donations from the nearby Lime Bar. So we went and you know, supported them supporting that. 

3. Motorbike rental for 250 BHT ($8 USD).
You can brap up and down the island, visiting the national forest, get a massage, or check out other beaches and what have you. 

4. The whole bottom part of the island is a national forest. 
With some casual hiking, monkeys erywhere, and views like this.

5. Crabs
They hated me, but will love you, plomise. 

6. SNORKELING
But just a warning: the 4 Islands Tour is a lot of tour and not a lot of snorkeling. maybe you can hire a boat on your own? just don't expect a ton of snorkeling, its a lot of shlepping around from island to island. I'm still including it in this list because its not the fishes fault. 

7. Animals, everywhere
Aside from our usual insects and critters living in our bungalow, we have chickens, cats, and dogs that roam around the island! I love them and they love me and its 100% mutual. 

8. That Thai kindness
I could probably say this about everywhere in rural Thailand, but the Thai people in Koh Lanta were so kind, thoughtful, and generous, with what little they had. Case in point the woman who took in this abandoned little monkey and cared for him (and let us play with him all the time). 

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Travel Fails: every ounce counts

This was bound to happen, I guess. At some point every traveler has to fess up and admit it, on the internet for everyone to see: I overpacked

A few weeks before I left on this trip I packed up both of my bags, hoisted them on my shoulders and walked from my apartment to downtown Minneapolis to meet a friend for lunch. When I saw him, I was more than a little cocky about how ‘easy’ and ‘light’ my bags were. Three miles and a little bit of sweat later I practically floated into my apartment, a-glow from how low-maintenance and non-materialistic I am.  

What. a. joke. 

It turns out walking in flat, air-conditioned skyways, fully hydrated isn’t a great way to test your pack weight when preparing to travel around SE Asia. Minor obstacles like, oh I don’t know, stairs and 95-degree heat are things I didn’t think about. Its funny how scrambling up sloping rock covered in leaves and gravel, the hot sun beating down on you and your two stupid backpacks made you get real honest about exactly how minimalistic you actually are. 53 lbs is about half my weight, so by the time Rolf tucked my overweight arse under a boulder to get us some water, I’m openly berating myself for bringing five tank tops, two dresses, two toothbrushes, HAIR PRODUCT, two bras, etc. That junk lasted until the next time we had to carry it, at which point I was giving clothes and toiletries away like Oprah. 

See ya never, junk.

You know what else was a huge mistake? Reading the RTW travel checklists of non-climbers, because most of them don’t factor in the 29lb buddha belly bag full of climbing gear. I learned the hard way that the trade off for getting to climb around the world is that I have to pare down on other luxuries. I mean, in the end, I’ll take my frizzy hair and smelly clothes any day, because I get to see views of the world only available to climbers, and climb on long, beautiful limestone. So I’ll keep tossing the extra weight in exchange for the beauty I get to see from up high. 

I thought I was different, a minimalist, an experienced backpacker. Nope, just another shlep learning how much she doesn’t need. 

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funny thing about time

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funny thing about time

Want to know how you can slow down time? Wish for something. Want to make your week last as long as possible? Wish for the weekend. I swear my hair stops growing the moment I wish it was longer and I could make time go twice as slow by wishing it were 5 pm, the next weekend with no plans, the Spring, the third season of House of Cards. 

Measuring time by things I’m looking forward to is the most ironic thing because I make the waiting last forever as the things I enjoy race past me. 

Here though, time is the strangest thing. We don’t have weekends to look forward to, because every day is a weekend. We don’t have a climbing trip to look forward to, because we’re always on one. We don’t have good weather to look forward to, or good food to look forward to, or even a full nights rest because we can have those things whenever we want them. So because we’re not wishing for anything, we don’t elongate or stunt time; we just watch the minutes and experiences pass by steadily, as if sliding by us on a conveyor belt. 

Somewhere I read a really cool description of how time passes when traveling; its as if we’re in a car looking out at the horizon and time seems to move so slowly, but then you look out the side window and its zooming past and you’re unable to slow down or to stop the car and stretch a minute out any longer than it’s supposed to. 

When I think about traveling for a year and a half, it seems like forever, but when I stop to realize its already been a month, its seems like its already going too fast. The breezy mornings, the tides, the long climbs, and the days of this trip pass by whether we want them to or not. The only way I’ve found to slow time here is to slow down myself, and take in the smallest details around me. It’s impossible to reach out and stop the sun that keeps falling into the horizon too fast, so we just try to watch as many sunsets as possible. We take the long way home to check in on how our neighbor spider's web has been faring in the wind, or to watch an ant to haul something four times its size across our bungalow porch. Anything to slow time and not miss a single moment of this trip. 

[Full disclosure: I’ve never been accused of being a time person. Even though my former job as a project manager demanded that I keep a schedule, I rarely followed one outside of work. Being aware of how long something realistically takes has never been my strong suit so I’m usually a bit, okay always late. So this could be a rambly bambly load of garbage from a person who has on more than one occassion snuck in the last pew after the bride walked down the aisle.]

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and we have a trip motto

"Oh hello, yes hi, sawatdee kahh...umm so, the wifi doesn’t seem to be working?"

I’m standing in an internet café, talking to the woman behind the counter. I'm kicked off the wifi for the gazillionth time as my parents and my sister sit 8,000 miles away at their laptops, waiting for me to come back on.

She smiles at me. 

I lift my laptop screen to show her the angry message on the screen, accusing them of not paying their bill. (remember, I'm in an internet cafe) I shrug my shoulders at her, as if to ask again.

Her smile stays genuine; she just blinks and announces, ‘ahhh, yes is a problem!’

I'm embarrassed to say we repeat this charade a few more times before I just agree with her. I mean, she's right, it IS a problem.

I return to my seat and laugh with Wykstra at just how very American I am. I'm so accustomed to getting things when I want, or at least as the customer, being used to being 'always right'. But this is Thailand, not the States, and things don't always work when I want them to. 

At least now I know what to say every time something goes wrong on this trip (i.e. throwing up, getting rashes, missing buses, no climbing ropes in carry ons now? really?) - ahhh yes, is a problem!

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Koh Yao Noi

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Koh Yao Noi

After a few weeks in Tonsai we started hearing about this beautiful island nearby with unpolished, steep limestone to climb and bungalows and food for even cheaper than Tonsai. The best part? We’d get to rent motorbikes to take us to the crag. We’d all been spoiled by the 45-second approaches of Tonsai and were psyched to have adventures on the way to the crag. Rolf, David, and I convinced our new friend Josh to come too and we all said goodbye to our wonderful Rasta friends (photo below) and headed west to Koh Yao Noi. 

Once we arrived, we quickly realized most of the rumors were true. Koh Yao Noi was remote and quiet, a beautiful Thai island untouched by tourism. When we discovered accommodation wasn’t quite as cheap as the rumors, we reminded ourselves its still crazy cheap by western standards and booked a few nights in THE NICEST BUNGALOW OF ALL TIME. Instead of facing west, we faced east and started to lose it over all the beautiful sunrises. The Thai’s here were warm and welcoming, going out of their way to introduce themselves and make sure we were comfortable. The owner of the bungalows, Mr. Leen, even stopped by to say goodnight. The land of smiles, indeed. 

Between the motorbiking and climbing, the next few days were an absolute blast. We brapped our way to the crag by squeezing driver-bag-passenger-bag on our manual trans motorbikes. David and I rode together and he was very kind, pretending not to notice every time I jerked us into the wrong gear. At least half of the approach (let me call it that, its more fun) was on holy-shit-we’re-going-to-die loose gravel, potholes, and steep hills. All made more fun by driving on the left side of the road. Everything went really well until the one night our jankfest of a headlight went out on a blind corner and we went slow-motion into the ditch. 

The climbs were cool too. Instead of the dramatic, red, drippy-looking rock of Tonsai, this limestone was white and more of the wall climbing we were used to. Once we parked our bikes, we hiked the last 15-20 hot minutes to the crag, making us (okay, just me) reconsider all the banana Nutella pancakes and cookies, but it was still so beautiful. Our last day of climbing we ended our side-by-side multipitches on the same pitch and got to see more sea, something I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of. 

David also does a great job of explaining our experience on Koh Yao Noi, check out his blog to read more. 

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last few from Tonsai

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last few from Tonsai

A day after touching down in Tonsai and David's on the sharp end. 

on one of my favorite multipitches in Tonsai, a route called Musang, 5 pitches of fun going at 6a, 7a, 6b, 7a, 6b. 

l love this photo, I can tell that I'm smiling and so psyched about this climb. 

we rapped off in time to catch our first sunset with no clouds, a perfect way to end the day.

After failing to get on 'The Best Route in Minnesota' (because of the understandably long line), we headed to the other side of Phra Nang Beach, finding this secluded place to climb and watch the sun light up the rock behind us.

this is a happy Rolf

David's first time deep water soloing was pretty badass. Moving from the wall to the stalactite, he scrambled over some pretty sketchy, chossy rock before jumping in. 

this is another happy Rolf  

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Travel Fails: where are all the Thai people?

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Travel Fails: where are all the Thai people?

Picture this: you’re 12 hours in to a 16 hour travel day. You’re sweaty, unshowered (obviously), and sweating in a hot van packed thigh-to-sweaty-thigh with other backpackers. The bus driver starts walking down the aisle asking for everyone’s final destination. Though the bus is headed to Krabi, your final destination is Tonsai Bay, the climbing mecca is SE Asia. The bus driver says she can take you to Tonsai, but it’ll cost you an additional $20. You reluctantly agree and as soon as the driver walks away, you overhear the people behind you decline saying, ‘we’ll figure it out, thanks’. You ask them what they’re planning to do? and they respond with the obvious: what the Thai’s do. They ask ‘where are all the Thai people? How do they get from Krabi to Tonsai?’ and this spurred the first of many lessons I’ll learn on this trip. If I’m surrounded by tourists, there is a good chance I’m overpaying. 

We found out later it costs closer to $4 to get from Krabi to Tonsai. Lesson learned.

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the why

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the why

zen_and_what_have_you

Its barely been a month and already I feel so healthy, so clear headed. Rolf, David and I are outside ALL THE TIME, climbing, swimming, reading, playing cards, and just puttering around. Our meals are a little over $2 each, our bungalow $6 a night, and we wake up naturally every morning, fully rested. I’m rarely aware of the time, much less the date, and our to-do lists are a joke (swim, yoga, work a climb, eat banana bread, juggle, fill out a post card).

What I’m trying to say is, this new life is peaceful. 

I knew before I went on this trip how big it was; I just couldn’t find the words to describe what it means to me. Its more than a vacation or a break from work. Its an uncluttered time to finally put words to the questions none of us really had a chance to ask ourselves: 

What do I need for myself? What am I good at? How much money do I need to make? Does making less mean more stress or less? How much work/life balance do I want to insist on - a 2 week vacation once a year or is it bigger than that? How important is living in a place where I can do the things I love all year round? How many things do I need to feel comfortable? 

Realizing that where I live, how much I work, the seasons I live in, how fast or slow my lifestyle is, and how much money and stress I have are choices has been both freeing and overwhelming. And I know this trip won’t answer all of my questions, but it will open my mind to new lifestyles and cultures, just by getting to see how people outside the U.S. have answered them. 

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the good, the bad, and Tonsai Time

I can’t lie, being in Tonsai Bay is amazing. Our bungalow is small but cozy, and we wake up to a breeze coming in the window, birds chirping, and monkeys skiddaddling around the jungle. We’ve found the best place to eat our meals, Mama’s Chicken, and eat heaping plates full of the most delicious food for around $2-3 per meal. Most days start with swimming, yoga, or reading, and then climbing after lunch. It takes us oh you know, about 4-5 minutes to get from our door to some of the best and most three-dimensional climbing I’ve ever done. The long lines of limestone are full of stalactites, stalagmites, tufa’s, huecos, roofs, tubes and caves. The other day we lost our friends on a multipitch climb because after the first pitch we took the different passageway through a cave. We finish climbing around sundown, eat more delicious food (hopefully smothered in nutella), play cards and go to bed. Every day is warm, sunny, dry and perfect for climbing. 

So yeah, its pretty good here in Tonsai Bay. But every paradise has its drawbacks. After a week of being here I got Tonsai Tummy, a cute sounding virus that knocked me on my back with a fever, diarrhea, and a whole lot of throwing up. Since then, Rolf and I oscillate back and forth between diarrhea and constipation every 2-3 days. I woke up covered in little red bumps the other day because some spastic bug decided to go ape shit on my feet and legs, and our cuts and scrapes are constantly infected from the ocean or shower. Beyond our health, we have seen Tonsai scramble to keep up with the boom in climbing tourism in the last decade, creating a faux rasta hippie culture, instead of a true Thai culture. And then you peek behind the reggae bars and you’ll see huge smoking generators; the quick fix to give us access to electricity and wifi. The limestone cliffs form a horseshoe around the bay, so everything is brought in by boat, from the bottled water we drink to the building supplies for the huge (Sheraton?) resort they’re building across the road. This place will be so different in just a few years and we're grateful to be here when we are. 

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But despite how fast this place is changing, life still moves at Tonsai time: unapologetically slow and relaxed. Before leaving I was dealing with some frustrating tendonosis in my shoulder and getting anxious about being injured before going on a year and a half long climbing trip. But being here has chilled me out a lot and instead of worrying about the grade I'm climbing, I'm enjoying the lines I have been getting on. I'm so damn grateful to be here and I know exactly how lucky I am to get to do a trip like this. Reminding myself of that has given me patience with my body to rebuild the muscles around my shoulder so that I can climb for the next 18 months. And its paying off, my shoulder is getting stronger and I'm excited for my body to follow suit. Besides, the $7 coconut oil massages have done more to help me than the $800 I dumped physical therapy before I left. 

I know this was a long post, so thanks for making it this far. There is still a lot to learn about (the real) Thailand and myself, but so far these are my thoughts on our beautiful, slow-moving life. 

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Deep water soloing

What do you do when you get a traffic jam on a multipitch route? 
A) help the other climbers get their rope unstuck
B) dread each others hair
C) invite them deep water soloing the next day
D) all of the above

We met a rag tag group of climbers on a multipitch climb the other day, who not only got our rope thrice unstuck, they dreaded each others hair while waiting, grabbed a beer with us after and took us DWS the next day. They are from France, Austria, Australia and the US, absolutely hilarious, wear badass tights while climbing and remind us of our friends back home. 

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no fall zone

somewhere between a bolt and a sketchy nut placement are these ropes. falls rated for, ehh, just don't fall. 

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home, sweet bungalow

14' x 14. No electricity from 6am - 6pm. Cold water showers, thatched erything, all for $13 a night.

We'll take it.

bungalow

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oregon trailing it to Tonsai Bay

20 hours of train, train, bus, van, THE BED OF SOME DUDES TRUCK, and a long tail boat later, WE MADE IT! 

Tonsai_Bay_Thailand.png

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