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no for real, let her eat cake

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no for real, let her eat cake

Juna, Sita, Kamala, the three musketeers. Messy, matted hair. Skinny frames, dirty clothes, huge smiles, 100% sass. I didn't stand a chance.

It was Juna’s birthday today. It was her birthday, and she didn’t even know it until it was almost over. Her Mom, busy with a full time job, seven kids, and no husband, had forgotten. Luckily Juna happened to see a calendar and so my little Nokia phone rang around 7 pm tonight, it's Juna's birthday! Can you come outside?

I opened my door and there they stood, Juna standing in the middle and looking absolutely radiant in her ratty clothes and wild hair. She proudly handed me a piece of chocolate and gave me a hug. 

I stared at this fresh teenager as I remembered my own 13th birthday. I remember preparing my whole family for it, announcing that I would be a teenager soon, so they could no longer call me Elizabeth or Wizzy (don't ask). Now I would answer only to the elegant Liz

But Juna, she almost missed her birthday.

I swear I’ve made every mistake in the book with these three. Their stories have broken my heart a million times. And so I try to make it better by buying them lunches, drinks, cookies, ice cream, and a trip to one of worst places on earth: the zoo. And even as I am doing this, I know it's not sustainable and just creating a dependence on western tourists. So I am starting to meet with their parents and reach out to various NGO's to figure out how to sponsor their schooling from abroad. 

But tonight, I couldn't help myself. The girl had never had her own cake, had no presents, and almost missed her birthday. On the walk to the bakery Juna stopped everyone she could to give them a piece of candy and announce that it was her birthday. If you could have seen that smile. I’ve never seen anyone glow like that.

Happy Birthday, sweet Juna.  

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finding generosity in Nepal

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finding generosity in Nepal

'I would like to invite you to have coffee at my home tonight', she said.

English class had just finished and she stayed after to speak with me. She had a nose ring, brown eyes so warm they could have been maroon, and an affectionate way of grabbing my hand. 

Since I started at Purnaa, she had been helping me with my terrible Nepali pronunciation and I had been teaching her English class. That day we learned how to say our favorite foods in class and when I joked that mine was coffee, she laughed and invited me to her home. Yes, yes, yes, of course I'll come to your home. 

It was raining when we left work, her holding an umbrella over both of us as she offered bits of English along the way.

When we got to her front door, she turned to me sheepishly, 'its only one room' and we walked in. The room was small and cozy, with lights strung along the pink walls, photos of family members everywhere, and two beds side by side that created a narrow path for me to walk down.

I sat across from her 17-year old-daughter as the coffee was brewing and I learned that she was going to university to be a doctor. This is huge anywhere, but it's especially incredible for a woman to get that level of schooling in Nepal. They served me coffee on a tray with sliced apples as they helped me learn more Nepali phrases. Se-yow, apple. Choree, daughter. Amah, mother. Ramro, good.

When her husband came home, they drove me home together. Halfway home, he turned to me and asked if I liked ‘buff’ (buffalo meat). I responded yes, so he pulled over and got out of the car. I kept talking with her, silently wondering what was happening until he got back in the car and handed me a coffee filter filled with grilled buffalo meat and rice from his friend’s food stand. Buff for you!

And so I fought my tears, as I accepted yet another gift from these people who knew more about sharing what they had than I ever will. 

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for my birthday, I got the alps

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for my birthday, I got the alps

It's taken 29 years, but I finally learned the trick to having an amazing birthday.

  1. Do something really hard the day before, something that you think you can't do.
  2. Wake up the morning of your birthday psyched. You're stronger than you realized. 

For me, that something hard was trekking up Schneeberg, the biggest mountain in lower Austria. The difficult part wasn't so much the hiking as it was carrying a tent, sleeping bags, pads, kitchen stuff, food, water, warm clothes and a 2 year old up. 

Wolfie_with_almost_all_the_gear
Hiking_up_the_trail_on_Schneeberg

Our porter I mean friend, Wolfgang Kronberger, carried up Miriam's bag most of the way, so she could carry this sweet thing. 

Miriam_and_Sam

Six hours later, we made it in time to pitch a tent, eat dinner, and watch the sun set over the alps. 

Sunset_in_the_Austrian_Alps

The next morning it was birthday hugs and chocolate. We began lazily hiking down, stopping to eat and just relax. We were psyched with what we had done the day before and I was psyched to get some calories back in the form of that fine Austrian chocolate. 

hot_dog_legging_in_the_austrian_alps
Wolfgang_Sam_walking_down
little_hiker_man
Wolfgang_on_Schneeberg

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photos: slovakia trekking

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photos: slovakia trekking

Tucked in northern Slovakia are the High Tatras, the second highest mountains range in Europe. The hikes here are beautiful, well-maintained, and lined with wildflowers. My first morning in the Tatra's was spent hiking up a beautiful mountain near our hostel, The Ginger Monkey. The Ginger Monkey is one of those hostels that feel more like your friends cabin, where a rainy day just means hanging out on comfy old couches with endless amounts of tea and the full season of How I Met Your Mother.

Yeah, I'd say I lucked out in coming to Slovakia. 

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why I really love climbing

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why I really love climbing

"We can ask ourselves whether we failed or succeeded, [...]whether we’re tough climbers or weak girls…but at the end of the day, it felt hard as nails and yet we gave it everything we could and well, I think that’s enough." - Hazel Findlay, badass

"This is hard and scary." - me


Give it everything I can? Right, then. My chance to give it everything I could came on one of my last days in SE Asia, after months of climbing and experiencing the highs of (finaalllly) pushing grades and the lows of injuries. My friends and I piled into a boat and headed two hours east toward The Face, a crag that had been built up in my head for months, specifically because of how interesting the rock was and the huge falls people have taken on it. My friends Benny and Ross, two other Asia Outdoors staff, and I were wrapping up our time in Vietnam, so we were psyched to end our time by spending a day on this beautiful crag.

Beautiful indeed. When our boat rounded the corner, our lack of sleep and choppy boat ride (our Vietnamese boat driver, Chu Bien, made us wear lifejackets, which never happens) were quickly forgotten, because suddenly there it was. This stunning, sheer crag rising 45 meters out of the waters of Ha Long Bay was The Face. We get to climb this thing?! Uhhh, OKAY!! We started getting psyched, chatting, and taking photos.  

And then, the closer we drew, the quieter we became, taking in the sheer size of such an inspiring and beautiful rock. 


There are only two bolted climbs on The Face. On the left is License to Climb, an inspiring and sustained 7b (5.12b) with a difficult and chossy 7c (5.12d) extension. Yeahhh, one of those sound way more fun than the other.

And then on the right is THE FACE, the crag's namesake, a 7b+ (5.12c) that starts cruiser and keeps getting steeper and more technical the further you go up. It's about 30 meters tall and the last 5-8 are the most run out and (surprise!) the most difficult. Most of the talk I'd heard about The Face was centered around the top of this climb, that if you don't make it to the anchor you will take a BIG fall. 

Chu Bien pulled the boat up onto a slabby rock and we all hopped off, scrambling up to the base of our warm up, License to Climb. What sort of fantasy world are we in that a 7b is our warm up? Nonetheless, bags were tossed on the deck, ropes were flaked, harnesses were put on and okay Liz you wanna go up first? Oh hell yes. 

My nerves gave way to sheer happiness as License to Climb was as beautiful as I imagined, 20ish meters of small two-finger pockets, side pulls and laybacks, underclings and high, high feet. I began to lose myself in the climb, engaging fully in it to the point that everything around me faded away; afterward I wouldn't remember anything about it. My body took over, the moves linking together naturally until I arrived at the first anchor with only one fall. I lowered off happy, psyched at how fluid it all felt. 

As the sun rose higher in the sky, giving way to higher temps, each person hopped on the route, leaving ample time for our favorite things: mainly eating, lazing in the shade, and watching each other climb. Thom (another Asia Outdoors staff member) and Ross had been here before and had already worked both climbs. But for the rest of us in the group, Benny, myself, and Alaskan couple Shasta (as in the freaking mountain!) and Kelsey, the rock was totally foreign, unlike anything we had ever done before. My friend Gavi described it perfectly - melted crayon, a solid wall full of small pinches and pockets.

The sun was high in the sky by the time we all finished License to Climb and it was getting hot, hot, hot. The day had been awesome but Benny and I were still antsy to try The Face. It was an intimidating lead, but we had to try it before leaving Vietnam. Benny went up first, hanging draws with the hot afternoon sun beating down on him. He looked strong, but since he had already gotten on License to Climb twice, he whipped off about halfway up, exhausted from a long day in the sun. 

...uhh, crap. my turn.

I started up The Face slowly, trying not to think about how much I had imagined this climb. I paced my breathing and took my time to explore holds, lying back to see where the line was going. Every hold looked good but it was easy to get lured off route and all the holds would disappear, leaving me to traverse or even less fun, down climb to get back onto the line. I kept moving up, up, up, the line growing more steep and the holds getting smaller and further apart. Keep breathing, relax, you can do this. 

One of the million reasons I love climbing is exactly this – there isn't anything else in my life that demands every part of me. There is no room for any thought or worry, stress or distraction. There just can't be. Breathe in, grab that side pull, breathe out, high foot. Breathe in, lay back, breathe out, pull up.

And then suddenly I was at the crux, clipping the last bolt and looking up at the anchor, still about 5-8 meters above me. I glanced down to see the rope swaying between my feet and about 100 feet below my feet were my friends, watching and yelling up encouragement.

Okay you have this, be brave. 

I took a deep breath and got my feet up high, using my height to my advantage as I levered my body up. And I landed in a blank spot, with technical and sustained hand holds and very thin foot holds. What the junk, where are the feet? I hesitated, adjusted, hesitated, adjusted. Try it. Just go for it. Come on.

I pulled down with my right hand, got my feet up high, reached up with my left hand and...slipped.

I fell about 10 meters, the biggest fall I have taken in years. Most falls are a blink and it's done, but this time I was able to process what was happening and the position my body was in. Apparently I let a few choice words fly, but I just remember hearing my breath go in and out on the way down. It was such a rush of adrenaline, scary and fun and incredible!

I lowered down to a psyched group, who didn’t even care that I didn’t clip the anchor; they were just happy I tried hard. It's days like this that I feel so grateful for this playful and supportive community of climbers I get to hang out with. Everyone wants each other to succeed, to push ourselves. It's not a competition, we’re friends that love the outdoors and being involved in something so pure and spiritual.

In the end, no one in our group sent The Face that day, but it didn't matter. Because climbing is just a medium to let me be outside, to push myself alongside badass people on inspiring rock in a beautiful bay. Climbing gives me a chance to try things that are hard and scary; to give it everything I can. And climbing lets me drink beers, and that, that is worth being grateful for.

Most (okay, ALL) of the photos on this post were taken by Kelsey Gray, a talented Alaskan professional photographer who just got himself, and his sweet girlfriend Shasta, a bunch of house guests for being so cool (see you two soon)! Check out more of this talented mofo here

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Loving Nam

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Loving Nam

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Vietnam, 40 years after the war

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Vietnam, 40 years after the war

This post is five months late because it took me that long to figure out how to put words to how I felt as an American in Vietnam. 

A few days after arriving in Saigon, I toured an American/Vietnamese war museum and seeing the victims of agent orange was a heartbreaking experience. I chose to do it alone and was glad, as I had the time and space to process the photos and read about the war from the Vietnamese perspective.

You guys, it was horrific. 

The chemicals we sprayed from planes caused the most extreme deformities you can imagine, and it's still affecting children and civilians even 40 years after the war has ended. Though I felt the anti-American propaganda unnecessary and distracting, the photos and the impact of agent orange is entirely real. I left the museum sick to my stomach, having left after watching a video of an 8-year old boy with feet attached to his hips crawl around his bedroom.

The next day I joined an Australian friend on a tour exploring the Cu Chi tunnels about 45 minutes outside of Saigon. I was one of the only American's on the tour, so I felt incredibly self conscious as I boarded the bus. But our guide was wonderful, walking us through the timeline from the Vietnamese perspective, which was so interesting to me as the Vietnam War is so glossed over our American history books.

What most impressed me most though was the grace he gave while speaking about the United States and the American soldiers. He explained that many U.S. soldiers didn't agree with the war and found themselves in a kill or be killed situation. He even talked about the many American soldiers returning home after such a gutting war to a nation that didn't support them. Telling a story about such a traumatic and political war while still creating empathy for both sides was not an easy feat, but one that I felt so grateful for. 

When we arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels, I was beyond amazed at the advanced infrastructure, especially from a nation with so little resources. I could barely fit through most of the openings of the tunnels, which were intentionally sized for petite Vietnamese soldiers. The tunnels were hot (even for Vietnam), tiny, and claustrophobic. I couldn't believe the Viet Cong soldiers lived in them for over 10 years. 

Over the next few months I struggled to process what I had seen. The more research and thought I put into it, the more my my anger settled on our government. And not even in a protest the war kind of a way. We're not the first country to do something really shitty like this, but in order to learn from our mistakes we can't bury them. If we know that history repeats itself, why don’t we as a nation own what we did and educate people on the American/Vietnam war? 

We need to talk about this, about the weapons we chose to fight with, and the effect they had and are still having.  

But while I was processing, I noticed something. The Vietnamese people offered me nothing but lightness and warmth. Wait - they're being so kind. My curiosity led me to some cautious conversations with a few locals about the war, starting with the man pictured playing the guitar. 

My uncle was a medic in that cave on this very island. 
Really? Wow. I can't imagine trying to treat people out of a cave. So how do you feel about Americans now?

Oh I like Americans.
...oh. Well tell me this; looking back on it, how do you feel about it now, are you angry?
No. Just glad it's over. 

Being in a country that we warred for so long could have been an uncomfortable, if not terrible experience. But instead, I benefitted from so many Vietnamese taking the high road, helping to create relationships between a new generation of people. But to be offered this kind of grace was nothing short of inspiring. 

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