The Guide Life

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” Albert Einstein

Time. Seconds click to minutes. Hours turn into weeks, and now months since my last post. The summer is the one season that seems to leave as soon as it comes.

Our summer has been unlike any season that we have known in our married life. This is the first that I have not worked at the camp in eight summers. I must admit, it is liberating to clock in/clock out and be done for the day, for the weekend. Jordan has spent most of his nights sleeping on glaciers. Our lives overlap briefly enough to recognize each other. Since I’m responsible for the guide schedule, I cannot complain too much. Working for the same company is really helpful. It keeps us on the same page despite the gaps in between. We are moving forward, together.

The theme of the summer is shuffle. We have housesat five different houses in the area. It is 99% blessing and 1% challenge to be a high class vagabond. The van has served well as our in between house and traveling suitcase. Cookie is my turtle shell. If things get really hectic I can retreat inside, but basecamp has wheels.

Although there is a sense of fragmentation, I am affirmed that we are in a good place with life. Yesterday we closed on the sale of the house that we flipped within six months of our original purchase date. With the influx of desire for starter homes on the Knoxville market, we made a last minute decision to sell instead of rent. We essentially signed our realtor contract as we were leaving town, hoping for the best. We poured a lot of time, energy and love into that little house and we are excited that someone gets to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hot ticket question…what’s next? Turn the page. I feel like a character in a choose your own adventure picture book. Yes or no moves us to the next sequence. The proceeding set of questions take us a page forward. Inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter. We are on a slow trajectory.

The slowness allows us the ability to analyze and process where we are, what we are doing and appreciate the small pieces that come together in life, recognizing that these are God’s gifts. Since I started the post with an Einstein quote, I will end with this:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”


Forced Stillness

Traveling. Going from one place to another. To wander, roam, rove, journey. As I sit in the passenger seat after three long days of being on the road, the act of traveling feels less of an explorative journey than a chore. Long hours of sitting in uncomfortable positions, boredom, fatigue. My mind and body are restless, wanting to fast forward to the next. I am resisting the process, denying myself the needed stillness to process the last six months and prepare for the next.

From November to April, we remodeled a condo, an 1,800 square foot house, a full bathroom and re-roofed a shed. These projects were in addition to buying, flipping and putting a house on the market in Knoxville. And we honestly wondered what we would be doing for the winter in Tennessee aside from reconnecting with our families. The increasing busyness makes the stillness more needed, but also more uncomfortable.

The season ahead will be equally busy. Jordan and I are both working for Northwest Mountain School in Leavenworth. While our plan had originally been to travel to Alaska this summer, we are seizing an opportunity to work with a well established and professional outdoor guiding company. Jordan will further his guiding repertoire with gaining more experience as well as extending his accreditations with American Mountain Guide Association courses. I have been hired as the logistics coordinator/office administrator to handle guide and client communication, bookings, scheduling, and overall day-to-day tasks; it is an enviable office position for Leavenworth.

At the crossroads of one season to the next, it is important for us to recharge. Nature is our best medicine and a quick trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness helps to soothe the soul.
Our paddles rhythmically stroke the water, the wind whips fresh air, the loons bob and dive deep. New perspectives. Forced stillness. The full moon pronounces itself into the sky as the sun sets in the west. Watching the fire dance as the birds sing, nature’s theatrics. The trip rejuvenates our weariness. Breath expands more deeply in our lungs.

In the last two years, we have adopted a more temporal perspective to life. The burdensome stress of facing long-term decisions has been dispelled with the realization that each decision we make is a stepping stone. We can trust in the promptings and urgings to walk steadily toward the bigger reality that we cannot yet see. Answers come incrementally.

In the stillness of this 3,000 mile passage, I am slowly finding peace, contentedness, patience and an appreciation for the gift of settling into the process.


Toolkit for Remodeling

Remodeling has become life in this transitional season. After the Atlanta project, we directly started into a more challenging 5-week endeavor of an 1800 square foot house in addition to purchasing a house in Knoxville to remodel for a rental property. Truthfully I never realized the amount of thought, time and effort. The last three months have been a learning curve and time of personal growth.

Lesson 1: Allowing patience to learn new skills. 

I am an impatient person when it comes to acquiring challenging new skills. Expecting perfection, I struggle with the process and space to learn, hone in skills and to become better. Outside of playing sports, some crafting and typing, I have never worked with my hands. At first it is comical. Five minutes later I am vehemently aggravated and defeated. Encountering frustration and learning how to dissolve it has been a useful tool. Making mistakes helps me to have more grace for myself. When I realize that I need grace, I offer it more freely to others.

Lesson 2: Gaining vision. 

Remodeling is about seeing the potential, the creativity to make beautiful things. My eyes are starting to adjust to the unseen, the possibility, the imaginative process. Objects and structures no longer seem two dimensional; I can visualize the operational depth and movement. A flat world is one that we ignore to understand.

Lesson 3: Familiarity with how stuff works.

I reside more in the world of words and leave the “how stuff works” to those who take more of a fancy to such. Again, this year I am resolving to discovery and to curiosity. Not only am I learning the hard skills of labor but the function behind, the operational components and comprehension of new thought processes. The right side of my brain is getting a good workout.

Lesson 4: Humility.  

Scrubbing floors, taping, pulling weeds, caulking and painting is not glamorous work. I am thankful for a season to work hard with my hands, to be able to appreciate my life of comfort and ease, college degrees and opportunities in life. I have a deeper gratitude toward my parents who prioritized my education in order to experience an easier way.

The most satisfying part of the process is the before and after, seeing the direct impact of your work:

 


Resolving instead of “Resoluting” 2017

Mid-January and resolutions are already faded or forgotten. Instead of a resolution this year,  I am resolving to discover new aspects to the familiar world around me. One element I am continuing to unfold is that ministry isn’t boxed up in a word, in a church, in a place. It isn’t trying to fix others, but realizing my brokenness and its potential collateral damage. Living out the call of ministry in every day life is an infusion of goodness that positively influences those around you. Ministry isn’t elevation or greatness. It is humility, submission and surrender of pride, selfishness and personal gain. Others before self. Often this way of life is most difficult to live out with those in your inner circle, the ones that you don’t have to impress. However, this is the most crucial place to extend love, goodness and kindness. Love echoes, goodness reverberates and kindness perpetuates. In this new year, may we continue to shine positivity and remember the power of putting others before ourselves, partnering in the restoration of redemption to brokenness, being salt and light.


Life in a Van, Atlanta

Life in a van is still under warranty, so to speak. The adjustment of living in a smaller space is a trade off for the ability to travel anywhere and coast under the radar. The trip from Washington to Tennessee felt like a luxury cruise: having a dry retreat to escape the rain, a bed that doesn’t need to be inflated or deflated, baking cornbread in our mini oven, watching The Sorcerer’s Stone. Yeah, it is a good life.

City life in a van is a little different than a campground in Yellowstone or a rest stop on the side of the road. Three weeks of van life in Atlanta has engrained the appreciation for: a toilet, the 30 liter water tank, a heater and window covers. For the past 3 weeks we have stealth camped in parking space #12 while remodeling our friends’ apartment. Every night we get a laugh when we hear, “Are you really okay out there?” img_3719Or the morning we overslept, the comment of: “I thought you died in that van last night.” Honestly, we have more solitude than the occupants in the building. While there are 63 units, we are the only ones occupying the lot. We wake to morning sunshine when most people have already gone to work and crawl into our home in the moonlight. I’m curious if anyone has become privy to our home in parking space #12, if we will be served an eviction notice soon.

Realistically we spend most of our time inside the condo where we have repainted each room, installed hardwood floors and retiled the bathrooms. Living and working in your same space is interesting, especially being limited to quiet hours of 9-6 Monday to Friday. img_3702If you have ever been within earshot of laying hardwoods (or within a mile proximity) then you get our dilemma. In between painting and running up and down the three flights of stairs to the third floor condo, we are experiencing the fullness of city life.

Unique Opportunities of Van Life Atlanta

1. Dog Walking

I got a second job for a brief moment as a dog walker. Getting paid to run, hanging out with furry friends and an excuse to get away from construction; I smugly think how clever I am. The feeling lasted until the first time I went to leash the shy one, experiencing a trifecta: explosion of urine and feces while taking a chomp into my arm. What was deemed as the perfect job became the perfect frustration. It took the full four days to leash the dog without chasing it around the pillars inside the house.

2. Roommates

During the first week of the remodel, Trevor and Amanda were on their honeymoon. The img_3696next two weeks of their new life was spent with us right smack in the middle of the job with our tools strewn about. Despite living in a construction zone, we got to really share life together on a level that you don’t ordinarily in this stage of life.

3. Dinner Parties

We never have to look too far to find the friends that we have all over the globe. Two of Jordan and Trevor’s closest friends from high school live in Atlanta, so all of us roommates left the condo for the night to have a wonderful and wine infused evening with the Brimer’s at their beautiful house. Thank you Ashley and Josh for hosting us!

4. Food!

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If you have seen previous posts, you have probably gathered that I am a foodie. The Saturday farmer’s market gave us ample opportunity to explore seasonal flavors and create interesting dishes. The first trip, I found coffee roasted in Atlanta but headquartered in Olympia, Wa. Soft cheese from an artisan cheesemaker with a pine fired outer casing, a baguette and fennel. The second outing was even more exciting. I knew where to go and what I wanted! More cheese, more bread as well as eggplant, cushaw squash, shallots, peppers, bok choy and fresh duck and chicken eggs.

For ethnic flare, we visited Buford Highway and sampled La Pastorcita. I was instantly sold when the menu was entirely in Spanish. Around the corner from the condo is a Whole Foods as well. Food heaven.

5. Shopping

Consignment stores and thrift shops in Buckhead equals fancy clothes at a reasonable cost. After perusing 4 boutique houses (called Labels) that separately held: clothing, dresses, handbags and shoes, we walked away with some high class goods. Further down the street is the Patagonia store where I can browse all the latest releases.

6. Entertainment

Reclining leather movie seats and the Friday release of Fantastic Beasts; bucket of popcorn and large drink. No need to say more.

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In just a couple months, Van life has allowed us to experience a nomadic but spoiled existence. We have the freedom to go, see and do, but the comfort that eliminates the fatigue of travel. Hauling the trailer of tools is allowing us to work along the way, creating productivity, financial support and an interesting way to explore and interact with our surroundings.

What’s next? Another remodeling project. This one is for a rental house that my parents are trying to sell. Seek and you shall find.


In the Rearview Mirror

 

img_3452Driving away from camp, we cannot see the road directly ahead but the rearview mirror is a panoramic story. Last year at this time we were a confused mess. The van was still in the shop, we were stuck at camp desperate to start our trip. We could not understand why our plans were so askew. Unlike the flow that we normally found ourselves in, we were floundering to stay afloat. The unexpected van repair had stolen our joy and created a chasm between us. Jordan had become encased in frustration in the process, negativity overflowing into all other aspects of life. I had become bitter, bitter about the financial component and unduly casting blame. There was so much wrapped up in this monstrosity. Realizing the inability to do anything, we left Washington without the van, raw and edgy.

The blindspot in the mirror last year eclipsed many things. In time, our eyes were opened to gratitude, appreciation and surrender. We have learned that so much in life is beyond our control, so when we cannot anticipate the road ahead, we have to look at the view behind, recounting all that God has done in order to remember what He will continue to do. img_3464Philippians 4:6-7: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Peace is a gift. In order to receive it, we have to trust and most importantly surrender, let go and scoot over to the passenger seat. Trusting in goodness and faithfulness, we don’t have to grip the steering wheel with white knuckles. Instead, we can recline and enjoy the ride.


Welcome to Jordan

Every seat on the flight from Kathmandu to Amman is full. I stand up to go to the bathroom, look around and realize that I am the only woman on the plane, aside from the stewardess. The thought puts me at unease, bringing a heightened awareness to our next location, the Middle East. Modesty is necessary in Nepal as a cultural respect, but women are treated equally. It is evident that we are entering into another world and what would that world look like? How would we be received as Americans? Do we even admit we are Americans?

Echoing as loudly as the cries from the mosque, we repeatedly hear “Welcome to Jordan.” The generosity of the Arabic culture is unexpected, refreshing, restoring faith in humanity of connecting for the sake of relation and not finance. The men at the souq shove pieces of exotic fruits and roasted nuts in our hands. Try it; do you like this? Try this one. Try, try.20160523-_mg_5206

Touring Amman

20160523-_mg_5175Amman, Jordan’s capital city, is rich in history with a modern vibe. The walking tour weaves us through the town, in and out of the fresh produce market (the souq), by the Al-Husseiny Mosque where men in long robes stream in for midday worship past the Theater and Odeon amphitheater up to the thousands-of-years old Citadel. In our travels, this is our first brush with ancient history. The remains of the Temple of Hercules reach skyward in an impressive display of ingenuity and art of the 2nd Century. The museum displays artifacts dating from the Bronze age as well as Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods: jewelry, statues, coins and pottery.

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Touring the ancient gives us an appetite for the modern. We feast on platters of hummus, falafel, pita and vegetables at the Turkish-run Hashem Restaurant and continue our gluttony at Habibah famous for kunafa, fried cheese topped with shredded wheat and honey. The switch from rice and vegetables to calorie dense, nutrient rich food bombs our stomach with satiation that we have been craving for months.

Petra

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On to the next is the theme in Jordan. With only 16 days left on our round-the-world trip, it is time to pack as much as possible in. The bus for Petra leaves at 6 AM sharp. Scrambling out the door of the hotel, we need a taxi NOW. A car pulls over asks where we are going. We negotiate 4 dinar to the bus station. Once inside the car we both realize: we just paid someone to kidnap us. Are we that naive? comfortable? stupid? It is actually a culminating moment in our travels. We ride the waves. Sharks may be in the water but the risk is worth taking.

The ride to Petra is uneventful until we arrive at our hotel. We have no reservation; I accidentally booked the previous night and we were a no show. I had lost track of dates and days of the week. Fortunately the manager is kind and allows us to stay at no extra cost; the only thing hurt is my pride as the trip logistics coordinator.

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Petra is unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced, duly earning its place as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It is like entering into Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade. Pictures can’t capture the hues of colors in the sandstone, the delicate carvings and the connection to civilizations of times past. The majestic awakens the imagination, spirals you to a time come and gone. Petra is a living museum of Neolithic villages, Nabatean trade routes, Roman conquest and ongoing Bedouin life. At the High Place of Sacrifice, a local Bedouin points out two fascinating facts: the tomb on the distant mountain is Aaron’s tomb and over 40 Bedouin families still live in the caves of Petra. 20160524-_mg_5603Jordan continues to illuminate the connection between ancient and current. History is part of their lives, their story, reminding us of the cultural differences in the concept of time and cycles of life.

Wadi Rum

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Asia has taught us to live in the present. Our plan: get to Wadi Rum and figure out the climbing situation after we arrive. We take the local bus and get dropped off in the slums. The small desert village looks completely abandoned and the one place suggested to check in about climbing knows nothing about climbing. Frustration rises. The planner side of me cringes. What were we thinking? What are we supposed to do? What a mess! We take a walk to simmer down/check things out. There is one “travel agency” open who knows someone who knows someone else. We return to the rest house where we dropped our bags, resigned to eat lunch and wait to see what happens. We have no option. No plans. No guidebook. No information.

Word travels fast. The friend’s friend of a friend, brother to a “famous climber” finds us. We are dubious at first but have no other leads. We follow Muhammed to his brother Muhammed’s house (maybe same father, different wife? we don’t inquire). Next thing we know, we are sitting in the living room floor, sipping Turkish tea and discussing an agreement to be dropped off in the  middle of the desert at a climbing area. The problem, we still don’ t have a guidebook. “Don’t worry, I know the area.” We get into the well worn white SUV and bounce our way through sand dunes into Burrough Canyon. Muhammed points, “Climbing there, over there too.” Nothing more specific. “I pick you up in 4 days?” he asks. “No!” I exclaim. “Only 2 climbs here. Need guidebook. Come back tomorrow with guidebook. Don’t leave us here for four days!” His guidebook is off somewhere with an Israeli group; we expect it is not too challenging for him to retrieve it.

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Burrough Canyon

At 2 pm, it is scorching. We set up our tent in the shade of the rock next to a pile of camel bones sticking through the sand. With only time on our hands we wait for evening to check out one of the vaguely referenced chimneys to climb. After closer inspection, we cannot differentiate one line from the next. It all looks possible but we can’t risk being on an undeveloped climb without anchors or way off the top, especially this late in the day. Our exploration leads us across sand dunes back to camp where we settle for a one pitch route next to our tent.

20160526-img_2936As the night air cools we start cooking dinner from provisions that haphazardly bought from a tiny shop next to Muhammed’s house: canned fave beans, rice, pita and hummus. The flavors satisfy and comfort us. Finally we are alone in the wilderness, home with each other and our tent. We rise with the sun to ascend Merlin’s Wand, a stunning 5-pitch route. Adrenaline revs our engines, reminding us that it has been a few months since we have climbed.

Back to the tent, we take a midday break and wait for Muhammed. I realize that my communication may not have been clear. Is he going to come back today? Should we pack up or wait? By 5 pm there is no sign, but we have nothing else to do but pack up our life. Like a true Bedouin, it is time to move camp. Just at the moment we were losing hope, the rattling of Muhammed’s “camel” rings through the desert. He came back.

Muhammed is drenched in sweat. He rubs his head, asks for medicine and pulls out a new guidebook. “I drove 2 hours to Aqaba for this.” Conflicted to be excited for his nobility or to be scared for how much we are now indebted to Muhammed, I attempt to express balanced gratitude. We are baffled. Grateful, but uncertain. Jordan hands him another 50 and we hope to settle up later, although our cash has all but disappeared at this point. We hop in his car and search the book for the next location to camp and climb: Jebel al m’Zaygeh.

Jebel Al m’Zaygeh

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Life has become an amusement park. Jump on the ride and laugh or throw up. Tonight the mood is calm. Guidebook in hand, tent reset and sunset views lull us into a peaceful evening. The morning brings more stunning climbing, a 4-pitch climb called Runner Up, a 2-pitch climb called A Pale Moon Rising and a few sport routes on the face in between the dihedrals.

The camels grunt and groan in the distance, sounding like ewoks invading from space. 20160525-_mg_5858

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On cue, Muhammed returns. He is impressed with our morning session. On the way back, he asks where we are going, do we need a place to stay. Unsure if this is a welcoming invitation or a financial transaction we openly say, we have very little money left. We would love to stay at your place if we are not in your way. Also, would you be interested in accepting our rope in exchange for the transportation and lodging? Grumpily he does the side to side head shake that we loosely translate to okay, maybe.

Jebel Rum East Face

By 5 pm it is cool enough to consider climbing again. Hiking past the ruins of Lawrence of Arabia’s spring, we go to Jebel Rum East Face to sample the first pitch of Inferno. The day closes around us in purple hues as we return to our makeshift room on Muhammed Hussein’s living room floor.

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Steep bedouin steps lead us into the narrows of the canyon, twisting and turning into the depths of the maze. Traversing slabs and down-climbing gullies we finally find our way into the heart of the Rakabat Canyon, to our climb, Beauty. This is one of the most superb lines we have eyed in the desert. Clean cracks and liebacks to the final unprotected off width pitch. Jordan basically free solos the pitch, finally finding a #1 placement 30 feet after leaving the ledge. On top of the climb, the sounds of the repetitive prayers, warmth of the sun and beauty of the place validates why we spend so much time climbing rocks. There is depth that cannot be described in words, only experienced to understand the beckoning call.

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20160528-img_2978Beauty is our last climb on our rock climbing trip around the world. It is a summation of what we have experienced: new cultures, overcoming challenges, adventures, rewards, insight, renewed spirits, connectedness, laughter, increased trust and reliance on our faith for strength and ability to push through uncomfortable situations to find the beauty within.

 

Somewhere along the past few days we must have struck friendship with Muhammed. For the first time he invites his wife to join us for Turkish coffee. We sit awkwardly and stare at each other until Muhammed breaks the silence with funny climbing stories from his past. He accepts our rope with actual excitement in contrast to the stoic expressions we normally receive and we donate Jordan’s dented helmet and a couple pairs of well loved climbing shoes. In the end we are friends.

Aqaba and the Red Sea

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The Red Sea connects Israel, Jordan and Egypt. All three countries are visible from the shore. We travel south to stay at Bedouin Village near the Japanese Coral gardens. The hotel that we randomly pick from Agoda happens to have a scuba and snorkel shop. Jordan goes to check out the rates for snorkeling while I settle into the room. He returns in a few minutes and asks, “Do you want to go scuba diving instead? We have to decide now.” After a series of yes, no, yes responses, I realize there is no legitimate reason to not go. I wasn’t sure what to expect.20160529-img_3006

Our “surfer dude” guides give us the full run down. The suit of armor feels better in the water. “Practice breathing through your tube,” the guide says. Cool, no problem. That was while I was standing with the ability to lift my head above water. The next test was to go down 3 feet and practice breathing. Jordan and his guide took off while I struggled with the simple philosophy of breathing underwater. After a couple times of coming up for air, I disappointedly realized that I might not be able to do this. Fears flood my mind, fears of water flooding my lungs. The theme is not encouraging. I mentally fight a losing battle of negotiating with myself underwater to trust the tube. I am faking it good enough to go deeper. That’s when panic sets in. My exhales increase so rapidly that I can’t calm my breathing. And what is worse is that I am stuck 20 feet below the surface of the water. We can’t go directly up, we have to pause three times before I can plunge my head above the water and gasp for air. I have never felt this way before. It is like all the fear of the last ten months is being released. It is irrational: choking, the tank not working,  sharks. The rational is yelling at the irrational while emotionally I’m in tears with the battle. My guide patiently takes my hand and says, “You very strong woman. You can do this, I know.” “Yoga breathing.” So we lamaze and zen out until I can fake looking calm again. I don’t want to miss out on seeing the wonders of the coral, diversity of sea life and the ship wreck. I forcefully talk myself into calm breathing, yoga mindset, slow, fighting the demons while remaining present enough to engage in the world around me.

We travel under the surface, far enough to see the coral but close enough to escape quickly. Fifteen minutes of handholding, I want to go into the depths of the water and see the floor of the ocean face to face. Comfortability sets in and I would smile but then the mouthpiece would come out and I would choke and drown. On with the story, comfortability sets in. My eyes are opened to another layer of life, of color and freedom. I rip through the barrier of fear to discovery. Curiosity and desire are powerful tools in helping defeat fear.

When we emerge from the water, Jordan is oblivious to my struggles. He had jumped right in and set off, unknowing to my panic attacks and battles. Some fears can only be faced alone, well kind of alone. My guide did hold my hand 95% of the time. 🙂 Out of all the things that we have done on our trip, this is one of the most memorable and that I will cherish. It isn’t about always doing the easy or the comfortable. When we push beyond, we discover more about ourselves and grow into a more secure person.

The lasting memories of Jordan finish with an ocean adventure swim with a merman. He beckons us toward him “Please come. Fire coral. Stone Fish. Danger!” We swim over to our new friend. He pulls us toward him in an awkward triangular hug. From the pocket of his swim trunks he pulls out pita–fish food. Swarmed by thousands of fish, the ocean comes to life. Come with me, he says. Mesmerized, we follow. He wipes our hands on slimy coral that nourishes our skin. Then he disappears for a few minutes to re-emerge holding a sea urchin in the palm of his hand. We wade through the swarm of purple stingless jellyfish. “I show you the dangerous things now.” We swim to fire coral, then he teases a stone fish from its camouflage. Come, rest. He pulls us in for another awkward triangular hug. “Water, good for your eyes. Take off your masks and clean them!” So, we obediently do as he instructs. It is refreshing; no burning or stinging. My body shivers uncontrollably but the adventure is such a precious gift that we continue. He disappears again, pulling up a sea cucumber, snake skin and live coral. What seems like hours later we bid farewell to our Merman and to the incredible journey throughout Jordan.

Travel Tips

  1. Buy the Jordan Pass in advance to arriving in the country. The pass covers the tourist visa and free entry to any national park and historic site, including the very expensive Petra. The pass would have saved us a couple hundred dollars, but we didn’t find out about it until after arriving.
  2. Go to Jordan, it’s awesome.

Twist of Fate

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The last month has been the most adventurous of our travels. When we returned from our arduous trek in the mountains, we see a message from our friend Dave Saugen, the Director of Tall Timber, asking for urgent prayer. The program director put in a 3 week notice, leaving at the start of staff training. We, more than anyone, know the repercussion of such shocking news. It affected us whole-heartedly in unexpected ways.

Jordan and I were led to Tall Timber following a five-month honeymoon trek of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009. The long distance trail was a separation from the lives we formerly knew, allowing us to grow into different people and opened our lives to be led wherever God was calling. The trail was the physical manifestation of turning from our lives and societal conformity. We stepped into an unknown realm and were delivered the words “wilderness ministry.” Does that even exist, we wondered. Coming from the South, wilderness and ministry are incongruent words. The church and environmentalists, incompatible terms. However, we opened our ears, eyes and hearts to something new and discovered a culture of camping ministry when we passed by a youth camp in Oregon. We could barely believe that this really exists: teaching youth through discovering God’s goodness in His creation, natural divinity.

The next and last month of the trail entered into the heart of Washington state through the Cascade mountain range. Climbing into the Goat Rock Wilderness area, we were immediately in love. In one vista, we see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker. The mountains lifted toward the heavens, bringing the map to life. The desire to live and explore the Cascades saturated us.

When we finish the hike, I am anxious for the next step. I google “wilderness, ministry, Washington.” God maximizes the SEO for Tall Timber—it is the first link that pops us. Immediately I felt that we would be going there. There is a summer job opening specifically for wilderness ministry, called Caravans. We would be climbing, mountaineering, biking and paddling while sharing our faith. Also, it is a discipleship oriented camp, teaching kids on the journey of faith, not a Bible thumping fear-based, turn or burn, mentality. The position was so aligned with the thoughts we had received while hiking that we have no questions in applying.

That was in October of 2009. In April we loaded up our truck and trailer and drove 3,000 miles across the country with excitement of spending the summer leading Caravans and volunteering through the winter so we could ski. The summer was incredible, every day a new adventure. The camp families welcomed us into their community and we spent every moment of free time exploring the trails, mountains and rocks in the area. Leading the Caravan program challenged us to grow as leaders, taking care of youth. At the end of the summer, the Program Director put in her resignation. Could this be for us, we wondered? From December 2010 to August 2015 I served as the Program Director in this unique outdoors-focused, relational ministry while we established life in the valley.

Five years later, we said goodbye to working at Tall Timber, in dire need of restoration through sabbath. We diligently stayed through several major staff transitions, the last being the passing of 35 years of directorship from Stan Fishburn to Dave Saugen. We had received a prophetic word when we traveled to Chile in 2012 from someone who had previously served as a Pastor. We hadn’t even shared our struggles, but the Spirit spoke through him “Stay longer than you think you need to.” He had no idea that we were wrestling with thoughts of leaving, of questioning the next step. But his words stayed with us through each challenging corner of discerning our timing for departure. At each moment our minds said, “Go,” we were met with “Stay” until we experienced the peace of blessing.

In October 2015, we set off. It was a strange feeling to wrap up life to start anew, entering into unchartered waters with a ticket booked to Australia to start a round-the-world trip. Nine months into our traveling, after visiting Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal, we get the urgent cry for help from a place that has been integral in our lives. Our hearts respond with a preposterous thought…..would we return for the summer, could we actually do that? We verbalized it and laughed at the absurdity of the thought. We prayed with Dave, hoping that the right person would fill the gap. Then God did what God does. He turns our worlds upside down. He planted desire for us to Go. As Jesus says, Follow Me, to his disciples, we unmistakingly feel that there is no question. We would come. We laugh again at these thoughts. It seems absolutely crazy, but not crazier than summer camp without a Program Director. We pray over the idea for several days and have affirmation when the idea of not going back is more disappointing than moving forward. What would we miss—more mountain adventures, Eastern Europe? The need of Tall Timber felt greater, more purposeful. We tend to be really selfish people, honestly; we can only attribute the change in our hearts as continued transformation from our faith. To Dave’s astonishment, we called and said, “We’d like to come back, if you want us.”

After a three week stopover in Jordan and Israel (posts to come), here we are, back at Tall Timber for the summer. IMG_3108It is surreal. It is still laughable. We are perplexed as ever at the crazy turn of events. Greeted with open arms, it is a special homecoming and a chance for us to unpack—both our bags and our minds—from the ongoing inertia of traveling. Stopping to catch our breath is a good thing, as we will continue traveling again in the Fall.

Time has taken a different dimension. Living in the moment, being present, is a gift that we are cherishing in this stage of life.


Irreconcilable Differences

On April 24, 2015, disaster struck Nepal. Lives destroyed, buildings shattered into a dusty rubble. Reconciling the odds between my world and here. Comfortable, clean air, beauty, running water, abundance of food, prosperity and freedom. The dirty air sits low polluting the lungs. Hacking coughs, asthmatic breathing in the third most polluted city in the world. Filth. Destruction. Buildings shattered, lives crumbled. Children selling themselves on the street. Despair is unwelcoming to a tourist. Extreme tension is easiest to avoid, but when awareness starts, velocity builds. Reconciling the odds is not possible. I see poverty. I don’t know what to do. I see destruction. I look the other way. My life is easy. I am rich. I cannot hate myself for the discrepancy. I cannot live in peace. The tension painfully exacerbated by the harrowed eyes, desperate. My world is shattered, like theirs. The tension deepens as I am looked at as a financial transaction. First and foremost, I am your sister, your Didi, your Baini*. I am a person who cares. The palms of the hungry are upturned. I pass by sorrowfully. Why you? Why not me? Helpless, just like they are. Helpless to help them.

*Nepali terms: Didi-Big Sister, Baini-Little Sister


The Great Himalayan Adventure Part 2: Makalu to Everest

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The wilderness offers discovery, pushing limits, engaging with surroundings and experiencing growth. Very few places are open for that type of discovery in the Himalayas, forced into the throng of people herded in the same direction. Seeking the path less traveled and eager for an adventure, the triple col route catches our attention. The route requires full mountaineering gear, mountain navigation and crossing three of the highest passes in Nepal: Sherpani, West and Amphu Labsta. Better yet, it remains legal for independent climbers to access without the circus of guides, porters and porters for your porters. The prepping begins for our expedition by meticulously weighing all of our gear, making a spreadsheet, purchasing a few more pieces of gear (down pants, stove fuel and snow pickets) and finding a grocery (harder than you think) to supply for 5 days in the backcountry.

Day 1: Kathmandu to Khadbari
20160424-_MG_3597Flying is the most terrifying piece to the puzzle. Small prop planes, steep valleys, third world regulations. Terrified and exhilarated, we catch our first views of Mt. Everest in the most iconic mountain range in the world. The quick flight takes us to the village of Tumlingtar. The first orders of business are to figure out how to get to Num, our launching point for the trail, and finding a porter. With 100+ pounds of gear, clothing and food we are depending on assistance to Makalu base camp where we will start our journey into the wilderness. We arrive in a dusty haze, swarmed by independent jeeps insisting they will take us for only $150. No thanks. We stumble around town. Jordan heads into the streets; I bury myself in WIFI, coming across a recent blog about the journey to Makalu BC at our moment of greatest need. This is or first reminder that we are not alone; God is here, tangibly present assisting us through the most difficult parts Apparently there is a public means to get there. We just need to get to the next town, Khadbari, and catch a 6 AM jeep the next morning.

Day 2: Khadbari to Seduwa
The morning begins by piling 14 people into a normal size jeep to start the 4-hour bumpy ride. 20160426-IMG_2810Twenty minutes and the back tire goes flat. I’m thankful for a breath of fresh air, stepping out and praying for relief of my stomach cramps from yet another food born illness. You would think that our stomachs would be adapted. Although we have a theoretical porter listed on our spreadsheet weight division, we do not have said porter. Getting more accustomed to flying by our pants, we get to Num with high hopes that sink in the next hour. No sign of porters in this town. A drunken Nepali with broken English stumbles into the picture. He has the perfect guy so he says. An hour later he returns with the next best guy (“perfect guy I could not find”). He’s wearing boots. Good sign. He doesn’t know how to mount our bag. Bad sign. He and I walked equally slow. My breaking fever and nauseation slowing me down; his first time carrying weight and alcoholic sweat dripping down his brow.

Day 3: Seduwa to Tashagoan
20160429-_MG_3788Easy hike, three hours uphill. The porter quits! I have never been so thankful for what should be a bad moment. No porter would be better than this porter, but God brings miracles from disasters. Dhoma, the teahouse owner, translates between us. He speaks zero English and I don’t think the Nepali words that I know—water, eggs, toilet—are helpful in the conversation. More relaxed that he’s gone than staying, we trust in a bigger plan. It’s delivered. Dhoma, of the Nepalese Sherpa culture who live and climb highest in the mountains, phones her nephew. He arrives in minutes, bag packed, brawny by Nepali standards, bright and interesting. We swoon. Lakpa Sherpa is our hero.

Day 4: Tashagoan to Khongma Danda
Night and day. The lightness of the situation transfers to our steps and we spend the day at ease, climbing up to 3,000m to Kongma Danda. The owners, Pemba and Shiva, are Lakpa’s uncle and auntie—amazing. While we feasted on fiddlehead ferns at Dohma’s, Shiva withdrew wild mushrooms, a variety of Chanterelles, to accompany our dahl baht (lentils and rice). For the first time while hiking in Nepal, it feels like a genuine experience. We are invited into their space, treated with local cuisine and are content to just sit and wait for the long hours to pass, sharing time together.

Day 5: Khongma Danda to Dhobate
Dhabote is a temporary hut that Pemba occasionally opens. Conveniently he hands Lakpa the keys. The weather yet again dictates our travel. Afternoon rains consistently force us to stop around 2:00 p.m. We are anxious, eager to keep moving, nervous about the objective ahead. Even though the day has been on tougher ground, up and over a couple passes through some icy snow, the day feels so young.

Day 6: Dhobate to Yangle Kharke

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The trail parallels the river, slowing us down over landslide areas entering into a lush valley where yak and goats graze surrounded by a mountain cathedral. The afternoon is spent with rest, chasing baby goats and scoping out the granitic walls, awaiting to be ascended for the first time.

Day 7: Yangle Kharke to Makalu Base Camp
20160501-_MG_4053Giant granite domes, a glacial carved valley, shepherds and livestock. The magnitude of the beauty is overwhelming as the scenery shifts dramatically to dry glacial moraine at the foot of Mt. Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world. Walking the last hour through wind and snow, we finally reach the much anticipated Makalu BC.

Day 8: Makalu BC, Swiss BC, Makalu BC *Gear Drop
Lakpa has completed his task; now it is up to us to finish our expedition on our own. Our “rest” day is a four hour gear drop where we take the mountaineering bag to Swiss BC. The trail increasingly becomes more difficult, walking over unstable talus. We tuck our bag beneath a boulder, not that anyone else was passing through. Back at camp, I declare bath day. The bath is a water basin of hot water used inside the outdoor toilet that is missing its roof. My wash was lovely; however, Jordan’s became cooler by the minute highlighted by the howling wind by the time I was dressed.

The second night at Makalu BC was incredibly special. It was just Jordan and I, plus the owners Pemba and Pisang. (Note: Sherpa people are often named after the day of the week they are born. Pemba is Saturday.) We discover that Pemba did not start climbing until he was 35 and has since summited Everest 9 times in the last fifteen years. His sister is currently on an expedition attempting the southern route from Tibet. Pisang, shyer with less English, opens up. She shares Chang, the local fermented beer as we look at pictures of their beautiful children who are in private school in Kathmandu. Language ceases to be such a barrier.

Day 9: Makalu BC to Sherpani Col BC
As we were leaving, Pemba goes to the back room, extracts two juice cans and blows off the dust from the top. “Good for the mountain,” he says as he gifts them to us. The gift touches the deepest sense of generosity that we can imagine. We are not the only tourists coming through; despite that, he chose to pour love into us, wishing us luck and blessing in the mountains. He energizes us as we retrace our steps to Swiss BC. The full load is hardly bearable. 20160502-_MG_4187My pack weighs around 40 pounds, Jordan is at least 55. Braking our hiking speed, we finally reach our base camp after a 10-hour day of wandering across talus, hunting for the glacial snout where we must camp in order to make two of the passes the following day. We are whipped. Darkness falls by the time we setup our tent and crawl inside to cook dinner. The first order of business is to make hot water. In a matter of seconds our quiet vestibule has turned into a bonfire as the fuel canister bursts into flames. Jordan kicks it out, managing to unscrew the fuel before we lose all of our gas. In shock, I stare mouth open at what could have been the biggest disaster we’ve ever had. Singed but not scarred, Jordan regains composure and we continue with making dinner.

Day 10: Sherpani Col BC to West Col Bivvy
What I am about to describe to you is the most physically challenging, and borderline epic, day of our lives. First, we never heard the alarm and woke up an hour late at 4 AM. By the time we were walking, the fatigue of our heavy packs and the altitude gain starting taken immeasurable tolls on our body and minds. It took hours to reach the base of the first pass then even more to crawl our way up through rotten snow and loose rock and rappel back over the icy side. The rappel spits you onto the Barun glacier, the most isolated area of our expedition. To boot, it is a total white out with eight inches of fresh snow. Disoriented from the fog but needing to move, we traverse the glacier as best as possible, pointing ourselves in the direction we think we should go. An hour of zombie mode hiking is interrupted by an adrenaline boost as Jordan’s leg shoots into a crevasse. Fortunately it was small or he is big (or both) and we remember we are traveling a freshly snow covered glacier. The fog lifted for a brief moment. Mostly on course, we readjusted to align our position to the West Ridge. After another hour of hiking we are standing at the notch, dog tired. We are faced with the choice to attempt the 200m rappel to the other side and possibly have to continue hiking for a couple hours to camp or to bivvy right here at 6100m. We had become physically lethargic and mentally dull from the fatigue and couldn’t trust our ability to descend safely, so we started making camp: digging out the ice to make a platform for our tent and melting enough water for the night. After an hour of exhausting chores, we plummet inside our sleeping bags, take diamox to help prevent AMS by increasing the oxygen in our bodies and prayed that no rocks would fall on our heads.

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Day 11: West Col Bivvy to Somewhere Past Buruntse BC
Still breathing, we wake to a beautiful sunny day. Since we are only 5m or less from the notch, we take the morning slowly. During second tea, we have another fire explosion in the tent’s vestibule. This one’s even worse. I cross threaded the fuel attachment to the canister the previous day. Worse than the fire (that we again survived), our fuel had leaked all night. We still have 2-3 days out. Fuel is our source of food and warmth (hot drinks, nightly hot water bottle for the sleeping bag). There was one hope, to make it to Buruntse BC where extra fuel might be laying around. Before thinking about that, we need to get down. The altitude has affected us more than we realize and each passing minute we feel worse. What follows is a harrowing 200 m rappel on a fixed nylon rope with three attachment points: the anchor and two additional ropes tied to the first. The rope seems to be from this year. Our motto is to back it up for Jordan; if he makes it, surely it will hold me? Not sure how sound that philosophy is, but so far so good. Once on the other side, we are thankful for the decision we made to stay under the col. The glacier offers no immediate respite. We follow existing footprints through the heavily crevassed glacier.

Now to find fuel, Buruntse BC. The map shows it in the vicinity of our location, but we see nothing. Determined to get there, we trek on until we are stuck in a dry valley. No base camp and now no water. Today was supposed to be a short day, but the only thing we can do is to hike another hour downhill to find water. The advantage—we are 1000 m lower than the previous night and should sleep and feel better. I’m mentally trashed. I think I was on my third crying breakdown of the day. I hate being cold. I hate being scared and vulnerable. The past two nights I have dreamed about sauce burgers, steaks and hot baths. I’m over the mountaineering. In my journal write, “I just want to be a normal wife. Jordan needs more climbing friends so I don’t get dragged into this.” I had resigned that we weren’t going further; we were bailing via the lower trail and escaping to Lukla. I waited until the next day to divulge my plan.

Day 12: Somewhere Past Buruntse BC to Amphu Labsta BC
So much for my plan. Looking further at the map, we can either proceed and be in civilization the next day or have another week of hiking just to get to Lukla where we would be three days further behind on the continued trek to Everest Base Camp. Rest reset my bitterness, but I was still dubious and a little chafed that I didn’t get my hot water baby the night before due to fuel conservation. The hike to Amphu Labsta BC is a breeze. We reach the upper lake in just a few hours where I notice a tattered piece of blue tarp in the distance. I sit down my pack to go investigate, stating “another man’s trash could be our treasure.” Turns out there is nothing but trash by the blue tarp, but I keep exploring. Adjacent to that site, I find a stone circle with four fuel canisters sitting there. Before my heart leaps, I shake each one, newest to oldest. The last one that could sell for a trail antique is full!20160506-_MG_4448

I had promised myself no tears today, but God’s faithfulness and goodness overtake me. How could I forget that He is our guide, with us each step and again, turning disasters into miracles. My confidence is restored. Firing up the stove eager to make endless hot drinks, I am startled by a thick German accent “Hallo, Ver is da tea-haus?.” I laughed, then realized he wasn’t joking. Thankfully they were fully supported with food, but had heard rumor that there was a teahouse at the basecamp. Many times I get irritated with other people ruining my wilderness experience. I am grateful, relieved, exorbitantly thankful to share company especially as we make our last (and most dangerous) pass the following morning.

Day 13: Amphu Labsta BC to Chukhung

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The pass is a stark difference from the others. As a group of four, we maintain a steady pace navigating to the massive ice blocks. One technical pitch, 10 m of mixed snow and rock slows us down, but after that we cruise past the chunk of ice and relish in the views. The rappel down is facilitated with the extra rope from Roland and Flo. Although more technical overall, the last col is much easier. I am thankful that we did not reroute an extra nine days to avoid the best crossing. Once on the other side, we have a four hour push to make it to civilization. We make our way, Nepali style, resting on every other rock. Exhausted yet rewarded, we’ve made it to the other side.

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Day 14: Chukhung to Dingboche
One hour of hiking today, to a teahouse with a bakery! We were recommended this teahouse by a fellow hiker we met on the Makalu. He mentioned the owner is a trustworthy climber who could help us find a porter to take our bag south to the town of Namche while we traveled north to see Everest Base Camp and to travel over two other passes. No longer needing our ropes and mountain equipment, we need to shed the weight so we can travel faster further. The owner mysteriously disappears after we check in. A familiar problem, no porter. At dinner we were chatting with a Nepalese guide leading a group tour. He had impeccable English, so we figure why not ask him how to go about finding someone in the town. He says, “I’ll talk to you later.” Hmmm. After dinner he says, “My porter isn’t carrying much. He’ll take it.” Come to find out, this porter has hiked the entire Great Himalayan Trail—120 days of mountain travel—on the expedition that fueled the writing for the guidebook that helped us cross our passes! We are stoked to be in the company of this guy and are honored to pay him to carry our gear. Before we leave, we exchange info with the guide. His name, Lakpa Sherpa. God, the great comedian.

Day 15: Dingboche to Labuche
I’m not sure what happened to the philosophy of travel light and fast. Another round of bad food doesn’t help the pace. Neither does walking 30 minutes in the wrong direction downhill.

Day 16: Labuche to Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp

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Everest Base Camp is in full glory, an array of colorful tents, choppers every fifteen minutes and climbers sprawled in masses. The weather pushes the summit date to May 19, so there is an air of restlessness in the camp. We are mesmerized, imagining the life of these climbers, the huge production that it is to climb the mountain. While it is quite the circus, it is enjoyable to be in the presence of greatness.

 

Day 17: Gorak Shep to Dzongla
Jordan begins the day with hiking up Kala Patthar to watch the sunrise over Everest. I begin the day with an extra three hours of sleep then French Toast. The pictures are great 🙂

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Day 18: Dzongla to Gokyo
My energy finally returns after a few days of struggling. We easily cross the Cho La Pass then descend down to the town of Dragnag, decide to keep going over the glacier to reach Gokyo—the best place on the Everest Circuit. We stay at Namaste Lodge where we are treated like family, offered hot drinks upon arrival and chased down by the owner Pisang to bid us farewell with biscuits (cookies) for the road.

Day 19: Gokyo to Lumde
Too anxious to sit and wait another day, we cross the Renjo La Pass on a cloudy day. This is supposed to be THE view of the Sagamartha himal but we cannot summons the patience to wait. We pause at the pass for an hour, break out the stove and make tea, praying for the clouds to dissipate. Everest briefly comes to view enshrouded in the highest of clouds. What a mountain!

Day 20: Lumde to Namche
I have to keep reminding myself that there is no vehicular access in the mountains–Namche is large by any standards, built into the hillside tucked next to the Sagamartha national park. Apple pie, bread, brownies and yak steaks greet us in the mountain village.

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Day 21: Namche to Lukla
We stood for 2 hours at the end of town debating whether we wanted to go north for a second mountaineering objective or if it is truly time to leave. At last we determine our hearts are not into another 10 day push. We can be proud of our accomplishments without needing more. Unfortunately the stall puts us way behind; Lukla is a hard 6+ hour hike, especially with the reunion of the beloved mountaineering gear.

Day 22: Lukla to Kathmandu

With no flights in 5 days from bad weather, the airport is absolute chaos. We thrust ourselves at the airline attendant displaying our tickets. The way it is supposed to work–you have priority on the date of your ticket, otherwise it is the waiting list. I believe we were quite lucky, only delayed and bumped for an hour and a half. I also think we were the last flight of the day; the pilots nervously navigates through thick clouds but delivers us safely to Kathmandu. Truly the scariest part of the journey. The flight records are not so good.

20160521-_MG_5045Nepal has captured our hearts. The mountains have refilled us with adventure excitement joy and a reminder of how present that God is with us. Spending the last few days with our friends who run Bethel Fellowship Trust ministry in Kathmandu, we have been offered a bigger perspective on God’s kingdom here in Nepal. We had the opportunity to share a message with bible students as well as the congregation yesterday. In essence, we shared 4 cycles of journey (from Quadratos). 1. Stepping into the unknown 2. Experiencing suffering 3. Receiving joy 4. Applying what we learn through the journey. And the cycle continues. Our journey in Nepal has taught us to be willing to listen to what God has put on our hearts and be willing to go. Yesterday I ended the message with: serve God with open hearts and open hands. An open heart to receive his love and open hands to share it with others.

 

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