November is here, and 2022 is nearly over for us. I want to reflect on the unpublished stories that originated with broken scripts of this year’s trip planning. Those times, after all, are the moments my wife and I will most remember. I am removing all the references to my dealings with the Ukrainian refugees in Romania and my competitions. This is about the people and places that surrounded Jeff and Linda, the adventurers.
We started our travels with a group of 14 people cycling in rural Spain in March. Instead of typical arid climatic conditions, we got 48 hours of non-stop downpours and yucky cold upon arrival. Our self-described “lovely Spanish villa” had “undocumented” leaks in the roof, and a couple of the casitas had insatiable needs for buckets to collect water. No one got flooded, but there were certainly plenty of jokes about taking a canoe across the courtyard to get to the dining area.
With the unprecedented rain came a change in plans. Our original joyous ride on day one was to be followed by a trip up and down the Bennie’s valley on day 2. Instead, day 1 was more like a sequel to Dr. Seuss’s “A Cat in the Hat,” as we all had to stay mostly inside on the first of many yucky days. On day 2, I tried to organize a shorter outdoor ride in the rain, but it led to more cold bodies than warm hearts. One group only went 30 minutes before turning around and heading back to the villa for hot showers. Another group zoomed ahead to be done with the suffering as fast as possible. Yet, for a few of us, we overcame the cold and got to watch a women’s pro peloton zoom by in the valley adjacent to ours. I will certainly never forget the toughness on the faces of the women at the front of the race, as they saw the adversity they faced in a much different light than ours. The lead pack of women was led by a UCI car, and the last pack had two ambulances following them. We joked about the lack of attorneys following the ambulances, but we all could see that toughness as a cyclist was much more subjective than we ever knew it to be. By the time we left, Spain had returned to the dry Spain we remembered, but the memories of the rain will survive a long time.
The Blue Ridge Parkway had a group of five folks for the first half, rounding up to nine folks for the second half, plus our two foreign exchange students. We had a couple of unplanned/unannounced road closures that week, and we had a bear walk in a grove of trees at the hotel on the second night. We all but ran out of water on day 1, and much of the amenities in Floyd, VA, were closed. However, the satisfaction on everyone’s faces at the end of the parkway in Cherokee made it all worth it. As I revisit the videos I made of the Happe’s, John, Marcel, Marilyn, and Paul at the finish line, their body language and word choices made it obvious that their effort and commitment were all worth it. They all knew that they had done something epic, and all the suffering of the climbs was soon to be forgotten. That road never ceases to inspire greatness.
Nepal was perhaps the most unique trip of the year. Sure, the Himalaya always exceed expectations when it comes to seeing Creation, with a capital C. Once again, though, Acute Mountain Sickness proved itself to be a thing, and the fittest person in our group zoomed up the last mountain at the end of the trail, oblivious to the risk. Within a few hours, she was throwing up, and I needed to take her back down as soon as possible. Within three hours of descending, she was back to normal. On our way down, we received an unexpected gift. We met a young Nepali couple who had been chased off the mountain by a herd of Yaks. They were frightened and knew enough English to occupy my sick traveler, and within an hour, we were all friends. When we got back to Kathmandu, we all went out to dinner together, and we had great conversations.
On the flight home, I got a super-cheap upgrade to first class for the final leg of my flight, and I connected with the two flight attendants, Natasha and Jess. I was perhaps a bit of an anomaly for first-class passengers, as I am sure they don’t see many Himalayan guides amidst all the free alcohol. They were polite and kind, and they listened to my stories about Nepal. We exchanged contact information. I certainly thought they were doing their jobs to engage the customers, but in my heart, I knew that they might ghost me as part of their job. Boy, was I wrong! I found myself with some of my biggest smiles when I got home and found multiple messages from them. Indeed, I hope they both smile when they see their picture in this blog and recognize that sometimes just doing your job can make a big impact on someone else’s life. Normally, a 30-hour flight kills you. I left that flight happy and grateful for the experience.
Next year’s trips are already planned out. More on that later. For now, gratitude flows in our veins, and we love seeing how places can change people.