Monthly Archives: October 2012

MTB Bali

On Saturday, we took a mountain biking trip to Mount Batur. Mount Batur is an active volcano in the northeast part of the island. Before we hired a guide, we went back and forth about whether we should or not. Would it be worth it? Couldn’t we just do it on our own? In retrospect, that all seems laughable.

Although I like to think we can find stuff on our own, I don’t think there is any chance we could have figured out how to get to where we started this ride.  It was about an hour drive from where we are staying in Ubud, almost all of it uphill on roads with crazy motorcycle and scooter drivers passing cars and trucks on blind corners. We began our ride around the backside of the rim of the caldera that surrounds Mt. Batur.  Once we started we had about 2 km of riding on pavement, then single track and dusty jeep trail the rest of the ride.

Pretty typical of the Mount Batur trails.

Most of the trails we rode were either steep uphill or steep downhill.  An occasional flat spot, but not too many of those.  It is the end of the dry season in Bali so the tracks are really dusty. Wayan, our guide, told us that the trail would be dusty in places so we should keep space between us, but after riding on this type of trail for a while I wasn’t ready for spots on the trail that had 6 inches or more of sand and fine dust. The first time we hit one of those spots I was right behind Wayan and I got totally enveloped in a cloud of brown dust. Most of the worst dust was on really steep downhills where it would hide the deep holes in the trail. But if you got off your bike you’d have to wade through the dust so it was better to stay on.

After a bit more uphill we ended up on a narrow ridge.  One side was big views of the volcano and the valley that it sits in, the other side was views of the north coast of Bali, and the long steep 5 km downhill to get there.  Mt. Batur volcano sits in the middle of a valley and we were up on the ridge left over from where the bigger volcano either collapsed or exploded.  Part of the valley is filled in by a bright green lake which we could see from here.  The trail we took goes along the ridge for a while then pretty much straight downhill into the valley.

Gunug/Mount Batur and Lake Batur in the background.

After a fun and sometimes scary downhill mixed with the occasional steep (really steep) uphill, we came around a corner and found our picnic lunch already laid out for us.  Wayan said it usually takes a few hours to get from the place we started to the lunch stop, on the top of a hill above a quarry, but we made it in around an hour. It made for an early lunch, but gave us time to catch our breath before we went down ‘Lung Buster’ hill, which was a 1.7 km downhill at probably 20% grade on pavement or dirt covered in deep piles of dust and sand. Of course we tried to ride back up the hill once we made it to the bottom, but after 3 or 4 minutes even we were defeated.

Lunch break

Once we made it to the bottom of the valley we rode around through fields of tomatoes, pumpkins, lettuce, and even the occasional coffee bushes.  The trail was sometimes okay, but lots of it was deep sand and dust.  We would try to make it though the sandy stretches as best we could, but only our guide Wayan made it through most of them on the bike.   In the midst of all the fields we came past a big village temple.  There were three big gates facing the track we were riding on, each one had a pair of statues and a fancy painted door.   All the temple carvings and walls are made from rock from the volcano.

Dirty wanderers at the temple.

After circling Mt Batur volcano most of the ride, we ended our ride on this track that goes through the lava fields.  The volcanic rock looks fairly new and there are almost no plants growing in it, although there are a good number of small shrines like the one we are standing in front of.  We rode for about 5 km through the lava field on this track.  It started out seeming pretty easy, but after all the single track and the uphills and downhills the bumpy surface took it out of us.

Hot lava!

We were covered in dirt by the time we got to our ride waiting for us near the lake.  Our shoes were filled with dust, and the rest of us was covered in a not so fine layer of dirt and mud.  Wayan found a good place for this “MTB Bali” sign.

Yeah. It’s dirty.

Traveling Freedom. And Flesh-Eating Fish.

“You have absolutely no control. But in that absence of control is total freedom.”

Such were the last words our instructor Jose had for us at this morning’s yoga class. Walking out of today’s class I had a sense of overwhelming peace that I haven’t experienced in a long time. It was something beyond relaxation, a sensation that probably the most spiritual people bathe in for multiple moments of the day. But for a crazed-brain, inner-peace kindergartener like me, one glimpse was a gift enough.

The Yoga Barn complex in Ubud, Bali. Moo!

Long-term travel will either unravel you or unwrap you. One or the other, and you get to choose. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, because when you are traveling for a long time, with a small backpack, the question is present every day. Will you come undone – by the hassles, the frustrations, the misunderstandings that sometimes feel chronic – or will you relax into the experience, accepting your lack of control and allowing adventure, beauty and often flat-out strangeness to loosen you into a better version of yourself? For me, the answer is different each day, but already three weeks of travel have started to hint to me the answer that I want to give.

Blissing out in Bali.

I realize it’s not unusual that I am pondering these things in Bali. What a magical, spiritual, beautiful place. Full of caterpillars, and gods, and flowers, and music, and offerings. And foot-flesh-eating fish.

Feeding the fish during our fish pedicure.

Yesterday Jimmy and I dipped our toes into a “fish pedicure.” For a fish pedicure, you stick your feet into a tank of flesh-eating fish. Then they nibble on your dead skin for 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile, you try not to freak out or run away. Some of you may be aware that fish pedicures have been banned in many of the states in the US. This is apparently because flesh-eating fish do not meet the standards of US cosmetology, which require that all “implements” be discarded or sterilized once they are used. The only way they could figure out to sterilize these fish was to heat them to 350 degrees for 20 minutes in an oven, and that hardly seemed plausible. Discarding the fish didn’t quite seem right either.

The face pretty much says it.

Some of the fish in Indonesia don’t eat people, and those are pretty good too. We spent a blissful week (if you don’t count the two days I was vomiting from some sort of stomach bug) watching them on Gili Air, a small island with no roads off the northwestern coast of the island of Lombok, which is itself the island just east of Bali. “Air” means “water” in Bahasa Indonesian, which for some reason I think is awesome. The sea life was the most amazing part of this island – manta rays, turtles, barracudas, and every color of fish and coral was on view on the reef just off the island’s southern and eastern coasts. You roll out of bed in the morning, and literally within 20 steps and about the same number of strokes, you are snorkeling with schools of fish. Incredible.

Lunchtime in Gili Air. Air means water.

We’re now cooling our heels for a week or two – exfoliated as they are – in the city of Ubud, which is on the mountain slopes of central Bali. Jimmy describes Ubud as “the Santa Fe of Bali” which I think seems pretty apt. Art galleries, restaurants, yoga studios and chakras abound. And the natural beauty surrounding is stunning. So far I only know this from several strolls we have taken through acres and acres of bright green rice fields that surround the city, but we hope to ride bikes to a volcano crater lake later this week. Even around town, though, deep canyons drop dramatically from the fields into river basins, which are used to irrigate the rice paddies through canal systems. If I knew the first thing about foliage I could tell you about all the fantastic greenery that makes this place feel like The Jungle Book – but I don’t, so you’ll have to take my word for it. It’s the end of the dry season now, but soon the rains will come and fill up those river canyons, which I am sure is a powerful thing to see.

Beautiful Bali.

Another powerful thing to see, I’m sure, were the terror-stricken faces of two American tourists a few days ago on our rice-field walk when we strayed out of the rice fields and wandered into a small village lane. Within 50 meters, a dog bounded out of a nearby house, barking as if he had seen a ghost (two of them, I guess). This signal propelled his canine friends from every house on the street, and within 30 seconds we were absolutely and completely surrounded by barking dogs – baring their teeth and howling. During that two-minute period, all I could think about was my naivete in foregoing the $1,000 price tag to get rabies shots before we left. That, and how the intricate protective gods carved into the outside of every one of those houses were not doing squat to help me. Jimmy and I looked at each other and shrugged. Lacking any useful course of action, we picked up rocks, while at the same time doubting the effectiveness of brandishing our pebbles against this mangy pack of canines.

The end was luckily anti-climactic. We managed to move slowly (and I like to think serenely) enough, our backs practically against the stone walls that surround the houses, to assure the dogs that we were so, so sorry and would never, ever, ever, ever come back there again. And I don’t think we will.

Monkeying around until next time…


Slippery Singapore Slopes

Greetings from Bali, Indonesia! Jimmy and I started our Southeast Asia adventure eight days ago, and yes, this is the first time I’ve put fingers to keyboard to update you on our whereabouts. Still, quite a lag since the last post (which I wrote two weeks ago but just posted now), but I am slowly improving my cadence. Also, I have real, live excuses: since my last post, two computers have gone totally and completely kaput, which has made blogging (and facebooking, oh the horror!) a little more challenging.

But anyway, here we are in Bali – recovered, mostly, from jet lag, and also that weird haze that I feel envelopes you for days every time you travel around the world. Not that I am complaining. This past eight days has been amazing.

We landed in Singapore late on a Wednesday night, after a 14-hour flight to Tokyo (sushi – yay!) and another 7-hour flight to “the city-state,” as we have taken to calling Singapore. I spent a summer in Singapore with a youth group when I was 18, byt my memories were mostly hazy. I remember eating spring rolls for the first time – and the second, and the third, and the twelfth – and playing basketball with some teenage schoolgirls wearing long skirts. I remember this struck me as really odd, that they were wearing skirts to play basketball, but in retrospect I don’t know why I was so confused since I also had to wear uniforms in junior high and highschool, and I often played basketball in skirts myself.

Sushi in the Tokyo airport.

But I digress. Turns out my memories of Singapore had a heavy editor. The city (-state) is a mesmerizing swirl of cultures and traffic and religions and food (including, but not limited to, egg rolls) – and humidity. And oh yes, shopping. And more shopping. The first day, we took a tool down to Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping area. Jimmy was mesmerized by the glitzy, multi-story shopping centers with air con streaming out onto the street and filled with shops and restaurants where you could buy, and do, just about anything. I mean, there were  stores for book bags and stores for wakeboards. Stores for shoes and swimsuits and wallets and perfume. There was even a flight simulator in one of the malls. Some recent reports are predicting Singapore to be the world’s richest country by 2050, and after being there, I believe it.

It is also perhaps the world’s most rule-oriented city. No gum chewing, no trash throwing, no leaving the public toilets unflushed, no jay walking, no canoodling. What, no canoodling?! There are stiff penalties too, like being put to death or a good cane-ing. You can imagine what all these rules make me want to do: chew gum like a madwoman, of course ! I did jaywalk, once or twice maybe, but Jimmy kept a keen eye on me to make sure my little indiscretions didn’t turn into something more serious.

It all starts with jaywalking.

We also explored Chinatown and Little India, both fascinating areas of the downtown area – and rode the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest ferris wheel (before boarding we were informed in a very relevant way how much the darn thing weighs – 443 elephants).

How many elephants?!

On Friday we took the amazing metro system, which easily beats any public transportation system I have been on anywhere in the world, to the western part of the island. Following some vague internet directions, we hoped to walk the seven miles from the University of Singapore to the main harbor through a series of trails. After ending up in several construction zones in the university, making our way through a giant office complex with gleaming science labs (turns out Science Park was an office park) and begging directions from kind strangers who wondered why we would want to walkto Harbourfront, we found a well signposted trail. Composed of paved trails, canopy walks, and bridges, the trail was a fantastic tour through some of the green, lush parts of the island – including horticultural gardens and monkey territories. This was my favorite day of our visit to Singapore.

In the Singapore “Hort Park”

On Henderson Waves – longest pedestrian bridge in the city-state.

Five days was both enough, and not enough, time in Singapore. It’s a pricey place, so staying too long was not really an option unless we want our trip to be very, very short. But despite rumors to the contrary, it was my impression that there is a lot to see and do there, other than the girls playing basketball in skirts.


Next up, surfing and sunning in Indonesia…


Let’s Get This Blog Party (re)Started!

Note: I wrote this blog post three weeks ago, before two computers died, and before our trip to SE Asia had begun. Back-dating blog posts makes my blogging failure even more spectacular, but no less heartfelt.  

Let’s be honest. This summer was a big fat blog FAIL. Nearly six months ago Jimmy and I quit our jobs, rented our Washington DC condo, put our Austin house on the market, and set out on an adventure so grand that we couldn’t even wrap our minds around it.

And what have I told the interwebs about this journey? Squat, that’s what. But as you might imagine from our itinerary that I shared back in the Age of Dinosaurs, it’s not from lack of stories or sights to share.

The last six months have been packed with travel: we visited 12 states (Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia) and now are back in Washington DC for a short visit.

That 24 weeks has not been short on adventure. In fact, any blogger-in-training could have easily found enough material to regale you with daily stories about road bike touring, mountain hiking, white-water rafting, trail running, lake swimming, zip-lining, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, concert-going,  bungee trampolining, tubing, fishing, skateboarding, alpine sliding, slacklining.

And of course no self-respecting athlete blogster would have neglected, as I have, to report on the last six months of racing. Especially when it’s included such highlights as Ironman Couer d’Alene, the Pikes Peak marathon, the Salida Classic bike time trial, the Whitefish Lake 10k, and just last weekend the Savageman half ironman.

And a really good blogger could have found a way to detail the best moments of this summer, those that are hardest to capture but the ones that have made this journey most special. Those moments have come from the amazing opportunity we’ve had to spend serious time with family and friends. Like really quality time. The kind of time where you just sit around together on the porch or in the living room, listening to music or drinking wine or looking at the mountains or the lake or in the neighbor’s windows (ooops). The kind of time that is so plentiful that you get to become part of the fabric of life of those you love. You run errands. Or pick up kids, change diapers, make goofy grins more often than you’d care to imagine. You answer the phone, or just look out at the ocean.

But I can’t make up for lost blogging time, so I’ll share a few photos from this summer. And a bittersweet thank you (we miss you!) to all of the friends and family who have shared homes and personal space with us. I hope we can repay you someday, somehow; you can leave your sweaty workout clothes hanging around in our house anytime.

Many, many public thanks are due especially to those who generously opened their homes to us, without even complaining much to our faces: Steve and Paula in Austin; Connell and Remy and Miles, Robin and Yogi and Sophia, Cathy and Bob in the Bay Area; Mary in Bellingham; Deborah and Lynn in Portland; Deb and Grant in Seattle; Kim, Justin, Maggie and Mason in Whitefish; all our DC friends who trekked out for the ironman in Couer d’Alene; Kurt and Sheree and Hollis and Sawyer in Salida; Grandpa and David in Santa Fe; mom and dad in St Simons; Danny and Rob F. in DC.

Now. Let’s get this blog party (re)started! In one week Jimmy and I hop on a plane for the next leg of our adventure: Southeast Asia. We’ll start in Singapore, where we’ll stay to run the NorthFace 50k around the island on October 13. Keep an eye here for upcoming installments on noodles, beaches, blisters, and tuk-tuks (whatever those are).