Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Cherish My Days Off

One of my favorite things to do on a day off, drink coffee, route plan, and chat (especially in a motor home)

Would you believe me if I told you I enjoy doing "nothing" on my days off?   To me, taking refuge inside, cut off from the outside world sounds like a real treat!  It sounds absolutely delightful to sit down at a kitchen counter, catch up on emails, blog.  I can spend hours researching and exploring on the internet the ideas and thoughts I’ve had whirling around in my head after riding my bike for hours and days on end.  I love to take refuge indoors, hidden, and completely barricaded from my outside environment.  Of course, "nothing" is all pretty relative, but in comparison to biking 70 miles or 100kms a day, nothing usually means starting out with a nice long run in the morning after trying my hardest to sleep in, and then I might make a huge pancake breakfast.  But after that little bit of activity, I love to veg out and stay put, relaxing on the sofa or at a breakfast bar.

You see, day-after-day, I’m constantly outside, sightseeing, and exposed to the world.  Others don’t realize it, but in reality, my life at the moment allows for very little privacy.  The road belongs to everyone, and almost everyone out there feels compelled to interact with me.  I’m not complaining by any means because I do enjoy conversing with others and meeting new people, but I don’t have the option to go home at the end of the day, and take refuge in a private, intimate environment.  As much as I enjoy being hosted, it’s challenging to balance me time and social interaction. In fact, many times, my hosts feel like they need to entertain me, or they feel obligated to interact with me.  But to tell you the truth, I feel right at home with the hosts who respect the fact that I need my down time and space and they themselves carry on with their normal day.

The Fleck family welcomed me to their wilderness paradise on the outskirts of Denver

In the Denver area, I had some delightful days off!  First I stayed with the family of my neighbors from Eugene.  They were a neat family of four who lived about 30 miles east of the city in a woodsy area.  In the morning we all had breakfast together and then some of us went for a walk.  After that, it was great to see that each family member had their own interest and desire to do different things.  Everyone respected each other and the fact that they needed some time and space, even if we were in the vicinity, we were all lost in our own worlds.  Mom and daughter were baking while the son explored what it might be like to create his own website (I think I might have inspired him there) while dad went off for a bike ride.  For a moment, it was like I was right at home with my family, and it felt like I fit right in, as if I’d been with them for a good long time.  But as my trip goes, I had to hit the road later that afternoon and was off to visit some other friends in the Denver area.

Here is a guy, Sean, who is just as enthusiastic about pancake breakfasts!!!

Boy did I luck out, Jess and Greta wanted to bake muffins and guess who got to sample them?

On several occasions on this trip, I’ve been able to visit with friends who I haven’t seen for years and years.  I hadn’t seen Linsy really since I graduated from high School although we met in Spain briefly when I first went over. Linsy and I go way back, we went to preschool and high school together and ran cross-country together for one season where we bonded immediately, although I’m not sure how much running we did in comparison to talking.  Since then, Linsy has a new last name, now married to Randy, who I got to meet and they just had their second kid.  Randy, is an amazing chef, they have a four year old daughter, Hadley, and a newborn boy, Hayes.  Remember, I love hanging out at a home, and this was just what Linsy does with a newborn.  We talked, and talked, sharing about our family, friends from high school, and life events from the past 15 years!  I got to hold Hayes, Randy cooked for us, and it was like we’d just seen each other yesterday, not much had changed, as far as values, beliefs, and interests.  After my pleasant afternoon with Linsy and family, I had the most wonderful dinner date waiting for me in Boulder where I was staying with a family I met in Barcelona. 

Sheldon High School Cross Country running partners meet again

Holding little Hayes, a great alternative to pedaling......Dare I saw my arms were sore afterwards?

I got home from spending the day with Linsy and I was spoiled with the best dinner date of my trip, Carter, a student I had in second grade back in Barcelona. When I left Barcelona, they moved on to Thailand, but unfortunately I missed them when traveling through SE Asia, so a visit to their new home of Boulder was imperative!   Carter and I were both nostalgic for Asian food, and enjoyed a delicious meal in town together. As a teacher, a lot of times we forget that the kids we teach grow older just like we do.  Now 10 years old, I was in awe listening to Carter’s interpretation of living abroad.  He shared with me his perspective on Asian culture and religion. I was fascinated by the way he was able to verbalize his experience living abroad in three different continents during the last four years.  I think the waitress was baffled by our relationship, not understanding whether or not he was my son, and hopefully knew I wasn’t into younger men, at least that much younger!  

The last time I saw the Kahns we were all in Barcelona
Hard to believe your 2nd and 5th grade students actually get older!
Our dinner date lasted for a good couple of hours sharing our experiences and stories from SE Asia.  It had been a long times since I had been reminded about some of the perks of being a teacher that we normally don’t think about. I’d like to think that I had some impact on this guy becoming a young adult.  At one point at dinner Carter asked me, “Ms. Melissa, how do you know so much? You are like a dictionary!”  It made me laugh because I actually felt as if we had switched roles; me the student and Carter the teacher.  I was intrigued by his perception of living abroad and the different cultures.  I couldn’t stop asking him questions.  At one point he confessed and said, “Ms. Melissa, sometimes I just want to say to other kids,…hey, I’m not your normal kid.  I’ve lived in so many different countries, but then I think they won’t like me because I’m bragging, but I just want to share with them some of my experiences.”  His comment was truly sincere and modest, and I was astounded by the way he was able to articulate his emotions.  Ironically, at the end of our dinner, the fortune in his cookie couldn’t have been better suited for him as he starts a new life in the United States.

It was eery how "right on" his fortune was for Carter at that moment in time in his life.

Some of most cherished days or mornings off occur when my hosts leave for work and for a few hours, it feels as though it is my house, my space, and my privacy, that can’t be invaded by anyone.  But I do have to admit, that I equally enjoy my active days off, especially if I get to explore an area that means I avoid monstrous climbing on my bike, like I did in Estes Park with my friend Newt.  Northwest of Denver lies The Rocky Mountain National Park, and I was curious to see what this national park was like if western Colorado is already covered with mountains.  I had plans to meet Newt there, my hitchhiking friend from Arches.  This is my third encounter with him and I’m delighted to say it won’t be my last!   I rode to Estes Park at the base of the park and that was enough altitude gain for me!  The sofa in his motor home is the most comfortable bed and I love just chilling in the fifth wheel.  After enjoying a few cups of coffee (while looking at maps and talking about route planning of course) and eating the most nutritious bowl of cereal, we set off to the park to hike up to a few lakes.  It wasn’t a long hike, but we kept a really fast pace and enjoyed some beautiful scenery, including walking on snow.  Afterwards we drove up to the summit on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in North American and I must say, the road doesn’t seem safe for cyclists, so I was fortunate to be in a car!  We went all the way over to the west side of the park, had lunch in Grand Lake, and headed back to Estes in time for an evening concert in the park.  Again, it is days like these, off the bike that I enjoy, because they totally change my routine and for a moment, I feel like my life resembles that of every other normal and more conventional person in this world. 

In my opinion all of Colorado should be a National Park with the Rocky Mountains

The Keen sandals take on snow in the Rockies, nothing stops us!
In the park, I officially hit my highest elevation although I wasn't cycling.  The summit was at 12,183ft. (3,715ft.) A bit chilly....

As my trip progresses, I find myself craving more and more down time on my trip.  I think this is only natural, considering the nature of my trip, my accumulated exhaustion, and being out of touch with my conventional life. I relish the days when, for a split second, I forget that I live on the road on my two wheels, 4 bags, and 70 pounds of belongings, constantly exposed to the world around me.

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