Jordan: Talk with a Local

For more information check out part 1, Jordan: The Lost City of Petra

and part 2, Jordan: Getting There

 

Talk with an Expert.

Hamz Majid got his official guiding license in 1995 and gave guided tours as a full-time job in 1999. He was the private guide who led my tour into Petra. It was $500 for the three of us.

He said Americans need to know some general information about the country before visiting. It helps to know. “Jordan customs of Jordanian people, especially marriage and Bedouins…and some about religion and Islam.” He suggests researching this information before booking your trip to Jordan. He said recommends a guide and making sure, “the guide knows both languages and can explain about what is coming next with every single step. And can answer any question may (sic) appear on the way.” It is very important that the guide understand the process of entering Jordan from Israel. “It depends on which border you are arriving—we have three borders with Israel, north, middle and south.” Each one has a different process according to Majid. He said it is easy for Americans to cross the borders with no obstacles, especially when there is someone waiting for them at the Jordanian side.”  He went on to say, “Jordan is a modern country and visitors can wear whatever they want, except at some religious places and the crowded places like Amman downtown.”

It is important to note, laws in Jordan are “changeable.” So, it is best to be with a guide who is up-to-date. Majid wanted to impress that Petra is not the only tourist destination in Jordan. He also suggests Wadi Rum (noting its amazing desert), Aqaba (very special, especially for diving), Jerash (the best preserved ancient city in the middle east), Umm Rassas ( a world heritage site) and Salt (“simple, quiet, special, beautiful old house and my hometown”)

I asked Majid to elaborate on why Petra is such a popular tourist destination. He could only respond with, “It is very special. It cannot even be described with words or pictures until you see it.”

Jordan: Getting to Petra from Israel

For more information check out Part 1, Jordan: The Lost City of Petra

Getting There:

Anything worth having is worth working for, such is Petra. My trip to Israel and Jordan was a whirlwind. My friend, Stanford, told me that he had a business trip to Israel and wanted to take his 15-year-old daughter Bee. He asked me to join so his daughter would have someone to take her out while he was doing—whatever it is he does for work. I happily said, “yes.” Bee suggested we take a day trip and tour the lost city of Petra. I can spare you the intricacies of why this involved more research than most other day trips and get to the point. We flew into Tel-Aviv. We spent a few days in Tel-Aviv and Stanford rented a car to drive to Eilat.  The drive was about 4 to 5 hours. I suggest driving during the day, though it is a simple drive and a straight shot, driving at night can be risky —-because of the camels. They are not always easy to spot, and they just stand in the middle of the road (similar to driving in a region with deer).

Eilat is the home of the Red Sea. And going to the Red Sea and not pretending to part it is like standing on the end of a boat and not yelling, “I’m the king of the world.” No matter how cheesy and overdone, you just can’t help yourself. The Red Sea is stunning. In Eilat, there are many options for scuba diving and snorkeling. Though when we went in July, the water was too cold to enjoy such endeavors. Eilat itself is a tourist town with little to offer the adventurous traveler beyond a port to Jordan. It reminded me of Vegas without the gambling.

We stayed at The Dan in Eilat. It is an impressive hotel with a beautiful pool and remarkable breakfast buffet (the breakfast buffet is not included in every room package). In the evening we ate at a restaurant called Pastory. It boasted homemade pasta and thoughtful dishes.

We were picked up at the hotel by a driver from the agency. The border crossing experience from Israel to Jordan is a strange mix of intricate in that you are crossing from Israel into Palestinian territory with the fact this is a common touristy location and border security is used to the traffic of the everyday traveler. The handler from the agency talked us through the process of taking us through the border patrol.

As a frequent traveler, I do a lot of research on local customs and what I need to do to fit in. The trip to Jordan is one trip in which my research failed me. I read in the guidebook that though Jordan is a country that expects a more conservative manner of dress, Petra is touristy and therefore sundresses and shorts are welcome. Stanford confirmed this with our private guide who informed us that tourists frequently wear sundresses and light attire, and it is a non-issue. And that is true, light, casual attire is totally fine while in Petra, but in my extensive planning, I forgot to take into account getting to Petra. If you are a woman of any age crossing the border, DRESS CONSERVATIVE. COVER UP! It is one of the few places I felt genuinely uncomfortable. You can see in the pictures I wore a tank top and khaki shorts (I brought two large scarfs just in case I needed to cover myself for religious sites). As the guard checked my passport he purposefully stared at my cleavage, he then looked me dead in the eyes and smirked at me. It was a power move meant to send a message. I instantly took out one of my scarfs and covered my shoulders for the rest of my ride until arriving at Petra (which was full of tourists in light, casual wear). On the way back, there was a family behind us, also from California. We chatted with them a bit.  They had brought their teenage daughter. She was dressed casually. The guard was intentionally flirtatious with her and even made sexually suggestive comments to the girl, right in front of her father. The father was helpless to respond and quickly rushed his family through to the Israel side of the border. Learn from my mistake, bring a few items to cover yourself when you are not in areas that are known for tourism.

Crossing the border requires a fee as well as getting your passport stamped and going through customs. This was relatively painless but note our guide met us on the other side. We had a ‘handler’ walk us through the process on the Israel side then hand us off to our guide once we crossed the borderline into Jordan. It was the same process on the way back.

One anecdote from my exodus of Jordan was when coming back through to Israel; I put my backpack through the x-ray machine. I expected this to go without incident. I noticed that there was a scurry of activity that appeared to be surrounding my pack. A young woman with a large gun (they all have large firearms, just assume everyone has a large weapon), began asking me what was in my bag. I told her I bought some souvenirs but couldn’t think of anything that would interest them. She then pulled out a scroll tube I had purchased at the gift shop in Jordan. “Where did you get this,” she pressed. Standford, Bee and I couldn’t fight out amusement. I pointed out the window and said, that gift shop about 50 feet away. You can see it through the window. I was shocked, Stanford asked, “What you have never seen one of those before?”

The woman looked at us unamused and firmly stated, “No.”

She held it at arm’s length from her and slowly opened the tube (*said with sarcasm: because as you know holding a bomb at arm’s length will protect you from detonation). She peered inside the empty tube and felt satisfied it was non-threatening. I gave it to my young daughter to put papers in and pretend to deliver messages, but every time she hands the tube and says, “mail” I smile at the chaos her toy caused a world away.

Check out Part 3, Jordan: Talk with a Local

 

Jordan: The Lost City of Petra

The Lost City of Petra:

Of all the places I have been, I rank Petra as ‘The Coolest.’ Those of you who know me, know my main curiosity lies in learning the details of archeologically significant ruins and ancient historical sites. I like to turn everything into a learning experience. Petra was stunningly beautiful and radiant with heritage and culture.

I went to Petra in July of 2017. The weather was quite hot but not unbearable. I traveled with Stanford and his 15-year-old daughter Bee. While in the confines of Petra, we felt safe and we were comfortable in casual attire. We brought scarfs just in case we needed to cover up (out of respect for religious sites) but found them unnecessary. We did need the scarfs along the crossing of the border into Jordan (I explain in detail in the Getting There section of this blog).

Petra is an ancient city carved from the beautiful, reddish tinted cliffs in the country of Jordan.  UNESCO called Petra “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.” When you are within the walls of the carved cliffside, you feel like you are somewhere special. Petra came to form around the 4th century BCE, and it was a thriving region until around 363 when earthquakes caused an exodus of this culturally advanced city. Most people forgot it existed except for the Bedouins who inhabited the carved-out caves until 1812 when the explorer JL Burckhardt exposed this secret city.

Most surprising about Petra is its size. The conventional picture of the treasury leads one to believe you will go to Petra, see a few facades and leave. This is inaccurate.Bring your walking shoes because the main trail is an easy 2 miles, whereas some of the side hikes can be about 7-8 hours and more strenuous. There is a lot to see in Petra. The guide noted that one of the comments he most received was, “I didn’t realize it was so big” and “ I didn’t realize there was so much to see.” Every corner has new facades, and each façade has a story. Petra can be seen in a day but prepare yourself for lots of steps. We didn’t do the more intense hikes, but we did hike up to the Royal Tombs. From there you will be rewarded with stunning views and the experience of going inside the tombs. At the end of the hike, there was a traditional buffet that was included in the price of our tour. The food was homemade and very good.

After the lunch you have a few options to get back, one is to walk back the same way you came; another is to take a donkey ride uphill and circle back. I wanted to do the walk uphill but was quickly shot down by Stanford and Bee. The donkey ride is pretty inexpensive, but you will want to have cash on hand if you choose this option.

At the time of the trip, Stanford and I were ‘just friends.’ The man who was leading the donkey rides was a Bedouin from the area. He politely helped me on the donkey and smiled at me. During the uphill trip, he smiled at me again and pointed to Stanford and asked, “Is that your husband?”

I shook my head no.

He then asked, “Is that your boyfriend?”

I responded with a simple, “No.”

He then smiled at me again and said slyly, “ I have five wives. I am a lucky man.”

I laughed, and Stanford quickly yelled back, “If you pick him over me, I have some life choices to evaluate.”

Thus ended my thoughtful consideration of being a 6th wife.

We took the donkeys to the van and departed back to Israel. Petra is a city of breathtaking sites. I suggest it for anyone as a day trip from Israel.

For more information check out part 2, Jordan: Getting to Petra

and part 3, Jordan: Talk with a Local

 

Half Dome Part 3: My Experience

Check out Part 1: My Story

and Part 2: Gear and Talk with an Expert

Experience:

My group woke at 5:30 a.m. to do the climb. The man leading the team said in his experience many areas get congested during the hike. Therefore, an earlier start time makes for getting through the hike more smoothly. It was rough getting up so early in the cold, but in the end, it was worth it. The scenery is stunning throughout the entire hike. From start to finish you will see many waterfalls and scenic overlooks. Even if you don’t make it all the way to Half Dome, the hike up to the base of subdome alone makes the journey worthwhile. For me, the most physically challenging part of the trek was subdome. It feels almost vertical. You have to traverse to do the climb. It is the only part I needed to take a moment to catch my breath. If you take it slow, it is very doable for most skill sets, but it is where things get intense. Also, it is where you start to realize how much elevation you have gained.

After sub-dome are the cables. People do freak out on the cables. I try to be patient but in front of me was a man who had to coax his girlfriend the entire way up the cables. It backed the line up tremendously. You are going to be up high. If you are afraid of heights, you need to mentally prepare yourself. Go on a few other hikes where you will engage your fear of heights. I encourage you to conquer your fears, but not at the expense of making a long line of people back down the cables. It is high, it is scary, and if you climb with common sense, you will be fine. I used a safety harness. I was the only one from my group to do so. Having that extra bit of protection was a mental boost. I felt safer, so I was able to move faster. I am scared of heights, but I was fine.

A woman in our group began to panic upon seeing the cables. She took this time to confess she had a paralyzing fear of heights. Our guide had led many people up Half Dome and was able to talk her through her fears. She got on the cables and made the climb. If you do have a fear of heights this climb is very doable, but mental preparation is necessary.

At the top, I was graced with one of the most beautiful views I have ever had the privilege to experience.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a man I will call, “The Writer.” I wanted to be the first one from my group to make it back. I wanted the bragging rights. So I started my descent in a slow jog, when I heard, “not that way.” I gave a head nod to the man giving me the advice. Within a few feet, I heard once again, “nope.” After a few more tries I said, “why don’t I stick with you.” Side note: I have zero sense of direction. Running down to camp the trail would split into a defined path or walk into a cliff face. For some reason, I would inevitably choose the cliff face.

The Writer and his companion accompanied me for a few hours as we made our way downhill. I have only lightly kept in touch with him since the hike, but I love the fact that my adventures keep bringing fascinating people into my life. And a thank you to The Writer for saving me the humiliation of getting lost on a path with a clearly defined trail.

Of all the things I have accomplished, Half Dome is one of my favorites. I highly recommend taking on this challenge if you are looking for a new goal. Obtain a permit, then get out on the trails and experience the beauty that California has to offer.

 

Half-Dome Part 2: Talk with an Expert and Gear

Check out Part 1: Half Dome here

Talk with an Expert:

Mr. Half Dome, also known as Rick Deutsch is the president of Carpe Diem Experience LLC. He has written the how-to-guide for hiking Half-Dome called “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome.” He frequently gives talks at REI about his book and hiking Half Dome.  His book has sold over 13,000 copies, and he has been called a modern-day Muir. Mr. Half Dome has completed the Half Dome hike over 42 times.

Around 1990 he moved from the East coast and did Half Dome without any preparation or training. “It knocked me over, and I said, I am going to do this once a year. I wrote a bucket list, and I kept it going every year.”

“For the first timer there are three things I say, 1) education, learn about this hike. Learn about the water. Shoes or boots, noncotton. You need to know how much food and electrolytes you need. Also, have head lights. 2) preparation- Start by hiking hills. These are different muscles. Get hiking poles; a water filter is mandatory. A Stairmaster is great but only does uphill muscles. You go downhill for 6 hours. 3) Motivation- Do it because you want to do it. Anybody can do this with those three things.” Mr. Half Dome goes on to note that most people focus on the cables, but the switchbacks of sub dome are much more challenging than the cables. He says he usually completes the hike in 11 hours and not to rush.

When it comes to training Mr. Half Dome says, “A lot of people underestimate the upper body strength going up the cables. Don’t grab both sides of the cables. Just grab one side.” He then advises the proper gear, “Use body glide on your feet then a thin liner sock. No cotton. I believe in a good hiking boot with tread. The problem with running shoes is that they are not as rigid (see my comments on this in the Things to Bring section) and there is no ankle protection, high top boots offer more protection.” He stresses the importance of NO SMOOTH SOLES. He and I cannot impress this upon the reader enough. The rock is often smooth and wet. Smooth soles shoes, in my opinion, would be the worst gear mistake you can make. He goes on to suggest a hat, sunscreen, and a fanny pack. He says, “backpacks get hot and cause lower back pain. In your pack, you want water bottles, food, power bars, lifesavers, flashlights or headlamps. It gets pitch black up there.”

Many first-timers find the permit system intimidating. “The best day to get a permit is June 21, you get the longest daylight, fewer crowds, less chance of lightning and best waterfalls,” he says. “August has more chances of lightning. About 5,000 people request for 250 daily permits.”

“If you have good boots, hydration and rubber sticky gloves you can do this. About 40,000 people a year do this. Anyone that is physically able can accomplish this. A guy with a prosthetic leg came up to me proudly exclaiming that he had just completed the hike the day before.”

Gear:

Permit: Hiking half dome starts with obtaining a permit. You can do most of the hike without a permit, but you need permits to ascend the cables. The way a permit works is one named person is the ‘applicant’ who can request for several other people to be included on the permit. Those people are unnamed. If an applicant reaches the permit checkpoint and has a permit allowing for example 5 people but only has a party of 4, then you can politely ask them to include you on their permit. The applicant must be present, and the entire party must be present to move forward. Another way is entering the lottery. Check out the parks and rec website for specific dates. The most straightforward option is with a tour group or a guide. They often obtain the permits for you in advance. Though this is a more costly option, it is easier.

Trail running shoes with Gortex- Regarding a person of average fitness, high top hiking boots might be overload. I liked the waterproof aspect of my shoes as they helped me stay warm throughout the hike.

Food- Endurance activities are not meant for weight loss. You need to fuel your body to ensure you have the energy needed to complete your hike. Bring protein bars, sandwiches and whatever else you need to sustain your body for the intense physical activity required.

Water

Layers- It is cold then hot, and if you aren’t dressed appropriately for each you will be very uncomfortable. I am a fan of synthetic fabrics.

Gloves-The cables will tear your hands up.

Safety rope and clip- In the group, I was the only one that used the safety rope and clip. Almost everyone else decided to go without. Perhaps it was the stories of how people had died going up/down the cables that set my mind on the safety rope. It is not required. I will say this, by the halfway point, people were looking with envy at my safety rope. I was comfortably scaling the cables.

Click here for Part 3: My Experience

Half Dome Part 1

My story:

  

I heard about it; then I had to do it. Such goes the simple story of my life. Half-Dome was no different. The summer of 2015 I was talking to a man who told me hiking half-dome was on his bucket list. The following summer my church camping group was hosting a trip to Yosemite, complete with a Half-Dome hike. Done and Done. I wasn’t nervous about hiking Half-Dome because at this point I already had two full marathons under my belt. I hiked with a group of about 20 other people. Most were first-timers, and most were very nervous. Every single person made it.

Half-Dome is an exceptional hike not just due to the overwhelming beauty but also because the peak is only accessible by climbing up cable wires. Half-Dome peaks 4,737 feet from the floor of Yosemite Valley. The half-dome hike is 16.4 miles round trip. The last 400 feet of the hike are via cable wires. Once at the top, the views are spectacular.

What I find the most fascinating about Half-Dome is its rich history. In the 1800’s a geologist named Josiah Whitney proclaimed that no man would ever set foot on half dome. After hearing this George Anderson began drilling holes into Half-Dome, he put eye-bolts into the holes he drilled. He would stand on the eye-bolts and used this method until he reached the top. Anderson was the first man to stand on top of Half-Dome. We all have a moment in our history, a moment we thought (or were told) we couldn’t achieve something. For me, it was Death Ride. I had an old friend tell me that I just couldn’t do it. I loved the way his jaw dropped when I saw him on the final descent. For Anderson, it was hearing no man would stand on the top of this specular summit. We are all capable of so much more than we realize.

I knew I could hike half-dome from the moment I heard about it, but what floored me was hearing the negative self-talk from everyone in my group. The entire group of about 20 people permeated the trails with chatter regarding a lack of training, being out of shape, overweight, not very fast—excuse after excuse. Every single one of them made it. I have learned to stop telling myself I can’t do things. I know better now. There comes a time when you have to put away the negative self-talk and just do. Just go, just throw yourself in, and swim.

In my experience, the most profound part of the half-dome hike was the people. It inspired me how despite living their fears, they were still moving forward. At the top of the summit, everyone came together and basked in the awesomeness of the task they had accomplished. Get your permit, and hike.

Check out Part 2 here: Talk with an Expert and Gear

And Part 3: My Experience 

Whitewater Rafting Part 3

This is part 3 (My Experience).

For Part 1 (My Story) click here

For Part 2 (Interview with a Master and What to Bring) click here

My Experience:

I had only seen white water rafting on T.V. I wasn’t sure what it entailed or what it was all about. My first experience white water rafting was when I organized a girl’s trip at Cache Creek, in Northern California. I didn’t understand what I was looking for in a trip. I ended up booking more of a party trip. It was an overnight camping trip, my friends “bestie” and “CC” were the girls who joined me. We parked at one end of the river and left our bags to be loaded by the staff. We were put into a 4-person boat. It was not self-bailing (more on this later), we were not given helmets or a guide. Then the guides gave us a quick instructional that was difficult to hear over the clamor of everyone getting situated.

We put on our life vests, were handed paddles and attempted to figure out what we got ourselves into. The section of Cache Creek we rafted were class three with some parts class two. Though considered mild, I would like to note, I felt unsafe without a helmet or a guide. The trip was fun overall. Going down the rapids, there was lots of music and drinking. Everyone was very social. We had a blast.

There were a few rapids that required attention but nothing extreme. Until we came upon the largest rapids on the trip. Our boat got stuck. As it was not self-bailing, it filled with water. The boat became wedged between two large rocks. We couldn’t get out by rocking the boat or pushing off with our paddles. None of us knew what to do, I got out of the boat and stood on the rock and kicked it out. That was stupid. I see that now. As the boat dislodged, I fell into the water. My friends in the boat were swept away from me, out of their control. I was being carried downstream, hitting each rock as I went. I was terrified I would hit my head. It hurt, it sucked. I was able to grab onto a tree branch as I was floating by (remember this is in rapids, I had no helmet, nor did I have what I felt was proper advice on what to do in this situation). So, there I was, water rushing past me, holding onto a tree branch. If I let go of the branch, I would be carried into a long stretch of jagged rocks (the shore was cliff-faced, I could not maneuver to the shore). Like a scene from a movie, a man and his friend saw me. One of the men jumped out of the boat, swam towards me and positioned his body under me. He took the hit of every rock on the way downstream, protecting me. He later told me he was in the army. I thanked him profusely as he caught up with his boat. I met up with my friends who were waiting for me at the end of that section of rapids.

Knowing then, what I know now, I would not have chosen this company. In my opinion, a helmet is necessary for beginners, and one was not made available to me. This trip was advertised as perfect for beginners, yet I felt the instruction beforehand left me grossly unprepared for the experience. Other than that incident though, we had a wonderful time.

The second time I went rafting was with a friend “Stanford.” He booked through a great company called “Whitewater Excitement.” This trip had a much more professional feel. The guide was in the boat with us the entire time. He gave us thoughtful instruction before and during the rafting trip. We wore proper equipment, and no one fell out of the boat. The rapids on this trip were more intense than the rapids at Cache Creek. This trip was along the South Fork of the American River.

 

At one point along the trip, I asked the guide if I could steer the boat through some rapids. The guide delightfully obliged. He told me I was the first person to kick him out of his chair. He instructed me on how to steer the boat. It was a blast.

When the rafting trip began, I was a bundle of nerves. I kept thinking, how I fell out of the boat my first trip. As the first few sets of rapids came up, I would cringe. As the trip progressed I realized, the guide had everything under control. I felt more and more comfortable which led to feeling full on excitement as we came across each set of rapids. I let go of my need to control the situation and trusted that I was in good hands. It worked. For me adventure is more than just something to do to have fun, it is therapeutic. It is a way to learn to let go and just enjoy life. If you have never been white water rafting, I encourage you to go out and find a reputable company with a knowledgeable guide. Then, just go and have fun.

 

Whitewater rafting Part 2

For Part 1 (My Story) Click Here

Talk with a master:

 

Erik Allen has been kayaking for 21 years and rafting for 19. He has been a professional guide for 19 years. Erik’s respect for the outdoors is his platform for showing love for the two most important things in his life, his religion and his family. He is often seen with his wife and children hiking, biking and rafting.

“One of the things I’ll think about is how beautiful and awesome it is to be on the river. Spiritually, I analyze how amazingly beautiful it is,” Erik said. “We are blessed to live in the Sierra’s, which has rivers, canyons, and lakes. We are privileged to live where we do. We have world class river systems. There is a bible verse talking about how the mountains flow down to the river. You can see it right here.”

Erik suggests researching and finding a reputable guide and to “just go.” He says, “Everyone has horror stories, and sure boats flip over, but everyone is fine. The biggest injury is usually just a scratched knee. There are two things I look for when booking a company, which one has the best lunch and I appreciate guides that are respectful. I like the guides that watch their language. But some companies are all about partying.  Investigate before you hire a company. But just go. Don’t go with the cheapest company; you get what you pay for.”

If you are a first timer, Erik suggests starting with the South Fork of the American River. “Do the gorge, that’s my personal favorite. It’s a slam dunk. As you advance, try Coloma down to Salmon Falls and explore other rivers.” He goes on to advise, “Stay on class three. It’s just fun. At that level, you need to be able to pull yourself into the boat on your own. Don’t do class four as a beginner. If you fall out, you have a higher potential for injury.”

Erik gives a basic description of each class. He describes class one as still water. Class two he says if you fall in you can maybe get hurt, but it is unlikely. Class three has an increased possibility of injury if you fall out of the boat, but he still considers this a safer place to start. Class four, you could get really hurt if you fall out. Class five you risk serious injury or death if you fall out of the boat. “It’s all about an injury related element,” he says. “I’ve been on big exciting class two rapids, even more exciting than class 4.”

 

What to bring:

Attire: You can raft year-round with the appropriate attire.

Sunscreen: Always, year-round.

Shoes: Wear a sandal with straps. You cannot go barefoot or wear flip-flops. At a minimum, you need shoes or sandals with a heel strap.

The company should provide:

Lunch: Erik suggests researching what is provided for lunch in advance. He notes a correlation between reputable companies offering a good lunch.

Helmet: When you the read My Experience portion of my segment on Whitewater rafting. I illustrate why I will never again choose a company that tells me, “I don’t need a helmet.”

Lifevest

Self-bailing boat: The first time I went rafting the boat was not self-bailing. I am an optimist, I find joy in most situations. It takes a lot to make me grumpy. But having to continually pull the heavy boat off to the shore to lift it and tip the water out, just plain sucked. The second time I went the boat was self-bailing. It was a totally different experience.

For Part 3 (My Experience) Click Here

White Water Rafting part 1

My story:

People often confuse my love of adventure with a love of adrenaline. The two are not linked. I consider myself an endurance athlete. I enjoy the slow, steady and thoughtful pace of a 100-mile bike ride. I feel a calmness when exerting my mental stamina on a 5-hour run.  During these activities, I keep control of my movements. Adrenaline is a different monster. It is releasing control. White Water Rafting tested my ability to let go and have fun.

When I go on trips, I am the one who makes the itinerary. I like to ensure before my spontaneous adventures; every variable is accounted for (yes, I hear the conundrum in that statement). I have often described myself as stable, yet free-spirited. White Water Rafting was a fun way to let go and have the adrenaline rush I often deny myself.

My discomfort with the unknown often stems from my unstable upbringing. After kindergarten, I never started or finished an academic year in the same school until my freshman year of high school. Every year, during the middle of the school year, my parents (divorced) would shuffle me between them or move. It has given me a profound need for stability. I struggle to accept things out of my control. Whitewater rafting, travel, surfing all of these adventures have helped me let go of the past hurt and embrace that which is beyond my control.

Through my adventures I am learning even when I am not in control, everything still turns out fine. I encourage those of you who are like I was, those who like to hold on to things they should let go—to do just that—let go. Put yourself out there and have an adventure. Whitewater rafting was an exhilarating way to relinquish that control. At the start of my trip down the American River, I was a ball of nerves. I was terrified I would fall out of the boat. The first few rapids I closed my eyes tightly and just wanted it to be over, then it was. And I was disappointed. I wanted more. Soon when I came upon a large rapid, all I could do was paddle and hope the guide knew what he was doing, and he did. As each rapid passed, I became calmer and more relaxed. I started enjoying the thrill of feeling the boat go up and over the water. I couldn’t control the boat; I just had to let go and trust the process.

After many years I have come to that conclusion in life. Sometimes you just have to relax and trust the normal process.

For Part 2 (Talk with a Master and What to Bring) Click Here

For Part 3 (My Experience) Click Here

Surfing part 2

Part 2 of 2: Surfing. Click here for part 1 

My experience:

The first time I touched a surfboard, I was on vacation in Phuket, Thailand. I found an instructor on the beach named, Jimmy. A handsome import with an Australian accent. For $30 I was able to get a one-hour private lesson and gear rental (insanely low price. Thank you Thailand). It was the dry season, so the waves were infrequent and very small. Jimmy kept apologizing for the lack of waves. Personally, I thought it was perfect for a beginner. I was able to stand up several times on the board. The water was warm like bathwater. The waves were gentle and far apart. I only needed a rash guard. I was in Thailand during the dry season. I have heard, but not seen, during the wet season the waves are much more aggressive.

I loved surfing the moment I put my board in the water. I wasn’t just sitting on the beach and sticking my toes in the sand. I was finally an active participant in connecting to the ocean.

My second time taking lessons was in Pacifica, with Adventure Out. This time, I took group lessons. Though the instructors were knowledgeable, Pacifica was unrelenting and determined to show me waves aren’t always so gentle. I spent more time paddling to the instructor than surfing. I wore a wetsuit and surf shoes. It helped in the frigid water. The ocean only had to tell me once, do not put your board to the side (i.e., you do not want your board parallel to the waves. You want it perpendicular). I went in like a perfect amateur, board to the side. The waves pushed the board back into me hard.

I enjoyed my surf experience in Pacifica. It is close to where I call home. I will go back, but I need to regroup before I feel ready to brave the unrelenting waves of the northern California coast.

Most recently, I took a lesson in Tel-Aviv. An adorable teenage girl, who had been surfing since she could stand, fought through the language barrier to help me try to stand up. Early in the lesson, I felt a slight pain in my calf. I assumed when I fell off my board, and I had gotten a bit of road rash from scraping against the sand. I shrugged it off and continued surfing. After about an hour of falling on my face, a man in a red rash guard came up to me and said, “I am going to give you lessons until you stand up consistently.” I gratefully accepted. (Side note: I have said my greatest weakness is my own hubris. I pray to God to grace me with grace and a bit of humility. God answered my prayers. There are few things more humbling than falling over and over while next to a class of seven-year-old kids standing up like Kelly Slater.)

As the man in the red shirt helped me consistently stand on the board, we started talking. He told me to stop looking at my feet and start looking at a focal point. Instantly, I saw a vast improvement. He smiled at me and flirtatiously asked, “How old are you?”

“I’m 36, I’m too old for you,” I replied.

He looked at me proudly and said, “I am 22, I am old enough to be your husband.”

I laughed and asked, “So, how long have you been teaching surf lessons.”

He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Oh, I’m not an instructor.”

Thus, ended my surf lesson in Tel-Aviv.

Walking back to the beach I saw a woman crying hysterically as everyone crowded around her, she had a mark on her leg with a distinctive ring, saying a jellyfish had stung her. I looked down at my leg, which had not stopped aching from early in my lesson. I had the same ring. Excited I pointed my sting, and sounding both stupid and excited I said, “Hey I got stung too!!!” The ocean had finally initiated me.  The woman looked at me like I was an idiot and I sheepishly walked off.

One of the hardest things for me, living in NorCal is how people born and raised here, take it for granted. I despised Kansas before I entered into Kindergarten (once again, many people love the changes in seasons and the Midwestern charm. I didn’t). I couldn’t find a stretch of nice weather long enough for me to enjoy the outdoors. I didn’t have access to the ocean or mountains. Now, I live in the most beautiful place in the world. I love the pines of Tahoe; I love the splendor of Napa and the salt smell that rises from the ocean. When I meet people, California born and raised, they often tell me they have forgotten how lucky they are to live in such an awe-inspiring landscape.

I have been on a surfboard in Pacifica. There is nothing between the water and me but a piece of foam. I lay on the board in a paddle position, looking at the shore from a different vantage point. I love the taste of the salt water and the feel of waves.  In that moment on the board, waiting for the wave to come up behind me, I look at the people on the beach. I feel as if I am granted access to some special moment in life. A moment, too special and pure to articulate.  If you are not coastal, I suggest taking a few lessons on vacation. If for no other reason than to try something new. If you are coastal, born and raised, I suggest you go out on your surfboard. If it is for the first time or for the 100th time, look out at the horizon, look out at the beach and inhale. Breathe in your good fortune in living in the most beautiful place in the world.