Monday, April 26, 2010

Ragnar with the "Ragnerds"

Last year, Eddie and I were invited to join a Ragnar team and as much as we wanted to do so, we were just way to busy.
I had heard about another team forming this year, emailed the team captain and secured one of the last spots. Eddie decided against it, as we were doing a 70.3 one week later.
Before I go any further, let me explain what Ragnar is. Ragnar is a relay that is put on in several parts of the country. The one I did is the So Cal relay from Ventura to Dana Point. Basically, you have a team of (up to) 12 runners and 4 volunteers. These 16 people are divided into two large vans: Van one and van two. Each runner has three legs that they are supposed to run. While you are running your leg, the van heads over to the next "exchange" location to get the next runner ready to be passed off to. Once all of van one's runners have finished their first legs, van two kicks into action and goes through the same process. This is repeated until all twelve runners complete 3 legs. These legs are all over the place...through farming areas of Ventura, trails, the coast and downtown areas.
Going into this, I only knew one person that I would be doing this with. Our group decided to meet on Thursday night, drive up to Santa Barbara and stay the night there. This would save us from having to leave at 4:30 on Friday morning to make it to our 9:30 safety briefing and start time. So, we pile into the vans and head up. A friend of someone in the group, very kindly, offered to let all sixteen of us sleep at his house in Santa Barbara. We pull up at about midnight and are told that the house we are staying at is under major construction...and it was! Major construction as in, there are no floors. So, we knew we wouldn't have beds to sleep in (because who has 16 beds in their house to offer up?), but we had sleeping bags with us. The floors were just wood structure. I started to roll out my sleeping bag and noticed a room around the corner with a set of bunk-beds. Cami noticed them at the same time and we claimed them quickly! I still hardly slept at all that night.

TCSD Team ready for action!

The next morning we had breakfast, went through our safety briefing and got our first runner, Justin, ready. Justin was a good guy to get us started because he was fast!
Justin flying through leg one

All of the runners in our van finished up their legs, and I was the last to go. This was the longest leg of the relay and was described as "very hard". 9.9 miles with 830 feet of climbing within a few of those miles.
Map of my fisrt leg

So, I reviewed the map, got my gel flask ready and waited for the runner before me to pass off the baton.
Waiting team vans

The first couple of miles were pretty easy. I was able to pass a few other runners, including a guy who received PLENTY of heckling from our van (mostly Cami and her beloved bullhorn) as well as from his own van. My van was really good with the moral support along the way. So, I managed to pull off an 8 minute mile, which I was pretty happy with, considering the distance and the climbing. I was the last runner in our van, which meant we handed off to our second van and we had a break for several hours. While the other van sent off their six runners, we had lunch and then headed over to the exchange spot that our van would start running again. We still had a few hours, so we pulled out our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep in the park that was the exchange spot. It was getting dark and cold and it was very loud from all of the events going on, so no one really slept. But, it was really nice to just rest. Tired? Pull up some grass!

Our van was up again, right when it got dark. We worked through our runners who had legs through Hollywood and L.A. We used a bike escort for our female runners, for safety reasons. We had one small set back when one of our runners got lost. There was a marker missing, so a lot of runners were getting lost (and pissed). Luckily, we sent a two way radio with the bike escort, so we were able to navigate them back in.

My second leg was at about 2:30 in the morning. I was equipped with my head-lamp, reflective gear and bike escort, Gerry. This leg was 4.3 miles through Santa Monica. The streets weren't very well lit and the sidewalks we were running on were cracked and uneven. I caught up with a guy from another team. It was nice to see someone else out there! We had a really good pace going and I could tell that he was struggling to hold it, so I took off. We literally hit every single red light. So, he would catch up to me at every light as did another guy. It was so frustrating for all of us! We would commence in a little bit of smack talking at each light and then hull ass to the next one. Our finish was at the Santa Monica Pier, which was awesome! The three of us were neck and neck until there was a steep downhill. I'm a terrible downhill runner, so they smoked me there. Without the red lights, I finished this one in 30 minutes and 30 seconds. This was my favorite leg and probably one of my favorite running experiences! When else can you run the Santa Monica Pier, at 2:30 a.m. (safely)??
Santa Monica Pier. Cell pic is better than no pic, right?

My leg being over meant we had a little break again. It's a little fuzzy at this point...we may have gotten something to eat? We went over to the exchange spot to get some rest while van two completed their legs. I was freezing and didn't want to get out of the van, so I grabbed my sleeping bag and wedged myself between the seats of the van on the floor. I think I dozed off a couple of times before we were radioed that van two was about finished.

Our van started again just at sun up, which was a good thing because we were in some seriously sketchy areas! We finally got to my leg, which was a nice flat, coastal run in Huntington Beach. I had to pull off seven miles and I was exhausted! At mile 4, Ragnar had put up a marker that said there was only one mile left. I knew I had three, but it still sucked to see that sign. Justin, one of the guys from our van, met me at mile five to run in with me. We didn't do much talking, but it was so great to have the company. Just before getting to the exchange spot, Justin handed me my TCSD cape to put on and a few seconds later, I had finished my final leg! As tired as I was, I was still able to pull off sub-eight minute miles. The cool thing about being the last runner in the van is that both vans are there to greet you when you finish.

Finishing my final leg in Huntington Beach

So...our van was done!! We had some breakfast in Huntington Beach and then headed to the final finish in Dana Point. I was out cold on the drive over and had no idea where I was when we got there. We went over to the finish and waited for the other van for, what seemed like, an eternity. We were just exhausted! The last runner in van two came through and we crossed the finish together. twenty-eight hours and some change and we were done!

The official finish in Dana Point

Such an awesome experience that I am really looking forward to doing again! We had a great group of runners that was supported by an even greater group of volunteers. I can't imagine the coordination and organization that went into making everything go so smoothly.

You have to have a genuine love for running to enjoy this. Otherwise, it could be a miserable 28 hours! I'm looking forward to next year!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Revival of the blog, much to my dismay, I am learning that life does go on after Africa and it's time to get back to the blog. After all, the whole point of this "endeavor" is to try to be a little more open. The African adventure was just to be the beginning.

Ive been fortunate enough to do a nice amount of travelling and see some amazing places but, Ive had a hard time "getting over" Africa. Ive been struggling to figure out why it's had such an impact on me (aside from the obvious). Recently, Ive identified my feelings as just feeling unsettled or unfinished; like my time and purpose there is unfinished. I'm still working through it. This I do know- I will return.

In the mean time, I'm embarking on all new adventures. Some good, some not good and some I'm just not sure about. The good: LOTS of friends engaged over the past several months, so I'm looking forward to all of the festivities surrounding their engagements. The two things I'm not so sure about: Our recent move from our very urban loft to a house in the burbs. And, this little Ironman I signed up for. As much as I am excited about this, I am equally nervous.
And then, there is the not so good: trying to cope with my grandmother's, stage four, Pancreatic Cancer and the reality that I'm slowly losing someone who means the world to me and who plays such a huge role in my life.

That's it for now. I can't promise that it will be the most exciting blog in the world or that it will be updated frequently. But I can promise, Ill do my best to lay it all out there!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Siankaba, notebooks and The U Foundation

We found out about Islands of Siankaba via some friends who visited last year. They had told us about the school there and about how the kids at the school could really use some basic school supplies, especially notebooks. I knew immediately that we would be taking notebooks. As we got closer to our departure date, I asked friends to donate notebooks. I had no idea I would get such a strong response. Within a couple of weeks, I had already acquired close to 80 lbs of notebooks, pencils and erasers. As fantastic as this was, I realized that, although we had a large luggage allowance on our long haul flight, our flight from Jo’burg to Zambia only allowed us one bag each of no more than 44 lbs. I looked into shipping, talked to the airlines talked to other agencies and had no luck in finding a way to get these items over. I finally found out that Siankaba works with a foundation in the UK called the U FOUNDATION and I immediately contacted them. Knowing we were going to stop in London, I was hoping there would be a way to get these items to them so they could be included in any large shipments. Sarah responded to me saying someone would meet us at the hotel to pick up the items from us! Ahh relief! This would be a 100 mile drive for them, but it seemed to be no problem. The next day, Jay, from the U foundation emailed to let us know that the morning we arrive in London, he would be at the airport to greet a friend of theirs and would pick the items up from us there! Can you believe the luck??? Jay was so kind, offering to arrange transportation for us to and from London and anything else he could , would be no problem! Jay and Carol were there to greet us when we arrived in London. We sat down with them to have some coffee and to chat about Zambia and the new nursery school at Siankaba. This school that had just been built was a very forward thinking addition that would get kids in school at the age of three instead of them having to wait until they were 6 or 7. This new school was funded by the U Foundation. Jay collected the notebooks, which he and Sarah will be taking over at Christmas time, and he put us in our car bound for the city of London.

Fast forward a few days to our first night in Zambia at the Islands of Siankaba hotel. The 4 other guests, our hosts Sarah and Malindi and Eddie and I shared dinner together. We had some great (and very informative) conversations about Zambia and soon found out that Malindi was the brave soul taking on 80 preschoolers from several villages at the new nursery school and we set up our visit to the school for the next morning. We could already tell that Malindi was very passionate about teaching these little ones and very excited about the new school. We managed to pack up a few bags of candy as well as about 20 notebooks and some other school supplies. We were excited to see the kids and Malindi in action, but it was Saturday. Malindi told us he would arrange to have a “few” kids there.
Malindi met us at 10:00 in the morning and we began our walk to the village. Each village is comprised of an entire family and the village of Sinakaba has about 60 residents. They have some cows, chickens and their own gardens, so they produce the majority of their own food. Each house is made from mud with grass for a roof. It rains quite a bit during the rainy season, so these house need to be restructured at the end of each season. Our lodge, employs about 40 people from the village.
Our first stop was the village store where residents can buy items that don’t grow. You just walk right up to the window and make your purchase. To our surprise, the chef from the lodge was working at the store. Our next stop was the current preschool. I don’t even really know how to describe this school. A tiny, open structure that had a leaky grass roof, a couple of tables and a small little chalkboard that Malindi would have to hold when using because there was no true wall. On our way to the new school, we ran into a little girl in her school uniform , walking with her Mom. She was not so sure about us. She had just turned 3 and today was to be her first (unofficial) day of school. We arrived at the school thinking that we would see a few kids. Because, it was Saturday and what kid would want to go to school on a Saturday??? There were about 30 kids there and 10 parents!! All of the kids were sitting onthe front porch of this beautiful new, 3 room building that is the new nursery school. Thetwo rooms on the end were to be for classrooms and the middle room was for storage and office space. The U Foundation shipped over hundreds of books that completely filled the room. The parents had put up some shelves for the books and were painting them when we got there. Most books are for the kids, but there will also be a section where the parents can check out books in hopes to promote literacy amongst the adults in the village.
Malindi moved all of the kids into the classroom and did a little teaching. One of the goals is to teach the kids English as this is what they speak in primary school. The older kids showed us how they have learned to greet each other with a handshake and phrases like:” Hello my name is…” “nice to meet you.” And, “Where are you from?” They sang a few songs and then, Malindi lined them up, so they could get some “sweeties”. This was yet another opportunity for Malindi to teach. I got to give them the candy and Malindi would have them say “thank you.” They were absolutely adorable! Malindi then showed them their new school supplies, which they weren’t too excited about. I think they were just too young to understand. They sure did enjoy their sweeties, though! Malindi’s energy and passion was incredible! Those kids obviously adored him and they LOVE school! Kids as young as three walk several miles every day to and from school. Oh-and by the way-Jay, from the U Foundation, sent Malindi to college, so that Malindi could do this. Remember the little girl we saw on the way to the school? She did great! Her Dad, Lugasi, who works at the restaurant at the hotel, came to watch her and help. We saw him as we were leaving on Monday, which was her official first day and he told us that his heart was heavy, because she is his oldest. I guess some things are just universal.
From there, Richard, who drives the pontoon boat, took us on the rest of the tour. He walked us through the village and introduced us to his wife. He showed us his house and the paintings on the outside that his wife did. We were very impressed! Then, we moved into another village where they had the primary school and the new clinic (also established by the U foundation). Richard taught us to do a small little clap, when you greet elders, to show respect. It was getting hot, so we ended our tour on the beach of the Zambezi, at the end of the village. We were greeted with two, ice cold, DELICIOUS Mosi’s, that we enjoyed there and then hopped in a Mokoro (wooden, dugout canoe) for a nice, 20 minute cruise down the Zambezi.
The village walk was such an amazing experience! We learned so much about the rich Zambian culture. We are really impressed with how the lodge and the U Foundation are trying to make life a little better for the surrounding villages. The average life expectancy of a Zambian is 37 years. This is in part because of the poor water conditions. People lug water for miles from the Zambezi and too often children get sick from the water. There was a boho (sp?) near the clinic and primary school and the lodge is trying to install one in the village of Siankaba. The boho allows the villagers to pull fresh, clean drinking water from the ground. If you ever get a chance to visit this place, you should! It’s beautiful and eye opening. A lot of you asked how I heard about the school or how you could get your supplies there and I'm glad to say that I now have an answer:U Foundation! Check them out and see all of the great things that they are doing:


We were picked up from our hotel by a company called “Bushtracks” for our Livingstone Island/Victoria Falls trip. It was a 45 minute drive and the highlight of it was when the driver, after finding out we were from California, asked us “who’s next after the Governator?”
We were dropped off at a hotel that was a 5 minute boat ride away from Livingstone island. The falls are low this time of year, but we could already see the spray coming up from them. We got in the boat and fought the currents and low water that led to the island. We walked across the tiny island to the edge where we caught our first glimpse of the falls and it was spectacular!!! It’s no wonder this is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. After taking a few hundred pictures, we moved to the other end of the island to begin the adventure I was ecstatic about and Eddie was not at all excited about: Devils Pool! We balanced across rocks to get there, handed our cameras over to the guides and received our instructions: Don’t swim in this current and swim slightly against this current and then stop at that rock. This would not fly in the U.S.! we made it across to where Devil’s Pool was and received our next set of instructions: Jump into the pool here, don’t swim in that current or you’ll go over the falls and if the fish biting your feet bother you, then keep them moving. Did I mention that Devil’s Pool is a small pool that is, literally, at the edge of the falls? Our options were to jump in or slide in and sliding in looked much easier and less intimidating. The person who went first was chosen by whoever’s camera was held up. The first guy went up and the guide asked “are you sliding in or jumping?” He jumped. The next lady slid in, and the next couple of people declined to go in at all. Finally, our camera was held up and I popped up first, with full intentions of sliding in, when asked my preference. I go up on the rock an here is how the conversation went:
Guide: You are jumping In.
Me: I am?
Guide: Yes. 1,2,3 go!
And so I did. It wasn’t too scary, but then again, I closed my eyes so that I couldn’t see over the falls. I made it to the edge of the pool, overlooking the falls, and held on for dear life. To my surprise, Eddie jumped in right behind me! They told us that “little” fish would “give you a pedicure.” I swear one of those fish had my entire big toe in his mouth! We weren’t in the pool long before it was time to head back. We negotiated our way around currents and made it back to the island where we had afternoon tea (I opted for wine) under a tent with a beautiful view of the falls. It was fun to chat with all of the people visiting from all over the world. We made it back to the mainland and enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the drive home. I told Eddie that I was surprised that he jumped into the falls instead of sliding in and he told me there was no way he could have slid after I jumped - Oh- and he loved it!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

more Moz

Our last day in Mozambique was very relaxing. We hung out by the beach and pool and did some reading and sleeping.

The village in Mozambique is a fishing village. The men go out on their dow boats and fish from the boats, or get out with nets on the sand bars. When their boats are full, they come in, leave their catch in baskets on the beach and then the women come out, collect the fish and carry it up to the village. It's and interesting site and I finally got up the nerve to go ask a couple of the ladies if I could take pictures of them. They agreed to let me do so. There was quite a language barrier, so we communicated with gestures. They worked and I took pics. They both had very small babies on their backs. They loved it when I would show them the pictures I took. One of them looked up at me and said "What is your name, sister?" Their names were Julia and Monica. I wish I would have taken more pictures of them!

That night, we did a sunset cruise around the bay on a dow boat. Very nice and relaxing. We were joined by the only other two guests at the resort, who happen to be deaf. They were great at reading lips, so it was fun chatting with them!

The day we left, a big storm came in. There was a lot of juggling going on to figure out how to get us back on the mainland for our flight. The boat isn't covered, the grass landing strip was too wet to be landed on and it was too windy for helicopter. It looked like we were going to have to get soaked on the boat, but the wind died down and we were able to go by helicopter! It was awesome!! It felt so strange taking off. I had to resist blurting out a "holy shit!" because there were three other passengers on the plane and we all had headsets on for communication.

As we were waiting at the, very tiny, Vilanculous International airport, we noticed that their one firetruck took off racing down the tarmac with sirens blaring. We could see that it was chasing after an animal that was on the tarmac. It turned out to be a goat! One of the guys got out of the truck and chased him back into the village that surrounds the airport.

Off to our final flight home! More updates and pics, soon!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stunning Mozambique

We arrived in Mozambique a few nights ago. From Kruger, we flew on an 18 person plane for about 1.5 hours, to Vilanculous. From there, we were supposed to be transferred by boat to the island of Benguerra. Because of weather and much to my dismay, we were told we would be making the trip by small plane. It really wasn´t that bad. It was only 10 minutes and the view was amazing!

We landed on a grass "runway" and as soon as we landed, some kids came running out to check out the people getting out of the plane. We got in the car to our lodge and had a very entertaining conversation with our driver. As usual, we were asked about the governator. Adolfo told us that Arnold is scary in his movies and I told him he´s even scarier as Governor. He also told us that Bon Jovi is his favorite musician and that people from Texas talk a lot. So funny!

The official language of Mozambique is Portuguese. Weird, huh!? I don´t know how to describe the water´s clear, blue and warm. The sand is the softest, whitest sand I have ever seen. It is HOT here! And, extremely humid! For the last few days, Eddie and I have been two of four guests here.

The day we got here, we slept for a few hours and then went to dinner and back to bed. The next morning we walked down the beach and didn´t see a single soul. It was a really relaxing day topped off with a beautiful sunset and a private, lantern lit dinner on the beach in front of our chalet. Yesterday, we went snorkeling at two mile reef, which was the best snorkeling we have ever done. On the way back to the lodge, we stopped off at Pansy Island, which is a tidal island where all of the Pansy shells (sand dollars) live. It was easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The rest of the day we relaxed and read.

Today is our last full day. We may kayak later. We are going to to a dow boat cruise later this evening. Tomorrow afternoon we leave here for our long journey home. It´s bitter sweet. I'm ready to be home and see friends and family...and Lincoln who we miss terribly! However, it will be tough to leave paradise!

Leopard Hills wrap up

On our last full day, our morning game drive started out with a great sighting. A pride of lion had stolen a kill from a leopard and was enjoying it on an open field. There were four lioness and two male lions. We pulled up to a lioness savoring the last few pieces of her share of the small impala. We could here her tearing into the bone and ripping off the meat. Another lioness had finished her snack and was slowly moving towards the lioness who was still eating. She gave the approaching lioness a low, rumbling growl, which made her lay down and wait. Another lioness and a male lion approached and they all waited for her to finish. She left nothing for the others. A few minutes later, we heard some roaring in the distance. It was the one male lion missing from the pride. All of the lions got up and started roaring back to him. It was VERY cool!

We left the lions to go find some giraffe. We searched for them for a looong time. Gary and Ronny got out on foot to look, and we finally found them...doing what they are always doing...eating. We also saw tons of rhinos with lots of babies. They are funny to watch, too. When you pull up to them, they just look up at you with grass hanging out of their mouths.

ve never thought of myself as a bird person, but there are a lot of beautiful birds in Africa. One of them is a weaver bird. Very small yellow bird. The males make nests, out of grass, that hang from tree branches. The goal is to impress a female with the nest, so that she will come lay her eggs there. It´s a lot of pressure, because if the female does not like the nest, she will tear it down and the male has to start all over again!

When we finished up our morning drive, Gary told us that he had a surprise for us that evening. We spent the afternoon resting up and it was so hot, I soaked in the plunge pool for a while.
Our evening game drive began with a drive to the far corner of the reserve. Gary had told us that there was a cheetah sighting. We spent about an hour trying to find her, but never did. There was a call on the radio that there was a leopard close to our lodge. It turns out that she is the leopard who was on our patio the day before. We got to her as the sun was going down and a storm was blowing in. The wind picked up, which is good for leopards. It makes it more difficult for the impala to smell or hear them. There were a few unsuspecting impala very close to her.

Less than a mile away from the leopard was a male and female lion. They were from the pride we had seen earlier. They were even closer to the impala, but didn´t seem interested. It got pretty dark and a huge lightening storm was overhead, so we were trying to take pictures of it (with the two lions right behind us). Eddie had been keeping his eyes on the lions and said "uh-oh, the big one is getting up." We backed up right next to them and much to our surprise (and discomfort), they mated. It lasted no more than 30 seconds. Not very impressive for the "king of the jungle". They went to sleep and we went in for dinner. This ended up being our last game drive as the morning drive was canceled due to the storm. Lions mating under a lightening storm is not a bad way to wrap things up.

Our bush plane couldn't fly in the storm, so we had to go by car to the airport, which was about 2 hours and fine by me!