Bravely open to new experiences

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” This quote by E.E. Cummings reflects the woman I have come to know, in spending time with my aunt Lynda at her home in California.

I looked forward to reconnecting with people I know, who live abroad along the route of our journey. My aunt Lynda married my mom’s brother, known affectionately as ‘Uncle Pat’ since we were kids. Lynda and I met once when I was about 10 and we had spoken via phone or email over the years, such as at the time of my mom’s death, then more recently when we also lost Uncle Pat. Lynda’s work as an artist is legend in our family, so as a prioirty I wanted to get to know her during our time in California.

As we chatted two themes emerged for me within the story of my aunt’s life – ‘serendipitous encounters with significant people in our lives’ and ‘the incredible value of bravely being open to new experiences’.

At 15 Lynda had to choose an extracurricular class at boarding school. Her choices of car mechanics or casting silver were unavailable to her, so she “begrudgingly settled” on weaving…she fell in love with the craft and art of weaving and over 45 years became known as an accomplished artist, teacher and master weaver with pieces hanging in government buildings, hotels, corporate offices, exhibitions and homes across the world.

I wanted to know what it was about weaving that captivated Lynda. She used words like ‘texture, slow rhythm, meditative, solitude’ and the mechanical and mathematical aspects of creating a piece were challenges she thrived on. She liked that: “You can create a wearable or useful art piece, as opposed to something that merely hangs on a wall. It’s an art form which connects you with history, every culture in the world has weaving.”

Lynda’s initial exposure at school was to Navajo weaving techniques, which are focused on story telling, symbolism through colour and mythical designs. At 18 she spent a year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico learning tapestry, batik…and also Spanish! Lynda returned to the US and opened a gallery in Aspen, then bought Craft House in New Mexico, expanding her reach.

An invitation to sail in the Cape-to-Rio race was a chance opportunity she did not want to miss, so she set off for Africa, resplendent in an outfit befitting such an ‘Out of Africa’ experience. It was in Cape Town where Lynda met my uncle Pat in the 70’s and she describes her experience as an artist in Apartheid South Africa as “… one of the most creative, artistic places I’ve ever been…” Lynda attributes the racial and gender bias of the time with unleashing such creative energy and describes how art was the perfect medium for human expression both politically and spiritually – art as a form of communication and a means of being in touch with an inner spiritual journey. Lynda firmly believes it was a case of ‘how do we speak through art’ but also of ‘how does art speak to us?’

Lynda’s belief in herself and her openness to new experiences is obvious as she recounts the events in her life which eventually brought her back to the US and expanding her art. Her passion as an art teacher is guiding people how to respond to art through contemplation, reflection and communication. I ask her about people who fear they are not ‘artistic’ or creative and Lynda laughs, responding with: “You don’t create it, it creates you! It’s about welcoming art as an experience and in the finished product you can see your experience…in a way your art piece is a snapshot of your experience.” She adds: “…what you have planned may not work out in the final product. Isn’t life like that?” Her eyes are twinkling as she continues: “Despite our plans, life enfolds. We make mistakes. It’s how we accept that or try and change that which is so akin to art.”

Paul and I are enrolled to attend the next workshop being held at Lynda’s home in the beautiful countryside in Moorpark, California. It’s over the weekend of 24 & 25 June and will teach us multiple techniques, like marbling on fabric, stencilling and batik on fibre. We’re also looking forward to meeting and learning from Indonesian Master Batik Artist, Ferris Nawir who partners Lynda for this particular weekend workshop.

So often we balk at new experiences, for fear or prejudice about what they may bring. Yet research supports the notion of new experiences enriching our lives, inspiring us with confidence and appreciation for what we discover we are capable of, connecting us more deeply with others and ourselves. I’m hoping the art pieces we create as gifts for our respective daughters will become cherished mementos… for them as well as for us…

If you would like to know more or attend a class, contact Lynda Brothers:

805-523-3101

http://www.lyndabrothers.com or Brosart@west.net

http://www.artofakindgallery.com

http://www.ArtWanted.com/nawirart

 

Stories told

One of the aspects of our journey we have enjoyed most, is time with people. Being allowed a glimpse into the lives and stories of those we meet. We met Tara at Kings Canyon National Park, where we were neighbours, camping in the wild under giant Sequoia and bears prowling in the night. We chatted about things we’d enjoyed on our journey and mentioned our desire to know more about Native American history.  So were delighted when Tara invited us to dinner a few days later, to meet her husband Frank, a Native American and member of the Wikchamni tribe.

Meeting Frank was like being hugged by a friendly bear, his presence so powerful and playful at once. An unassuming man with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, his energy for living and for sharing the story of his Indian tribe was captivating and delightful. We had so many questions and he was open to answering them all with an honesty which was a mixture of candid, humorous and challenging.

I’m currently reading a Harlan Coben book, set in the context of the Indian Casinos. I mentioned this and my observations about the many Indian casinos we had seen in the US, so I wanted to know the history of the casinos and if certain aspects of what I was reading in Coben’s book was true.

My understanding is that in the 1970’s the Supreme Court ruled that the States had no authority to tax Natives on their reservations, nor regulate their activities. This granted Natives sovereignty rights by the Federal Government and set the scene so to speak for what started out as bingo halls and later became the Indian Casino industry of today. In Reagan’s time, the IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) was signed and today it’s an industry in excess of $30billion and provides an income for tribe members and a cut for the Federal Government. Tribes are said to receive $4 of every $10 wagered.

One of my questions was about how this ‘guaranteed income’ impacts on Native Americans in terms of motivation and psyche. Alcoholism and an apparent lack of motivation to work or be schooled is concerning on a number of levels. I shared my recollections of the history of gambling in the Native Homelands in South Africa in the 1970’s and the similarities I perceived between the two countries’ histories. I shared my memories as a child and of South Africans driving to Native Homelands to gamble illegally. I wanted to understand the similarities or differences between our Native histories. Frank shared his concerns openly as well as his dreams for the potential which lies in investing in the Native youth through his current work in mental health and education. It’s challenging, yet rewarding in so many ways.

Frank also shared colourful memories of his own youth and memories of his great grandmother, Mary Pohot who seemed to me a spirited and wise woman. She was fluent in the Wikchamni language and Frank regrets not remaining so himself. Geoffrey Gamble, a renowned American linguist, spent many years working with Mary, to understand and to capture her knowledge of the Wikchamni culture, art and language. Frank described his grandmother’s talent for story telling which was so captivating that even as teenage boys they would stop their games to listen and partake. He described how Mary had a bag of miniature items such as eagles, bears or coyotes and how a child would be granted the opportunity to reach into the bag and extract an item for a story to be told. Whatever item the child happened to take out of the bag became the starting point or theme for Grandmother’s story. A kind of “lucky dip” story telling approach…an interactive method which has stayed with Frank and one which he now adopts in regaling his granddaughter at her beck and call.

Frank mentioned that Mary Pohot’s photo and the story of the Yokut’s Tribe is displayed at Hospital Rock Trailhead, along General’s Highway (Route 198) which exits the Sequioa National Park just before Three Rivers. As Paul and I were passing that way the following day, we made sure to stop there and see, read, reflect and simply “be present”.  Imagining a way of life not previously known to us. The community kitchen located on the bedrock overlooking the Middle Fork Kaweah River was moving to visit and imagine the way women cared for their kind. I was enthralled to learn more about Wikchamni basketry and weaving because of my studies and work as an Occupational Therapist and it’s use for therapeutic and rehabilitative purposes.

The evening we spent with Tara and Frank was beautiful for many reasons and on so many levels. We were fortunate to be hosted by two beautiful souls who readily debated America’s current political landscape, intimately shared their personal stories and views, dreams and hopes. They left us dreamy with stories and hungry to learn more as there was obviously so much more to know and understand.

 

What’s it really like?

When Paul and I arrived in Vancouver in April, we were introduced to a party of 8 year olds. They were told that we had just arrived with our motorcycles and that we were about to travel to Argentina over the next 2 years. I’ll never forget what one little girl said: “Two years?! Riding a motorcycle?! That’s going to be SO boring!” So, 10 weeks later I’m sure you’re keen to know…what’s it really like?

First of all, I can’t believe we’re actually here. It’s a year ago today that Paul ‘suggested we go shopping’ and surprised me with his-and-hers BMWs sitting on the showroom floor with our names on them. He said: “Marry me and let’s travel the world…just say yes!” That night I cried and cried because I was not able to ride my bike home, I was so terrified…I was feeling devastated and asking myself: “How could I possibly ride around the world when I couldn’t even ride my bike home from the dealership?!” As I think back to that time, I’m pleased that I have now clocked almost 14,000km on my bike, and that about 8,000km has been abroad on this dream journey.

We left Sydney on April 1st, not knowing what to expect or even if we would enjoy this journey. Open minds and very loose plans have served us well. Our travel plans for Canada proved impossible due to the severe weather and I found myself feeling a failure because of what we had planned and expected to work out.  Seven weeks of incessant rain made travelling by motorcycle a constant nightmare and it was disappointing not being able to do the things we had hoped to, due to the unusually snowy conditions. Paul wisely said that we should focus on our own journey, our own reality and not try and emulate what others have done.  This proved to be a major turning point in both my mindset and satisfaction and that’s when we really started shaping our own journey.

Getting dressed each day for riding is akin to dressing for scuba diving…you struggle into your protective gear and it feels incredibly cumbersome, until you’re on the bike…then it’s heaven! In Canada we purchased heated jackets and they’ve served us incredibly well, both in Canada and beyond. Even though we’ve come further South to warmer weather, we could be riding in the heat of the valley one minute, then ride up into the mountains and within minutes we’re freezing. We’ve perfected our packing routines – we’re packed and ready within half an hour and we also know how to keep essential items handy for quick changes of clothing at the roadside – either to cool down or get more warmly dressed. When travelling by bike you’re incredibly vulnerable to every change in the weather, which could be a number of times throughout a day or sometimes within an hour.

Our accommodation has varied – hotels, couches, a floor, a cruise, B&Bs, motels and wild camping. We were fantasising about bathing by the time we got to LA, as we’d only had 2  baths in 10 weeks – showers or the occasional river had been the norm. Our camping equipment has been superb! Although we haven’t camped as much as we hoped we’ve enjoyed our camping experiences the most. We’re considering not camping once we head into Mexico and further South as fatigue has been our greatest challenge. Riding all day, then setting up camp is exhausting.  What he have learned to do is secure accommodation for at least 2 nights, which grants us time to explore and to rest, avoiding constant early starts and full days of riding. Hotel and motel stays are also an opportunity to wash our clothes and sleep in a real bed or have a decent meal, so we’ve made sure to include those.

We’ve learned so much already, through trial and error, through biker forums on social media and through suggestions from fellow bikers. We have learned to treat our travel weeks as we would normal ‘work weeks’…no more than 5 days’ riding with at least 2 days’ rest. We have learned to be honest with ourselves about fatigue, so for example we decided to stay another day at Shaver Lake, just watching movies and sleeping.

It has been challenging to try and eat well and to stick to healthy diets. ‘Crackers and cheese’ might be easy lunches but soon they leave us feeling awful and ratty and craving a good feed. At Shaver Lake I was craving roast chicken and vegetables for dinner. We asked around town and were told fresh chicken was a 20 minute ride down the mountain. It turned out to be an hour and half ride…and the chicken was frozen! All this at the end of a tiring, hot day’s riding, I was not in a good mood. Paul cheered me up during the tense ride back, sticking his elbows out like chicken wings, flapping about as he rode, making chicken clucking noises…helping lift my “foul” mood. I had to agree that it was just another “one of those moments which is only funny afterwards!”

Sarah observed that I seem to be crying a lot and it’s true that it’s been an incredibly emotional journey. Initially there were tears, longing for home and then tears of being simply overwhelmed with emotion at all the wonderful things we’ve seen and experienced.  North America’s nature has touched our souls and made a lasting impact in so many ways.  I’m constantly further researching so many things we got to see. There are moments it’s been particularly tough being away from home, such as when Sarah mentioned her Australian Citizenship Ceremony date, Cait messaged that Charlie is really ill and Paul shed a tear when his daughter Charlotte recently got engaged.

We’ve eaten some interesting things: stinging nettle quiche, pumpkin pie, pumpkin and peanut butter soup,  ‘biscuits and gravy’ for breakfast and salmon candy jerky. Paul has been gifted brownies and a peanut butter cookie. We’ve sampled local craft beers along our travels, Spruce Tip Beer in Alaska being a particular favourite. Another ‘local delight’ was cedar infused brandy cocktail in Tofino.

So what’s it really like? It’s certainly not like a holiday, as there is no pre-determined end, no job or home to go back to. It’s much more like a new way of living with it’s own “daily routines”, goals and things needing to be done. The planning and organising of ‘where to next’ is hard work, as is the riding. It’s tough on our bodies, our backs are getting strong and we wake most mornings with hands aching from operating the throttle and clutch levers on the bikes. It’s a very physical journey in every sense and we constantly need our wits about us, as we ride.

We are very open on this journey. Open to learning, experiencing, feeling, listening and seeing with fresh eyes. Open to changing, growing and open to sharing with honesty what the journey really is like. That having been said, there are aspects of our journey which we have not openly shared (yet?) and Paul jokes he’s going to publish a second blog called  “What actually happened”. Some things just need further reflection before we can adequately share, plus there’s the reality about being sensitive to the fact that most people we encounter on our journey also read our blog!

I’m overtly aware of what a gift this time with Paul is, how remarkable a journey it already has been and that it’s a journey that’s just started…

Yosemite

John Muir was a naturalist who was instrumental in ensuring the preservation of vast areas of nature in Alaska and the rest of the US. He’s a man who had seen much beauty and said this about Yosemite: “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” I feel the same way and I simply don’t have the words to adequately describe the majesty of what we saw and photos cannot capture the immense beauty or the emotions we experienced.

As the Tioga Road Pass was closed due to snow, we had to approach the park from the west, via Yosemite Lakes where we were camped. Riding into the park the scenery was nothing to write home about. However soon we entered a tunnel through the mountain and as we came out the other side we were dumbstruck at the awesome sight…and it simply kept getting better! I was tearful at seeing such beauty and thinking: “Surely this is what Paradise looks like…”

We were up early on a day with clear blue sky and being on the bikes experiencing the magnificence around us was just incredible! With the late arrival of spring after a severe winter, the snow is only just thawing and some roads are still closed due to snow. But what this gifted us with was a spectacular showcase of waterfalls which are magnificent and full, thundering down loudly in huge masses of white water over massive granite cliffs. Paul and I hiked under Bridal Veil Falls and stood in our motorcycle gear under the icy shower, soaking it all in and giggling like children at the wonderful experience.

Glacier Point was closed to cars, due to heavy traffic, but I managed to sweet talk the ranger, convincing him that on bikes we did not need to ‘park’. This proved to be the highlight of our day, riding up to >7000ft above the canyon, into the snow. At the top we hiked to the lookout and had to stand back from the edge as vertigo took over as we peered over the edge to the valley below.

Paul said he’s fascinated by our role reversal and how I’ve changed. He’s never known me so chilled out and happily kicking back. (Even the worst day we experienced, riding overloaded bikes out of Vancouver Airport, stalling in the pouring rain during rush hour traffic did not phase me in the least.) He’s encouraged me to consider who I really am, and what it was our Sydney lifestyle that had me so stressed. I’m feeling incredibly content, enjoying being steeped in nature and I’m loving this nomadic life where every day is a surprise and people have been so open in acknowledging us and also their own dreams. The places we’ve seen and experienced so far have been incredible and nature so majestic. Canada, Alaska and now the West Coast of the US. I’ve never seen such majesty, such vastness, such rugged beauty.

I’ve been considering Paul’s challenge and I think who I really am is “a gypsy with a fetish for cowboys singing country western!” Last night we sat out under the stars with a bottle of red wine, listening to yet another live country music band and my heart was glowing with the pleasure of it all. Paul reckons every country western song has a lonesome man, a ‘baby who left me’, a truck, a dog, sometimes whiskey and a loaded shotgun in the lyrics so he tried to woo me with his own rendition which went something like this: “Oh I’m so lonesome…oooh…I’m just gonna load my shotgun and walk outta this darn town…oooh…’cause my baby left me…she took my truck…oooh…and my one eyed dog…oh I’m so lonesome…how I miss that dawg!”

Something special…

Travelling together is wonderful, yet challenging. We are learning so much about ourselves and each other as every day brings with it the unexpected, constant decisions having to be made and challenges to solve. It’s what we signed up for and we’re loving it…mostly.

We travelled along the 101 South, the coastal route from Oregon to California, a route famous for its beauty. After the challenges with the weather in Canada we felt elated and that “at last our trip has started!” The weather was warming up as we travelled south and the scenery was simply magnificent…switchback roads snaking through rugged coast line, along the edge of cliff tops then down again to beaches. We we’re constantly amazed at the magnificent scenery and riding a motorcycle grants a unique experience of it all…you’re exposed to everything, the smells (beautiful and bad!), every subtle change in temperature, sounds and heightened emotion… One day we were treated to sea mist covering town in the morning, so riding up along the sea cliffs was like riding up into the clouds, then through them, to look down on a world of white. Once back at beach level, the mist lay like wisps of candy floss on the wet sand…it was all simply spectacular! One special moment will forever stay with me. I was looking back at the ‘candy floss’ sea mist on the wet beach sand. We had been quietly lost in our own worlds of awe at the beauty around us, so when Paul spoke through the Sena intercoms in our helmets, he was breaking a spell of quiet meditation. He did not acknowledge the beauty around us, but started telling me how much he appreciates me, what he loves about me and then finally said: “You’ve made this trip something special for me…” and that’s what made me cry – I was overwhelmed with the beauty around me and the gift of experiencing this all with Paul.

The Avenue of Giants and redwood forests were something special too…the massive trees with an almost pre-historic beauty, making me think that just maybe dinosaurs actually did exist?!

We have absolutely loved the US and its people! Everywhere we’ve been we’ve been warmly welcomed and treated to so many stories, people openly sharing their dreams. We suspect that riding motorcycles with Australian registrations has drawn others to us, but something amazing we’ve noticed is that because people see us living our dream, they’ve spontaneously opened up to us about theirs!

In Seaside, Oregon we met Bear, a tattoo artist who shared his history as a Native American. A beautiful soul, we were fascinated as much with his story and dreams as an artist as we were with the star tattoos on his face and star implants on his forehead. In Astoria Barney helped us re-fuel and shared his dream of visiting Australia to catch a big fish. We had just crossed the mighty Colombia river mouth via a 5km long bridge and were in awe of this engineering feat. (The Colombia is the largest river in the Pacific North West, originating in the Rockys in Canada.) Barney posed for a photo and insisted on giving us a souvenir which he bought from the shop. In California we met Patrick who offered us accommodation and beers and hopes to ride with us when we get to Vegas. Janet is a kindred soul and an inspiration. She’ll be 70 soon and was riding her BMW with her husband Bill, when we met them in Yosemite National Park…We have been offered help in so many ways…accommodation, advice and what we’ve marvelled at most is how people have gone out of their way to voluntarily assist. It’s not unusual for someone in a store to phone around to get an answer to a question we’ve asked or to look up information on the internet.

The enthusiasm and generosity of spirit of the Americans has simply blown us away. Yesterday a biker walked up to me saying: “Howdy, where ya’ll from?” He then went on to ask: “So how have we been treating you so far?” When I replied that America has been amazing he smiled and said: “That’s just wonderful to hear! Glad you feel welcome. Our president is a bit ‘out of the box’, but we’re all really great!” It has not been unusual for Americans to apologise like that in conversation or admit to being embarrassed, which has reminded me so much about how bad I felt as a South African under Apartheid rule.

I recently admitted to an American that I had felt ambivalent about travelling through the US, because of all that we see and hear via movies, television or the press. I was surprised to hear her admit to those same doubts about travelling within the US, especially the most conservative States. But as we chatted we concluded that once you’re actually ‘out there’ travelling through everyday America, you soon realise those fears are unfounded and that everyday Americans are simply something special indeed…

 

 

“Coddiwomple!’

It’s fascinating what we are learning about ourselves and about each other. Situations we’ve not encountered before are showing us things about ourselves we did not expect. Back home in Sydney I had been living a regimented life, whilst Paul had been laid-back and unruffled. So it’s a huge surprise to be experiencing this ‘role reversal’…

We had been staying with Aunty Ruth and Leonie in their beautiful little paradise just outside of Longview, Washington. After not seeing each other for over 30 years, it was simply amazing to catch up for a few days. Time with them at their home in the forest was soul food – chatting about ‘the old days’ when we were kids, cuddling puppies, watching the squirrels and hummingbirds or fishing in the creek were such beautifully simple pleasures.

Paul and I had agreed to leave this morning around 10am hence I anticipated a relaxed departure, so I was surprised when he became fractious last night that we had not planned our route for the following day or secured the next night’s accommodation. A heated debate made us realise that we were simply approaching the journey differently. Paul was stressed at not having a fixed plan and I was stressed at being committed to planning. We spoke at length and with much laughter about our observations and feelings on this journey – fascinated at what we were discovering about ourselves and each other. The upshot was that we decided to take a more ‘relaxed’ approach to our journey, planning less, allowing more random ‘discovery’.  We agreed on a general destination South and a route which would take us through the State Park towards the 101 coastal road. Although we had decided on less planning and fewer ‘rules’ we agreed about looking for accommodation by the early afternoon if we had not secured accommodation ahead.

“You’re shitting me!” Paul said surprised, via the Sena intercoms in our helmets. I was leading our ride at the time, so had seen the ‘Welcome to Longview’ sign a few seconds before Paul had …and my mind was reeling. Paul’s exclamation pointed out the ridiculous and the hysterical: We had left Longview hours earlier and Paul had recently just said “we must be nearly there”…referring  to our destination South along the coast.

We pulled into the nearest garage to refuel and struggled to contain ourselves, we fell about laughing. Checking the map we were incredulous to realise that we had been riding for hours in a perfect loop which had brought us back to Longview! The ‘loosely planned’ ride led by me had been simply spectacular and Oregon is amazing, but we had made no progress in terms of heading South. The irony was also not lost on us that considering the time of day by then, that sticking to our ‘rule’ of finding accommodation by early afternoon that we should really just head back to Aunty Ruth and Leonie!

We discovered a lot today. It’s obvious I should plan more or not lead any more rides and Paul said he had the best day, getting ‘lost’ with me and being random. We eventually made our way South (with Paul back in the lead) and decided to stop at Seaside and look for accommodation. We found a hostel which is basically a beautiful shack on the beach. It has prayer flags strung about and the poster at reception says: “Today’s Word: ‘Coddiwomple’ – To travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination.”

Amazing Alaska

A tour guide told us that the United States bought Alaska from Russia for around 2 cents per acre. As I sat chatting to Lisa, a Russian lady who ‘escaped’ to the US, I was mindful of the irony that this spectacular wilderness once was Russia and now is part of the US…

We traveled to within a few kilometres of the 60th Parallel North, daylight starting around 4:30am and ending around 10:30pm. The nights extremely short, so not ideal for seeing the Northern lights, but this did not deter us from trying. Despite the icy cold, we had spectacularly sunny days all week. Experiencing the wilderness of Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay left me craving more, longing to venture further north and staying longer. We watched a documentary on the Alaskan interior and eskimo history and I was overwhelmed with emotion…the beauty, harsh wilderness, human tenacity and the realisation that this is where the world still is largely as God originally made it, untouched by man’s greed.

There are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska and we experienced a few. In Juneau we hiked to Mendenhall Glacier and in Skagway we took a boat across Chilkoot Inlet, then a bus to a camp in the spruce forest, hiked to a river, canoed to a lake in the Tongas National Park, then hiked some more across silt left by the retreating glacier, to eventually stand on Davidson Glacier. We revelled in Alaskan experiences: sang with a cowboy in the Red Dog saloon in Juneau, sampled spruce tip beer in Skagway and marvelled at the tidal glaciers of Glacier Bay, where huge chunks of ice break off into the ocean. We noticed ice flows drifting past when we woke in the morning and a few hours later stood watching in awe as pieces of the Grand Pacific Glacier smashed into the ocean with a roar. The John Hopkins and Reid Glaciers were just as spectacular.

I asked Paul what he was thinking, as we sat on the balcony watching the magnificent wilderness pass by. He was thinking about the irony of all the fuel the ship had burnt, the plastic cups consumed and the waste created… by us coming on this journey…

I shouted: “Whales!” and we all stood up and gathered at the window to see a pod of Orca, blowing and showing off their white bellies as they surfaced, then dived. This is how the conversation with Lisa started, this shared experience and excitement created a type of intimacy that got us really talking. We had been lying on loungers in the Spa, which has a 180 degree view of the ocean and we had been discussing the wildlife we’d seen: sea otter, sea lion, whales, a pod of dall porpoises (which look like mini Orcas!), bald eagles, wild mountain goat, porcupine and a myriad of bird life on the ocean… but as yet no Orcas. It was not very long after saying how much we would really love to see Orcas, that we actually got to see them!

Lisa was very excited to hear about our journey on the bikes, our focus to “just say yes” and shared that she felt destined to meeting Paul and I. She went on to explain: She had been a doctor in Russia but when she arrived in the US with a paltry $500, she needed to find another way to make a living. She had built a new life and had not stopped working, until this trip which was to eventually rest after a life threatening illness. Her husband has been asking her to stop working, but she has felt unable to do that, because of fear that she may never be able to work again. She acknowledged how irrational her fear is, in light of their financial security and that she had been meditating on that reality during this journey. We spoke at length about fear, about our health …about love, time and opportunity. Lisa shared that meeting Paul and I had encouraged her about exploring new possibilities.

It feels wonderful knowing we may have inspired another life but what I’m most mindful of is being reminded of ‘the power of the spoken word.’ I’ve always believed that what I say in my life is what I create in my life. Not long after Lisa and I had voiced our dream of seeing Orca, was when we actually did…

With people from over 60 countries on the cruise, we enjoyed many interesting conversations – asking people about their countries, their lives and their views. It has proved a powerful approach, telling a stranger that we do not have a point of view on their local affairs, that we are simply curious to hear about their reality and their thoughts. A conversation that stands out for me as most thought provoking was with Dave from the conservative South – he voted for Trump and whilst he’s concerned about a few things Trump says, he’s confident that he backed the right candidate. He appreciated us just listening …to his story, his concerns and his hopes. Dave believes that ultimately all we really need to do in this world to ‘repair the mess’ – is to take time to truly listen to each other and try to understand.

 

Welcome to the USA!

As I write this I’m sitting at the front of the ship, with a 180 degree view of the ocean passing by as we cruise towards Alaska. It’s a wonderfully meditative way to reflect on the past 6 weeks and all we’ve experienced, seen and learned.

One of our main thoughts has been how our VISA limitations do not allow for adequately exploring any country and how tough it has been deciding how to spend the time we do have. Ask any local for advice and you get so many conflicting suggestions – you end up just deciding based on what your gut feels is right and knowing you can’t possible see and do it all… Our main approach has been avoiding cities and tourist destinations where possible, preferring nature and off the beaten track. That having been said, we’ve enjoyed experiencing a number of typical ‘tourist’ attractions, such as the Boeing Manufacturing Facility in Everett, near Seattle, Washington and Whistler in Canada, B.C.

Our greatest joy thus far has been the people we’ve met and spending time getting to know individuals, being allowed a glimpse into their lives and communities. We keep our minds and hearts open and have marvelled at discovering so many new ways of living. We’ve had to learn to accept the many offers of help and get out of our own way in terms of our mindset which has been erring on the side of politely declining. An offer of a futon in the lounge becoming the greater gift of sharing a special moment in the lives of an amazing family. Alex and Kristi have been hosting us near Seattle and storing our motorcycles whilst we cruise to Alaska. The best way to describe Alex is “a massive 6 foot 6 of energy, enthusiasm, generosity and mischief!” He has laughed at our naivety and curiosity as we’ve been exposed to things we’ve never experienced before such as gun shops and weed shops. He has enthusiastically helped us with last minute preparations and showcased his neighbourhood, including a trip to the local weed shop, which has been sheer fascination.

As we arrived off the ferry from Canada we passed the first psychedelically painted weed shop. I wanted to stop for this ‘rare’ photo opportunity but was soon agog when this became a regular occurrence – weed shops or pot shops are all over Washington State, as recreational marijuana is legal! It is common to see road signs saying “don’t drug and drive” whereas we are used to seeing signs saying “don’t drink and drive” in Australia. In British Columbia, Canada we had often smelled weed in public places. Chatting with locals we were told it is ‘tolerated’ and ‘not enforced’, although marijuana is currently still illegal. New laws have recently been passed towards legalising marijuana in BC.

In Washington State in the US recreational marijuana has been legal for about 2 years and Alex showed us the stats in terms of dollars generated for the State in taxes and the money made by growers and retailers is astounding. We debated the pros and cons endlessly and found ourselves talking in circles about informed adult consent and ‘other addictive and harmful drugs’ such as alcohol and tobacco, which have been legal and widely accepted for ages across the world. Interestingly the local laws stipulate that you cannot advertise cigarettes, yet bill boards advertise recreational marijuana – as a result of regulatory considerations for marijuana still being in early stages.

After reading more about the marijuana trade in WA, we realised that regulatory frameworks, branding and marketing is what it’s all about. We found outstanding examples of brand loyalty created through clever marketing campaigns. Amazingly consumers are informed by and invested in marijuana brands. I found it really bizarre to experience something I’ve only ever known as ‘illicit’ – suddenly so openly accepted and talked about. Visiting a weed shop in WA out of curiosity, I was acutely aware of my emotions and thoughts…’personal views on marijuana use aside…in another place I’d be committing a crime for what I was doing in Washington State.’

 

 

 

Canada is just too cold…so we’re heading to Alaska!

It’s a month now that we’ve been on the road and can count on one hand the days it’s been ideal for riding. We’ve had to ride at times out of necessity, but in insanely crazy weather, so mostly we’ve been hunkering down, waiting for the weather to improve. Our reality is that Canada has experienced the worst winter in decades, delaying Spring by about 2 months and frustrating our plans for traveling North. (As an example of the extent of the delay, friends who did the same trip a year ago were by now riding across the Rockys.) We are constantly monitoring the weather North and it’s not improving so we’ve made the really tough decision to head South. We are just not prepared to risk riding extensively through snow, across these vast distances.

Through Help-X we are currently working on a free range chicken farm on the South West Coast of Vancouver Island and having a blast! Clara, Crispen and their children Juniper, Jasper and Camelia are wonderful, as are their farm dogs Indigo and Lucky. Lucky growled at us for arriving on bikes wearing helmets for the first few days, but we are now close friends, through bribery with treats. Help-X assignments have offered us the experience of living Canadian lives, just for a moment and it’s been a great saving too, in terms of accommodation and food.

The farm is insanely spectacular, heaven in fact, located in the forest on the top of a mountain near Sooke with views across the ocean. Our duties are varied – feeding and watering chickens, collecting eggs, fixing the swing, carting fire wood, planting potatoes, gardening and building a stone wall for a strawberry patch…oh and reading to the kids! I’ve had many moments of reflection about my dad and the things he taught me as a child when we lived on a small holding. I did not appreciate it at the time, but because of him I know how to look after chickens, build a vegetable garden and a stone wall…

We have found the manual labor meditative and relaxing and we’ve loved seeing what we’ve achieved! Today Paul and I went into town in the truck to get cement from the hardware store. It was great fun to experience riding in one of these massive trucks, driving on the right (wrong?!) side of the road and seeing the massive hardware store which had lanes to drive your truck through, depending on your need. (We are used to things being much smaller in Australia and getting out of our vehicle to push a trolley through Bunnings!)

We work until 2pm, so with the long days this grants us about 4 hours for exploring each afternoon. We’ve loved riding through this area, which is incredibly beautiful and with much milder weather. I’ve yet to succeed at fishing, but Paul has mastered the art of catching a nap at lakes and rivers whilst I try yet again. We rode up to Port Renfrew yesterday and it was a beautifully clear (yet freezing!) day – offering us spectacular views across the ocean of the United States.

A few nights ago we were debating what to do, considering the weather. I am really longing to experience Alaska, so my disappointment at heading South instead of North was huge. Crispen offered advice and mentioned ‘last minute deals’ on Alaskan cruises out of Seattle. We struck gold – managing to get a ‘last minute deal’ on a cruise to Alaska for 80% off the usual price! I laughed at the irony once we’d secured our booking…saying: “Canada is just too cold…so we’re heading to Alaska!”

 

 

Flying with eagles

We explored the north of Vancouver Island for a few days, meandering through coastal villages such as Campbell River, Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy. Telegraph Cove’s tiny community of 20 was a former fishing village and sawmill. Today you can hire one of the original wooden houses which stand on stilts on the edge of the ocean. Each house has a plaque outside, relating it’s history and taking you back to primitive and harsh times. It’s a prime tourist spot now because of its accessibility to ecological reserves, where you can view orca whales and bears. We were fortunate to have been allowed to view the whale museum, despite it being under renovation. That’s where we saw giant whale skeletons and a bald eagle display.

From Port McNeill we chose a logging road to get to Port Hardy and being off the beaten track gifted us our first bald eagle sighting in the wild! To see them up close and in their natural habitat was simply Devine!!! The bald eagle is the national bird of the USA and quite impressive, being the largest raptor after the condor. It’s body is about a metre tall and it’s wingspan about two metres wide. Our first sighting was of a juvenile and its parents, then we saw so many more eagles flying above us as we were riding over the coming days…

Our accomodation in Port Hardy was a backpackers which served the most divine tea, the host saying he was very familiar with Aussie, Kiwi and British tourists. He advised us about things to explore, so we set off first to visit Fort Rupert, a First Nation Reserve. Totem poles are prominent all over British Colombia, but in the reserve we saw them in their most common forms within the community. They’re monuments created as signboards, memorials or genealogical records. We saw them outside homes, the community hall, in front of the school and in a grave yard. They were relating stories and it was just a taster for the history we were to learn about later at the museum in Campbell River.

Campbell River Museum is a little gem in an idyllic setting, with stunning views of the ocean. We loved walking amongst the exhibits, reading and learning about First Nation history and marvelling at how unfairly it plays out in comparison to Settler history. We touched a tree stump which was over 1000 years old, another story played out unfairly due to logging.

We crossed the 50th Parallel in Campbell River, the circle of latitude 50 degrees north of the equator. It was a reminder of just how far we are from home…>12000km… the long days and cold weather testament to that!

Paul reflected on how prominent the eagle is in the First Nation art and totem poles, saying he could relate to it’s overwhelming beauty and power. It was simply incredible for us to see so many of these beautiful creatures in nature, looking up at them flying ahead of us as we rode along…feeling like we were indeed flying with eagles.