The modern amenities seamlessly weave into a fabric so rich in history that the footpaths have been worn soft by the soles of hundreds of years of pilgrims on the same path.
For anyone who knows me, I have never been a procrastinator. Yet here I am with the final hours until my final piece of content is due to Tourism Australia and working on one last blog until the clock strikes 6pm in Australia. This dire message, the song that rings from my slightly off key voice to your ears is a very appreciative THANK YOU!
Thanks, gracias, obrigada, to everyone near and far who has not only provided beautiful words of encouragement since the beginning, but also shared my wonderful opportunity with others. I was interviewed on NPR: Capital Public Radio, featured on Channel 2 News in Reno (CBS) and on Loaded TV in Reno, in addition to numerous press releases and mentions on various facebook and websites. This competition has challenged my ability to function well with less sleep while also working a full time plus job, but also provided a reason to share a snippet of my life with some folks who usually only hear it in the quarterly email updates.
I’ve been reconnected with some incredible people, and made new friends with many more. The best part of this two-week challenge has been that I haven’t stopped doing the things I love; in fact I promote them. I truly believe that the source of adventure is within us, and if I can harness my energy and enthusiasm to inspire people to create their own journey then I will be an even happier lady.
So here’s to the people that encouraged me to pursue this dream job, you are the reason that I keep on smiling. I should hear back from Tourism Australia by May 15th and will certainly keep you all posted.
I’ve been dreaming about diving the Great Barrier Reef and watching sea turtle eggs hatch (again) in Queensland, Australia and decided to post an email update I sent out to family and friends about similar adventure in Central America two years ago.
Hola mis amigos y familia, Pura Vida! This Costa Rican greeting that represents the “life is good” paradigm of its people has been infused into my newly bronzed, jellyfish scarred skin. The last 3 months of 2011 have been largely spent in various Central American countries scratching mosquito bites and spending as much time as possible in the 80 degree Fahrenheit tropical water. In the beginning of May my cousin Katherine and I flew to Guatemala and spent 3.5 weeks riding chicken buses across the country, into Belize island paradise and up the Mexican Yucatan peninsula to Cancun. I was in LA long enough to do a couple loads of laundry and then I flew to North Carolina for staff training for a company called Broadreach that runs international academic adventure trips. I had a wonderful week of playing games and getting to know the other guides who were all intelligent, active and similarly struck with a serious case of wanderlust. From there I flew to Costa Rica for a couple weeks of solo traveling with no agenda before my Sea Turtle Studies program began. I befriended (shocking, I know) a great Texan fellow named Sam at the Costa Rican airport and we ended up traveling through Costa Rica and Nicaragua together for two weeks. We spent a week in the jungles of Costa Rica and then crossed the border into Nicaragua to see the beautiful Ometepe Islands in Lake Nicaragua and the laid back surf town of San Juan del Sur. Then I returned to San Jose where my two amazing co-guides Liz and Phil and I met the first of our 2 groups of 11 teenagers that we would be taking on a 3-week academic trek throughout Costa Rica. So many travels and adventures to tell and for the sake of saving battery power on your iphone, ipad, i-crack technology I will keep it brief…ish.
Guatemala: “The land of many colors” and potholes
It turns out that Guatemala is quite large, and the majority of Kathri and my Guatemala experience took place on various forms of transportation with our two Argentinian buddies Seba and Guille that we met at a hostel our first night. The local buses commonly called
‘Chicken buses’ are American and Canadian school buses from the 1950s colorfully painted and decorated with Catholic memorabilia on the dashboard and on the exterior and usually stuffed about 30 people or more over capacity. There is always space on a bus, although it might be 3 or 4 to a seat and/or standing room only on the 4 hour bumpy dirt road with drivers who prefer accelerating on the hairpin turns. There is also the option to take a shuttle, which meant 20+ people stuffed into a 14 passenger van, usually with a few people riding on the roof with the luggage/chicken/produce. On one 8 hour ride I climbed out of the back window and onto the roof to wave to the kids in the passing villages and watch farmers burn their corn fields in the highlands. One of the highlights was at a place called Semuc-Champey which has pools of crystalline turquoise waterfalls in the middle of the jungle which you can swim in and jump from one pool to the next. One afternoon clad in bathing suits and tevas we took a nearby cave tour. We each had a candle to hold above our head as we swam through the cave, up underground waterfalls and jumped into pools in complete candlelit darkness deep in the mountain. The guide didn’t speak English and no one asked us if we were
claustrophobic, afraid of the dark or if we could swim. The entire experience cost us about $7 bucks. In short, we loved Guatemala! We also visited the spectacular Lake Atitlan surrounded by green mountains and the legendary Mayan ruins of Tikal, the capital of the ancient people who predicted the realignment of the universe in 2012.
Belize: Go Slow Girl, Go slow
Belize is the stereotypical paradise that really is all it’s cracked up to be. When La Kathri (Katherine) and I arrived to Caye Caulker, we were luckiest girls in the world. Our first night we went to a bar and had a local guy named Pops start talking to us and invite us to his private island about a 20 minute boat ride away. We were traveling with a spanish guy named Pedro and an Isreali girl named Shirly and he said the more the merrier and invited them too.
So, the following morning at “10am” island time, which is really about 10:45am he picked us up on his motorboat and we spent the day snorkeling and catching the fish, lobster, and conch that we bbq-ed that night on his little slice of paradise.
The following day was more of the same incredible luck to be doing all of the touristy things (eating great food, snorkeling on the reef) without paying for it and without the throngs of backpacking hippy dippy tourists, which I usually consider myself a part of.
At one point while I was walking back to our little cabana, a local man on the bike called
out “go slow girl, go slow”. And so I did. We had been rushing around Guatemala trying to see everything and it was nice to stay in one place for 4 whole nights. We caught up on our sunsets and discovered the joy of One Barrel Rum with fresh coconut water. This is an amazing place, you better Belize it!
Mexico: Tacos + Under the sea
Kathri and I had a rough start in Mexico. Both of our cameras, my shoes and her journal got stolen within hours of crossing the border into the supposedly more “developed” country and we decided to wallow in our stupidity by indulging in the best part of Mexico: the food! Every day tacos de mole, al pastor and fajitas stung our lips with a plethora of flavors, with au jus dripping down our fingers and stinging our bug/flea bites and staining our shirts. But it didn’t matter because our mouths were rejoicing with flavor and textures that Californian mexican food has watered down to a safe American standard. The epic food sustained us as we completed our four day Open Water Scuba Diving Certification in Tulum, Mexico.
For $315 each we were granted lifetime admittance to the magnificent underwater world of colors and calmness. We walked through the jungle laden with air tanks, BCs and regulators and jumped 6 meters into a cenote (an underground river canal) known as a “the pit” where a cloud of hydro sulfuric gas floats 28 meters under water until people swim through it. Diving in the The Pit was one of the most beautiful, spectacular experiences of my life. Nature decided to mess with our stereotype of the elements and put them all together: smoky air suspended in crystalline water below the Earth. Wow nature, you win again.
One night at our hostel someone asked me what had happened to my leg. I assumed he was referring to why mosquitos tend to devour my flesh when I noticed there was a long red line tracing from about mid thigh to my ankle. The next day there were blisters forming along the line and I realized I had been stung by a jellyfish. I never felt anything, but it is a bad ass scar to give me some street cred.
Our last day before flying back to the land of flushing toilets was spent in Cancun livin la noche loca. We did not have any club attire, so we dressed in bathing suits and sarongs and somehow managed to get in free to a popular club and dance the night away without paying for anything except for the bus fare back to our cheap hostel in downtown. It was a great night of dancing in the street in the pouring rain and gave us an overwhelming sense of being young and free to end our trip on a joyful note.
[BRIEF WEEK BACK INTO THE USA FOR BROADREACH STAFF TRAINING THEN BACK INTO COSTA RICA]
Nicaragua: $.50 pineapples, and attempting to learn to surf
My travel buddy Sam and I spent the four days in Fortuna near Volcano Arenal in Costa Rica swimming under waterfalls, hot springing in a celestial blue river and cooking with people from all over the world at our $5/night hostel, and then crossed the border to Nicaragua. We spent a couple days exploring the Ometepe Islands of Lake Nicaraguawhere ancient pottery pieces lay strewn across the beach and snakes weave between the thatched roof above your hammock.
Sam had a generous buddy from Nicaragua who let us stay at his beach house in the small surfer town of San Juan del Sur for an entire week fo´ free! I went surfing for the second time in my life on a board that was shorter than I was at the national surfing competition (aka humungous waves) and ended up pretty sore, a bit flogged and redder than a lobster. Learning how to surf is like having any trace of belly button lint flushed out of your body via your nose repeatedly. I lost all fear of drowning and felt like I was in an abusive relationship with the ocean. I am far from able to say that I am now a surfer chick, but I did have one amazing moment where all of the starfish aligned and I caught the perfect wave and looked up to see all of my friends on shore hooting and jumping around for me (*fist pump*) - I felt like a rock star.
Costa Rica: Being Paid to Whitewater Raft, Catch Sea Turtle Eggs and Climb Waterfalls, and be responsible for 10 teenagers in a foreign country
For the last 6 weeks my two awesome co-guides Phil and Liz and I have been taking groups of teenagers throughout Costa Rica with a great organization called Broadreach. I had forgotten how difficult teenage hormonal blobs can be. I didn’t know that there could be anything to complain about while whitewater rafting, ziplining through the rain forest, or hiking up waterfalls in a beautiful tropical jungle; but some of the kids in our first group were not that big on movement, bugs or academics, all of which were in abundance on our Costa Rica Sea Turtle Studies course. We did all sorts of incredible things like walking down the beach at night and watching sea turtles dig their nest and lay their eggs. These 200-300lb creatures are so majestic and I felt lucky to be able to not only watch them but to participate in the scientific research being done at the best sea turtle lab in the world in Tortuguero, CR. One night I got to countturtle eggs around 2am on a turtle patrol. It was in the middle of a lightening storm with pouring rain and I felt 126turtle eggs fall into my hand with my head inches from the turtle’s powerful back flippers. Luckily she’s in a trance while she lays the eggs so I was not in danger of getting bitch-slapped by a turtle.
The entire experience was filled with hilarious moments, like having a kid have a snake fall on his head, get stung by a scorpion and lay down on a fire ant nest all within 24 hours. We did a bio-luminescent snorkel one night which felt like we had entered Pandora’s glowing night time world from Avatar. We went on dolphin/whale tours and snorkeled with white tipped reef sharks and hawksbill turtles and swam about 100 meters away from a 6 ft. crocodile. We ate delicious fruit on the daily and volunteered at elementary schools where the local kids had rarely, if ever, seen a car. The trip was life-changing both for me and (some of the) kids, but I can’t help but feel relieved that I am currently only responsible for one human being. I have a whole new respect for parents.
And now I’m back in LA for a little less than a week and then off to peaceful, familiar Washington with no return ticket and no exact plans. I am looking forward to settling in one place for an extended period of time but where that will be remains a mystery. I’ve got a few ideas of what to do next swirling in my mind, but I haven’t been around a reliable source of internet long enough to really research and act upon them. More great things to come!
I hope that you are all happy and healthy and I would love to hear what’s been going on in your neck of the woods recently. Do not feel compelled to write a “War and Peace” Part II as I have subjected you to; I’m back in the land of cell phone coverage and would enjoy hearing your voice.
Besos y Abrazos,
I started with a relatively simple premise: An adventure a day. After 24 hours I realized that this campaign would be impossible for me. How can I limit my adventures to JUST one a day?
I’ve been told that I’m always on the move. As one friend told me, “V, you aggressively carpe diem.” The last couple days may be his case in point.
Thursday I slept three hours due to a million vibrating molecules of excitement at the prospect of being a park ranger in Queensland. Waking up was not quite as exhilarating. I love my job as the Communications Liaison for the CA Tahoe Conservancy, an environmental state agency, but computer screen glare doesn’t fill my vitamin D daily dosage.
I biked home to host a quick happy hour on my patio below the vanilla scented Jeffrey Pine. By 6:30pm my friend Tim and I were heading towards Cave Rock, a previous cultural site for the Washoe Tribe to catch a sunset over Lake Tahoe. At 8:30, after a quick refuel of overly greasy burritos, the California standard, we drove to Fallen Leaf Lake. The moon was so full it seemed to drip into the aspens and light the trail. No headlamps necessary as we joined the coyotes in their eerie howls. Salsa verde finger licks and reflection of snow-covered Mt. Tallac made the minutes pull the moon further overhead.
The next day, after another full day in the office, my coworker and I changed into shorts and sandals and pushed off into the blue silk of Lake Tahoe on a windless afternoon. Every time I paddleboard through its crystalline water I find myself in awe. The sand lines wiggle beneath the liquid line that is so clear you have to remind yourself it exists. A vertigo of phases as the eyes move through liquid into air without a visible transition. I can’t describe the feeling of seeing Tahoe inside out, separated from the cold water by two inches of fiberglass looking out towards 8,000 foot white peaks. Moments like these, available in my very backyard, remind me why I live here.
Then again, absence makes the heart grow fonder and I am on the move as I type. This time Matt Robertson and I are rolling down the California coast towards the wooded coastal wonderland of Big Sur. I’ll be surprising my Dad, who is currently camping in San Simeon with my stepmom (the co-surprise coordinator, her official title). We should be pulling in about 1AM since both Matt and I spent all day manning booths at the South Tahoe Earth Day and weren’t able to leave until 6pm.
Even weekend warriors can manage to push the limits on the number of laughs and wows packed into a day. The moments of gratitude for living such an awesome adventurous life are reflections of the joy within.
From my email update sent January 9th. If you want to get on the list send me your email.
Dearest Amigos Near and Far (though most likely the latter),
Congratulations on surviving the widely misinterpreted end of the Mayan calendar and welcome to 2013! I’d like to start the year off with a little ode to gratitude:
I almost didn’t get to celebrate this year. A day before my birthday I drove over an 8,000 ft. pass to get to Lake Tahoe for an interview. I had just traveled over the crest and was heading into a curve when I tapped on the breaks and launched into a 270 degree spin on a blind corner. I came to a halt parallel parked in the mud on the shoulder, cushioned by a willow tree. If it had happened 100 feet further I would have rolled off the cliff. I shakily got out of the car and inspected it.
Not a scratch, to myself nor to my trusty steed the Silver Phoenix. Only then did I see the icy sheen on the pavement. I started the car again and slowly continued down the pass, stopping an hour later and crutching to the side of a stream to pause and reflect. I had been feeling pretty low. I had sprained my ankle hiking across the Sierra a week before and was going to spend my birthday in a job interview. I couldn’t even stand on my own two feet without metal poles to balance me. And then I almost ceased to exist and it spun some perspective into my lucky little world. I WAS ALIVE! I had great friends, a wonderful family, lived in a beautiful place and everything was possible. That afternoon a friend and I paused to admire the sun’s reflection on Lake Tahoe and the joy of the dogs flopping into the water.
I carried that gratitude into the next few weeks as I finished a fantastic AmeriCorps position with the Eastern Sierra Land Trust and spent Thanksgiving with friends and family in LA. Early the following morning I was soaring above the fluffy white cow pies covering LA in it’s tryptophan-induced coma towards Lima, Peru.
I spent a few days exploring the city of men shorter than my grandma, many of whom are afflicted with a widespread epidemic of horn honking. In Lima two worlds collide, along with about 15 million others who all cram into the 4 lane highway 7 cars abreast (on each side). I met up with Jonny and Jake, two adventurous friends from our UCLA days, and we traveled north along the coast past hours of small shantytowns separated by expanses of sand dunes. We settled in a small beach town called Huanchaco where most people walked around barefoot and even the bakeries didn’t open until 9am.
A carrot top named Julian from Germany shared our double bunk dormitory with a private bath, open only to the cockroaches and other insects that frequented our shower and sink. As our Spanish improved and our immune systems worsened we spent a good portion of our days surfing or boogey boarding, doing yoga classes for about $1/hr, and reuniting for fried rice with seafood (chaufa con mariscos).
Nine days later our group dispersed and Jonny and I went north with an Aussie named George towards the warm waters along the Ecuadorian border. We got caught up in the stereotypical beach traveler’s moment in which we all sat on a white sandy dune passing around a bottle of Roncola (rum and coke), playing the ¾ guitar and singing along to the perfectly harmonized crashing of the waves. Those moments when the whole world feels right and you are only focused on the plethora of sensory stimuli – the salt water spray on your lips, the sound of acoustic guitar accompanied by a solid boom! from the sea, the round fiery ball of sol slipping behind the surf point and making the wet sand a creamy reflection of the water-colored sky – these are the postcard-perfect reasons of (part of) why we travel.
Then again, the 2 am scramble in the dark to the not-so porcelain pony highlights the slimy, grotesque side of 3rd world travel. Fortunately I only got food poisoning once this time around in Peru!
The Peru diet took hold of my bowels with liquefying strength, though it politely waited until I was back in the land of toilet paper friendly toilets. I spent the holidays with my families in LA and Washington, making up for any sort of weight loss with hearty helpings of sweets and barbeque. Yule time flies when you’re catching up on sleep, sailing towards blue skies and walking around Vancouver, Canada. I enjoyed a quick LA whirlwind of a 2nd Christmas, packed up my Honda Civic with my belongings and drove up to Mammoth to celebrate the New Year and do my first ride of the season, a backcountry snowboard run on excellent powder! January 1st I drove to South Lake Tahoe, found a place to live and by 8:30pm was unloading my possessions at a new address.
The birthday interview from the beginning of this verbose email resulted in a stellar position with the California Tahoe Conservancy as their Communications Liaison. For the next year I will write press releases and website content, amongst other duties on an ever-growing list, for an environmental agency filled with like-minded outdoorsy, passionate people. I hope that I’m as good a writer as they think I am.
Wishing everyone a joyous, whimsical, healthy and adventurous 2013! Remember Tom Robbins’ wise words as you debate whether or not you should frolic through the meadow or get on stage and sing karaoke, “Those who shun the whimsy of things will experience rigor mortis before death” (from Still Live with Woodpecker). Hopefully I will be joining you for both of those events and more.
Thank you for being you and come visit!
October’s email update:
Dearest Friends and Family,
For the past few months I’ve spent the 100+°F dog days of summer escaping into the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I’ve been the culprit of many bone-chilling squeals after jumping into an alpine lake au natural, have filled multiple memory cards with calendar
snapshots, and have sighed with primal pleasure as the sun’s last rays exploded from behind the 14,000 foot peaks in my backyard. But it’s the smells that keep a smile tacked onto my face and fill my lungs with clean, fresh gratitude.
The spirit of the land is infused in its perfume, and my BO cuts right
through it as I hike through a web of mountain trails. How do I begin
to share even a whiff of the constant stream of adventures that have made this summer flow into the glowing aspens of fall?
Consider this verbal montage a magazine sample of an irresistible
bottle of Sierra No. 5, Chanel’s biggest rival. I’d like to attribute the spike in friend and family visits to my sparkling personality, but I have a feeling there’s a grander, more jagged and lovelier ulterior motive. I peered into Death Valley from the summit of Mt. Whitney with Bryan in May and spent a magical weekend in June rock hopping in Yosemite with Tara and Ray. I ate pistachio crusted salmon at the best restaurant on the east side in July with the Tahoe SNAP crew and the tallest man I’ve ever met, Bill Walton. I encouraged Jess to skinny dip for her first time in a pool with endangered pupfish in August.
And in September I rode my bike into the sunset with Kiara and Brian after a marvelous 13 mile hike and run at 10,000 ft. My Dad joined me over Labor Day weekend for a father/daughter backpacking trip, our first one together in 19 years. Lots of ibuprofin kept his knees happy and he frequently uttered the most common phrase one hears in the Sierra: “Wow!”
My trusty steed, the Silver Phoenix, has passed its tires over 3000 miles since April to a yoga music festival in Squaw Valley and a 5k Color Run in Sacramento. I’ve added a bit of salt to its windshield with a brief soiree to LA and San Diego. Every time the mountains come into view I’m filled with a new and delightful feeling of looking forward to being home, that lovely term that finally has meaning.
If the universe (and the Dude) abides, I will be finishing my year of
AmeriCorps service with the wonderful Eastern Sierra Land Trust in November and returning to the east side in January wearing a new hat. The upcoming months will feature a 3-week sola surf trip to Peru (unless someone would like to join??), holidays with the families for the first time in 3 years, and perhaps even another undefined adventure.
It’s been strange to have to check the calendar before planning
weekend excursions though I booked most of 2012 by early June. Still,
I have not forgotten to thank my lucky shooting stars that I spend the
workweek doing an assortment of things I love. I’ve monitored gorgeous
properties throughout Mono County, planted sunflowers in our garden
with local third graders and continue restoration efforts with our
studly volunteers at a stunning pond site. There are eye glazing days
when I didn’t run in the morning and only the all-powerful snack
drawer keeps me focused until 5pm, but there are also days when I get
to lead a group of bumbling elementary school students on an outdoor
field trip. The last 9 months have been an eloquent blend of working
hard and playing hard; I’ve organized over 40 events and have yet to
spend a complete weekend at home.
Although I don’t want to steal any flightless bird’s upcoming holiday thunder, I’d like to give thanks to everyone that has made 2012 another best year of my life. And thank you to the Jeffrey pines for their sweet scent that reminds me why we’re all here.
A quick recap of a 4 day hippie-fest called Wanderlust held in Squaw Valley, CA:
The Olympic bodies sporting sexy spandex paraded around Olympic Village with their yoga mats and coconut water, oozing a zen demeanor that comes naturally after contorting your body for hours and saying ‘namaste’ at least 4 times a day. The beautiful people with bodies worthy of the cover of Fitness magazine and fresh skin that must come from gallons of decaf herbal tea filled the yoga studios by day and got their prana flow on at night during great music performances.
Tony, Kelly, Gavin, Ray and I wandered and lusted after the plethora of free samples: All you can eat Ben and Jerry’s (go for the blueberry graham cracker crumble), veggie burger samplers, Luna bars, and, of course, chai tea. Most of us volunteered as part of the Timberland sponsored Green team, directing folks where to throw their compostable sample cups and recyclable acai juice cartons. We were given free hiking boots to sport while “on the clock,” during which time I got my hair braided, hula hooped, learned to slack line and danced a couple nights away to cirque du soleil-esque performances, a rapper named MC Yogi and Ziggy Marley. Not a bad deal instead of a $400 ticket.
The yoga classes were wonderful! One in particular, taught at the top of the gondola at High Camp encouraged me to be more grounded. I couldn’t stop smiling as we held mountain pose at 8,000 feet looking out over the Toiyabe Wilderness and a glittering Lake Tahoe.
On the final day we finished our last yoga class and joined a pool party at High Camp. Imagine Cancun Spring Break with ski chairs and acro yogis splashing into the crystalline water.
The long weekend was an interesting blend of dreads and designer yoga attire, low-income nomads and wealthy eco-chics, yet despite the differences inevitable with any group of 5,000 people I never once heard even a whisper of a fight. Maybe next year it will be Yoga-topia?
The spell is broke, the drought has lifted – my words have returned to their rightful place on this page. The lack of attention that has been paid to my fledgling journal indicates that my mind has been ensconced in the 1000+ pg. summation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Atlas Shrugged. What billions of people have spent their lives wondering about, debating about and dying about she has answered with confident and precise prose. She would never be classified as concise, but the underlying premise of her book (and human existence) is “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
This summation of her philosophy comes at the end of a 2 inch thick, size 8 font, fraying at the edges, missing a cover and ruthlessly dog-eared and underlined love affair. Her ability to SHOW her ideas, not just tell them is now the living example of what many English teachers tried to teach me and what only one successfully accomplished.
Her assured style of writing, her clear characters, her life (which are really all the same thing) makes me question my own truths. What rule do I live by? And if I can’t easily define it, then who is defining it? Do I want to live by someone else’s values?
The answer is no. And now the task befallen to me and to every fellow human being born with a consciousness is What is my axiom?
A recent couch surfer named Gary and I stayed up until 3am last Wednesday debating this very topic. His dogma is “Do as thou wilt, harm none” but I think he sacrificed details and runs the risk of his own ambiguity for the perceived pride of catchy-ness.
One thing I agree with from this book is the mind-body connection. I cannot sleep with someone I don’t respect because my body is an extension of my mind and I will not compromise either piece of myself.
In a true double entendre metaphor like that which compromises much of the meat of my writing, I need to digest these delicious thoughts. It’s good to be back.
“I am the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. His smile looked like that of a kid who just rode Space Mountain at Disneyland for the first time, though his 6’11’’ frame might be difficult to cram into the Disneyland seats. If Bill Walton is the luckiest man in the world, then I am surely the luckiest woman.
This weekend ESLT hosted Lands and Legacy, our biggest event of the year. On Friday afternoon NBA legend Bill Walton coached high school players on the screeching, sliding court for 1.5 hours, then spent about as long telling stories of passion, persistence and partying with the Grateful Dead for over 852 shows. His tales of lessons learned all harmonize to the beat of the grateful living.
The next destination was a private reception in Mammoth. A couple years ago when I was dog walking in Sherwin Meadows I looked up the bluff and saw a gorgeous house with open windows watching the entire town and valley.
A couple seasons ago my friend and I did yoga next to their parking lot. I wondered what it would look like inside that home, and on Friday evening I found out. The years of waiting did not disappoint. When I chatted with wonderful couples from the Eastern Sierra and asked them where they lived they pointed out their home from the picture windows.
One highlight was meeting Meb Keflezighi, one of the American hopefuls who will be heading to the London Olympics in a few days to run the marathon. After years of dinners with my parents’ friends I hardly notice the age difference at these types of events until someone asks how old I am and I realize their kids are 10 years older than I am.
I called the South Lake Tahoe AmeriCorps members who would be volunteering over the weekend as I walked out of the view house at 8:30pm. “We’re passing Mammoth Airport,” they told me. “Great, pull over at the little Green Church. I’ll be there in 10 minutes” I replied. We drove out to Hilltop hot spring and joined 11 other skinny dippers in the tiny tub under a sea of stars and planets. We laughed and sang and never quite made it through our introductions as our skin shriveled in the hot water.
The next morning they left to volunteer for the bike ride and I led a tour with my co-worker Aaron of the spectacular Green Creek area of Mono County for 14 members and 4 dogs. Everything went smoothly and the 8 year golden retriever Tucker knew exactly where to lean his head so that my hand would pet his head. I couldn’t imagine a softer, more lovable place for my hand to rest.
The tour ended at Mammoth at 3:15pm and we drove to a board member’s home to shower before the gala dinner. I stupidly decided I had time for a quick run and set out along the Rock Trail near the Sherwins. After 10 minutes my brain realized that I had grossly overestimated my leg and lung capacity. I had a 10k run ahead of me with several hundred feet of elevation gain and about 45 minutes to do it before I had to shower and go to the biggest ESLT event of the year. I hadn’t run that fast or that hard since I competed in high school or after a big break up, and 50 minutes later I showed up red faced and practically hyperventilating at their doorstep.
The event went beautifully, tie dye and delicious food blended with good company and a rockin’ band. We sat at an empty table and who should pull up his giant chair but the guest of honor Bill Walton. There were probably people in that room who would have paid to sit at his table, and three of us had never heard of him before the event. One of the live auction items was a dinner for 6 with Bill and Lori Walton at the Convict Lake Restaurant, the nicest restaurant in the Eastern Sierra. One of our board members purchased it for $500. Afterwards he came up to me. “Victoria, I won’t be able to make it to the dinner tomorrow night. Would you like to go? You can bring up to 5 people.” I was shocked and asked David if he wouldn’t rather ask someone who could contribute more financially to ESLT. I told him I couldn’t pay him back, thinking of the 2-week paycheck it would cost. He patted my shoulder and assured me I should have it. “The reservation is at 8pm,” he added.
Stunned I walked towards the Silent Auction table where I ran into one of the recently elected board of supervisors. He reminisced on his college days when people wore tie-dye like it was going out of fashion (though clearly it hasn’t) and asked me what I would do after AmeriCorps. I told him I was hoping to stay in the Eastern Sierra. “Well, we have to figure out a way to keep you here,” he said. He suggested I email someone about potential employment when my service term ends in November – Wow! I asked him if he had plans for the following evening and invited him and his wife to dinner with Bill at Convict Lake.
I walked over towards my friends at the dessert table. “I know you have to head to South Lake tomorrow night, but do you want to have dinner with Bill Walton tomorrow at the best restaurant in the Eastern Sierra?
Sunday morning, after delicious egg sandwiches and chocolate milk we drove towards the ominous clouds hovering over Bishop Pass walked next to South Lake. The rain began 5 minutes into the hike and the thunder was not far behind.
We sat overlooking the lake in a torrential downpour listening to the tremendous cracks in the sky and watching the bolts light up the nearby ridges. When the lightening was within 5 seconds (about 1 mile) we hurried back onto the trail and towards the car. We skipped down the road holding hands and splashing into puddles, laughing like the maniacal hippies we are, soaked and exhilarated with sublime lights and sounds to accompany us.
We warmed up back in Bishop and pre-gamed for the dinner by making a double batch of chocolate chip cookies, though a large chunk never made it into the oven.
The sunset on the drive up to Convict looked like a white fluffy cloud was covering the entrance to Heaven. Tony Danza walked inside in his suit and tie with 3 beautiful women on his arms and we saw that our intimate group had grown into a party of 20+ people – all the better! We had a delicious dinner of caramelized onion bisque, pistachio crusted salmon, decadent chocolate ganache, all mixed with wine and more hilarious, touching stories from Bill. I flew home 3.5 hours later with dry lightening silently cracking in the distance and an impenetrable smile tacked onto my face. I truly am the luckiest girl in the world.