As the snow falls outside the window…

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.

This is what a near death experience looks like

This is what a near death experience looks like

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.

Lake Tahoe October Sunset

Lake Tahoe October Sunset



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.

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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).

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Sometimes meanings get lost in translation

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.

Your stereotypical beach traveler moment, just add rum

Your stereotypical beach traveler moment, just add rum

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.

Moving to Tahoe 2 (1)

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!

-V

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The luckiest girl in the world

“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.

Can you imagine this view from your second home?

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.

A Bruin Trio, and yes I’m wearing my dorky Outdoor Adventures hat

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 group overlooking Bridgeport valley

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 4  SNAP (AmeriCorps) members at the groovy Gala dinner

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.

Imagine the sound of thunder clapping in the distance

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.

Prom style photo – Tony, Kirsten, Kelly and V

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.