Loess Hills

One of the purposes for my Midwestern road trip was a stop in the Loess Hills of western Iowa.  They are a geological feature, an eco-region, and a socio-cultural distinction, none of which are well known beyond its boundaries!




Walk Around the World

IMG_0184Since I can’t do much of anything myself right now, I am living vicariously through others to get my adventure fix.  I recently read a months-old issue of National Geographic magazine, and found this article on one man’s plan to walk around the world, following the path of human expansion out of Africa and eventually into the Americas.  I find it fascinating on many levels!

For one, I have long had an interest in walking across the country.  This will never happen, largely because I think my weak joints would fall apart if I attempted it, but it is fun to think about.  In 2000, while hiking and walking regularly along Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula, Montana, I concocted a plan.  At the time, I imagined asking random strangers along my route for lodging – a spot to pitch a tent in a yard, or a couch to sleep on.  I would let word of mouth follow me ahead, and I would build a network of generous folks willing to help out their fellow travelers.  I would maintain a list of those willing to offer a couch, and screen potential travelers.  There might even be a place in all this for the internet, I thought.  Remember, this was at a time when we had just begun making our own plane reservations via online sites, before craigslist had spread out of the Bay Area, before Facebook (Friendster, now that’s a different story…).  Most people did not have cell phones, there wasn’t even decent infrastructure for cell phones and internet across the nation.  It is both humorous and overwhelming how much things have changed in such a short time!

In his around-the world trip, Paul Salopek seems to be doing an excellent job of integrating 21st-century technology into his primitive mode of transport.  The website for the project includes a wonderful array of information: “dispatches from the field,” “milestones,” and “map room” showcase these remarkable well.


True Olympian

In my last post, I highlighted the spirit demonstrated by the women’s skeleton racers in the 2006 Torino Olympics.  This is another story of an impressive display of Olympic Spirit – only this one never seems to stop.

Julia Mancuso is one of the most impressive women that I can name.  Not only has she had a long and tenacious career as a world-class ski racer, but she exhibits more life balance than most athletes of her caliber, and is always positive and supportive of her teammates and even competitors.  Perhaps my favorite thing about this young lady is that she appears to be herself, despite being a very public figure.  When she smiles, it isn’t just with her mouth – her eyes are always involved too!  She also shows disappointment, on the few occasions that it is merited, but it always appears to be disappointment with her own performance, not anger or jealousy regarding another person or the situation.

Julia has been tearing up the slopes in Sochi this month, successfully finishing every course she has attempted.  That is more than many Olympic skiers can claim this year.

Here is what Julia had to say on Facebook after coming in 8th in the Super G yesterday:

“Thanks for all the love!!! It’s about dreaming big, and doing your best:) keep believing. I’m happy for @AnnaFenninger She has been ripping it up in Super G the last few years, and she definitely deserves that Gold:)”

Earlier this week, after taking third in the Super-Combined she wrote:

“Today was amazing, inspiring, surreal. Now I can add a Bronze to my collection of Silver and Gold!”

Julia is truly one of those athletes who appreciates the opportunity to compete at the Olympic level, who gives each race everything she has, and who accepts the results gracefully.  She is thrilled to medal (and at four alpine skiing medals in three Olympics, she is the USA’s most decorated female skier), and happy to finish the course.

It’s no wonder that she feels that way – listen to this clip that NBC posted of the excitement surrounding Julia’s runs in the combined.

I don’t typically follow athletes or other celebrities on Facebook (just as I don’t typically write about them in this blog).  I was inspired to “like” Julia’s page  during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when Lindsay Vonn was being touted by all media outlets as the Team USA female skier to watch.  As Lindsay pouted her way through a couple disappointing finishes, Mancuso won two silvers, and showed nothing but love and support to her Olympic-favorite teammate.  In the four years since then, I’ve enjoyed reading along as Julia’s bubbly enthusiasm,  understated confidence, and whole-hearted love steer her through her life.  She doesn’t stop with just skiing, either – she spends her off-season surfing in Hawaii, is involved in multiple business ventures, and devotes significant time and money to philanthropic causes.  If you’re looking for someone to be inspired by, I’d recommend checking Julia Mancuso out.

The “Sliding Sports”

IMG_0465As I catch bits and pieces of the televised Sochi Olympics, I continue to reflect on my experiences seeing the 2006 Torino/Turin Games in person.  This week, my thoughts have turned to what they call  “the sliding sports”: luge, bobsled, and skeleton.  I caught a little bit of each of these in Torino, and if you think it’s awesome on TV, you should see the action on the IMG_0487track!  Of all of them, Skeleton would have to be my favorite.  For one thing, it is just hard-core: they are going head-first! down the track! on their stomachs!  Even more importantly, though, the athletes are really about the sport, the team, the camaraderie – in short, about the Olympic Spirit.


Italians cheer on their sliders at Cesana Pariol, Torino 2006

Italians cheer on their sliders at Cesana Pariol, Torino 2006

I have always wanted to try luge, and I was SO lucky to catch the men’s luge in Torino, and see Armin Zoeggeler, the hometown favorite, win gold at Cesana.  He was born, grew up, and lives just a “state” or two away, in Sudtirol (South Tyrol), a place that sounds a lot more German than Italian.  (Maybe someday I will write a post on the historical linguistics of the southern Alps, one of my favorite topics.)  Unfortunately, I lost all of my photos from the first week of the 2006 Games in a glitch of international technological incompatibility (i.e., the CD I burned in Italy didn’t work when I got home).  The videos of the crowds cheering were almost as wonderful as the race itself.  How amazing it would have been to see him win a sixth gold at age 40 in Sochi! Albert Demchenko, the Russian who won two silvers earlier this week also came in   second at the Torino Olympics – it’s great to see the same athletes stick around at the top of their sport for so long!  And of course everyone has been talking about the US women’s luge star Kate Hanson, and her free-spirited warmups!  Go luge!

I haven’t always wanted to compete in Skeleton, but only because it hasn’t been around for my whole life!  Men’s Skeleton was only introduced as an official Olympic sport in 2002, and Women didn’t compete in the sport until 2006.  When I saw the final (Heats 3 and 4) in February of ’06 at Cesana, that meant it was the first chance at a Gold medal that any of those

Bronze medalists in Women's Double Skeleton jump for joy onto the podium at Torino 2006

Bronze medalists in Women’s Double Skeleton jump for joy onto the podium at Torino 2006

women had ever had.  Every single one of them was clearly more excited about just having the opportunity to compete than about winning or losing. They were so supportive of each other, even when they didn’t speak the same language, that it was inspiring to see.  If you caught the televised preliminary heats tonight, you saw that they are still all about the sport and the Olympic spirit, though obviously there is a fire to win.  Team USA has two women in the top four, giving us an excellent chance to medal.  I can’t wait to check out the finals tomorrow!

After receiving their medals in 2006, the Gold-winning Women's Skeleton Team invited their competitors to share the top of the podium, in one of the most amazing displays of sportsmanship, or Olympic Spirit, I've ever seen!

After receiving their medals in 2006, the Gold-winning Women’s Skeleton Team invited their competitors to share the top of the podium, in one of the most amazing displays of sportsmanship, or Olympic Spirit, I’ve ever seen!

Having seen so much joy and spirit at that track at Cesana Pariol, I was sad to see that it was dismantled due to the high cost of maintenance.  Maybe if it weren’t such an expensive and obscure sports, little girls like me would have been able to give it a shot.

Writing and Reading

Why can’t I instill the same enthusiastic wonder in my writing about vacation destinations, as I did when the locations were part of a longer journey?  I have given it some thought, and I think it comes down to questions of theme and audience.  Put less literarily: Why do I keep writing this blog at all?

Addressing the audience first: I started composing this for my friends and family, but most original readers stopped visiting when I suspended my writing for nearly a year.  Then, with frequent posts on what I hoped were interesting subjects, and following the recommendations for increasing readership, I found myself with a whole new cadre of followers, mostly strangers.  It was exciting – getting dozens of views per day, trying to beat my records, getting creative to keep all those folks entertained!  But eventually I got busy with other things and the writing fell by the wayside, my followers dropped away and I no longer popped up in search engines (how does that even work, anyway?).  So when I posted occasionally about my small-time adventures, I only got a few visitors, and they didn’t engage with the site.  All of this begs the question: For whom am I writing this, and why?  Is it for readers, or for myself?

Yes, writing about my experiences helps me to process them.  Knowing that I will write about a place or event helps me to look deeper than I might have otherwise.  I enjoy developing the natural and historical facts of a place through my own experiences there.  It is a creative outlet, both the writing and the photography.  Sometimes I consider whether I should try to write professionally after all, and putting words down a few times a week is a good way to stay in shape.

Obviously, though, it isn’t just a writing exercise, or I would be doing it in a journal.  Part of me likes knowing that others are looking at it.  The infrequent positive feedback is always wonderful to see!  The reader-getting-game is entertaining when it pays off, and having ten or more visits a day does make me feel like I’m actually part of the larger world.  It is gratifying to know that I do have regular followers who enjoy what I have to say, just as there are those writers whose work I follow with interest.  However, I wouldn’t say that I have enough readers to have a “readership.” Which brings me to the conclusion that even the part of my writing that is “for my readers” is really for myself.  The egotistical, attention-getting, praise-seeking part of myself? Or at best, it is because I write better when I consider the interests and opinions of my readers.  This realization isn’t helping to renew the excitement that I used to find in my writing.

And yet… having them there, having you there is what puts that enthusiasm into my narrative.  I have heard from some who have been excited and inspired by my account of a place or an adventure.  Others may stumble on my words while research a location or journey of their own, which is equally rewarding.

So, O Dear Reader, help me out here!  Why did you happen to read this today?  What are your interests, and will you visit again?  Just this once, leave a comment and let me know.  You could make the difference in whether I continue or not.

Obligatory Century Meta-Blogging

Last week I posted my 100th episode in this blog.  Am I surprised that I got that far, or wondering why I didn’t get there sooner?  Proud?  Questioning whether any of it matters?  Maybe a little of all of that – it is a milestone (three digits!  Two zeroes! A century!) that begs for some reflection, something that I’ve been doing quite a bit of these days.

This blog started as a means to document and recount my travels during a specific journey.  I wanted a way to keep friends and family apprised of my adventures without bombarding them with emails.  I thought I’d like to get back to writing more.  As I continued on my extended cross-country road-trip, I found myself framing my experiences, as they were occurring, by the blog post to come.  What pictures would best explain what I was seeing, or best capture the moment?  What would readers be interested in, and where should I focus my activities and attention?  Themes began to develop within the larger narrative, as I found myself following the west-bound trail of Lewis and Clark, or comparing ecological characteristics across thousands of miles.  West, then South, then East, then back North.  In the end, the writing helped me to process what I was experiencing, and turn it into something more than an isolated, individual experience. 

After I returned from that journey, I settled down in a new home, with a new job, in a part of my state that I knew very little about.  It was a year after returning when I completed the story of my cross-country adventures.  Because of the delay in documentation, this blog has also helped me to remember my travels, forcing me to bring them back to mind, and pull out the best parts.  Time has proven to be very effective at distilling those features worth recalling and retaining!  I continued to write about my new, if less wide-ranging adventures, documenting the weekend adventures as I explored my new setting, and for a while the “nature” aspects of this blog superseded the “travel” portion.  Rather than finding wonder in historically-important sites or strange new scenery, I looked more closely at the wonderful plants, rivers, birds, and light around me every day.  I explored the depth of the world, leaving behind the breadth. 

As I write this, I have been in my “new” surroundings for three years, and it has been three and-a-half years since I started writing “Unsettling.”  Over time I have lost some of the everyday wonder in what I see around me.  I still find beauty around every turn, and learn new things constantly, but without the amazement I felt when it was all brand new.  Occasionally I will take vacations for a week or so, to places where I do get to explore those new things.  You may have noticed that it takes months for me to get around to writing about them here, if at all, and that when I do there is a little something missing compared to that narrative of my epic wanderings.  Passion, excitement, enthusiasm, wonder – for some reason I just can’t seem to channel it when recounting those get-aways.  Why would that be?

Late Spring Mystery Photo

Last night I saw the first snapping turtles laying eggs by the side of the road. Tonight the first fireflies lit up my evening walk.  It must really be June! 

I saw signs of late spring when I was down in southern
Wisconsin last week, too, mostly in the phenology of prairie plants.  Do you know what this one is, about to bloom?  Have you seen it before? What does it
make you think of?

When the answers are in, you’ll be rewarded at the end of the week with some pictures of what this beauty looks like in bloom!