Warm-Hearted (Central) Americans

I adore Central America. I love the way the heat sits on your thirsty skin like a wet bathing suit. I stepped off the plane and my brain sent emergency alerts to my confused body and I was instantly perspiring in all the wrong places. I marveled at the locals who seemed to glow ethereally while we foreigners glistened and shifted uncomfortably in our absurd performance fleece and denim airplane attire. After a few days though, I relished my sun-kissed skin and frizzled hair, the climate seeped into my pores and my overstuffed suitcase was as useless as 60+SPF.

Paradise from above

Paradise from above

Sensory memories from the PanAm proved accurate and somehow magnified but what I didn’t anticipate was the all-encompassing joy my pregnant belly could bring to total strangers. I felt like a celebrity everywhere we went, I considered practicing my pageant wave and flawless autograph flourish every time someone beamed ecstatically in my direction. It was a refreshing change of pace from the oddly concentrated frowns back home.

Stairs? Oh no ma’am, not for you, let me direct you to the special VIP pregnant-lady elevator. I found myself gratefully accepting every sincere offer of goodwill and unavoidably comparing them to the snide “I just thought you were fat” remarks I received prior to stamping my passport. Security line? No no, you probably have to pee, right this way to the front of the line. Forget the scanner, how could you be a terrorist? You’re a mother! Tell that to the TSA agents who scolded me to “just go through” the scanners in Texas. Waiting in line for the ladies room in Guatemala was like being on tour. If one lady caught a whiff of my impending motherhood, the whole line was an uproar of nudges and whispers and I was faced with 12 women smiling so hard it looked like they were instantly creating new facial creases with the effort. Is this what it feels like to be Oprah I wondered.

These ladies had no objections to us joining their roadside tortillaria

These ladies had no objections to us joining their roadside tortillaria

More valuable than any trinkets I brought home was the perspective. The frigid Nebraska temperatures had only aided the ice forming around my heart lately. I have been embarrassingly consumed by my expanding waistline and the judgement of others, so easily forgetting the time and energy spent hoping to get to this place. These precious few months left to me are meant to be cherished. In the sultry heat of Belize and Guatemala, I let it melt away and embraced the simplicity of kind words and sincere affection, the small gestures of genuine compassion I hope to teach our daughter soon.

 

Baby's first ruined adventure

Baby’s first ruined adventure

Upper Peninsula

Journal Entry: June 30th, 2013

Two weeks on America’s highways and byways, a journey inspired by Jim Harrison’s Dalva (read this immediately). Maybe this journey’s literary beginnings serve to highlight all the tremendous emotions we grappled with along the way.  We’re nearing the end of the line where something mysterious and new awaits, home. Not just a rental with an exit plan, we’ve got a mortgage and room to grow. The next 40 years stretch out before us, a life we can envision.

Sunset in the Smoky Mountains

Sunset in the Porcupine Mountains

The UP had it’s moments. It rained 80% of the time and was perhaps not the most ideal climate to host our anxieties. For two weeks we camped in the rain, we hiked, we woke before dawn to the echo of emergency storm warnings across desolate wilderness, we lost count of the mosquito bites, and felt certain we might never be dry again. We worked through our fears of parenthood, of sitting still, of living better in Small Town USA. And in the middle of all of it we  muddled through the devastating shock of a friend leaving this world before any of us were ready to see her go. If we went in search of perspective, there’s no denying the effect of a mortal reminder.

No one ever said it would be easy

No one ever said it would be easy

Parked outside the most expensive small-town hotel we’ve ever stayed at, we listened to Iowa’s 107.9 and summarized our emotions over a bottle of Dickel Rye. It was one of those stations that made you want to keep driving right past your destination with Reba, Willie, and the boys.  After the last several years spent side-by-side in a vehicle, it came as no surprise when we felt unable to leave the car that night. I can’t imagine a more comforting conclusion, to know that through all our worries, fears, and questions, we can find solace in each other, in a parked car, in the middle of no-where, lost together.

I was on the verge of jumping into one of those holes in life out of which we emerge a bit tattered and bloody, though we remain sure nonetheless that we had to make the jump.”
― Jim Harrison Dalva

Literary Layover

Arriving in London was like a dream. I never forgot, in fact I consciously reminded myself several times, I had just stepped off a plan from AFRICA and the logic of my excitement for a Western European international city landed me somewhere between absurd and schizophrenic. I have nearly 1500 photos of insane African wildlife awaiting perusal on my laptop but the feeling I get when for the first time I hear someone tell me to “mind the gap” makes my head spin. London! The home of some of my favorite authors and birthplace of more literature than will ever fit on my kindle.

Who me? Yeah. Just chillin' at Virgina Woolf's house. No big deal.

Who me? Yeah. Just chillin’ at Virgina Woolf’s house. No big deal.

As we rolled along the tube (the tube!) I tried to keep my idiotic grin in check. What’s the big deal anyway? I asked myself. Looking around: earbuds in, newspapers out, on the way to work, it reminds me of San Francisco. But on closer inspection this is better. When the doors open we aren’t inundated with a claustrophobic underground hole of a station, but somehow we seem to be in a lovely little village, trim gardens, quaint brownstones and birds, actual birds (not those flying rats we have back home), singing like we’re all in a damn Disney movie.  Is this real life?

If you think this is weird, you should've seen what I did when I realized I got to hear actual recordings of Alduous Huxley and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle inside.

If you think this is weird, you should’ve seen what I did when I realized I got to hear actual recordings of Alduous Huxley and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle inside.

Everyone is incredibly friendly, chatting us up and spouting off recommendations with genuine interest. I almost fell over and died on the spot when one of them proclaimed, “Cheerio!” in parting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of Africa, but I think we just landed in my heaven.

Who ever said you can't find happiness at the bottom of a pint hasn't been to London.

Who ever said you can’t find happiness at the bottom of a pint hasn’t been to London.

The Dark Continent

For Logan and me, the future has always felt certain: a life of ranching in rural Nebraska, eventually. It’s the now that has been in constant flux for the past few years. We can’t seem to contain the scope of our dreams and since our bags are always packed anyway, we’ve decided to keep moving. After our season in Aspen we felt the urge to stretch out a bit further than previously planned.

Come Monday we’ll be on our way to Africa. In a rented 4×4 Toyota Hilux with a rooftop tent we’ll self-safari Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa over six weeks. We have a few other domestic jaunts mapped out this summer but until then, take a look and fire away with tips and suggestions.

Baja

A permanent romance

A permanent romance

We sailed through the Mexican border without a single peso. No worries, no real planning, just the two of us, the road, and Mexico, reunited.

Baja was our first.  The frontier of our wild adventure. What luck to be so near to paradise, a land feared by many, revered by few.

San Francisco, CA

Sweet Home San Francisco

We dug our toes in the sand at Ocean Beach. We had coffee. We ate Burmese food. We parallel parked on a steep hill (still got it). We drove the Twin Peaks. We walked two miles just to ogle.

All the great spectacles of this city remain intact, but the best parts have fled. Our friends made this place magic and just like they inspired us to do, they took big risks and sought adventure elsewhere.  No we didn’t leave our hearts in San Francisco, we found them there. The City set fire to our passions and enabled us to leave with little more than a suitcase full of dreams.

It would be easy to return but difficult to stay. And that’s what we love about it.

Petaluma, CA

PanAmNotes & ADVoDNA together at last

On a sunny Sunday afternoon we sat down to lunch with Dave and Ann, a traveling duo we had never met. Conversation with fellow overlanders flows so effortlessly, meeting them felt more like catching up with old friends than a first encounter between strangers.

As we pulled away from their four acre farm outside of Petaluma we left with the sort of recharge you can only achieve from conversing with people who are in the midst of chasing their wild dreams.

Cool, CA

RIP Cowgirl

 To actually set foot in a grave, to sweat and work, to submit life to the earth with dirty hands, gives a raw edge to the usual tidy farewells of death. “A man is lucky in life to have just one good horse and one good dog,” Logan stated quietly as we laid Uncle Mike’s dog to rest in the horse coral. It was a sad moment but there’s something about the Langenfelds that, even in the very center of grief, they manage an undeniable vigor for life. We left Cool with our spirits high and a heightened awareness for our fleeting mortality.

Memento mori

Bend, OR

At home on the road

My family does not have a history of staying put so something as simple as a kiss on top of the head, the smell of my grandmother’s perfume, or a candy bar materializing in my coat pocket feels more like arriving home than any physical address ever could.

A trip to the doughnut shop is standard procedure every time I visit my grandparents. Even as an ornery teenager I never minded my grandfather’s 5AM wake up call, not even the time he woke me up with a gong. In between slow sips of coffee and his gentle nudging to go for a third bear claw, he made sure I knew just how much he loved me, how proud he was of how I was turning out.

Continuing south and on toward another migratory phase of life, these simple traditions keep the comforts of home close to my heart no matter where we land.