hello from sunny southern california

boot maintenance

Sheena does some boot maintenance

It was 72 degrees today!  What a welcome change.  We’re having a nice time relaxing down here, having lost some of our pre-trip stress once we left Seattle.  Our material goods are safely stowed away (or at Goodwill!  seriously, at least 4 car loads!) and we’re down to just a few bags.  Maybe a few more bags than we wanted though… the paring down will continue this week, as we try to answer hard questions like, do we need a camping pillow?  Can we go a year wearing only three t-shirts?  Is a towel necessary?


Why south America?


I fell in love with south America in 2008.  I studied in Buenos Aires for 4 months, sandwiched between a month in Patagonia and two more traveling up the west coast of the continent.  I think that almost from the moment I came home it’s been my goal to go back… mostly, I feel like I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg of what the continent has to offer.  I mean, I never even went to Brazil!

To me, the really unique thing about south America is that (almost) all of the countries speak the same language.  Imagine if the United States was the same as it is today, except that each region of the country was a sovereign nation, with different currency, a slightly different history, and so much regional slang.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  Speaking Spanish gets you so far in south America.  And each new currency, regional history, and slang (che boludo) is an exciting new puzzle.  The people are hospitable and friendly, even when I tell them plainly “soy estadounidense.”

Lastly, the natural landscape is just crazy.  The Andes are big (102 peaks over 6,000 meters)!  And there is no shortage of open spaces; the Gran Chaco bleeds into the Pampa, creating a vast region of flatland.  And then the Amazon… I don’t even know what to say about it, because I’ve never been.

So why south America?  Because it’s big and interesting; it’s diverse but also similar.  Because I’ve been there and I already know all of these things.

things I’ve made for the trip

So it’s my last shift of work starting at 7:00pm tonight. MY LAST ONE (at least for awhile)!! Huzzah!!

Since I couldn’t sleep from the excitement of it all, I decided to get up and take pictures of all the things I’ve made for this trip (and for previous backpacking trips as well). I’m not sure why I decide to make things as opposed to buying a bunch of stuff… I’ve always loved to knit, of course, but I think the other crafty side of me exists because 1) everything is exactly to my specifications, or as near to it as my skill allows… which sometimes isn’t much, 2) secretly, I wish I was the next Asian Martha Stewart (hopefully there’s not already one existing), and 3) Pinterest makes you think you can make a bunch of stuff yourself, with varying degrees of success…


This hat has a hole in it. Don’t worry, it’s on purpose so I can put my hair up. The pattern is called “Spirograph“.



I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this pouch… maybe to put my passport and other tickety things in? I used this tutorial from noodlehead. But I changed the size to match the length of my zipper, and I also think I should have topstitched the fabric to the zipper before the sewing around the perimeter step… the zipper catches on the fabric sometimes.


This wallet is small and flexible so that I can put it in my bra and hopefully it’s super inconspicuous. Although now I’m telling you about it and you know where my money is. Don’t pickpocket me, please (or would it be called pick-bra-ing?). Here’s the tutorial, from Soubelles.


I made a couple of headbands (tutorial here).



Some more zippered pouches, but out of ripstop nylon. For toiletries and stuff like that. I don’t think I used any specific tutorial, just kind of cobbled it together from things I’d seen and probably this book.


You can’t go backpacking without about 10 million stuff sacks. I used this video tutorial from SLOABN.


And then I slaved over these little lens cap/filter cozies for Craig. Yes, that is really a turtle on  a skateboard. Amazing!! I’m not sure why I haven’t made more things out of that material. Here’s the tutorial, from Polka Dot Chair.


I made these mittens a long time ago, but I kind of made them up as I went, so there’s no pattern to follow (if you even wanted to). I think they’ll be versatile since they’re convertible (including the thumbs!), not too bulky, and warm. I just have to remember not to machine wash my wool things.


I made this silverware cozy this past summer for backpacking. I’m afraid I’m too lazy to search for the tutorial that I found… I can’t even remember what I searched for. It definitely wasn’t “silverware cozy”, that’s for sure.


I’m allergic to mosquitos (large, painful welts that also ITCH), and I read somewhere that catnip oil was a great, natural mosquito repellent, so I bought some from Tenzing Momo, and also some peppermint, eucalyptus, and citronella oil from The Vajra. I then concocted this lotion bar (thank you, Pinterest… although maybe you’ll see this on PinterestFail later) from this tutorial on Wellness Mama. As you can see, I stuffed it into an old deodorant bar casing for easy application.


Likewise, I made these solid perfumes with the same essential oils… they’re lighter and maybe just as effective as the lotion bar? Anyway, another Pinterest find, and here are the links to the two tutorials I used, one from Etsy, and one from Design Sponge. I really hope these homemade bug repellents work… I kind of hate DEET, and nothing else I’ve tried has really been super effective.


Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. I don’t even know where I got the time to do it all… I made some of these things weeks to months ago. It’s a good thing I’ve been thinking about all this for awhile… otherwise I’d be going crazy right now trying to get it all done. As it is, I feel like I’ve done all I can do… and we’ll just hope it all won’t just go to waste and end up on PinterestFail!

The changes are starting

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This is not my job anymore and that kind of makes me sad!

Today was my last day of work for the next year.  Wow, I feel like I should say that one more time.  No work… one whole year… I was giddy all day long.  I told the cashier at the bakery on the way home.  I chatted about it with the insurance company as I was cancelling my renter’s insurance.

Sheena and I compare stories of how people react, what people are saying to us, stories that people have shared about their own adventures.  Something about this trip makes people want to talk.  They want to help us out too!  So many people have connections with a country or a city in south America.  They have a relative who lives there, or a sibling who traveled there, or maybe their mother is Chilean.

I’m  feeling so grateful for all the friends and family in my life right now.  There has been an outpouring of support for what we’re about to do.  Though, it all tends to amplify this feeling of sadness that I’ve had for a week now.  It’s sad to leave a place that you are so familiar with and to say goodbye to everyone you know!  Getting ready for this trip is putting me through a pretty overwhelming range of emotions.

How do you want look to back at this trip when you’re older? What will you tell people?

I would like to look back on this trip and feel glad and proud that I had done it. But I think this is inevitable, barring any disasters. And even if some parts of the trip are regrettable, I have little doubt that the entire thing will be worth it (of course, this could all be up to the discretion of Columbian drug lords and my appeal to them as a possible drug mule).

It’s difficult to really conceive of the trip enough to have something reasonable to say about it at this time. We’re less than three weeks away from landing in Santiago, and beyond picturing how tired and dirty I’ll feel, my imagination just stops working. Even when I’m lying in bed at night, rigid with anticipation and nerves, I’m not really sure what’s going on in my head. It’s just a generalized aura of apprehension that will, at times, seize me in its grip, but it won’t really clarify anything. So I’m not sure how I want to look back on this trip (besides feeling glad and proud), when I can’t really say how I look on this trip now. Hopefully in a good light. That’s the best answer I can come up with.

One of the most gratifying things when talking to people about this trip, especially older people (barring my mother, of course), is how approving they are. Even before I knew when this trip was going to happen, I would ask patients for a piece of general advice on life, and the majority of them would say, “Travel.” And when I tell them now that I’m taking this trip, every one of them says, “Good for you.” Like I’ve just told them I signed up for calligraphy courses, or something like that. It just seems so simple to them, and I suppose in hindsight, it must be.

If you think about globetrotting even 20 years ago, it was a truly mad endeavor. Loved ones would have to anxiously await a letter that could take weeks to arrive, before they could be assured of a safe passage. How terrifying! And yet, people managed it. No wonder that generation looks at me and says, “Why wouldn’t you? With your blogging and your email and your twitter.”

So maybe, in the future, taking a year off from work and roaming around the globe really won’t be a big deal at all. It’s getting easier and easier to keep in contact with people abroad; the world is getting smaller in many ways. A blog post could be read instantly, tens of thousands of miles away. A reader could be immediately reassured that I was alive and well. In many ways, traveling has gotten much less difficult and scary.

I see myself in those same shoes, years down the road, pointing my finger and saying solemnly, “Go west, young man.” (Meaning, of course, to travel… I’m actually not too keen on manifest destiny or the desecration of native populations.) Because, in fact, millions of others are uprooting themselves, too. Teenagers on their gap year, ex-pats finding homes in faraway places, idealistic ones doing Peace Corps, or even just a young woman, wanting to try something different and going abroad for a year as an au pair. All of these travelers, wandering the world in search of knowledge, peace, enlightenment, or experience. What’s another two people joining their ranks?

I expect that’s what I’ll tell people: We’re nothing special. You could do it as well… And I really hope you will.

On the merits of repeat travel

sheena and i hike to observation point in Zion NP - didn't do that when i was 12!

sheena and i hike to observation point in Zion NP – didn’t do that when i was 12!

I’m a big fan of repeat travel.  I took a road trip through Utah as a kid, visiting many of the national parks, and then nearly repeated it a few years ago with Sheena.  The biggest difference between the two trips was my age.  I remembered qualifying for Junior Ranger badges, and getting snack breaks during our 8 hour car rides (regularly scheduled at 10am and 3pm).  I didn’t remember much else… The second time around I enjoyed the hiking, the extreme landscape, and I noticed all of those German families driving their Cruise America RV rentals.  I got something new out of the trip, and I don’t feel like it was a detriment to do something I’d already “done.”

Sheena and I now embark on a trip, parts of which I have already done.  I have already hiked in southern Patagonia, but how lucky to get to do it for a second time?  And now, to do it with someone I care so much about.  It will certainly add a new flavor.

Traveling as a checklist is sometimes baffling to me.  The more you travel, the more your list grows.  It becomes impossible to complete.  I want to go back to all of those towns I’ve already seen, simply because I didn’t spend enough time there.  How much time is enough?  Maybe we’ll find that out on this trip, but most likely not.

Pre-trip Question #4

How do you want look back at this trip when you’re older?  What will you tell people?

I think this trip is a grand adventure and I hope I can look back fondly.  Each trip I have taken offers something to discover about a new place and simultaneously provides an opportunity for self exploration.  I hope I will look back at this trip in the same way.  It is the biggest and most ambitious one yet, and I think it represents my idea of what is most important to me.  I’m leaving a job that I like quite a bit – no doubt a decision which will confuse a lot of people.  I’m putting career and money on the line for something that I think is more important.  I hope that when I look back at this trip from an older age, I will have no regrets and congratulate my younger self on the decisions that were made.

While I’m sure there will be a lot of specific stories from this trip, which I will most likely tell to my friends and family until they’re bored… mostly I will encourage other people to see the world at every opportunity presented to them!  I believe traveling forces you to look at the world, and at yourself, critically.  This is certainly something that has universal benefit.