Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mongolia


I've been back from Mongolia for about a week and I'm still thinking "Wow! I was in Mongolia". I've got to say it's never been a place that I thought I'd get to and while I'm glad to be home, I'm definitely glad I made the journey.
I had high hopes of keeping a daily journal while I was there and just typing it in to give you a more "real" experience, but that didn't happen. However, I did manage to keep the journal for 2 of the days so I'm going to post those with some pictures and then I'll fill in the gaps.
17 July 2010
Yesterday we (Anna, Andrea, and I) began our journey from Okinawa to Mongolia. Once in the capital we met up with other WOOT (Women On Okinawa Trails) members (Avery, Corinne, Kathleen, and Steph) and headed to Camp Toilogt in Lake Hovsgol National Park. It was quite the journey. From Okinawa we flew to Seoul, then on to Beijing, and finally got to Ulaan Baatar. We checked into our hotel at 1:30am and checked out promptly at 4:00am to finish the trip. This is where the real fun began.

We took a small plane to Moron and then completed our journey with a 3 hour van ride on unpaved "roads".
(Chris' new dream vehicle)
Chris would love these vans. It's kind of like an old VW van on steroids, including being jacked up on some serious tires to handle the road conditions. The first hour I was in the back and was becoming more miserable with every passing second. I begged a Singaporean guy named Dave to let me have the front and I'm pretty sure this was the only thing that kept me from vomiting for the next 2 hours. Along with the bumpiness of the roads we had to contend with the speed. The drivers liked to go off road to pass each other. It was like we were part of an undeclared race.

video

(Sorry for my complete inability to focus, but I think this clip gives you a pretty good idea of the road conditions)

As we drove we were treated to absolutely stunning scenery. There are grass covered mountains with conifers sprinkling the slopes and vast expanses of openness. We also got to see nomadic Mongolians riding horses and herding sheep, goats and something that looks like a cross between a cow and a yak (known as a dzo).

Everything is so foreign and amazing.

(This little girl was out on her own with her doll watching the family's herd.)

After arriving we ate a late lunch. Some of us took naps and some tagged along a course marking expedition. Once I awoke from my nap I hiked around camp for a little exploration and a photography session.

My only regret is that Chris was unable to make this trip with me. Steph and I had the conversation about how we want to do things, but feel guilty because our husband's jobs don't allow them the same luxury. We're both struggling to find a balance.

19 July 2010

Mongolia is one of the most visually appealing countries I've ever been to. Maybe it's because I've been living on the small island of Okinawa, but these huge expanses of land with the lake and mountains are almost hard to comprehend. The best reference I have is the American West, maybe Montana - Big Sky Country.

The lake that the camp is on, Lake Hovsgol, is actually as big as the island of Okinawa. It's over a 100km long and we can see the mountains of Siberia in the distance.

Yesterday we went for a 5 mile run to see how the altitude would treat us. While I sucked some wind on the inclines, my legs felt great.

(WOOT!)

Running through the forest was like running through a fairy tale. There were hundreds of types of wildflowers in red, orange, purple, yellow, white, blue, and more.

When we popped on to a fire road we came across a herd of reindeer. One had a bell so they weren't wild, but it was still awesome seeing reindeer wandering around freely in the countryside.

About a hundred yards after the reindeer the road was blocked with a herd of cows, yaks, and dzos.

video

I don't know how I'll make it through the marathon because I'm going to want to stop and take pictures of everything.

Later in the afternoon Kathleen, Avery, Corinne, Andrea, and I went horseback riding.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures; I was busy holding on for dear life. I might be able to steal some pictures from Kathleen later)

I've already had a bad experience while on a horseback safari in South Africa where my horse kept trying to bite me and would just take off. So, going into this one I was a little leery. Within the first 5 minutes I was regretting my decision. The beginning was a very rocky area and my horse was not just falling in line with the other horses. After a while he got with the program and by the end I was thinking to myself "I am horseback riding through a forest in Mongolia - unreal". Now, don't get me wrong, I won't be going horseback riding again, but I'm glad I had this experience.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and playing games with an American family that lives in Singapore - Lincoln, Gail, and Amber. All of the race participants are very friendly. There are racers from Australia, Switzerland, France, Hong Kong, South Africa, and New Zealand. While a lot of nationalities are covered, most are like us and living abroad somewhere in Asia. There are about 70 race participants and some locals will join us on race day.

The best part of the evening came after dinner when we were treated to traditional Mongolian performances.

There were so many cool instruments including a 2-stringed, horse-head violin and a harp-like instrument that laid flat and had over 400 strings that were struck with these light wooden mallets. There was also some amazing singing. One singer would hit incredibly low note, but I swear that he was somehow making chords. It was like he was harmonizing with himself. The traditional guttural singing is known as khoomij.


video

There was also a lady that did traditional dance holding cups, including on her head. Later the same lady did a cool contortionist act. I'm pretty sure all the boys are in love.

While here in Mongolia we are living in traditional gers.

They are round structures about 15 feet across made of thick felt and wood. The doors are short, but the ceiling gets higher once you step in. The roof is like a squat, upside down cone. There's a 4 foot circle at the top of the ceiling where half is covered in felt and the other half is glass. Our ger has 4 beds, a couple basic shelves, and a wood burner.

There are no windows which is a real shame since Lake Hovsgol is gorgeous and right outside.

Today is Monday and I'm starting to get a little nervous about the race. I know I'm not really racing it, but I still want to do well. I would love to push myself past the 42 K mark and do my first, unofficial ultra. The next aid station after the 42 mark is at 55K. We'll see...

The weather here is amazing and couldn't be any more different than Okinawa. It's cool and dry. I think it's getting into the 40s at night and maybe low 80s in the sun during the day. Our camp is at 5400 feet and we'll be going up over 7400 on race day. Scary.

So, that's all I actually wrote while in Mongolia. I'm going to add in a couple more shots and a little more narrative.

During our down time we hiked around a lot. The weather and the scenery were just too beautiful to not enjoy.

Lake Hovsgol was stunning. The water had many layers of blue, a lot like the waters surrounding Okinawa. However, the lake freezes over in the winter, still has ice on it in June, and while we were there was about 40 degrees F.

Monday afternoon we hiked and found an ovo (a shelter where the good spirits come to rest). The folklore is that you will have good luck if you circle the ovo 3 times clockwise and leave a piece of your hair.

Well, I did that and about 5 hours later was smacked down with food poisoning (more on that in the next post). Apparently Mongolian spirits don't like me. Or the kitchen staff needs to wash their hands when exiting the restroom.

Also on our hike we came across a little market where locals were selling scarves, hats, and jewelry. They also had the reindeer we had seen on our run. I got a quick shot.

Wild horses would visit the smaller, warmer lake opposite of Lake Hovsgol. They were incredible.

I don't think the race knew what hit them when the WOOT ladies showed up. Seven unaccompanied women coming to the middle of nowhere Mongolia to run a race. We were quite the spectacle.

And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Stay tuned for the race report!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

California


My mom was nice enough to point out that there hasn't been a blog in a while. I really don't have an excuse, I just haven't been feeling overly creative or wordy. However, since I leave for Mongolia tomorrow I thought I better go ahead and write about my last trip.
In June I went to California for 2 weeks to see family and it was incredible! I hadn't seen my parents (who flew out from FL) in a year and a half and I hadn't seen my CA relatives in almost 5 years - since before we moved to England. I figured it was about time!
First things first. After dropping my bags off at Aunt Wanda's we headed to La Imperial for some Mexican. We used to go there when we'd visit in the summer and have fond memories of burritos and quesadillas as big as our heads (and let me tell you, I've got a big head). While the size of the burrito didn't disappoint:
None of us were that impressed with the flavor. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
This was a great relaxing vacation spent shopping (my shopping is very limited in Japan) and hanging out with family.
One morning Aunt Wanda and her friend Steve drove my mom and I to lake Chabot so my mom could get her first taste of trail running.
It was gorgeous, cool, and dry. I felt like I could run forever in California - the lack of humidity was heaven.
While I was there I got to meet three second cousins for the first time and one who I hadn't seen since he was a newborn. I don't want any, but my family sure makes some cute babies!
This is Jackson (he's almost 1):
Jackson with his mommy, my cousin Colleen:
And with my cousin Makenna:
Another cousin I met for the first time was Natalie. here she is with her grandpa (my uncle Mark):
She is so stinking cute! So is her brother Andre:
Plus, I accidentally kicked him in the face and he took it like a champ. :)
The last cousin I met for the first time was Nayana:

She might be the smartest 4 year old I've ever met and with those curls and freckles she is a living, breathing Cindy Lou Who.
I love this picture of my mom and her sister Wanda.
Wanda was nice enough to let me crash at her house and had our trip scheduled for us so we were never bored. My grandma also lives with Wanda. She looks so happy looking at her newest great grandbaby. She has great grandsons, but for a while are family was definitely anti-boy. My grandma has 10 grandchildren and we are ALL girls! Crazy, huh?
This picture will seem a little ridiculous, but after living on Okinawa I miss a good old salad bar. I looked up Sweet Tomatoes before leaving Japan so we could hit it up for lunch.
I licked the plate clean and loved every bite.
Besides family and salad I loved just getting outside in California. The environment is so different. One morning we went walking with a family friend and her dog, Maggie. You know I'm a sucker for a lab.
That morning we saw a buck. Luckily, Maggie did not see him because if she's anything like my old dog Christi she would have been off like a shot. I was lucky enough to capture the deer:
Another day we went to the California version of Tivoli Gardens (the original is in Denmark). The flowers were stunning, the roses smelled incredible, and we had a gorgeous day to explore.
Here are my beautiful cousins Makenna and Karlee:
My mom with this beautiful rose vine:
(sorry for the bluriness - my cousin got a finger print on the lens - oops)
After the gardens we headed back to Castro Valley to the Ice Creamery. This is a childhood favorite where they make not only the ice cream, but all the sauces and whip cream too! I got this beautiful sundae:
But sadly could only eat to the top if the glass. It was so rich and delicious!
Probably my favorite part of this trip was running the Angel Island 25K Trail Run with my mom. It was fantastic! We got up early and drove to the cute bay town of Tiburon. If I was rich, I would love to live there. Here's the view of San Francisco from the Tiburon ferry dock:
There were 4 races offered that day - an 8K, 16K, 25K, and 50K. The 25K route was 3 laps around Angel Island. The first lap kept us down around the perimeter, the second lap was about half way up the mountain, and the final lap took us to Mt. Livermore summit. The views were gorgeous and I took dozens of pictures of the Golden Gate bridge.
After each lap there were great aid stations with all sorts of goodies - gummy bears, m&ms, pop-tarts, boiled potatoes, pretzles, and more.
I love this picture of my mom running down the road:
I enjoyed the entire race and am proud of my mom for going out of her comfort zone to run it. Plus, my mom took first in her age group! My only regret came when I finished and a lady came in behind us, but instead of stopping she was headed out for another lap because she was doing the 50K. A large part of me wanted to continue on with her. I think that's a good omen for any ultras I might take on.
Thinks warm fuzzy thoughts as I try to conquer the mountains of Mongolia!