Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Cake is for eating

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, Writing on November 28, 2012 by ilikemountains

You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d — you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction

before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart.

You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you;

What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,

You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands towards you.

                                             Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road, Verse 11

My job gets a lot of reactions – nobody ever hears what I do and then says something bland and polite. Not surprisingly, especially when I’m leaving for someplace exotic (and particularly if it’s during an Alaskan winter), I hear a lot of “you have my dream job – I’m so jealous.” I don’t necessarily correct people, because to be honest, I kind of like the ego boost. I don’t talk about economy class and overnight bus rides and food poisoning and bug bites and impossibly hard pillows. But the most thoughtful reactions are the ones from people who realize that travel writing is a job, and that there are drawbacks to what I do. Most obvious is the toll on personal relationships.

“You can’t have everything.” Someone said this to me in passing last night – a small piece of a larger conversation that was dropped nonchalantly. But it stayed with me and I heard it over and over again all night and this morning. “You can’t have everything.” I keep trying to make sense of that sentence: what does it mean? My first thought is to wonder what it is I want, and what I appear to want. In the context of the conversation, I wondered what it was the speaker thought I might be asking for that I couldn’t have. Outside the context, on a larger scale, it’s a sentiment that has been repeated to me in various forms over the past few years. Dating is interesting: many guys are enamored by my lifestyle, but I know they’ll make the same mistake my ex-husband did: assume that some day I’ll change. I know that these guys aren’t interested in me in the long haul, even though it might take them years to discover that. And when I mention this to my friends, there’s always the inevitable “have you thought about sticking around for a while? How do you expect to have a relationship when you’re always running off somewhere?” No one ever says, “have these dudes thought about dropping their careers and traveling with you? Have they considered changing jobs to make the relationship easier?” No, of course not.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” This sentiment also gets passed on to me, the assumption being that my work and my relationships are mutually exclusive, and that I can’t have one if I have the other. As though it is preposterous to even try on my part to maintain what I’m good at and passionate about. As though my career is frivolous.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my was-band early on in our relationship. He’s a super talented artist, and he told me that woodworking is what gets him out of bed in the morning. “It’s the one thing I’m really good at,” he said. I felt kind of sad for a while – I couldn’t think of anything like that in my life. And then I realized: travel is what I’m good at. This was long before I was a travel writer, and so the discovery that what got me out of bed in the morning was the anticipation of a new culture, new food, and even the smell and energy of an airport seemed a bit tragic and wasteful. Teaching seemed to be the only logical way to use my graduate degree. But then, with surprisingly little effort on my part it seemed, I was a Lonely Planet writer. And it was a job that made perfect sense – until my marriage deteriorated.

The thing is, I tried to change. I thought for sure that being in a quiet place would quiet my mind as well, that I would fall into the rhythm of a schedule and routine and appreciate my simple life in my small town. Instead I found that the lack of stimulation and variety drove me crazy, especially during winter. Anchorage — and its international airport, and Asian grocery stores, and movie theaters, and places where you could buy pants — was over two hours away on a road where I totaled my car my first winter living in Seward.

There are people who are good at managing people, good at being moms, in love with crafting, don’t enjoy travel. They’re finding their places in the world, doing what they love and what they are good at. They have successful relationships. My friends are incredibly successful people that amaze me at their abilities to grow. Their lives are relatable, tangible, and many fall into categories that our culture understands. Me not so much. I’ve wanted so much to be like them, to WANT consistency, and to be able to reap the benefits of stability. I’ve spent many lonely nights in buggy hotel rooms typing on a slow, tiny netbook, thinking about how if I had a regular job I could have money for a Mac, and a gym membership so that I could fit into (and afford) sexy jeans, and an awesome, successful boyfriend. In this daydream I drink a lot of wine and go out to eat a lot and take weekend trips, because isn’t that what you do?

Thankfully, Thailand has offered me a new crop of girlfriends, ones who are more like me (and here I am not discounting my incredible lady friends back home). These ladies are single, smart, savvy, and successful (apologies for that horrible alliteration). Independent and motivated, they lead lives that I can understand. One of these friends pointed out recently that our lives are flexible to a degree that makes most of our back-home friends uncomfortable. I realized how true this was when my bank account went into the negatives yesterday. But that flexibility allows us a freedom that most people can’t understand, and I think that that freedom is the reason behind what we do.

I understand that by eating the cake, it means you can’t have it — it’s gone. So you truly can’t have your cake and eat it, too. But I can’t just sit and stare at it. I’m going to fucking devour it.

On being published

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, Writing on October 4, 2011 by ilikemountains

Note: this is a piece I came across from early 2009, so it’s 2.5 years old. It was saved in my drafts queue, and I kind of liked it so thought I might as well publish it. Enjoy.

Alaska - coming soon to a store near you!

Alaska - coming soon to a store near you!

This year, I will have five books out there with my name listed as a contributing author. I haven’t seen any of them yet (though Pacific Northwest Trips is available for pre-order on Amazon – order your copy today!), and having them on the shelf is both a source of pride and anxiety. Why I’m proud is obvious – being a travel writer is a goal I methodically and passionately worked towards for several years. My anxiety is multi-faceted, but mainly it’s the the fact that now I’m out there for the world to see – and judge.

There was a moment on my Thailand research trip when I realized that as a traveler, I had sort of come full circle. The moment came when I was unceremoniously deposited from a local bus into the rain – one of those scenes where the bus doors hiss shut and the wheels toss muddy puddle water onto me and my luggage. I knew what town I was in, but had no idea where in this town I was.  I called the guesthouse I was supposed to stay at, but we couldn’t communicate so I shoved the phone at a Thai guy standing near me. He shouted into the phone for a few seconds, then handed it back to me. I gathered through the broken English on the other end that I should cross the street and someone would come to pick me up.

I wasn’t necessarily in a town, but a sort of highway stop on the outskirts. Everything was a rain-slicked cement shade of gray, and a giant pedestrian overpass loomed above. I sloshed across the highway, pulling my wheeled bag through the water, to a Thai-style tire shop (ramshackle, housed in what Americans would normally view as a large storage locker) and stood waiting for a few moments. Realizing I might be waiting more than just a few moments, I eventually took a seat at a small table.  I wasn’t worried or nervous or impatient; I had complete trust that someone would come to get me eventually. I knew that I stood out as I sat in the rain outside the tire shop, but Thais are notoriously friendly and polite, so we all just smiled at each other and then went about our business.

Flash back almost exactly ten years: here we have 21-year-old Catherine who has never traveled, and – sadly – has never really even rode the bus. With no real forethought to self-preservation, she’s embarked on a solo trip through Europe, and everything both delights and frightens her. The trip is marked with lots of crying (beginning with the sobbing breakdown upon landing at the Athens airport), but also the huge self-esteem boosts of figuring things out On Her Own.

But right now we see her in Germany, in a spa town called Baden Baden. Though she made a few friends at the hostel, she somehow lost her swimsuit at a hostel in Switzerland (don’t ask) and so can’t join her new friends at the non-naked baths. So she takes a bus to the clothing-optional baths, frolics around naked with a bunch of middle-aged German men (not as pervy as it sounds), then catches the return bus to her hostel. Throughout this trip, she’s relying blindly on her Western Europe Lonely Planet to tell her which bus to take, which spa to go to, etc. She hops the bus, but doesn’t realize it’s going the wrong way (how this happened, I have no idea. Blame it on the  heady elixir of being massaged while wrapped in a heated blanket at the end of her spa visit).  Eventually, the bus gets to the end of the line. It’s near midnight, and there’s no other passengers. The bus driver doesn’t speak English, but he makes it clear she is to get off the bus. She cries (as usual), and eventually he communicates that she should cross the street and wait.

So, at midnight on the outskirts of an unfamiliar town,  I did just that. And I sat on that curb and sobbed, wondering how the hell I was going get myself back to my hostel without being mugged. My only solace was that the bus I had disembarked sat across the street, the driver reading under the fluorescent light.

Twenty minutes later, the same bus makes a u-turn, picks me up, and resumes its route in the opposite direction. Why that driver made me cross the street and sit on the curb for twenty minutes I’ll never know, but I made it back to my hostel just fine.

So now I’m in Thailand, watching teenage boys fill tires while I wait in the rain for a ride. I can’t help but think of the symmetry of the two trips, the crossing and waiting, the not really knowing if a ride is coming, and the perfect time span of an exact decade. And as I mentally pat myself on the  back for becoming such a calm traveler, I have another realization: now I’m writing the guidebook.

That’s a lot of pressure, but thankfully I have the memory of 21-year-old Catherine and all her anxiety. Because of her, I know I’m going to make sure all the bus information is correct. Because, at 27, she had to hitchhike to a hospital in the middle of the night in Panjim, India, I’m going to make sure to find out where the hospitals and clinics are. I’m meant to do this job, and I know I can do it well.

Summer makes me crazy

Posted in Alaska, Travel, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , on July 29, 2011 by ilikemountains

I’m continually amazed by summer’s ability to both energize and exhaust me. It’s the same every year — just like with abundant daylight and and winter’s lack of sunlight, it’s something I always comment on even though it’s super consistent.

On overstimulating summer days like the one we had today (70 degrees!), I find myself daydreaming about fall harvests: canning, freezing, cooking, storing. I’m ready to pick berries already. I need that focus, the kind of primal attention that centers me. I need to stock up on salmon. I’m craving sleep.

There’s a possibility that I’ll be in Thailand for two months this fall, and while I’m excited about it, part of me wants that autumn period to quiet and calm down. Thailand is for late November and beyond, when I want to wear warm, humid air on my skin instead of an extra layer of wool long underwear. It’s hard to imagine jumping from an intense Alaskan summer to an intense tropical country.

I suppose most of this kind of mental craziness stems from my inability to be fully present in the moment: though I love it, I’m constantly thinking ahead (and also behind) to other seasons and times. Also, the kind of intense daydreaming and planning I dive into keeps me from getting very much work done. My house is a mess and I’m not where I want to be on my Lonely Planet write-up, yet I’m Googling canning recipes and thinking about buying 50lbs of tomatoes for sauce. I’m making self-improvement lists, forgetting that having a clean house and productive work life would probably improve a lot of things for me, particularly my stress level. But it’s not a coincidence that I’m choosing this moment to write a blog post after ignoring it for nearly three years.

On that note: back to work.