There’s Something about a Bike

From Ben:

There really is something exceptional about seeing a new place for the first time from the seat of a bicycle.

    On this trip (very much including the US portion so far) we have hiked in spectacular places (Palo Doro Canyon in Texas, the hills above Santa Fe, the French Valley in Torres del Paine, and Laguna Cerra Castillo), kayaked in a fjord, explored the streets of Santiago and Coyhaique – but nothing quite matches the experience one gets on a bike. 

My first encounter with this type of travel came in 2003 when Joe Swayze and Tim Carey persuaded me to join them on a long distance bike trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam with an intrepid group of Nobles students (and then Sarah and David joined the same trip in 2006). It was there – among the endless “hellos!” from children along Highway 1, heart-stopping after heart-stopping vistas, small towns and villages that offered a snack, coffee, or a spontaneous conversation or interaction (often with a Polaroid camera) with local people that helped us realize the power of this form of travel.

    Our week on the bike in Chile has met every expectation (including sore butts and tired legs). The scenery has taken us past glacier-fed lakes, stunning mountain peaks, a variety of small villages, and through pristine valleys. The weather has been varied – one day of hard rain and forty degrees, another of sunshine and seventy-five, and a few days where the notion that weather forecasts here are “simply a suggestion” have pushed us from multiple to single layers to raincoats all in the span of a few hours. As expected, our group is an active one with people eager to get on the road regardless of the forecast yet flexible to changing conditions. Our team of Chileans have been eager to help and support at every turn.

It’s hard to believe we’ll be back in the States in five days after almost five weeks here. Chile has exceeded all expectations and while we’re eager to be ‘home’ to see friends and family in the western US for the next two months, we’ll be sad to step away from this amazing adventure. We couldn’t be more grateful.

Here is what we are riding by:

Stay safe, everyone! ❤️

From Coyhaique to Pucon

We had an amazing week in Coyhaique, meeting new friends who are are following their dreams of creating schools, Sean & Kristin at the Alzar School and Betsy and Michele a Montessori school. We ate well and hiked, the climb up to Laguna Cerro Castillo being both stunning and challenging!

We flew to Pucon yesterday and start a week of biking this morning. The adventures continue!

Photos from Cerro Castillo hike:

From Coyhaique:

the ubiquitous mate!
Deliciousness from 455 food truck!
Cool wall!

And from Pucon:

hotel view!

Stay safe, everyone! ❤️

On 2.22.22

“Tengo Hambre”

In Spanish you don’t say “I am hungry”, you say “I have hunger,” the same way you’d say I have diabetes or I have any condition. It seems so different than saying I am hungry to me. It almost pulls this need out of the body and makes it clearer and more matter of fact. What if we did that with other basic human needs. “I have sadness” when you are sad. “I have love,” when you seem filled with love and can give it to others. Last night a man came up to our outdoor small table at a restaurant on the square in Coyhaique and said, Tengo hambre and pointed to the leftovers on Susan’s plate. She nodded and he scooped up the few bites left of a burger. He looked at the bun from my veggie burger, and I nodded. He pointed to Susan’s salad and lifted the bowl, but he couldn’t take the bowl so he poured it into a napkin. Tengo hambre, he said again under his mask and walked away. I can’t decide if it was the saddest thing or the most efficient, perfect way to end a meal. Or both, I guess.

How direct “Tengo hambre” is. And without judgment. I am a human. I have hunger. Here are four other humans who had hunger and satiated it and have food left on their plates and another human sees the food and declares, Tengo hambre.

That was our first night here in Coyhaique in the Aysen region of Patagonia. This morning we’re headed out to the Reserva Nacional for a hike on 2.22.22.

Here are some photos of Coyhaique:

View from our hotel

Stay safe, everyone. ❤️

In Patagonia

Happy Valentine’s Day!
How perfect to write about love – of course about Ben, my forever valentine who has joined me in retirement and what a way to being this new chapter!

But I have also fallen in love with so much on this adventure in Chile. We’re 12 days into a five-week journey with our long time friends Alec and Susan, along with some new ones. We spent the last week hiking the W-Trek in Torres del Paine, a most amazing part of Patagonia – a seriously beyond-beautiful part of the world, a rugged, spectacular beauty. It was fifty miles of tough hiking in serious winds, staying in Refugios along the way. We saw avalanches, glaciers, and icebergs. I fell in love with my backpack, the mountains, sleeping in bunk rooms with old and new friends. I loved our Chilean guides, Andrea, Camillo, and Cem (who’s actually Turkish). I love my hiking boots, the lentil soup, and cold beer in the evenings. So much to love.

I felt a kind of sacred love of our planet in Torres del Paines. Just seeing the stunning majesty of the glaciers was being in the presence of something much larger and more important than my little life. Along with a sadness. The melting of these lovely beings.

We are in Petrohue in Northern Patagonia still hiking and kayaking and adding biking. Today we kayaked through fjords with snow-capped volcanoes as the backdrop. I have fallen in love with Chile and this new chapter in Ben’s and my life that seems ignited anew.

And from Ben:

An occupational hazard of working with young people is that one hears the word “awesome” a great deal. “Breakfast for lunch is awesome!” “That new shirt is awesome.” “She’s so awesome.” And there are times when Sarah has reminded me that I can occasionally slip the term in inappropriately.

The derivation of the word (of course) comes from being in awe of something – seen with reverential respect or wonder; and five days in Torre del Paine were filled with only reverential respect and wonder ( along with some sore feet and hips along the way). Hiking with mostly full packs over fifty plus miles simply exceeded all expectations (not that I had any, really). Literally every step warranted stopping and taking a picture – and Sarah’s pictures will give a sense. 

But to be in the presence of such natural beauty could only generate feelings of reverential respect and wonder – not to mention the gift of our wonderfully patient, kind, and generous guides Cem (pronounced “Gem”), Andrea, and Camillo who took such pride in sharing their natural home with us. 

So might I slip back into using “awesome” to describe the mundane after this adventure? I sure hope not, but forgive me if I do.

Photos from our five-day backpacking adventure:

Our group!

The map of the W-trek, note the white-ish outline of a ‘w’.
Kayaking among the icebergs at the end of our trek.
Up close to the glacier on a boat ride back to civilization.
Kayaking in northern Patagonia in the fjord today among the snow-capped volcanoes.

Be safe, everyone. ❤️

In Santiago

We are staying at a wonderful hotel, Castillo Rojo (yes, a red castle) in the middle of the Bellavista part of Santiago, right next to La Chascona, the Pablo Neruda museum and the Parque Metropolitano, that includes the second highest mountain in Santiago, among other cool places like a zoo. Perfect for the start of today’s adventure—a hike up to the top of San Cristobal hill where the enormous statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception reaches out her arms.


At the bottom of the hill again, we found the museum that my aunt, Nancy, reminded me about (in New Mexico where she graciously welcomed us into her home). Thank goodness, because it felt like another spiritual pilgrimage (like standing in courtroom where a young Nell Harper Lee would watch her father). Every room in Neruda’s home was chock-filled with such interesting things that conveyed his irrepressible love of life: images of the sea, art from the many places he lived and visited, paintings of his wife Matilde, words, maps, art, and photographs. A home filled with beauty.

Of course, I bought one of his poetry collections, The Sea and the Bells, published posthumously.
On the first page of the introduction, the translator, William O’Daly, writes, Neruda says that the sacred duty of the poet “is to leave and return.” He must leave his country to encounter other people and places, and he must be aware of the process of spiritual rebirth as one element of the journey.


Though it’s taken me a while to say I am a poet, I do feel like Neruda was speaking to me, affirming the need I feel (and Ben feels) to travel, the present-ness that being in a new place provides, the people we meet who teach us, and the immersion into nature.


Here is tiny sip of Pablo Neruda, an untitled poem in the book:


I am grateful, violins, for the day

of four chords. Pure

is the sound of sky

and the blue voice of air.

Ben and I left the museum and headed out into the city, ten miles of walking my phone tells me, along the Parque Forestal, through the busy Mercado Central, and sat for awhile watching the world in the Plaza de Armas.


I am grateful for the small girl I saw skipping in the shade of trees. She made me smile and think about the last time I skipped.

Some images from the day:

At the top of San Cristobal
the Pablo Neruda museum


Stay safe everyone.

One month down, three to go – road trip reflections from Ben

    Just over a year ago I knew my time at Nobles was going to come to an end in the relatively near future – the real question was just ‘when?’. 

    When working/teaching from Vermont during the pandemic I found the need to build into my calendar 30 or so minutes in the middle of each day to get outside and walk. Sometimes silently to think. Other times to grab an episode of The Daily, Brene Brown or someone else with interesting things to say. One day a podcaster – attempting to give advice to early or mid-career folks – posited the idea that when thinking about one’s professional future they should “reflect on the most satisfying and important six months of their lives” and try to replicate that somehow in searching for the next thing. 

    It took me a nanosecond to find those six months – as it had happened twice with six months of travel with Abby and David at 9 and 11 in 2000 and then with Sarah in 2015. Yet I also felt this deep level of dissatisfaction with the way school life was in the midst of Covid – zoom classes, students masked and zip codes away when we were on campus, endless zoom meetings, and just a lack of meaningful human interaction. Yet the spring semester of 2021 gave some hope that we might return to some semblance of normalcy in the fall.

    So the plan became clear. Hope for a ‘normal’ semester of teaching, coaching, planning, supporting – and then step away mid-year to have another ‘best six months’. 

    And so as we complete the first of those six (sitting in quarantine in Santiago) it has been as satisfying as I could have hoped for. 

    Why?

  • The comfort of the road – and being with Sarah. We have plenty of practice at living on the move and in all sorts of environments and it now comes easily to us. Time together without the press of daily (mostly Nobles) commitments, an often unspoken way of supporting each other or anticipating what will come next or what needs to be done, or having the time to tackle a quick crossword (she’s 1000 times better at it than I), the life of travel that some people find stressful is actually invigorating and brings us closer.
  • The outdoors beckons us daily. We both love to be outside – and almost regardless of the weather. While our North American tour has been colder than anticipated, it hasn’t gotten in the way. We’ve been able to explore wide, windy beaches in South Carolina, long rails to trails on our bikes in the panhandle of Florida or in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, hike in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas and the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in Santa Fe (where I even went downhill skiing for a day) – the opportunities to be outside have been priceless. 
  • The importance of family and friends just couldn’t be more apparent. We so rarely get the opportunities to “hang” with those closest to us. Holidays are rushed, work needs to be done, and there never seems to be enough time. On the other hand, this journey has provided us with time to linger, without agendas or expectations, and have deeper and more meaningful conversations with some of the most important people in our lives. 
  • And – finally – this month has affirmed both how right the timing was to step away (I got that wonderfully mostly normal semester!) and how grateful I am for having lived the Nobles and family life I’ve lived for the last thirty years.

Now it’s on to five weeks in Chile with some of our closest friends (Alec and Susan Lee from CA) to some of the most beautiful places in the world to live mostly in the outdoors. Grateful doesn’t begin to describe.

Here’s where we’re hanging out – the balcony of our hotel room as we await negative PCR tests from the airport in Santiago this morning:

Ben beat me in two out of three cribbage games today 😕. Lovely day here: 75 & ☀️.

Stay safe everyone! ❤️

From Ben: Musings from the Back Roads

We often don’t know what we think until we read what we write (a thought I’ve shared with students for years). For the last 1000 miles of our 3247 driving miles so far, we’ve been off of the interstate highways.

I get the anger a little better now.

Small town after small town on backroads through rural Virginia and North Carolina, the panhandle of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas there were abandoned storefronts, vacant playgrounds, an infinite number of Dollar Generals (a sure sign of poverty and the only non-gas station/convenience store in many towns), empty main streets, decrepit homes either unoccupied or in need of repair. 

In Monroeville, Alabama (home of Harper Lee and a must-stop destination for Sarah), we got into a conversation with the director of the Courthouse Museum. When asked about the ‘state’ of Monroeville (which was pretty obvious when the only seemingly active store on a beautiful square was the local equivalent of Savers) she replied, “When they ‘off-shored’ the Vanity Fair factory, the town fell apart. Yes, we have a small paper mill left but the decision to close destroyed the town. I’ve been here forty-six years, and I’m not leaving, but there aren’t jobs and nothing really for young people especially because we’re thirty miles of the interstate.” Now, I know nothing about Vanity Fair and where they sent the jobs, but I’m 100% sure that there was a decision made to increase shareholder value and profitability that gutted this town. Is it a surprise that people here want to take America back to fifty years ago when small towns and manufacturing created good jobs and solid communities?

So when one combines that daily reality in thousands of towns like Monroeville with the national tragedies in last twenty years — an opioid crisis fueled by big pharma that cost tens of thousands of lives with the support of the FDA, a housing crisis caused by predatory lending when not a single perpetrator from Wall Street went to jail that cost hundreds of thousands of people their homes, a war in Iraq fueled by misinformation that was primarily fought by those in communities like Monroeville, a nation building project in Afghanistan that cost billions after the original OBL mission was accomplished — it becomes much easier to understand why people are angry and have lost faith in their government and leadership. 

And as we’ve learned from so many societies, when there are national problems (imagined or real), there needs to be someone to blame and a desire for simple solutions. Hence…Make America great again

It’s too easy in the bubble of my life (that has been filled with significant unearned advantage) to say, They’re racist or They’re ignorant and don’t understand.

Though I’ve not moved closer to a Trump world, these rural miles have helped me understand some of what people I don’t know feel a little better. 

From Sarah: Palo Duro Canyon State Park (just south of Amarillo, Texas) and onto Santa Fe

We had an amazing hike in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park that appeared out of the infinite, vast flat horizon. We tested our packs that we’ll be taking to Chile. Gorgeous weather and perfect day.

Ben on top of Lighthouse:

The trail we did was Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail to Lighthouse Trail—well-marked and beautiful.

And after a four-hour drive the next day, how joyful to see Julia and T and Isaac and Elsa! Santa Fe is just stunning—snow and sun and family love.

Stay safe. Miss you. Love you.

Florida to Alabama to Mississippi

We have let Waze help us find our destinations, and wonderfully we’ve been off superhighways throughout most of the Panhandle of Florida and through Alabama and Mississippi. What a way to see this part of our country: its surprising emptiness, its beauty, its real poverty, the ubiquitous Dollar General stores, and always, kind people behind a counter at a gas station.

Yesterday we left the pleasantness of our friend’s Airbnb (thank you, Ned Horton!) on Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, and drove to Montgomery, Alabama. Ever since hearing Bryan Stevenson speak in Boston and seeing a 60 Minutes segment about his passion to create The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, we have wanted to visit this powerful memorial for those who were lynched in America. We hadn’t even known about The Legacy Museum. The power and intentionality of both the museum and the memorial moved us profoundly. I hope the images (all from the memorial, no photos allowed at the museum) below convey even a bit of what we experienced in those four hours.

From Montgomery we drove to Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s home in the town she based the fictional Maycomb on in To Kill a Mockingbird. The local courthouse where Lee’s father, a trial lawyer, worked is now a museum. What a treat for me; I taught To Kill a Mockingbird each of the thirty-seven years that I taught English. The novel feels quite cellular to me, her words flowing in my bloodstream.

And now here we are in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, waiting for the day to warm up a bit before we head out on the Longleaf Trace bike trail.

(At the Memorial, there are jars of soil from the places people were lynched; at The Legacy Museum there are thousands more. The number of names and jars is overwhelming.)

The Memorial outside:

And from Monroeville, Nell Harper Lee’s home,

the courtroom, that the movie based its set on:

I love that line, when I work to learn something, I remember it.

Stay safe. Miss you. Love you.

Three Wonderful Days with Darryl & Denise

A ‘guest blog’ from Ben:

Outside of my immediate family, there is no single more important or influential person in my life than Dr. Darryl Taylor.

While for over fifty years we have joked about being ‘brothers from another mother’ – Darryl has been my big brother and role model since he arrived at Cranbrook as a Horizons Upward Bound student in the late 1960s. The barriers he has broken, the obstacles he has overcome, the integrity in which he’s lived his life, the beautiful family he’s created, the resilience he’s shown, and the mentorship he’s provided have shaped my life and view of the world in untold ways. 

His career as a dentist in the Navy took him all over the world and created stretches of time where our paths didn’t cross, but the connection was always there, and spending three days with Darryl and his wife Denise in St. Augustine has been a gift beyond measure. 

“Family” is a word that can mean many things and can bring out both the best and worst in us. With Darryl and Denise “family” over these days has meant sharing every aspect of our lives in the best possible ways – hopes and dreams for our kids, disappointments faced along the way, belly laughs from shared past experiences, and the occasional emotional moment. During delicious meals, fun at Top Golf, a walking tour of St. Augustine, and just relaxed conversations over coffee in the morning and drinks later in the day, we simply could not be more grateful to have spent this time with family. 

An evening walk in St. Augustine:

The stunning moon:

The only real golfer at Top Golf—Darryl:

And a little putting back at Darryl & Denise’s home:

How grateful we are.

Onto biking (Rails to Trails) in Tallahassee & a few days at Panama City Beach (thank you, Ned Horton!).

Stay safe. Miss you. Love you.