Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guest Blogger! Sue Hanlon's DC Women's March tale

In the first of a who-knows-how-many part series, T-Dawg Speaks is honored to have a Guest Blogger!  No, this isn't about doing outdoor shit, nor is it a rant; it's just a well-written account by a good writer who - somewhat out of character - went to DC to participate in the now-famous Women's March the day after the inauguration of He Who Can't Be Named.  It's a fun and inspiring tale, and thanks very much to Sue Hanlon for taking the initiative to not only make the long drive from New Hampshire to DC but also taking the time to write up a narrative of her experience!  

Women’s March 2017 – 48 hours or bust!

It was early December when I got a text from my sister asking if I wanted to go to the Women’s March on Washington.  I had been contemplating The March but leaning more toward not going.  My reasons were plenty:
-        I am not the “protestor type”
-        The logistics were daunting
-        I hate crowds
-        I want to put my energy toward something more positive
-        I work full time and my life is too busy.
-        And on and on….
I sent my sister a text with my non-committal response.  As I hit SEND, I immediately thought, wow, how lame are my excuses?!  I immediately called her and said, I’m IN!  From that moment on, I was full steam ahead!

As The March got closer, my sister and I started to text back and forth about the details of the trip - where would we stay, what would we put on our sign, how do we get to Downtown D.C., and what snacks will we bring in the car?  About 2 weeks before The March I was having dinner with two of my best girlfriends.  In the midst of our dinner, I blurted out – “I’m going to The March”.  WHAT?  The MARCH, HOW COOL!  

Awwwww Yeaaaahhhhh, this was going to be cool and the buzz in my little circles began.   I could feel the momentum building.  

One week before The March, my sister and I finalized our plans. We had a friend to stay with in D.C.  The weather was looking great.  Our Metro passes were on order.  We bought snack for the car and chatted every day.

From out of nowhere, on Tuesday night before The March I heard the words "PINK PUSSY HAT". What?!  Did someone just say, "PINK PUSSY HAT"? What is a PINK PUSSY HAT and how does it relate to our upcoming event?  After a quick google search, I was in the know….I needed PINK PUSSY HATS asap.  Greg, my husband, to the rescue!  He sews.  We had purple fleece on hand and within a short time TEAM PURPLE PUSSY HAT was ready to GO (as an aside - husband at home sewing pussy hats - right on!).

Friday January 20th rolled around and the 48-hour journey began. I drove to my sister’s house in CT, slept a couple hours and we were on the road at 2:00 AM.  Mission Women's March on Washington was underway!  

In the car at 2AM, tired eyes!

Around 4:30 AM we rolled into our first rest stop for a quick break. There we see a small group of women in pink pussy hats!  We immediately struck up a rather lively conversation (especially lively given the wee hour).  It was the beginning of The March.  We shared our excitement with these super nice gals and headed out. From that point on the momentum built and built and built. It was palpable.  Everywhere we looked, there were women and men and girls and boys (and every other one of the 52 genders now available), all ages, sizes, and shapes headed to The March. The rest stops were jammed.  The busses were full.  The cars were rocking with high energy.  Holy cow!  It was happening.

After driving 10 hours, and drinking lots of Kombucha (thank you to my sister Amy for introducing me to yet another expensive beverage habit!), we arrived in D.C. and met the rest of TEAM PURPLE PUSSY HAT:

Heather - smart, funny, lipstick wearing, mom of two beautiful young girls… charge of logistics and an unbelievably generous host for our overnight stay.
Carrie - adventurous, crazy, fit, fun hog….in charge of finding trees and poles to climb to get the best vantage points throughout the day.
Jim - calm, cool, collected, smiling, kind, token dude… charge of first aid (which would come in handy later in the day).
Amy - peaceful, graceful, beautiful, creative sister….in charge of chants, songs, and group sign.
Me (Sue) - okay, okay, forever the organizer, I was in charge of, yes, you guessed it… overall organization.

Our team – (left to right) Jim, Carrie, Heather, Amy, Sue

Backup support on the home front (THANK YOU ALL):

First stop was to find a Metro that was not closed due to crowds. We drove around a bit but then found a stop pretty far out from downtown. No worries, we parked and ran into the station and, wow, it was packed! The lines to get Metro tickets snaked throughout the terminal. Lots of pink hats, lots of excitement. We got in line and chatted up whoever was near.   An hour or so later, tickets in hand, we crammed into a train that was headed to our final destination - THE WOMEN'S MARCH on WASHINGTON.

Out of the train station, there were hordes of people funneling toward the gathering.  At first we could walk comfortably, full stride, chatting and taking in the sites.  Quickly our strides shortened and we had to keep an eye on one another.  Quickly yet again, we were really tight and decided to form a human chain to work our way into the crowd. Our goal was to get near enough to the speakers to hear, or at the very least, be able to see the BIG screen.   Alas, we were quickly engulfed in a sea of people, jammed together, no room to move, pushed up against whomever we were standing next to.  We looked at each other and said, "I guess we will have to watch this on the news later today because we have no idea what is going on".   It was a sea of people and the speakers/big screen were nowhere in sight. We could hear a roar coming from the direction of the speakers, which made its way back to us time and time again.  We would roar – not hearing what was just said - but knowing it was all a good message.  This was intense and we were so happy to be a part of it.  We took it all in - sights, sounds, signs, smell, and solidarity.

All was well, until I got claustrophobic. Yes, I started to feel like I was about to pass out.  UGH.  I looked my sister in the eye and I said, "Amy, I'm going to pass out".  She said, "Do you want to sit down".  I was thinking yeah, but how would that even be possible.  There was nowhere to stand let alone sit. Then, from god knows where, Dorothy from Winnipeg says, "Do you want a chair"?  I was in disbelief.  A chair? Who brings a chair?  Within a split second, Dorothy whips out a trifold camp chair and sets it down on the ground. I sit, head between my legs, trying to calmly breathe. It was surreal. There I was, in the midst of a half million people and not a bump, not a jostle, not a movement.  That's how this March went down - polite, kind, courteous, generous, and respectful.  To say it was impressive is an understatement!  It was remarkable beyond words.

After about 10 minutes in my seated position I was feeling better and but I had to get out of the density.  Arm-in-arm we snaked our way back out.  It took several minutes before we could move freely.  We laid down on some grass (Carrie climbed trees), got some food and water and re-grouped.  From this vantage point, we could see the actual march had started and we were here to MARCH. And so, we joined in and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue.  The map below shows the route.  This was one of the best parts of the day.  We sang, chanted, marched, and celebrated with our Sisters & Brothers.  It was magical.

March route below:

Two of our favorite chants….We are women, Hear us Roar, Numbers too big to ignore!!!  And….We want a Leader, not a Creepy Tweeter!

Some of our favorite signs (our heart sign on the right) -

Some photos from the day (our sign is the heart on the right with the names of the friends we brought in spirit)

Some photos from the day…

Amy with our sign
Lots of pink hats with the Capital as the backdrop
Washington Monument –we were taking it all in!

Late afternoon, we were beat and we knew the trip back out of the city would likely be as lengthy as the trip in. And so, around 4:00 pm we headed back to Heather's house to bask in the glory of the day, shower, eat, sleep and dream of how we could keep the momentum.

Next morning, back in the car, we were headed north. The same spirit that was around us on the way to D.C. was with us on the way home- cheering, chanting, rest stops filled with Marchers, high fives, and tears of hope and happiness! I was on a high of all highs.  

I dropped my sister at her house in CT midafternoon Sunday.  As I pulled out of the driveway I said, "I am going to stop at the last rest stop on my ride home, which is in southern Vermont and, mark my word, there will be Marchers there".  And yes, it happened.  I drove to the rest stop, got out of the car and sure enough, a fellow marcher yelled- NICE HAT!  We high fived, shared our stories and she said, "We have to keep it going!  We have to keep it going"!!  And I said YES, YES, We WILL KEEP IT GOING.  

I got home at 4PM Sunday - exactly 48 hours after I left.  I am forever changed. I will not rest until I have done everything within my power to support the issues that are important to me and to this day.  

Here we are, a couple weeks out.  So far I have done the following ---
  • I printed and put postage on 100 post cards to mail to our political leaders. I'm handing them out every day.
  • I have emailed our governor regarding important bills up for vote.
  • I have sent letters to US senators to block the Jeff Sessions nomination.
  • I have called friends and family to spread the word.

Lastly, before I sign off, I thought this snippet from Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark, was encouraging. She wrote this in response to the election and action of George W. Bush. It is sadly, newly, highly relevant. It reminds us:

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” 

“It is always too soon to go home. And it is always too soon to calculate effect. I once read an anecdote by someone in Women Strike for Peace (WSP), the first great antinuclear movement in the United States, the one that did contribute to a major victory; the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, which brought about the end of above ground testing of nuclear weapons and much of the radioactive fallout that was showing up in mother’s milk and baby teeth.  The woman from WSP told of how foolish and futile she felt standing in the rain one morning protesting the Kennedy White House. Years later she heard Dr. Benjamin Spock-who had become one of the most high-profile activists on the issue- say that the turning point for him was spotting a small group of women standing in the rain, protesting the White House. If they were so passionately committed, he thought, he should give the issue more consideration.”

Anything could happen, and whether you act or not has everything to do with it.”

“Inside the word emergency is emerge; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast but danger and possibility are sisters.”

Applicable to all levels of governance.

Also, check out the NY Times photos here


Monday, February 6, 2017

Last Dispatch "from" (about) New Zealand

There's been so much good skiing - and socializing - in Utah lately that I've almost forgotten about the summertime adventures of December in New Zealand, but they were worthy.

Upon reaching the South Island I went straight to Nelson, where our great friends Andy and Megan Southwick moved to a year ago.  They had done a 3 year stint there while Andy did his residency, and then did another 6 months as a trade (or somesuch) a few years ago.   Andy's frustration with the American medical system (as a provider, which is discouraging; it's bad enough as a consumer) and the allure of the mellower pace and better lifestyle of a NZ doc in a place they'd grown to love was a strong enough combination that they were willing to leave their longtime home and go to NZ for good; a solid endorsement of the country!  So I had to go see what indeed they had.

Nelson is pretty idyllic; it's on the Tasman Bay and due to good geography apparently is a bit drier than the rest of the notoriously-rainy South Island (though it rained plenty while I was there).  I got to calling it "Santa Barbara South" for it's similar and very nice size, nice mountains that rise right out of the sea, is a big center for both fish and agriculture, and is far enough from any big cities that it's got a nice chill attitude.  It's also the gateway to plenty of great adventures that loom on the South Island.

Nelson is on the International Mountain Bike Association's list of Super Mega Awesome (or somesuch) mtb communities, and right away Megan showed me why:  just a few minutes' spin from town leads into a network of trails that rivals Park City's, but as I'd seen in Rotorua on the North Island, Kiwi mountain bikers tend to go big and there seem to be more pretty-burly trails.  They have a rating system of 1-6 for their trails, with 3 being a nice "average" singletrack, 4 being more challenging, and most of the 5's  -of which there was a lot - I could only ride a bit of, and I didn't even both looking at the uber-rad class 6 sickness.   Not that I'm any kind of a burl-hucker by any means, but I was impressed by the steepness, technicality, and objective hazards that were rife on those trails.
And the Kiwis' industrious nature when it comes to recreation showed itself when I asked at the shop if they had a map of the local trails and the guy said "If we made a map, it'd be obsolete in a couple of weeks because so many trails are being built so quickly!"
most of it was very rideable.  

two things NZ has a lot of:  fences for sheep and fog
But the trails are pretty conducive to moisture

The jungles include monster ferns, fragrant eucalyptus trees, and enormous California redwoods. 

Not sure if this is supposed to be rideable? 

the trails had a tendency to plunge into these canyons
Nelson is also the gateway to the most famous - because it's the easiest - multi-day trek in New Zealand, the Abel Tasman track.  It's about 20 miles long and rolls up into the headlands and down across tidal beaches, and in addition to being a multi-day backpack it's also the most famous of New Zealand's sea kayak areas due to beautiful hidden coves and beaches.

 Water taxis also ply the waters there, enabling folks to go one way and then taxi back the other way.  I decided to go run it in a day, and it worked out well; a fairly significant storm was moving in and because the trail is pretty rocky the rain didn't affect the trail at all; a nice change from the gumbo of rain-soaked trails in Utah.  The first drops fell right on cue with my first steps, and it pretty much poured the whole time, and I felt fortunate that I was able to go at a pace that kept me nice and warm as I ran past the many backpackers who looked miserably soaked.  And when the track went down to and across the tidal beaches (it was low tide; there were mostly alternate tracks around these bays) I happily splashed through the residue water and wet sand, since I was soaked anyway.
the orange post is a trail marker
I had made a reservation on a 3pm water taxi from "the end" (theoretically I could have gone farther, but the tide was coming in and the last section had no high tide alternative) back to the beginning of the track, but I knew that there was also one that I could get on at 1:30 if I hustled.  So I hammered the last bit and got there just in time to meet the taxi, which was dropping off some backpackers.  Due to the storm the waves in the normally-placid bay were pretty big and the boat couldn't land on the beach, so the captain anchored a ways off shore and his passengers had to jump into the surf.  Since I was soaked anyway I waded out and helped them unload, but with a strong wind I blowing, wet clothes, and an hour+ ride back in the boat I was a little worried about getting cold.  But soon enough I had plenty more to be worried about!

We headed out into the waves and I was quickly pretty intimidated:  the decent-sized boat was literally climbing vertically out of some waves and crashing straight through others; I had a panic bar in front of my seat and indeed my knuckles were white on it:
 with my body flying out of the seat and smashing back down. After a bit the pilot said "here, put this on" and handed me an inflatable life jacket; I said "hey, you got another one of those I can put on, and a flare gun as well?!"  He just laughed and as I looked into his face I realized that about 90% of the time he just noodled back and forth along the bay in flat water, and this smashing surf was as fun for him as it was scary for me, and he was pretty much havin' one.
cool as a Kiwi kukumber!
 So I relaxed (but snugged the pfd up tight!) and began to enjoy the harrowing ride as we went in and out of various bays "rescuing" soggy backpackers and sea kayakers who were bailing out of the storm to escape back to civilization.

The original impetus for me to go to New Zealand was to go paddle the legendary rivers that spill down the mountains on the West Coast, and I figured that if I was on the South Island I might as well try to give it a go, even though my good paddling pard Andy (Windle) was now hundreds of miles away.  Andy and Megan were kind enough to let me borrow their car - and assumed I would continue to be able to drive on the left side of the road and go the correct direction around the roundabouts - for me to drive south in search of rivers.

The most obvious destination was the mighty Buller river, which is the biggest river system in New Zealand with a dozen moderate runs within a half-hour radius of Murchison, a couple-hour drive south of Nelson.  On the banks of the Buller is the New Zealand Kayak School, which was founded and run by Mick Hopkinson, who is as close to a kayaking legend as any human; he pioneered most of the runs in New Zealand and for many years was one of the leading expeditioners in the world (in the guest lodge there's an old paddle above the fireplace that says "Paddle that Mick used on the first descent of the Blue Nile in 1972") so it was natural for me to go there to see if I could get some gear and get on a river via Mick's operation and community.  
Mick supervising the boat-unloading operation.  He's most definitely The Man
He doesn't mess around with his place; ship (boat) shape!
When I exchanged emails with his wife she suggested that I stay in the campground because that's where the kayakers who came to paddle typically congregated, but when I arrived there I saw only caravans full of German tourists.  I went into the vast metropolis of Murchison (pop 500) and found a pizza place; the owner was out of beer but said "you can't have pizza without beer!", disappeared, and came back with a big bottle, and as his place was connected to a hostel and it continued to rain it wasn't hard to easily forget about camping.

The next morning I realized that there were still no other folks to paddle with - and Mick wisely doesn't rent gear to solo paddlers - so I went to plan B....which I didn't really have.  But on doing a little research I found that the "Old Ghost Road" mountain bike route was not far away, and amongst the pile of rusted bikes under the steps of a hostel was one that actually fit me, had a chain that spun, and air in its tires, and the ever-so-kind hostel owner said "sure, take that bike, but don't pay me for it, just bring it back!" so off I went (and was able to change the brake cables around so the rear was appropriately on the right!  Tho I did forget to change it back, which has haunted me ever since; I hope no Kiwi has pitched over the bars when he grabbed a bunch of front brake!).  
it rolled, so it was all I needed
The Old Ghost Road was originally establish back in the gold rush days of 18-something when the hardy miners built one road into the mountains from the south and another from the north with the intention of connecting them, but the highest terrain was too steep and rugged.  But the routes still existed as trails, and fast-forwarding to 2009 a couple of guys had the vision to finally connect the trails and create an 85km/53mi route with 3 beautiful huts along the way that people could stay in.  It "opened" in 2015 and proved wildly popular immediately; the huts are already booked 9 months out, every night.  It's not a "bike packing" route per se; it appears that most folks just take their regular mountain bikes and medium-sized backpacks to carry 2-3 days worth of food and a sleeping bag, since the huts have everything else.
pretty big pack to ride with..
 I rode 30km up a steady climb to the first hut on  great singletrack

hung out at the hut for a bit with the volunteer hut keeper

 and zipped back down. There are a couple of "slips" that happened in a big earthquake in 2009:

shoring these things up and installing the cables after the earthquake must have been hard, harrowing work
While the story is inspiring to users, not all is rosy; the whole project ended up costing a fairly-ridiculous $7M, which will mean an awful lot of $30 per person/per nights in the huts, and this is a pretty significant chunk of the $50M that was allocated by the Prime Minister for a nation-long bike trail, which is indicative of how seriously NZ takes its "extreme" recreation industry.  But I  - and a couple of other Americans I met who were on a NZ mtb odyssey:
in lieu of using am expensive camper, these folks stuffed their gear and bikes into this tiny $13/day rental car and were Air BnB-ing their way around the country.  
 - certainly had a nice time on the expensive trail!
Some awesome boots from the mining era; these are over a hundred years old.  Goes to show the toughness and longevity of tanned leather.  
who needs crampons?

Teapots haven't changed much in 100 years.
The next morning I again faced a dearth of kayakers staying at the campground (but did meet this American raft guide, who gave Ash and I a shuttle on the Merced river in California back in May)

 but mid-morning as I was back at the hostel strategizing for my next move Mick came roaring up and said "we're on!" and an hour later we were heading for the Buller, and inexplicably it went from "no one is kayaking today" to a group of 8 - including "the other" NZ kayaking legend Peter Kettering - on a great,. beautiful, big water run with fun Grand Canyon-style rapids.  One of the guys I was on the river with had recently moved to Norfolk Island, which is an island in the middle of the Pacific that is all of 8km long and 5km wide, yet still has roads, cars, towns, and an airport!  I found it a bit hard to fathom, but he loves it, tho he admitted there aren't a lot of good rivers on a 3 by 5 mile island!

Satisfied that I had finally gotten at least a mild dousing of South Island rivers, I headed back to Nelson to spend a few more days slaying singletrack with Team Southwick.  On the way home I had to stop at this place:
On Andy's recommondation:  this country pub served up the best....Chinese food I've had in years!  General Tso's venison
I was happy to be there to partake in Nelson's Saturday market, and like markets around the globe, it had its share of characters:
This guy is actually from Georgia, and has been in the footwear business for....two months! 

But has already come up with rad designs like these.

this guy is 82 and makes beer-can planes

This guy's eyebrows were incredible enough - and emphasized by a pretty dramatic eye tic - that I had to buy some of his hazelnuts to take home; damn the US Customs! 

The purveyor of Knit Wit slippers; I'm wearing them now....

This guy actually also plays  - or played? - for the NZ national symphony
"Rocket Lettuce" - a far better name than "Arugula!"
Megan stoked to be in strawberry season
Megan and Andy were just in the process of buying a new (to them) house that is clearly a bit of a "project'.
New Zealand Gothic
They have Llamas for neighbors; I think these guys were a bit embarrassed by us laughing at their freshly-shorn look..
it also has orange and lemon trees in the yard....

and plenty of other important farm implements

This was interesting to me, because a common topic in NZ is the exorbitant cost of housing there; the median home price in Auckland is about $800k, and I read articles talking about....sub-prime loans that were quite prevalent.  Especially as I was coincidentally reading The Big Short, It was hard to not wonder if NZ is the 2007 Iceland or Ireland of today and could be the canary in the global real estate coal mine?

Regardless of that, New Zealand lived up to all the expectations that I had for it; great recreation, super nice people, great food and drink, beautiful, and an overall "chill" and humble attitude about their great country.
And can't forget the delectable custard squares:  one of the best things about Commonwealth countries!
Thanks again to Megan and Andy for their great hospitality!