We are en route from Beijing to Xian , a 12 hour journey via train traveling at speeds up to 100 mph.
The trip to this point has been great. It all started after spending one month at the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver, after which, the process of packing and getting life in general order to be able to take off for a minimum of one year of travel, began. The end of February to mid April was spent in Seattle getting ready for possibly the most adventurous part of the trip – a four month horse ride across Mongolia. We plan to be the highest tech salmon nomads on the Mongolian steppe: two flexible solar panels will cover our horse’s ass to charge up a GPS unit, rechargeable batteries, cameras, iPods, 1TB external hard drive and a netbook (which is loaded with software to translate Mongolian to English) to boot.
No land ownership, teeming with semi-nomads, the largest animal herds in Asia, shamans, tombs, landscapes ranging from alpine lake regions full of fish (locals don’t eat fish) to old growth Taiga forests to the flaming cliffs of the Gobi desert, Mongolia offers the largest vistas of grass and sky and the most diverse landscapes the world has to offer. In 1994, when I enrolled in the Peace corp , my first choice was Mongolia, the most remote country on their list. With almost no roads, and the lowest population density of any country in the world, what city-raised dweller wouldn’t want to experience such a contrast? And be able to learn more from as different a place as one can experience.
With three weeks before departure to Beijing China, I drove my truck and boat to Los Angeles, where the camper and boat will be stored, with two other travel companions who share my same passion for adventure: Sony, a self-described hedonistic free spirit who will travel the year with me, and Aleth, who was recently released after being diagnosed with clinically acute psychosis (e.g. she speaks to dead people). We took a detour in Oregon to ski at Mt. Bachelor for a week and luckily came across a huge dump of spring snowfall. This mountain made for one of my best ski experiences, which speaks volumes since I bore easily on a mountain without any moguls to ski – and Bachelor has none. What it does offer, however, as an extinct symmetrical volcano, is an almost perpetually sunny mountain, the top of which is above the tree line.
A single chair lift allows access to the peak and one can drop down anywhere in a 360 degree circle into the tree line. Any part of the forest can be entered – there are no designated runs, just pure skiing through the most extensive glade skiing with the largest trees you can ski through in the world (not the largest trees in the world).
We did a stop over in SF to see an ex-boyfriend of Sony’s, who kindly injected $2500 worth of vaccines to my already full yellow immunization card of travel shots from previous years of travel. While rabies and Japanese encephalitis are no longer a major threat, I only have to worry about bubonic plague, which is still alive in the countryside of Mongolia – it’s last breeding ground on earth.
L.A’ s dry heat is the best place to store the camper. Left unattended in Seattle, the camper would become a pile of mold in a matter of months.
Once in LA, we made final preparations during the last two weeks: testing all of the electronics, especially the solar panels, getting last minute fishing gear, cleaning out the camper and prepping all the dry powdered food. We are only packing one set of clothes. Since weight is an issue, one is only allowed one or two non-essential survival items (i.e.luxury items). I’ve chosen to bring my dungeons and dragons’ dice in any we have any down time.
A majority of the gear weight consists of wild smoked salmon, which we caught in British Columbia and smoked ourselves - in anticipation of .this trip. Below, are pictures of salmon we smoked ourselves in July 2008 (!) and August 2009.
After celebrating Sony’s Mom’s birthday, with a traditional Korean dinner, we were dropped off at the LAX airport, with the same parting words that several of our friends and family already issued as part of their farewell, “Don’t do any stupid.” On board on Air China, with the GPS unit in hand, I could trace our flight over Alaska and the Bering Sea. I woke Sony to show her the midnight sun and clear vistas of Alaska’s glaciers, Yukon River, and disappearing ice pack in the form of fragmented icebergs clearly seen floating about the bays.
(Below, on Air China, trying to avoid H1N1 and any other airbornes.)
Upon arrival at the Beijing airport, on our way to collect our bags, we met a woman, from San Diego, who happened to be Mongolian and headed to Mongolia for one month. We would later meet her again in Ulanbaatar (the capital of Mongolia) and she would become one of many friends we met along the way who were of invaluable help with translation, navigation and negotiation to buy our remaining gear for horses and the horses themselves. We actually agonized over Chinese customs (would they confiscate our smoked salmon!) only find no custom officers in sight and breezed through the exit like high ranking officials with major connections.
The Beijing airport, modernized for the 2008 Olympics, is the largest in the world. The interior spaces are enormous, but it was the Chinese military guards who provided the real entertainment – always walking in pairs, with arms swinging in unison.