17 Years and Counting

A few years ago we were having a dinner party because we like to have dinner parties. One of our guests asked me how John and I met. As people in long-term relationships do, I rattled off the story that has been told so many times I remember it more in the retelling than in realtime: “our roommates were best friends.”

But this guest wanted to know more. “How did you fall in love?”

Ah. The story of our first date. It was the beginning of spring semester 1994 and John was teaching Geography 101, a large lecture class. His mom Betty had given him lots of gorgeous new shirts, colorful, (Betty loved clothes!) but John needed ties to match and it was going to get complicated. He asked me to help him shop and I said yes. After picking out ties, we went to have a few beers and some food. Shopping, beers, and food? How could I not fall in love?

But this guest was on a mission, “What was it about him?”

Okay. Right. You want details. First off, he’s smart. I remember writing a letter to my father telling him I met someone, a fluvial geomorphologist. My father’s ensuing letter had more exclamation points than should be written by a former English major’s hand. I’m like my dad in that I geek out over nerds. Takes one to know one I guess? Secondly, he loves adventure. Early on, John wanted me to go backpacking. I told him sure, that I had backpacked all over Europe. But then we went backpacking and, um, the trail was decidedly NOT PAVED. Even though I cried, I loved it. And after my blisters healed, I couldn’t wait to go again. And third, he’s curious. At heart, John wants to know more: more about systems, about places, and about you.

This guest, was she planted? “But how have you stayed together so long?”

Well, I think it’s very rare to find someone with whom your values are so closely aligned. John and I don’t want to get married, we don’t want children. Our spiritual and political views are compatible. We have similar life goals. It’s rare to find such a close match.

“Except on the Internet,” the guest said.

I laughed hard. True. But back in 1994 Internet Dating had not been invented yet. John and I were lucky to find each other the old fashioned way. And we’ve had 17 years of joy because of it.

I can’t imagine my life without him. I love you Johnnie!

John & Trish in Castelnaud France
John & Trish in St. Lucia
John & Trish in Peru
John & Trish in Buenos Aires

For Gabby

The first time I met Gabby was at a Congressional fundraiser at Cheuvront Wine Bar. John and I were in a side room packed with about 100 people. A friend introduced us to Gabby, who flashed her bright smile and said “Hello!” She approached us so warmly I wondered if I might have met her before. But as she spoke, I realized it was just her personality—she’s one of those friendly people to whom no one is a stranger. She talked with John about solar technology. She talked with me about life in Washington versus Tucson. John asked her a question about NASA funding. And when an aide pulled her away I was sad, because Gabby made me feel like anything was possible.

The next day I did some research and found that Gabby and I are the same age. “What an amazing woman!” I thought. “She’s out making the changes I only dream about.” Gabby inspired me to become more active in local politics. I started attending more fundraisers and events around my state. I donated time to the campaigns of several local politicians. And John and I gave money to Gabby’s 2010 congressional campaign, even though we’re not in her district.

This past Saturday morning I was lying face-down on my bed, having the same severe abdominal pain that has been tricking me up since November. My radio was set on “sleep”: it would play for an hour then turn itself off. I was listening to Paula Poundstone on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, when the announcer broke in, “We have more information on what may have been a politically motivated shooting in Tucson . . .“ and then silence—the hour was over.

In the moment it took me to drag my body up and turn the radio back on, my mind shuffled through the long roster of controversial Arizona politicians. Which one could possibly be the target of a violent attack? I will admit that my subconscious filled in that blank with a few names that would have been convenient for my own politics. When I turned the radio back on I heard, “We are live at the Safeway in Tucson and once again we report that Gabrielle Giffords has been shot point blank in the head.” My heart just dropped. Gabby?

I spent all day Sunday in the Chandler ER, where I got a CAT scan to see if the pain in my abdomen might require emergency surgery. The nurse inserted an IV, gave me fluids, and dosed me with Zofran and Morphine. I kept thinking about Gabby in the hospital in Tucson. I was sad about the great deal of pain she felt and would continue to feel. I need Gabby to get better because she cannot be replaced. Who is going to continue Gabby’s work? Who has the energy and strength to lead as Gabby did? Who has the combination of knowledge and kindness?

My CAT scan was clear and I was discharged at 3 pm. I will follow up with a GI doctor who I hope will help me determine the cause of the pain. It might be a food I can’t tolerate any more—something that used to nourish me but that is now toxic to my system. I know I am going to have to make some change for this pain to go away, and it’s not going to be easy but I’ll do it.

And at the same time, I have another change to make. As an American citizen, I have grown accustomed to a diet of political divisiveness. And I admit I have participated. I have made ad hominem attacks instead of focusing on facts. I have categorically refused to listen to some politicians because of what feels like their categorical refusal to listen to me. So while I’m changing habits, I want to change the way I communicate about politics. Because although the source of this violence seems to be one individual’s mental illness, the act itself was no doubt facilitated by a political climate that turns our neighbors into enemies.

From now on when I approach political topics I am going to think about Gabby’s smile, her spirit, and her goals. I will mindfully embrace kindness, tolerance, and the peaceful resolution of problems. And I will encourage others to do the same.

Day 9 Aguas Calientes to Cusco

We woke up to the sound of the roaring Urubamba passing our hotel room. We were both pretty tired, so we decided to rest for a moment before going downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast, we did a tour of Aguas Calientes, which doesn’t take long since it’s not very big. We decided to have a “snack” before catching the train at 1:40 pm. We did that at Indio Feliz, a cozy restaurant run by a French woman. It was fun to hear everyone speaking French as we ate a heaping plate of pasta served with toppings on the side.

Finally it was time to take the train back to Ollantaytambo, where we would catch a cab back to Cusco. The train ride was beautiful, though a bit bizarre, as the crew went to great lengths to “Disney” up the experience, with costume changes, traditional dances, and then a fashion show set to blaring techno music. Um, how about the view, folks? John and I were happy to look out the window, where we saw some of the sights from our first day of the Inca Trail hike.

The taxi ride to Cusco was one of my least favorite experiences in Peru (ranking right up there with projectile vomiting for 24 hours). First, the driver tried to convince us we needed to see Moray and Moras and Salinas, though we insisted we had already been there. Then he proceeded to speed up the mountain to Cusco, passing any car or bus he saw, swerving all over the road then slamming on his brakes. By the time we got back to the Aranwa Hotel in Cusco I thought I would throw up again.

We settled into the hotel and had a spot of rest, then wandered out into town for drinks then dinner at ChiCha de Gaston, which was on the same block as our hotel. This meal was one of the highlights of the trip for me, with grilled octopus and chimichurri sauce, scallops in a beef reduction, and a sampling platter with chicken, pork and beef. Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio was recognized as one of the nine most influential chefs in the world, and I can see why. His combination of flavors is inventive and the execution of each dish is perfect. This was a great meal.

Touring Aguas Calientes
Lunch at Indio Feliz
View from Train
Dinner at Gaston's Chicha

Day 8 Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu

Our 3:30 am wake-up call came quite soon, and everyone was in motion. The porters wanted us out of those tents so that they could pack up all the gear that they would then take back to Peru Treks in Cusco, while we all went down to Machu Picchu.

We had a quick breakfast, then rushed down with headlamps to the checkpoint, where we were third in line so that we could make it to the Sun Gate before the crowds hit. Although you used to be able to hike the Inca Trail without a guide, regulations now allow only 500 people a day on the trail. 200 of those are usually trekkers and 300 are porters. So we stood at the checkpoint with 200 other people who would all converge on Machu Picchu at the same time. We decided we wanted to be there before the others.

So as soon as the checkpoint opened, we started sprint-hiking. The guide said the hike to the Sun Gate would take 1.5 hours, but we got there in 30 minutes. We had a good 20 minutes there taking pictures before the rest of the Trekkers started streaming in. The first view of Machu Picchu was spectacular. We had just a bit of clear weather but could see puffy clouds beneath the site. Ruth brought Christmas hats so we snapped some photos and got ready to descend.

From the Sun Gate we hiked down through Machu Picchu to drop our bags and poles, which are not allowed in the area. Then Freddy gave us a tour of the site, explaining some of the construction and customs of the Incas. After that we were on our own for a while. John and I had three goals: climb Wayna Picchu (the classic steep summit you see in the background of all the pictures), take a photograph from the Traveler’s Hut, and find a final resting place for Dad.

The trail up Wayna Picchu was slick and steep and stunning. It afforded some amazing views of Machu Picchu, and also a bit of an adrenaline rush. I’m glad I climbed it.

From there, we toured the site some more and took some photos from the famous Traveler’s Hut, which turned out so beautiful they look photoshopped.

From there, we headed to the spot that our guide told us was the cemetery and I found some beautiful lupines. I spread a pinch of Dad’s ashes there and told him how much I love him. I felt very happy to give him that beautiful view of the Urubamba Valley.

From there, we took the bus to Aguas Calientas and checked into the Sumaq Hotel. Our room was fine, with a jacuzzi tub that I used, but it was not nearly as nice as our other 2 hotels so far on the trip. We unpacked and spread out our clothes to dry, then went to town for a drink with the rest of the family, who were leaving on a 7:30 pm train. After saying our goodbyes, we returned to our hotel and had a nap, then had a 3-course dinner that was included in our room rate. It was good, but the portions were huge and we could barely eat a third of each plate. Plus we were tired, so we soon retired upstairs and went to sleep.

View from Campsite, Christmas Morning
It's a Machu Picchu Christmas.
View from Winay Picchu
The Postcard Machu Picchu Pic
A pretty view for Dad.
Dinner at Sumaq