Sunday, December 30, 2007

Who's keeping score, anyway?

A lot happens over the course of an ordinary year. I was fortunate to have an extraordinary year, and while there's no way I can/want to cover it all here and now, some type of retrospective seems - if only for me - desirable. To help it along, I'll use a lot of pictures and try to keep the stories short. Happy holidays to you all. I hope 2007 has been as good to you as it has been to me.

Wenceslas Square, Prague, where Joel, Rob and I rang in 2007. The start of this year was a stark contrast to the end of 2006, a year which culminated in my arrival and subsequent unhappy departure from southern France. For six weeks in the Czech Republic, I lived as a hedonist with my friends, traveling the country, eating dumplings, drinking beer by the liter, and chasing beautiful Czech women.

Cesky Krumlov, the place to visit in the Czech Repulblic (other than Prague, of course). This was probably my favorite trip during my stay in Czech.

Welcome to New Zealand. A view along one of my running routes above Blenheim, a small town in the Marlborough wine country. In short, this experience was what I sought but didn't find in France.

We called this the "press gallary;" I called it home for 4 months. During my stay in New Zealand, I spent most of my time working the night shift - 7pm - 7am, 7 days a week. They didn't pay overtime, but the relationships more than made up the difference. The sunrises weren't bad, either.

Our only "warm-up/training ride" before leaving Prague. Greg's choir was singing in a town about 100km north of Prague. I decided to ride up and see the show, meeting Greg that evening. The next day we attempted to ride back to Prague, but took a train instead (we had a softball game...). Later that night after showering, I cramped up so badly that I couldn't walk and had to go to bed at 8pm. Pretty sad.

The only way to see an empty Charles Bridge? Summer solstice, 4:55am. This was one of the highlights of my return to Prague. While it's a beautiful city any time of the year, summer is amazing. It's only dark for about 6 hours a day, beer gardens pop out outside of every restaurant bar and the city simply buzzes with energy (read as: is packed with tourists).

A common scene on our bike trip, Greg and I stopped daily at local pubs during our trip. They were a welcome relief after 8 hours of riding, but always seemed to make the last 15km pretty challenging. Add a pizza, and well, you get the idea...

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria. Stunning opulence. This is what Prague lacks.

Bled Lake, Slovenia. It's more beautiful than it appears. For a small country, Slovenia really has it all. From this lake to the Julian Alps, down to the Adriatic sea and across to some of the largest caves in the world (not to mention the world's oldest producing grape vine!), Slovenia is more than worth a trip.

Catching a nap on the island of Hvar in Croatia. On this day, we caught a ferry from the mainland to the island, rode up up up through fields of lavender, and napped along the spine with views to the sea in all directions. It was Joel's first taste of the solitude Greg an I shared throughout much of our trip before Joel's arrival.

Mostar, Bosnia, and the New Old Bridge. It's still hard for me to reconcile the physical beauty and genuine kindness from the people of Bosnia with the blind hatred that ripped the country apart in the 1990s.

Mostar, Bosnia. In a town far less cosmopolitan than Sarajevo, scars of a war 13 years gone still dominate a town without the resources to rebuild. These are the constant reminders of a war that affected everyone, and will continue to do so for many more years.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro. It was tough to pick a photo to represent this strategic and diverse country. The only uniformity came from the people who constantly went out of their way to help us in any way possible. From the coast to the fjord to the mountain markets and national parks, our four nights in Montenegro were some of the most challenging of our trip.

Sunset in Sarajevo, a city trying to heal. Our first night in town we got some local food and drink and hiked up the hill to watch the sun set across the long valley. Here, we were pushed, challenged, and humbled everyday. This was par for Bosnia.

Belgrade, Serbia, with Nikola and Marija. In what can only be described as the most unlikely rendezvous of our trip, Nikola and Marija - friends from Banja Luka - found us in Belgrade, 350km away. After saying goodbye only 30 hours previous, Nikola drove the distance with Marija in hopes of finding us in Skadarlija, the Bohemian part of town. Somehow, it worked.

Sofia, Bulgaria with John and Nancy. Our only real taste of "home" during our trip, John and Nancy welcomed us without knowing us (their son is a good friend of Greg), putting us up for three nights. We enjoyed speaking English, eating hamburgers, and driving in a car.

Bucharest, Romania. Ask Joel.

Wine tasting in Germany with Christian. I know Christian from New Zealand, and when I told him I'd be back in Prague, he offered to put us all up in his guest house for a week and drive us all across Germany's Rhine Valley, visiting the wineries of his family and friends. It was perhaps the epilogue to our trip, a time to decompress without bicycles or the constant concern of what we'd eat or drink or where we'd sleep. From this point, Joel, Greg and I would go our separate ways.

A return to the States, Aspen, Colorado. Coming home wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done. I'd become accustomed to life on the road and the constant change of place and pace. Signing a lease and taking a permanent job, along with seeing a girl for a while threw me for a loop and kept life moving pretty quickly. It's great to be back with friends and closer to family again, but I know now that I must find a way to support the life I love, a life of travel. More on that in 2008...

By the numbers:

13,000: Miles traveled from Prague to Blenheim, New Zealand, where I lived.
44: Contiguous hours I spent traveling from Prague to Auckland.
10: Inches of snow on the ground when I left Prague.
13: Longest single flight during my trip, in hours.
3.5: Movies I watched during that flight.
2: Hours after landing in Auckland before I was surfing in the Pacific
1: Car accident in New Zealand.

3200: Approximate number of kilometers Greg, Joel and I each rode last summer.
60: Number of days it took us to ride that many kilometers.
114: Average temperature in degrees, Fahrenheit, during the daytime in Croatia.
180: Cost, in Euros, Joel and I forfeited for an egregious lapse of judgment one
night in Budapest.
11: Countries visited during our trip.
2: Encounters with wildlife while camping that actually scared us.

Here's to 2008.

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