A comment on my most recent post about trekking the Tamang Heritage Trail in Nepal said, in part, “Did you envision this in your life 5-10 years ago? Serious, but kind of rhetorical question.” When I read it, I looked at the date and tried to remember where my life was both 5 years ago and 10 years ago. And then I laughed.
No, this is not what I envisioned in my life 10 years ago.
Ten years ago, I was trapped in a relationship that was physically and emotionally abusive. I was still in college, taking 18 credit hours a semester while working at two internships and a part-time job for a total of 40 credit hours a week. I was waiting for the “someday” to come for my live-in boyfriend who kept telling me that things would get better as soon as [insert event, job, whatever] here happened. I was struggling mightily with my eating disorder. I thought I’d be getting married at 22 and have four kids by 30 (LOLOLOLOL). And although travel seemed like an impossible dream, it was still something I thought about all the time. I majored in Geography, after all. I just thought I’d always study it and never live it.
Five years ago, I was legally still married and had been separated from my ex-husband for almost a year, still about 7 months away from our divorce being finalized (thanks for nothing, South Carolina). I had just gone on my second date with AJ. I had started this blog about a month before. I was still struggling terribly with my eating disorder. I had recently run my fourth marathon and had thoughts of running many more, but few plans. I was inching closer to traveling regularly, but I wasn’t there yet. I didn’t have the money, I convinced myself. I didn’t have the vacation time. I was afraid.
So, no. Ten years ago and even five years ago, I had no idea this is what my life would look like. A life like the one I have now was something I don’t even think I could have dreamed about ten years ago because it seemed so ridiculous and impossible. Even five years ago, these things weren’t on my radar – they were just hopes.
When I think about it, though, there were signs even then that it was possible. I may have made some bad choices in my younger years, but I made the scary leaps it took to dig myself out of them eventually. While I’d like to tell you that I have always dreamed about what my life would be and then I took the steps I needed to in order to make that happen, that’s not really true. I mostly just stumbled my way from mistake to mistake and tried to do it better the next time. Eventually, I made it on my own. I learned how to save money, how to get the most out of my vacation time, and how to just do it when I knew I really wanted something but was too afraid to do it.
I truly believe I have running to thank for that. Running gave me the confidence I needed when I was going through my divorce and helped me understand I was capable of things I never thought possible. It pushed me outside my comfort zone and encouraged me to travel to new states to run marathons. Eventually, it convinced me and AJ to book our first international flights to Ireland so I could run the Dublin Marathon. It took me to Japan for the Toyko Marathon (which turned into a 5k thanks to my back, but whatever, I still went to Japan). And those trips were under my belt, I realized yes – this was really possible. I could really live the life I wanted.
In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t stopped since. While some things, like maintaining my sanity while raising a baby and never sleeping, still do not seem quite within my reach, the rest of the world does. And while I’ve certainly been incredibly fortunate to have some amazing opportunities and privileges throughout my life that afford me the ability to travel the way that I do, I also have made the best out of (many) very bad situations and overcome a lot. I’ve worked three jobs for nearly two years now so I can afford to travel and I know not to take a second of this for granted. Nothing gold can stay. I wake up every day incredibly grateful for the life I have and I am grateful, in advance, for the life it will be one day, knowing it won’t look the same.
No, I could not ever have envisioned 5 or 10 years ago that my life would be like this now. If, like I was, you’re in a place in your life where travel or any goal seems impossible, that’s ok. You don’t have to focus on that now. Just take the next step forward and see where it leads you. You might be surprised by what life looks like from there.
LEAVE A COMMENT: Is your life where you thought it would be 5 or 10 years ago? Better, worse, or just different?
After saying goodbye to Bobbi and Allison as they left the Ruby Valley Trail, it was time to head off for the solo portion of my trip and onto the Tamang Heritage Trail. I wasn’t totally alone, as I had my amazing guide, Hari, and porter, Laxman, from Nepal Hidden Treks (get more information from UpEverest!) to accompany me, but my original travel buddies were gone. I was excited to see what this part of my trip would bring and how trekking solo would compare to trekking with my friends.
About the Trail
The Tamang Heritage Trail is a relatively new trail in the popular Langtang region of Nepal. The trail comes extremely close to Nepal’s northern border with Tibet, and at many points along the trail, you can see China. The area is rife with geothermal activity, including hot springs, and visiting these resources was the primary reason for tourists to come to the villages in this area. Sadly, many of the hot springs were blocked or destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, so now, the trail is the primary motivation for tourists. The Tamang Heritage Trail allows visitors to experience the local Tamang culture, as the area is populated primarily by the Tamang people, and also offers incredible views of the Langtang mountains. This trail is definitely still off the beaten path, though – when I trekked there in high season (October), I only saw five other tourists in the course of a week.
The easiest way to get to the Tamang Heritage Trail is by taking a jeep from Kathmandu to Syabrubeshi, which is about a 6-7 hour journey. The jeep ride is rough and winds through the mountains, so if you get motion sick, be ready! Syabrubeshi is the last major village you’ll visit before setting off on the trail, so if you need to purchase any last minute supplies, make sure you get them there. The trail can also be reached by hiking on the Ruby Valley Trail towards Gatlang, where the two trails intersect.
Accommodations on the Tamang Heritage Trail range from hotels in Syabrubeshi to teahouses and lodges along the rest of the trail. There are ample teahouses and lodges in each village, so you will have your choice of accommodations while on the trail. They all offer private rooms with basic amenities like mattresses, doors that lock, and electricity (hey, in Nepal, these are amenities). Some even have western toilets, and all offer hot bucket showers for a fee. While the lodges definitely don’t feel anything like the hotels most westerners stay in at home, they are more than adequate and are a comfortable way to trek. Some trekkers also choose to camp along the trail, but this is relatively uncommon given the proliferation of accommodations in each village.
One of the major differences between the Tamang Heritage Trail and the Ruby Valley Trail is the food. Because the Ruby Valley Trail is based entirely around home stays, there are only one or two meal options during your trek. However, the Tamang Heritage Trail is based around teahouses and lodges that offer a wide-ranging menu. The menu is pretty much the same at every lodge and features your standard Nepali fare, plus tons of western food options like hamburgers, pasta, pizza, and more. Many places have pancakes, omelets, and more for breakfast, and there’s a ton of variety. They also sell beer and rokshi (local liquor), so you can unwind with a cold one at the end of the day. I still stuck to Nepali cuisine because I loved it and it’s gluten free, but there were definitely a lot of other options.
One of the big selling points for the Tamang Heritage Trail is the unbelievable scenery along the trek. You’ll have a panoramic view of the Langtang mountains the entire time, including Langtang Lirung, which measures over 23,000 feet! These mountains are capped in snow year round and honestly, this type of scenery is probably what you’ve come to Nepal to see in the first place. You won’t be disappointed! You’ll also be able to see mountains on the other side of the Tibetan border, as well as lots of villages peppered in among the mountains and valleys.
I must have taken a hundred pictures of the mountains just on this part of the trail alone. At several spots on the trail, they seem so close that you can almost reach out and touch them. Undoubtedly, the scenery on the Tamang Heritage Trail is reason enough to visit.
As the name would imply, the Tamang Heritage Trail exists primarily to showcase the unique culture of the Tamang people. The Tamang people originally came from Tibet into Nepal, and many of the traditions are the same in Tamang communities in Nepal as they are in Tibet. Since traveling to Tibet can be a challenge, this a great way to get a window into their way of life! There are many religious festivals in Nepal throughout the year, and if you happen to be trekking during one, you might witness some of the traditional dances or celebrations. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky! Because this trek is based primarily on teahouse and lodge accommodations, it definitely requires more effort to get to know the local people than it does when you are staying in their homes. However, the lodge owners all speak at least some English, so you may be able to communicate with them more easily, even if you’re trekking on your own.
Perhaps because I did a trek immediately beforehand that was almost entirely home stays, I found it a little bit difficult to make connections with the locals while hiking on this trail. With that said, there are many incredible examples of Tamang clothing, culture, architecture, and religion to be seen, and this trek, like any other, is what you make of it.
The trekking portion of the Tamang Heritage Trail is very manageable, making this trek a great option for those who may want to take it slower or not hike for long distances each day. There are numerous villages along the trail at which to stop for lunch or lodging, and the entire trail takes just 5 days of trekking to complete at a rate of about 4-5 hours of trekking per day. There are several very challenging and steep uphill and downhill portions, but overall, the trail is doable for anyone at a moderate level of fitness. Trekking poles are definitely recommended, as are sturdy hiking boots. Dress in layers – the temperature can change quickly from the lower elevations to the tops of the mountains you’ll be climbing, and the sun is strong.
The Tamang Heritage Trail can be done without a guide, as the trail is easy to follow and the accommodations are easy to find. Because most lodge owners speak at least basic English, it is also easy to communicate at least somewhat. However, never underestimate what a guide can add to your experience! I trekked with Nepal Hidden Treks, bookable through UpEverest, and learned so much more about the people, culture, and area than I would have otherwise. Also, we had the opportunity to have some great one-on-one conversations and discuss life in both Nepal and the United States, which was fascinating! I wouldn’t have traded my experience with them for anything. I can’t recommend them enough!
There is only one race that I have done more than twice: the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I did the marathon in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, where I completed my 50th and maybe/probably my final marathon. There was never any question that I’d be headed back to Tulsa again for race weekend this year, but for the first time, I’d be running the half marathon.
Tulsa is one of those places that, had you asked me back in 2011 before I had ever even heard of Route 66, I would have said I had no desire to visit. I mean, what’s in Tulsa, right? It’s Oklahoma. It’s a flyover state. Well, my visit for the 2012 race quickly proved that I was incredibly ignorant. In addition to the fact that I had no idea that Tulsa isn’t flat at all and actually has a ton of hills, it’s actually an incredible, thriving city with a vibrant downtown, 40-mile long multi-use path, and maybe the nicest people on the planet. Tulsa is no longer just a stop on my marathon journey – it’s now probably my favorite city in the U.S., and Route 66 Marathon weekend is my favorite weekend of the year. That’s not an exaggeration. Tulsa feels like home. The weekend before Thanksgiving is now my Super Bowl, without the terrible halftime show.
As always, race weekend was a busy one. Each year, I take part in the Route 66 Marathon Blogger’s Forum, which invites bloggers participating in the race to answer questions about running, blogging, and life! We had one of the most lively discussions this year that we’ve ever had. It was a blast and it’s always fun to think about how my blog has evolved over the years.
Saturday included more time at the expo, a great shakeout run with Patty, and then dinner with my Tulsa running group, the Dom-N-8rz! They welcomed me with open arms when I lived in Tulsa during the summer of 2014, and getting to run with them is one of the many things that makes this race so special to me. It was fitting that every person I saw at our group dinner greeted me with an enthusiastic “Welcome home!!” and a big hug. It definitely felt like I was home, for sure.
After seeing everyone at dinner and the expo, I was feeling really down about not running the marathon. There have definitely been some races where it is more tempting than others, I knew this would be the hardest one to turn down. I’ve done it four years in a row, and I could run with so many of my favorite people. That said…obviously I am not delusional enough to think I am in marathon shape. I’ve run 20 miles twice this year (during and after other races) and the last time I did that was May. The longest run I’ve done since then is a mediocre half marathon, the most recent of which was in September. I obviously, however, am delusional enough to not really care about what kind of shape I’m in, because I seriously considered just taking a ton of pain meds and doing the race anyway. Fortunately, Patty talked me off the ledge and convinced me, correctly, that this was a terrible idea that could only end in me probably setting myself on fire to rid myself of my own misery around mile 20.
After a fitful night’s sleep, it was time for race morning. I’d like to say that for once, Patty and our friend Aaron and I were on time to the pre-race pictures, but that would be grossly inaccurate. As usual, we found ourselves sprinting to run into the picture as it was being taken, but this is rapidly becoming one of my favorite traditions of race weekend, so I didn’t mind. It’s a good warmup, after all.
The race started with its usual fanfare and confetti, and we were off! I started the race with Patty, Aaron, Kendall, Mike, and Lygea, and our happy group made our way through the streets of downtown Tulsa. The early miles of Route 66 are deceptively hilly. You barely notice because of the crowds of people and the cheering spectators, but it can take its toll if you aren’t careful. Take the early portion out slow and save some for later – this is a tough course!
I wasn’t really sure what I could expect from this race. I knew that running has started to become fun again for me, and my runs have felt really great since coming back from Nepal. Apparently, 2 weeks of non-stop hiking at altitude is good for the legs and lungs! That said, I have not done any long runs since the Nevis Half Marathon back in September, so I was fully prepared to be sort of miserable. I resolved to have fun and take lots of pictures (what else is new, really) and decided to Instagram live from the course. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried!
I couldn’t believe how quickly the race was flying by! I was having a blast talking with everyone in our group and getting to know Kendall, who was running her first marathon. I made sure to instill my favorite tradition of high-fiving at every mile marker – and seriously, if you guys aren’t doing this, please start immediately. It gives you such a huge boost at every mile and people around you will join in, too! High five whoever happens to be near you – I guarantee they will smile.
My favorite part about Route 66 is probably all of the support from the beautiful neighborhoods of Tulsa. Clearly I am Tulsa-obsessed (and no, AJ will not move there – I ask him at least once a month), but the people really come out to cheer for this race and make it special for runners. Lots of houses do parties in their driveways with beer, mimosas, and candy, and of course, we stopped for all of them. One of the best spots on the course is Mile 9, where there is a huge station with over 5,000 JELLO SHOTS. 5,000, you guys!! Last year they made 2,000 and people liked them so much that they made more than double this year. They’re strong, too, and I say that as a person that likes the taste of alcohol. I had a jello shot and vodka-soaked gummy bears – MAGIC.
I couldn’t believe how fast the race was going by and I found myself really dreading splitting off from the full marathoners. Although in other races this year I would have been hurting and ready for the race to be over, I was feeling pretty great. I know that 90 percent of that has to do with the fact that I was having so much fun running with my friends, but I like to think all that hiking in Nepal didn’t hurt, either. Still, as we approached the split near mile 12, I knew there was no way I was capable of running an enjoyable marathon. It was time to quit while I was ahead. Since I wasn’t wearing a Garmin, I had no idea at all what my pace might be and I didn’t care. It had been the best race of the year – as usual.
I was bound and determined to make it to a specific aid station around mile 22 of the course – or wherever I thought it was. My very first Route 66, I remember there being this incredible aid station in the neighborhoods around Tulsa University that had beer and mimosas and the most supportive spectators ever. One of my readers ran the half marathon and then went to the station, and I met her there that year and several years after that. However, the course has changed and I couldn’t remember exactly where the station was. I put out a plea on social media and thought I found it, but it turned out to be different than the one I was thinking of. Patty and I further narrowed it down and I decided to just randomly show up around mile 21.5 and hope for the best. The aid station I was thinking of wasn’t there (and I still don’t know where it actually is – if this sounds familiar, comment or email me!), but there was an awesome station hosted by the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers!
I walked up, explained the situation, and was immediately welcomed in with open arms! They had apple cider and pumpkin rum (a delicious combination, by the way), as well as beer, a bag of wine, and bourbon. Someone even brought bacon and freshly made gluten free double chocolate chipotle cookies! Everyone was so shocked that I come from South Carolina for the race every year, and I had a great time getting to know everyone while cheering my face off for all the runners. One of the women at the stand is even a reader of my blog and recognized me! The faster runners weren’t so into drinking beer while on the run, but as the estimated finish times creep up, people are more and more excited about the reprieve. A few people, including my friend Halbert, even took shots of bourbon!
Race spectating is unbelievably entertaining to me, especially when I have a slight buzz going, as I did on this occasion. It mostly involved screaming “FREE BEER HERE! AND BOURBON! AND BAGGED WINE! AND BACON! AND GLUTEN FREE COOKIES FOR THOSE WITH DIETARY CONCERNS!” I probably need to work on my spectator/elevator pitch, but whatever. I was able to see all the Dom-N-8rz as they ran by, and ran with each of them for a couple of blocks to encourage them, especially Kendall, since she was looking so strong in her first marathon! I made it back to the finish line with less than five seconds – no exaggeration – before Patty and Aaron finished and managed to cheer them in, too. All in a day’s work!
After celebrating at the special Marathon Maniac/50 State Marathon Club/Half Fanatics area at the finish line, Patty and I headed back to get ready for the annual Maniacs bowling party. I have never been able to go before since I usually go home Sunday night or have other plans, but this year, we were able to make it! It was great to be able to hang out with the three “Main Maniacs” (the guys who started the club) as well as the esteemed Bart Yasso and other Maniac friends!
I told Patty after the race this year that even if one day I have to stop running (not on the agenda anytime soon, don’t worry!) I would still come to Tulsa every year for Route 66. This race is truly something special – it grabs you and won’t let go. There’s no better homecoming celebration than a marathon-sized party. Only 360 days until I get to do it again!
LEAVE A COMMENT: What is your favorite race? Why do you love it so much? Who is coming to Tulsa for Route 66 next year?!
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