Wait… What? 2017 is already over?!?!
Every year I like to reflect on the past 12 months to see where I spent my time. 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 were all amazing years. I am looking forward to looking back (huh?) on these reviews when I’m old and gray (ok, older and grayer).
As a child, I remember sitting in class at elementary school, looking up at the clock, watching the seconds hand tick so slow, wondering if this class would ever end. Fast forward to today, at age 34, and I wish I could slow down time. So much has happened in the past year. Incredible highs and devastating lows. It’s all going by so fast…
I use a Chrome extension that flashes my age every time I open up a new web browser tab. I use it to remind myself that it’s time to get living. I’ve watched it go from 31 to 32 to 33 and onto 34. I had plenty of fun times and satisfying accomplishments in all these years, but was always left wanting something more. 34 would be different…
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a close enough friend to know that 2017 was the year of my twice in a lifetime adventure. Although the year had a tough start, it was immensely memorable.
The first overseas flight of the year happened early (as seems to be the norm these days). China Trip #1. Considering it was the middle of winter, I crocheted a hat for my colleague’s new baby.
To celebrate Chinese New Year, and some down time at the office, my friend Salil and I flew to Colombia and went for a week long motorcycle ride around the country. After a 5 year gap, it felt great to be back in Colombia! I absolutely love this country. The people are genuinely friendly, the landscapes are gorgeous, the food is delicious, the lifestyle is inexpensive, the weather is perfect, and of course the moto riding is superb with terrific on and off road routes. It was my 5th trip to Colombia and I suspect I’ll have many more.
Just as I was returning home from Colombia, Amber was flying to Ecuador to visit her sister. The fun news is that I became an uncle (again)!
Then as Amber was returning from Ecuador, I was flying off to Asia for China Trip #2. I think we went over a month without seeing each other!
Not long after China, I flew back to NH to visit with family. My step father had been in the hospital for several months and it felt good visit with him and be in the presence of people I love.
We hosted a pair of Polish cyclists who have been pedaling around the world. Basking in their adventure, we cooked a big meal and shared travel stories. It was wonderful to spend time with travelers and remember how good it feels to be out on the road.
It was then time to rack up more frequent flyer miles and head out for China Trip #3.
El Burro, my trusty motorcycle for nearly a decade, with whom I travelled to South America, was put up for adoption. I simply wasn’t giving him the attention and adventure he deserved. Fortunately, a nice family took him in and they plan to explore Baja together. At ~70,000 miles, his bones ache a bit but he loves to get out there. I wish him and his new family all the best. Here’s a photo from our first ever overnight trip together. We were both so young…
It’s the 4th month so it must be time for China Trip #4.
I also celebrated my 34th birthday in one of the best ways possible, with a weeklong visit from my friends Ryan and Rachael! Escaping New England’s arctic climate, we explored San Francisco, rode ATVs like maniacs during a freak rain storm, ripped down Big Sur on Harleys, experienced the awesomeness of the Sea Otter Classic, and screamed our vocal cords to exhaustion with more than enough DMX karaoke. #ruffriders
We took a long ride up in the mountains to celebrate the wedding of our friends, Joel and Adela. It was a beautiful setting and a wonderful event.
Back at the airport again, for a trip to Austin, Texas for a weekend to celebrate my buddy John’s last days being a bachelor. Beer and boardgames ruled the weekend. I stayed an extra day and caught up with a few college friends I hadn’t seen in years. Good times.
Alright, alright… Time for China Trip #5.
This was a big month… It started off great with a long drive down to San Diego for a visit with our friends Danny and McKinsey (and their kids). They left the Bay Area last year and we’ve missed hanging out with them.
Sadly, on the drive back home from San Diego, we learned that my step father wasn’t going to recover. We hopped on a plane that night to arrive in Boston the next morning and said our goodbyes. It was heart breaking.
4 days later my sister got married. Everyone was a wreck, but we bit our lips as best we could and put on a smile. Hearts confused and overflowing with sadness and joy, family and friends came together to take part in the beautiful weekend planned by the couple. Congratulations Hannah and Josh.
I flew back to California for a couple of work meetings and then back to NH a few days later for the memorial service. As sad as it was, it was comforting to be with family and to hear from his friends. My sister spoke a beautiful tribute to him. We’ll always remember the good times.
Keeping strong, I left New Hampshire directly for China Trip #6.
Returning from China, it was a gift to have my mom visit us in California for a week. It’s something we planned a while back and we all agreed that it was a good decision to carry through with it. It was her first time visiting us since we moved here 5 years ago. We showed her all around and most importantly enjoyed time together.
The mountains came calling again and we headed to Lake Tahoe for the wedding of our friends John and Betsy. With an impressive backdrop, the two became husband and wife!
And now here’s where the story takes a twist… After months of planning, Amber and I took sabbaticals from our careers and set off on a grand adventure. Our plan – to bicycle the infamous Silk Road from China, through Central Asia and the Middle East. Not entirely sure what we were getting ourselves into, we turned our home over to my sister (Thanks, Abby!) and flew to Urumqi, the capital of China’s northwest Xin Jiang province.
We arrived safely in China with only one problem… Amber’s bike didn’t arrive! It took far too many phone calls, emails, and taxi rides to the airport, but eventually after 4 days, her bike arrived. Thanks to all my friends in China who helped translate and scream at the airline employees on our behalf!
The rest of the month, we cycled nearly 1,000 kilometers. Going south into the Tian Shan mountains before continuing west towards Kazakhstan, we experienced a side of China rarely seen by westerners. Even though I travel to eastern China all the time, this area had a completely different feel. We developed systems for cycling and living, learned to speak Uyghur (a local language used by the minority ethic group), ate some really delicious food and soaked in the scenery. Long days on the bike were a great time to mourn, reflect, and relax.
Leaving China behind we entered Central Asia and the former Soviet republics. The summer heat was in full force in Kazakhstan. With temperatures well over 100ºF and long distances between settlements and water sources, we tested our mental and physical strength.
Departing the Kazakh steppe, we entered Kyrgyzstan and cycled rolling hills with our new friends Pablo and Manon who helped us get comfortable with the art of stealth camping. During this time we explored, got lost, and finally relaxed into our journey. No rushing, just enjoying.
Climbing to heights over 14,000 feet, we crossed into Tajikistan and celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary. We tested our lungs and spirits as we cycled and pushed the bikes up at high altitudes. Leaving the pavement behind we entered the Bartang Valley – the most wild of the cycling routes through the Pamir Mountains. During one stretch we went 4 days and 150 kilometers without seeing any local people. It was the best mountain biking I’ve ever done on a road bike… The ~300 miles of rugged dirt roads engulfed in towering mountains and steep gorges was one of the most incredible segments of our tour.
Immediately after entering Uzbekistan we had a tough time. Amber became seriously ill with a bladder infection, kidney infection and the passing of kidney stones. The quality of medical care was not what we’re accustomed to in the USA. Luckily, the people of Uzbekistan are incredibly hospitable and they helped us out at every turn. With medication and time to rest under the supervision of “Nurse Ben,” Amber was able to slowly recover. With time away from the bikes we travelled by train and were overcome with emotion during visits to the famous Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.
As winter approached in Central Asia, and with politics blocking our overland travel, we took to the skies and flew to the Middle East. Lovely hosts made us feel at home and we loved the opportunity to experience a new culture. We came to love the early morning call to prayer, cold drinking water provided for free at all the mosques, and the stark desert landscapes. While Amber regained her strength, I suffered from intense back pain as we rode through the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman.
Say it ain’t so! Our cycling journey came to an end. We totaled nearly 5,000 kilometers of riding during our 5 months of traveling. Amber kept the adventure alive by flying directly (ok, by way of 4 layovers and 40 hours of travel) to Ecuador for a visit with her sister. I on the other hand, returned to California and jumped right back into the working world. In less than a week I was already off on a flight to Hong Kong for China Trip #7 (not counting the trip to China for the start of our cycling).
Finally, it was time to head to New Hampshire to spend time with family during the holiday season. It was wonderful to see everyone after being away for 6 months!
What went well in 2017?
- I visited 6 new countries! Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, and Oman. This brings the official tally to 40 countries.
- After an 8 year hiatus, I set off on another grand adventure. I craved an expedition, the call of the open road, a chance to experience new cultures and speak new languages. I wanted to challenge myself to learn and be curious. More than anything else, I wanted to ride my bicycle – all day, every day! Amber and I agreed that this was what we wanted, so we made a plan to live our dream and then turned it into a reality. I’m proud of us and now we have memories that we’ll hold with us forever!
- As I get older, I seem to want more and more time for adventure and time with family. These goals often seem to pull with opposing force. I feel fortunate that this year was overflowing with both.
- Our education app, SnapType, continues to thrive. With over a million and a half downloads, we’re helping students in over 50 countries! Emails continue to pour in from parents sharing stories of how much they love SnapType and how it’s completely turned around their childrens’ education. We also launched on Android to reach even more students. The development process for Android was a real challenge and there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but we launched it and it’s already making an impact! It feels so good to be doing good. We’re making a few bucks along the way which helps keep the project sustainable too. SnapType was recently featured on TechCrunch and we’ve even been approached by venture capitalists looking to invest. We’re not quite looking for that, but it is exciting!
- I was able to negotiate a sabbatical on great terms which allowed me to continue to grow outside of the office while I grow professionally as well. My colleagues are fantastic and I appreciate the support they gave to me to pedal my dreams.
- Movement! I flipped daily life around. Instead of spending all day on the computer with only an hour of exercise, I spent all day in motion for the entire second half the year. It felt fantastic and fulfilling both mentally and physically. To balance it all, I got lots of sleep and kept my stress quite low during the trip. This is going to be a hard transition back to office life…
- I learned a new language and put it to use. My Russian skills are still quite poor, but they were enough to get by. I am able to read Cyrillic words and am comfortable having the same basic conversations over and over… Where are you from? You rode here on a bicycle? No way, really, all on the bicycle?! What is your profession? How old are you? Is she your wife? Do you have children? Why don’t you have children?
- We documented our bicycle tour with a series of mini-episodes on YouTube. It’s been a great way to share the adventure with friends and family while also leaving us with great memories of the trip to watch years later. We’re a bit behind on publishing so subscribe to our YouTube channel and get notified when new videos go live.
What did not go well in 2017?
- We lost a beloved member of our family. It’s the first loss in my immediate family and it still hurts after 6 months. I’ll get on, but it just sucks…
- Although my back held up well for most of the year, I experienced some insanely intense back pain while camping in Oman. Oddly, it didn’t hurt during the day or while riding. But it was unbearable during the nights and early mornings. Fortunately, I have a wonderful wife who came to my rescue and helped out so much during that time. At one point, both my back and stomach muscles were in spasm and it hurt so much that I was in tears, begging for the pain medication to kick in. I’ll need to return to a daily yoga routine to keep my back healthy.
2017 was certainly a memorable year for good and bad reasons. Nevertheless, I’m already looking forward to the year ahead and to making memories with friends and family in 2018. I’ll be on the look out for a new motorcycle. Work will be challenging but hopefully rewarding as well with certainly more than a few trips to China. There is also still a lot of growth opportunity for SnapType and I look forward to devoting more energy to seeing that through.
How was your 2017? Are you happier now than you were the same time last year? Have you made progress on your personal goals? What went well for you this year? What could have gone better?