China

My 2018: Year In Review

An exhausting and refreshing 5 month bicycle journey in 2017, I felt rejuvenated to get back into the swing of things at the office and tackle new challenges. 2018 was a busy year with work, but it was also packed with adventures near and far.

Every year I like to reflect on the past 12 months to see where I spent my time. 2017201620152014, 2013, 2012 were all memorable and I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to keep a log. It will be fun to look back in the years to come.

Now that I’m 35, it’s been decided with Charlie (my friend of the same age), that we’re “almost 40.” Wow, that’s a crazy thought and a reminder that life is short and meant for living!

January

After some wonderful family time back in New Hampshire it was back to California. I was all by myself for a little while longer because Amber and my sister were on a Prius road trip from the east coast to west coast. My sister was starting a new job in northern California and Amber volunteers to drive cross country with her.

We had the privilege to host our first traveler of the year, a fellow cycle tourer (albeit the 1-wheeled kind), Ed Pratt, on his 3 year tour around the world. It felt good to repay some of the hospitality that was given to us on our trip. While at our house, he edited a video series from his in New Zealand. Check it out on his YouTube channel.

Since I moved to California in 2012, I’ve been flying to China every 6 to 8 weeks. With a 6 month hiatus, I was back on a flight across the pacific for the first China trip after our bicycle trip, and for the first trip of the new year. The timing was perfect and I was able to join the company’s annual holiday party. My colleagues were stunned to learn that in the USA, its not customary to create and perform a dance on stage during the holiday party…

However, this wasn’t an ordinary trip… I flew into Shanghai and then a few days later departed Shanghai on a flight to Germany. Another few days in Germany and then a flight to San Francisco. I had just flown around the world! That’s a first for me…

After the business meetings were over in Munich, I visited The Dachau concentration camp. Walking through the camp, where so many people were forced to suffer, was an intense experience. Although hard to fathom the atrocities, the site is now a beautiful memorial, museum, and reminder. Let us never forget…

February

I saw it every year… My favorite holiday in Chinese New Year! Because I work for a Chinese company, there’s always work to be done, even during US holidays. But during Chinese holidays, my email is quiet and I can enjoy a little peace. To celebrate, Amber and I flew to Colorado and spent the week visiting friends in Denver and Boulder, some whom I haven’t seen since I graduated college! It was wonderful to connect with so many friends and spend time in beautiful Colorado.

Remember those crazy suits from the above holiday party photo? Well… I took a few back to the USA. Charlie and I put them to good use during a morning bicycle ride.

Amber had a bit of an adventure herself this month too as she flew to Germany just a few weeks after I returned. A friend of ours had a business trip and Amber went along to help take care of the baby. I left a “love lock” on bridge and I gave Amber the key and directions on how to find it. She loved the scavenger hunt and the feeling of connection with me, despite being a third of the way around the world.

March

Family time. A fun weekend of hiking with my sister, Abby.

Kazuhiro is a young Japanese guy who is super friendly, humble and hardcore. The kid cycled from New York to San Francisco, by taking a northern route in the middle of winter! We hosted him at our house and I joined him for a few miles on the last day of his trip. Here we are taking tourist photos at the Facebook head quarters.

After our Japanese traveler left, we hosted an Italian moto traveler. Of course we had to try out the unicycle (that we purchased after hosting our Unicycle traveler in January). Fortunately, he didn’t have to test his health insurance coverage during his visit to California.

April

A month in motion… It started off with China Trip #2 and then a flight directly to Utah to join Amber at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference. We pitched our app, SnapType, at the inventors showcase (a.k.a. Shark Tank) and were wonderfully surprised to be the winners of the contest! The judges loved what we had already done with SnapType and for its future potential. This was a great accomplishment, especially for Amber to get the recognition and support from her fellow occupational therapists.

After the conference we spent a few days in the southern Utah deserts and national parks with our friends, David and Haley. We love them and had such a great time filled with scenic hikes, delicious meals, awkward photos, and belly laughs. Here we are twisting our way through an intricate slot canyon.

We drove back to Salt Lake City and I flew out that day for China Trip #3. But rather than share a photo from my time in China, enjoy this picture from a week later when a few of my Chinese colleagues came to California. I treated them to an authentic Mexican meal. This may be the best way to unite the citizens of the world… with an enormous plate of tacos!

And we welcomed the arrival of spring by celebrating the Hindu festival of Holi.

May

Hey, how about another trip to China? Sure… China Trip #4. I had a custom t-shirt made with a Mandarin phrase that rolls off the tongue – 帅老外 (Shuai Lao Wai). In English, it translates to “Handsome Foreigner” and my colleagues loved it. They deserved a good laugh.

Leaving China it was a bus ride to Hong Kong, then a flight to Los Angeles, then Phoenix, then Flagstaff, followed by a 2 mile walk to meet Amber who was sleeping in our tent at the Overland Expo. Jet lag was no match for the energy of being surrounded by thousands of overland travelers. We gave several presentations about our travels by bicycle, motorcycle, and 4×4. When not presenting, we were catching up with friends and checking out all the seriously cool overland rigs on display. Ideas were planted, and we’ll be looking forward to more overland travel in the years to come.

Back in California and back on the bicycles for a weekend of bicycle touring and camping! We rode our bikes to Half Moon Bay to wish our friends, Christian and Persephone, bon voyage as they move to Boston for a new adventure. After the BBQ, we setup camp at the hike-and-bike site at the State Park. In the morning a fellow cyclist had his bike stolen! He was in the showers when someone came over to the site and rode away on his bike. No one realized what had happened until it was too late. Amber set off on her bike to try and find the thief while I broke down camp (she’s the tough one, not me). Unfortunately, he was long gone by then and the harsh reality set in that this traveler, who was on his way from Seattle to San Diego, would have to find new wheels. It’s a sad reminder that you can’t be too cautious with your gear…

Our friend Andrew and his Dad were on their way from San Diego to Maine and made a stop in with us for the night. We love hosting travelers and seeing our hometown friends!

June

Amber’s favorite vegetable is the artichoke, so when the annual artichoke festival in Castroville came around, we knew we had to attend. Although we enjoyed spending time with our friends, John and Betsy, it turned out to be a bit of a bust, with a fairground full of vendors selling crummy imported trinkets. We reluctantly took a farm tour though and were glad we did because it ended up being extremely interesting. We learned about the different types of artichokes and they let us cut some of our own to take home.

The tail leg of China Trip #5 was exhausting and wonderful. I managed a 20 hour layover in Japan on the way out. Rather than undertake the lengthy travel into downtown Tokyo, I stayed at a hotel just a few minutes from the airport and I spent a day walking around the small town of Narita. Wow, what a great decision that was! Narita has magnificent old temples, shrines and parks. Small ramen noodle restaurants are everywhere and the whole vibe was so pleasant. Hard to imagine that it’s just down the street from Japan’s busiest airport. The best bit? I loved this simple and inexpensive “bridge” that enables people to cross the river without stopping the flow of water. How ingenious!

After Japan, it was time to cross the international date line for a 10 hour layover in Honolulu, Hawaii. Making good use of my time, I walked from the airport to Pearl Harbor. This was a stark contrast in world history to where I was just hours ago.

Back at the airport and a short hop to the island of Kauai for a meet up with more of my family to celebrate my cousin’s wedding. We all had a wonderful time exploring the island. Congratulations Matt and Jess!

June also marked the start of high school summer vacation. Our 16 year old nephew, Justin, joined us in California for the summer. Excited to workout and make some money, he got what he asked for right away by being the hired muscle to move Amber’s gymnastics into a new building.

July

Since our friends Danny and Mckinsey moved to San Diego a few years back, we’ve missed hanging out with them and their family. So when they told us they were coming to Carmel, we jumped at the opportunity to have some fun with them. Here we are out on the lake in a pair of canoes.

China Trip #6 and a free Sunday. Bicycle riding with my colleagues! All was going well until the clamps on my folding bicycle let loose mid-ride and suddenly I lost all control of the steering! Oh China…

Overnight backpacking plans in the Sierra’s were shut down at the day before departure due to the California wildfires. Last minute, we changed our destination to an even more challenging route much closer to us. Justin and I hiked 18 miles of the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail in the Santa Cruz mountains. He did great. My old-man-knees eventually hobbled into the campground where we met up with Amber for a night of camping. We filmed the hike together and then later on Justin edited the footage into a video. Welcome to nature!

August

Another traveler to host! Issei is a classic rock loving college student from Japan, working his way down west coast of the USA. We indoctrinated him with a classic Californian meal.

Hot summer days and an offer from a colleague to go boating and tubing had us driving to the Sacramento Delta. We spent the day on the water getting whipped behind the speed boat. Simple pleasures.

With the end of the summer approaching, it was time for Justin to make his way back to New Hampshire and start his Junior year in high school. But before he left, we scheduled a tour of local colleges, Stanford and Santa Clara University. Teenagers love having their picture taken in public…

September

To celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary, I had a painting commissioned by a talented artist and fellow bicycle traveler. She created the art while in Nepal and we had a friend of friend pick it up from her in New Delhi, India to hand carry it back to the USA – truly a world-gift! She makes beautiful watercolor paintings and the photos from their travels are really stunning. Take a look at their blog. We’ll cherish this painting at the memory of our Silk Road journey for years to come!

China Trip #7

A friends weekend of camping and mountain biking in Downieville, California was just what the doctor ordered after a hectic month of work!

The next weekend it was off to Mariposa, California for our annual pilgrimage to the Horizons Unlimited meetup. Time spent with fellow travelers, away from cell phone coverage, was quite refreshing. We gave several presentations and enjoyed soaking in presentations about Russia, Africa, and Alaska…

Our long time family cat (Fastball / Fatball) died this month. We were sad to see him go, but happy to have had nearly 17 years of fun memories together with him. He loved playing ruff and being spun in circles on the floor. I even taught him to reach up and give me a high five whenever he wanted to be let out of the house. He will be missed.

October

Celebrating my second favorite holiday of the year… Chinese Golden Week! My friend Salil and I headed back to South America for a week of motorcycle riding around Ecuador’s backroads. The guys at Freedom Bike Rental set us up with DR650s which were perfect for the remote dirt road riding we embarked on. I also had the opportunity to meet my niece for the first time! Amber’s sister lives down in Quito so it was a double-win.

Enjoy this video we created with highlights from our journey around Ecuador.

Flying (indirectly) from Quito to Shanghai for Trip #8 and a visit from Amber’s mom wrapped up October.

November

Forest fires were raging this month in Northern and Southern California. The devastation to those communities is hard to comprehend. Even though hundreds of miles away, the smoke created terrible air quality throughout the Bay Area. Thankfully, the day before Thanksgiving, rain fell to help tame the fires and clear the air just in time to enjoy a lovely west coast gathering with my sisters, Abby and Molly. We worked off the calories with a bicycle ride through the neighborhood.

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December

As the end of the year rolled around, we were about to embark on our most remarkable and challenging adventure yet…

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A week overdue, our son arrived happy and healthy, and we are in love! It’s been a hectic few days since. Day and night blend into one and we are seriously sleep deprived. But Amberlynn’s mother has been visiting for a few days and we are so thankful for her help. We really hit the jackpot – she’s been a labor and delivery nurse for 25+ years.

This will be a new stage of our lives, and we’re looking forward to the journey!

What went well in 2018?

  • We created a human! Out of all the crazy, beautiful, insane, exhausting, and wonderful adventures in life, this moment and the years to come may just be the most adventurous.
  • Despite not visiting any new countries (a first in nearly a decade), I still had the opportunity to re-visit a few old ones. China (obviously), Japan, Germany, and Ecuador.
  • After the travel adventure in 2017 followed by an exhausting year in the office, Amber and I continue to realize that we want more out of life. We both enjoy our careers and we’re happy to ride this wave for a while, but we’re certainly keen for a non-conventional life filled with more adventure in the future. Sharing this grand vision with my partner feels good.
  • Continued success with our app, SnapType. Our user base is growing and we’re making a modest but healthy revenue. Winning the AOTA pitch contest was another avenue for validation and it was marvelous to receive it. We also took some big steps this year in developing the next generation of SnapType and although we’re not ready to launch it to the world just yet, it’s great to see progress being made towards that goal. We get heartwarming emails from teachers and parents each week and we know they’re going to love the new features that we’re developing for them. I spent more hours than normal this year on SnapType so we could put together the plan for the future. And when we release a pretty big bug in the middle of the year, it was a hectic week putting in a fix, but our users really appreciated the quick improvements and customer service they received. It’s been a lot of work, but also energizing and rewarding.
  • I was able to jump back into my day job and hit the ground running, even with being away for 5 months. Throughout the year I provided a lot of value to my customers and my team. It certainly wasn’t a walk in the park, but overall it was a positive experience and I’m glad that I could be of service. Although I missed out on a good amount of income while being on the road, it was well worth it to live out our dream. Business continues to be strong and it’s great to be involved in the company’s success along side my talented colleagues.
  • We continued documenting our bicycle tour with a series of more than 50 mini-episodes on YouTube. Amber does most of the hard work when it comes to editing and I come in and touch them up before they get published. We receive heaps of comments and thanks for our videos. We know we’ll be happy to look back on them later in life and we’re pleased to know that they are inspiring and educating other travelers. Even though the trip is over, we still hope to create and share videos of our future adventures. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and get notified when new videos go live. In a world where we consume so much, it feels much more fulfilling to create.

What did not go well in 2018?

  • I tried to keep up with my language learning but I quickly realized how much Russian I had forgotten. Since I travel to China for work, I thought I’d pick up my Mandarin lessons again. The education didn’t last long and after a few months I gave it a rest and have yet to pick it back up. I really like taking the time to study and learn but with such a busy year of work, my mental energy was running low.
  • Yoga… I keep saying that I’ll do it. The benefits are well known to me. But I keep putting it off… Perhaps there has been so much urgency in life life this, I didn’t spend the time to focus on the important, but less urgent items.
  • I visited New Hampshire a few times and had some great visits with family, but it always felt too fast. I miss having family down the road and hanging out with them more often.
  • My step-father has been gone for a year and a half. It’s gotten easier over time, but I still miss him. Every once in a while I’ll think of something that I’d like to share with him, but then I remember he’s gone. Rather than be sad, it makes me smile to remember him. Life goes on and he’ll always be with me.

Looking ahead

2018 was certainly a memorable year. Content from our twice-in-a-lifetime adventure, we didn’t undertake any grand travels, but we enjoyed the pregnancy progression. Nevertheless, we are already looking forward to the year ahead and to making memories with friends and family in 2019. I hope to put a few more miles (pun intended) onto the BMW R1150 RS motorcycle that I’m bike-sitting for a friend. The day job will be interesting as we continue to grow and diversify but hopefully engaging and rewarding  as well with certainly more than a few trips to China. The future of SnapType is bright and we’re really excited to share the next generation with our users – we know they’re going to love it. Learning to be a father and spending time with my son are going to make 2019 wonderful, demanding, exhausting, and fulfilling.

I hope that one day my son will look back on these writings and see that his old man was once a cool guy (with a little hair still left on top of his head). May he be inspired to embrace curiosity, seek out adventure, do good as he goes, connect with community, and be happy in life.

How was your 2018? 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? Send me an email or leave a comment below, I’d love to hear form you.

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Categories: Bicycle Touring, China, Ecuador, Germany, japan, Uncategorized, United States | Leave a comment

Cycling The Silk Road – Caught On Camera

Amberlynn and I have been pedaling our asses off and it’s been great! We landed in China on July 7 and waited in Ürümqi until our missing bike arrived; it was quite the fiasco! We pedaled west for a few days until my front hub blew up… It only took a day for a friendly local bike shop to order a new hub and rebuild my wheel. In the meantime, they entertained us and kept our faces stuffed with delicious watermelon!

Back on the bikes, we detoured a bit to get off the direct route and get into the mountains. This was suggested by almost every Chinese cyclist we met (and there were a bunch of them). They called it a “library road”. I’m not quite sure that Google got the translation exactly correct, but the idea of a quiet mountain road was clearly understood.

It took us 4 days of non-stop uphill climbing, and then a 10 mile ride in the back of a pickup truck to finally reach the 11,500 foot (3,500 meters) mountain pass. Amberlynn remarked that the truck ride was one of our “best decisions ever” and I think she was right.

We then enjoyed a nice coast downhill for several days until we leveled out around 3,000 feet (1,000 meters). After 9 continuous days of pedaling, with the final day being our longest to date – 72 miles (115km), we arrived in the regional town of Ili (also known as Yinning). With the bikes parked up in the hotel room, we enjoyed 2 well earned rest days where we pretty much just laid in bed all day. It was glorious!

Well, we didn’t lay in bed all day… In the evenings, we were treated to delicious dinners by locals. We also used the time to begin editing our video footage. We’ve been on the road for more than a month and have already published several episodes. Many more episodes will come as we continue our trip. We hope you enjoy them!

Here’s the link to subscribe to my YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/c/BenSlavin

If you want to start from the beginning – here’s your link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvqjG9opPVlbrdnJrnqp25jK6qokjWXZd

It’s possible that some of the earlier videos won’t play on mobile devices (due to copyright issues from the music we used). If that’s a problem, you can watch the videos on a desktop computer or on Facebook…

Here’s the link to follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AFewMoreMilesBlog/

Categories: China, Silk Road | Leave a comment

Twice In A Lifetime

It’s funny… I’m writing this as I sit on a plane flying east across the Pacific Ocean. In fact, this is the 6th time in the 6 months of this calendar year that I’ve made this roundtrip journey from the USA to China. Even though I’m quite accustomed to the trans-Pacific travel, there’s something a little unsettling about my next trip.

8 years ago, I set off on a grand adventure, to ride my motorcycle from my home in New Hampshire, to the southernmost city in the world – Ushuaia, Argentina. Many of my friends called it an opportunity of a lifetime, or a once in a lifetime adventure. Rather, I often romanticized about a life time of adventure.

But then life happened. I was nearly broke so I spent time working and making money. Coming back into the working world, I quickly advanced my career – enjoying the problem solving and critical thinking along the way. I moved to California, got married (yay!) and focused on my career for the next 5 years. The job is wonderful. I really do enjoy it. I had many small adventures during these years, but I often dreamed of another grand adventure.

Despite taking an 8 year gap, I’ll soon be on sabbatical and setting off on another once in a lifetime adventure. The term, twice in a lifetime adventure just doesn’t have the same ring to it…

I’m not the same person I was back in 2009 when I did my motorcycle trip. I have more wrinkles in my face and more aches in my joints. There is less hair on my head (and the hair that is there is a lot more gray) and I have a few extra pounds around my waist.

I was a 26 year old kid who had his whole life ahead of him. A bit naive, yet optimistic. There was less than 4 years of career under my belt. Nevertheless, there was a restlessness to step outside of my comfort zone and worry about the consequences later.

I’m 34 now. Perhaps considered by many to still be quite young. I suppose it’s all relative. I’m still restless, but my world is quite different now and this journey, while having the similarity of international overland travel, feels significantly different.

Despite the fact that my savings are an order of magnitude greater than what they were before, I’m more concerned about financial security. Maybe it’s because I’m in my mid-thirties and this is the time in life when ones career can take off and achieve the greatest earning potential. Or maybe it’s because Amberlynn and I plan to start a family in the near future. Or maybe it’s because that’s what older people do – worry about money.

On the one hand, my mother and father are reaching retirement and I see both the opportunities and challenges they face. On the other hand, the painfully fresh memory of my step-father’s passing is a sharp reminder that we’re only here on this earth for moment in time and despite our best attempts, we can’t for certain control our future. All that said, I realize that in the larger world view, I’m extremely fortunate.

But still, life is so busy these days. Work keeps my mind constantly occupied. Caring for family is an honor yet not without requiring significant energy. And worrying about the future is never far off.

Departing for South America had a surprisingly anticlimactic feeling. I rode out of my driveway on my motorcycle, visited friends along the way, and settled into life on the road under the comfort of familiar travel in the USA. This time however, we are flying across the globe, with little opportunity to purchase quality gear if there’s something we forget. On day one we’ll be thrust into a foreign culture unlike the Americas. Language will be changing often and the western way of life will be abruptly removed. It makes me chuckle to think about the Marco Polo airport in Venice. If only he had a plane…

Despite the exhaustion of flying to China once a month, I enjoy the time spent on the plane, disconnected from the world. No internet, no social media, no text messages, no phone calls. Just the time to myself, to pause, if only for a moment. I suspect that over the next several months, I’ll have a lot of time spent in my own head. Pedaling through the searing steppe, freezing mountain passes, torrential rain storms on the plains, and windy deserts; Slogging up relentless hill climbs, continuing on straight, flat roads for miles upon miles upon miles, and as I’m sure, several wonderfully idyllic back road downhills with the wind at my back.

I’m curious. Will I get bored with the space that I so desperately desire today? I recall feeling alone while battling the unforgiving Ruta 40 in Patagonia. In spite of that, the trip refreshed me; eager to get back home and connect with friends and family, and to devote newfound energy to my career.

Charles and I had many unforgettable times motorcycling together through Latin America. However, spending time with anyone 24/7 is a challenge. Ultimately we decided to part ways in southern Ecuador. We remain good friends but at that moment we needed a break from one another. I’m rather laid back, but at the same time I like to do things my way. Because of this, I can get annoyed easily, and similarly I can become quite annoying.

This time I’ll be traveling with my wife. That brings on an entirely new set of challenges and opportunities. Without the luxury of a motor on this trip, we’ll be more vulnerable and exhausted. Surely we’ll have incredible highs on this journey, but also challenging lows. How will we be able to care for ourselves and support one another? Time will tell.

There’s also concern for our safety. I’m not too worried about myself, but with my wife traveling along, I won’t be so eager to throw caution to the wind. Before setting off for South America I was warned about the danger, particularly in Mexico and Colombia. It’s interesting that those are the two countries I fell in love with the most. I’ve been back to each of them three more times since and contrary to what we see on TV, I feel very comfortable traveling there.

This time around I received the same words of caution from within my circles. I’m only traveling to the “good -stans” is what I tell my parents. And the there’s the term “Middle East” which sparks fear in most Americans. Modest countries like Oman are often lumped into the popular worldview with the instability in other countries of the region. Yet of course, it’s difficult to deflect all of these comments and what we see in the news. Even as a well traveled person, I can’t help but think of the risks and the fears. Even if they are overstated, they are still a possibility.

Nevertheless, we’re nervous. We’re nervous not for what lies ahead, but instead for what we leave behind; our friends and family as well as a conventional life of comfort and convenience. However, our excitement for all the new challenges and opportunities overshadows these fears. It won’t always be easy, but we think it will be worth it.

I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’ll try to enjoy the journey. And I hope you will too.

 

PS. It feels good to be writing again!

Categories: China, Silk Road | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

My 2016: Year In Review

Just as it does every year, 2016 came and went in what felt like the blink of an eye. Equally and fortunately as common, it was action packed. Every year I like to reflect on the past 12 months to see where I spent my time. 20152014, 2013, 2012 were all amazing years. Highlights can’t do justice, but it’s a fun reminder of what’s been going on.

January

Having just crossed the border from Mexico to the USA, we settled into a cozy San Diego neighborhood to celebrate the new year with our friends Cachaulo and Yola, as well as their 2 young daughters. It was a great last stop on our drive north to Cupertino from Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.

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China Trip #1 came early as it seems to every year. Ganbei (bottoms up) as the locals would say!

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February

When working for a Chinese company, there is no greater holiday than Chinese New Year. With my factory closed for a week, we took to the skies to visit our families in New Hampshire. It was cold… Our good friend Byron also helped us film and edit a short promo video for SnapType. Thanks, Byron!! And thanks to Sarah and her son for the wonderful location and acting!

Once back in sunny California, Amber and I took advantage of warmer weather to do our first fully self-supported overnight bicycle trip. 2,500 feet of climbing over 10 miles with a fully loaded touring bike was exhausting but very rewarding!

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China Trip #2 was shortly thereafter and it was back across the ocean for another round of shenanigans with my friend and colleague, Charlie. We took over the children’s exoskeleton robots and terrorized the local theme park.

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On the way back to America I went out of my way to make a stopover in Singapore. First new country of the year! I spent a long weekend doing what I do in every new city I visit, walking around for miles and miles and miles.

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March

China Trip #3. This time I went to Shenzhen in the south of China and walked 8 miles along the bay with 60,000 of my closest friends.

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I’m an uncle! My sister gave birth to a baby girl and I flew home to see her at just two weeks old. Amazing.

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What’s becoming one of my favorite annual events is the ADVrider Noobs Rally. Surrounded by friends, we spent 2 days riding through the rugged and challenging landscape. It was as challenging, spectacular and memorable as always. Every year we say we should get smaller bikes… Maybe next year we finally will!

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April

Weird…. A month without a China trip! It was great to have a good stretch of time without a big flight. April was a pretty relaxing month while catching up with friends, like this ride to the famous Alice’s Restaurant.

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May

The one and only Kent Green popped in for a quick visit and we enjoyed his company while hiking through the gorgeous Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Kent is a master at classy and artsy panoramas…

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Yosemite is always a special place – even when it’s swarmed with 9872394738923o7 tourists. Our good friends David and Haley came out to California during their 12 national parks in 12 months tour. Good fun and shenanigans were had by all.

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China Trip #4 with visits to both Shenzhen and Changzhou. Overlanding here I come…

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At the end of the month, Amber and I drove 5 hours north to Lassen Volcanic National Park to enjoy some fun in the late spring snow, hiking through beautiful landscapes.

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June

Backpacking through Point Reyes National Seashore with Amber and Vanessa was wonderful. Our campsite was blossoming with wild blackberries that helped make our morning oatmeal on the trail that much more special.

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The weekend rental of a Polaris Slingshot was thoroughly enjoyed by Amber.

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Visitors from New Hampshire (Matt and Alana) came for a scenic drive through the Santa Cruz mountains and a delicious lunch at a brewery along the beach, even if the service was horrendous.

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My sister Abby is a physical therapist and started her first rotation as a traveller. She stayed with us in Cupertino and over the next 3 months and we went on lots of adventures together. It was great to spend time with her (and eat all the food she cooked).

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July

America! Freedom! Indianapolis! With travels to the heartland, we celebrated the wedding of Charlie and Jackie!

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My Dad had a unique and fantastic opportunity to drive a brand new BMW X5M across the country to bring a trailer of BMW motorcycles from Maine to California. We enjoyed spending time with each other in my new backyard. With complimentary tickets to the World Superbike Weekend at the Laguna Seca Raceway, we watched an incredible race and saw riders hurl themselves through the infamous corkscrew.

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I was even able to fit in a cross country drive home alongside my Dad in the sporty and comfy BMW. We averaged 800 miles per day over four days to reach Maine at the end of the week. It was fun to see the landscape change right in front of us but after 4 days and 3,200 miles, we were happy to be out of the car!

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China Trip #5.

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Amber’s family came for a visit and we had fun doing all the touristy things around northern California.

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August

My sister Molly came for a quick visit and we took her rock climbing at the local gym. We climbed a lot this summer and it felt great (on my back – most days).

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Amber and I then headed to Portland, Oregon for the World Domination Summit where we spoke in front of a 1,000+ person crowd and were awarded a scholarship to help fund the Android development of our app, SnapType!

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The first of several mountain biking endeavors went down in August. It’s been years since I’ve been out on a mountain bike and it felt great! The new bike technology is amazing and the bikes are incredibly light and agile. I’m extremely fortunate that some incredible trails are so close to my home in California! I’ll be looking forward to many more biking days in the future…

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September

China Trip #6 was an interesting one. I had a break in between two meetings. So along with my partner in Crime (Charlie), I made a weekend trip to Japan to hike Mount Fuji (the tallest mountain in Japan) on the last day of the hiking season. It was a mad dash and whirlwind trip but absolutely worth it. We woke up in China at 4am to catch a plane to Japan, landed in Tokyo at noon, arrived by bus to the final town at the foot of the mountain at 5pm, grabbed a quick dinner and hopped on another bus to arrive at the basecamp at 8pm, laid our heads on a park bench and began hiking at 10pm, hiked all night to reach the summit at 5am just in time for the sunrise (which we couldn’t see because it was cold, windy, cloudy, and rainy at the summit), descended and thrashed our knees to arrive back at the basecamp by 10am, caught 2 buses and arrived back in Tokyo at 4pm before passing out with exhaustion at 8pm. Wow, what a trip!!!

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As if the Mt. Fuji trip wasn’t hard enough, I packed up my bicycle the next week to pedal from my home in Cupertino to Mariposa (the foothills to Yosemite) for the Horizons Unlimited gathering where I gave a few presentations about motorcycle travel. 200 miles, up and over the leg-busting Mt. Hamilton and then down through the central valley before ascending again to the edge of the Sierra mountains. I felt whole.

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October

Skinny Pedal! YEAAHH!!! The boys and I drove the Rubicon Trail in Joel’s Toyota 4Runner. Everyone was impressed that a near stock vehicle could make it through. Joel was a great driver and with enough rock stacking we were able to make it without issue. A weekend in the wilderness with the “Js” was time well spent.

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Another cross country flight to Celebrate the wedding of Samir and Ligia in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. Gotta love weddings with friends from college!

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China Trip #7 wasn’t actually in China (but it makes for easy record keeping). After the wedding I flew to Munich, Germany for a business trip. In between meetings, I enjoyed a day of castle hiking, a visit to the BMW factory museum and a soccer/football match with what I learned later was one of the world’s best teams! Along with copious amounts of beer and meat I survived the trip. And A short drive into Austria for lunch marked another new country!

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On the way back from Germany I made a quick stopover to Amsterdam. I love the bicycle culture in the Netherlands!

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November

China Trip #8. Something is a foot in my soup…

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And then a sudden and unfortunate family emergency had me on the next flight to Boston.

Thanksgiving break was spent with several members of my family on a trip to Ajijic, Mexico along the shores of the country’s largest lake – Lake Chapala. We spent the week hiking in the dense hills that surround the lake. Our trip coincided with the annual local celebration of the San Andreas Festival. Fireworks, beer, street food, live music, carnival games and parades were all thoroughly enjoyed! One of the most interesting and rewarding parts of our trip was the visit to a local school where we volunteered for a day with both kindergarteners and 7th graders.

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December

Go Buffs! My college alma mater had a terrific football season and made it to the PAC12 Championship which was played just down the street from me in Santa Clara – at the new 49ers stadium. It was also a great chance to reconnect with a fraternity brother I hadn’t seen since college. Hi, Weapon!

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Another trip back to the east coast to be with family. My step-father is going through end-stage heart failure and underwent an emergency LVAD surgery where the left ventricle of his heart was replaced with an electro-mechanical pump. Under the best of circumstances, it’s an extremely difficult recovery. Unfortunately, he was plagued with several complications which has made his recovery extremely slow and challenging. It has been great to see family so much these past few weeks, but it’s sad that it had to be under such circumstances.

China Trip #9 – the last one of the year! Unlike 2014 and 2015 where I made 10 China trips, I slacked off this year and settled for 9. It’s rare that Charlie and I are in China the same time, but we’ve aligned several times this year and it’s been fun to explore together. On this occasion, we visited the city of Hangzhou and pedaled bicycles around the popular West Lake.

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It’s been several years since I celebrated Christmas / Chanukah / New Years in New Hampshire. So this year Amber and I decided to brave the New England winter and head back to our families on the east coast. No grand year-end adventure this time, but it was just what we needed and there’s certainly lots of exploration to be found in 2017!

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What went well in 2016?

  • I visited 2 new countries! Singapore and Austria (even if it was just for a lunch, 15 miles from the German border), bring the country count to 34 (I think). Return trips to Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, and Mexico were fun too.
  • I spent a lot of time on the east coast with family towards the end of the year. Of course, I wish it were under better circumstances, nevertheless it’s nice to be with them. I love living in California’s Silicon Valley but I sure do miss my family. I was lucky to have one sister come live with us for 3 months and to have another sister come out for a visit. Add a cross country drive with my Dad and it was time well spent with the people I love.
  • SnapType, our education app that helps students keep up in class even when their penmanship holds them back, is hard to classify with milestones throughout the year, even so, it certainly had a big year too. We finagled through Apple’s intricacies to create a company and relocated the hosting of the app. It was no small task and Apple didn’t make it easy for us, and more importantly easy for our users. But everyone did great and we managed to get back on track without too much fuss. We’ve also reached 1 million downloads, which is mind boggling! Revenue for the iOS app has been strong and we kicked off development on the Android app this fall. Unfortunately, it required us to re-write the app from the ground up in a completely different programming language. We had hoped to launch the app by now but development is taking longer than expected due to unforeseen challenges with Android which make some items much more complicated than with iOS. It’s been exciting and stressful, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. We’re about to enter our second round of beta testing and it won’t be long until we launch SnapType on Android to the public!
  • With Amber’s grad school complete, she passed her national boards and became a licensed and registered occupational therapist in the state of California! Early in the year she moved back to Cupertino full time and has been working in several different settings to get as much experience as she can and to explore the different opportunities within her field. She’s fantastic at what she does and has quickly become a valued and trusted supporter for many of her clients and their families. It’s beautiful to watch her pride blossom as she thrives in her new career.
  • “The day job,” which has me jet setting to China all the time, continues to go well. It’s a very unique gig with lots of challenges and rewards. It has not always been easy, but it has been worth it. I continue to grow professionally and enjoy the work and people I work with.
  • Back pain is usually the first thing I list each year under “what did not go well…” My back is far from healthy and it keeps me from doing many of the things I love, but this year I’ve had more good days than bad. I’m not sure exactly what to attribute it too since I haven’t been good about stretching or doing yoga, but a win is a win.
  • I stayed fairly active throughout the year. Even with all the travel, I was able to get in quality walks and bike rides on a mostly regular basis. A few bigger quests also gave a great sense of accomplishment. I need to stay active (for my physical and mental wellbeing) in the upcoming year and I’d like to branch out to some new activities.

What did not go well in 2016?

  • Stress. With the family emergency at the end of the year, I found (and still find) myself taking on more responsibilities in order to help out. Actually, my family has really come together to help out and it’s been really nice. I’m more than happy to help and I’m proud that I can assist. In spite of this, it still adds an extra layer of stress on top of the day job, SnapType and the rest of life’s requirements. So far, I’m managing the stress well and doing what I can to prevent any flareups in back pain. 2017 won’t be off to a smooth start, but we’re hopeful that there are many more good times with family to be had down the road.
  • My motorcycle continues to stand idle. It’s the same bike I rode to South America 7 years ago (wow, time flies)! I simply haven’t had the interest to go out on day rides and I haven’t had the time to take on big trips. Or when I do find some time, I’m leaning more towards the bicycle than the motorcycle. Maybe 2017 is the year I let El Burro find a new owner while I consider a smaller bike. Several manufacturers are coming out with exciting small bore adventure bikes this year… It gets me thinking!
  • Like most recent years, I had a lot of small adventures that I cherish, but I still yearn for another grand adventure. The older I get, the harder I find it to step away from daily life. I’m not really sure where this one will lead. My day job is great and I find it rewarding, but the taste of freedom out on the open road still lingers.

Looking ahead

As it does every year, the new calendar brings with it new challenges and opportunities. I’ll continue the quest for passive income with big leaps ahead for SnapType. I also look forward to spending more time with friends and family as my top priorities. Adventure is always on the doorstep and I’m trying to set up 2017 to be a big year.

How was your 2016? 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?

Categories: Austria, China, Mexico, Singapore, United States | Leave a comment

My 2014: Year In Review

Wow, my 2013 finished with a bang while getting engaged in Guatemala on top of a volcano on Christmas Eve. And 2014 has been incredible as well. As another years passes, it’s fun to reflect on what went down and recalibrate for the future. Here’s a summary of my adventures in 2014. January After leaving Guatemala, it was back to California to spend more time with Amber before her spring semester started. Towards the end of the month, I flew home to celebrate our engagement with our families. February February kicked off my first trip to China for the year. Shanghai Bund March With spring in full swing in California, it was off to Death Valley for some moto riding at the annual ADVrider rally. This was my first trip to the valley and I was blown away with it’s beauty, remoteness and rugged terrain. The riding was challenging and exciting with lots of soft sand, steep rocky ascents and crashes every now and then. Highlights included Goler Wash, Mengel Pass, the Race Track, Tea Kettle Junction and Lippincott Pass. March - Death Valley Pass April This was a crazy month with 2 trips to China. The best part though was a long weekend in Seoul, South Korea on the way home. I met up with a friend of a friend and had a wonderful time exploring the city with my local guide, Claire! It’s amazing how different South Korea is from China and I really enjoyed exploring a new place. The food was delicious, the language was unique and the culture was interesting. I’d love to get back some day and travel more around the country! Korea Gangnum Style May Amber and I set off for our annual visit to the the Overland Expo in Arizona where I gave several presentations about riding around the globe on a motorbike. And it was back to New Hampshire for the wedding of my friend, Chip. Wedding Group Additionally, I had been working with a developer for the past few months to build an iPad App. Born from Amber’s creativity, SnapType empowers students to keep up with thier peers, despite their difficulty with handwriting. By allowing them to take pictures of their school worksheets and then fill in the answers using the iPad keyboard they can now complete their work and feel successful. May - SnapType 2 As a final accomplishment for the month, I made my final payment to one of my two groups of student loans. Financial independence seems like a never ending battle, but this was a solid step forward and I’m really excited and proud to be paying off my debt. There’s still a lot more to pay, however with my other group of loans at only a 1.75% interest rate, there’s no big rush to pay them off quickly. June Once again, I hopped on plane and headed west for China trip #4. In order to spice things up a bit, my colleagues took me out to dinner at a unique restaurant where we feasted on giant silk worm grubs, dog meet and french fries covered in liquid sugar… June - Bugs Later in the month I spent a weekend in San Francisco to compete in the Startup Weekend challenge. Startup Weekends are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups. I joined a group of incredibly talented programmers to develop CrowdSync, a meeting management application to automate note taking. We didn’t win the competition, but it was a fascinating and empowering learning experience. June - Startup Weekend July Halfway through the year, China came calling again. Like April, this was a two-trip month across the Pacific Ocean. With all that air time, my body was tired and so a cupping session was in order. Yes, it was painful. The marks were said to last only 5-10 days but even several weeks later, they could still be seen. I’m not sure if it helped at all but it was a fun new experience! China Cupping In between China trips I headed to Yosemite with some friends for some camping and hiking while being unplugged. It was just what I needed to recharge! Here’s a picture overlooking Half Dome; We hiked 15 miles that day. July - Yosemite Amber also made another trip out to California and we spent time tubing with friends down the Russian River and cycling along the coast. We also took engagement photos along Baker Beach in San Francisco. Ben and Amber Engagement August In August I officially relaunched the Motorcycle Mexico website. One of my passions/goals is passive income and this was another step towards location independence. Rather than simply pitch the DVDs, I’ve structured a free eBook landing page and an automated email marketing campaign to build rapport with readers before making the sales pitch. Time will tell how well it works. But it’s already proving well with a growing email list and a (small) increase in sales. Of course, it’s a sale I’m proud to make since these DVDs are a gold mine of information where any traveler can reap lots of value. Motorcycle Mexico eBook As summer rolled on, Stephen stopped by during his visit back to the USA. He and I rode Baja together in 2010 while he was en route to South America. He made it only as far as Guatemala before falling in love with the country and deciding to live on Lago Atitlan. He’s been there ever since. While in California, we went for a hike in Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles And no month would be complete without some bicycle riding with my friends – The J’s. August - Bike Rides September Another annual event, the Horizons Unlimited meet up, had me back on the bike and riding towards Yosemite. I gave several informative and entertaining presentations about motorcycle travel and I watched several other inspirational speakers present on riding in intriguing places like Central Asia, Africa and Cuba. It wasn’t long before China trip #7 came knocking. Here we go again. With fall coming to New England, I flew home to go on a motorcycle ride with my Dad. He’s been a motorcyclists since his college days but hasn’t owned a bike since I was born. Now equipped with a Harley, I too borrowed an HD and we spent the day riding back roads throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. Spending time together doing something we both love was really special and I look forward to more miles in the future! Moto Ride With Dad October October was a hell of a month. Action packed and a bit of a blur, I found myself on a new adventure every weekend. The month kicked off with a visit to Colorado to re-unite with friends from college, ride bicycles and drink beer… October - Colorado Biking The next weekend I flew to Utah to catch up with David and Haley. After arriving in Salt Lake City, we headed south for Capitol Reef National Park to go canyoneering through Cassidy Arch and river hiking through some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. Look closely in the photo below… I’m on rappel! Utah Canyoneering The weekend after that I hosted Montanans, Mike and Katie, on a weekend trip to explore sunny California. The trips north to San Francisco and south to Big Sur were a blast and the company was perfect. Big Sur Overlook Other notable October happenings included a visit from my buddy John, hosting my first MotoStays traveler and welcoming my college comrade, Cachaulo to join our company. November With a month full of adventures behind me, there was no stopping the excitement. Reid, Joel, Charlie and I drove 6 hours north for a 3-day 25-mile backpacking trip along the rugged Lost Coast. This was the only stretch of coast in California where it was too rough to build a road. The hike was both challenging and rewarding. Getting caught in the tide with wet feet coupled with walking through soft sand yielded many blisters. Nevertheless, the grandeur of this remote wilderness was well worth the effort. Loast Coast Hiking A weekend hiking in Tahoe and a well deserved long Thanksgiving trip home to the east coast made the month of November fly by. December The last page of the calendar also marked my final trip to China. Trip #8 was a success! And of course, to close out the year in style, Amber and I flew down to the Dominican Republic to relax in an all-incluve resort go on a bicycle tour around the north coast of Hispanolia! Dominican Republic Bicycle Touring El Choco What went well in 2014?

  • Like in 2013, I flew a bunch. I racked up more than 200,000 frequent flyer miles.
  • I visited two new countries (South Korea and the Dominican Republic) to bring the total country count to 27.
  • My career is going well and I’m providing value to my company and my clients. The work is challenging at times but also rewarding with many benefits and I enjoy the people I work with.
  • Amber and I created the SnapType iPad app to help students with dysgraphia (and the feedback we’ve received from teachers, therapists and parents has been overwhelmingly positive). We’re also working on upgrades for version 2.0 to make it even better!

What did not go well in 2014?

  • Even though I had many wonderful small adventures, I didn’t undertake a large journey. When I rode to Argentina a few years ago, people told me it was a “once in lifetime experience” and ever since I’ve hoped it would mark only the start of a life full of adventures. It’s tough to undertake large quests when burdened by the responsibilities of daily life. Nevertheless, I look forward to putting myself in the position to take advantage of more opportunities in the future.
  • Year after year I continue to struggle with back pain. As an engineer, it’s most frustrating to be unable to find a root cause of the pain and a solution to resolve it. The challenge is beyond physical and I struggle emotionally with not being able to live an energetic life filled with freedom and motion.
  • Even though it was a fun year, I didn’t take the time to write anything on the blog. I had to make a commitment to myself to write this year in review (albeit a little late). I find it important to reflect on and celebrate the past to help prepare me for the future.
  • Even though I went home to New England a few times, I still wish I spent more time with my friends and family on the east coast.

Looking Ahead There is a lot in store for 2015 and it’s already shaping up to be a busy year with my first trip to China scheduled later this January. But most of the year will be focused on this fall, when Amber and I get married. Even though we’re keeping things simple, there is so much to do. We want to put on a great event and look forward to celebrating with all of our friends and family. Chris Guillebeau writes about The Happiness of Pursuit in his new book. He talks about how taking on a quest can improve your life. I’ve had this sensation many times in my life. When I was riding to Argentina, and producing the Motorcycle Mexico DVDs, and cycling a century, and working out a new climbing route, and building a mobile app – All of these quests were not relaxing. I was engaged, in flow, and working my mind and body. That’s happiness – Not in reaching the goal, but in the challenge to reach the goal. I want to bring more of this into my life. It makes me feel alive and excited! I have a few small quests in the works for 2015 and I look forward to larger quests sometime down the road. What about you? How was your 2014? 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?

Categories: China, Dominican Republic, Korea, United States | 3 Comments

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