Thursday, October 20, 2016

On adventure

I went to Russia. By myself. Well, the travel to and from was by myself, but I went to meet up with my brother and re-supply is around the world bike trip.
I had to leave home and family, including my not-quite-3-year-old, to travel over days just to meet up with my brother, toting more stuff than I've ever traveled with in my life. That includes going to Maine for ten days with my kiddo. A giant box with a bike in it, the biggest suitcase you've ever seen, a giant duffel bag, and that was just for my brother. My own modest hiking backpack (also crammed with some items for my brother) and large purse were downright minimalist, since I didn't want to add to my own misery by schlepping even more stuff. Besides, I figured, if I needed something to keep warm, I was bringing plenty of that to my brother. No need to carry more for myself.
Camping along the Lena River. It was cold enough to freeze
the river overnight, and we got snow because of course it
decided to snow the day we went camping.
We met in Yakutsk. Siberia. Yeah, the place that's talked about as if it's Hell on earth. I can now say that I've been to Asia, my third continent, which is pretty cool. And truthfully, it was amazing.
Yakutsk is the coldest city (with a population over 100,000) on earth, so check that one off the bucket list as well. My brother and I saw lots of mammoth skeletons (as those are very well preserved in the permafrost there), learned about the Sakha Republic and the people who call it home. It's remarkable how much like Fairbanks it is. We went to a Russian circus, we ate strange (to us) and sometimes ridiculous foods. (Scroll down to the section about dining and restaurant reviews--hilariously accurate.) We biked out to camp next to the Lena River, testing out all the new gear. (If his new sleeping bag could keep me warm for a night in sub-freezing temperatures, he'll be fine.)
I've never before been to a place where I was so obviously out of place, to the point that people stared at us wherever we went. At my brother for having a beard, at both of us for speaking English or for the way we dressed. It was bizarre, and at times uncomfortable in the do-I-have-a-wardrobe-malfunction sort of way. A group of young teenagers at one of the museums were obviously whispering about us. I caught a girl staring at me and she was so embarrassed that she actually squeaked and hid behind her friend, covering her face. Am I really such an object of wonder?
My brother, trying on some of his
new winter gear.
Moy brat (my brother, pronounced braht) and I didn't stop talking except to sleep for the first three days we were together, and even after that there were only short pauses in conversation. Five days just does not feel like enough time with my brother after nine months. We laughed together, we discussed politics and life and philosophy and random, absurd things. We made each other giggle until we were both bent double. In short, it was everything I could have hoped for.

As if that wasn't enough, I got to go to St. Petersburg for a few days. I got to see the Hermitage, the Catherine Palace, and "Swan Lake" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, which pretty much fulfills a dream I've had since I was two. I saw stunning historical sites, and learned much about the city that I hadn't known before.
One of my favorite pictures I took of the city.

Even better than seeing the sights, a friend of mine put me in contact with a friend of hers in St. Petersburg. (Thanks, Lucy!) Anastasia was kind enough to show me around, help me out, and even make blini for me on my last night. We bonded over the fact that our daughters, roughly the same age, are both obsessed with "Frozen". We discussed life in our countries, what's the same and what's different. She told me a bit about what it was like to grow up in the communist era, which was fascinating. (What was I taught about that time, growing up, that's lies, and what's truth?) I will be grateful forever to Anastasia for the time we spent together. Meeting her was like finding a long-lost friend.
I read all kinds of warnings about travelers going to Russia, safety warnings, but not once did I feel unsafe, either materially or personally. Even walking around St. Petersburg after dark by myself, I never felt threatened. Of course, I took the same simple precautions I take everywhere to keep myself and my possessions safe, but did not feel the need to take any extraordinary precautions. (Well, I did have an RFID protetion pocket around my debit card and passport.)
I was also told that Russian people don't smile that often, so I expected dour, emotionless responses. That's not what I got, though. People were friendly, and except for one woman (at the Yakutsk airport) who called me a fascist and told me to go home, everyone was friendly.
How I expected Russian smiles to be.
Sure, some of them were almost certainly laughing at me. (Even now I only know a few words in Russian, and I have an atrocious accent.) But, that's fine by me.

The point in writing all of this is simple. It's not to brag, or even persuade others to go there. I want to remember it, for myself. When I look back on my life, I want to know that I had adventure in it. YOLO might be a dumbass thing that broskis say before doing something stupid, but it has a bit of truth in it too. You only get one life, to live as you want. I want mine to have adventure in it, even if that adventure sometimes costs me a bit. (And I'm not speaking monetarily.)
Before we embarked on our great adventure of Parenthood, I naturally thought long and hard about it. What would it mean, and how would our lives change? How would we let our lives change, and what did I not want to let it change about me? I started noticing our cultural attitudes about motherhood and parenthood and realized that I really, really didn't like them. The way parenthood is portrayed, there's the Before (wild and crazy parties, fun, adventure) and the After (being responsible grownups, putting ourselves aside for the sake of the kids and pouring everything we have into making them respectable people, even to the point of forgetting that we parents are people who matter too). I hated it. If I want my little person to grow up to be well-rounded and full of adventure, as in so many other things, I need to be the model. I don't want her to think that I became Mom and my life basically ended when hers began. What a crappy message for children to grow up with! I frequently tell her that she is one of the biggest parts of my world, but she's not the only one. I don't think she quite gets it, because to a toddler of course my world revolves around her! But one day, she'll understand. And with the example I set, I hope she feels safe to go and create her own adventures, all her life, even if it's sometimes hard to do.
Leaving my family for two whole weeks was rough. But missing out on this amazing trip would have been something I regretted the rest of my life. I had to go, for myself, even if one of the best parts of my trip was my homecoming. (The biggest hugs, and so many kisses!)
A detail on Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
On my last night in town, full of blini, one of the things Anastasia and I talked about was the fact that, no matter where you go, people are people. In general, people are kind and helpful. Any time I feel bad about the state of the world, traveling outside of my own little bubble reminds me that, yep, people are still generally very wonderful. We have a book that I love to read to my Munchkin, called "Come Over to My House". It's well-worn, because it's one we had when my older brothers were young. The message of the book, however, is timeless. Wherever you go, you'll meet kind people. They might live very differently from you, and it's wonderful to learn about how other people live, but no matter how we live or whether we're rich or poor, people are kind and generous no matter where they are. This adventure of mine once again cemented that idea in my mind.

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