In yesterday’s post, Jen reflected on some of her favorite experiences from 2015 and what she learned from them. Today (and just in time!), I’m looking back on mine.
Spending 24 hours in Iceland
Visiting Iceland has always been a dream of mine. Seeing the northern lights, kayaking through the glacial fjords, and hiking the volcanic landscape; Iceland is paradise for outdoor lovers. Unfortunately, it’s an expensive destination, so I hadn’t seriously considered it as a travel option…until now. WOW Air, the country’s budget airline, starting flying direct from Boston to Reykjavik earlier this year, and Icelandic Air also offers deals that allow long layovers there. So, when Jen and I set off for our holiday vacation in the Azores and London, I booked myself a 24-hour layover in Iceland for the way home.
It being December, there was only five hours of daylight there, and the weather was a mix of rain and wet, clumpy snow. Not the time to do any of the adventure activities I had dreamed of. However, it was a good time to get just a taste of the Icelandic lifestyle and the opportunities this tiny island nation has to offer.
I spent my 24 hours in Reykjavik visiting the Icelandic Phallogical Museum (yes, that is what you think it is, and yes, it is a major attraction there); chatting with an Icelandic fellow at Lebowski Bar, a watering hole based on the movie The Big Lebowki; swimming and hanging out at a hot spring that’s popular with locals; and, just trying to see as many unique things as I could in my short stay.
My layover in Iceland reminded me that being a tourist for a day can be a fun and memorable experience. With work, money, and, well, life, the reality is that we don’t always have the time to explore a destination fully and gain a deep understanding of a place’s cultural complexities. When we don’t, sometimes it’s still fun and interesting to see something different–even for just one day.
Using my folding kayak throughout the summer
Moving from a town of 30,000 in Montana to the city of Boston has been a great experience in most respects–but one thing I was missing was my kayak. Our apartment here just does not have space for my 14-foot boat. So, for my first two years living in the city, I was forced to either rent equipment (and have my trips dictated by the rental shops’ locations), or otherwise go without one of my favorite activities.
Then I found Folbot, the makers of folding kayaks that are lightweight, strong enough to handle the waves in the ocean, and able to fit in a reasonably-sized backpack when folded up. While the kayak didn’t come cheap, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me in Boston. Not only could I go places that didn’t have a rental shop nearby, I could carry this boat on my back during hikes and take it anywhere I wanted, like in Canada’s Fundy National Park.
I thought moving to the city might mean largely giving up on something I loved, but Folbot showed me that there’s often a workaround if you’re passionate enough (and the existence of this company also suggests that I’m not the only one who wishes their city apartment could hold a boat!).
Renting a motorcycle in Mexico
As Jen’s reflection on 2015 showed, walking around is the best way to get to know a place. You notice more things, and people notice you and interact with you. Driving during trips puts a barrier between you and the environment you’re trying to explore. I usually advocate taking it slowly, and stopping to enjoy everything that your destination has to offer. But sometimes, it can be great to taste the freedom of a motorcycle.
While in Isla Mujeres in August, Jen and I swam in the crystal clear blue waters, lounged on the white sand beaches, and stuffed ourselves with fresh guacamole. After a few days, though, we were itching to see something besides the touristy Playa Norte area and, just as importantly, dying to cool off in the 95-degree weather. We rented a motorcycle and rode to the southern tip of the island. We got to see the how the locals lived, something that was difficult to find in the guesthouse-filled northern beaches of Isla Mujeres.
Riding a motorcycle in other countries doesn’t feel like it puts the same barrier between you and the world as driving a car does. You can stop more easily and park almost anywhere. Plus, in many countries, locals ride scooters and motorcycles for everyday transportation, putting you less in the position of being a wealthy tourist cloistered from the world you’ve come to visit. As an added bonus, the breeze blowing against you as you ride a motorcycle offers a welcome respite from stifling heat. If you don’t have a motorcycle license, scooters are easier to drive, and in some places, you can also rent ATVs or golf carts and get many of the same benefits.
Running the Vermont City Marathon
I’ve never really been a runner. I wasn’t on the cross-country or track team as a kid, and going out for runs wasn’t my top-choice exercise. It wasn’t that I hated running, I just never thought it was something that I wanted to train in, or do multiple days per week. Running sounded boring.
When I moved to Boston a little over two years ago, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to go hiking whenever I wanted as I had when living in Bozeman, Montana. I was going to need to take up a new activity to stay in shape. Running seemed like the obvious choice for a city dweller, so I started a Couch-to-5k program.
About a year ago, I participated in a half marathon–the Holiday Half MerryThon on Cape Ann. I did okay, with a time less than two hours, and felt pretty good at the end, so I decided to set the goal of running a full marathon. I signed up for Vermont City Marathon in one of my favorite towns, Burlington.
Throughout Boston’s Snowmaggedon winter last year, I trained. I ran around the city, dodging pond-sized puddles and climbing the little mountains of sludge-filled snow that piled up around the crosswalks. I ran rail trails outside the city when they weren’t too icy, just to get some variety. It wasn’t the most pleasant time to train.
During Memorial Day Weekend, I finally ran 26.2 miles. It was an amazing experience, and for people who don’t have fast enough times to run in the big races like Boston or New York, the Vermont City Marathon has to be one of the best you could pick. The city shuts down, and everyone comes out to cheer the racers. The course is beautiful, following Lake Champlain for a large portion of it.
Reaching a goal that I started working towards almost two years before felt great. Whether it’s for fitness, travel, or just regular old recreation, don’t be afraid to set some big goals for yourself this year. And I’ll be doing the Burlington race again in May, so let us know if you’ll be there, too!