(20)16 Going on (20)17

2016 is now officially in the books, which means it is time for a quick round up of the last 365 days. While not a perfect year (is such a thing possible?), this last rotation around the sun was an overall good one for this blogger and In Search of the End of the Sidewalk.  The blog had nearly 9000 views from over 4,000 unique visitors, a number that isn’t terrible, but that I’d love to increase in 2017, so be sure to share the address with your friends -especially the bookish/travel-y ones! (Click here to link to the Facebook page so you never miss a post!)

It has been a year of transition at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk as I’ve focused more time on book blogging with the new “Card Catalog Reviews” that come out on Mondays and Fridays and a bit less on the travel blogging, as being DC-based has cut down on the international travel in the last six months. (With a that said, 2017 is starting off right with a trip to Mexico in January, South Africa in February and then plans are in the works for more adventures mid-summer. Travel blogging is not dead, just not a weekly feature.) I’m hoping to pair with some libraries in the coming year to expand readership of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk and also, hopefully help local libraries encourage reading and book discussions. (I’ve already spoken with three libraries in Idaho –Marsing, Homedale and Caldwell – and hope to partner with even more in the near future!)

All of that is to say, 2016 was a great year in the blogosphere and I’m looking forward to more posts, more readers and more comments in the New Year! To kick things off right, here is a *very* brief recap of last year in both travel and reading. Click on each to link to the original post.

Travel highlights:

Ringing in Chinese New Year in Perth

3 weeks in Ho Chi Minh City (and here, and here, and here.)

Caving adventures in Miri  (and here)

Summertime in Idaho

Revisiting all Washington DC has to offer

Best Fiction:

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Best non-fiction

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard

 

Worst reads of the year:

The Ten Best Days of My Life by Adena Halpern

The Last Girl by Joe Hart

The City at 3PM: Writing, Reading and Traveling by Peter Lasalle

Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South  by Beth Macy

Wild by Nature: One Woman, One Trek, One Thousand Nights by Sarah Marquis

Unfinished business from 2016 (AKA: To be read in early 2017!):

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

 

A Little Climbing and a Little Wet

Pencils skirts and heels: those are my comfort zones. Give me a light cardigan, a chunky necklace and some brightly painted nails and I am right at home. My toes can be smashed into heels for hours at a time; I’ll jingle around the office in a pile of bangles with a cute pen or two clipped to my lanyard and I am ready to go.

Sports bras and tennis shoes: not my comfort zone. As I’ve discussed many, many a-time on this blog, Sporty Spice I am not. Occasionally I try and at times I overestimate my abilities/desires, and usually I end up with a tinge of regret for my choices during the actual event, but also thrilled to have seen the top of that mountain, to have swum with tropical fishes (and poisonous sea snakes) or to have that tiny “M” marking my driver’s license as both automobile and motorcycle classed.

It was in just such a situation that I found myself last weekend.

To be fair, the overestimating was not totally my own fault. I lay a good deal of blame on the park literature that *way* understated the day’s activity levels.

But, to be fair to the awesome park, even if the literature had been honest, I probably would have gone anyway. Peer pressure. I wasn’t backing out when everyone else was signing up.

Signing up for what, you may ask? Just a trek to Eden and back.

Who could say no to that?

The tiniest of summaries accompanied beautiful photos at Mulu Park’s headquarters, mentioning that hikers might have to climb over a few rocks and might get wet, but would be rewarded with tea or coffee at the end of the day. Seems like a deal to me!

I should have taken those “mights” a bit more seriously.

Our hike to Eden was a full-day adventure; one we felt comfortable embarking on after the previous day’s four-hour trek into Morlock-land with just some snazzy yellow hardhats and blinking headlamps.

The first part of the day was simple enough- just a couple kilometer hike on maintained boardwalks to the main bat exodus viewing area. Everyone was upbeat and excited for the day’s adventure, getting to know each other and chatting, stopping to look at a snoozing pit viper and to admire a giant walking stick insect, who didn’t enjoy our company as much as we did his. (Our guide picked the walking stick up to give us a closer view since we all had a hard time spotting him through his awesome camouflage, but the little critter instantly went in self-defense mode, regurgitating some kind of viscous, yellow liquid all over the guide’s hand. I was impressed that his seemingly tiny body could hold so much fluid! Gross and fascinating, all at the same time.)

Once we got to Deer Cave, we followed the normal boardwalk pathway used by visitors on the “show cave” tours, but soon I literally found where the sidewalk ends! We scrambled over the railing and went off-road, for the rest of the day. Once we’d left the trail behind, the next few hours were spent bouldering, up and over and through, anyway one could find to get to the other side. I must admit, the whole thing was a lot of fun, until my arms started to run out of strength. (See the last blog post about how my army crawl became an unsightly barrel roll in the previous day’s cave.) At one point, I got myself into a rather sticky situation, not able to go up or down, perched on a log and needing to somehow heft myself another four feet up. After trying numerous options and finding none that didn’t feel like imminent death, the massive Dutch man behind me just said, “Want a boost?” in his lovely European accent, to which I nodded and before I knew what was happening, he basically pushed my rear up and over my head, rolling me onto the top of the boulder, a move I was grateful for, but that left me covered in bat guano from head to toe. (Interesting side note: bat guano is not as disgusting as one would think. It has a distinct and heavy odor, but not a gag inducing one. It is dry and grainy, like a black sand, only covered in cave cockroaches and other spindly-legged creatures. These guys are grosser than the poo. On a poop scale, I would say bat guano comes in as as some of the least rank crap around, and thank goodness, since I spent most of the day enjoying a free exfoliate from Mother Nature.)

Exhausted, but proud to have survived the bouldering, I was buoyed to see a beautiful river. I thought we must have arrived at Eden, where we could rest, have lunch and enjoy the sunshine far from humanity.

Boy, was I wrong.

We were only halfway there.

The river was a turning point, in that we went from the “might have to climb a few rocks” to the “might get wet” part. The river, mostly ankle deep, did drop off as it exited the cave, hitting me at the top of my chest and making the shorter folks in our group full-on swim. We followed the river upstream (followed= waded) for about another kilometer, before veering off into the rain forest, where our guide promptly announced “This is where the leeches start.” Hmmm…I definitely do not remember anything about leeches in the literature.

Leeches were the least of my concerns. This third leg of the trek was the toughest for me, basically an uphill climb through dense rain forest, where the temperature and humidity were at levels that an Idaho-girl should never experience. My body was raised on dry heat, the kind that a bit of sweat cools. It does not know what to do with instant flush and dripping pores. At one point, bringing up the end of our line of trekkers (7 of us in total), I realized I was stumble/walking across a ridge between two parts of the mountain, with verdant and foliage-hidden drops just a few feet on either side. That’ll help you regain your focus quickly!

Just when I thought I could go no farther, the beginnings of heat exhaustion starting to manifest, I heard the waterfall that indicated Eden was just over the next ridge. I may have almost died (okay, a bit of hyperbole, but let’s be honest, I was in the middle of nowhere with walking out the only way back and running on energy reserves; it didn’t feel like hyperbole at the time) but the view from Eden was spectacular.

Its name was not hyperbole.

The gorgeous waterfall, huge boulders to rest on and sun shining through the trees were only part of the draw. My favorite thing about this spot was its remoteness. Although I know they take small groups of hikers there a couple of times a week, this place felt like we were the first ones to ever see it. Nothing man-made, nothing electronic, nothing that didn’t come in with us and go back out with us.

Pristine. Untouched. Unspoiled.

Amazing.

Worth the effort.

At times, I questioned my choice to sign up for this trek, but in the end, I would do it all again. I’d roll through the bat guano, hoist myself up rock ledges, ford a river, hike/stumble through a forest filled with biting critters, all for a view that so few get to witness.  (Thad paid for the view with a more personal form of currency- his blood. He picked up not one, but two leeches along the way. One he was able to pull off before it got a good latch, but the second make a full meal out of his upper thigh. For the record, leech bites leave huge, target-shaped wounds, with an open sore in the middle, ringed by concentric layers of bruising. Not a pretty sight and probably not so fun to sit on! Also, itchy. Very itchy.)

As promised, our day ended with a mug of hot tea as we curled our filthy bodies onto benches to watch the bat exodus right before sunset. I can’t think of a better ending to a day where Mother Nature tested my mettle than with her gift of wonder, as three million bats went hunting, as if on cue.

 

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