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Happy Birthday to ME!

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Today is my 33rd birthday. I’m pretty stoked to turn 33 – there are two 3’s in the number, after all, that’s pretty lucky, I believe.

We’re in the verdant Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria taking a day off after tackling some rather difficult terrain over the past several days (story coming soon). I have no oven with with to bake the annual lemon cake I make each year (yep, I bake my own birthday cake and won’t have it any other way) and I won’t lace up my running shoes to hit the trails, like I’ve done for the past 17 years.

Instead, I’m celebrating by exploring a new town in the crisp autumn air with my partner and our dog. How can I feel anything other than gratitude when I consider at this day and can say, I am spending my birthday in Bulgaria with my dog and partner while we bicycle tour the world?

As I reflect on the most memorable moments of my 33rd circle around the sun, I remember the highs and lows as those moments that have shaped the person I have become. Below, I share a few of the most significant events of year 32.

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Cycle Touring the World
Of course, this has been the highlight of my year. In the past six months, Dave, Sora, and I have visited 14 countries so far (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria), with two more two go (Turkey and Greece) on our European excursion. 

Further, since we’ve spent waaay less than we originally budgeted, we’ve decided to continue our journey to South America. On 7 January, 2016, we fly to Buenos Aires, where we will then head to Patagonia and cycle back to Oregon from there.

We have met so many wonderful individuals, including fellow cycle tourists, Warm Showers hosts, friends from home, bloggers, complete strangers who have taken us into their homes, and stray animals. Each being has left us with new information and compassion to carry forward to others and into our journey.

Honoring Maxwell in Mirabor, Slovenia. Photo by Dakota Gale.
Honoring Maxwell in Mirabor, Slovenia. Photo by Dakota Gale.

Saying Goodbye to Maxwell
Just 12 days before departing for this journey, Dave, Sora, and I said farewell to our dear friend Maxwell. Dave adopted Maxwell when he was 20 years old and Maxie was two for a whopping $20 at an animal shelter in Los Angeles. There for some of the most formative years of his life, Dave and Maxwell shared a special bond.

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It was quite incredible how Maxwell seemed to know the right time to tell us his time on this Earth was complete. We faced an incredibly difficult dilemma as our trip date neared and we knew we couldn’t take him with us. Maxwell made the decision for us.

We think of him daily and imagine him trotting alongside our bikes or soaking up the hot sun. In each country we visit, we scatter his ashes, so that he may travel this journey together with us.

One of the most beautiful places I've seen to date: Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand. Taken in 2006.
One of the most beautiful places I’ve seen to date: Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand. Taken in 2006.

Returning to Australia and New Zealand
I lived in Wellington, NZ for six months in 2006 and just fell madly in love with the country. After departing NZ, I road tripped around eastern Australia for six weeks. In NZ, I worked with a delightful group of individuals at a company called ACC who made me feel at home. It was on this day in 2006 that I learned “many happy returns” means happy birthday in former British Colony speak.

Last October, just days after my birthday, I had the opportunity to return to both Australia and New Zealand on behalf of Mt. Hood Territory. For three weeks, I had the privilege of telling loads of people about the wonders of Oregon and convince them to come for a visit. But just a visit, because we don’t want more people moving to Portland, Oregon.

Ok. It was a bit muddy in certain parts.
Ok. It was a bit muddy in certain parts. Photo by Kristen Nelson.

Running the Hagg Lake 25K Mud Run
Since moving to Oregon over five years ago, I had wanted to run the Hagg Lake Mud Run. Set in the exceptionally muddy and chilly month of February, this run has a reputation for inducing what I call miserable fun. A longtime runner (for 17 years now…whoa!), I convinced Dave that this was a worthwhile use of our cycle touring money. After all, it was the last formal race I would complete in a while.

On Valentine’s Day of 2015, we hit the course amid the sunshine and warm temperatures. Oregon had an unusually dry winter last year, so the course wasn’t quite as squishy and slippery as it should have been. A bit more fun than misery this time around.

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Convincing Friends to Run the Entire Length of Wildwood Trail
Speaking of running, I couldn’t leave my beloved Oregon without a celebratory farewell to my equally beloved Forest Park. I somehow managed to convince my group of running friends, affectionately known as the Buff Muffins to run the entire length of Wildwood Trail. That would be 29.66 miles, kids.

...and the rest of us!
…and the rest of us!

Nine of us started and only one of us finished. And that one was not I. It was our friend, Bryant. I stopped at mile 20 after a bit of persuasion from Dave who was worried that two weeks before leaving on a Very Big Trip that running such a distance might cause some sort of injury. To me, it was worth the risk.

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Officially Vegan
After years of wanting to become a vegan and eating almost entirely vegan at home, Dave and I finally pulled the plug on dairy products and eggs. We’ve discovered new restaurants in the cities we visit and have gained confidence in communicating our dietary restrictions at restaurants or with hosts. It’s not always easy being vegan on the road, especially in lesser developed countries where vegan staples are nearly impossible to find, but we feel more truthful living within our ethical beliefs. 

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Starting a Blog
For so long, I’ve wanted to capture my thoughts in one place. Starting a blog sounded daunting, and quite boring, while living in my everyday 9-5 life. Long Haul Trekkers finally provided me the space to tell our stories, share my vegan camp recipes, and link to my photography.

I’m so grateful to this blog and even more so to those of you who choose to follow our adventure and read the words I write, admire the photos I take, and cook the meals I provide. Thank you.

To learn our most up-to-date whereabouts, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We also post our best photos toInstagram. They’ll make you want to get on your bike and tour. Trust us.
Jen Sotolongo

Jen is the Chief Storyteller and Photographer for the Long Haul Trekkers. Born with the travel bug, she has lived in Spain, Chile, and New Zealand. When she’s not galavanting around the world by bicycle, she is running long distances in the woods, exploring nature, or whipping up delicious vegan meals. She is always planning her next adventure.

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