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Sunset over the Salar de Coipasa

Murphy’s Law and the Meaning of Life

I remember when I was little, my parents had a magnet on the refrigerator that said “If anything can go wrong, it will. Murphy’s Law.” They may even still have it. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, but I have since discovered it’s true meaning. Murphy’s Law always seems to find us when we depart on our worldly adventures.

The last time we left on an extended adventure, Murphy came through like a tornado, swallowing all of our plans and spewing them in every direction, like sending Sora’s exportation paperwork home with my parents in Seattle. We were in Portland and scheduled to visit the USDA in Olympia the following morning. This mistake meant packing the remainder of our house in record time and taking off for Seattle that evening. In the scurry, Dave left his bike shorts in his dresser drawer. That was a $100 FedEx mistake. The blunders continued through our arrival in Oslo, and the tally rose so high that I felt inspired to write a comical blog post about our experience, so that no other traveler should have to repeat our disaster again.

Murphy’s First Law:  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

In case you missed it, we moved to Spain recently. Recently, as in about a week ago. We packed our bikes in boxes, carefully curated four suitcases each containing the alloted 50 lbs of our most prized possessions and put them on a flight destined to Madrid.

Yet, we have already returned to the United States.

Just hours after landing, as soon as we set foot inside our AirBnB and typed in the WiFi password, we received a text message from Dave’s mom that read: “Brad is at the hospital on life support. He had cardiac arrest this morning. Prayers.”

Brad is Dave’s father.

The following days were spent with Dave on the phone with his mother, his sister, his aunt, his grandfather. He called the hospital every 12 hours to gain updates on his father. We spent our first days in Madrid living in half-day segments, not knowing what the next shift in nursing staff would bring.

Ultimately, Brad would move on to the next life, leaving us disheveled and devastated in our new home.

Two days later, we found ourselves back at the airport on a flight destined for North Carolina.

But Murphy wouldn’t hand it over so easily…

A lone horse standing in the coming storm.

Murphy’s Twelfth Law:  Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.

In the days prior to our departure, we had to take care of an important piece of our Spanish visa to complete the process. Now, it wasn’t enough to apply, fly to San Francisco twice to visit the consulate, save money for a year, and obtain last-minute paperwork shipped to us from Spain, no, we also had to register our empadronamiento…I’d explain what it is, but I don’t really understand it at all. It has something to do with taxes. And, one must do this within 10 days of arriving in Spain and within 90 days of the date of your application.

Applying for this visa is something like what I imagine foreigners have to go through just to apply to visit the United States.

Of course, this requires an appointment. Given that we were scheduled to fly out in two days, we took a chance and visited an office in a less populated part of the city. The staff was beyond helpful and we filled out paperwork, had all our documents, and a woman agreed to see us and finish our task. However, our “lease” was a document that indicated we would be living with my uncle in his apartment (since Spain makes you know where you’re going to live months before you arrive, we worked with what we had). Anyhoo, since this wasn’t a true lease and the apartment belonged to my uncle, his signature was required in order to process our paperwork.

Well, my uncle lives in Cuba. Not only is that not quite in Spain, it’s also six hours behind.

The kind woman agreed to a scanned copy of his signature along with his Spanish identification card and that if we were to return at 8:30 on the dot the next morning, she’d process the paperwork.

Heeeey, Uncle Henry, I know you’re busy, but I need this. Now. Please. SOS. Xoxo.

Thank Dog for email and photos and scanning. We had the papers back in a jiffy and went back to the office the following day to get our empadronamiento.

Rio Baker in Patagonia

Murphy’s Third Law:  Everything takes longer than you think it will.

Did you know that airlines no longer offer bereavement fares? At least few of them do these days. You know, cost cutting. Because we really should be taking advantage of those in grief and the best way to take one’s mind off the death of a loved one is to force them to spend hours online and on the phone trying to find the best airfare.

Having Sora complicated our trip a bit. She’s not the type of dog we can leave with an unknown pet sitter or board at a kennel, especially having just arrived in a foreign country. Our only option really was to bring her along.

Delta is one of those airlines who does still offer bereavement fares, and fortunately, they were fairly easy to work with. Of course, because someone had to bring their emotional pet peacock on board recently, Delta changed their Emotional Support Animal policy.

As of March 1, Delta and United require paperwork from both your therapist and veterinarian. Guess what day we flew out? March 2. How did Delta know that the very first item on Dave’s long to-do list was call our veterinarian at 2am for her signature? Finally, a positive side to the nine-hour time difference.

Murphy’s Laws of Camping (or Traveling, in our case) The Probability of Diarrhea Increases When You are Furthest from a Toilet

To just toss in another malady into the mix, my usual bout of traveler’s diarrhea came charging through my bowels right as we were in between getting Sora’s paperwork and booking fights back home. No matter where I travel outside of the US, whether the food and water are perfectly safe to eat and drink, I will, with 100% certainty, get diarrhea.

It really wasn’t all that much of a hindrance, so long as I found myself in close proximity to a toilet. The real trouble came when I began to trust my farts.

See, after a breakfast of miso soup and a lunch consisting of white rice, I felt my BARF diet would quell the dance party in my belly. I simply had too much confidence when I went to release what I thought was some innocent air.

And so friends, here I am admitting to you that I shit my pants.

And not just any pants. I shit my favorite pair of running pants. Don’t worry, I washed them in the bidet while finishing the remainder of the emission on a proper toilet.*

Tell me you’ve made this same mistake. Tell me that you too, have shit your pants as an adult.

The fact that I’m telling you this at all is a huge step in my personal growth, for I am a nervous pooper, after all.

*These pants have since been washed in a proper washing machine device. No, I will not throw them away, I will simply be reminded of the time I shit my pants every winter run I take.

Morning mist shrouds a bridge.

Murphy’s Fifth Law:  If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.

Have I mentioned that we had had perhaps a total of 4-5 average hour of sleep per night for five consecutive days? We were running on crazy, folks.

Since we had no plans to attend a funeral two days after our departure to Spain, we hadn’t had the foresight to bring such garments along in our four 50-lb bags. After selecting some acceptable clothing, we were starved.

If you do not have dietary restrictions, then eating out in a foreign country should be fairly simple. For us silly vegans, however—especially in jamónlandia, things get a little tricky. Not only that, but most restaurants in Spain open around 8:30 or 9:00 or around the time we are normally getting ready for bed (hey, early to bed, early to rise, yo).

Ah! But we spotted a Chinese restaurant across the street. Perfect. Chinese restaurants around the world have been the one place we can eat without issue.

Except this one.

We both ordered fried rice. No eggs. No meat, just rice and vegetables. Easy.

What was set before us was a plate of rice, sprinkled with a few frozen carrots and peas thrown in as a courtesy. It’s cool, I’ll just stick to my BARF diet, then I won’t have to worry about shitting my pants again.

As we took our first bites, we noticed a strange texture to the rice. Not soft and fluffy as it should be, but rather hard and crunchy. It was like eating raw pasta. Since it was our only option, we munched on our raw rice delicacy, complete with a side of tasteless rice cakes.

How does a Chinese restaurant fuck up rice?! They use rice cookers for God’s sake. It’s like Mexicans making shitty tortillas.

Murphy’s Tenth Law:  Mother nature is a bitch.

As Murphy would have it, a noreaster would sweep through the Northeast on our way to North Carolina for Dave’s father’s funeral.

As I was in line getting food for us, Dave received a message saying that our flight was cancelled, and we would be rerouted to Minneapolis and then to Raleigh the following day. As much sense as it makes to fly halfway across the country in the opposite direction to get to our destination, this wouldn’t work for us. We were to arrive at 1:30 on Saturday. The funeral was at 3:30 that day.

Checking with the considerate Delta attendant, she informed us that every single flight within a six-hour radius of Raleigh was cancelled.

Upon landing, I heard the passenger in front of me point out the Statue of Liberty just as strong gust of wind sent the plane plunging like the drop on a roller coaster, creating an orchestrated shriek throughout the cabin. Moments later, I looked out the window and saw only clouds and the captain announced that we were rerouting to Cincinnati.

Two hours later we landed at Cincinnati, where we hung out on the tarmac for some time before the pilot announced that we were going to be turning right back around to JFK. Nevermind that when he told us he couldn’t land initially it was due to the noreaster that was getting worse and that the airport was, in fact, closed. How he’d pull that one off was beyond me.

A few moments later, his voice came through the loudspeaker informing us that there were no customs agents to meet us at Cincinnati. Now, why one would divert an international flight to an airport with no means to get us back into the country sure befuddles me.

Miraculously, however, a team of customs agents arrived a short time afterward and we disembarked to pick up our luggage and get in line to book whatever flight we could to the nearest airport.

El Chalten in Patagonian Argentina

Murphy’s Eighth Law:  If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.

Finally, we had a flight to Charlotte. Though two hours from Raleigh, our intended destination, Dave had a good friend from college where we could stay the night and who would drive us to his parents’ house in the morning.

Murphy seemed to finally think that we had had enough and was giving us a break.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. For the moment we heard the doors to our aircraft latch shut, Dave suddenly realized that his phone was missing. He ignored the seat belt sign and grabbed his backpack from the overhead bin, and tore out all of its belongings, searching desperately for his phone.

It was nowhere.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Murphy’s Time-Action Quandary: You never know how soon is too late.

Ultimately, we made it to the funeral with plenty of time and our streak of bad luck seemed to subside after the missing phone (which we discovered Dave had left at our gate in Cincinnati and had been retrieved by a police officer with the ability to be sent back to Dave).

One of the first blog posts I wrote centered around the theme “special” items like gifts or expensive bottles of wine I would save for the exact right occasion. So special, that I never used them. Until I had to. When we decided to take off on our bicycle adventure, we needed to reduce the amount of stuff in our home, and also save money, so I had no choice but to use these items.

I am reminded of the brevity of life when someone like Dave’s father dies too soon. When a peer dies from heart disease, leaving behind a young child and her husband. When a boss dies just six months after retirement, or perhaps even the day before he is due to retire. These are all true events that have happened to people we know.

So please, if there is something in your life that doesn’t work, fix it. Don’t allow fear to guide your choices and rule your life. Choose yourself and your happiness over your comfort. Don’t conform to societal norms because we are not lemmings destined for the same automated lives. We have one life, so let’s use it wisely.

 

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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