Wednesday, July 22, 2009


There are moments. There are moments when the prism of perspective is forgotten and disjointed snapshots, abandoned memories, success and failures, hopes and disappointments coalcesce and combine and become one. There are moments when life pulls the puzzle pieces together and you stand in awe of creation. There are moments.

I lay next to Breckan while a shepard sings a call to prayer. The notes, weighted by faith, slide over the stone hovels and green valleys and smoulder on the mountains before lifting into the darkening night. And stars begin to break through the ice blue sky and cliffs are illuminated by a still unseen moon and the old voice continues to lift the song as he paces on a stone wall and sings to all the good and bad and great and wicked about life.

And my past feels like my future and my future feels less important and I think of the stifling humidity of laos. The sand and dirt and wind and snow and ice of China. Of dinners cooked in desperation as temperatures drop well below freezing and the kindness of strangers and frustrations of politics. The chaos of 12 million people moving at once in Lahore. The emptiness of thousands of miles of desert. Of nights spent in barns and in yurts and in abandoned ruins. A picture of my dad. He is young and handsome and his leg is thrown over a bike and he is about to ride away from home and he is 18. His adventure was begining. His life was begining and now he is gone. He looks away past the camera as my grandma stares, disbelieving and little scared, at the photographer. And I am my fathers son.

And I think of my shuddering sleeping babies and the stories I will tell them and the stories they will tell their children. Stories of cultures now abandoned and long destroyed ancient cities and men riding horses until the animals hearts explode with effort. Stories of freedom and stories of Breckan riding higher than they have ever walked. Stories of weeks without showers, and border gaurds with guns aimed and ready to shoot and yak doctors who were married at 13 year old. And pashtun warriors and Tibetan nomads. Women with coral in their hair and proud men riding over plains with the wind in theirs.

There are moments when stories and memories and experiences become your story and your memory and your experience. There are moments the nagging of doubt disappear. The song has now ceased. And now it is silent and her breathing is shallower becasue she is asleep and the yellow gas lamps are extinguished in the stone houses. It is dark now and only weak shadows, cast by the moon, stand apart. And this is who you are.

I really hope everyone has enjoyed this blog. I've had a lot of fun writing it. Breck and I head back to the states in two or three days and are probably going to switch back to I think the rest of our pakistan pictures and most of our edited pictures will end up over there as well. Thanks for all the support. There were seriously quite a few days when the idea that there were people who cared about this kept us going. So I guess that's it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Update.

Here's the deal. We are in Southern Thailand and will be heading back to the states in about 4 days. We flew out of Lahore almost 5 days ago. We threw away all our clothes before flying out and I left with only the clothes I was wearing. Breckan opted to throw away ALL her clothes and left wearing only a headscarf. This seemed to cause quite a stir, you would think Pakistan was a little more liberal than that. So for the time being we are chilling in Southern Thailand after spending some time buying new clothes in BKK. And now here is an update...

If you ever find yourself with three weeks to kill and you're having a hard time figuring out where to go; buy a bike, fly into kashgar (try to avoid the riots), and ride down to Gilgit, Pakistan. The riding is pretty easy. The scenery is absolutely non-stop, and once you leave China the food is fantastic.

We left Kashgar and pedaled through rolling hills and then dramatic peaks. The second night out we spent in a culvert next to an abandoned road. We cooked our ramen and went to sleep watching a sandstorm pound pink light across a neighboring mountain. The next day we spent in yurt! A real yurt! Like it was brought there on a camel. The couple that hosted us made all our food (like she literally made the noodles as we watched). It snowed all night and we woke up to wet roads. The last riding day in China rolled by with no major incidents. The road wound through a large valley dotted with small mud tenements and old men driving donkey carts. Several passes brought snow and we ended up making lunch in a willow grove next to a stream. Rain began to stream down as we rolled into Tashkurgan and we arrived soaking wet. It was the first and last time we would ride in the rain.

After several days of being broken on Chinese bureaucracy we made it across the China-Pakistan border. Pakistan felt like a breath of fresh air. The food was familiar and English speakers were everywhere. The riding slowed once we realized we didn't have much more time left in mountains. We started riding 30-40 kms a day and checking in early. The mountains were to much and perhaps we were beginning to delay the inevitable conclusion of the trip. It took us almost 2 weeks to ride down the 300 kms to gilgit. We did trek after trek after trek. Rakaposhi. Rush Peak. Nanga Parbat. Big mountains.

Breckan and I spent our last day on a bike riding to a polo festival held at 3,900 meters. It was bittersweet. As the road went to seed a van of about 10 guys on a brocation pulled over. "Come with us!," they yelled. We left our bikes at a guest house and spent the next three days with them. It was fantastic. I'll write more about it later.

We met up with Charlie in Lahore. Ate. Ate some more. Packed up our bikes and took a ride to the airport with the world's fattest rickshaw driver. And now we are back in Thailand. Soon we will be home. I'll post one or two more times and then Breckan and I will be done with this long strange trip.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Pakistan You Have No Problems (head waggle).

Our time in Pakistan was book-ended by run-ins with authorities. As horrible as that sounds, they didn't end with me in handcuffs being threaten certain death in a rat-infested jail; if anyone has hung out with me (the greatest living American) while dealing with authorities, you know this is huge deal. In fact, like almost every experience in Pakistan, our times with authorities were incredibly pleasant.

At the Lahore Airport, due to some sort of bizzaro-world racial profiling, I was pulled for further examination at security. It is true I grew a mean beard over 4 months of riding, it but at it's best it looked like a beer stained, shag rug in a foreclosed house and certainly never grew magnificent enough to entitle me to taliban membership. I kept applying. Apparently you need to own a cat. The Taliban are big fans of cats. Who knew?

Anyway, as I stood there watching a Mullah Omar doppelganger parade (it had less shriners than Osama's doppelganger parade), I started to worry about the large bottle of saline solution I had stashed in my carry-on. Sure enough, 20 seconds later, the guard (who oddly enough also looked like Mullah Omar), pulled the saline solution.

Guard- Sir, this is not allowed on the plane.

Spencer- (Really, really sad face).

Guard- But since you are our guest, it is forgiven.

Spencer- (A little shocked) Really? That's it?! I am forgiven? I can keep it?

Guard- (Head bobble) You are our guest.

And off I went. While this reflects a disconcertingly low level of security (in a place that really can't afford it) it was completely indicative of our experience in Pakistan.

Almost 45 days before, as we crossed over from China, our bus was stopped by two Pakistani soldiers. Unlike the little boy who had just lectured me on respecting authority, these two guys looked like men. Men with really, really, manly facial hair. They argued with the bus driver, on our behalf, for about 5 minutes. They wanted us to ride our bikes in Pakistan too. The argument was futile, which was odd because they had loaded AK-47 on their shoulders and at that point I was all for shooting our bus driver. I made that suggestions several times during the argument. "Hey," I said under my breath, "just shoot him." They showed a little to much restraint and then finally looked at us, gave us a head bobble and said IN ENGLISH, "In China you have many problems. In Pakistan you have no problems."

And for 45 days he was right. In Pakistan we had no problems.

So here, as I start to wrap up numberonegoldmedalwinnerofasia, is a travel tip. Take out a map, flip on FoxNews or MSNBC, wait for their "Around The World In 60 Seconds" thing (because does anyone really need more than one minute to figure out the complexities of international politics), and watch carefully. When you see a snippet of a bombing or starving people or flooding or riots, take a note of what country it is occurring in. If those places featured did not include Afghanistan, pick up your phone and book a flight to any one of them. The sooner the better. This has worked for me over and over again for almost 6 years. What you get is very little actual danger and the whole country to yourself. Try it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day At A Mosque

I don't take a lot of pictures I'd call fantastic, but this one above is my favorite one from the trip.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

As we were rolling out of Kashgar, Breckan was stopped by a well dressed young man who wanted to practice his english. He was well-spoken and seemed sharp and was a Uigher (you could tell by the mustache). Quickly the conversation, as it often had during our stay in Kashgar, veered towards the dicey situation the uighers have found themselves in. Not chinese but living in china, their prospect for cultural survival is anything but assured.

He asked where we were from and Breckan told him America. As hokey as it sounds his face lit up.

"I am Uighur," he proudly said, "but I dream of being an American." "Here I can not be a Uigher and I can not be Chinese. I can not live here. In America I can be everything."

My eyes tend to roll a little bit when sentiments like this are expressed because I know the streets are not paved with gold. I know of the ignorance and intolerance and hardships that immigrants will face. I know that while the American dream is certainly something that can be attained, many dewy eyed immigrants get ground down and out by lack of quick success and destruction of their false hopes for quick and easy success. And yet, I believe in America and it's hard not to pat these young men on the back and say, "You'll get there. You'll make it."

As the conversation ended the young man expressed a sentiment that we had heard over and over again during our trip- "In America, everyone can be American. American is a good country. America does what is right."

"Most of the time," I replied.

A week later this article hit the wires and as I read it my heart sunk a little. We had shirked our burden. We had shrugged our shoulders. We had let our obligation to the world slide. We stood a little smaller.

On this Independence day, as I sit in a country surrounded by people, who's future is inextricably tied to the choices we are making in America, I think about the obligations we carry as Americans. We have obligated ourselves, perhaps unintentionally, to be a light on the hill. We have stood and shouted to the world, in no uncertain terms, "We are moral. We are good. We are who you should look to. We are what you should aspire to be. We do not believe the ends justifies the means. America does what is right." And quite often this is true.

However, when we fail, when we falter, we strive to hold those who are responsible accountable for our missteps. We right the ship, we admit our failings and we move forward again. We do not equivocate. We do not rationalize. We do not explain away our wrongs with double-speak and euphemisms. This is the dream America promises and often does not fulfill but continually works for. This is the America I believe in, but to often recently this is not the America I have seen.

We have retreated from our obligations to goodness. We have searched for the lowest common denominator and then rationalized our moral failings. We have tortured. We have bickered. We have forgotten who we are and let our thinking be done by strategists and pundits on both sides of the issues. We have to often abandoned our core beliefs in goodness and progress and hunkered down and dug in and shut off our intellects. We can do better.

On this fourth of July, spent on the far side of the earth, I am deeply grateful for being born a citizen of the United States. I am grateful for the opportunities it has afforded me, but am aware that those blessings come with obligations and responsibilities. Here's hoping Americans remember anew the obligations we have to those who yearn to breath free. The obligation to provide hope to those who feel hopeless. The obligation to do what is right.

Happy Fourth.