Carretera Recap

March 14th, 2019

I did my recaps on facebook, so I’m just scraping them from there and leaving them here for posterity…

The first 3 days were my hardest of the trip. In some ways physical, but more emotional and mental. It was really hot in the midday, way more cars than we expected, hello gravel (maybe I should have trained a little in gravel?) and on our first day we came close to our highest elevation of the trip. Day 1 out of Coyhaique was still pavement so I was lulled into thinking we could cover a lot of miles! Day 2 we hit the gravel…deep, large rock gravel. And if that wasn’t enough….we had a serious headwind. It was so strong that I had trouble keeping any real forward momentum…which in the deep gravel meant I was having trouble staying upright. Every few minutes I’d just fall off my bike! Thank goodness for Alissa who assured me that it couldn’t remain this hard the entire time. I didn’t believe her for a second, but I think it helped stop my despondent tears. Thankfully the scenery was already beautiful and each night we “wild camped” at beautiful spots next to the river along the road. I’ve never slept so soundly!!

Heading off to our first wild camp

Day 4 we got a ride from the owner of a farm we were staying at to the next town (Puerto Rio Tranquillo) and caught a bus from there to get another town (Cochrane). We always knew that we’d likely be unable to complete the full 600 km in the time I had….and then with the snowstorm delaying me by a day, the mileage became even harder. So we cut out 150km this way which allowed us to still have long days of cycling, but with much less stress. As a road cyclist I’m used to being able to cover a lot more miles. But with the massive hills and the road conditions, we had to adjust our expectations and generally did around 50km a day…and it still took all day! When we got off the bus, we grocery shopped as this was the last town we’d see for 5 days. After a day of “rest” (if that’s what you call sitting in a bus bumping along a terrible road)…I was ready to get back on the bike. The road conditions got marginally better and I also got better at riding in the gravel. We started seeing glaciers regularly and the traffic slowed a bit. As we crossed over passes the terrain would change rapidly! Thankfully, day 5 was our last really hot day. Day 6 was a gloriously moderate temperature…it threatened to rain all day (but never did) and was relatively flat which meant we were able to cover a lot of miles along beautiful rivers, stopping just past a huge confluence of rivers, right at the base of a long climb.

Bikes on a bus!

At the top of this pass it felt like a rain forest!

Getting to the top of a pass always felt so good!

The confluence of rivers here was amazing!

Yet another amazing campsite!

Day 7 began with a long 10km climb that started out so steep I had to walk…and I was sure I was going to have to walk the whole time…cue desperation. Whomever graded the road clearly just wanted to torture the cyclists, as after the 2nd switchback the grade went back to something bikeable and we passed through amazing canyons and ended up on a beautiful pass with sun and lakes! This was the one day where lunch time coincided with a beautiful spot so we made the most of it. Then we rode back down the other side to wait for a 6pm ferry. As we waited cyclists started showing up and by the time it left, there were 7 of us on the ferry. Two of them were a Canadian couple (Amanda and Andrew) we’d met at our second campsite who we’d really enjoyed getting to know. There’s lots of leapfrogging that happens on a trip like this and we were happy to sync back up with them and after exiting the ferry, we utilized the long hours of daylight to knock out another 20 km before finding a campsite with them. Right on a raging river and under a huge glacier with no houses for miles…it really felt like we were in wild Patagonia now!!

Climbing out of the valley

Into the canyon we go…

Beautiful lunch spot with a break. It was coooold though.

The ferry

Nothing made me happier at night than to set up my home!

Yet another beautiful campsite! — at Carretera Austral.

Day 8 we got a taste of what the weather could be like and I’m grateful to say we only had one crappy rain day. Thankfully we were able to pack up before it started pouring. For the next 3 hours we were just warm enough as we climbed long hills in the rain and then froze as we rode down the other side of the hills. We got lucky that eventually the rain stopped and the sun even came out for a bit. But all around us we could see storms raging and we knew that at any moment it could start pouring (or worse) again. We knew there was a cyclist refugio (aka a shack) with a fireplace and protection from the wind and rain that we could get to, so we set our sights on that for the night. Although it would mean stopping early in the day, it seemed like the prudent thing to do. The four of us arrived around 4pm and quickly one more joined. There was no wood, so we all set out to find any sort of dry wood around. Although there were “windows” there was no glass, so we had to keep the slats closed to keep the howling wind and rain out. Then from the south 2 more cyclists arrived. At 7 people we thought we could still fit all of us in if we slept like sardines. But by 8pm we’d grown to 12 cyclists. It’s quite an experience spending so many hours in a tiny, dark space…with wet clothes hanging from the ceiling, listening to the wind and rain rage outside. Eventually the last 5 to arrive agreed to pitch tents outside and the original 7 fell asleep on every available surface. I wish I’d had a way to take a picture of all of us! Day 9 we rode an easy 30km into Villa O’Higgens..stocked up on food, checked to see whether the ferry we’d made a reservation for would run the next day (sometimes it doesn’t run for days because of weather!), ate a hot meal and found WiFi and a hot fire in the local library. Then we biked to the ferry “terminal” and the official end of the Carretera Austral to camp for the night before a big day 10. We were treated to a beautiful rainbow for our last few km of the Carretera!

Wet, wet, wet

Some sun and lots of glaciers makes for a very happy Bebeth!!

The cyclist refugio

There are still only 7 of us now…

The snow line is getting very close to us!!

A good omen for finishing the Carretera Austral

Completion! But we still have 2 more days of biking.

Day 10 was always going to be one of the craziest ones of the trip. It started with a 3 hour ferry ride across Lago O’Higgens. Most people stay on the boat to go see a glacier and then return to Villa O’Higgens. Since we didn’t have enough time to do the glacier part, we got off at the only stop after 3 hours. It was a lovely ride across a beautiful lake, and despite not getting to see a glacier, we did get to see an iceberg! After you get off you are on a 21 km stretch that crosses the Chile-Argentina border that’s only accessible by foot or bike. First we checked in at Chilean customs where you have to get a very important stamp (if you don’t get it, they’ll reject you in Argentina!) The next 6 km were stunningly hard…climbing up out of the lake on steep, deep gravel. We had to walk much of this part which was definitely discouraging. The next 8km were relatively flat and stunning. Peaks and glaciers everywhere, no cars, no people…just the occasional hiker, biker, or cow passing in the other direction. Finally, you reach the actual border of the countries and the “road” we’d been on disappeared and the last 5-6km was essentially a really bad hiking trail, complete with huge roots, rocks, stumps, swamps and streams. Though a mountain biker might have been able to bike some of it, a loaded touring bike wasn’t up to the task. After about 1 km I figured out I needed to get rid of a pedal if I hoped to have any right calf left. It was one of the crazier, but also more fun things I’ve done. Not necessarily in a “I want to do that again” sort of way…but definitely in a “that was pretty cool” way :) As Alissa would say…it was definitely type 2 fun. It ended right at the Argentinian customs building which has a huge beautiful field that everyone camps in for the night with a spectacular view Fitz Roy. That 21 km took us over 6 hours to complete!!

Petro and Black Pearl go for a ride!

Bicycle parking at customs…I loved it!

There were hand painted signs all along the road…so cool.

Climbing out of the lake…super hard, but with great views to keep you motivated. We could see the rain moving across the lake, but we never really got any!

Hello Argentina!!

Where’s the trail??

Almost done with views to die for!

I woke up at Lago El Desierto in Argentina to this view. Spectacular!!

Day 11, my final day of biking!! It began with a ferry across Lago Desierto and a final 35 km bike into El Chalten. The road was pretty bad, but thankfully we had a tail wind and it was relatively flat. We were essentially circling Mt. Fitz Roy so we had amazing views the whole time. We could see a storm chasing us which added a little drama, but it never caught us thankfully. At the end of the 35 km, right as you arrive at El Chalten….the gravel ends, and you hit pavement. I’ve never been so happy to see (and feel) pavement in my life! At this point we were back with Andrew and Amanda and we biked around looking for a cheap place to stay (not an easy feat in a tourist town on a Friday night in high season) but eventually found a dorm room for 4 people in a bed and breakfast…so we all bunked together! I was finally getting a hot shower and a good meal!! Day 12 was spent relaxing, finding a box for my bike, and doing some laundry. It’s never felt so good to do nothing for a day. With the bike box sorted out on day 12, it meant that day 13 was free for anything I wanted (otherwise I would have had to bus to a bigger town to find a box). Alissa, Amanda and I decided to hike to Laguna de Los Tres….a spectacular hike that drops you seemingly at the foot of Mt. Fitz Roy. It had always felt strange to be going all the way to Patagonia and not hike, so I felt pretty grateful that we ended up with a day to do just that. We lucked out on the weather (lots of days you can’t see any of the peaks) and the views were amazing. We were able to hike all the way back to town, get a celebratory beer as we walked through and arrive “home” to a yummy homemade meal by Andrew! And with that amazing final day, I was ready to start the 48 hour journey home to see my family!!

We’re done!!

Yup, that’s Fitz Roy behind me!

One final post with a few thoughts on my trip, and then I’m done, I promise! Did I miss out on stuff doing this trip in such a short amount of time? Yes, definitely!! There were so many things we could have seen along the way, if we’d had more time. I was definitely envious of the riders we met who had no schedule. Was it worth it with so little time? Yes definitely!! I feel super lucky to have snuck away from my life and family for over two weeks, to have gotten to see such amazing scenery, and to have had the adventure of a lifetime! I’m grateful that Alissa and I both wanted to do this, and despite not having done more than a 1 day adventure together before, she didn’t run screaming when I was a miserable puddle on the second day after having fallen off my bike too many times to count! It takes a special kind of person to think this sort of adventure is “fun”…so glad Alissa felt that way! I’m grateful that the trip went from bad to good (and not the other way around) as all I’m left feeling are warm and fuzzies. And I’m thankful that fate put us on the same stretch of road as some really interesting people. Although we got to know Andrew and Amanda the best, we also met quite a few other fascinating people, from tons of different countries, including a family of 4 (kids 5 & 9) who rode everything we did and more (we met them after the crazy day on the trail…and that made me go from feeling like superwoman to just normal really fast! ????) It’s always fun to learn about other ways of life, cultures, and experiences…especially when at the end, you’re pretty sure you like your own the best! I don’t think I’ll be doing any extreme trips like that again anytime soon…but I’ve already got my bike back together, tuned up (unexpected highlight of this trip is now knowing how to take care of my own bike!) and am headed out for a ride tonight!

Learn a fiddle tune: Colored Aristocracy w/backup tracks

February 13th, 2013

This is for folks wanting to learn how to play Colored Aristocracy.

If you want to play to backup tracks you can download them from here:

If you want the chord charts you can download them from here:



Mandolin – (Couple of different versions)

Guitar – ( finger picking)

Could not find a flat picking version of this song. If anyone knows of one please send it to me.
Finger Picking

Dobro – Couldn’t find a version of this either.

Coming along

January 26th, 2013

Life in our house is moving right along. China feels like years ago, when it really was less than 2 weeks ago. I can’t believe how quickly things are changing in such a short time.  If you talk to me on the phone or in person, I’m sure you’ve heard me do plenty of complaining. There’s more than enough of tiredness and confusion to go around. But when we take even the smallest step back and look at where we are, it’s not too hard to see that things are going well….better than well…dare I say great? (Currently knocking rapidly on some wood)

Amara is sleeping better and often between us, instead of on us, a situation we’re happy to keep for quite awhile. She continues to eat voraciously…pretty much anything we put in front of her (but definitely not white rice with soy sauce or cottage cheese….she’s firmly against those). Although we can’t get over how much she eats, she doesn’t seem to be hoarding. She’ll definitely let us know when she’s full. Maybe just compared to the itty bitty eater that Bine has always been, Amara seems like she’s packing away so much!

Best of all, she’s getting very comfortable in our very raucous house. Anyone who has spent time here will agree that there isn’t any waking hour when things are calm. Kuja, our crazy dog, is a large part of this…though we certainly egg her on. The meeting of Amara and Kuja was of particular concern to me. Although it turned out that there were plenty of pet dogs in China, we still don’t have any idea how much exposure Amara had to dogs. We were worried Kuja would traumatize her. Little did we know….the day we arrived home Kuja came bounding (and I mean BOUNDING) out to meet us and Amara laughed and laughed and laughed. 9 days later, and the relationship is still great. Kuja seems to have accepted Amara as a new member of the family (the increased quantities of food on the floor hasn’t hurt) and Amara loves the big, black beast that lives with us. Though I wasn’t able to capture a smile, Amara pretty much always has a big grin on her face when Kuja is around.

Amara and Kuja

Amara and Kuja

Although we’re trying to learn how to have quiet evenings, we’re not so good at that. The sound of two sets of laughter is too good to pass up. We thought we loved listening to just Bine laugh….listening to the two of them laugh together and at each other is priceless. Amara is still very shy with anyone but us, so we thought we’d share a glimpse into the moments that we’re already treasuring!


Day 3 – Sleeping

January 20th, 2013

Well it’s been a little over 72 hours since we’ve come home and it’s both great to be home and hard to be home. When we were away I’d always think, “I can’t wait to get home, it’ll all be easier when we get home.” But of course that’s not exactly true. While it’s home to us it’s completely new to Amara. Unfortunately her sleep habits have regressed. She now will not let us put her down for naps or to sleep. So one of us has to either sit with her or go to bed with her.

Sleeping and Sitting

Sleeping and Sitting

Fortunately she still is a good sleeper and we can move around the house with her without her waking up if we need to, we just have to do things with one hand. Her “spidey sense” is pretty amazing, no matter how deep of sleep she’s in, if we put her down she instantly is awake. At night it’s getting better. Last night she was willing to sleep slightly off of me and even next to me in the bed for a bit, which gave me some time to sleep on my side (whewww).

We are still working on getting over our jet lag. Often she’ll be asleep but we’ll be wide awake. Thank goodness for our ipads wich give us something to do, otherwise we’d go crazy!

We keep telling ourselves that this is a good sign, that it’s a sign of attachment that she won’t let us go. But at 2 am I find myself frustrated that she was so easy at first, but now is so difficult. I just tell myself that she’s had so many traumatic events in her life that it’s ok if she has “velcro syndrome” for a while. Every night I think I see some signs that things will get better. I’m sure in 6 months this will seem like such a blip on our radar screens.  We look forward to our fist doctors appointment where we can hopefully get some advice as far as which methods (Ferber, Sears, Dobson, Weissbluth, movement, attachment, co-sleeping, cry-it-out, modified cry-it-out, etc.) are appropriate right now and which should be avoided.

Anyway, nobody said adoption was for sissies.


We’re home!!!

January 17th, 2013

Almost exactly 24 hours after we left hotel in Guangzhou we walked in the door in Seattle. It was a VERY long day, but went amazingly smoothly. Unfortunately Amara was sick and had a low fever. We still aren’t really sure if it was just teething or something else, but the upshot was that she slept a good part of the trip home.

First we flew 3 hours to Beijing, took forever to get ourselves to the next flight and then after a few hours of hanging out in the airport (complete with Baskin Robbins Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream for Bebeth!!) we took off again. The flight was 11 hours and wasn’t terrible. We were thrilled to get off the plane. Unfortunately the worst part of the trip was yet to come. Amara was traveling on a Chinese passport (she didn’t become a US Citizen until after customs), so we had to wait in the foreign nationals line to go through immigration. That was pretty quick…..BUT then we were ushered to the waiting area for “Immigrants and Parolees”. Here is where they check all the paperwork that we had brought. There was ONE immigration officer working and they served people in the order you arrived. Not so bad….EXCEPT they took all people in wheelchairs first. Now normally I wouldn’t be opposed to this, except the wheelchair line never empties. As fast as someone would get served out of that line, new people from another line would fill it up. So although there were only 5 of us when we arrived, it took us 2 hours to get through this room. It was painful and a bureaucratic nightmare. Although we’d been warned by others about this part, it was still insanely frustrating. As my mom would say, when Mark starts to get upset, you know things have gotten bad.

Fortunately we eventually made it out and found our way to the baggage area where we were greeted by a VERY happy Bine, my parents, and my favorite sister :) I was rewarded by the best and biggest hugs from Bine…the best present ever. We are beyond thrilled to be back!


All together again!

All together again!

Almost home….

January 15th, 2013

It is our last night here and we are packed and ready to go. We leave very early tomorrow morning and have a long day of travel for us. Amara is asleep and the room is quiet and calm.

As I sit here reflecting on the trip I am filled with gratitude for all the blessings we have had.

I am thankful for the little girl who has become our daughter. It is almost hard to believe that 10 days ago she was a stranger to us. Today we feel like she was meant for our family.

I am thankful for the orphanage who clearly took such good care of her. She was very lucky to be in a tiny orphanage (only 8 children right now) with a very high nanny-to-child ratio. She shared a nanny with just one other child. Her chubby body and ease with food tell us she was loved there. For 14 months they were her family, and for that we will forever be grateful.

I am thankful for our experience here in China. Though it was rushed and sometimes touristy, it has given us many stories to share with Amara as she gets older. And the food…we are so thankful for the food…it will surprise no one that Mark and I have loved every morsel. This trip has whetted our appetite to visit the country again….I’m sure we’ll be back as soon as the kids are older to introduce them to China.

I am thankful for technology and the connection it kept with our amazing community at home. It brought us stories of adventures we were missing and visits with Sabine. It made the ocean seem just a little bit smaller.

I am most thankful tonight for my wonderful parents. They have given us so many gifts by living with Sabine while we are here. They have given me such peace of mind and serenity in knowing that Sabine has been totally happy and well taken care of while we are gone. In true mommy Schenk fashion (those of you who have received Lucy letters over the years will know what I’m talking about) she has sent us “Bine Machine Updates” daily that fill our hearts with joy (if you’re not sure what a Bine Machine is, ask Samuel). They have given us the gift of having almost 2 weeks to soak up Amara on our own. Although we missed Bine terribly, it has been wonderful to be able to spend so much time with Amara on her own. And finally, they gave their new granddaughter, Amara, the gift of her new parents all to herself for 2 weeks. Never again will she get so much undivided attention from us. Although I know getting to spend so much time with Sabine has been wonderful, and she certainly had a blast with them, no one will ever claim parenting a toddler (and Kuja!) is not exhausting. We can’t begin to imagine how to say thank you enough to them.

So, tonight I leave you with two final pictures….our family in two worlds. 18 hours after we get on the plane tomorrow we will finally be reunited!!





January 14th, 2013

Well we did it … we went and added ANOTHER member to our family .. this time it only has 2 strings. It’s called an Erhu. It’s a traditional Chinese instrument first documented around the 10th century. According to Wikipedia it’s sometimes called a spike fiddle. It’s a bowed instrument but the bow is “trapped” in between the two strings, so the bow is always attached.



It was a pretty fun experience. We had seen some street performers in Changsha and thought with our love of instruments it’d be a great souvenir to bring  home. Fortunately it’s not a typical item sold in tourist shops which meant we had to get off the beaten path to find an actual instrument shop. With the help of our guide Elsea, we jumped on a local bus and took it to a small instrument shop. Envisioning a store with loads of traditional Chinese instruments I was a little disappointed when we walked up and all I could see were guitars. We were greeted by this lady who at first looked a little confused as to why we were here let alone looking to by a erhu.

Instrument Lady

Instrument Lady

A quick conversation and we were pointed to a little corner in the store and there hung half a dozen erhus. Not having a clue how to play one (nor did the lady that sold it to us) it was sorta weird trying to figure out wich one to buy. I’m used to going into a instrument shop and being able to play the instrument, judge the feel of the fret board, listen to the tones, how much volume can the instrument make, so having zero clue was very weird to me. Feeling like I should at least sit down and make a show of trying to play them, I tried to mimic the street performers I had seen. It sounded pretty much like cat was being strangled. (Back in the hotel I figured out that none of the bows had any rosin on which meant that there was not enough friction, much like new violins) In the end we chose a more expensive one based on the beautiful inlay, if we can’t tell if it’s a decent instrument at least it’ll look good.



Once we picked one, the lady disappeared into one of the student rooms and returned with this old man. Attaching a digital tuner to the erhu he showed me how to tune the erhu. The two strings are referred to the inner (you press the bow towards your body to play that string) and the outer ( you push the bow away from your body) string. The inner is tuned to a D and the outer is tuned to an A.

Tuning the Erhu

Tuning the Erhu

So my next task is to see if I can use it in the band write  a song with it. Maybe I’ll title it: Guangzhou Breakdown.


Another day

January 13th, 2013

Another good day, but too tired to report much, so just leaving you with a few pictures. Tomorrow we head to the US consulate to have our visa interview. Our last step. Home is so close!!

Happy baby

Happy baby


Medical Day

January 12th, 2013

Well we are in Guangzhou right now staying in a very nice 5 star hotel. We have internet in the room again so it’s easier to write and upload pictures, which is nice.

Yesterday we had a touching experience while we were standing in line at the airport waiting to check in. There was a mother, who was caucasian, and a daughter that looked asian. When they saw we had Amara, the mom asked us if we were just adopting. We said that we were and they told us that the daughter was adopted 17 years ago from the same province as Amara. They were finishing up a short heritage tour. A heritage tour, if you’ve never heard of it, is basically when the adopted child  goes back and visits the country, province, orphanage that they were adopted from.

Today was medical examination day. It was part race, part family reunion, large part chaotic mess. Basically all adopted children need to run through a medical examine before getting their visas. So our guides had us get on the bus at 9:30am to try and beat all the other families that were also trying to get their medical examination done. When we got there things seemed fairly sane. Just a few other families besides our own.

Reception area

Reception area

As we were herded into the waiting area, we noticed some of the other families from our hotel in Changsha. It was great to see them. We even ran into the two families from our time in Beijing. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits. When we were called in they did just a cursory examination.

First Doctor

First Doctor


Second Doctor

Second Doctor

As time went on more and more families showed up at the medial center. Lots of families were being shuffled from one room to another, the guides running around trying to keep track of all their charges, kids running around, kids crying, at one point one of our guides started arguing with another guide that we needed to go before another family, we just looked apologetic and cut in. Despite all this pandemonium it was actually pretty fun to see all of these families in one spot. I’m not sure how we lucked out, but Amara seems to be cut from the same cloth as Sabine, easy going. She didn’t seem to mind the tests too much and once all of our tests were done, she happily went into the ergo and fell asleep.

Here’s a couple of photos to end the night.


More bath time

Fun before bed time


January 11th, 2013

We have arrived in Guangzhou, but it was with a bit of sadness that we left Changsha. Although we were ready to move on from the city, one of the unexpected blessings was staying in the same hotel as 5 other adoption families. We all shared the same Gotcha day and got to know each other as we passed at breakfast and met in the children’s playroom. Learning about each family, their new children and hearing each other’s stories was so wonderful.

Silas, an adorable and fiercely independent 5 year old boy with Downs Syndrome, was there with his new mom and dad. When they return home to Ohio, he will meet his 6 siblings, all adopted with special needs from around the world.

Levi, an albino boy with a smile that could kill, was welcomed into a large and loving family. He’s got three brothers, each with redder hair than the next, and a Chinese sister who’s been part of the family for 7 years. Although he will visit the USA soon, he will live with his family in China where they’ve been for the last few years.

Ciara, a quiet, but watchful child with a beautiful smile and mild Cerebral Palsy, was greeted by her single mom and her second oldest brother. At home in Ohio waiting for her is her oldest brother who is taking care of the two youngest kids. She will have 4 siblings to give her lots of attention and help her strengthen her muscles.

Maylie, a fast walking girl with a minor heart defect, will end up in Miami with a large spanish speaking family. There she will live in a house with her legal mother and father, as well as her second set of parents (her father’s twin and her mother’s sister) and their daughter. One huge, happy, and loving family.

Finally, there was Page, a beautiful little girl who was already fiercely attached to her new mother, was welcomed by her new parents and her 2.5 year old sister after a 6 year wait. When they fly home they will return to Baltimore together.

Unfortunately, we have all scattered to different hotels here in Guangzhou, so I’m not sure when or if we’ll see them again. But getting to know them while we were together in Changsha was wonderful.


The whole gang

The whole gang