empty armchair 3

Give It A Rest

Sometimes it dawns on me that I’m probably an armchair adventurer.  You want the best trip into the wild?  Read someone else’s account, complete with beauty, hardship, awe, and maybe a little disaster thrown into the mix. 

Early on in this particular hike the heat and sun were getting to me.  Why had I left cooler Hollywood to head inland to the higher, and in the summer, hotter mountains? I was lucky I brought my hat and yet the sun was still making me squint and I was feeling the precursor to a headache.  I finally relented to using my sunglasses, but I always find they make my world feel completely different.  I like the idea of them, but I always feel a bit out of it when I wear them, and I don’t think they help with the headache.

As I’m walking I wonder what brought me out here.  What made me leave my apartment on one of my few days off to hike alone into the mountains during the heat of the day?  Then the summit feels closer, I can see the radio towers up top and they are closer than I would have expected.  I also notice a single track trail heading off into the woods.  I take the detour and relish the change in direction.

I am starting to enjoy myself until the bugs reach me.  My head is swarmed by small flies and gnats that are infatuated with my eyes and ears.  I had had a massage the day before and realized how tense I had been.  On the walk I am trying to relax however, the bugs make me crouch forward, ready to flinch.  Still somehow, I feel I should keep going, that I’ll enjoy the experience more in retrospect than if I simply turn around.  At least there’s some shade and I’m pretty sure I pass both bear and mountain lion scat. 

I haven’t seen any hikers in at least an hour and so am surprised when I come across a few older women.  They warn me of a rattlesnake and lots of poison oak ahead.  This only makes me more committed to going further.  I’m careful to avoid any plants and am on the look out for the snake that I assume will not be an issue.  I pick up a few dry pieces of grass to wave around my head to keep the bugs away. 

Finally, more of a rhythm.  I hear water and know there must be a creek ahead.  When I arrive I am surprised to find a pristine camp site, but as I near the creek the water seems shallow and the bugs make me think twice of going in.  Still I realize it’s early, I have plenty of water, and it doesn’t feel like time to turn back.  The trail is less defined and I’m hoping it will lead to the steep ridge I spotted earlier that looks like it might be passable with a little scrambling.  The terrain is dense with chaparral though and I can never tell if the trail is going forward or about to switch back again to climb higher away from the creek. 

Reaching the top of a different and much lower ridge, I’m blasted again with heat.  I try to figure out whether there are more bugs in the shade or heat.  I don’t think it matters. It seems impossible to escape them either way, and yet, I can’t seem to ever get used to them.  I’m always tense.  The sound of one buzzing toward my ear instinctually feels awful. 

The trail begins to descend again and I hear the familiar sound of water- now this will be a good place to take a dip and call it a day before turning around.  However, as I approach the creek I see it is barely a trickle.  It is less than three feet wide and no more than 8 inches deep.  Furthermore, it looks oddly yellow.  I wonder if the color is somehow related to the regions up stream that were burned during the great forest fire last year.  Still, I sit down to get the rocks out of my shoes and decide at the very least to put my feet in.  I move into the sun and realize after a few minutes, the bugs don’t seem to be around as much.  Could something so simple as stopping for a rest have allowed them to become bored with me?

I’m always amazed at how water that can feel so cold when you first put your feet in can start to feel fine and I’m convinced that I should attempt to sit in the creek.  I take off my shirt, face the sun and slowly lower myself in.  The water is so low it doesn’t even cover my legs, but it feels good.  I take another look at the creek and decide I should lie down. Now getting my back and chest wet sounds like torture, but I know that as soon as I turn around I’ll be as hot as can be once out of the trees.  So slowly I lower myself into the water.  I cringe at the cold, but try to relax telling myself soon it won’t be so bad. I lower more and more until all but my head is in the water.  Finally I put my hands behind my head and fully lay down.

 And there I am, six miles from the trailhead, in the middle of the national forest, lying down in a tiny creek. I feel like a reptile, a cold blooded animal whose top half is baking in the sun while my back is cooled by the water.  I have a Zen moment.  The intense cold, the insects, the comfort, the ability to relax are all one.  The absurdity makes it all worthwhile.  It also somehow makes it feel real.

As I get up to leave I’m in a remarkably more upbeat mood.  I know soon I’ll be hot again, and I’m willing to bet the bugs will feel unbearable once more, but in the moment and on into the future I know it’ll have been worthwhile to give the old armchair a rest.


Krakov Square from Wikipedia

Take the Blessing and Run!

You know it’s true, you really can get used to being the square peg in a circle town.  It might have taken a year, but hearing my name on the street finally feels ordinary.  Groups of “We Real Cool” teenagers greet me in German or Japanese, in any foreign language they know.  Gazes and stares blink out “Incredulous!” in some Ukrainian Morse code when I ask for strange spices like clove and ginger at the shop.  Little starfish-shaped children all bundled up for winter yank at babushka’s coat sleeve and whisper, “Missamanta, tse missamanta.”

Yes, that’s right, here I am.  And here, in Ukraine, that is what I am: Miss Samantha, the rootless and forever smiling foreigner-in-residence.  With her excessive use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ her USDA-approved toothpaste, and a checkered coat that just screams, “I’M FROM AWAY!!” With all that noise, it’s a wonder I can hear myself think.

Considering the frequency with which I write about running in Ukraine, you may have been persuaded to believe that it is a national pastime, that Ukrainians are a lot who take to the streets in sneakers and tracksuits on the daily.  I assure you, this is not true.  So, if you are sitting there fancying Ukraine to be such a place, please accept my humblest apologies.  It seems you have been misled.  It seems, what with all my talk of running on icy patches past grazing goats, I have led you astray because a runner’s country Ukraine is not.  In fact, I’d bargain that there are more people running around the Charles River in Boston on any given day than there are running in the whole of Ukraine.

Any takers?

No, seriously.

I’d bet my last jar of peanut butter on it.

Needless to say, here I am running again in a place where people don’t run.  The truth of it is, though, that’s why I love to do it.  When I’m running in Ukraine, it’s not me who’s foreign but what I’m doing.  It doesn’t matter that my coat is checkered or that I’ll never properly pronounce the word for love, it doesn’t matter that I’m an American; I am a runner and that is foreigner enough.

Now, while Ukrainians may not be wind-sprinting down Carl Marx Street, that’s not to say they aren’t active participants in my physical training. (You may, oh diligent reader, remember a previous incident wherein I participated in a pas-de-deux with an inebriated fellow I encountered while out running in the fields.)

“Here’s another one,” I say to myself, looking ahead down the road.

A man in a bright pink, green and blue MembersOnly jacket rides his bicycle toward me.  In his limp, fish lips he dangles a cigarette. He has the kind of hair that people sported to look cool back before I was born; nappy waves to the shoulder – distant listlessness in his eyes.  Just the kind of character I try to avoid when I’m out running on my own.

But, I’m so intrigued.  It’s the jacket that really gets me – especially since here, in Ukraine, the color spectrum usually dies out somewhere between dark purple and black.  This jacket would have been Thrift store find-of-the-semester in college.  He rides the way you imagine people riding in places that don’t allow cars – like Fire Island or Put-In Bay,  like some college kid who’d started riding one day and never quite figured out where he was going.

Despite the jacket,  I brace myself for another unpleasant interaction on the road.  I clench my jaw a little, stare straight forward and speed up, annoyed that yet another drunk ne’er-do-well is messing with my runner’s chi. As we draw closer, I plan escape routes, ways to avoid his attempt to engage me in another two step.  He’s getting ready to do something, I can tell, and I practice my…er, yoga moves in my head (and promptly make a promise with myself to do more kickboxing).  Just a few feet ahead of me, I catch his creepy, off-the-deep-end eye and immediately wish I’d been born a boy. I’ve got chills and not just because it’s below zero.

And then, out of the blue, it happens just like that.

“God Bless ya, young one!,” he says.

Say what?

“May God give you health!” He shouts again, almost toppling sideways off his bicycle.

Yup, definitely drunk, but not nearly as harmful as expected; in fact, kind of sweet in his own way.  More “Weekend at Bernie’s” than Freddy Kreuger for sure.  My gate slows and my fists unclench; I’m nearing the end of my run anyway.

And here I am smiling because that’s the thing about Ukraine – when you learn to take the good and trust that the rest will right itself eventually, it becomes a pretty amazing place.  Sure, the sun sets at 3:30pm but have you caught the blaze in which it goes?

Let’s just say, these days, I’m learning to take the blessing and run.

“You too!,” I shout back, though I doubt we’re close enough anymore for him to hear.


ps – Sam is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine.  You can follow her blog at:

view from cliff dwellings

The View From The Top

Sometimes the magic in the view from the top is even more spectacular when you’ve pushed yourself to find it!  

We started out in a small village on top of the ridge, after hiding most of our luggage in the back of the 4-wheel drive Jeep.  

We then started our trek through the upper Dogon Village before heading off on a long dirt road into the desert heat of Mali.   As we hit the edge of the cliff, we began hiking down into the desert plain.  Following two grueling days of hiking through the lower elevation Dogon Villages in 100°F heat, we finally began our ascent back to the top of the cliffs. 

We asked our guide “Where do we go up?” and he replied “there” pointing to the rock face of the cliff.    After several more miles of desert trekking to get to the cliff, we climbed through a narrow crevasse that led to the top.  

Though we had to stop several times and my friend had to hold the guide’s hand for fear of heights, the view from the top was worth the trek!  We felt like two powerful women who had conquered the world!


Sometimes the view from the top is worth the trek. At first the challenge was daunting, but the high from finishing was unbeatable!



Life After Graduation

For recent college grads it’s widely believed that finding a job is hard work—economic crisis or not— but the world is vast, and if you’re open to traveling, it’s possible to find your niche in some pretty unexpected places. That’s how I ended up in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, writing about the nation of Genghis Khan winning its first two Olympic gold medals.

As an aspiring journalist, I’d long imagined reporting from abroad for the New York Times or the Washington Post, and admittedly working for a Mongolian-owned English-language newspaper hadn’t crossed my mind. But in a way, my first true post-collegiate occupation was a dream job: I was writing about sports, I was exploring an unfamiliar city and country, and I was learning about a culture I’d only read about in books.

Who says anthropology majors don’t have excellent prospects?

Plus, your search for opportunity doesn’t necessarily require a ticket to the other side of the world; the U.S., once dubbed the land of opportunity, still has plenty to offer. For a friend of mine, graduating with a psychology degree from a good Minnesota college and subsequently learning he was not needed or wanted at Target (a company with Twin Cities roots I might add) inspired him to chase his passion for film out in California.

After sending out a wave of resumes, he finally got the call he wanted and just finished working on the set of Iron Man 2. And, despite the long hours, he managed to find time to train for and run the San Francisco marathon—his first—finishing first in his age group. Not too shabby for a guy rejected by a company that employs 350,000 people.

So what does it take to make life after college an engaging push for fulfillment instead of a brutal attack on your self esteem?

First and most importantly, it really helps to pursue a job in a field that you love or that really interests you. There’s certainly no guarantee a job offer will immediately appear, but if you know the goal you’re after is worth achieving, it will make the hard work you put in seem all the more rewarding. Remember, being turned down from the job you know will probably hate the first day you start, is not necessarily a bad thing.

Second, just because things look bleak in one place, doesn’t mean the sun isn’t shining somewhere. Sometimes, getting forced out of your comfort zone is the best thing that can happen to you.

Lastly, small steps can get you where you want to go. My friend isn’t the next Martin Scorsese (yet), and I haven’t had my first article published in the Times, (yet), but we both had the opportunity to work in the fields that excite us, and as a recent college grad, what more can you ask for?

So if you can’t find your dreams at home, think creatively and don’t be afraid to look at the wide world around. Opportunities are out there, even in some of the least likely places.


An easy way to travel in Kenya

A Perspective on Air Travel

An easy way to travel in Kenya

This could pass as an ordinary experience for most of you, but this is the moment that defines my adulthood.  Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I have been used to travelling in public transport vehicles and in rare occasions, get a chance to ride in private vehicles.

My first experience on a plane was in late 2009. I had been asked by my manager to go over to Sweden for athletics trials in the hope that I would join a training camp in the country. (A note to our American readers- the word “athletics” is used around the world to mean the sport of running including cross country and track). The first time that I went near an airplane was when I went to see off a friend named Martin.  He was heading to his homeland, the United States. As the saying goes, everything is possible if you believe, and I promised myself that I would board a plane just as my friend did.

Because I have gotten used to the chaotic public transport in our country, I thought the same applied to the planes. I was in for a pleasant surprise; the seats were big and so comfortable. I never thought that one could have a chance to eat something while in the air. I thought the food would defy the force of gravity and go upwards.  I was filled with mixed reactions; I did not know what to do, should I go to sleep?  Suddenly I felt the plane shake, (that was the most terrifying moment for me), and I thought the worst had come to worse. I struggled to free myself from my seatbelt. It took the reassurance of the gracious air hostess that that is a normal occurrence and that I should not panic. I could see that the other passengers were surprised with my behavior, others smiled at me to reassure me that all was well.

When we left Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Kenya, I thought that was the biggest airport in the world; I was wrong. After some hours, we landed in Amsterdam, and as we touched down, I was amazed with the size of the airport I saw. The planes landed every minute and I could not believe my eyes. The environment around me was so different than the one I am used to. I saw skyscrapers and bigger planes than I ever imagined, I simply could not believe what I saw. We then boarded another plane to Stockholm. The journey to Stockholm was great because I had no worries when we experienced some turbulence. The view was so breath taking that I forgot my fears and worries and lived in the moment.

On touching down in Sweden, I was picked up by a man holding a placard containing my name. That was when I was taken to the best hotel that I have ever seen. This kind of hotel is always reserved for the wealthy and politicians in my country and I finally knew that I had fulfilled the promise I had made to myself and that the future would only bring more experiences to strive for.


Downtown Naiobi

My First trip to Nairobi our capital city

I remember this day very well. After my final high school examinations in 2003, it was time for me to concentrate on my career as a middle distance runner. It was on the August 4, 2004 that the long awaited day finally arrived. I was told that I was going to join the athletics camp by the name “Ngong’ Training camp”. The camp is located in the outskirts of Nairobi; 30 kilometers to the west to be precise. (A note to our American readers- the word “athletics” is used around the world to mean the sport of running including cross country and track).

A camp is a special location where both experienced and aspiring athletes train together for a common goal. As a boy, I had dreamt of following the footsteps of the great runners of my country Kenya.  I was introduced to the camp by my mentor in athletics, Wilson Kipketer Boit. He is one of Kenya’s steeplechase champions and he had promised to take me there himself.

I was so delighted that I would be pursuing my dream in the camp regarded as the home of great runners. Before the day came, I was so excited that I lost my appetite. I asked my family not to include me in their meals since I had prepared myself to eat something (that I later came to learn were fries) on the travel day. When the travel day came, I woke early in the morning and got prepared for the journey. I could not wait to jump into the car and bid farewell to the countryside. I sat near the window so that I would get a better view of the major towns on the way to the city.

Leaving Home


I remember asking the driver to make several stops along the road to look around.  He laughed at my inquisitive nature; I could see he thought that I was crazy. I could not believe that I was finally heading to the capital city.

Traffic picks up closer to Nairobi


When I arrived to the city, I was amazed by the sight I saw. This was a fairy tale come true- I thought to myself. There I saw tall buildings and a larger number of people than I had never seen before.  We stopped in the city to have a drink in one of the best restaurants in town. The services there were of the highest standards I had ever experienced. The waiters were so friendly and understanding. I kept on smiling the whole time, and again, I think these people thought I was crazy.

We then left the city and headed to Ngong’ or as we call it Ngong’ town where the camp is located. I could not hide my excitement; I narrated all that I had seen to everyone who cared to hear me out.  I was very happy that I at last had the opportunity to be in the city.  It was a very exhilarating moment for me.


Downtown Nairobi


Athletics Stadium in Nairobi