I met Annette through our mutual friend Betsy when they were roommates. I remember going over to watch the series finale of The Office (which I had maybe seen 3 times so I was a self-professed poser... but isn't that a little like watching the Super Bowl?) at Betsy's house and struck up a conversation with Annette. I recall thinking to myself: This is a fun chick. I want to be her friend.
Over the years our paths had repeatedly crossed through Calvary Chapel, weddings, hikes, ECSD events, Moab trips, etc. Somehow, we ended up planning a road trip to Mount Rushmore with our friend Angie in June of 2011. We named ourselves the "A Team." (Get it? Ashley, Angie, Annette... We're all teachers. We're creative like that.) Some may recall stories from that trip such as: sleeping in a teepee, questioning the legitimacy of the Crazy Horse Monument (we decided to give the family who is building it the benefit of the doubt), visiting Mount Rushmore at night for the Park Ranger talk and an amazingly inspiring patriotic presentation, a 4 hour stop at Wall Drug (and my photo documentation of every single sign for Wall Drug on the way there... Check out my Facebook album from that one), and an afternoon hike through the Badlands. Oh... and the one time I navigated us through Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the midst of a thunderstorm which turned the dirt road to a mud road in which we encountered a road closed sign ahead or 2 trucks stuck across the road that was our only other way out. Sitting in the back seat was Annette who was oblivious to our plight as she was insisting she knew the correct answer to the trivia question I had just asked about the 5 states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Thankfully we lived to tell the tale. And this is our only "extensive" travel experience together. Maybe Angie was wise to decline our invitation to have an "A-Team World Tour." Instead, we'll be the "A-Duo" ... doesn't have quite the same ring. Any suggestions for what we should call ourselves?
So last August, Annette and I were hanging out and I said out of the blue... having given no previous thought to the question... "I have a question that I'm scared to ask because I think I know your answer, but what do you think about both taking a year off school and traveling internationally?" Her response was something like... "You know my answer... I've always wanted to do that but have never wanted to go alone." And that's where it all began.
Annette and I both find ourselves husband-less and child-less and have a similar sense of adventure as well as similar world views. With that as our basis, we began to have conversations about what this "sabbatical" year might look like. We set a November date to meet to decide that we were both committing to this endeavor. First we talked about teaching English somewhere for 6 months. Then I decided I did not want to teach at all for a year. At the end of the conversation we decided we would live in Cuzco, Peru for 4 months and see where that led us next. Deal! As she was leaving my house I said, "Oh, by the way, I am really interested in pursuing being a foster parent when I get back from the trip." She says, (not in a bad way but in an excited way) "That changes everything!" ...and walks out the door. A few hours later I get an email from her with a link to a blog written by a woman reflecting on her first impressions of the orphanage she was adopting her baby from in Africa... a blog post I could have easily written from my first few hours at the orphanage in Guatemala.
Side note: Annette has been purposeful in wanting whatever our plans entail for the next year to be something that can improve us, give us skills, or added experience for whatever waits for us upon our return...that this would not just be a year "off"...hence...
Her thought process was that if I'm interested in orphans (which many of you know I am), then I should spend some time at an orphanage. So then we had a plan of 3 months in Africa at an orphanage and 3 months in South America (because I still wanted to go to Peru). We were seeking contacts for orphanages in Africa when we found one based out of Denver. While pursuing that connection, it turned out they also had an children's home in Nepal. Annette proposed time in Nepal instead of Africa...and I was game. And then it turns out that we aren't even going to that children's home but another one we have found through my friend Jordan, who works for Compassion. (He's been super helpful with Nepal, Kilimanjaro and Peru contacts as well... Thanks, Jordan!)
So now we had two anchor locations for an extended amount of time... Nepal and Peru. The goal was to learn more extensively about the local culture, serve the local people, and be open to wherever The Lord leads us.
Then the trip became peppered with "bucket list" locations. Annette wanted to climb Kilimanjaro... I was game. For awhile there was talk of a Wagoner/Weaver cousin trek, but sadly, that fizzled out. Maybe "next time." I've had my sights set on Israel for years... Annette was game. We thought it wise to give ourselves a break from each other mid-trip so I'll be spending Christmas with my cousin, Sarah, and her family in Germany while Annette visits friends in Jordan. I have been trying to get to Honduras to experience my friends, Claire and Tim's, home on Utila. Spring Break worked for Clair, so I'll be celebrating my 33rd birthday and Easter with her. It's a hop skip and a jump from Guatemala, so I made plans to visit there again. Annette may or may not join me on this part as we have plans again to part ways when I hike Machu Pichu and she heads to Panama (she did Machu Pichu last year...). Then we added Cuba...just because. Our most recent addition to the itinerary is actually the first part of the trip. In April, I asked Annette if she wanted to do the Camino de Santiago. Her response: what's that? I explain it is a trek/pilgrimage across northern Spain. This was beginning to sound familiar and she knew people who had done it and wanted to do it herself. Suddenly... We were going to Spain. My one request, let's not fly into Madrid (a horrible night in the ER the last time I was there made me vow never to return... although we are flying out of Madrid...). So we decided Paris would be a lovely way to begin this journey. Why not blow half of our budget in the first 4 days? Just kidding... kind of.
And that is the story of how we got to where we are.
Annette is a middle school music teacher for a feeder school to my high school. She has her MBA and just earned her principal's license. She grew up in Monument, Colorado in an Air Force family (dad, bro, uncle, and cousins have all attended and worked at the Academy). She has spent the summer hiking 14ers and running a half marathon. She doesn't know yet that once I arrived in Peoria this summer my only physical activity was walking the neighborhood... about 5 times. That, however, will no longer be a secret when we begin our trek, next Tuesday. Nothing like "on-the-job training" right?
I'm looking forward to sharing this experience with Annette. I think we will be great travel buddies. But I'm not naive to think that we won't have conflict. In fact, we've already talked about how we will handle conflict WHEN (not if) it arises. Here's how the scenario might play out: One of us is frustrated. Frustrated friend says: "I need you to listen to me right now." Translation: "You are getting on my last nerve and I'm about to say something you are not going to want to hear so before you get defensive and freak out, pause, listen to what I have I say, let it sink in, then give a thoughtful and understanding response." This sounds great right now... I'll let you know how the first encounter turns out. Then you can read Annette's version of it on her blog at annettefulloffish.wordpress.com. (If you have time...you will be delightfully entertained as Annette is entertaining.)
What makes me think this is going to be a successful trip with Annette is that through the planning stages we've been COMPLETELY on the same page. And I know we would both agree that God might have something to do with that. She makes a suggestion about lodging or communication strategy and I'm game. I discover a cool travel tip or make a new contact and she's all for it. Again, I realize that planning and reality can be worlds apart ... but I feel like we have a solid foundation to start from.
So here we are, in Paris, reunited. Annette arrived here after an 18-hour-layover in Reykjavik, Iceland... Jealous! Let The Journey begin!