Monday, September 7, 2015

Ready to launch

Over a year ago, my cousin Carrie Sheaffer announced on Facebook that she wanted to take a train trip across Siberia and she hoped to find fellow travelers. I’d wanted to do it too, but Alla understood it to be a crazy idea so my desire only simmered until I snatched Carrie’s invitation.

Honestly, I’m not a very good trip planner. Somehow, I’ve never needed to do it, but Carrie convinced me by example that I should get a clue about what I’d like to see. Actually, she scared me because if I didn’t participate in the planning, I’d be a guest on a trip she planned and I wasn’t sure our tastes would converge. It seemed more attractive to do some work toward an adventure we might call “our” trip. When we had a pretty good plan in place, I read some research suggesting that most travelers enjoy the anticipation of a trip as much as they enjoy the trip itself, and it made me realize how much fun I’ve already had reading guidebooks, scouring websites and talking to people in faraway places.

Planning with my cousin has also assured me that our tastes run in very similar directions, that we both feel flexible, and that we see the world in pretty much the same way as each other.

Flexibility came into play earlier than we expected, as the Mongolian train company changed their schedule after we bought our tickets to Beijing. We spent a couple of days trying to figure out how we could salvage our all-train itinerary when there weren’t any trains. I hoped to find some combination of commuter trains that would get us from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, but we concluded that no such thing exists. We did find a couple of blog stories about getting across the border where a Chinese sleeper bus comes not-close-enough to the Mongolian train system and you have to talk somebody into taking you across a no-man’s-land in a Jeep. I like adventures, but those stories fell well outside of my comfort range, and Carrie was kind enough to agree.

So we’re cheating. We have to fly from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, though Carrie had a hard time accepting it and I have twinges of regret too. In childhood we chanted, “Cheaters never prosper,” but I hope it won’t apply in this case. It’ll give us an extra day in Ulaanbaatar, and we’ll see more stuff there. I think it’ll be OK.

But first, I have to vacuum up as much Chinese culture as I can over three days in Beijing, where Carrie will come to meet me at the end of the week. I leave tomorrow.

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