I started this post in January and as it is now February 1 time to post it. 2009 was not a particularly bad year, but it was very challenging in too many ways: I turned 50; I accepted a position in Australia which will allow my wife Lis to open a Bed & Breakfast in New Zealand; I had a bad bike crash; and too much travel. Unfortunately, 2010 will offer its own set of challenges, but I really can’t complain. As that Joe Walsh song goes: “Life’s been good to me so far”. I have a wonderful wife, my parents are healthy and independent at 86 and 88; I have 11 bicycles, a great cat, a job I love which is also meaningful, and above all my health. So not a lot to fret over.
2009 started with me in Armenia working on the “Lifeline Road Improvement Project” (LRIP). This was a very demanding project which we had to prepare in a very short time to help Armenia combat its economic crisis by building roads and creating work. This proved to be the most satisfying project I have ever done. I had a dream team to work with, a very capable and supportive client, and a project which really offered the opportunity to make a difference in many people’s lives—we created some 12,000 person-months of work. I am very grateful to have worked on the project and it will undoubtedly be the highlight of my professional career. The only down side was visiting all these roads in the middle of winter when it was –23 degrees C! Still, it gave me a good excuse to see all corners of the ruggedly beautiful country of Armenia.
This was not the only new project we prepared – we did three more in Georgia, another in Armenia and one in Azerbaijan, at the same time trying to implement successfully our existing projects. Oh yes, and also while pursuing key institutional issues such as road safety. Quite the year as we didn’t have the staff numbers we needed for much of it. I was very honoured that my team and I were recognized with an award from the Vice President for its exceptional work over the year.
Lis also graced me with her presence for a trip to the Georgia and Armenia in May. Like me, she was very taken with the countries and the people, and especially the bread. We even managed to visit Stalin’s museum in Gori where he was born – and posed in front of his first house.
After her visit to Georgia and Armenia Lis went to Germany to visit her old high school room mate Aila. It has been one benefit of work that Lis has been able to catch up with many old friends, especially as Washington D.C. seems to be a crossroad for many people. She thoroughly enjoyed her visit, especially as the poppies were out.
One thing I have really appreciated about working in the South Caucasus is the number of new, or nice, places I have visited. There are annual donor’s meetings in Paris (the photo below is our transport team with our manager and directors), spending time in Athens and Istanbul on the way to/from missions, and being asked to be the keynote speaker at a conference on risk management in road projects in Iasi Romania. So it is not all slog … Besides, there are far, far worse places to work than the South Caucasus.
Of course the down side to my work was too much travel – I have accumulated 300,000 frequent flyer miles with Lufthansa in 18 months (and have 300,000 with United as well). This led to our big decision … to leave after six years in Washington D.C.
South Pacific Ho!
While I was looking at roads in Armenia in winter, Lis was volunteering at a Bed & Breakfast in New Zealand. For some 20 years she has talked about opening a B&B and this was her first real foray into B&B operations. As the consummate hostess, who is also a great cook, we always knew she was well suited and she took to B&B’ing like a duck to water. I had this continuous stream of happy e-mails; happy to be back in New Zealand, happy to be B&B’ing. Just happy!
When I got to New Zealand we had some serious talks and decided that it was a good time for her to follow her dream and go into the hospitality industry. We hunted around to find a B&B she could buy in Nelson but none seemed like a good business investment. There were quite a few on the market (bad sign), many of which had been on the market for some time (worse sign). The problem was that if the business did not work out, you would have a very hard time doing anything else with the place.
On Valentine’s Day I saw a rural property advertised which sounded like just what Lis would love. I managed to talk her into at least visiting (by forgoing my 100 km bike ride home from Nelson to our cottage!) and as we drove down the drive the look on her face told me this was it. So she overpaid and bought a nice place 30 km from Nelson west towards Mapua. That is at the northwest end of the South Island if you don’t know New Zealand.
We put our house on the market in Arlington, just across the Potomac river from Washington D.C. It was not the best time to sell a property, but then the one in New Zealand had also come down in price so ‘swings and roundabouts’ as they say. Lis, who is very fastidious, did a brilliant job of making it very sellable. Being May the flowers were all in bloom. However, we were not optimistic as properties were not selling – even though most of our previous houses had sold relatively quickly. It went on the market just after we left for the visit to Georgia and Armenia. Within four days we had an offer for our asking price so it was gone.
The big challenge was that the new owners wanted occupancy at the end of June, and we were gone until mid-June. Anyway, Lis who is the consummate organizer arranged for our possessions to go into storage for a few months as she would not be ready to go back to New Zealand until October because of the import requirements for our cat Tia (or her fur baby as I like to call her). It was very difficult to decide what to keep to carry back with us – and I made a lot of important omissions – but the packers came and we were down to a couple of suitcases and, horror of horrors, only once bicycle for me. God is very good and he had found us an ideal place to live: the neighbours just over our back fence had their house sitter cancel and needed someone until earl October! It did confuse Tia to no end who often returned to her old home.
Lis moved back in October wth Tia who went into quarantine in Auckland. I’m not sure who was more traumatized: Lis or Tia. Lis escorted Tia to Los Angeles and then met her again at the quarantine in Auckland. For one month her main job was to visit Tia in “jail” and ensure that Tia’s emotional and physical needs were met. As I said, fur baby. There was another cat there whose owner was even more committed: they lived on Waiheke Island and so took a 1 h ferry ride, a 1 h train ride, then a 30 minute walk every day – and the cat was a dustbin special as opposed to the half-Persian Tia.
I followed late November for a six week work/holiday. We enjoyed staying at our cottage in Golden Bay since we didn’t have any furniture to live in the new B&B. But our shipment arrived early so we were soon ensconced in the new home. Lis had organized with a builder to do substantial renovations but unfortunately he didn’t finish them so the B&B is a work in progress for a few months. The most important things we got our builder friend Trevor to do and hopefully be the end of March Lis will have all the building done. It is a beautiful place to have a B&B. The photo below shows me answering e-mails from where the guests will have breakfast, while paying due attention to her majesty Tia.
It was sad to leave our friends in Washington, as we had an excellent prayer group, friends from work and church, great neighbours, and we were also close to my parents in Toronto, but it was time to move on .
I will be based in Sydney Australia from 1 April to start my new job with the World Bank – with Jan/Feb spent in Washington D.C. and the South Caucasus. My new job is similar to my old job insofar as I will be working again in China and Thailand, but this time with the Pacific Islands. So my disruptive life will continue for a while with having to visit New Zealand to see my wife – and her having to visit Australia to see me. As Lis said, we’ve probably only spent half of our 22 years physically together and that is probably right. She also says that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that may also be true because the older I get the more difficult the separations become. But we do the best we can to balance our individual and joint goals.
I decided to something very special to turn 50 so a few days before I raced the 140.6 mile (226 km) Ironman Louisville triathlon in Kentucky. More about that later. Afterwards, Lis and I drove up to Toronto to spend some time with my parents and to celebrate by birthday properly. It is supposed to be a major milestone, as now my life is probably almost half over, but I find it very hard to see it like that. Although I have a few more aches and pains than when I was younger, I’m actually fitter than I was ten years ago and don’t feel any different than when we had my 40th birthday party. When I was younger my friend Blair recounted that his dad said he felt young on the inside even though he was older on the outside. I now understand.
Lis and my mother bought me a silly hat which I was forced to wear, but I saved it so I will have revenge in a few years. We also had a nice small get together with a few friends at a restaurant—where I again had to wear the silly hat.
Sportswise, it was a really good year, in spite of a major set back. I had two ‘A’ races: the Boston Marathon in April and Ironman Louisville at the end of August so my year was planned around those.
I ran Boston last year and really enjoyed the experience so didn’t go all out. This year I decided to see how fast I could do it and so was far more serious: I didn’t stop for photos with Lis. Uncharacteristically, I decided to run the race using a grade adjusted pace calculator rather than my usual ‘how I feel’ approach. Good idea: I set a Personal Record (PR) of 3:27 for a marathon, almost 15 minutes faster than the previous year.
My main focus was Ironman Louisville and I had planned my entire training program for year around it. Unfortunately, I had a serious bike crash in May which led to 11 stitches in my knee and took me out of action for a while. However, I recovered and decided to do the ITU Washington Olympic Distance triathlon in late June since it was in town and would be a way of getting back into the triathlon frame of mind. Even though I had not swum for over a month (my wound got infected and would not close), I managed a PR in that race for the distance. Go figure.
For my final build I treated myself to a 10 day triathlon camp in Pennsylvania with Ken Glah. It was great to run, ride and swim and only focus on training. I know most people would rather sit by the beach and relax, but to me cycling 100 miles – even if we do have to outrun a tornado – is relaxing, just in a different way.
Lis and I went to Louisville and my friend Mary Pickering was also there as a race volunteer. We enjoyed having a few days before the race exploring Louisville, including a ride on a paddlewheel boat on the Ohio river. They had unseasonably cold weather – it was only about 25 degrees C – so it was ideal conditions for an Ironman. I had a great race – with highlights including meeting the Endurance Nation coaches at mile 18 of the marathon with enough gas in the tank to keep going. Managed a personal record of 12:18 for the race, which is about 1:30 better than my previous best. Endurance Nation rules!
My final race of the year was a spur of the moment marathon. When I found I was to go to Romania I looked around and there was a marathon in Athens – which followed the original route run 2499 years ago. Although I was in my recovery season (doing the great P90X conditioning program) I decided to do it for fun. I only got a total of 13 h in of training and so set myself an easy goal of 4 – 4:15. It was great to run a race and not be tying for personal record. I stopped and took photos etc. When I realized late in the race that I could break 4 h my competitive spirit kicked in and I entered the Athens Olympic Stadium with time to spare.