Maura is somewhat of a sandbagger when it comes to the awesomeness of what she does in our community. When you chat with her one on one you see that she’s intelligent and witty with at least one hard edge, while having a calculated sense of adventure. But to really get to what matters to Maura she requires you to dig much deeper. When exposed to what Maura is up to in our community, you become convinced she’s wearing a Batman costume under her clothes, waiting to leap off to help out in a moments notice.
A new england transplant and self professed “catholic school survivor”, Maura is an avid cyclist and volunteer for Team in Training and our State Parks. She worked for 18 years in high tech, which she left in 2009 for nonprofit work and is currently working on Amgen Tour of CA—Santa Cruz style. Because what really matters to Maura is:
Terri: Maura, in order to keep the finish line of a stage of the Amgen Tour of California in Santa Cruz County you recently took a giant step into the unknown and personally underwrote the expense of this endeavor. What matters the most to you in your life right now that caused this risky choice? If you could sum up what matters to you in one word, what would that word be
Maura: It was/is my perception that the community wanted this event more than whether or not the city could fund it. Numerous people I’ve met at farmer’s markets and chamber meetings have told me I was/am right. What matters most in one word? Service.
Terri: You mentioned what you perceived mattered to our community surrounding the Amgen event. What matters to you personally that would cause you to devote an enormous amount of time and an unprecedented amount of money to this cause?
Maura: My personal motivation for bringing the Tour of CA back to Santa Cruz county is based on my perception that kids these days need more examples of active ‘play’ – something where you put down your techno toy of choice and actually interact with your environment and your peers. I am concerned with the spread of technology as distraction for kids – even though I enjoy the benefits of my blackberry. But I didn’t grow up sitting around for hours surfing the web or texting my friends. We played games outside after school. We rode our bikes to friends’ houses. We climbed trees, went sledding or skating, etc. I was not an ‘athletic’ kid growing up at all but we were at least pushed out side and told to get some fresh air on a regular basis.
While working on the tour of CA and the tour of CO, I see kids running down the street or pedaling on bikes, eager to get a glimpse of the riders. This is a team sport where people work together, so one of their team can win. Many of these kids may never have heard of the Tour de France – an international competition built off something almost everyone has (or has access to) – a bike. But even if cycling is not their thing, I would like to provide more models to kids of free or low cost activities that they can do outside (hence my health and wellness festival area near the finish line of Amgen).
Terri: What does it feel like to be in a life of Service? What do you recommend for people who are interested in being more of service in our own community but aren’t sure how to reach out?
Maura: As cliche as it sounds, when you help others you really do get this amazing feeling…… It’s mutually beneficial. And when people work together in groups to accomplish larger tasks than they alone could do, it just blows the mind.
In this day and age of technology, I tell people to Google “volunteer” and the place they want to volunteer in. Or volunteer and the subject they want to learn about. In Santa Cruz, since I’ve lived here 25 years, I also love hooking people up to get things done. I always say “I don’t need to be the one who knows everything but I love knowing who does and connecting them to people with mutual interests/projects.”
Festival Love: My mind lingered on the twirling colors, still enamored of the captivating Buddhist Festival staged in the spacious courtyard of the Tashigang Dzong. As we prepared to set out on two more days of biking and several more days of hiking to our final eastern destination—Sakteng, I was giddy remembering this elaborate celebration and its rich tradition.
A Buddhist Festival is a formal affair in Bhutan. From far and wide in their best Gho’s and Kira’s and with a special meal in hand, families come to take in the festivities. The dances and songs emulate Buddhist lore and despite the translation barriers we were transfixed each moment by the movement, colors, costumes, elaborately constructed masks and impeccable people watching.
Our Final Journey East: But our schedule only allowed us one rest day at the Festival and we were off the next morning on bikes—climbing yet again. This cycling leg would take us south and then east to the end of the road past Radi for our final trekking leg. Trekking in far eastern Bhutan would prove to be unique to our journey while revealing—one final time—the lovely essence and soul of the Bhutanese people.
After two days of mountain bike riding we transitioned to trekking toward Sakteng—the most easterly established settlement in Bhutan. This trekking section is a well traveled trade route so our rugged trail was rife with yaks, sheep, horses, donkeys, goats, people of ALL ages, and oddly in a country of stray mutts—countless small white dogs (they are bred in Sakteng). All carry food goods, roofing materials and power poles. Yes—power poles.
The Essence of Bhutan Embraces The Power Pole Carry: Electricity is finally making its way to eastern Bhutan and the people are psyched. So much so that each family in Sakteng is helping in this process—literally.
The government drops a pile of the steel power poles (weighing from 100-300 lbs) at the end of the road past Radi. Villagers from Sakteng then make the trek to Radi to then carry a pole back—a steep, muddy and rocky two day trip on foot. A family whom we met carrying their pole on the trail, invited us to tea at their home in Sakteng where we found out why the villagers are quite wiling to lug the poles back to their villages. Electricity will allow their children to study at night, and their lives in general will be more efficient and cleaner. Rather than smoky wood stove heat, they can use an electric heater as well as cook by electricity.
We continue to be supported by our small contingent of adorable and highly competent RBG army staff and have noticed that they are not only impeccably helpful, cheerful and respectful of us, but they are equally so to their countrymen. If a car is broken down on the side of the road Bhutanese stop to help. If a farmer needs extra hands for a harvest, all step in. When a person is without family and needs food or shelter, Bhutanese offer assistance. One does not see others homeless, starving or begging in Bhutan.
So when we came across two brothers and one of their 15 year old daughters carrying a 300 pound power pole to Sakteng, two of our army staff immediately jumped in to take the place of the girl. When we inquired about the guys eagerness to help in such a tough task, one of our staff declared enthusiastically–“My People, My Country!”. Bhutanese just help each other. They don’t act put out or ponder the ramifications of taking the time out of their lives. Helping is just a part of who they are. It brings them happiness and contentment to know they are supporting others.
My People, My Country: On this end point of our journey we had an opportunity to view old Bhutan at its finest. The village of Sakteng is densely compact as the mud, cement and stone houses are snugged together—separated only by dry stack stone fences or a narrow muddy “sidewalk”. The women wear a distinct black hat made of boiled yak hair and beaded necklaces passed down within the females of a family. Men don maroon colored yak hair jackets, deer fur vests, turquoise earrings and boots of hand sewn colored leather. But despite their unique dress and distinct facial features, they all embodied the same mantra of Bhutanese we encountered prior—”My People, My Country”—a warm greeting, big smile, and eagerness to help all sentient beings.
The Fox is Eating the Moon: The past couple of days we’ve been making our way back across Bhutan by car (yikes: I’d much rather trek and ride a bike). And as I am writing this blog post in the lobby of a hotel in Punakha, Nadick, the fixer for our film team, comes into the lobby and informs us that tonight is the night that the fox is eating the moon. He says that this is a special day and is celebrated by villagers coming out to bang pots and pans and yell and howl to try and scare away the fox that is eating the moon. I remember that tonight is the full moon, so as I’m chatting with him trying to get more information on what this “holiday” is all about, Tony rushes into the lobby and announces—”Come outside and check out the lunar eclipse!!”
Bingo. Fox is Eating the Moon = Lunar Eclipse. Perhaps the villagers noisy efforts were not in vain, since we only witnessed half of the fox eating extravaganza due to cloud cover…
Written by Terri Schneider
Finishing up writing this on a very bumpy car ride from Punakha to Thimphu.
Our last two days of this second big section of trekking took us up 4500 feet over Rodang La (pass) followed by a 7000 foot drop down an ancient trail built so that the first kings father could pass through. Our camp tonight is perched on a precipice, similar to most monasteries in Bhutan. I can see mountains in all directions and am glancing down into a deep river valley sprinkled with a small settlement far below.
The film team has decided to stay in Jakar to film for a couple of days and then hook into our current journey on Day 4. Tony was extremely ill when we took off from Tang Valley so he wisely opted to stay back as well then meet up with us along with the film team. Our much smaller group is traveling swiftly and easily and we are already 2 days ahead of schedule—which will allow us to hang at a Buddhist festival in Trashi Yangsi a bit longer.
Each night our hard working and cheerful army staff gather with us around a huge bonfire—3 westerners and several Bhutanese. We chat freely with our host from Bhutan Olympic Committee, Karma, who speaks English fluently, as well as interact through Karma with the other Bhutanese. We are all incessantly curious of each others cultures and lives and with our cumulative open minds our exchanges are rich and deep.
Each day I am seeing huge country—the kind that so poignantly causes one to feel minuscule (yet not)—while feeling the country through our tough physical endeavor and through the eyes of those who inhabit it. The Bhutanese revere their land. They also covet mutual respect, being humble, and supportive. They garnish enormous virtue in being of service. The land here is harsh, raw and beautiful and the people have yielded to it in their soft spiritual ways.
The sun just dropped below the mountains, causing the temperature to instantly plummet to quite chilly. Time for me to seek the fire, hot soup and the warmth of my new friends.
Since the above was jotted down just a couple days ago we’ve: been guided off trail through the dynamite blasts of road workers, by a villager who’s two children had recently drown in the river; moved through the land of the Yeti; took a cold plunge in the river; spotted 4 National Geographic wildlife cameras; rescued a trapped calf; extracted a tick from Greg’s arm; were thrown a party by local villagers; had our first sighting of villagers carving meat; witnessed power lines that are only 6 months old; nursed Greg back from fever and illness while jammed through several days of steep and visually stunning trekking; joined back up with the film team and with Tony; and pedaled an excruciating 2 hours of climbing on a bone jarring road with 22 switchbacks and that we labeled ‘Off Road L’Alp Duez’.
Four more days of trekking and one day of biking will bring us to a Buddhist Festival at the Dzong in Tashigang. My body desires to stop movement for a day but there is so much incredible land to cover here in Eastern Bhutan—through we are told we are setting breakneck speeds on foot, one does not move quickly nor in a straight line through Bhutan. We are camping tonight at an old monastery site at the top of a peak. Another warm fire with friends and party by the local villagers is anticipated.
There is an occasion when my mind wanders to all that I could be getting done back home. But only occasionally and for a fleeting moment. Because these current moments in their simplicity seem more precious than any I could conjure up. For right now, they are just perfect.
Written while perched a top a mountain in the village of Minji, Eastern Bhutan.
I started jotting down these thoughts several days ago while nestled in the ruins of a rock fortress at Jangotang camp in the eastern Himalaya range of Bhutan. Protected from the chilly mountain breeze by ancient crumpled drywall, I gazed directly up at 7,000 meter Jhomolhari peak outlined by the cobalt blue sky. As our “staff donkeys” gathered around to snack on grass and share my sunny spot, I reflected on the challenge and unique intimacy of our journey thus far.
Though our initial trek through the mountains of Bhutan with our film, expedition and Bhutanese teams plus 10 guest trekkers has been filled with deep and rich sharing, stealing away from the group for a solo moment on day four has been key for me.
After much discussion and meetings and at the suggestion of our host, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck (whom we had the honor of meeting on our first evening in Thimphu) our route had been changed from the standard Jhomolhari Trek to the Naro Six Pass Trek, the latter of which has never been done in total by tourist trekkers in Bhutan due to its difficulty. This trek involved eight days of hiking over high passes, 10-15 miles per day, and a total of 42,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.
Our first couple days we ascended through rain, mud, rocks, snow and wind to emerge into the crisp sunshine and my perfect view of Jhomolhari from 13,000 feet. We would trek and sleep between 13,000 and 16,500 feet for our journey, and within the pristine beauty the conversation, interactions, and shared reflections among our group were easily inspired to ride large and high. Five to eight hours of trekking each day at high altitude was followed by hearty meals of rice, vegetables, and various types of meat. With full tummies and ensconced in down in the cold night air, we’d either share song and dance around a bonfire or ponder the question as a group—what did you notice today?
With our group of motivated, successful, big thinking seekers, what did you notice today? evolved into what matters to you, what are you struggling with, or what is the meaning of life? Surrounded by the type of natural beauty that allows the head to clear, our group easily and immediately dove deep into these raised questions. The depth of connection that normally takes adult groups several days to attain, we achieved in seconds.
Thomas Ermacora, an urban planner, shared how engaging in nature at this magnitude has allowed him to realize an even deeper importance to creating living environments for humans that allow for the daily touching of nature. Nature not only feeds the soul, but the daily lives of satisfied humans, and being in this environment cemented that notion. Fueled by challenging and beautiful days of trekking, warm and open Thomas would continue to add nightly to our substantive discussion as time on the trail nurtured our peeling layers away.
Thomas’ partner and Grammy Award winning musician Imogen Heap and I shared repeated rich trail conversations surrounding the role of the strong, independent woman in today’s society. Imogen shared choices she’s made to build and maintain an authentic sense of self in an industry that can sweep one into oblivion. We discussed intimate relationships, the requirement to be passionate about our work, our childhoods that molded our current lives, marriage, and what it looks like to mute society’s standard view of woman and create one’s own. We were athlete and musician—from vastly different walks of life—sharing wildly similar views of the independent woman. Amen.
As terrain rolled by all inquiries continued to delve deeper and longer. As the dirt collected on our cold skin, each of us peeled layers of our psyche away—trusting, sharing, hugging, seeking—together.
But as the thick, substantive conversations now float in my head while we prep to leave tomorrow from Thimphu and head east on mountain bikes, one particular discussion of ‘What Matters’ sticks in my mind. Entrepreneur Joe Gatto, shared at one of our evening group chats a moment that he, Tony and I shared on the trail. The few of us had stopped to interact with a local mountain man. Joe spontaneously asked him, “Are you happy?”
“Oh yes, I am very happy,” declared the villager.
“What are you happy about today?” probed Joe.
“I ate!” he said with a large, warm grin.
Written by Terri Schneider
We've finally arrived. As we fly through the valleys and mountains on our descent into Paro, Bhutan it's clear we are in for the experience of a lifetime. The mountains, valleys, and rivers all come into view and seem to open their arms to our arrival. There is a significant sense of excitement and an emotional relevance that I've felt only a few times before in my life when I know that the journey ahead will give me an opportunity to get a glimpse of many things I haven't felt, seen, or ever experienced before.
The flight to Bhutan is easily one of the most magnificent flights anywhere. Almost immediately upon take-off you start getting views of snow-capped peaks almost level with the plane; Everest, Lhotse, the list goes on. As we descend into Bhutan through one of its many valleys surrounded by mountains a calm peace sets in. A significant change from the hectic pace and sounds of Kathmandu, Nepal. We are greeted gracefully into the Land of the Thunder Dragon. It's very clear after only a short time that the country and the people of Bhutan are special.
The first couple of days have been filled with meetings and preparation. We meet multiple times with our sponsor, The Bhutan Olympic Committee. They have been very gracious and supportive of our upcoming adventure. While meetings and preparation are our main focus before we fully start the expedition we've made one excursion into Paro to get a small initial glimpse of Bhutan. Paro is the entry point for all visitors flying into Bhutan and thus is a mixture of old and new. The new is the airport, the cell phone shops, the old is the dzongs, the monasteries, and the prayer wheels. The transition from old and new can be seen in the faces of the young and old.
Our journey is just beginning and we are realizing through our preparations and meetings that this is the first time anything of this type of magnitude has been undertaken in Bhutan. We are so gracious that we've been given this opportunity.
A couple more days of preparation and we take the next step, an unprecedented journey through the country of Bhutan. With the support of The Prince, His Royal Highness (HRH), who has taken great interest in our expedition, we begin our traverse of this great country called Bhutan.
There is a magic moment when the idea for an adventure project takes hold of you in a way that you begin to picture yourself in the dream. You begin to get your head around what it will take to make it happen and you fully commit your mind and heart and resources. For me, that moment is usually one specific instance when the idea shifts from out in the world and lodges itself deeply in my heart. I have always been curious when the commitment takes hold of other adventurers. As our team came together in Kathmandu and gathered each day for logistics meetings, I had the opportunity to ask them when the spark was ignited for each of them.
Listen in on the conversation.
This adventure became a priority for me, not only because of the incredible team, and the beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan, but because this adventure has a larger goal. The vision is to share the journey and to involve people in a conversation about the things that matter most: to the people of Bhutan, to us and to the world. Who wouldn’t want to tell this story?
– Candra Canning storyteller for Expedition Bhutan.
When does a project matter enough for you to get committed?
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Bhutan. The word just sounds mystical.
It’s become very clear that this journey/exploration is truly something special. I’ve wanted for many years to make a trip to Bhutan. The dream is finally coming true. The tireless energy and focus of Terri with help from Tony, David, and a host of others is finally making this happen. The team has been amazing.
A bit of background on the team from my perspective. I’ve known Terri and David for more than two decades. We all lived in Santa Cruz, CA when we first met and forged a very strong friendship based on a desire for adventure and athletic endeavors. We’ve done triathlons together, raced in a few Eco-Challenge adventure races together, done numerous other adventures and subsequently moved on to our own other experiences in our lives. A few years ago I reconnected with Terri for a couple great adventures and now with expedition Bhutan will have the opportunity to travel and adventure again with David. It’s a great re-connection. While I’ve only known Tony for the past year he is a great friend of Terri’s. As the saying goes any good friend of yours is a good friend of mine. He has proven to be a solid, consistent, and significant contributor to the expedition Bhutan process and I know will prove to be an excellent team member in Bhutan. Read More