Paige Claassen is a professional rock climber and the creator of the Lead Now program. Over the last year, we've followed her amazing journey to South Africa, Russia, Italy, Japan, China, India, Turkey, Ecuador and Chile. Her global climbing tour has raised money and awareness for non-profit organizations around the world. And it's inspired the heck out of us! Now that she's home, she shares her reflections on her trip. (You can also watch her amazing highlight video, too.)
Just over one month has passed since I returned home from my trip around the world to climb and raise money for global non profit organizations. Lead Now was the journey of a lifetime, a series of experiences I won’t soon forget, yet can’t seem to put into words. Each memory, distinct in colors, smells, and the smiles of new friends, has melded into a grand collage, one I might mistake for a dream were it not for the photographical evidence.
Start: Colorado. A tremendous lightening storm lit up the sky on our last night in the United States last June.
Stop #1: South Africa. Children from a rural elementary school supported by Room to Read perform a traditional dance during our visit to their school library. 50 percent of these students are orphans of HIV/AIDS, and the only meals they eat are on weekdays at school.
Stop #2: Russia. The road to our farmhouse, deep in the forest of western Russia, where we stayed with a family who spoke only Russian. We learned to communicate with smiles and laughter, picking mushrooms and berries in the forest, and adapting to life without running water or electricity.
Stop #3: Italy. A view of Lake Como, which sits just below the Alps, where we spent a month climbing on granite cliffs amidst fog, cowbells, and endless pastries.
Stop #4: Japan. Sushi breakfast outside of Tsukiji Fish Market. The largest wholesale seafood market in the world handles over 400 types of seafood each day. We found fresh fish to be more affordable than fresh fruits and vegetables in Japan!
Stop #5: China. On Thanksgiving Day, our local friends taught us how to make dumplings from scratch. The process was harder than I imagined, but made for a delicious meal!
Stop #6: India. A young girl twirls for the camera outside her home in Badami, India. While most women in smaller villages avoid eye contact, this girl’s mother waved me up to her backyard to spend a few minutes chatting in broken English.
Stop #7: Turkey. Ruins of the great city of Aspendos tower over modern villages down below. As the setting sun peaked in and out of cracks and holes in the dilapidated stonework, I tried to imagine life 3,000 years ago under the same setting sun.
Stop #8: Ecuador. A local indigenous farmer from Heifer International shows off one of the many guinea pigs she raises on her farm. Guinea pig is a delicacy in some parts of South America, and we spent the afternoon roasting them over a fire. The meat is extremely rich and salty, albeit a bit foreign.
Stop #9: Chile. Just a few hours from the city of Santiago, a quiet stream snakes among the jagged hills and volcanoes of Cajon del Maipo.
End: Colorado. Trail runs through my backyard in Estes Park remind me that no matter where we live, we need only look to discover the details that make life beautiful. (Photo by Paige Claassen.)
Now that I’m back in the US, once more surrounded by friends and family and the responsibilities of day to day life, I’ve taken on a new appreciation for the beauty of home. What once felt familiar and almost dull now seems vibrant and full of opportunities for new adventures and discoveries. I thought Africa and the Amazon held all the beautiful birds in the world, with their pink and purple patterns and sophisticated calls, yet a trail run through my backyard reminded me of the vibrant blue and yellow wings that grace the skies of Colorado.
Traveling allows us to explore our curiosity and learn about the people, languages, cultures, and sites that make up our world. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to absorb so many of those special details, from the smooth chocolate flavor of Ecuadorian coffee to the bright eyes of a young Indian girl walking to school. But for the moment, home feels pretty good.
All photos by Jon Glassberg (LT11.com), except where noted.