Not waiting for retirement to travel the world

Carson Lehman of Slave Lake at 13,479 ft. in the Himalayas, in May of 2017.

Joe McWilliams
For Spotlight

Carson Lehman, son of Aaron and Winnie Lehman of Slave Lake has spent parts of the past eight years indulging in a lust for travel.

It has taken him to Africa, to South America and most recently to Asia for a good year.

He’s also hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail in the western United States and plans to finish it in the spring.

“I enjoy what I do as a carpenter,” he says. “So why not take the benefit of that hard-earned money to (see the world) while I still can?”

He’s certainly been doing that.

Lehman recently came back for a visit home after 3 ½ months in Nepal doing volunteer work, six months touring India by motorcycle and two or three months visiting Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

And all that was after doing a “flip-flop” hike of over half of the Pacific Crest Trail, in the spring and summer of 2016.

“In 2010 I had visited a friend in California and we went to Yosemite and did a small portion of the trail,” he says. “I made a promise to myself – someday I’m going to do the trail.”

So in the spring of 2016, after having worked for a while as a finishing carpenter and saved up some money, he set out, starting in northern California and heading north.

The ‘flip-flop’ is a term given to a strategy of doing exactly what he did; hiking part of the trail to one end, then ‘flipping’ back to the starting point and hiking the other way.

It put him in the desert in August, which is probably not recommended.

“I got within about 500 miles of the finish and I was kicked off the trail by wildfires.”

This was in September of the year.

Meanwhile, he’d already made arrangements to do voluntary work in Nepal with a non-governmental organization called ‘All Hands,’ beginning in November.

“When I started travelling,” Lehman says, “I went with an organization (doing work in South Africa). I like the way that allows you to come in and right away have connections. A place to stay, you are among the locals, you make friends, learn local customs. So I like to do that at the start.”

This time he and a few dozen foreign volunteers were helping to build or rebuild earthquake damaged or destroyed schools in an area north of Kathmandu, called Trishuli.

It was six days a week of pretty hard work – not a lot of time for goofing around or sightseeing, Lehman says.

He likes the way All Hands works – not catering to the so-called ‘volun-tourism’ fad.

“It can be difficult to find a volunteer opportunity that doesn’t cost too much or you feel is doing some good,” he says. All Hands does a really good job of that. Their focus is mostly on disaster relief. They find a place for you to be productive.”

On the other hand, “to me, it’s just as much about getting as it is about giving.”

After his volunteer stint of over three months, Lehman had hoped to spend time touring Nepal. But plans changed and instead he and a friend visited Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). He describes as “very welcoming, very interesting and beautiful.

“They’re just starting to get a grip on tourism,” he adds. “Which is good and bad. I’d go again.”

With a month on his hands before meeting with friends for motorcycle tour of India, Lehman decided to visit Viet Nam.

A friend – someone he’d met while volunteering in Peru – was living there.

“That’s the other thing about volunteering,” he says. “You make connections globally.”

Viet Nam apparently has the grip on tourism that Myanmar is still groping for.

Going around the country by bus and train, Lehman says he experienced “a good mix of what seemed local and authentic and what tourists want.” One thing that happened, perhaps unexpectedly, was that he met someone he got on well with and wanted to see again.

“I’d decided to go diving,” he says. “She ran the company.”

After a month of exploring Viet Nam, Lehman flew from Hanoi to Chennai, in southern India, to hook up with three friends for a motorcycle adventure.

But again plans changed, when it turned out two of them could not secure visas for a long enough period.

So it was down to him and one other person. They acquired a Royal Enfield bike on a “long-term lease,” and spent the next half-year zig-zagging across the sub-continent, learning among other things how to survive on Indian roads.

“I loved it,” Lehman says. “It looks like it’s total chaos, but there are rules. They’re just different rules. If you try to go by our rules, somebody’s going to hit you.”

Asked for an example, Lehman says if you are planning to turn off the highway across the oncoming lanes, “you don’t ever want to stop.”

The accepted practice is something along the lines of pulling into the oncoming lanes.

Stopping and waiting for an opening will get you run into, because nobody expects it.

Also, when something does stop traffic (say construction or a train crossing), it’s fully expected that motorcycles will not keep their place in line, but will flow up to the front through the gaps or on the margins.

Lehman says he did get hit once, but not too hard and was able to maintain control.

Lehman and his friend saw a lot of country in six months. Their journey took them – among many other places – into the extremes of northwest and northeast India and over high mountain passes. In politically unstable Jammu and Kashmir, “there were a lot of checkpoints,” he says, “but people were lovely and happy that foreigners were still visiting.”

Lehman says traveling by bike is a great way to encounter local people in non-tourist settings.

He’d pull into a town or village that never sees tourists and inevitably people would gather around – first the bolder ones trying out their few words of English, or encouraging their kids to do so.

As poor as the people may have been, many had cell phones and always wanted to take selfies with the strange foreigners.

“They’re selfie crazy!” he says. “You could do it all day.”

Oddly enough, in a nation renowned among travellers for intestinal discomforts, Lehman never had a problem with the food.

“I made a point to try it if I didn’t know what it was. I’ve been very lucky, I guess.”

In September of last year, Lehman sold his bike back to the dealer in Delhi and flew to Viet Nam.

He rented a house in the seaside town of Hoi An and spent a month “decompressing,” and enjoying the local lifestyle.

Back now and doing more decompressing at his parents’ home in Slave Lake, Lehman says he has no plans beyond fixing up and maybe selling the house he owns in Indiana.

In the spring he’ll tackle the last 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

“People say to me, ‘Oh, I wish I could do what you do!’ I tell them: ‘You can. It’s a matter of doing it.’”

Carson Lehman worked 3 ½ months as a volunteer in Nepal, doing disaster relief work in an area devastated by an earthquake in 2015.
Carson Lehman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.

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