Trip of a lifetime
LAUREL — The 2009 Pixar movie “UP” has a famous line spoken by character Charles Muntz.
Muntz proclaims, “Adventure is out there!” Two of the characters, Carl and Ellie, adopt that slogan, fall in love, and devote their life to adventure.
Another couple, with ties to Laurel, has also embraced their wild hearts and pursued adventure.
Laurel native, Arik Diediker, along with Alexandra Chang, recently completed a 15-month adventure through Asia, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, India, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Diediker and Chang met in Washington state in 2016 while Diediker was stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord with the Army and Chang was a travel nurse from New York on assignment in Centralia.
Some of their earliest dates were hiking through the vast mountain trails of the Cascades and exploring the Pacific Northwest.
“About seven months into our relationship, I got the opportunity to do humanitarian work overseas,” she said. “The work would keep me overseas for an unknown amount of time.”
She left with a one-way ticket to India and a small backpack.
Her journey took her to India, Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Italy and she even landed a job in Panjshir, Afghanistan, where she worked at a war trauma hospital.
She had traveled before, but leaving your home country with no real plans to return was an entirely different feeling.
Meanwhile, Diediker had been assigned to Korea.
“Experiencing Asia and a culture so removed from America for the first time is what piqued my interests,” he said. “I knew I wanted more international experiences.”
Once they both returned to America, Diediker and Chang picked up where they left off.
Diediker was stationed in Washington, but was ready for a change. Chang went to work at a local hospital but often reminisced about the colors of India, the food in Thailand, and the people of Nepal – the idea of taking off again started as a seed for them both, then turned into a splinter.
Over the next year and half the fantasy of travel became more and more plausible. Diediker’s contract with the military was coming to a close and Chang’s travel assignment was ending about the same time. They had both been saving for travel and they didn’t have many belongings.
In August 2018, they took the leap and bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong.
They had no idea where exactly they were going, how long they would be gone or what was in store.
They intentionally kept a very open itinerary and the only things booked when they left the U.S. were three nights in Hong Kong.
Each location and adventure was typically picked only a week or two before they arrived. They chose most adventures after hearing about it from locals, blogs, and other backpackers.
They learned about visas in Australia that would allow them to work, they were granted the visas right away and lived in Sydney for about seven months before spending time in New Zealand.
While they were in New Zealand, a virus they had only heard rumors of was gaining momentum and spreading throughout the world. Fortunately, they were able to return to America right before both New Zealand and U.S. borders closed.
On March 17, 2020, they were back on American soil and thrown into a dizzying reality.
“I didn’t have to see many headlines about New York City being ravaged by the virus to know I had to go help,” Chang said. Diediker agreed, but added, “after all we had been through, I was not going to let her go alone.”
They arrived in New York at the end of March and spent three months working long, exhausting hours trying to help the city recover. Chang worked in a Manhattan ER as a COVID ER/ICU nurse and Diediker got a job delivering meals to families and elders who could not afford it or could not go out in the pandemic. After New York, Chang worked another few weeks combating the virus in Texas.
As August arrived, they yearned for a place to be grounded and still for a season. After picking Chang up from the airport after her bout in Texas, Diediker drove the couple to Tampa, Florida.
After reflecting on their travels, they both agreed being overseas is an interesting culture shock. “The level of poverty in some places really highlights how little we have to complain about in America.” Diediker remarked.
Chang added, “It was also interesting that, no matter the country they were in, when people found out they were American, they would almost always comment on American politics and gun laws.”
Diediker marks his favorite adventure when they were in Indonesia.
“Alex and I got to hike and camp in a Sumatran jungle. Our journey allowed us to experience wild orangutans and many other primates and animals in their natural habitat,” he said.
One of Chang’s fondest memories was when they camped on a Cambodian island.
“It was so hot and muggy, neither of us could sleep. After tossing and turning all night, we got up at the earliest light of day to the most beautiful pink colored sky. We were the only ones on the tiny tropical island beach that morning.” They swam, played with the wild dogs, and watched the sunrise.
The adventurous duo doesn’t really know what’s next. Just like the rest of the world, they’re curious to see how this all plays out. One thing they know for sure — Adventure is out there.
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