Saturday, July 22, 2017

What is Wealth to You?

I realized that I haven't been writing much the past few years, and when I have been it has revolved around sharing memories from vacation experiences I have had. So I thought it was time to start "journaling" again and not focus so much on only highlighting epic moments in my life. I'd like to be able to look back and also remember the thoughts and feelings I was having on a more regular, real-life basis. So, here is my first post in that direction.

I recently began reading Tim Ferris' book called "Tools of Titans" after my good friend Chris gave it to me for my birthday. Within, Ferris highlights tricks from different people he has interviewed throughout his life, mostly on his podcast "The Tim Ferris Show." I was listening to one of those podcasts episodes on a Saturday afternoon on my way back from San Marcos, where I had class as part of my graduate degree program. Now I have to admit, this podcast (both this specific episode and in general) is not my favorite, because Ferris can often times come across as a very self-absorbed douchebag. And yes, I see the irony in the fact that I am making that statement while writing a blog post that I am assuming other people will read, but here we are. In this particular episode, Ferris was answering questions his listeners had voted on via Twitter, and as I sat my cruise control to 75 and was only half listening to his answers, he said something that actually hit home with me.

"Wealth is not stuff, wealth is time."

Now, out of context, this may not make much sense. But ultimately what it boiled down to was that Ferris was pointing out how he does not value materialistic things as much as other people he might encounter in his highly successful career, but rather he enjoys the freedom his success has given him. This freedom affords him the opportunities to test the tips and tricks he writes about in "Tools of Titans." His "wealth" allows him to choose experiences over "stuff" if he so chooses. His success gives him the flexibility to do what he wants, where he wants, when he wants. My ears popped up when I heard this, because that is exactly what I want for my life.

I've typically had a hard time explaining to people that I've never really felt motivated by money. I view myself as a hard-worker, and I am notorious in all my past jobs for never being late and rarely missing work due to illness or otherwise. However, most of my childhood I was fortunate enough to have the freedom to do whatever I pleased. School came easy to me, so there was never much stress involved with grades or homework. Sports also were second nature to me, probably because of the freedom my hardworking parents allowed me to have that basically translated into me playing any and every sport I wanted, whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted. Unfortunately, this did not translate well into my adult life. Despite my youthful dreams, I was not naturally physically gifted enough to turn sports into a profession. And despite obtaining degrees with relative ease, I had no direction for what I would do with my career as I transitioned into adult life.

Picking a major for my undergrad was difficult, as I was good at a lot of things but never great at any one thing (I made the exact same score on math as I did on verbal on my SAT's - 600/600, for example). I started in psychology, and ended up with a Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Development - that to this day I have never used. I just hoped my interpersonal skills might bode well for me in that field. The goal of moving to Austin blinded me to what the next step would be once I got here, because I was sure that getting here would lead to me being happier. I succeeded in getting here, but it didn't take long for me to start asking myself "well now what?"

Since then I've had jobs in customer service, sales, marketing, and even as a photographer, but could not figure out a calling or a passion. The goal of making money has never been my endgame, it has simply been the means to an end. Whether that be to continue to live Austin, travel more, or now to pay for graduate school, it has never been the idea of "wealth" that has propelled me forward. It is that longing for freedom, the ability to work on projects I am interested in, or passionate about, and the flexibility to work on those projects when and where I feel I would be most productive and/or happy. Knowing that, my smart and loving wife helped me find a graduate degree program in a field (Mass Communications in Digital Media) that hopefully will help me end up in an environment that resembles at least some of those goals.

It seems funny that most of us work jobs we don't like simply in the pursuit of financial wealth, just so we can purchase things that we hope will distract us from the unhappiness we feel in other aspects of our life. What is the point in having a car that is so expensive you are afraid to drive it? Or that in order to afford it you have to work so much that you don't have the time to drive it? I know I am not the first person exclaiming this feeling of wanderlust and wanting flexibility to not have to "keep up with Joneses," but I feel compelled to ask the people close enough to me that took the time to read this all the way through... what is wealth to you?

Friday, January 27, 2017

South by South America

Back in March, I was fortunate enough to use my week off from graduate school to visit my father. At the time, he was teaching English in the city of Quito, located in Andes mountains of Ecuador in South America. It was a chance to get out of Austin during one of the busiest weeks of the year, SXSW, and see my dad for the first time in over 6 months. Now, over 6 months later, I am reflecting back on the journey, which was my first time traveling internationally outside of going to Mexico for my senior trip after graduating high school.

Earlier that previous Fall, I actually had to go through the long process of getting my passport before I could take the trip, meaning I didn't have one until I was 28 years old (all I needed was a birth certificate to go to Mexico at the time). Once I was over that hurdle, I booked my flight, and let my dad know that his Christmas present was that I was officially coming to visit him. We were both very excited that we would get to share the experience together.

My flight to Quito included a long layover in Miami, were talking 8 hours, which I spent in an Irish pub in the airport drinking one too many pints of Guinness, because despite having taken long flights before, I was still pretty anxious about both the flight and the trip in general. However, I lucked out with an exit row seat (on the biggest plane I have ever been on), which meant I had plenty of legroom for the remaining 6 hour flight. I landed at the Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport around 10:30 PM local time, and earned my first passport stamp. I met my dad just outside the baggage claim, excited that my checked bag had also made it to South America with me. We took a long but seemingly tame cab ride to his apartment, caught up while watching a soccer game on TV, and tried to get some rest for the big week my father had planned for us that would begin the next morning.

We awoke early on Sunday morning, and my dad made us breakfast. Then we set out on first "big venture." We walked through the mostly empty city streets down to the closest bus station, and took the bus to Parque La Carolina, essentially Quito's version of Central Park. There were people walking dogs, rollerblading, playing soccer, basketball, and volleyball. We walked past the soccer stadium across the street, and bought passes for a bus tour that would take us outside the city to Pululahua and Mitad del Mundo. We got to sit up top on the double-decker bus, and the hour long bus ride took us through a lot of the city, which had a very impressive graffiti art scene that covered a lot of the walls we passed by.

Our first stop of the tour was the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. "Pululahua" means “cloud of water” or fog, and is a collapsed volcano that erupted over 2500 years ago. The view overlooking the now extremely fertile valley was impressive. I was thankful I brought my GoPro for the trip, which
provided some great wide angled shots, and I had to own up shamelessly to using the "selfie stick" I brought along as well. Another interesting thing about Quito is how drastically the weather changes throughout the course of a single day. As you can see in the picture, I have on a pullover plus a rain jacket, when I started the day in a t-shirt and was sweating while siting in the park. Bringing layers everywhere we went was something dad had thankfully prepared me for.
There was also a performer playing a pan flute, which if you've seen that episode of South Park would understand why I found that so funny.

Next on the tour, we went to Intinan Museum. This museum was small, but very informative, which appealed to my history teaching father. We got to take our photos while standing on the equator line. The demonstrations the guides provided were fun, such as showing how water swirled in different directions when funneled through a hole while on opposite sides of the equator, shrunken heads, and tribal dances. The next leg of the tour took us to the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, or "Middle of the World," which is a large monument constructed in 1979 to honor a French expedition in 1736 to map the equatorial line. We enjoyed some local beers and coffee at the shops nearby before taking the bus back into the city and heading back to the apartment. It was a great first day.

The next morning, we headed down to Centro Histórico, or "Old Town," which is the oldest part of Quito, to witness the weekly changing of the palace guards at the presidential palace on Plaza Grande or Independence Plaza. The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, appeared on the balcony and waved to all of us in the crowd. It was the first time I have ever seen a president of a country in person before. It was cool to see the long standing tradition in person, as guards lined the square, road in on horses, and there were even police present in riot gear. Unplanned, we ended up running into some people my dad knew from the church he had been attending while living there, and we all went to grab coffee and lunch together after the ceremony concluded.

After lunch, we walked to the Basílica del Voto Nacional, which the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. Building began in 1892, and I had never seen a church this big before in person. It reminded me of the types of architecture you would find in Spain. We climbed the steps to the top of the spires, where we had magnificent views of the most historic parts of Ecuador. Although we did not visit another famous landmark in Quito, the "Virgen de Quito" statue atop El Panecillo, we had a great view of the hill and the statue atop from the church. You can see the spires and the statue in the picture to the right. I was impressed with the beauty of the architecture in this part of Quito.

Our next stop in this part of the city would be a hostel I had read about online that was supposed to have a great rooftop bar. My dad had warned me that he hadn't experienced a lot of nightlife since he had been in the city, so I wanted to try and find somewhere laid back where we could drink a few beers and maybe meet some other travelers. It took a little exploring to find the appropriately named Secret Garden hostel, we found our way onto the roof and rested our weary feet on the beautiful patio, drinking tall bottles of South American beer. Originally I thought we might just have one or two and head home, but we began getting into convesation with interesting travelers from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and other interesting places. As the sun set, a fire was started in the pit and dinner was served, so we stayed and watched the historic downtown light up. We shared stories and cigarettes with our new friends, and if I ever find myself in Quito again in the future, I know exactly where I will be staying.

The next morning, we had breakfast and then took a cab to a popular gondola called the Teleferico, which takes visitors up a few thousand feet on the western slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano. We got there early enough to be one of the first people up the mountain, and our early arrival also ensured a clearer view of the city before the inevitable clouds blew in for the typical afternoon rain showers.

From the Teleferico, there are trails you can follow that take you up the rest of the mountain volcano, which dad had ventured up a few times (but never all the way to the top). After about an hour or so of hiking (which is a lot more difficult than it sounds at that altitude - over 10,000 feet) we reached a sketchy part of the trail, which is where my dad had turned around each time he had made it that far when previously hiking up there. We thought about turning back, but earlier on our hike had picked up a solo traveler (ironically enough also from Texas) and when we saw him successfully maneuver the part of the trail to continue on-ward, we decided we too would try to take on the mountain. After that, we caught up with some more hikers (this time from Holland), and we felt a little bit better about continuing up the sometimes treacherous trail. After a couple hours, we made it all the way to the top! At over 14,000 feet, it was definitely a challenging experience, but both dad and I knew we were thankful to have done it. It's not everyday you can say you climbed to the top of a mountain volcano in South America!

Having not been quite properly prepared to be hiking for 6+ hours, we were exhausted (and dehydrated / famished) by the time we got back down the mountain. So after eating, we spent the rest of the day recovering at dad's apartment. We knew we needed to get our rest of the rest of the week.

The next morning, we packed up and caught a bus to another bus station, where we would board a different bus to take us outside of Quito and into the jungle. We were headed to Mindo, Ecuador, known for it's "Cloud Forest." It was a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Quito, and after an only somewhat terrifying couple of hours on the bus on some windy mountain roads, we arrived in the sleepy tourist town of Mindo. Dad had been here before as well, and had found a great hotel for us to stay in. We checked in, dropped off our bags, and found a restaurant to eat at right on the river which runs through town. We sipped beers, and watched as dozens of hummingbirds fed on the feeders hanging around the patio we were sitting on. We spent a long time here just soaking in the sound of the river, talking with the different travelers, and enjoying the time getting to spend together.  Afterwards, we took advantage of the ping pong table back at our hotel. That night, the owner of our hotel had his band perform for the guests, playing authentic Peruvian and Ecuadorian music including pan flutes, and it felt like we were getting our own SXSW experience all the way down in the Cloud Forest. It was also nice to end the night in a real bed versus the somewhat uncomfortable couch I had been sleeping on back in Quito.

The next morning, we took a taxi down a very wet, muddy, potholed filled mountain road to the "Terabit," which is a cable-car that takes visitors over the top of the Cloud Forest canopy and over to the other side where there are trails you can hike to a bunch of different waterfalls. Despite my fear of heights (and the somewhat sketchy looking cable car that was powered by an old car engine) it was awesome to be gliding across the top of the jungle. We hiked for a few hours to a couple different waterfalls, and I couldn't help but get in the water at one of them (despite some reservations about a certain kind of fish we had heard about on an earlier tour...). It was one of the most green places I have ever seen in person, and was a great way to spend St. Patrick's Day. We were enjoying Mindo so much that we decided to stay an extra night, taking in the live music one more time before departing back to Quito the following morning.

Once back in Quito, I began packing up my stuff since I would be leaving the next day. We spend time in the garden behind my dad's apartment building, enjoying the beautiful view of the mountains. We went to dinner in a nice part of town and had a great meal with some terrific wine, then casually walked through the city back to dad's apartment. We woke up the next morning to go have some breakfast and coffee, and then grabbed a cab back to the airport. A tear-filled hug, and back to America and reality I went. It was absolutely the trip of a lifetime, and I am so grateful I got to spend time with my dad and best friend for my first trip abroad. Dad successfully moved back to Texas, and I am so proud of him for taking the leap to do something he had always wanted to do which was live abroad. He truly is the most interesting man in the world. I hope we can both look back at this post and relive such a wonderful trip, and I hope we get to take another one somewhere like this again sometime soon! Thanks for reading, Cheers!


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NYC Marathon Playlist

(as originally written for and posted by KTSW San Marcos

On November 6, 2016 I was lucky enough to be one of 50,000 people who got to run the New York City Marathon. The race began in Staten Island, and made its way through all five boroughs  including Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and ending in Central Park in Manhattan. Throughout almost the entire 26.2 mile course, there were crowds cheering us runners on, which is why the NYC Marathon is referred to as New York’s biggest block party. It was estimated that over one million people came out to cheer us on.

Despite the overwhelming crowd support, occasional on-course live music, and epic views of one of the greatest city’s in the world, there was no way I could have survived the four and half hours it took me to complete the race without a playlist rocking in my bluetooth headphones. The night before, as I tried to get some rest in the Airbnb I was staying in, I had to figure out what I wanted to be included in this playlist. 

I knew I wanted to avoid starting the race too fast, which is a common mistake for first time marathoners such as myself. So I started off my NYC playlist with Tycho. Their new album “Epoch” was the perfect ambient soundtrack to keep my mind and body away from moving too fast as I made my way over the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. I got to enjoy the view of Manhattan off in the distance across the bay as I made my way into Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn, I wanted to keep the chill vibes going, but also find my rhythm as we entered the crowds on the roads cheering us on. I stuck with the electronic feel and went with ODESZA. Their album “In Return” has long been one of my favorites to run to during training, as it provides melodic beats to find my pace with and soak in the neighborhoods like Bay Ridge we were running through. By the time we got to the infinitely hip Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn’s best bands came on as if by fate: LCD Soundsystem’s “This is Happening” provided the soundtrack for the rest of the second borough, and I may or may not have run one of my fastest miles to “Dance Yrself Clean.”

As we passed over the Pulaski Bridge and into Queens, passing the halfway mark of the race, Glass Animals’ newest album “How to Be a Human Being” took over, and it felt like perfect timing for this upbeat album as the crowds grew larger, louder, and rowdier. I was feeling great, smiling from ear to ear as I occasionally even sang along aloud to some of my favorite tracks like “Youth” and “Poplar St.” As we crossed over the Queensboro bridge and into Manhattan for the first time, my playlist got a little grittier for the first time, as Queens of the Stone Age blared guitar rifts into my ears for most of my trip up First Avenue. 

As I made my way into the Bronx, with it came my all-time favorite band Radiohead, whom I have already written a lengthy blog post about for KTSW earlier this semester. As much as I love everything Thom Yorke touches, it was almost ironic that this would be who I would be listening to as I hit the wall as runners call it, and began struggling in the race for the first time. Although it only lasted between miles 21 and 23 of the race as I returned back to Manhattan, I will always remember how terrible I felt when I heard “Everything In Its Right Place” during my first marathon. 

At mile 23, I was surprised to see my wife cheering me on, and even coaxed her into running a couple of blocks with me, which provided me a much needed pick-me-up (along with the energy gels I had consumed a few minutes earlier). As I entered Central Park to finish the last two miles, my favorite album of 2015 was there to take me home. Tame Impala’s “Currents” is one that I continually find myself coming back to, and I sped through the crowds to “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” 

I finished the race in 4:34:15, running negative splits (meaning I ran the second half of the race faster than I ran the first half) which is hard to do on a challenging course like this one. I could not have done it without the amazing volunteers at the water aid stations, my beautiful wife surprising me towards the end, and the playlist I put together just a few hours before the race. What are some of your favorite albums to run to? Which ones should I include in my future races? Let me know in the comments below!

The EDM Transition

(as originally written for and posted by KTSW San Marcos

We all have that one friend. The one who never misses an electronic music festival. Who prefers furry boots to sneakers. Who only listens to music that sounds like an old computer trying to connect to the internet via dial-up. And if you haven’t been to a show that didn’t involve glow sticks in years, then you very well may be that friend. 

I am not here to criticize your taste in music. In fact, I myself have been to countless EDM shows in my 20’s. But as I come within months of my 30th birthday, I thought I would try to help broaden the horizons of some of those people who insist they only like DJ’s or people who wear a giant mouse-head when they perform. Because regardless of how much you love dancing all night to dubstep or house or trance, eventually you will reach a point when you just can’t hang like you used to.

That’s where I’d like to step in, and introduce you to the EDM Transition. There are tons of bands out there that are heavily influenced by the EDM movement, or influenced the very DJ’s you find yourself blaring in your car as you drive to your early morning classes to try and wake you up. As fun as it can be to watch someone push a couple of buttons to play that catchy hook you can’t get out of your head, (I am looking at you “The Chainsmokers”)  I think you’ll find that not only are some of these artists in your wheelhouse, but seeing them perform live with real musical instruments might take seeing your passion for “live music” to an entirely new level.

The first transition can be entirely painless. Many artists are already combining EDM with live instruments when they perform. Take Big Gigantic, and similar artist Griz, as an example. Both of these acts add a saxophone to their tracks, and if you have never seen someone blow on a sax over some heavy beats, then you are truly missing out. Similarly, Pretty Lights Music artists Break Science incorporate keyboards and live drums with electronic elements. Consider these baby steps out of EDM and into more conventional music genres.

Next, if you insist on the visual elements of EDM shows and festivals, I would recommend the “jam-band” groups. Some of my favorites include STS9, Thievery Corporation, and I throw local Austin legend Ghostland Observatory into this category when they are touring. Others would include Phish and Widespread Panic, to name a few. At these shows, you’ll get a lot of the same elements you get at EDM festivals, some of which I won’t go into too deeply here. But all typically have incredible set designs and light shows that help captivate the audience along with their large bands full of multiple instruments. 

The electronic acts playing with a full band trend continues with groups such as Emancipator
Beats Antique, and Bonobo. The bands play live renditions of studio material, with a singer, and often times additional band members such as a keyboardist, guitarist, saxophonist, string section, electronics, and drummer. Even traditional DJ’s who typically focus on the old-school style of spinning music on wax records, such as Wax Tailor and RJD2, have begun touring with full live bands in support of their albums. You can catch both of them at Empire in Austin in the next few months.

Many artists do not identify as electronic music bands, although their music is in my opinion very influenced by the genre. Some of these include Tycho, SOHN, Neon Indian, and Washed Out. These groups incorporate electronic elements into their songs, and provide a nearly seamless transition away from EDM and into more alternative and indie music genres, the kind we like to play here at KTSW. 

Even some of the most popular bands in the world have heavy electronic elements incorporate into their process. I have been pleasantly surprised  by both Bon Iver and James Blake’s newest albums, which both have added new sounds and effects into their more folk sound. My two favorite bands also give and take to and from the electronic community. Both Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have been pioneering in pushing the boundaries in mainstream, alternative rock and adding sounds they could not have produced with instruments alone.

So next time you get in the car and plug your phone in, instead of listening to that Major Lazer song for the 100th time this week, consider trying out some of these options as an alternative. I think you’ll be surprised how much you’ll enjoy these and still feel like you are getting your EDM fill.

Going Solo

(As originally written for KTSW San Marcos)

When I first move to Austin at the beginning of 2010, the chance to see live music consistently played a big part in my decision to relocate there. Growing up in a conservative East Texas town, getting to see bands perform was rare. After attending SXSW in Austin in 2002 and visiting friends in the city often while I was in college, I saw that it lived up to the hype as being the “Live Music Capital of the World.” However, once I got there, I ran into a problem: What do I do when I want to go see a show and no one wants to go with me?

Despite having friends living in Austin already, not all of them were as eager to go see bands they had never heard of at small clubs and bars on random weekday nights as I was. I will admit that at first I was hesitant to go alone. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Who do I talk to in between sets? Who do I turn to and yell “this band is awesome!” or “this song sucks” to? I had only had concert experiences with friends in the past, so it felt a little awkward to be standing in a crowd alone.

My mindset completely changed during my first time attending Austin City Limits in 2010. Although I showed up to the festival with a group, it was inevitable for us to get separated once bathroom breaks and beer runs started. I found myself alone, floating my way through the crowds. Once I came to terms with the fact that it was highly unlikely I would find my group again, I felt a sense of freedom in the fact that I could now essentially do whatever I wanted. 

Gone were the worries of checking to see if everyone could see the stage, if anyone needed to use the restroom, the debates of when to leave this set to make it to another one across the park. I realized that although I had lost my friends, I had 70,000 other “friends” in the park all there to enjoy the festival just like me. I witnessed LCD Soundsystem deliver an electric performance as the sun set behind the crowd, tried flirting with Warpaint for the first time from the front row, and held up Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips in his plastic encasing as he walked out into the crowd. From that moment on, I realized seeing concerts alone may not only be enjoyable, but might actually be preferable.

There is a lot of coordinating that goes into attending shows with a group of people. When and where do we meet? How close does everyone want to get? Will we be able to find each other if we need to go to the bathroom? These can all cause stress before the show even starts. It can be even worse when going with a significant other. The worrying about their experience can actually take away from your own personal enjoyment of the concert. There is also the dreaded “can we leave early?” question that can arise. “Leave early? And miss the encore? Are you crazy?!” Speaking from experience, this can lead to tension, both during the show and long after the concert is over.

Going to a venue alone gives you the flexibility to move through the crowd and find a spot that is just perfect for you and you alone. We all come in different shapes and sizes, so when you are in a group it is not always easy to find somewhere that suits everyone. Rolling solo also eliminates distractions. While I agree sometimes it is great to share concert experience with friends or significant others, there are also times when you want to focus on the show itself and get lost in the music, and not have your chatty Cathy friend next you trying to show you their Snapchat. Which reminds me, while we are on the topic of concert etiquette…


If you are going to a show so you can chat with your friends, go to a bar instead so the rest of us can hear the band we paid to see! 

Please excuse me while I step down from my grumpy old man soapbox, but seriously - if you are talking loudly with your friends during a headlining set of a show, have some courtesy and either save it for afterwards or consider moving to the back of the crowd. 

So next time you want to go check out a band, consider only putting one ticket in your cart at checkout. Get there when you want, grab the perfect spot, and enjoy the undistracted and stress free environment of getting lost in the music. You may never want to go with a group again!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rockport - August 2016

Last week I visited Massachusetts for the second time with my wife. The first time we came was in December of 2013, just a few months after we started dating, so that I could meet her father who lives in Rockport just outside of Boston. It just so happened that the week we were there was one of the coldest weeks they have had in that area in almost 25 years, and I also managed to catch the flu during the flight. But despite single digit temperatures outside and trying to contain my triple digit body temperature inside, we managed to have a fun trip which included touring Fenway Park and catching a game at the Garden to watch the Celtics play the Knicks. We also spent a day in Rockport, which was the day it snowed over half a foot. Seeing snow fall that hard while also looking at the ocean was a surreal experience for me.

This time, we were smart and decided not to visit the Northeast during the winter, and would be seeing Boston and the coast in the middle of August. Amanda has been visiting the area for most of her life, as her father has lived in Rockport since she was 4, so visiting for her feels as much as a homecoming as it does a vacation. I have been lucky enough to go to Ecuador to visit my father earlier this year, and more recently took a trip to Lake Tahoe with Rogue Expeditions (see previous blog post for a recap of that trip), so I was excited about getting to take one more trip before we both start the Fall semester of our graduate school programs.

After early flights, we arrived around lunch time and her dad picked us up at the airport and drove us the hour or so out to Rockport, where we ate lunch on a patio overlooking Cape Ann and the Atlantic Ocean. We ate clam chowder and caught up, and then headed to his condo to unpack and get settled. After a short jog around town to shake out our legs, the evening was spent telling stories and laughing, and once in bed, we stayed up to watch Benjamin Button all the way through despite being exhausted from our 3 AM wake up call that morning.

On Friday, Amanda met with a higher up at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for lunch to network and learn more about the hospital, and her father and I strolled down Newbury Street, a popular shopping and eating destination in the heart of the city. My father in law proceeded to give me excellent life advice over our lunch, which is typical when spending time with him. When we picked up Amanda after her meeting, she was beaming with excitement for having gotten to see a lot of Mass Gen and share her ideas for her future with a fellow UT graduate. We stopped for ice cream on the way back to Rockport, and settled in for a movie that night.

The next morning, I decided to go on a running adventure and run along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway to the Annisquam Lighthouse about 6 miles away from where we were staying. The road itself lived up to its name, and the Light(house) at the end of the tunnel was stunningly beautiful. People commenting on the photo I posted to social media asked if it was really a photo I took, or rather a picture of a painting I was posting. I had not been prepared for how beautiful the coast is in the Northeast during this time of year. Even the rocks were beautiful. That night Amanda and I shared a romantic dinner at the same balcony restaurant we ate lunch at the first day, and watched the sunset over the sleepy town.

On Sunday, Amanda and I rented bikes and explored Rockport on two wheels. The houses are a combination of historic, huge, and beautiful, and come in all shades of colors. We finished the bike ride with a dip in the ocean at Front Beach, which added to the bodies of water I have gone swimming in this calendar year (Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, Lake Tahoe, now the Atlantic Ocean). We ended our day watching Memento, which we had never seen.

It was bittersweet having to head home the next day, as we felt as though we had just gotten comfortable and relaxed in our little beach condo getaway. But it was great to finally get to take a trip together, as we had both traveled without each other over the course of our first year of marriage, but hadn't taken a trip together since right after we got in engaged over 2 years ago to Portland. While it can be good to have those breaks away from each other at times, trips like these remind us that we truly are each other's best friend, and it left us feeling refreshed before we both get busy in the grind this Fall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Running with Strangers

(As originally written for and posted by Rogue Expeditions

Almost exactly two years ago I joined my first training group at Rogue Running in Austin, Texas and was invited by my coach to come listen to an informational meeting about a run based traveling company called Rogue Expeditions. I sipped on a beer and watched intently as this couple named Allison and Gabe described how their love for running and traveling had led them to start this company, which included trips to locations such as Kenya, Patagonia and Morocco. I remember being struck by how passionately the couple talked about wanting to create memorable adventures for those who signed up for their trips. Going on one immediately went on my bucket list.

Flash forward to two weeks ago, as I was boarding a flight to Reno, Nevada where I would be picked up along with five other first-time Rogue Expedition trip takers to be the 2016 group to #RunTahoe. I had hardly slept the night before due to excitement, yet ultimately still did not really know what to expect. I would be staying in a cabin with strangers, visiting a part of the country I had never been to, and logging my longest week of miles this calendar year (not to mention logging those miles via trail running which was also not something I had done a lot of). So the sleepless night of excitement may have also had twinges of nervousness mixed in. However, I managed to make my short connection at LAX and arrived safely in Reno (as did my checked luggage) and was greeted at the baggage claim by a very cheery Allison and other runners in the group. The excitement from everyone was palpable, and even one participant whose luggage had not arrived with her flight was still in great spirits as we all began to bond in the car ride to our lodge for the next five days. Pretty quickly my nerves about vacationing with strangers began to subside.

            For runners, bonding is not a new concept. There is the bond created from sharing the misery of training runs. There is the amazing atmosphere created before, during, and after races in which there is always a feeling of celebration. There is that shared runners high when sharing a drink or meal that feels truly earned. I have also found that it is often easy to bond with other travelers. When you meet other people away from home, you get to share stories, and people seem to really open up when they are out of the comfort zone of their daily routines. These two different ways of connecting with people are merged in this environment cultivated by Rogue Expeditions.

After arriving at the cabin and getting to meet everyone in the group, we set off on our first run of the trip. The Donner Lake Rim Trail would give us amazing views of Donner Lake, where the infamous Donner party was stranded in the 1840’s, and we would get to cross over the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Running at altitude can be a bit of an adjustment, but the amazing views and perfect weather distracted us.

 Gabe, Allison, and our other guide Sarah were all very gifted in the kitchen, and each meal prepared by them provided perfect fuel for the adventures we were having during the trip. We had everything from Thai food to fajitas to steaks, and being able to have home cooked meals only added to the family vibe of the trip. On day two, we ran the Rubicon Trail, ending with a picnic on a secluded beach right on Lake Tahoe in the popular area of Emerald Bay. The cold water was refreshing as we ate and took photos of the amazing views around us.

            Day three was the long run, which consisted of 14 miles on one of the most popular trails in the world – the Flume Trail. The views of Lake Tahoe from high up on this trail are incredible, and neither my words nor my pictures can do them justice. The pace for everyone on this run was slow, as we knew we would be stopping frequently to take pictures. We once again ended with a picnic on a beach, this time eating Argentinian styled wraps and climbing on the boulders of Chimney Beach. Back at our cabin, the group bonded over Cards Against Humanity and crossword puzzles, and the atmosphere continued to feel more like a family reunion then a house full of people who had just met days before.

            The fourth day was meant for recovery, but multiple people got up early to go on an extra run before the scheduled trail so that one of the group members who had to leave early from the trip would not have to run alone. The scheduled run took us through the abandoned tunnels of the transcontinental railroad. It was incredible to see the amazing graffiti artwork within the tunnels, and seeing tunnels carved and/or blasted through the sides of mountains was impressive. After another picnic, we headed to the Truckee River to go whitewater rafting. Truly living up to their promise of epic adventures, the hours on the river were a great change of pace from the trail running.

On the final morning, everyone woke up and run the “optional” last run to Moriah Point overlooking the Royal Gorge. Once again, the views did not disappoint, and it was hard knowing we would have to say goodbye to our little cabin on the Serene Lakes. As we began departing, genuine hugs and warm wishes were shared, and plans were already beginning to circulate for when we could all get together again for a reunion. It was not surprising to any of us that a lot of people end up signing up for multiple Rogue Expedition trips. I recently wrote a blog post for Rogue Running about joining a running group and finding a family, and that theme again permeates my feelings towards this trip. The connections shared, the experiences that Rogue Expeditions cultivated for us will never be forgotten by everyone who attended. Every detail was taken care of for us, and all we had to do was show up, run, and enjoy the views. I can’t wait to sign up for my next trip, and hope my words will inspire others to do the same.