Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: Travel Tips

On the Road Again

It’s that time of year again: vacation!

We’re taking a road trip through the Pacific Northwest, end goal – Vancouver. So far, it’s been quite nice, despite the varying weather – hot, cloudy, rainy, cool…

Our first day involved a lot of driving – about 660 miles straight from home in the Bay Area to Portland, OR. We got a decent start in the morning, didn’t hit too much traffic, and just rode I-5 all the way up for almost 12 hours, stopping only for restroom breaks, a picnic lunch, and gas.

The most noteworthy aspect of the drive was passing Lake Shasta which is almost half its normal volume because of the drought of the past four years. It was breathtaking to see how low the water level was – we could see the starkness of bare land below the tree line.

Then once we hit Oregon, we were engulfed in forest fire haze.

We listened to some podcasts to pass the time, and we were lucky to hit on some good ones:

  • From 99% Invisible: The Sunshine Hotel – a fascinating story told by a Nathan Smith, manager of this men’s flop house. He’s an amazing and captivating storyteller with the voice of a man who’s lived a rough life and yet remains positive and hopeful even in the midst of squalor, vice, and despair in New York’s Bowery.
  • From On Being with Krista Tippett: Simone Campbell – How to Be Spiritually Bold – an interview with Sister Campbell of Nuns on the Bus. As a “recovering” Catholic, I struggle to see the good in the Catholic Church with its rigid, sexist, and old-fashioned rhetoric and ideology. But listening to Sister Campbell on this interview was incredibly inspirational and moving. Here are just a few quotes from her interview:
    • “…for me, this journey is about continuing to walk willing towards the hope, the vision, the perspective, the opportunities that are given.”
    • “Just do one thing. That’s all we have to do. But the guilt of the — or the curse of the progressive, the liberal, the whatever is that we think we have to do it all. And then we get overwhelmed. And I get all those solicitations in the mail. And I can’t do everything. And so I don’t do anything. But that’s the mistake. Community is about just doing my part.”

We got to our first AirBnB in time for a late dinner. It was a cute place, an attic room in a craftsman home on the edge of the Alberta Arts District which is in northeast Portland. A nice neighborhood to stay in.

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A Year-ish Ago: Yosemite and Half Dome

Last June (2014), my parents, my friend (who went to the Grand Canyon with us), and I went to Yosemite National Park to tackle Half Dome. It started with some conversations with my parents the winter before about going to Yosemite. Followed by an email where my dad said he had secured a heated tent cabin reservation at Curry Village. And then another email in March saying he had submitted an application for a permit to Half Dome, following the process outlined which enters you into a lottery to “win” one of 225 permits granted each day during the season when the cables are up. Unlike the Grand Canyon trip I blogged about in the previous entry, I was totally along for the ride on this trip – my dad did all the research.

Sadly, we didn’t get a permit through the preseason process. As my dad emailed, “We’re out of luck. Accept w/ humility and God knows our desires.” But he didn’t give up and aimed for the daily lottery in which you apply two days before to hear back a day before whether you get one of the 50 daily permits that are given to go up Half Dome. We set our plans to go to Yosemite in June anyway, hoping we’d get a Half Dome permit but also being prepared to do other hikes if we didn’t get it. And in June, we got the permit on the day we arrived in Yosemite. We were so excited and yet not fully believing that we were to go up Half Dome the day after arriving!

The four of us arrived in Yosemite Valley, in awe of the views of the famous rocks – El Capitan, Half Dome, the beautiful sheer walls of rock rising above the valley floor. We settled into our tent cabin in Curry Village and turned in early. The next morning, we arose around 4am and hit the trails by 5:15am, leaving Curry Village for the Half Dome trailhead on the Mist Trail. I had no idea what was in store for this 14.2 mile, one-day, grueling hike; and that’s a good thing, otherwise, I probably would not have gotten out of bed that morning.

It was a crazy long, crazy strenuous, crazy beautiful, and crazy worth-it hike. We had day packs because we were going up and down in one day. The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold and just gorgeous.

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We hit Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls along the way up and back. We ran into people of all shapes, ages, sizes going up the trail (all seeming to pass us – were we really that slow?). And we just kept on trudging along. One step at a time. Stopping for snacks and breaks. I won’t go in detail of the long long trek. But we made it to the bottom of the cables, and I was about to give up. It had been such a grueling hike, and then we were supposed to risk our lives climbing a sheer vertical cliff, pulling ourselves up by these cables? No way! In the photo below, see that line that goes up that rock? Look really closely – that’s a line of people going up the cables!

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With a lot of pep talking each other, we decided to keep going. After all, isn’t that what we came for? And we made it to the top. It was an amazing feeling, and we rejoiced! And then we had to go back down. I’ve never been so tired and so semi-conscious on a hike in my life.

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All in all, here are the stats:

  • 14.2 miles round trip
  • 4800 feet elevation change
  • 14.5 hours
  • no blisters
  • lots and lots of aching muscles

I’m glad I did some training beforehand (running a few miles once or twice a week, practicing yoga once or twice a week, walking the stairs wherever I could) otherwise, I don’t think I could have done it. It was amazing.

The next day, we did the Upper Yosemite Falls trail – another challenging hike. This was a 6.8 mile round trip with “only” 2700 feet elevation change, and it took us “only” 8 hours. This trail is notorious for its infinite number of switchbacks (in reality, about 60, but it sure felt like a neverending number!). No rest for us who came from far away to see the beauty of Yosemite National Park!

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Our final day, with muscles aching and energy spent, we drove up to Glacier Point, opting out of the Four Mile Hike which would have been a pretty strenuous hike. Thank goodness we just drove – there’s a lookout point, and an ice cream shop; it’s pretty touristy – definitely not a rewarding summit after a long hike. But we got to see a panoramic view of the hikes we had done the days before. Wow. In the photo below, Half Dome is the big bare rock on the left. And Vernal and Nevada Falls are on the right – that’s all part of the Mist Trail that we did.

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Grand Canyon Hiking Expedition

I just got back from four days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was there with four of my favorite people, hiking and camping and challenging myself. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little bit of moral support, confidence, and training.

My parents had done this hike – down to the canyon floor – seven times already, so they were pros. The others of us were new to this particular hike but are all hiking lovers. And it was an amazing experience for all of us, both the novices and the veterans.

For those of you wishing to do this yourselves, here is how it all worked.

There are two choices for staying on the canyon floor – Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Campground. For Phantom Ranch, you need to call a year in advance, and from what I’ve heard, you’re on the phone for hours, on hold, using multiple phones at the same time, hoping to get through. Knowing this would be too difficult, we opted for applying for a camping permit. There’s specific timing for when you need to fax in your permit application, so since we knew we wanted to get dates in March, we submitted our application in November (four months before). Check out the link for Bright Angel Campground above and all the details are there.

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We got accepted for our request about a week after we submitted the application. And all together the permit cost us $40! Pretty good deal!

Once we got our dates set for two nights (the maximum allowable) at Bright Angel Campground, we started planning – travel to Phoenix where we met up, camping equipment, plans for our meals, our itinerary.

Here was our itinerary:

Day 1: Drove up to the Grand Canyon National Park, about a four hour drive from Phoenix. Once we arrived, we went to Xanterra Livery Barn where we dropped off duffel bags that would be carried down by pack mules which had all our camping and cooking gear and food. This was a luxury we chose to indulge in because we knew it would be a challenging hike down, so instead of carrying all our stuff down on big backpacks, we used the mule duffel service. If you’re not a hardcore backpacker, this is a great option. For the rest of the day, we walked around the main areas in Grand Canyon Village, catching views of where we were headed down the next day. That night, we slept at Maswik Lodge, one of the many accommodations available in the national park.

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Day 2: We awoke around 5:30am to catch the 7am shuttle nearby to get to the South Kaibab trailhead. It was a brisk morning, but we knew it would warm up through the day as we descended into the canyon, so we just made sure to have lots of layers. All we carried on our backs were our snacks, lunch, and water for the day (about 3 liters per person) for the day. It was a little over a 6 hour hike down the 7.2 mile trail. The trail going down is pretty steadily downhill, not too steep but just a continuous downgrade, which did a number on our legs and a few of us had knee challenges. It warmed up pretty quickly, and the trail was really dusty, so it wasn’t the easiest hike. But we enjoyed the views, ran into some mule packs and friendly fellow hikers, and made it down in one piece. Boy, were we tired!

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Once we got to our campground, we set up our tents, got situated with our whereabouts, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, getting used to the gurgle of Bright Angel Creek, enjoying the lack of mosquitoes, and congratulating ourselves that we had made it this far. We had our first meal that evening (pretty early because we weren’t sure when it would get dark. You’re not allowed to have campfires down there, so we were going to have to rely on our headlamps after dark). Each of us brought something different – instant soup, freeze dried meals that you just add water to, and Trader Joe’s indian curry in a bag that you can heat up in boiling water. We used these great Jet Boil stoves that heat water in something like 10 seconds. And that was our day! We were exhausted, so we went to bed pretty much right after it got dark!

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Day 3: We had a leisurely morning, comparing muscle soreness, hobbling around the campsite. And after breakfast, we walked the River Trail that loops around the Colorado River, just near the campground. We crossed two bridges – Black Bridge and Silver Bridge and were able to witness the mighty force of the Colorado River.

After a lunch of homemade bread and cheese, we went deep into the canyon, following Bright Angel Creek upstream on the North Kaibab Trail. The trail goes through a box canyon with beautiful canyon walls towering above you. We walked over four bridges, not quite making it to Ribbon Falls which we heard was really pretty but was just too far for us to manage, with sore legs and tired bodies. It was a nice flat walk, following the creek in a mix of sun and shade.

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We got back for dinner. And this time, some of us got to eat the Phantom Ranch canteen. When you make your reservation to go down into the canyon, whether to the campsite or Phantom Ranch, it’s fun to call ahead to see if you can get a meal in the canteen. They serve pretty good breakfast and inner, all family style. You can only dine there with a reservation, so it’s best to do that when you get your permit. We managed to get a few reservations, and enjoyed some vegetarian chili, beef stew, fresh salad, and chocolate cake!

Following dinner, we sat in on a ranger talk, which they do twice a day. This talk was about the history of Phantom Ranch and was a well-told story. Here’s a video that captures some of the story the ranger told. And in fact, I think our ranger was the one in this video.

Before bedtime, we marveled at the expanse of stars we could see, including the Milky Way (though some of us could not see it!). Living in a city, I don’t get to such a multitude of stars, and I have this cool app on my iPhone that allowed us to see what constellations there were in the sky. You hold your phone up to the sky and it connects the dots of the constellations for you, even if you don’t have cell service! A must-have when traveling to places where you’ll see lots of stars.

Day 4: Our last day, we arose at 4:30am because we had to pack up all our things for the mule duffel service drop-off at 6:30am. We got our tents and sleeping bags rolled up, packed up our food which we had been storing in metal lock boxes, and wheelbarrowed our duffel bags to the drop off point at the ranch. After breakfast, we started the ascent up Bright Angel trail.

The 9.5 mile hike took us about seven hours. I was prepared for horrible, grueling, and impossible and instead was pleasantly surprised that it was just strenuous at points. The trail was prettier and more interesting than South Kaibab and was a little more of a gradual grade. We stopped at the various rest points and enjoyed the views both ahead of and behind us. The higher we got, the more amazed I was at how far we got in pretty short time. We hiked with the sun and the sky was a perfect spring blue.

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The only thing that wasn’t so pleasant about the hike up was that the higher elevation we got, the more crowded it was. March is a popular time for tourists – spring break, perfect weather (before it gets too hot) – and Bright Angel trail is a popular trail for tourists to meander down for a bit before heading back up to the top.

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We got to the top and celebrated with an ice cream cone and hot dog at the Bright Angel Lodge. We made it! We survived!

I highly recommend this trip if you’re into hiking and seeing the natural wonders of the world. It’s such a different experience to see the Grand Canyon from down below, a trek that they say 1% of the visitors to the park actually make. It’s beautiful and peaceful at the bottom.

Bay Area Travels

In addition to cooking and eating, as usual, I’ve been going on hikes and biking excursions around the Bay area. This is one of the amazing aspects of living in the Bay Area – the weather is consistently so pleasant that one wants to be outside as much as possible. This is especially true of me: after working a full week where I rarely get outside except for my regularly scheduled 10-15 minute walk (yes, I do a regular walk a few times a week that I have scheduled as a recurring task in my Outlook calendar. Sad but true. Otherwise, I would sit at my desk for the full eight hours, lunch included, and not get out!) and being as solar-powered as I am I am always itching to get outside by the time the weekend rolls around.

A fun outside excursion we did a few weeks ago was a bike ride on the Stevens Creek Trail and the Bay Trail. Stevens Creek Trail is a multi-use trail that runs along, you guessed it, Stevens Creek in Mountain View, CA. It connects to the San Francisco Bay Trail, an amazing 500 mile multi-use trail that wraps around the San Francisco Bay. The part we cycled around follows the shoreline near Mountain View. It was a beautiful November day, breezy, partly sunny. And we ended up cycling 22 miles, roundtrip, on a tandem bike!
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Riding a tandem bike is an interesting experience. As someone who yearns and needs to be in control (I’m the first child of three; I’m a Virgo; I’m the only daughter: just a few reasons for my need to be in control), sitting in the back where I couldn’t see anything in front of me, needing to follow the lead of my bike partner on the pedals, not being able to shift gears myself, and not leading the way was all a bit challenging at first. Kind of like dancing and needing to follow the lead of the male partner, something I was never good at, any of the times I tried ballroom dancing.

But with a little bit of good communication and a lot of trust, I was able to let go and enjoy myself. I could even ride without hands and just enjoy the scenery since I didn’t have to lead the way! What a new experience! It helps, of course, having a good pilot who knows where we’re going, is comfortable riding a bike and maneuvering tight turns, and is calm under pressure. Someone should write a book about the ins and outs of riding a tandem bike. It sure is a good test of any relationship!

Reconnecting

Once again, months have passed and I haven’t written. There are several reasons for this.  A few to be named here:

  • I haven’t been traveling to exotic lands (thus no cool photos to share).
  • I haven’t done much cooking experimentation (thus no recipes to share).
  • I haven’t felt inspired much to write.

But a lot’s happened.  Here’s a recap of sorts, in no particular order.

I almost got laid off at work but then got promoted instead.  So I don’t think this is usually how life works, but I lucked out in knowing one of the VPs in charge of a whole restructuring/ lay-off process at my workplace, and I think that’s how I got kept on board. So the job has been more interesting than it was a few months prior.  More challenging, more creative thinking, more use of my whole brain.  I still think about what I want to do next.  But for now, I’ve only been at this job about six months, and I’m settling in.  Next is to ask for a raise (which didn’t happen when I got promoted – it didn’t seem appropriate to ask when the reason for the restructure was a big budget hole!).

I traveled quite a bit for work.  This was before the restructure.  I got the lucky role of traveling to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbia, MO, and Kansas City, MO during the coldest months of the year (January and February).  You know people always say travel for work sounds cool but isn’t really.  And I would concur.  Traveling is fun.  Work can be fun, but not all the time.  Traveling for work is just work.  I didn’t get a chance to explore any of the cities I visited, so no photos to share.  And I saw snow in almost every city.

I reunited with my girlfriends from college in Philadelphia which was great fun!  We ate.  At Morimoto (see a sample of a dish from the omakase below).  At Parc Bistro in Rittenhouse Square.  At Reading Terminal Market. Cafe Lift for brunch.  I have to say we did fairly well.  We even topped it off with cheap Chinese takeout at a place across the street from the weekend apartment rental we were staying at.  Reminded us of the good ol’ college days.

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We sightsaw. We went to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and even did the free tour of the hall inside.  We walked down Walnut Street to do some window shopping. We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum.  We saw some of the famous Philadelphia street sculptures. And we did this all without a car and without using public transportation.  We’re walkers!

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And we just hung out. Good quality girl time.

I experimented with more sourdough.  I got a gift of homemade Bay Area sourdough starter and started making some loaves.  Some turned out better than others, and here’s the best loaf I was able to make using this recipe.  It was delicious.  Airy, sourdough-y, crusty and light.  Yum!

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I reveled in the Bay Area spring.  As an East Coaster, I had always pooh-poohed the lack of seasons that I perceived in California (at least in LA and the Bay Area).  I clung to my love of autumn as a way to say I always needed my four seasons (even though in the Boston area the summers were getting hotter and the winters colder and snowier and the spring just nonexistent).  So this being my first spring in the Bay Area, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But it has been glorious.  We had a few weeks of much needed rain in the transition from “winter” to spring.  And the flowering trees and spring flowers just took over as early as February.  They’re now in full force, but it’s amazing how with an ongoing growing season, there are always flowers on trees or on bushes.  But one can tell which are the spring flowers, which are the winter flowers, etc.  Here were a few of my favorite spring blooms:

ImageI read.  I became a fan of Ann Patchett in first hearing her speak on Fresh Air with Terry Gross about her new book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which I am now reading. But my first read of hers after hearing her on NPR was The Patron Saint of Liars (it was all I could get from my online library to read on my iPad – the rest of Patchett’s books were checked out with long waiting lists), which was poignant, heartwarming, and beautifully written.

I read a few Haruki Murakami books, which totally grabbed me: Norwegian Wood and A Wild Sheep Chase.  I had tried to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year while traveling and just couldn’t get through it.  I had also read and loved What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which I wrote a blog post about almost two years ago (!gasp!).  So I gave Murakami another go and really enjoyed those two.  I feel like these are books better understood and read by people in their younger, angsty-er days, but I still enjoyed the language and the characters that I encountered.

I’m in the process (it’s taking awhile, and it sits on my nightstand to read a few pages of every few nights because it takes a little more energy to read) of reading The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth.  A fascinating read.  The plot is quite simple – a love story involving the lives of individuals living in the Bay Area.  But the author masterfully constructs line after line, verse after verse of unrelenting sonnets! It’s incredible.  Even his table of contents, acknowledgements, and dedication are all written in verse.  He’s funny, sweet, incisive.

And I’ve had some great meals. Most of which have been homemade! I DID have an amazing sushi dinner at Ichi Sushi in Bernal Heights on Mission Street.  If you go there, get there early to stand in line before they open or get reservations.  And get the omakase. It’s TOTALLY amazing.  I had a couple great meals at Pizzaiolo, a great restaurant in Temescal in Oakland, on Telegraph Ave. Another place to make reservations or get there early before they open to get in.

But the BEST meal of all was not one, but several meals prepared by my cousin who loves cooking gourmet meals.  Truffles on soft-scrambled eggs.  Ramen with a homemade ramen broth.  Cassoulet.  Baked rabbit.  I mean, these are amazing meals.  I feel lucky to be his relative.  And I get to bring friends along sometimes, too!  Lucky them!  Here’s a sampling:

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All in all, it’s been a productive, satisfying few months.  Who knows what lies ahead?

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