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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Good intentions

I had good intentions when I decided to blog and keep loved ones up-to-date on my comings and goings in Durham. I had grand ambitions about blogging a few times a week, with witty details and colorful photos.

Clearly I had no idea what grad school was like :)

I still have a real desire to share not only my adventures, but my discoveries and musings as well. So for the time being, the above twitter feed=blog substitution. Not ideal, but it's something I can do on the daily. Tweet on.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Road trip

It is nearly incomprehensible how much has taken place in the last few weeks, so I'm going to take the catch up process nice and slow. Tonight: The road trip.

By some miracle (and a cool trick K knows about packing clothes), I was able to fit all my belongings in a very full Subaru for my drive from Palo Alto to Durham (approximately 2,792 miles, which google maps estimates to be 40 hours of driving). K and I departed on a Wednesday morning, headed for the East coast. The first day was pretty seamless - listened to World War Z on Audible, ate some Subway, and detoured to the Grand Canyon before spending the night in Flagstaff. Though we had carefully selected the tastiest looking restaurant at each of our nightly stops, we were too late to make it to the mouth-watering Pizzicletta, and instead shared some less gourmet but ever delicious Chick-Fil-A. The highlight of Flagstaff was, of course, that there is a Maverik there. $1 cone = win.
Arizona in August - so hot.
We barely made it to the Grand Canyon before the sun set!
Day 2 went even more smoothly than the first - listened to some This American Life, ate some more Subway, and got all the answers right on the Sunday Puzzle podcast. As we entered Oklahoma City that night, our exhaustion and the late hour again prevented us from trying the highly-acclaimed sushi restaurant we had picked out. We settled for Wendy's, where we discovered the pretzel bun to be satisfactory.

(No pictures of Day 2 - the cross-section of New Mexico and northern stretch of Texas did not offer much beauty, but instead plenty of trade posts and Navajo tacos. I spent the entire day wondering how there can be so many trade posts. It remains very perplexing.)

Now Day 3 is where it gets exciting. It started out much the same - podcasts, books on tape, and Subway. But around 6 pm things took a little turn. See, my clutch had been giving us some problems the whole way. Minimal acceleration, higher than average RPMs... we should have seen the signs. As we drove through the-middle-of-nowhere, Tennessee, we noticed that the acceleration was acting worse than usual. The RMPs slowly exceeded 4, then 5, and within seconds we had lost all acceleration completely. Thank our lucky stars there was an exit right where we needed it, and a downhill exit ramp to get us to a deserted parking lot. The rest is your typical stranded-in-Tennessee fairy tale: AAA got us towed 60 miles to a repair shop, and we spent the next 24 hours in Madison, TN. 

Despite the inconvenience, I think K and I would agree this was the highlight of the trip for several reasons: First, we met Sam. Sam was the repair shop owner and, without a doubt, the nicest person I have ever met. He went so far out of his way to help K and I - he met us at the shop after hours so we could put our car in the garage, discouraged us from staying at the prostitution and drug motel across the street, and drove us across town to a safe and clean Quality Inn (we had declined his offer to stay at his apartment). The next day, he sent his repairman to pick us up and bring us to the shop, where he gave us his own car for the day. After spending an entire Saturday on the Subaru, he gave us a cooler/heater that plugs into the car lighter for power (think mini-mini-fridge), some decorations for my new house, and sent us on our way. I will display the very outdated decorations in my house so I never forget his kindness.

Second, we did an outstanding job of making the most of our day in Madison. We finally tried out Waffle House (very tasty), smelled every scent in the Yankee Candles store, played as much Skeeball as we were willing to spend money on, saw the new movie The Butler, and played Phase 10 in a McDonald's. Oh, and of course we ate some Subway (4 times in 4 days - a record even for me). And I will say, you have never TRULY seen a movie with Oprah Winfrey in it until you have seen it in a theater full of black women and only black women. The commentary was priceless.

We finally hit the road, Durham-bound, around 6 PM. With an ETA of 4 AM, we settled into our seats for the night. Upon finishing World War Z, we concluded that the movie bears little resemblance to the book, in that the book doesn't even have a main character and the movie has Brad Pitt. We trekked through the Great Smoky Mountains, which were completely invisible due to the pitch darkness and alarming fog. Finally arriving in Durham, we got the key to my house and found it to be absolutely wonderful but devoid of electricity. Not caring, we pumped up an air mattress by the light of the Flashlight app and crashed, just happy to be "home".

My Durham adventures continue in subsequent posts. I will close with important lessons learned:
1. Don't ignore major car problems before a cross country trip. You may pay less $ to get it repaired in TN than you would have in CA, but you will make up the difference in time spent playing cards at the McDonald's in Madison.

2. Subway has regional differences in its restaurants. It is really fascinating. The Arizona store had jalapeno cheddar bread and a Crunchy Chicken Enchilada Melt, which has Fritos in it. New Mexico had green chilies. Arkansas only had American cheese. And my hometown Durham has spicy red pepper jelly and mushrooms (yes to mushrooms, no to jelly).

3. Carefully select your company for any road trip, but especially those spanning 92 hours. I selected very well :)

Monday, July 1, 2013


Since my move to Durham, NC is quickly approaching (and I do mean VERY quickly), I recently decided it was time to secure some living quarters. Not wanting to rely solely on internet forums and photos to find my next home, I booked a short trip to scope out some possibilities. K and I took the red eye Friday night and arrived at RDU (the Raleigh Durham airport) the next morning. The rental car agency gave us this lovely little Fiat to beep around in.
I must confess - I typically express real disdain for Fiats (and I haven't changed my mind that I think they are quite ugly), but this little bugger was fantastic. Parallel parking was a breeze, and compared to my weighty Subaru, we were practically flying. We made a quick stop at the local farmer's market, where I came to the realization that I will REALLY miss California fruit. We then drove through several Durham neighborhoods, all within biking distance to Duke, to find our favorite. We loved some, we hated some. We took pictures and tried to analyze how nice the neighbors were based on their gardens. Then, with the dirty work complete, we headed off for the site-seeing portion of the visit. First stop: Duke campus.
The Duke chapel is the most breathtaking building on campus (and possibly in all of North Carolina). This photo does not do justice since the chapel is too grand for my iphone camera, but google images does a pretty good job. See more here.
We said hi to the James Buchanan Duke statue, wandered through the Sarah P. Duke gardens, and I tried to point out the location of my psychology building (though I'm pretty sure I got it wrong!). Hungry from the day's adventures, it was time for some southern sustenance. Having done our research for the trip (which means watching the Durham episode of Man Vs. Food), we knew exactly where to go: Backyard.
I cannot possibly say enough good things about this meal. The pulled pork (referred to as just "bbq" in the south) was unlike anything I have ever tasted, and the Brunswick stew (top right of the plate below) blew my mind. K opted for the mac and cheese side (bottom right), which he devoured in 1-2 quick gulps.
Since this entire concoction cost us around $7 (hush puppies included), I will be taking anyone who visits me in Durham to Backyard as the inaugural welcome dinner. 

The walls are graffitied with people professing to love Backyard. This particular declaration of love was already on the wall next to our table - how fitting! After dinner, we took a little driving tour of Research Triangle Park, one of the most prominent high-tech research and development centers in the U.S. Located at the center of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, the companies here draw major talent and intelligence to the area.
We then took a walk through the darling downtown and 9th street districts...
Then capped off the night's culinary adventures with a frozen custard concrete from Goodberry's.
We opted for peanut butter frozen custard with hazelnuts and brownie bits. The pure bliss that resulted from this delectable dessert has secured Goodberry as another must-see for all visitors.
All in all, the trip was a grand success. Our mission, to get to know the area, was accomplished. Our even greater mission, to find me a place to live, was also accomplished the following week when I signed a lease on this darling place:
Welcome home! (And there are 2 bedrooms - VISITORS WELCOME!)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Half Dome

When I was very young, my childhood best friend would say that Yosemite was her favorite place in the world. I was more of a beach child than a mountain child (though the mountains now have my heart), so I figured she was a hippie and dismissed her preference. Now that I am old and wise, I know 2 things for sure: first, she definitely was a hippie; and second, she was dead on about Yosemite.

This past weekend, I + 5 good friends ventured to Yosemite to hike the infamous Half Dome (the landmark from which The North Face logo is derived).

Half Dome is a unique hike for several reasons:
1-      Total mileage is about 16 miles, with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet, meaning about 12 hours roundtrip.
2-      The final 400 feet to the top of the granite dome is so steep that you must climb using two steel cables as handholds.
3-      People die because it is actually pretty dangerous. An estimated 12-15 people per year slip while climbing up or down the dome, making it one of the deadliest hikes around.

To sum it up, one hiker/blogger who has hiked the trail 35 times said this: “Difficulty: On the traditional 1 to 10 scale, this one rates an 11. Insanity Factor: 9 out of 10. Wait ‘til you get to the cables, and you’ll see.”

It should come as no surprise that this information only compelled me further to take on this beastly rock. Wanting to test my strength, endurance, and courage, I secured the permit for our group and we started making preparations. The necessities were light clothes to accommodate the 95 degree high, 4 liters of water per person, and a pair of gloves so the cables didn’t shred our hands. Add in some variations of trail mix, beef jerky, and enough clif bars to feed an army, and we were ready to slay the dragon.

Because everybody and their dog wants to camp at Yosemite in the summer (and now I can’t blame them – it is breathtaking), we had to get a little creative. Friday after work, we each tried to sleep a few hours. I was the winner with a grand total of 3 hours, and K came in last with 0 hours. We met up for a midnight departure, arrived at the trailhead around 4:15 AM, and headed out to meet our fate by the light of our headlamps.

My very favorite moment of the hike came pretty early. Just as the sun was starting to light up the sky, we arrived at Vernal Falls. The falls are so powerful that they send a mist up the mountain, enabling the surrounding rocky cliffs to grow an assortment of grasses and mosses. The bright green cliffs + the beautiful grey stone + the powerful falls + the rising sun really took the cake.

My photo of the falls

Not my photo, but I had to show the grass. I was obsessed. The rainbow is a little much.

The remainder of the ascent to the base of the dome was smooth sailing. We trekked to the beautiful Nevada falls, got a few bites in the mosquito-laden forest, and climbed the steep granite steps to the perilous cables. I must admit that despite the warnings, the photos, and the deaths, I didn’t expect what I found at the base. The journey to the top appeared much steeper (and much more terrifying) than I had anticipated, but there was no turning back.

Doesn't look TOO steep from here.

But wait until you get to the bottom and look up.

In a nutshell, the cables went like this: we climbed up, and it was pretty scary; we climbed down, and it was really scary. I learned the hard way that my Nike Frees are no match for slippery rock. We held on to the cables very, very tightly. K even tore through his gloves and got a nasty blister. We got to the bottom and, legs shaking, kissed the ground.

Don't know the guy in the hat, but the view from the top was beautiful.

Mission accomplished, we descended back down to the Yosemite Valley. After a few hiccups (losing one of our hikers temporarily, K’s IT bands seizing up, and polishing off our collective 816 oz of water), we reached the safety of our cars and drove home, straight to our showers and beds.

The journey was unforgettable, and at the end of the day, I learned 2 very important lessons: 1- shoes with traction are worth the $35 they would have cost me, and 2 – a good adventure is always worth the sacrifice you make for it, whether you give up sleep, sweat, or security. As long as you don’t slip off the rock and die.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


For Memorial Day weekend, K and I decided to use the long break to knock a trip off of my West Coast bucket list - Alaska. I simply cannot overstate how memorable of a weekend it was. I will, for the remainder of my days, recommend a trip to the pristine AK to anyone who will heed my advice. 

With only 48 hours from our arrival to our departure, there was no daylight to lose. Fortunately, daylight is far from limited in an Anchorage May. Upon landing at 11:40 PM, we drove a short distance to the hotel, walked across the street to Wendy's (where you can get a frosty in a waffle cone), and called it a night - all in remarkable sunlight. 

Saturday, following a trip to the grocery store for weekend essentials (oranges, hummus, habanero bbq almonds, and Haribo gummies for K), we trekked to Eklutna Lake, located in Chugach National Forest. About 5 steps into our hike, we were met with an imposing sign: "You are entering bear country". The sign proceeded with nearly 30 bullet points about how to avoid surprising a bear (why didn’t I bring my cowbell?), what to do should you see a bear, and of course, what to do if the bear becomes vicious. All of this was casually followed by "But don't have bearanoia, and enjoy your hike!" As if enjoying the hike was to be easy when I was anticipating a ruthless grizzly at each turn. Fortunately the bearanoia did subside, and we were able to enjoy the beautiful climb (despite our summit being blocked by snow up to my hips!).

Following our hike, we actually were able to see some ruthless grizzlies in a way that was much more settling – through an electric fence. At the Alaska Wilderness Conservation Center, we walked the 1.5 mile loop through various animal habitats, including black bears, moose, bison, bald eagles, and the largest owl I have ever seen. Unlike a zoo, we were able to see a much more natural representation of these enormous animals – think 50+ bison leaping through the preserve! After a quick tour of the gift shop, we were ready for an Alaska dinner.
We had prepared ourselves for our Alaska experience by watching the Alaska episode of Man Vs. Food. After the show, we knew that no trip would be complete without dining at Humpy’s. Though we did not order the same mammoth meal as Adam Richman (which consisted of 7 salmon cakes, a 14 inch reindeer sausage, 3 lbs of king crab, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and a giant wild berry crisp with ice cream), our king crab and blackened salmon was epic. One thing we quickly learned is that food in Alaska does not come cheap – otherwise we may have taken another 4 orders of crab to go! It was that good.
Completely exhausted, we returned home for some highly anticipated shuteye. We waited for the sun to set – watched some NBA playoffs, followed by the second half of The Dark Knight – and then we continued to wait, and wait. Finally we settled for the faux darkness imposed by the heavy drapes and called it a night. The following morning, we attended church and visited the Anchorage temple. While navigating to the temple, we missed it completely on the first go around, looped around, and finally found it located in the corner of the stake center parking lot- about half the size of an LDS church building! With no grounds to tour and certainly no Visitor’s Center, we headed off to our next adventure – the coastal trail. We stopped off at the bike rental shop, strapped on our helmets, and headed off down a 21-mile display of coastline, forest, and hundreds of colorful seaplanes. After the 21 miles, my legs began to protest further activity, and we returned to city for dinner.
Our trip was coming to a close far too soon, and we spent the ride to the airport planning AK Round 2: Denali National Park, salmon fishing, and of course, more crab. Our 1 AM flight took us back to sunny California, where we will anxiously await a sequel trip.