Freedom Beards, Tucson, and the Pacific Coast Highway


Big news from the personal front.  I’m solidifying the career move I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, which is taking me from a technology role to a business role, and specifically marketing.  It’s been a bit of a crazy adventure to get from there to here, but the long and short of it is that I took a little time off between roles to travel a bit and see some family + friends.

IMG_1904So while I had the opportunity, I made sure to visit Orlando and hang out with the extended family for a couple of days.  I also went January man-camping to build epic fires and have a run-in with a bonafide Sasquatch hunter named Lee.  And, of course, Erin and I went on a quick trip to Savannah where we discovered the joys of open beverage laws and southern culture.

But, with my last weekend to rock the Freedom Beard, I decided to head west.  West.  I stared straight at the setting sun and walked towards it with determination and a vague destination called Tucson, Arizona.

RyanPhotoBooth2The diligent and steadfast readers may remember Ryan Shea of Volcano Surfing and Sardine Buses fame.  While we did see them on our way from Idaho to North Carolina, we had let that relationship go unattended for too long.  Which was a perfect reason to head out to see what the hell was going on in Tucson.

Tucson = Mortal Kombat + Beer


Turns out that Tucson is a pretty cool town, but more than that, it turns out that Ryan and I picked up right where we left off.  There are so few people in this world that are able to drop any previous disappointments in communication, and focus on the present time available.  I can only hold my beer so high and smile so widely, but my glass is raised to Ryan and Leah for housing me for a couple of days while we caught up and I got to see a small sliver of their new hometown.

IMG_1658I flew out on Friday, arriving that afternoon. Once Ryan escaped from the children he teaches, we headed to their local watering hole, Tap and Bottle.  I could see me living in those stools, chatting up the bartenders and sitting happily on that merry-go-round of Tucson.

Leah had a work function, which allowed Ryan and I to head out exploring.  While a blast, this didn’t last long as soon Leah was calling us out to join her.  Sure, why not? I’m 100% underdressed and haven’t shaved in a month, but I’m down.  Of course, Leah has joined a great team, and it’s not as if some of them cared.

The true highlight of the night, however, came after the work function, when we headed back to their apartment and gave our Letters to Tucson.  To paint the picture completely, you have to IMG_1668(2)imagine sitting on a patio, facing railroad tracks, toasting the town and watching your well-wishing travel the rails.  Its as if the moment the expressed thoughts cross the vertical plane of train tracks, they’re transported across the town, across the state, and to their final destination, where’er it may be.  It’s a fairly incredible feeling to send out your thoughts along a monument to the industrial revolution.


Saturday was a great time.  Given that Erin doesn’t exactly fire endophins when board games are suggested, I took advantage of the tabletop kinship and suggested we play a few games.  Ryan quickly unhoused his hidden treasure trove of Ikea-hidden games and we settles on a game of Takenoko, which is clearly designed to make you feel like a Japanese schoolkid, with Panda eating bamboo the farmer grows. Hilarious.

IMG_1662Of course, we headed from this to the arcade, where we broke all the records that ever stand on the pinball hall of fame.  Unofficially, of course.  But the Star Trek, NBA, Star Wars,  and other classic pinball games were awesome.  What could top this?  Anything? Maybe some Mortal Kombat? Street Fighter II? And, the icing on the cake, we CRUSHED Simpsons.  I’m not sure Mr. Burns will ever recover from that beating.

Although the night of Tamales was a bit quite, it was perfect.  No distractions, simply sitting and chatting up whatever topic hit the brain.  I’m currently reading Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls get the Blues and was trying to describe the inimitable style, but simply couldn’t come close.

The game of Slap .45, however, was epic, and I’m fairly sure that my hand sustained permanent damage slapping the cards with a fury that is generally reserved for dollar bills, tacos, and the last slice of pizza.  I will be taking this one home, especially as we adapted it for a bar that has no idea what’s about to hit it.


Sunday was glorious.  I needed shades, even in January.  After a quick breakfast at 5 Points Market, where I indulged in some solid TexMex (Durham needs a real/better TexMex place.  Either be TexMex or Mexican, this grey area is disastrous.), I headed out to explore while Ryan and Leah worked on some chores.

IMG_1643After some wandering, I ended up on the incredibly-implemented Turquoise Trail. After discovering the Presidio San Agustin and the origins of Tucson, I was lead around the city on a 2.5mi walk, guided at all times by a turquoise line on the pavement.  (I immediately took a note that I should recommend this to the Museum of Durham History.)

I had been quizzing Ryan and Leah on the history of the area, so this was a great way to understand a bit more about it.

Amtrak Crystals

Part of my amazing plan required me to get from Tucson to LA.  Somehow… hmmmm….  how? Amtrak, of course! It’s a terrible service, except when it’s going from where you want to where you need to be.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve tried to make it work on the East Coast, which is basically Fort Amtrak, and always been unsuccessful. But this time, it worked!

I boarded in downtown Tucson, hopped into my sleeper car, and realized that I was in for the best night’s sleep in my life.  Before retiring at the ripe hour of 9pm, however, I headed down to the dining car to check out the local action.  I really felt like I was in the Duke of Hazzard show when they are chasing the casino in the back of the semi, except without the tablegames.

The sparsely populated car was a gem for people watching, particularly as a mid-30s guy and his friend sat at a booth with a mid 50’s hispanic woman.  After a faulty start in pure Spanglish, he switched to pure English, as he would need full faculty to describe the crystals that were bringing him light. It was a scene you couldn’t write and make people believe it.  Reality is simply too unbelievable for fiction.

Soon, however, I headed back to my bead for a night, remembering the phrase my mexican mom used to say when I would head to bed: “Que duermes con los angelitos.”

Los Angeles at 4am is a drum and bass solo

IMG_1675While I was initially worried about the train arriving late, it actually arrived early.  4:30am, in fact.  I was scheduled to meetup with my college roommate (and dorm RA) at 5:45am, which left me with some time to explore.

As you may already recognize, I have wandering feet. So I yelped the nearest coffee shop at headed out to caffeinate myself with gusto.  It may have been a short mile away, but the walk there was a joyous meander through the early mornings of downtown LA.  So often, a city is overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle that plays both rhythm and lead for the city band, but at 4am, it’s like getting a quick bass and drum solo, where the backbone is exposed and free.

Seeing Brian was a great joy.  He’s got a kid now, as do many of my friends.  Seems to be the trend.  We drove back to his neighborhood, then proceeded to land early at the breakfast spot.  It was 6:15, but the waitress let us hang out until they opened at 6:30.  We had to problem keeping the conversation up, and indeed, I was struck with the same feeling that I did with Ryan: here’s a person who I can pick up the conversation, almost as if we hadn’t been apart for the last umpteen-years.  Truly an incredible individual, especially given the life events he’s recently experienced.

IMG_1689Eggies and coffee in the belly, we headed back to his house, where I immediately had house-envy.  This will sound hilarious, but I was infatuated with the astroturf lawn.  It was so real! I’m determined our patio should have it.

Eventually, the little one and momma woke up and came out to say hello.  Farhana and Henry are a great looking pair, as any mother and kid should be.  I prepared my awkward football cradle for the package, told myself not to drop the cargo, and received the potato sack with great care.  It was a core workout, in fact, an entire body workout as I flexed every last muscle in case it might be called into action to repair whatever mistake I’d make.  I know moms and dads move right past that stage into the come-what-will stage, but I’m not exactly there, especially with another’s life charge.

What a great joy to simply sit in their kitchen and chat about their life, catch up on their new changes, and hear their plans.  Though it lasted a short 4 hours, I felt renewed by seeing them again.

And…. let’s open that throttle

To call out our loyalists again, those that followed our South African time might remember we purchased a 1994 BMW F650 to take us across the country, which is did so with grace and constant vigor.  So in that vein, I arranged for a rental in LA.  I had initially looked for the F800, which is the 21-years-younger cousin of the bike we had.  But, alas, it wasn’t in the cards.  However, I was able to secure a R1200 GT, which I was always curious about.  As I wasn’t planning on any off road activity, I decided to pull that trigger, especially over the hogs available, which are generally as heavy as the riders.

Hello LA Traffic….

IMG_1676I signed up and signed my life away, and those of my nearest kin, packed my meager belongings into the panniers, memorized some directions, and called Erin to calm her fears about my riding skills.  And then, I turned into light LA traffic, which is basically medium to heavy traffic anywhere else. Clutch, ok.  Back brake, front brake, got it.  Mirrors, check, throttle, yep, whoa, yep, that’s the throttle.

Honestly, there were no major issues, but the tension was definitely there.  It took a good hour to get past Malibu and out of the traffic, but as they say, nothing good comes without effort.  I stopped to readjust, pull out my sunglasses (what was I thinking?), take a sip of water, then head back up the CA-1.

I was prepping my body and mind for an avalanche of amazingness, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Apparently, mother nature is a raw force to be respected.  A massive mudslide took out the Pacific Coast Highway, forcing a detour to the 101.

The Central Coast at 30mpg

I wasn’t overly thrown by this at the time, but it definitely added a hefty burden on the next day.  When I took off, I was simply thinking about the joy of riding, and being present in that moment.  It’s a IMG_1680difficult thing to capture, and more difficult to hold, but being present in a specific time and place is a special mindset.  There’s really nothing like it, where you’re completely absorbed into the task at hand. Whether you’re running a router, sharpening and straightening your knifes, coding away, painting intricate trim, or riding a tight curve, the very act of devoting your entire attention and effort toward a singular task holds great beauty. Everything else drops away as you focus into the singularity.

I found the CA-192 just north of Carpinteria as my detour, and couldn’t have been more happy.  The acres upon acres of agriculture gave way to large homes and schools of Montecito, which IMG_1682transitioned into the low hills leading into the Central Coast vineyards on CA-150.  A constant rise from the coast brought me to Los Olivos, where I was planning on heading into Foxen Canyon.  It was only 4pm, but my late start, and early morning had left me ready to call an end to the day.  Had I better estimated the next day’s journey, I might have pushed on, but I wasn’t at a place to see strategically.  Plus, I had wine on my mind.

Being the husband of a sommellier, I rarely get the chance to get my one-upings on, so I had to make this happen.  The wines of the Central Coast are both under-appreciated, and yet not.  There are huge swaths of vineyards making high volume wine for a distinct market.  However, there are also some fantastic IMG_1685wineries out there which deserve some special attention.  I had the chance to try some Kitá and Qupé syrahs, which was an absolute blast.

Pacific Coast Highway – A dream ride

What can I say about this ride?  First, it was long: 325mi according to the Googlebot. I needed to be at the dropoff location by 6pm at the latest.  So I needed to get moving early if I was going to do this at the pace I wanted.  The last thing I was interested in wasy simply cruising up the 101 to SF.  That’s just not going to be acceptable.  What was acceptable, however, was waking up at 4:45am so that  I could hit the road at 5:30, a full hour and a half before sunrise.

Foxen Canyon Pre-Dawn

I haven’t done a ton of nighttime riding, but what riding I have done was on the dusk side of the earth-spin, full of headlights and traffic.  IMG_1686The dawn side was much, much different.  Quiet roads and a calmness to push through.  I stopped right outside Foxen to take in the stars and dimly lit landscape that highlighted the light pollution from nearby towns.

Fantastic. Until I hit the country highway, of course.  That’s when the beautiful ride became a beast, dark of night and wet from the constant drizzle of rain.  I was going against the majority of traffic, which was all farm traffic.  So you’re basically looking into IMG_1905headlights the entire time, coming around a corner trying to figure out where the lines are, the curve of the road, and any gravel patches or potholes that might come up.  But ahead, you see two sets of lights at you.  WTF? A turning lane?  A one-way road? An unmarked intersection?  Nope, just a farm truck dropping off workers in the fields. Stressful riding, to say the least.  So when I hit the 101, I stopped to wait for the sun to ride while I down some eggs and chile verde at the Pappy’s Diner. Whew.

Hearst Castle is amazing.  Period.

Though I was unhappy about it, I took the 101 up to San Luis Obispo to get this show on the road.  I had a lot of ground to cover, and I IMG_1926needed to eat up some miles.  Once off the 101, it was straight to the coast, and I was into the best part of the ride.  In fact, the section from Morro Bay to Monterrey was some of the most beautiful riding I’ve ever done.

On the way, Ryan had mentioned that the Hearst Castle was something to see if I had time.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for, except I really wanted to shout out “Rosebud!” as I sipped on a martini (See: Citizen Kane).  Alas, that wasn’t to happen, as I quickly became intrigued by the individual personality that Hearst, an enigmatic product of wealth, privilege and daunting intellect.  I always associate Hearst with the war-mongering yellow journalism, closely followed by his brain-washed, bank-robbing daughter.

IMG_1933However, he also built an amazing palace with an astounding art collection, stemming mostly from Europe.  It seems quite like the Biltmore of the West, and that’s certainly meant as a compliment.  The architecture and sculptures dotting the landscape made me imagine a 30’s-era opulence of wooden tennis rackets and swimming dresses in the turquoise tiled indoor pool.

While it set me back a couple of hours, I was very happy to get that chance to see it.

The Ride that Sells Motorcycles

If anyone ever asks why motorcycles are amazing, they should ride this road.  I had quite a bit of time to think about the act of riding and the reason for its source of joy, and it’s a difficult thing to explain, but it’s definitely there, beneath the culture of leather, overweight bikes and over-sized engines, and confrontational lawlessness.

IMG_1935The first way I describe the joys of riding is as an experience of the landscape.  When people look at a scenic panorama and comment about its beauty, they’re generally experiencing the sights of the horizon, the smell of the nature surrounding them, and the feeling of wind on their skin.  Maybe they’ll touch the ground and feel the dirt, or graze a rock wall to further that experience.

Riding a road is another way to experience the grandeur of a landscape, with the twists, turns, straightaways, rolling hills and mountain drops.  The scale of the landscape is more present on two wheels because of the closeness of the rider to the land.  It’s literally a matter of inches.

The second reason that riding is a great pleasure is the immediacy of the experience.  You must be present in this moment.  Because of the hIMG_1934igh degree of inherent risk, each turn requires care and diligence.  You simply don’t have the option of not paying attention.  Whether it’s a school bus stopped, a construction zone, a deer, a child, a pothole, a 20mph hairpin turn, or a 5mi straightaway, the dangers are immediate and devastating in their effect, should your concentration wane.  How long can you focus on one simple thing?  How singular can your mental effort endure?  I find great pleasure in harnessing my attention into a single effort, which is overly zen, but true nonetheless.

This section of the ride is one that I hope to do again and again and again.  Words can’t touch the beauty.

Race to the Trip’s End

Monterrey looms large in my memory for some reason that I can’t finger, but it’s there.  So, I was quite excited to stop for lunch there and explore the wharf.  Of course, my time was running short, which meant I only had a few minutes, but it was good to stop by and lay my own eyes on it.  It was definitely larger than most any other pier I had seen, with cars and trucks having room to park for quite a way.

TheIMG_1693n it was off again, heading north to SF.  I was planning on a quick coffee in Half Moon Bay, but when I reached the area, there wasn’t anything that called out to me, so I just kept cruising.  The downside of not stopping, though, meant that I didn’t know where I was going.  I had been following the PCH for so long, that I didn’t remember where I needed to get off.

I was heading up past these small towns, and getting ready to stop off to consult the googly, when the CA-1 became a divided 4-lane highway.  Whoops.  No stopping there, so it was time to just give it my best shot.  When I saw a plane flying overhead, I figured it was time to exit, check for directions, fill up the gas tank, and head in.

The company I used to rent my bike was Eagle Rider, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.  It was a great experience, top to bottom, or more accurately, from LA to SF. The fact that they allowed me to do a one-way trip was a real treat.

Why is the East Coast so far from the West Coast?

IMG_1694My sister, Lisa, was very kind to pick me up from the rental place, take me out to a bar, her local restaurant watering hole, and we simply caught up on each other’s lives for the past few months.  It was a blast to hang out with her and Jackson.  Definitely makes me wish we lived closer together sometimes.

Seriously, why is the East Coast so far from the West Coast?

Well, that’s about it.  No issues getting home the next day.  I’m beyond ready to start my new job.  My time off has been great and well utilized, but I’m certainly ready to make the turn at get back at it. Continue reading Freedom Beards, Tucson, and the Pacific Coast Highway

Riding through Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

For whatever reason, which has very little basis in need, but rather in simple idle time, I was doing some maintenance on our little website, and realized that we had skipped a trip. Not by design, of course, but rather by neglect.

So I am here to apologize and make up. Let the post begin.

The Prep

We had been talking with Neil and Keira (of Shark Diving fame) about finding some middle ground between Ireland and the States. There were multiple rounds of suggestions, including Iceland (too expensive), Montreal (too much city), Prince Edward (too quaint), Newfoundland (too remote), and then we finally determined that we, Erin and I alone, were going to head to Nova Scotia.

There were multiple reasons, but it basically boiled down to the fact that momentum was already moving that way. We just as easily (and happily) could have headed out to Miami or Mexico City, but all our thoughts were headed that direction. For goodness sake, I had actually purchased the entire Anne of Green Gables boxed set, and had read the first book, and half of the second one. We were heading up that way, whatever happened.

Start of the Cabot TrailTiming and life ending up making it too difficult for our friends to join us, which of course frees up the schedule quite a bit. (Not so say that it wouldn’t have been great to have them come)

All we knew was that we were heading in to Halifax on a late Thursday flight, and heading back on a Tuesday. That gave us Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. What to do?! Easy. Hit the open road of Cape Breton and the (apparently) famous Cabot Trail.


Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Flying in was nothing particular, but we did end up at the quaint Waverley Inn through the wonders of  Central location was perfect for walking around.  Apparently, it was a weekend of sorts for the Dalhousie University, but I will admit The Livingstone Lunge heads to Nova Scotiacomplete ignorance  of this establishment.

Of course, that is more or less the common theme of this trip: arriving totally unprepared and knowing very little about the place we were visiting.

Friday, August 31st, 2012

While we did cause a bit of ruckus on Thursday, it by now means was anything untoward.  This left us in prime shape to explore the city in it’s full glory.  Which, as luck may have it, was an absolutely fantastic city.  We had absolutely no idea how lucky we had been to find such an amazing and fun town, not to mention the historical events that happened there.

Let’s start with the fact that Halifax has been around for a very long time.  (Again, with the ignorance.)  We headed up to Fort George, which was started in 1749, which was a long walk uphill, but definitely worth it.  They were having a Colonial Days to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, where the United States apparently declared war on Canada, and Canada won.

(Also of historical note, there was apparently discussion of Nova Scotia being part of the original 13 colonies to declare independence from Britain, but that plan didn’t end up coming through.  I had to look at a map to realize how close these two places were.  And while we’re talking side points, apparently Maine nearly didn’t become part of the 13.  Who knew?)

Colonial Days at Fort GeorgeSo, back to the Colonial Days at Fort George, where there were people in period costumes, dressed in various ranks and periods of outfits.  Even better yet, they were spending that weekend in the moats/trenches of the fort, teaching kids about life in that time period.  My favorite part was people cooking over open fires, wearing wool, using wooden nails and such, then hopping into their Toyota Tundra to warm up.

The second part of the historical education was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which was fantastic.  Again, I had little clue to the expanse of Halifax in the history of the Atlantic exploration, but it of course makes logical sense.  It’s just that I hadn’t really considered it before.

Sea MinesHow does a sea mine work, for example? (Multiple triggers.)  Also, what happens when you have two ships collide, one of which is carrying WWI explosives?  (The largest explosion before nuclear weapons.) Who were the ones out there fixing telegraph cable lines strung all the way to Europe?  (Sailors from Halifax.)  And, most importantly, where did they busy all the undocumented dead from the Titanic?  (Yep, they went to Halifax.)

To end the Halifax portion on a brighter note, however, I do have to say that the town is a jewel.  However, we were also quite excited the next day to head out on our rented motorcycle, which turned out to be an absolute blast.

Cape Breton

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Our ride met us at the Waverley, which was very convenient, since we didn’t know where we were going.  We even arranged him to hold onto a bag for us.  (Why did we have an extra bag when we knew that we were going to be riding?  No idea…)  But soon, we were off toward Cape Breton for the remainder of the trip.Breakfast on the road

The first part of the ride out was highway and fairly uneventful, but it was much appreciated as I was a little rusty, and it was a good opportunity to shake it off and become acquainted with the new bike.  We were bee-lining it for the Bear on the Lake Guesthouse, which ended up being a perfect location to start the Cabot Trail, which we were heading out on the next day.

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Road along the Cabot TrailThis will go down as the start of some of the best two days of riding I have ever had.  It was up there with riding through the Drakensbergs in South Africa, and exploring the Inca Ruins.  The road was wide open (there’s no were to actually go besides in a big circle) and there were curls and dips along the coastline that made you forget everything else beside the blacktop laying out.

We only road for a few hours, stopping here and there at will, no rush on our mind.  There were cups of coffee and breakfast, the sun baking down, but coastal wind keeping us cool in our riding gear.  There’s rarely a time when the elements all come together into a perfect harmony of wind, sun, coastline, company, and terrain.  Whenever I think of riding, this is what I want to think of.

Fun signs!We rolled into the Driftwood Lodge, which was a glorious A-frame if I’ve ever seen one.  The next day was going to be our “long” one, so we called it early and prepped for the next 130mi journey.  Nothing crazy, obviously, but we once again were expecting to take our time to enjoy it as much as possible.

We did take the time to head up to the Keltic Lodge and hike out to the penisula.  I would’ve hit the links, but, well, I didn’t.

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

IMG_0988This day was undoubtable the highlight.  Starting with some amazing riding, a visit to a “Scotch” distillery, and ending with a night at the local pub with some hostel-mates.  Just doesn’t get much better.

The route around the top of the cape was fantastic.  There were a few quiet detours we were considering, and we took just about every single one of them.  Roads were consistently open (Memorial Day isn’t a Canadian holiday, oddly) and the weather held.  Second day in, we were clearly being spoiled, and loving every minute of it.

Erin took a few turns driving through the winding coastline roads, but the bike was fairly high for her, so she unfortunately didn’t feel comfortable enough to drive more often.

Glenora Distillery

Glenora DistilleryWe had determined that if we were making good time, we would stop by the Glenora Distillery, which is more or less scotch, but not scotch.  The fact that the providence is named “New Scotland” should tell you a few things about how many scottish people moved there in years long past.  The names of the roads, towns and trails are abundant evidence of the imprint of the scottish.

Fortunately, we were making great time, in spite of our detours, stops, and constant eating.  So we made the point of stopping by.  When we were in Dublin, we missed the Jameson tour, which everyone makes sure to point out is *fabulous*.

Glenora was a great experience, seeing the massive double stills, smelling the mash, seeing the trickling river that fed the water and made its way into the whiskey.  We thought long and hard about grabbing a bottle or two, but then realized that Canadian liquor taxes are hefty indeed, leaving us with a simple choice of saying no to Canadian scotch.

(Side note: they can’t call it scotch.  It’s technically a single malt whiskey.  But there was apparently enough hullaballo about them making something close to scotch, that they were sued over their name, “Glen Breton”.  A couple swings of the legal pendulum later, and the name stuck.)

IMG_1018Soon, we were heading back to the Bear on the Lake.  Quick check-in, a quick dinner, and we headed back for an early night.  However, one of my favorite characteristics of hostels are the communal nature of them. We walked back into a group of 5-8 people planning out their Monday night evening shenanigans.

There was much talk of the Red Shoe Pub being the place to go, and having finished our riding for the day, and splitting the taxi with another guest, it was another easy decision for the day.  Apparently, if you promise fiddling and step-dancing, we’re happy to go anywhere.

Fiddling and step-dancing was not to be found, however much it was promised.  In a classic bait-and-switch, there was a local cover band working the joint, with no hope of a fiddle showing up.  That being said, it didn’t stop us from ordering a few round, meeting our companion and hearing his plans, then heading on back to the hostel.  Of course, we still picked up a t-shirt for Erin’s dad.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

IMG_0939The last day of riding home is always a bit of a let down.  It’s like a balloon being slowly deflated.  We certainly made the most of our time, with a fun detour at Antigonish, an area that hid a number of coves and fried lunch spots.

Our cuisine this entire trip had consisted of cod, haddock, and lobster sandwiches.  This excursion was no different, as we sat on the protected harbour, just a few ships coming in and out with a lazy movement.  We could look out and see Prince Edward Island and wonder what was going on over there, telling ourselves that it was nothing like what we had just come through.

Of course, these are the words of someone both appreciating the road we’d just come through, and knowing that, however quaint and manicured Anne of Green Gable’s island might be, we still want to head out and see it for ourselves.

Dubai & Abu Dhabi

img_1285I was at breakfast this morning at mentioned to the waiter, “It’s already hot.” He politely replied, “It is Oman, sir.” Which was, I believe, his way of saying, “yes, you idiot. You’re in Oman in May, no wonder it’s hot. Where did you think you were?”

Oh well. It’s fun to be out, at least. It’s definitely been awhile since I last blogged. I’ve even changed jobs since then, so that goes to show how sparse the writing hsa been. But this has always been a travel blog, so I didn’t want to bore everyone with my daily life.

This trip consists of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Doha. It was spurred by my friends James and Abby, who live in Doha. Old friends from Kansas City, I really wanted to make sure to visit them while they’re abroad. We got such pleasure from having friends visit us in Paris, that we wanted to pay it back as possible. I definitely understand that Doha is a long way from KC, so it takes a certain type of crazy to come out for a short trip. We are clearly that kind of crazy.

Jamesimg_1288 and Abby met us in Dubai for the weekend, even taking Sunday off to show us the city. (The workweek is Sunday through Thursday in Dubai and Doha.) It was absolutely a blast to hang out with them and catchup, as well as get reacquainted with Ellen, who we haven’t seen for a number of years.

They chose a hotel in the middle of the marina district, which was absolutely fabulous. There was a great place to walk around the harbour/canal and see all the massive construction underway. James claims that Doha has even more underway, so I’ll be interested to see that when I get there.

While I knew that Dubai was basically a massive, modern city in the middle of the desert, I was definitely unprepared for the scale. There sheer number of 30+ story buildings is impressive, though less impressive when you realize most of them are empty. There are some artificial economic/financial conditions that are prompting all the building, but still… wow.

We only had two days there, so it was a quick look, but we did get to pass by the Gold Souk and have lunch under the Burj Al-Kalifa (highest tower in the world). I definitely wanted to see the Palm where img_1301they had lived during their stay in Dubai, so we did that. It was fun to meet their expat friends, and even here some updates on people I used to work with during my days at Cerner.

I can definitely imagine them enjoying the days around the pool, hanging out at the beach and just enjoying all the amazing amenities that expat life in Dubai has to offer. It certainly has stirred some desires to head back out for another spell. But probably not Dubai….

Erin and I went to the desert the night that James and Abby headed back to Doha. It was an adventure, to say the least. 4×4 offroading was not quite advertised as well as it could have beenimg_1382. My expectation was to head out to the desert (check), see a falcon show (check), have and interesting dinner (check) and then hopefully see a belly dance (nope), then see the stars in the nighttime sky (check).

What I hadn’t realized was that transportation out there is in the form generally called “dune bashing,” which consists of stress testing vehicles’ limits in multiple axis simultaneously. For instance, how steep a dune can the Land Rover go up? (very steep). down? (steeper still). What about sideways? (Disconcertingly/impressively). What about hitting a dune at speed to make a turn? (once again, stomach wrenchingly possible).

This was the unspoken part of the tour, which our Italian friend’s stomach promptly protested. This kept us on the milder side of the experience, which i think was ok by most people in the car.

From the desert safari, we headed down to Abu Dhabi for a couple days in the cultural capital. I’m not sure that we had the opportunity to see as much culture as we wanted, but it was certainly more diverse than Dubai.

We ended up walking the corniche down to the Emirate Palace, which was a spectacle to be seen, no doubt. The Bentleys (Bentlies?) parked outside gave a quick indication of how much money img_1465was in this building. No where else have I seen cultural and historical artifacts blatantly on sale for obscene amounts of money. Mayan ceramic? Just $50k or so. Very odd, indeed.

It was a very quick tour of the city, so we tried to make the most of it. We visited the Grand Mosque, which supposedly fits 40,000 visitors at one time. I think I believe it’s possible, but it’d certainly be a tight fit. Needless to say, it was massive. In addition, it was actually quite beautiful, characteristics which sometimes don’t marry well.

There was a great deal of intricate design both on the inside and the outside of the mosque. There were massive inlaid marble designs of flowers from the northern and southern hemispheres, asimg_1498 well as flowers of the Middle East in the center. The largest handwoven carpet in the world is there, impressive in it’s own right. It was absolutely fantastic to see something so well done, and be able to take pictures as well.

After an afternoon of walking around markets and the filled streets, we had our last night at the top of a hotel in an incredibly cheesy revolving restaurant that was clearly overpriced. But it was fun to see the entire city laid out along the corniche (boardwalk) and talk about all the interesting things we’ve experienced.

That next day (Wednesday), img_1540Erin went to London to meet up with her sisters, while I continued to Muscat, Oman, for a short weekend. Today, I head to Doha after a few days here, and will be there until next weekend, staying with James and Abby and abusing their hospitality.

It’s been an eye opening trip so far, raising far more questions that I have the time to list or let along answer. My curiosity, which was fairly vague and poorly focused, is now piqued. There are so many interesting aspects to the cultural environment here that I want to know more.

I will be covering Oman soon, but it offers such an incredibly different perspective that it warrants it’s own post. The culture is totally different, the landscape rugged and untamed. Where Dubai is reclaiming land from the ocean, Muscat is nestled into the mountains like a traditional port city under attack from marauders.

But… I will not start that yet, though I nearly did there. I suppose you could call that a teaser.

Christmas 2011

Hello All,

As this is my first holiday letter, I’m a little unsure where to begin.  I’ve had some models to follow in the style department, but it’s always interesting and difficult to start anything afresh.  I have a full pot of dandelion tea waiting for me, which will likely be empty by the time I finished, so let us begin.

Erin and I moved to Durham, NC in September 2010, which makes it over a year we’ve lived here now.  While searching for a full-time job, we kept the bills paid by working as researchers/writers for AllTrips, an online travel site.  Erin also returned to work as a server while searching for the right position to settle in.

I landed at a startup company called ReverbNation after a few months of hard searching, which does online marketing and promotion for musicians.  I work in what I would call Infrastructure, but which is apparently being called “Dev/Ops” (Development/Operations) these days.  Notice, that doesn’t actually leave me with a title, just a department.  So I work in the Dev/Ops department, but I am nothing that you can put on a business card.  When pressed, I apply the title of Web Developer to myself, though this is mostly ornamental.

Erin passed her first level Sommelier in June, which lead her to a job with Empire Distributors, where she is an On-Premise Sales Representative.  That’s four capital letters in her title, which actually makes me slightly jealous.  She works with restaurants and other vendors to set wine menus and pairings, provide training and education to restaurant staff, and running tastings throughout the week.

My first few months of work consisted of the same 80 hour work weeks as she is working now, which provides excellent opportunities for knowledge and experience sharing.  She was concerned about drowning in her work, but then I relayed the age-proven nugget of wisdom passed along to me, “you don’t need your whole head above water, you just need enough to breathe.” She has found little comfort in this, I believe.

Her job has provided us some interesting opportunities, one of which was the opportunity to go to a spectacular charity dinner, for which the company had generously donated the wine.  As we live in the south now, we’re finding it’s a different culture that has it’s own quirks, one of which is a challenging aspect of formality.  Our fashion doesn’t quite translate well, as it was honed and perfected through years of budget backpacking.  But we put forth our best effort, not without a few wardrobe changes.

After valeting our ‘99 minivan, we found our table and were off to the side of the stage, but uncomfortably close.  A man in his 50’s came up to have a seat and introduced himself.  I barely heard his name, asked him to repeat it, and the proceeded to mangle it terribly, I’m sure.  He said it in a way that made me think I was supposed to know who he was.  I didn’t, and I’m pretty sure he figured that out.

The event starts and, had I been more observant, I likely wouldn’t have been so surprised when the man was called to the stage as the main speaker.  It was Thomas Sayre, the sculptor whose work was the inspiration for the night.  I had no clue.  Erin didn’t either, but she was much smoother about it.  Though we were at the right table according to the placecard, we were clearly at the wrong table, but who was I to argue with smoke infused truffles, hibiscus-marinated venison and a dessert called Serendipity?

On another front, we’re continuing our travel ways by exploring an entire new area of the country for us.  North Carolina has proven to have some fun camping and hiking trails nearby, which has a been escape from the city.  After spending so many nights in a tent, it feels oddly nostalgic to hop in our old faithful tent for a couple of nights.

Lisa and my new brother-in-law have recently moved just a few hours away to Abingdon, tucked in far western Virginia.  I took a quick trip out there to visit them and explore their new city, and have been introducing them to the east coast style of camping, which is not quite the same as what they were accustomed to in Idaho.  We enjoy drive-up camping with flat campsites, fire-rings and hot showers out here.  That’s roughing it, NC-style.

Thanksgiving was a blast, when my 91-year-old grandmother made it down to explore Durham.  It was a great excuse to finally pull out all our formal glasses, stemware, plates and everything.  For of our wedding gifts, it was the first time they had been used, after sitting in storage for 3 years.  We cooked up too much food and enjoyed every minute of it.

Our Christmas this year will be celebrated in Japan with the Mosier side of the family.  We will miss the Hinkens during our trip, but plan on distracting ourselves with sushi, sake, and skiing.

Hope all’s well, and have a great holiday.



Engaging life like a Bull

I quit the climbing gym today. Erin’s probably going to be a bit miffed, it’s true, but for the wrong reasons. It’s not for financial reasons, though our weekend-long budgeting session did provide some impetus for the decision. We’re trying to buy a house, and it looks like it might actually take some money. Money that we’ll have to find somewhere.

So, while finances may have spurred me on, it’s not the real reason. The real reason is that I’m not prioritizing climbing enough. I hadn’t been going regularly, I had been finding it more and more difficult to get in the car, drive 35 minutes out there and 35 minutes back. When I actually made it to the gym, I would only climb for an hour or so. I never got into the groove, never settled into a group of people, didn’t really enjoy it the way I used to. I’m not exactly the most outgoing of people, but I’m not totally social awkward, either. Two years of traveling helped me develop some skills to meet new people, but I still hang back. If I had to classify myself between the wallflower and the social butterfly, I’m somewhere along the lines of a friendly fern.

What’s the reason to quit, then? I felt bad that I was unable to devote the time to climbing that the others were. Who’s able to head out to the mountains 3 days a week? Oh, wait, that was me just a little bit ago. But certainly not anymore. It was frustrating to be in the midst of the climbing community, where total devotion is par for the course. I’ll never be a great climber. But I do enjoy it.

ChancosBut more than that, it’s mostly the fact that climbing was a way of holding onto our trip. It was a time that I could sit and remember our motorcycle trip in South Africa, where we went climbing and met a fantastic couple who invited us for a braai. I would remember climbing in Peru, where an incredibly old woman walked past us with 40 sheep while I was stuck on a wall. The multiple trips in Argentina, my two day course in Arenales, our time in Idaho. I’d even look back to the days when I worked at Ibex Climbing Gym for pennies.

It’s not a bad thing to reminisce. I know well that this recent memory of our trip, while still fresh in my mind, is a precious moment. I started my travel life long ago with my family, and I fondly remember both family and solo trips. But how fresh are these memories? How well can I remember the places, the people, their names, the details that blur into the past? It gets less and less the farther back the memories go.

I spent a year in Mexico in 2000-2001. 11 years ago this fall, I left high school, hopped on a place, and landed in Mexico City to embark on an incredible journey of great experiences, horrible mistakes, and hilarious stories that I no longer tell because the details become lost in the many stories. I’ve written most of them down, and I occasionally pull them out and wonder at my own naivety, brash behavior and beginner’s mind.

During college, I took several trips, including some incredible places like Antarctica, Peru, South Africa and a 4,000 mile solo road trip from Austin to New York City and back. After college, I spent 3 1/2 months touring SE Asia. These are experiences that I hold very dearly and remember well, sometimes laughing to myself about a joke that is one hundred percent inexplicable unless you’ve been there along the road with me.

For instance, people have asked where I learned to ride a bike. I can tell you the exact place: Vang Vienne, Laos. Even the mention of that town makes me smile with a happy memory of learning to ride a moped and getting stuck in a huge puddle of clay. I was eventually pulled free by a very old tractor. An honest to goodness diesel tractor from the 40s, pulling a cart of people who all tried to help. I rode my moped back into town by way of an hour long ride on a wooden tractor-cart.

I started up a massive Harley we had rented for Erin’s birthday, and I was immediately taken back six years to that red moto. Train rides make me think of playing my guitar on a 20 hour train ride in Burma through rice paddies. Large shrimp make me think of Zanzibar, and now make me think of my first date with Erin, where she didn’t believe that U-2 shrimp could exist. Pickles takes me back to Texas, little league baseball games and watermelon.

Having these specific items that transport me back to a certain time and place is no different than anyone else. It’s simply part of our nature to have triggers that remind us of certain things. But lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been remembering too much. I’ve been too strongly stuck where we’ve been, dwelling on our past events. I haven’t been preparing for our future, and even worse, I haven’t been fully enjoying the present.

I’m letting go of our trip, little by little. And quitting the climbing gym is a part of that process for me, strange as that may seem. I plan on continuing climbing, but not in the way I’ve been. I need a new gym, a new perspective on the sport, and most likely a break from it. I’m enjoying our life in Durham to an incredible degree, but I haven’t committed myself 100% to our present, which is a shame.

I’m loving my job, I even paid to have the opportunity to spend a three day weekend programming. Yes, I actually gave money to an organization to allow me to do what I do for work, on the weekend. That’s how much I’m enjoying the type of work I’m doing now. It’s fun. I get to spend 10-12 hours a day behind a computer unraveling the intricacies of electronics. It’s a fascinating and beautiful rabbit hole that engulfs me completely, to the point where I can’t even talk if I’m programming. (Ask Erin, she’ll verify this.)

We’re trying to buy a house. It’s a huge venture for us, and it scares both of us to the bones, but being scared of something certainly doesn’t stop us from doing it. It’s certainly no scarier than attending a football match in Zimbabwe. Not even close.

We’re meeting new people, slowly but surely. We’ve got some new friends here that we enjoy, we’re understanding our new city and state a little bit more each week, finding the odd quirks that keep us interested. Things like the incredible sweet tooth of southerners. (North Carolina is the south?) The terrible mash that they call barbecue. The sweltering humid air that hits you like dragon breath when you walk outside. The general fear of snow. It’s amazing.

It’s difficult to let go of our trip. But, slowly, I’m releasing my fingers one at a time to focus on what’s in front of us. It certainly helps that these are incredibly exciting times for us, so I find it easier and easier to look forward and engage life head on. Like a bull.

Biopic review of travels across the globe