Day-Hiking Mount Whitney

On an early morning this past June some friends and I set off for an epic day-hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states – Mt. Whitney. Along the way I was able to field test some of my favorite Terramar Gear. Because Whitney tops out at about 14,500 feet we needed to be prepared for all kinds of weather. Like other mountains in the Sierra Range, Mt. Whitney is prone to cold and fast-changing weather, so being well informed and fully prepared was essential for a successful climb and it was important to have enough layers to stay warm, dry, and comfortable for the 18-hour hike.

The sun rising over the Eastern Sierra

The sun rising over the Eastern Sierra (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

At about 2:30 AM we start our hike in the dark on very little sleep but with a lot of excitement. At 22 miles long and gaining over 6,000 feet in elevation, the trip from the trailhead is no walk in the park. But I had done a lot of research and some training, and as fate would have it we did our climb on the summer solstice. In more ways than one it was the longest day of the year!

For the entirety of the climb I wore my trusty neon-green Helix Crew. As I’ve written about before this dry-wicking shirt is really comfortable. It performed well as a foundation of my layering system, along with my comfortable and flexible Terramar boxer briefs. I won’t get into too many details about the boxer-briefs but I’ll say they are breathable, stay in place and don’t cause any chafing issues.

A view of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

A view of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Hours went by and the sun slowly hinted at its arrival. In the blue-gray, early-morning light we started to see the immensity of the stone walls to our left and right. The size and scale of the shear faces was incredible. It’s enough to make you stop and wonder. It’s enough to make you feel tiny.

At a few of the stream crossings, we took a break to filter the flowing water into our camelbaks. We snacked and snapped a few photos. It wasn’t long before the sun peeked over the White Mountains to the East and we’re basking in daylight. Above 10,000 feet the wind and sun can be draining, but we made sure to keep layered up, hydrated and covered in sunscreen.

Keeping warm in the quiet early-morning air (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Keeping warm in the quiet early-morning air (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

To keep warm and to protect myself from the sun I wore my orange Microcool Long Sleeve Crew. This shirt is flexible, soft, and light. It also fits my long torso and wicks away moisture. When every ounce counts, this shirt was a great asset in keeping me dry and comfortable during the climb.

Soon after a sunrise we got our first view of the summit. Glowing amber in the early-morning light the sawtooth peak to the west looked more like a painting than a tangible goal. Seeing the top was simultaneously daunting and motivating: While it was hard to register distance and scale, I thought to myself, “It doesn’t look easy, but at least the end is in sight.”

Green grass and slow melt along the 22-mile trail (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Green grass and slow melt along the 22-mile trail (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Along the trail we saw spots of snow, bristlecone pines and wildflowers. We passed creeks, alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls and some of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. With a steady pace, we continued to climb at a rate of about 2 miles per hour, and before we knew it we had covered 6-miles to an area known as Trail Camp. Stopping for a break, we enjoyed the warm sunshine while leaning against boulders. We ate our breakfast at the edge of a small alpine lake with several tents pitched near-by. The bright orange and yellow nylon contrasted against the desaturated stone above the treeline. The lake is the last water source before the summit, so we filtered enough for the climb and descent back to Trail Camp, which was a good thing because I was drinking as much as I could all morning to stay hydrated and combat any potential effects of altitude. So with four liters of water in my pack for the next 10 miles, we continued on to the top.

As we gained elevation I relied on my trusty Terramar black half-zip. Rated a 2 out of 3 on Terramar’s insulation scale, this medium weight long-sleeve is clutch when the wind picks up or the temperature drops. The collar keeps your neck warm, and the zipper helps regulate heat when steep inclines raise your core temp. This is one of my favorite and most used base Layers, and I can’t recommend enough.

Keeping warm in my Terramar 1/2 Zip base layer

Keeping warm in my Terramar 1/2 Zip base layer

The last two miles to the summit offered unparalleled views in almost every direction. As we skirted along the edge of the mountain face, I was impressed by the sheer-vertical drops to our east and the millions of scattered boulders to our west. The trail became more challenging here as we navigated over large jagged stones. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped, and our lungs reminded us of the reduced of oxygen in the air. We put on the rest of our layers, hats and gloves, and slowly made progress step by step.

Twhtney orange shirt

The last 2 miles to the summit are very steep and rugged (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

The summit was a joyous atmosphere. About 40 fellow hikers were relaxing, taking photos, eating lunch and enjoying conversation. Others found a quiet corner to take a nap. Under a clear blue sky we could see for miles and miles in every directions. It also happened to be Father’s Day and we saw sons with their dads, arms in arms, celebrating together. There was even a guy wearing nothing but a fanny-pack doing yo-yo tricks while a friend took video with his phone. Only in California!  

From the summit we could see for miles and miles

From the summit we could see for miles and miles

It took us about as long to get back down to the bottom as it did to reach the top. The descent was a long haul and we certainly felt the distance on our legs, knees, and feet. But just as the sun began to set we made it to the camp store minutes before they closed. A few minutes later, sitting together barefooted at picnic table full of junk food, we cheers bottles of cold beer to a mission accomplished. Despite the aches, blisters and sweat, we couldn’t help but smile as we recalled the events of the day. With the goal of climbing Whitney now checked off our list, there are two more goals I couldn’t  wait to achieve —  a nice, hot shower and a good night’s sleep.

Griffith Park by night

Living the in the vast sprawl of Los Angeles, sometimes it’s nice to get away from the crowds and the freeways.

The other night a friend and I took a long hike all around Griffith Park to view the lunar eclipse.

I’ve hiked in Griffith Park before, usually under a hot sun on a clear day, but at night the park takes on a whole new feel. It’s more quiet, more empty and more wild. We heard birds calling in the distance and kept our eyes peeled for coyotes or snakes (fortunately we didn’t see either, although there were a few times when an errant tree branch appeared quite serpentine in the moonlight).

It was nice to be able to hike in the cool air, to look at the vast city below with it’s sparkling lights. Above the city helicopters flew low, planes flew high, the moon rose brightly until the vail of the eclipse – the reflection of all of earth’s sunrises and sunsets painting the moon amber and red.

We hiked about 6 miles, from 7pm-1am. I kept all my photo gear, snacks, water (and some bourbon) secure in my Lowepro backpack, and stayed warm with my favorite Terramar base layer.

I didn’t get any great photos of the moon that night, but I did get a few of the view.

This was my first hike by moonlight, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Griffith Observatory over downtown

Griffith Observatory overlooking Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

Downtown Los Angeles by Night

Blur over downtown LA

A long exposure photo with motion blur

Getty Center Fish Eye

Here are some pics I snapped with my GoPro at the Getty Center right around sunset. I like the wide-angle fisheye like effect, especially on the architecture and lines.
Getty Center Fisheye at Sunset Getty Center Fisheye at Sunset Getty Center Fisheye at Sunset Getty Center Fisheye at Sunset Getty Center Fisheye at Sunset Getty Center Fisheye at Sunset Getty Center Fisheye at Sunset Getty Center Fisheye

For more pics of the Getty check out my HDR post.Getty Center Fisheye

Hollywood Sign Hike

One of my goals for this year is doing a lot of local hikes, and one I’ve always been interested in is the summit of Mount Lee, home to the Hollywood Sign.

This website has all the info about how to get there and what to expect, and it took me and K about 2 hours for the 3.5 mile loop.

Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0046 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0039 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0033 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0028 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0027 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0022 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0020 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0019 Hollywood_Sign_Hike_0004

Pano

Big Sur is music to my eyes

I was up in Big Sur recently, and I was astonished at two things –

  1. How amazingly beautiful the whole stretch of coast is for mile after mile
  2. How many people were wondering around with digital cameras trying to take creative photos (myself included)

I did end up with some photos that I’m very pleased with, however since Big Sur is so often photographed I figured I’d present some of my photos in a different sort of way.  Playing around on Photoshop tonight transformed them into my interpretation of music album covers.  Enjoy,

-T

 

The Salt Farm

Rain

The Recycled

Mamey Pancakes

The Boston Public Garden

Boston really is an interesting town. It’s a town with a lot of character and history, it’s fast paced and the roads are hard to navigate but at the same time charming and beautiful. It’s home to towering buildings over head but if you look hard enough you can find some quiet corners.

On a recent trip to Boston I had several hours to myself downtown and I decided to take a walk around the Boston Public Garden. With a few clicks on my iPhone I was able to stream an excellent audio walking-tour podcast made by Audissey Guides.

The tour took about an hour and included not only an easy to follow map, but also some really interesting chapters featuring Boston public figures, historians, and other notable locals. It was a great way to open my eyes to all that the Public Garden has to offer, and enhance the experience of being there on a beautiful summer day.

This was my return trip to Boston after the Marathon bombings in April, and I was happy to see so many people (locals and tourists alike) outside living freely and actively enjoying all that downtown has to offer. Here are some photos from my afternoon walking around the Garden, a scenic gem in the heart of a great city.

George Washington Statue at the Boston Public Garden Child Fountain  at the Boston Public Garden George Washinton and Flowers  at the Boston Public Garden Rose Garden  at the Boston Public Garden Ether Monument  at the Boston Public Garden Squirrel upon the Japanese Pagoda Tree  at the Boston Public Garden George Robert White Memorial at the Boston Public Garden Man with Trumpet  at the Boston Public Garden Old  Glory above Cheers Make Way for Ducklings Statue  at the Boston Public Garden Japanese Lantern and Swans at the Lagoon  at the Boston Public Garden Swan Boats  at the Boston Public Garden Flowers at the Boston Public Garden Local musician  at the Boston Public Garden Swan Boats  at the Boston Public Garden Statue  at the Boston Public Garden Statue  at the Boston Public Garden Camperdown Elm  at the Boston Public Garden Bridge  at the Boston Public Garden

 

In the south west corner of the Garden is a very quiet corner of Boston, the September 11th Memorial Garden of Remembrance.  Two of the planes left Boston that morning, and here those who were lost are honored.  Located about a half mile from the Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, the memorial includes a poem by Lawrence Homer from “Boston & Sea Poems”:

Time touches all more gently here,

Here where man has said, No:

Trees and grass, and flowers will remain,

Where the first-born sometimes sees

His father’s father’s eyes

Reflected in the shallow pool;

Feels an ancient heart beat

In the palm of his hand

Pressed against a willow:

And seeking comfort, seeking shade

Lies beneath the golden leaf elm,

Watching swanboats glide in season

 

 

Planet Jackson Square

Planet Jackson Square

I snapped a panoramic shot of the sun rising over Jackson Square (top) and the Mississippi River (bottom) in New Orleans and was able to photoshop it into this small planet.
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, and there’s so much potential for great photography there, I’ve got to get back and snap some more shots!

By air or asphalt

Cali Bound

I’ve been a passenger on a lot of long flights over the past few years. Usually they are cramped and tiring and they can be expensive and sometimes there is a loud crying baby behind me. But when you think about it, it’s really quite amazing to be able to blast off to another part of the world in just a few hours and for a few hundred bucks.

But while gazing out a window from the air, it’s only natural to question – “What is going on down below?” Each road was surveyed and constructed and is maintained and utilized. And of the millions of dots of light, at some point each was installed by someone, and nightly each one helps someone see their way.

To me, the amazing thing is that each of those roads are connected to another road… and a highway… and another road and eventually it all connects to the small piece of asphalt under the car parked outside your front door. That’s the wonder of the modern age, America’s infrastructure and the Eisenhower Interstate System.

So while it would have been possible to fly across the United States at the end of February, when I decided to move from Connecticut to Southern California I decided to drive.

Highway-GIF2Sure, I could support the decision with all the clichés. I could say I’m doing my part to uphold the larger American narrative of being drawn west like Kerouac, or western expansion, or American’s love for the freedom of the open road. But I also wanted to see more of the country I love so dearly despite its flaws. I wanted to visit family and friends I don’t often get to see. Finally I wanted to give myself a greater sense of scale of the nation’s size, which by the way, is monstrous.

Okay yeah there were some parts of the drive that were boring. Gas was expensive and I probably put a lot of wear on my car. But it was totally worth it. I recommend everyone has the chance at least once. And if you’re thinking about doing it, let me know and I’ll do my best to come along for the adventure.

Looking west

After departing Bristol Connecticut around 5 PM, cutting through New York, New Jersey and part of Pennsylvania, my first stop is my cousin Rebecca’s place in West Chester. Becca is about my age and someone I’ve been close with since we were little. She eagerly took a vacation week from her often stressful and demanding job as an in-home family therapist to join me on the drive, flying home from Denver a week later. After making some plans late at night over some glasses of wine and iPad maps, we plot our course to the Rockies.

Becca and I departing West Chester, PA

Becca and I departing West Chester, PA

Together our first day was a long one. We leave her place before 7 AM, departed PA and skirt across the northern edge of Maryland. From there it was across West Virginia to our destination in central Kentucky. The landscape was grey as we winded through the Appalachian mountains on I-68 and later I-79.

In Morgantown we stopped for lunch at Tailpipes, a vintage car themed diner specializing in crazy burgers. Becca was brave and got “The Charger.”

Highway of West Virginia

Charger Burger in Morgantown

Charger Burger – peanut butter, fried banana, bacon, red onion, pepper jack

We listen to all kinds of things, including an album by the band Fun, a few TED talks and some random bluegrass covers I have on my iPod from the Pickin’ On Series. Realizing we’re low on gas we exit at Framesville, WV, but have to drive up the road a bit to the tiny town of Gassaway to fill up. The area is hilly and a bit run down looking, although after we fill up we take some photos along the old rail yard.  From there it’s back to the road, and we make it to Mark and Cole’s place as the sun is setting.

Rail yard in Gassaway, WV

Limestone of Kentucky

Limestone of Kentucky

Sun setting over Winchester, KY

Mark was my team leader in AmeriCorps*NCCC and I was at the bourbon drinking festival that doubled as his wedding to Cole a few years ago. Both lawyers, Mark’s the kind of guy that looks out for everyone else before himself and Cole is the kind of rockstar that runs in cancer research races and donates her hair for wigs for kids on her wedding day! We visit together then get some BBQ, share some stories and laughs.  We polish off a bottle of Basil Hayden’s with the Oscars on TV in the background before calling it a night.

Mark and I enjoying a brew in Lexington, KY

The next morning Becca and I visit Ale 8, Winchester Kentucky’s soda bottling plant and gift shop, enjoying a morning soda and picking up some gifts that will come in handy down the road. After we take a peek around Keeneland, the beautiful horse racing track and grounds.

Becca walking around Keeneland near Lexington, KY

Becca walks around Keeneland near Lexington, KY

At noon we toured the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Our tour guide Freddie was really funny, engaging and thorough. (We aren’t the only ones who think so).  Freddie’s family has been involved in the distillery for three generations and you could tell by the way he spoke that he was passionate about the products, the company and the people.

Freddie explains bourbon aging in Frankfort, KY

Freddie explains bourbon aging in Frankfort, KY

Buffalo Trace Distillery

At the end of the tour, and just before before the samples, Freddie demonstrated how to “Wake the Dog” – an interesting and fun way to test the alcohol level and ingredients in an unaged whiskey that involves splashing it all over your hands, rubbing them together and identifying the different smells during the evaporation process. Very cool.

On a pit stop in at the historic Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville we grab a salad try their famous Hot Brown which was very delicious and filling.

The original Hot Brown - white texas toast, carved turkey, bacon, mornay sauce and some cheese.

The original Hot Brown – white texas toast, carved turkey, bacon, mornay sauce and some cheese.

Brown Hotel Lobby in Louisville, KY

Brown Hotel Lobby in Louisville, KY

We shoot up I-65 and make it to Amanda’s place in the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indanapolis right around 6 PM local time. An AmeriCorps teammate, Amanda is another road trip aficionado, has been to more than half of the national parks and is a huge fan of ranch dressing. After her fiance Brian gets home from work we walk to a local pub for a wine flight, bring a few pizzas home and have a nice late dinner around the table listening to a classic playlist from 2005.

Wine Flights

Hanging out in Indianapolis, IN

Hanging out in Indianapolis with Amanda, Brian and Manny

After dinner Brian does play-by-play for an rowdy game of Farkle (the game of guts and luck!). Amanda somehow comes back from behind for an intense overtime victory as we enjoy more red wine and beer before a hilarious fashion show with her dog Manny.

Manny Fashion Show

Manny Fashion Show

On our way to Chicago the next day all we see is highway, wide plains and huge windmills through the windshield. Becca and I pull off the highway as rain turns to slush for a pit stop at the Fair Oaks Dairy Farm. It’s a huge working dairy farm and agro-tourism attraction and a good break to stretch our legs.  We take a bus tour, walk around some exhibits, and attempt to climb the magnetic climbing wall.

Rain

Cows being milked at Fair Oaks Farm

Cows being milked at Fair Oaks Farm

Dairy themed magnetic climbing wall

Dairy themed magnetic climbing wall

We learn about feeding and caring for the cows, milking them and distributing milk. It’s hard to tell if we’re witnessing some good clean American farming or some big business’ propaganda machine. But the most memorable thing we saw was in the birthing barn.

Birthing barn

With over 32,000 cows in the farm, they have births all day everyday. When tourists like us come in, they can retrieve one of the mothers who’s about ready to go.
Becca and I are the only two people in a big amphitheater type room and we stare at the calf’s nose and front hooves poking out on the other side of the plexiglass. About a half hour later the rest arrives – snout, head, front half and back half in a wet, messy, miracle of birth. From about 10 feet away we see the calf take its first breath of air.

A mother with her newborn calf

A mother with her newborn calf

For a suburban guy like me who has never worked on a farm it was pretty wild. It was also interesting because I enjoy about a half gallon of skim milk each week and I grill the occasional burger or steak. All those tasty yogurts and cheeses and ice creams and t-bones have got to come from somewhere, and I suppose it’s better to be informed about the source rather than just blindly consuming.

Arriving in Chicago just in time for some early rush hour traffic and snow flurries, we navigate to the two-flat apartment of Liz and Matt. Liz is another AmeriCorps friend and the organizer of an annual memorial volunteer trip, which is pretty much my favorite weekend of the year and her brother Matt is a firefighter in Chicago.

Snow falls in Chicago

Snow falls in Chicago

Ironically we help pack Liz’s car. She’s starting her own road trip in the morning, as she moves back to Connecticut for a second season of work at an organic farm. After visiting for a bit we ride over to their parent’s house and have dinner with them and their little sister. It’s a nice home on the corner of a quiet street and the snow is falling quietly as it should in late February in Chicago. A delicious homemade family dinner is eaten around the dining room table. Irish soda bread, corned beef, boiled potato and cabbage. Becca and I laugh as the siblings pick on each other.

Later Matt drives us around for a late night tour downtown. We see the lake shore, the pier, Millennium park and the bean. We check out the Tribune building and it’s collection of stones. The night is snowy and wet and cold, the kind of cold set that sticks to your ears and dampens your toes, so we make it back to the apartment for some wine and music and visiting before blowing up the air mattress and calling it a night.

Downtown Chicago

Downtown Chicago

With Liz at the Bean

With Liz at the Bean

Day five starts with breakfast at a funky joint called LuLu’s where Becca and I go halfsies on a great breakfast burrito and some griddle cakes.  We climb into our overstuffed cars and Liz goes east, and we continue west. We make good time dispute the flurries, I take a nap as Becca drives listening to a few nice albums by the Great Lake Swimmers. Waking up to a pale white sky, white snow, huge flat country I put on my shades even though there’s no direct sunshine. On Illinois’ western edge we see a bald eagle preserve on the map and take a detour. Above our car we see one soaring, identified by its white head and tail, just before we cross the Mississippi river.

Bright snow in western Illinois

Snow in western Illinois

We stop at the world’s largest truck stop to buy snacks and climb into the cab of a big rig. In Iowa City we see students bustling between classes on the campus of the University and we spend a little while at a self proclaimed “haunted” bookstore with a sleeping cat. I buy a book about California’s impending earthquake problem.

Iowa 80 Truck Stop,

Iowa 80 Truck Stop

Cat at the Haunted Bookstore in Iowa City

Cat at the Haunted Bookstore in Iowa City

On an unpaved, unplowed road in Swisher, Iowa my car gets stuck when I attempt a u-turn. It’s usually pretty good on the snow but we were getting terrible traction in the wet, slimy snow. Suze and JoJo come to help, as does a neighbor. After I struggle to find a decent place to latch the straps under my car we are able to get back on track and park in front of their house.

Hilly unpaved and unplowed road in Swisher, Iowa

Hilly unpaved and unplowed road in Swisher, Iowa

Suze, who neither Becca or I have met before, is a first cousin of both of our Moms and works at the local VA. Her husband JoJo is a finish carpenter and can make incredible things with wood.
Their house welcomes us with a huge cactus Christmas tree and roaring fire. We catch up and enjoy cocktails at the table before a hearty dinner of grilled steaks, squash, fresh bread and homemade peach pie. Suze also made cookies for us to take on the road.

Visiting with Suze and JoJo

Visiting with Suze and JoJo

A walking stick JoJo created

A walking stick JoJo created

We tour JoJo’s woodshop and are impressed by his work. Using a variety of woods and finishes he creates beautiful furniture, walking sticks and birdhouses.

We talk about family, pets, road trip stories. They tell us about their first date which started at 2 AM when her shift was over and ended with them being engaged. 21 years later they’re still going strong. In the evening we are accompanied by their three big dogs and a few cats, and in the morning by dozens of brightly colored birds outside their back door including a cardinal who is particularly photogenic. After breakfast we depart, with JoJo following us to the plowed road to assure we don’t get stuck again.

Cardinal outside the back door in Iowa

Cardinal outside the back door in Iowa

In the snow along the interstate we see about 10 tractor trailers stuck and abandoned along the median and shoulder, and about the same number of cars. It makes me feel a little better that I wasn’t the only one who had trouble, but also confused as to where the drivers went and how they were going to get their vehicles out.

Truck abandoned in the median of I-80

Truck abandoned in the median of I-80

Farms in the snow

Farms in the snow

VW Spider in Avoca, Iowa

VW Spider in Avoca, Iowa

Thousands of birds fly overhead in Nebraska

Thousands of birds fly overhead in Nebraska (click to enlarge)

But the roads are clear and we make good time, keeping it at about 80 mph on the 75 limit road. The snow clears from the ground as we enter Nebraska. We listen to the Black Keys, ZZ Top, Moe. We take turns driving, resting and napping. It’s a long haul across the heartland, but mile after mile we’re getting closer to the Rockies. In Lincoln Nebraska we get salads at Grateful Greens, which is a good change of pace from all the heavy food we’ve been eating.

America's great plains

America’s great plains

For dinner I chose an old time lodge called Ole’s Steakhouse. Eating a prime rib sandwich surrounded by gigantic mounted big game animals, including some that are endangered, isn’t as cool as I thought. The waitress tells me Ole’s holds the oldest liquor licence in Nebraska, selling the first drink at 12:01 AM after prohibition ended.

Ole's Steakhouse in Paxton, Nebraska

Ole’s Steakhouse in Paxton, Nebraska

As the sun gets low in the sky our driving music volume goes up. Miles fly below us at 80 mph as we listen to Outkast, Lady Gaga and various high energy songs from the 80s and 90s to keep our energy until we arrive at Liza and Tony’s house in Golden, Colorado.

Liza is a great friend and former coworker of Becca’s and also a founding member of Mexican Thanksgiving – a holiday Becca and I invented a few years ago that’s turned into an annual family tradition.  Along with her boyfriend Tony, her dog and cat she moved to Colorado late last summer.  A bottle of wine or so later I’m beat and fall asleep, but Becca and Liza stay up and chat.

With Liza and Tony in Golden, Colorado

With Liza and Tony in Golden, Colorado

Liza's cat Cristy defends himself from Roman

Liza’s cat Cristy defends himself from Roman

The next morning I catch up on email, do some laundry and have lunch with my former ESPN colleague Dave who now works at Root Sports in Denver. We talk about graphics and sports and family and side projects. Later Tony, Becca and I turn an errand at the post office into an excuse to tour around the quaint town of Golden, home of the Coors brewery and a cool little downtown area among the mountains.

Downtown Golden, Colorado

Downtown Golden, Colorado

Rockies overlooking Denver

Rockies overlooking Denver

The four of us sit among the date night crowd at a Greek restaurant at dinner. Some couples dressed fancy, some women pregnant, another is nursing her newborn.

At the Three Dog Cafe we meet up with a high school friend of mine Laura whom I haven’t seen in seven or eight years. We talk about memories of middle and high school… almond perfumes, monster truck rallies, high school boyfriends and girlfriends who are married and have babies now. She tells us about the seeing-eye dogs she has helped train and life in the mile high city.

With Laura in Denver

With Laura in Denver

Day eight starts with a visit to the Red Rocks amphitheatre then the tiny town of Morrison for brunch. After a breakfast burrito smothered in green chili sauce it’s time to say goodbye to Becca – she’s flying home the next day and it’s time for me to continue west.

Tony and Liza

Tony and Liza at Red Rocks

Overlooking Denver

Overlooking Denver in the distance

Saying goodbye to my road trip buddy Becca

Saying goodbye to my road trip buddy Becca

Route 285 west into the mountains is a spectacular drive. From winding forests, tall climbs and tight turn to wide open prairies and absolutely massive mountains along the horizon. Listening to Gov’t Mule and Neil Young it feels like I’m driving through a Bob Ross painting. It’s such a clear blue day that I can’t help but jump out of the car and take photos every once in awhile.

Entering the Rockies

Entering the Rockies

Colorado 185 overlooking South Park, Colorado

Colorado 183 overlooking South Park, Colorado

But it’s good to stretch my legs and have a beer when I arrive at Mike and Lori’s house in the small, beautiful town of Crested Butte, Colorado. My cousin Mike is writer, small business partner and certified Stokolgist  and his wife Lori might just be the most active person I’ve ever met.

Approaching Crested Butte, Colorado

Approaching Crested Butte, Colorado

We chat before getting a delicious vegetarian dinner at Ryce. We catch up and talk about books, documentaries, travel, life. We bundle up and walk their dog Kaya, and it doesn’t take me long to realize I’m the only one in the entire ski town who wears a pea coat instead of a real snow jacket. The next day we take various walks around town as the snow starts to pile up. Trips to breakfast, to take photos, for coffee and to run errands.

Mike and I overlooking the town (and mountain) of Crested Butte

Mike and I overlooking the town (and mountain) of Crested Butte

In the evening we go to a community fundraising event, bid on a few raffle prizes and drink a few beers outside in the snow. Lori makes some great sweet potato enchiladas and we watch some of Ernest Goes to Jail on YouTube.

By morning my car is covered in a foot of snow, but we trek past it to the mountain for a fun morning of snowboarding. The people on the bus up to the resort are eager, almost giddy to get up the chairlift and get first tracks. The snow looks and feels great and I learn the difference between riding on top of snow and riding inside the powder. Getting down the long trails is hard work and my thighs burn.

Mike in the powder

Mike in the powder

After lunch we make a few more runs including some challenging glades and some ultra steep faces through deep snow, then we enjoy a few cocktails at the ice bar.After getting home and taking a shower I’m beat and take a nap. Later I get a gift for Kristen, walk the dog, shovel out my car and eat leftovers.

Cuzints at the Ice Bar

Cuzints at the Ice Bar

The 2 door convertible covered in a foot of snow

The 2 door convertible covered in a foot of snow

My car groans and I turn the keys the next morning. The dashboard thermometer reads -11°. (Three days later it’ll read 81° in Los Angeles). Continuing west I drive along the Blue Mesa, meet up with the interstate and leave the Rockies in my rear view. Again, the scenery is unbelievable.

Road Trip_Colorado Highway

Road Trip_Car by Mountains

Temperatures go up as elevation goes down west of the Rockies

I get to Arches National Park in the early afternoon and I’m immediately impressed. Red walls of stone reaching to the blue sky and it’s very, very quiet. I hike the Park Avenue trail and all I hear are my footsteps below and the occasional raven call from above. Fantastic.

Park Ave Panoramic at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah

Park Ave Panoramic at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah

Courthouse Tower at Arches National Park - Moab, Utah

Courthouse Towers

I spend all afternoon bouncing around different sites and trails, but I don’t get close to any of the iconic arches. As day turns to night I get out the tripod for some long exposure photography. I chat with a few guys by Balanced Rock who had the same idea, and one of them has some good tips for me.

Balance Rock by day

Balance Rock by day

Balance Rock by night

Balance Rock by night

Returning to the park in the morning my first stop is Delicate Arch, the most famous and quintessential of them all. Passing two people leaving as I hike in around 9 AM I’m pleasantly surprised to find the arch all to myself at the end of the trail. I feel like there isn’t another person for miles and miles. I feel really fortunate to be there in such clear, perfect weather. It’s refreshing and energizing and I take photos and tape a few video messages for friends and family. I set up the self timer on my camera and jump around like a little kid.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch


Almost an hour later a couple arrives and I take a few photos for them before taking off. I wanted to let them have the space alone for a while. I drive to the Devils Garden and Fiery Furnace parts of the park briefly and do one more short hike before hitting the highway one last time.

Beautiful Utah

Beautiful Utah

On the road I again see wonderful scenery of southern Utah, the photographs I snap hardly seem to capture the scale and beauty of the landscape. As I continue blasting west at 80 mph but time and land seems to pass slowly, it’s a long drive to LA. After I cut through the magnificent veterans memorial highway along the Virgin River I have a close call with running out of gas in the desert of southeast Nevada, but make it on fumes to a small town gas station.

Southwest Utah along I-70

Southwest Utah along I-70

Veterans Memorial Highway in northwest Arizona

Veterans Memorial Highway in northwest Arizona

I write a thank you note on the dust of my car before continuing on to Vegas as the sun sets. Having never been to Vegas I wanted to see the strip, but after about 3 minutes of traffic and crowds and distracting lights I was more than ready to get back to the highway.

Thank you note

Thank you note

Along the Vegas Strip in Nevada

Along the Vegas Strip in Nevada

Entering the Los Angeles Basin

Entering the Los Angeles Basin

I sing aloud to some Audioslave to stay awake like I used to when I drove from Boston to Charleston, SC back in college. I peal myself out of the car and enter my new apartment and Kristen’s arms around 10:30 PM local time.

3,648 miles in 12 days. 11 tanks of gas and passing through 16 states. It was exhausting but I’m glad I made the drive. I saw so many people and things, and I hope to keep these memories for a very long time.

What’s hard to capture all the senses from the trip.  The sounds of grown adults laughing and shouting with glee while skiing fresh snow in Colorado. The smell of Bourbon barrel aging in Kentucky. The sight of a calf taking its first breath in Indiana. The feel of the cold wet snow in Chicago and the taste of fresh baked cookies in Iowa.

But it’s even harder to capture are the moments you don’t sense, but rather just feel inside. Like the feeling I got while gazing at the crisp stars above in western Nebraska. Or being astonished by things as vast as the great plains and Rockies. Small things too, like a bald eagle soaring near the Mississippi and stumbling upon someone playing the piano in the back of the haunted bookstore in Iowa.

There are a lot of stories along that long, paved road.  I’m glad I was able to see some of them, and to take the time to make one of my own.

Liberty

Liberty

This shot was taken a few days after Obama’s first inauguration 4 years ago on my way back north. I toured Ellis Island and saw Lady Liberty up close for the first time, before meeting up with some friends at MSG for a Knicks game and heading home.

It reminds me of song by the band Oasis, which includes the lyrics:

But the little things they make me so happy
All I want to do is live by the sea
Little things they make me so happy
But it’s good, it’s good, it’s good to be free