Trip Report: Hawaii Big Island

Waipio Valley, note the waterfall on the cliff!

Views like this one of the Waipio Valley confirm Hawaii’s status as a world renowned tropical paradise

The Big Island of Hawaii is a land of contrasts. You can spend the morning hiking some of the lushest rain forests you’ll ever see and walk dry lava fields with miles stark black rock after lunch. You can explore lava tubes below ground and sip hot chocolate to stay warm while stargazing on a mountain top.

I recently spent a week exploring the Big Island and field testing some Merrell gear, and was amazed at the diversity of terrain and climates I found on this spectacular island in the middle of the Pacific.

MODERN HIKER JEEP

Some of my favorite trail guides can be found on ModernHiker.com, including the Kilauea Iki trail.

With views of an active volcano, stunning rock formations, thick jungle and great hiking trails, Volcano National Park was a great way to start our trip. We especially liked hiking across a crater on the Kilauea Iki trail, using the printed trail guide we were able to study and marvel at the ground below, which simply didn’t exist sixty years ago – it was liquid lava!

Rainbow over the Kilauea Iki crater

Rainbow over the Kilauea Iki crater

Exploring the crater floor, KW

Exploring the crater floor with our Merrell hats and my Highgate reversible shirt.

The ground is covered in rocks hinting at a violent and fiery past.

The ground is covered in rocks hinting at a violent and fiery past.

Near Kilauea Iki is the Thurston Lava Tube, an underground tunnel created by lava that you can explore.

Near Kilauea Iki is the Thurston Lava Tube, an underground tunnel created by lava that you can explore.

Exploring the rain forest at Volcano National Park

Exploring the rain forest at Volcano National Park

You can’t go to Hawaii without seeing a waterfall, and ‘Akaka Falls sprays a mist of fresh water among the green jungle.

Kristen watching the water fall at

Kristen watching the water fall at ‘Akaka Falls state park

Taking a break from the adventure, an afternoon of relaxing at the beach is highly advised.

Not a bad place to read a book

Not a bad place to read a book

Watching the waves and blocking sun rays with my Capra Hat and Merrill buff.

Watching the waves and blocking sun rays with my Capra Hat and Merrill buff at Hapuna Beach.

The Big Island is home to a Big Mountain, Mauna Kea. Do to it’s distance from any light pollution and clear skys, the summit houses some of the worlds most advanced astronomical equipment and researchers. We drove to the visitor’s center one night and enjoyed the sunset and the stars.

The Maunakea Visitor Station is a great place to watch the sunset and an even better place to view the stars

The Mauna Kea Visitor Station is a great place to watch the sunset and an even better place to view the stars

At 9,200' feel in elevation, the Mauna Kea Visitor Station gets cold, time to bundle up!

At 9,200′ feel in elevation, the Mauna Kea Visitor Station gets cold!

But my favorite part of the trip was being able to see an active volcano in action. From the rim of the crater we could watch the steam rise and fire glow as the earth burned and melted and morphed below.

Watching the lava glow from the deck of the Jagger Museum in Volcano National Park

Watching the lava glow from the deck of the Jagger Museum in Volcano National Park

Between the stunning beaches, world class hiking and amazing views, the Big Island of Hawaii is an amazing place to visit and a great place to field test some Merrell gear.

In this land of contrasts one thing remains consistent – this small island holds the potential for incredible outdoor adventure.

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After The Storm

My college career was book ended by two terrible events in our nation’s history. The hijackings of 9/11 took place during my first week of freshman year, killing thousands of innocent people in a senseless act of terror. Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf during my road trip home from college, causing an astonishing amount of damage and taking almost 2,000 lives.

Like many Americans I witnessed both events unfold on TV, in the paper and on the radio. I felt sympathy, confusion, anger and exasperation. As a freshman I watched the aftermath of 9/11 from a distance and wanted to help, but didn’t know how. But with Katrina, I as able to actively contribute and work first-hand in the recovery efforts. That is because as fate would have it, I started my service term with AmeriCorps*NCCC about a week after the storm made landfall. Although I only spent a few months in the gulf coast during late 2005 and early 2006, the experience, memories and lessons I learned will stay with me forever.

A snapshot of the miles of storm damage

A snapshot of the miles of storm damage

When I first arrived in the gulf that fall many places around New Orleans were without running water, trash collection, or any open businesses for weeks or months. My team 12-person team worked alongside the National Guard, FEMA and various local organizations. We stayed in temporary compounds known as tent cities, sleeping on cots in huge tents and using port-a-potties for weeks at a time.

In a flash, some lost everything

In a flash, some lost everything

It was very humbling to be surrounded by mile after mile of utter destruction. It was sobering to stand on a slab of concrete where an entire house had recently been washed away. I will never forget the respect I gained for the ocean after seeing an iron beam folded in-half against a telephone pole like a twist-tie. The debris, stench, and silence were a haunting reminder of the storm surge’s violence. Simply put, huge portions of the gulf looked like a war zone.

My team Green 5 along with Green 6 working with a home owner in the fall of 2005

My team Green 5 along with Green 6 working with a home owner in the fall of 2005

I’ll never forget the feel of the thick, humid Louisiana air or the smell of the rotting trash and vegetation. I remember the weight of the mud and seaweed I shoveled out of someone’s kitchen. Under plastic hard-hats we would clear yards, our sweat saturating our cotton tee shirts. Behind steamed-up facemasks and respirators we removed moldy drywall from bedrooms and living rooms; the floodwater stain on the walls was often over our heads. We took care to preserve anything we could salvage, from family photos and heirlooms to household goods. The residents thanked us by giving us hugs, preparing us lunch or with kind words and eyes full of tears.

“Mucking” houses in St. Bernard Parish

In the spring of 2006 my team and I worked at the “Made With Love Cafe” in St. Bernard Parish. We served thousands of free meals for returning residence and relief workers each day alongside a very eclectic collective of volunteers. Under a series of tents that more closely resembled circus big top than a kitchen, we helped prepare, cook and serve a variety of food from dawn until nightfall.

Alisha, Amanda, Matt and Jordan at the

Alisha, Amanda, Matt and Jordan at the “Dish Pit” in the ‘Made With Love Cafe’

I’ll always remember listening to jazz on WWOZ while we cleaned dishes as the sun rose over the horizon. We would scrub pots and pans in a ceramic bathtub for hours, working at the collection of makeshift sinks that comprised the “dish pit”. I remember when an afternoon thunderstorm unleashed a torrential downpour from above, with wind gusts threatening to blow down the huge dome-shaped dining tent.

Me, Chance and Jerry at the Made With Love Cafe

Me, Chance and Jerry at the Made With Love Cafe

I remember hippies yelling AmeriCorps, F&@#-YEAH!!” like the song from Team America World Police. There was drum circles, a bike collective, a herbal remedies tent and a myriad of characters like Benja, Bright Eyes, and Chance (with his trademark tricycle). It was a surreal experience and proved to be one of our most memorable projects of our service term.

The dinning tent at the 'Made With Love Cafe

The dinning tent at the ‘Made With Love Cafe”

This was before ubiquitous smartphones, so for entertainment we relied on each other, books, ipods and writing letters – yes, actual paper letters! We would take time off to goof around and let off steam. We played frisbee on the lawns near camp, drank beer at a beach bonfire and enjoyed the music and strong drinks along Bourbon Street. We would spend weekends in the French Quarter eating beignets in Jackson Square, singing along at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and dancing down the sidewalk on Frenchmen Street.

Jerry, Alisha and I biking to the French Quarter on an off day

Jerry, Alisha and I biking to the French Quarter on an off day

Despite all the destruction and pain the storm caused, Katrina opened my eyes to a lot of beauty that I’ll never forget. The sun setting over the slowly flowing Mississippi; the smiles on the faces of volunteers from all over the country; the gratefulness of those we helped. My story is similar to the thousands of other AmeriCorps members, and I feel lucky enough to work alongside them as part of these recovery efforts.

I’ve been back to the New Orleans area many times since 2005 for work, vacation and to volunteer. I can honestly say that it is one of the most interesting, diverse and invigorating places I have ever been. Growing up in the suburbs of Boston, I had never been to the Gulf before my AmeriCorps term, but that year I fell in love with the people, music and food of creole, cajun, and New Orleans culture.

Brightman_AmeriCorps_PhotosMy NO picsIMG_1256

Green 5 – Lora, Becky, Jordan, Mark, Trevor, Alisha, Matt, Tara, Trish and Amanda at the Made With Love Cafe in St. Bernard Parish

You can’t always control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react and move forward. Americans really came together in those early months after the storm and AmeriCorps mobilized to help out in many important ways. As time goes by and the Gulf moves forward I know that I will never forget the storm or it’s aftermath. August 29, 2005 It was a very dark day for America, but I take solace in knowing that no matter what challenges lay ahead, we can continue to make things better, together.

-Trevor Brightman

AmeriCorps*NCCC, Western Region Corps Member

Class XII, Green 5

More information: 

AmeriCorps*NCCCMade With Love Cafe , #Katrina10

I highly recommend reading 1 Dead In The Attic by Chris Rose for more on life after the storm.

Better yet, go visit New Orleans and chat with a local. Trust me, they’ll have something to say.

Top 5 Air Travel Insider Tips!

insider tips

1. Make sure to be in the final boarding zone and carry-on as much luggage as you can. If your over stuffed-roller bag won’t fit in a tiny overhead space, just keep shoving. Although common sense and the basic laws of physics may tempt you into giving up, it’s more than likely that a just a few more shoves will do the trick, so pay no mind to the line of people that undoubtedly is forming behind you.

2. Once seated, speak at a volume roughly double the normally socially acceptable level. This will assure you can be heard by those you’re speaking to, but also those well in-front and behind you. Many airlines have limited entertainment options these days, and your cabin mates will certainly cherish the unavoidable opportunity to hear your insightful rambles.

3. This is a really important tip – When you need to stand up, feel free to go ahead and give the chair in front of you a strong, unannounced yank. The person napping in front of you shouldn’t mind. They’ll just think, “Surprise! Free chiropractic adjustment!”

4. Only get up to use the bathroom while drink service is going on. Sure 75 percent of the time the aisles are clear, but shoot for that 25 percent sweet spot. While making your way back, go ahead and give each of the people sitting along the aisle a nudge as you pass them. We can’t have them sleeping and unalert in case of an emergency. Just think, who would be able to help if you are unable to open your 1 ounce bag of pretzels?

5. Here’s one last insider traveler secret – after you land and taxi to the terminal, make sure to unbuckle and stand up immediately when the seatbelt sign is turned off . Pay no mind to the fact that it will take five to ten minutes until your row is able to start exiting into the aisle. You’ll want to stand uncomfortably with your neck tilted at a full 90 degrees and head against the air vents. Being up high will assure that everyone around will be able to see you roll your eyes when a passenger ahead struggles to retrieve an overstuffed roller bag. “Some people,” you’ll be able to proclaim, “how can they be so rude?” 😉

How to run

A friend of mine just told me that she’s running her first half-marathon later this year, which got me thinking about any advice I could give her. I ran my first (and second) half-marathon this past year and I learned a few lessons along the way through research, asking friends and through my own personal experience. Some of them may seem like common sense, but I believe if anyone commits the time and effort, than anyone, regardless of fitness level or age, can enjoy long distance running.  Anyway, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Get motivated. If you’re thinking about doing a long race, you probably enjoy running. But if you’re going to train for a long run you have to realize that you’ll need to train at times when you don’t want to. In other words, those mornings when the bed is so warm and the thought of getting up seems like the worst idea ever, that’s when you need to get up and put your shoes on and get outside. Often the anticipation of getting started is the worst part. Nike’s marketing people coined a phrase long ago that sums this point up: when you’re doubting if you’ll have time to run or if you think you can skip a day: “Just do it.” If you can run when you don’t want to run, you’ll succeed in training and building up longer distances.

2. Get proper gear. Obviously you’ll need some well fitting shoes. I also love dry-wick shirts and comfortable shorts. They make dry-wick socks if you are running on hot weather you might like them too. I run with a hat to keep the sun and sweat out of my eyes, some people prefer sunglasses or a headband. You may also want a case for a phone or ipod, headphones that won’t fall out, sunscreen or reflectors if you’re running at night. These items are an investment, but worth is if you use them often to be comfortable.

3. Get distracted. Running is very much a mental game. On long runs you’ll have a lot of time, so if you’re alone you’ll need something to occupy your mind.  That could be music, an interesting podcast, or just thinking things through on your own. Whatever you do, you don’t want thoughts of doubt creeping in. The last thing you want to be thinking about is slowing down or taking a break. I find it best to just sort of zone out and get lost in some music or a podcast and let the time go by.

“If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do… the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”
-General George S. Patton

4. Stay fueled and hydrated. I used to run on an empty stomach thinking it was the best way to effectively exercise. It is not. Just like a car need fuel, the body needs something to burn if you’re going to maintain a high level of activity for more than 20 minutes or so. There are all kinds of useful products to fuel athletes these days and you’ll have to figure out what works best for you. I’ve found a banana, oatmeal or a cliff bar 20 minutes before a run gives me a good start, if I’m going for more than an hour I might grab an energy gel for some sugar and electrolytes. I also drink at least 24 oz of water before each run, and carry a bottle to sip on as I go. Most people don’t carry water, but I enjoy having it handy for the duration and even to refill at water fountains at parks and along paths. Simply put – fueling your body and staying hydrated will allow you to run further, faster, and more comfortably.

5. Find camaraderie. It’s tough to find people who run the same distance, pace and schedule as you, but there are lots of apps and websites where you can find friends and stay motivated together. Nike+ for example is an app I use on my iPhone that tracks my runs, but also allows me to see what my friends are doing. You can even create “challenges” between groups, for example a group of friends and I recently had a challenge to see who could run a total of 26.2 miles in four weeks. There are also running groups and clubs in many areas. And these days there are so many organized races you can sign up for, from 5k to marathons and beyond, and it can be fun to run in a huge crowd with spectators cheering you along.

6. Sign up for a race. I’ve found that once I’ve signed up for a race, the deadline helps me mentally and physically prepare for that specific goal. Knowing that I’ve made that commitment helps me realize that it’s real, and by spending money on a race there’s an incentive to not flake out and quit.

7. Create an stick to a schedule. There are tons of resources online for runners, including training programs and schedules that can help keep you on track. I found a good system to me was 2 short runs, 1 cross training day and 1 long run per week, with miles added on each week as I got closer to race day. I put all the miles into my calendar and I would receive a text reminder each day with my goal. I found this to be an easy way to keep track of where I was, and where I needed to be. Of course you could also use a paper calendar or any other system, just make sure you stick to it.

8. Find your pace. I’ve found there’s a big difference between running and jogging. While I loose my breath easily and have a hard time keeping up a fast pace, when I get into a comfortable pace I feel like I can jog along for mile after mile. I’m sure this has to do with heart rate, fitness level and form, but it’s important to realize that it’s ok to go slow and steady – as long as you just go.

9. Recover properly. Just like the body needs fuel to burn during a run, it also need proper nutrition after a run to recover. This can mean getting your sugar levels back in check, eating some carbs and protein, electrolytes and of course lots and lots of fluids. A throbbing dehydration headache later in the day can be a huge motivation killer to running, and the best way to avoid them is by taking care of yourself after a long run.  Personally I like a big fruit smoothie (1 banana, frozen strawberries, almond milk, low fat yogurt, whey protein powder). Sometimes I’ll drink coconut water or chocolate milk, fruit juice or even a beer. Your body looses a lot when you run, and if you don’t give it something back it won’t be happy with you.

10. Plan for the finish line. After all the training and all the running you cross the finish line and grab a metal, some snacks, and take a few photos – now what? Well your legs, feet, and pretty much everything else will be exhausted and you’ll be a smelly mess. I strongly recommend some flip flops and a change of shirt for when you’ve finished. It may not seem like a big deal, but a dry, clean shirt really does make a difference to your comfort level. Although most races provide snacks, you’ll want to find a big meal after your race, so either have something prepared or have a plan for a local restaurant. After that, all thats left to do is take a satisfying shower and a rewarding nap.

 

My uncle, myself and a friend enjoying a beer after the Los Angeles Rock and Roll Half Marathon

My uncle, myself and a friend enjoying a beer after the Los Angeles Rock and Roll Half Marathon

Food of the World in Los Angeles: Guangdong (China)

For the latest instalment of my quest to eat various food of the world here in Los Angeles I took the train down to Chinatown and checked out the Chinatown Bakery& Deli.

Chinatown Bakery and Deli Exterior

Located in the heart of Chinatown, this small restaurant was full of older asian guys chatting away in a language I didn’t understand as I picked out a few steamed buns to snack on before work.Chinatown Bakery and Deli Interior Chinatown Bakery and Deli case
If you’ve never had a chinese pork bun, or cha siu bao, you’re missing out. As I understand it, a cha siu bao is a baseball-sized bun of dough that’s stuffed with pork, sauce and seasoning and either steamed or baked. The result can be either a fluffy, sticky cloud that’s still moist with steam or golden brown and sometimes toped with a sweet, honey like glaze. Both are good, but I prefer steamed. Seriously, next time you see and chinese bakery go in and try a steamed pork bun. So good.

Chinatown Bakery and Deli Bao

Although these buns weren’t the best I’ve ever had (nothing compares to the subway station in Tokyo) these baos were tasty and for only ¢.60 each you really can’t go wrong by giving them a try. The young woman behind the counter was friendly and told me this type of food is found in Guangdong Province, in South East China near Hong Kong.
Chinatown Bakery and Deli Bao

For more Food of the World in Los Angeles, check out my posts on LA restaurants serving the food of ShanghaiVietnamEthiopiaSingapore, and Australia.