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.

LA’s Backyard

Established over a hundred years ago and covering over 700,000 acres, the Angeles National Forest is a massive undeveloped area on the northern edge of LA’s sprawl. The forest contains the San Gabriel Mountains, several campgrounds and hiking areas. The numerous peaks and valleys, chaparral vegetation, quiet dessert-like climate and lack of development make you feel like you’re out in the wild, despite being less than an hour drive from downtown (depending on traffic of course!).

Looking West from Chilao Campground

Looking West from Chilao Campground

It’s a sharp contrast to the strip-malls and freeways, and also to the glitz and sparkle of the LA’s beach life. If the western-facing beaches are LA’s front yard, the quiet eastern peaks of the Angeles National Forest acts as it’s backyard.

And like the backyards of our youth, the forest is great for reconnecting with nature. Recently some friends and I spent a night camping at the Manzanita Loop of the Chilao Campground. We pitched our tents on soft sand on the leeward side of some rocks, protecting us from the occasional wind. We stoked a fire and enjoyed cold beers and watched the sun slowly paint the sky as it descended far across the valley and below the distant horizon. At an elevation of 5,300′ the temperatures dropped significantly as the night progressed, but my Terramar Climasense Ecolator layers kept me warm and dry, especially the 1/4 zip fleece and full zip hoodie.

Terramar's 1/4 zip fleece with

Terramar’s 1/4 zip fleece with dual surface knitting system (high loft grid channels for enhanced breatability and effective layering for cold weather)

Terramar Full Zip hoodie with heavyweight thermoregulation comfort technology kept me warm as the temps dropped

Terramar Full Zip hoodie with heavyweight thermoregulation comfort technology kept me warm as the temps dropped

The morning day we continued up Route 2 and did some hiking along the Islip Saddle, logging some (snowy) miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and stopping for lunch at the Little Jimmy Campground.

Who needs a bed when you've got views like these

Who needs a bed when you’ve got views like these

Although I’ve only visited a few times, I highly recommend visiting the Angeles National Forest for a scenic drive, a day hike, a backpacking trip or just to get out of the city. It’s a great resource for residents of Southern California and visitors alike alike, and serves the purpose of any great backyard – a place to go and play outside.

A visit to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, located a few hours north east of Los Angeles, is a part of the country I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s a massive national park that encompasses many natural wonders, including the lowest elevation point in North America (282 feet below sea level). It’s a place with the hottest recorded temperature (134 F), and given it’s remoteness and lack of development, it sorta feels like another planet.

I recently spent the day exploring the park and doing a few short hikes.  Because it was January, the cooler weather allowed me to test out some Terramar Sports base layers in the field.

Death Valley National Park

The valley floor is about 5,000 feet below

After driving for about 2 hours from the Las Vegas strip, I entered the park from the east on Route 190. Our first stop was Dante’s View, a viewpoint atop a series of switchbacks. Looking down at Death Valley and the surrounding mountains, it’s hard to get a sense of scale, but easy to get a sense of the park: vast, quiet, dry and still.

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Looking northwest from Dante’s View in my Climasense Ecolator 1/4 Zip

I was happy to have an extra layer at Dante’s view because the wind was blowing strong and steady, and my blue Terramar 1/4 zip worked out great. After a short hike and some photos, we continued to the valley floor, some 5,000 feet below.

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Looking north at Badwater Basin

After a brief stop at Furnace Creek ranch, we continued south to Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America and the site of vast salt-flats.

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Salt and mineral deposits in Badwater Basin

Here the wind was gone, the sun beat down, and I could only imagine the unrelenting heat that one must feel during the summer. We walked around and took photos, and my green Terramar dry-fit Helix Tee kept me cool and comfortable (and visible!).

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Wondering around and keeping cool at Badwater Basin in my Terramar Helix Tee

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Fun fact: salt flats taste salty!

A highlight of the trip was a detour along Artists Drive, a 9-mile loop through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills.

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View along Artist’s Drive

“This is a place that hints of secrets, that tucks its beauty deep inside narrow canyons, buries its treasures beneath tones of earth, hoards its water beneath the soil. And continues to attract a never-ending stream of humans intent upon wresting those secrets from their hiding places. In the process, they venture far into dark, secluded canyons. They dig deep into the earth. They explore holes in the ground. And as some seek riches, others search for the mysterious. The unknown. The Mythical.” – John Soennichsen

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Death Valley National Park

Near the center of the park we visited Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a beautiful and picturesque collection of dunes and brush, the highest one is about a hundred feet tall.

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Dunes in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells

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Exploring the dunes in my Terramar Ecolator 1/4 Zip

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Our final stop was a trailhead down a long, unpaved road on the western edge of the park. Racing the sunset we started a short, flat hike up a canyon to a creek bed. The dry earth slowly became a trickle of water, then a small stream, and eventually a series of pools and small cascades. Hoping between rocks and scrambling over a few boulders, we ended our hike at a waterfall called Darwin Falls. The water was flowing, and it was a nice quiet place to sit for a few minutes before leaving the park. On our way back to the park we even saw a bat circling some water, no doubt searching for a sunset snack.

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I recommend visiting the park to anyone who cherishes the outdoors in one of it’s purist forms, however I’d recommend spending at least one night in the park because it’s so large.  For those interested in learning more about the ecology, history and inhabitants of Death Valley I highly recommend Live! From Death Valley by John Soennichsen

Panorama Trail

And here I sit in the sun on a wide, smooth, sloping rock.

 

Before me flows the river. Clear and cold, home to fish and smooth stones, inviting sweaty hikers to dip their dusty feet and welcoming me for a quick dip to cool down and clean off.

 

Straight ahead is the forest. Thick and full, green with moss and leaves, trees, grey and brown and red, others dead and bleached paled by the sun.

 

To the left a scramble of stones, piled upon each other and scattered, slowing the water into pools and trickles, the sound is soothing enough for me to nap in the sun for a few minutes.

 

Squirrels creep about in search of food, tiny lizards and frogs enjoy the rocks near the waters edge. Blue feathered birds bounce from tree to tree.

 

To the right beyond the sandy shallows is a small foot bridge, another of the thousands of photo opportunities, It acts as the final gateway for this tranquil water before gravity leads to a violent drop, Nevada Falls. Even in September, during this historic 2014 drought, the water flows.

 

Beyond the falls lay the Yosemite Valley. Hard to absorb in scale and mass, its walls and trees and river and cliffs simply astound those lucky enough to visit.

 

Behind me Liberty Cap blocks my view of Half Dome, other worldly these granite monuments stand, grey and green against the deep blue above.

 

This place, this rock, this experience is special. I hope to return to this rock again one day. And to continue to be astonished by the natural world and it’s beauty.
Alex and Andrea are awake now, so it’s time to hike down the winding granite steps to the shuttle then the car then to campsite 144 for cold beer, a refreshing swim in the river, hearty dinner and wine by the fire.

Elliott Smith Top 4

The cover of 'Figure 8'
The cover of ‘Figure 8’

Many consider Los Angeles, California the Entertainment Capital of the World. It is where people go to chase their dreams, to make it big.

Some stay, some go, some just pass through. Few leave their mark, many more don’t.

On Sunset Boulevard I recently visited a place where one musician has left his mark, even if he doesn’t know it.

You might not know the name Elliott Smith, but you’ve probably heard his music. He was heavily featured on the Soundtrack for “Good Will Hunting”. His style incorporates whisper-soft singing over simple acoustic guitar with lyrics that can be mellow yet haunting. Much of his music is both simple and complex, the sort of music that’s best enjoyed at night and while not distracted. 

The cover of his album Figure 8 is a black and white photo of Elliot standing in front of a mural of curved red and black lines. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, probably one of dozens of other promotional photos taken that day at various places near the music studio.

But like the cover of the Beatles’ Abby Road or Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’, this simple image and place has now become eternally linked with this artist and his music.

The wall is located on the South Side of Sunset Boulevard next to a McDonalds and a Mexican Taqueria, and recently I went to check it out.

2013-11-15 12.46.41The red and black swirling lines were accompanied by a combination of graffiti tags, tributes and lyrics. The wall has been painted, and repainted many times since the albums release in 2000 and become an ever-evolving place of expression for fans and as well as graffiti “artists”.

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Inspired by visiting the wall, I figured I’d put together a list of 4 of his songs I’ve enjoyed most over the years.

Junk Bond Trader – Figure 8

Unlike many of his other songs, this one is best listened to at a high volume.  In this relatively uptempo song the piano and bells drive a strong momentum. The song’s energy peaks towards the end, before seemingly being cut short. The energy is punctuated with this line at about the 2:50 mark:

Now I’m a policeman directing traffic, keeping everything moving, everything static.
I’m the hitchhiker you recognize passing, on your way to some everlasting…

St. Ides Heaven – Self Titled

This song paints a vision of world through a lens smeared by the effects of drugs and alcohol. It’s performed with the honesty of a man dealing with addiction and regret, and his voice and guitar tell the story of a guy walking alone late at night with cloudy vision. Through it you see a blurry vision of the moon above the artist and a darkness within.

High on amphetamines
The moon is a light bulb breaking
It’ll go around with anyone
But it won’t come down for anyone

Pitseleh – X/O

A prototypical example of the artist’s style, Pitseleh combines simple acoustic guitar, heartfelt lyrics, and whispering melodic singing. It’s the kind of song that easily melts into his other works, yet can stand up on its own.

The first time I saw you, I knew it would never last
I’m not half what I wish I was

Say Yes – X/O

Say Yes is the kind of song that sounds like it was recorded on a cassette tape sitting cross legged on the floor of an upstairs bedroom of a suburban home. The short song is full of lyrics which tap into the universal desire to be desired, doubtful optimism, and heartbreak. It’s stripped-down and clean, and the message boils down to a simple yet profound request – “say yes.”

I could be, another fool, or an exception to the rule
you tell me, the morning after.

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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

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

Gear Review – Terramar Helix Mountain Tee

As part of the Terramar Tribe program, over the next few months I’ll be testing and reviewing some outdoor Terramar gear.  Terramar is a sports apparel company that specializes in base layers. Here’s my latest review:

Terramar Helix Mountain Tee

Terramar Helix Tee | $20

For my first review I busted out this insanely bright neon green technical tee shirt and went for a 4 mile run along the strand at Playa Del Mar Beach here in Los Angeles. The breathable fabric fit me well and was very lightweight. The stitching seems sturdy and the sleeves sat at a comfortable length above my elbow.

Terramar Helix Mountain Tee

Later I wore the shirt as I climbed the steep stairs leading up to the Baldwin Hills Overlook in Culver City and the Helix Tee really helped keep me dry as I started sweating about halfway up.

Terramar Helix Mountain Tee

Finally, on a 7-mile hike to the peak of Smith Mountain in the San Gabriel Wilderness the tee worked as a solid base to keep my skin dry and warm as I progressed from sun to shade, low to higher altitude and while hiking and scrambling across different zones.

Terramar Helix Mountain Tee

One thing I’d recommend for the next generation’s design would be a few small reflective patches of fabric around the back and sleeves – nothing too major, just something to catch the light of an oncoming car when jogging at night or catch the headlamp of a fellow night-kayaker. 

Terramar Helix Mountain Tee

The Helix Tee comes in many different colors, and given its performance thus far I recommend checking it out, especially given the value at this price point. For more info checkout the Terramar Website.

Terramar Helix Mountain Tee

 

Breaking Bad Cookbook

Breaking Food Logo

I was a big fan of the AMC show Breaking Bad which concluded this year. For those who don’t know, it was a show about the misadventures of an average middle aged guy as he descends into the seedy business of producing and distributing crystal meth.  The focus on the show was the characters, the drug trade and family drama. But there were also many other layers to the show, including the presence of various foods.

I randomly woke up the other day with an idea for a Breaking Bad cookbook.  Not instructions on how to synthesize or “cook” meth, but rather collection would be a humors take on how to prepare and serve some of the foods featured in the show.

Here are a few dishes I thought of:

  • Flynn’s Flapjacks
  • Heisenberg’s PB&J
  • Skylar’s Greenbeans and slivered almonds
  • Hank’s ‘Schraderbrau’ brew
  • Gus’s Chilean Paila Marina
  • Los Pollos Hermanos Fried Chicken with Madrigal Franch Sauce
  • Lydia’s Camomile Tea with Soy Milk (and Stevia)
  • Tuco’s Tight! Tight tight, yeah! Burritos
  • Jesse’s Funyuns with Chili P (Chili Powder)
  • Venezia’s Cost-Saving Uncut Pizza

Which am I missing? The show was so dense I’m sure there are a few other good ones out there!

 

Washington DC

Recently I spent a few days in Washington DC with my mom. We visited a few friends, toured some monuments and museums, and ate some fantastic food.

It started in the early afternoon when I arrived downtown by car after spending the weekend in Annapolis for a wedding. I met my mom at the lobby of the hotel, where she had arrived after visiting with some of her friends Karen and Asir. At the hotel I was also able to catch up with my old AmeriCorps teammate Jerry, his wife and their new baby boy. The 7 of us walked around the corner to a coffee shop for sandwiches and drinks, sat outside and caught up a bit. I hadn’t seen Jerry and Shannon since our AmeriCorps Team Leader’s wedding a few years ago, and it was good to catch up and meet his little boy.

Since they had to get back home for nap time, Jerry, Shannon and the baby went on back home and my Mom and I got a ride with Karen and Asir to Georgetown. It was a beautiful summer day, and Wisconsin Street was bustling with people and cars. We chatted and window shopped and people watched and enjoyed the old architecture and historic streets. We stopped into a local bar for a beer and to chat before they gave us a ride to a metro station that took us back to the hotel.

After resting and getting ready my mom and I walked about a mile and a half to grab dinner at Cava on Capitol Hill. I had been to another of their locations in 2009 after attending Obama’s first inauguration. The food is really great. Its the kind of place you can spend $100 and a few hours and feel like you’ve experienced something unique. We got tapas to share, various dips and olives, zucchini fritters, roasted cauliflower, “lollipop chicken” and lamb chops on the bone. We enjoyed a really nice meal outside on the sidewalk and washed it down with cucumber mojitos.

The next day we got up early and rented bikes for the day. It was another clear, beautiful summer day, perfect for bouncing from site to site with only a general idea of an itinerary.  From the bike shop outside Union Station we made our way first to the “National Building Museum” and briefly visited the cavernous interior with it’s massive columns. Next stop was Ford’s Theater, where we learned about Lincoln’s presidency in the basement museum and learned more about his assassination after viewing an excellent performance by a historian on the stage of the actual Theater.

From there we rode past the White House, and made a quick stop at Farragut Square, which by that time was lined with food trucks. We split a small mediterranean salad before continuing up to check out the interior of the Mayflower Hotel, and also a quick stroll around the headquarters of National Geographic, which was displaying an interesting array of nature photos themed “Lions, Tigers and Bears.”

After spending most of the morning traversing busy city streets and sidewalks, heading south to the National Mall we were able to get a little more space around us while biking on the broad, beige graveled paths on our way to the National Archives. There after a short line we were able to see and read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It was very cool to see the actual handwriting of the founding fathers, and their signatures.

We had a lunch of sandwiches outside and continued around mall, past the Washington Monument covered in Scaffolding (repairs from the earthquake a few years ago), making our way to the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr monument, still under construction but impressive.

The quotes engraved along the wall are inspiring, however they also make me question the lack of progress we’ve made as a global society. “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is easy to agree with, but with over 100,000 people killed in Syria alone over the past year or so, it seems the words aren’t being fulfilled. I’m not an expert on race, but it is amazing that in a country where many of these monuments were built by the labor of slaves, here stands a monument built to honor a man who epitomized the movement of racial equality, and is governed by the first African American to hold the office of President. As a country we’ve made progress, but the journey isn’t over.

From there we continue west to the iconic Lincoln memorial overlooking the reflection pool. Like MLK, Honest Abe is surrounded by scaffolding too. Not due to construction but due to vandalism over the last week or so. We visit the step where MLK gave the “I have a dream” speech almost 50 years ago and take photos, inspired in part because Dr. King was a student of my great grandfather, professor Dr. Edgar Brightman, at Boston University.

We make a quick stop for a cold beer outside before continuing along the Tidal Basin, visiting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Memorial and then that of Thomas Jefferson, taking care not to fall into the water along the fence-less sidewalk.  From there we cruised the national mall back east, and returned the bikes to union station.

That night we walk to Chinatown and split a few entrees as well as a 48oz tropical drink served in a volcano shaped bowl, complete with 2 foot long straws and flames in the middle.

The next morning we brave the clouds and make our way back over to Capitol Hill, wondering the more residential streets and visiting the Eastern Market, a pottery store and then a corner shop for breakfast and some friendly advice about cool things to check out from some of the employees. From there we stop at a cool retro themed place on 8th street where we pick up some homemade pop tarts for later. We take the Metro to L’Efant Plaza and spend a few hours in the Air & Space Museum. It’s a very impressive display of aviation history, artifacts, and hands on exhibits. We see the Wright Flyer and watch a short IMAX movie about the history of flight before snacking on our Poptarts.

The rest of the afternoon we wander around the Newseum, a modern and high tech building honoring “The Fourth Estate” of our government –  a free and open press. After working in television for the past 7 years I was intrigued by the museum and wasn’t disappointed. Along with interactive displays on the history of old and new mediums of communication, we saw historical artifacts from the Berlin Wall, 9/11 and field journalism in the middle east.

That evening it’s tapas again, this time at the Spanish themed Jaleo and again we aren’t disappointed. The atmosphere is buzzing and colorful, the bartenders friendly, and we enjoy an impressive spread: sauteed cauliflower with dates and olives, roasted eggplant with sweet onions and sherry dressing, warm spinach with pine nuts and apples, spiced chorizo with garlic potatoes wine and their signature sangria. A great meal to wrap a up a great trip.

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.

Signing Off..

Tonight when SportsCenter ends at 1am eastern, my time working at ESPN will come to a close. Leaving the company wasn’t an easy decision, but after almost 6 and a half years of working at the company headquarters in Bristol, CT, I’m ready for the next chapter.

It has been a really remarkable, rewarding and fun run. It’s been hard to say goodbye to so many great coworkers and friends, and I’ve heard some really kind words from many of them over the past few weeks.

I can remember the beautiful leaf colors while driving down I-84 from Massachusetts back in the fall of 2006 for my interview.

And getting told to pay attention while Bryan Larson and I goofed around in the back of the classroom on our first day at Rookie Camp.

I remember showing up clean shaven, with my shirt tucked into khakis (ironed!), working late nights on ESPNews and learning my way around campus. I learned a lot during those early days about TV, the company culture, the difficult schedule we work. I remember working till 2am in the old X/Y room in building 1 by PCR9…back in those days we did video fixes on tape and the network was still SD.

I remember training on the Deko with Steve Davis, laughing with Marlette and Presser late night, the adrenaline of doing live TV and the panic of creating phoners pannel graphics on the fly, playing out Football Friday with Tommy Edwards. Shiiiiiiiiiit.

I remember wondering around the massive campus while on dinner break and meeting Mudd over by Master Control. I remember going to Nemi’s christmas party and getting a spatula from Santa’s dollar-store gift bag.

I remember living with Todd Eckman and his ADHD dog Bella at Brookside Apartments. Jogging around the hilly loop in town, playing late night Guitar Hero 2, and bowling nights with the guys from “The Data Group” at city sports. Karaoke nights at at Déjà Vu with 2 dollar Coronas and Tequila, getting rides home and singing Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers at the top of our lungs, often into the phone. The other end of the phone was BLar’s work voicemail, which were eventually compiled into the infamous “drunk dial mix” CD.

I can remember helping out with Habitat for Humanity with with Meag Fitz, and drinking in Matt Chant’s backyard and basement until dawn. Those days I took trips to Philly to visit Lora, and started hosting crazy themed parties for no apparent reason. Halloween Spooktaculars with a DVD of Waterworld on loop at Auggies. Big Lebowski viwing parties. Midweek-mid afternoon BBQs with MGMT and playing Mario Kart on 64. And when I went to day shift I hosted “Trevor’s Nighttime Exodus Festivus” – complete with piñata. The parties at Mansionland with Pat and Nemi, Cinco de Mayo.

As I continued to learn new shows and graphics platforms, I was working with so many different people. From building 1 and the Font PAs and the early GPs, to the huge number of ADs, Directors and producers in the Digital Center, there are too many to name them all. I was also learning more about sports and tv production, working on international shows and a few side projects.

In 2009 I was named ESPN “Chef of the Week”, resulting in the nickname “Porkchop” from Paul C which lasts to this day. BLar and I did dozens of hikes around Bristol, Southington…Farmington, including in the middle of winter in the snow. O.D.F.A.’s of Disc Golf with Benny G and Corbett and others at various courses around town. Visits to Lovely Street and the night we went to see a Weezer concert in NYC.

There were the late night parties at Huntington Woods. Kanye West at max volume, strobe lights and excessive amounts of beer and liquor. I remember the time Benny and I drove all the way from Boston with muffler and half the exhaust stytem in the trunk of my Mazda. Hanging out at the pool, playing tennis, and buying my first convertible car.

There were company picnics, complete with riding the skyline with Meag and Carly, yelling while we rode the various amusement park rides not out of fear, but to make each other laugh.

I remember hosting LOST parties with Danielle and Sarah and Popkin, flanking the TV with house plants to give the TV “more of a jungle look”, watching Whale Wars on Animal Plannet with BLar and Bobby and Ben Lerner, and watching The Wire with Popkin.

I remember coordinating the epic Around the World New Year’s Eve party around Huntington Woods, going to concerts to see Jimmy Buffet with Soder and Joy and crew, Greek Festivals and various road trips to New Hampshire, Boston, and NYC.

I remember declaring that we Celebrate Everything ’09, seeing Obama elected than watching him become inaugurated from the cold grass of the National Mall. Driving with the top down and the music blasting Rick Astley and Lady Gaga on the highway with Mudd.

I remember the Pad Kee Mao (extra spicy) from Somewhere in Bangkok, Chicken Parm Thursdays from the caf, and the delicious pizza and totally sketchy environment at Sabino’s in Bristol.

I remember working in Graphics Room 2b working with the coworkers from all over the world on International SportsCenter, and sneaking out to hit a bucket of balls at the driving range on our lunch break with Big Ern.

I remember going to Quinnipiac for grad school because…well…why not? The projects and the carpools, the reading, writing and discussing with Candice and James and the rest of the crew.

I remember living next to Greg and Missy and later baby Brevin. Helping to watch him and cook for those guys and hosting family dinners that sometimes included 6 or 8 guests, but maxed out that one Thanksgiving at a whopping 22 people crammed into our apartment.

There were road trips to Montreal, Ocean City, Mitch’s bachelor party and wedding in Philly. There was the kayak trip with Claire and BLar, trips to Red top with Nia. Orlando, Disney, New Orleans, the gulf of Mexico and the week long trip to Tokyo.

The guys weekend trip to Austin – throwing the football around the field at Texas stadium and rocking out to “I’m on a Boat” on the rooftop bar where I’d first met BLar 5 years earlier.

I remember getting into various projects, like painting gigantic scissors on a huge canvas, Apartment 34 movie scene reenactments with Popkin, and watching and evaluating every single James Bond movie with BLar.

I remember going to ESPN Multicultural Fairs, a company Christmas party, getting a photo with Will Ferrell, shaking hands with Tedy Bruschi, an autographed book from Peter Gammons. Eating chicken wings and watching Monday Night Football with Trey Wingo and Trent Dilfer while on the clock, playing trivial persuit with Duff and crew before Primetime.

I remember helping BLar move. Then move again. Then finally move into Apt 34 with me.

Graduating from QU with a Masters of Science, there was the weeklong adventure down in Charleston, SC on Folly Beach. I remember swimming in between lightning strikes with Ryno, Popkin falling asleep on a bench by the aquarium, the bike tour, and a huge brunch at Vickeries with some great friends who came all the way down to celebrate with me, my Mom and some family.

At work I continued to continued to train, mentor, and lead on some projects and ideas, like the Creative Services book swap, the Young Professionals Graphics Committee, the Off The Record group, VCS 101 Classes.

I was sent to the LA office for a week one spring, working on SportsCenter, international shows, and a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park.

Connecticut saw some crazy weather over the past 6 years. There was the tornado, hurricanes, flooding, power outages the blizzard on Halloween. There were camping nights, beach trips to Hammonasset, Sleeping Giant state park, and long talks and discussions around Crescent Lake with BLar. Floating the Farmington River with Laura and Mike, mountain biking around Mt. Southington, climbing Mt. Monadnock.

I helped start the AmeriCorps Alums Chapter with Katherine and Tina and later RJ and Luiz, taking it from an idea to a working, growing network which connects people and does meaningful work.

There were weddings – Mitch and Mo, Bill and Liz, Jess and Billy, Matt and Camy, Mark and Cole, Jerry and Shannon, Mike and Lori, Kathy and Derek, Sam and Kristen, Bob and Carly – each of which I feel honored to have been a part of.

I remember starting to travel for GameDay Basketball, the sound of the chant at Phog Allen and getting stranded at the pizza place with Lappas and Kayln. Eating gator in Gainesville, exploring Missouri with Mudd and the BBQ at Rocky top.

There were P.O.A.T. ski trips, St. Pattys parties, and many “going away” happy hours at Wood N Tap on route 10. Mexican Thanksgiving partys in West Chester, visits to Lexington and mom’s delicious cooking back home.

On the road with GameDay football I’ll never forget the site from the field of the crowd as Michigan came back to beat Notre Dame at the end of the first night-game at the Big House. Or the sound of thousands of people yelling the war chant at Florida State. Road Kill Grill on Fridays, insane work hours and sitting in the front of the plane with Willy and Albon.

Working on NBA Finals, I got to see more of the midwest, take a charter flight with Burgan and stay (covertly) with Kristen at a 5-star hotel in Miami. No oops.

I’ve seen Kemba Walker score a clutch jumper at MSG, Westbrook to Durrant on the fast break in OKC, Red Sox play in the Bronx, Andrew Luck drop back in Palo Alto.

I was part of the coverage when Barry Bonds broke the home run record. When Farve retired…then didn’t. When the Sox won again, Michael Phelps broke records, the Saints re-opened the Superdome, spygate, Tiger Woods’ fall from glory, the Virginia Tech tragedy, a 22-inning baseball game, Bruins taking home the cup, lockouts, the Decision, Penn State’s scandal, Tebow, Linsanity, Bounty gate and hundreds of other stories.

There was the Mustachio Bashio. A crazy idea that grew into one of my favorite nights of the year. An annual party to act like a fool in public with your best friends and raise money for a good cause – tell me, is there anything better than that?

Thousands of memories with literally hundreds of people, too many to note here.

Thank you everyone for your help, guidance and friendship over this journey. It is bittersweet to close this chapter, but I know I’ll see many of you again down the road. Until then, be well.

-Trevor

2/20/12