Monday, October 31, 2016

Day 12: Wrapping Up Phase 1 in Berkeley (Tues, 7/12/16)

We drove as far as we could on Monday before stopping over for the night and putting ourselves just 4-5 hours out of Berkeley.  As I mentioned, we had decided to cut Yosemite so we were now just heading into the Bay Area so I could spend one night with Mei-Wah before heading out on Phase 2 of my adventure: Phish at the Gorge.

We hit Murray Family Farms in Arvin, CA on the way.

And, here we are at my new front door--Mei-Wah and my apartment building lobby in Berkeley.

A few reflections to close out this phase of the trip (although you'll see from the post-date that I'm actually writing this several months later).

First, Missy and I are not just forced family--we really like each other.  We are quite different people in a lot of ways (not the least of which: musical taste); but in spite (or because) of that we had a great time bonding over many hours on the road.  We are the same age, but grew up in different cities and so only saw each other a few times a year.  This was definitely our most concentrated time together and it was truly fun.  I really appreciated the company, as this was a trip I had to make anyway--it wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining on my own.

Next, I want to give big thanks to Ryan and Christina, friends who travelled the world for a year on their honeymoon--including hitting 35 national parks here in the U.S.  They kept a great blog of their adventures, and to plan this trip I basically pulled up their blog, checked out their recs for national parks, and planned our route accordingly.

Finally, this trip reminded me of two important things.  First is the importance of true relaxation when one can fully unplug from work and other life stresses.  This trip was scheduled for a perfect time--I had wrapped up a large work project at the end of May and after winding down my life in DC for a month I was scheduled to take three full weeks off for this adventure (including the Phase 2 Phish shows).  Alas, the vagaries of the federal court system conspired against this well-laid plan, and I ended up with a brief due the day after I was supposed to return to the office.  This meant I had to stop over and work on my brief from time to time while on the road--but the biggest impact was mental.  Rather than being care free and truly unplugged as planned, I had this important item hanging over my head the whole time.  So, when I arrived in CA instead of feeling refreshed I was feeling drained.

Next, traveling is very fun, and I look forward to being able to schedule a longer adventure at some point.  The first part of this blog covers my 6.5 month solo adventure in Latin America which was an amazing experience.  That trip was originally supposed to be 3.5 months, which sounded like a lot from my living room in New Haven.  But, it wasn't too long before I realized that traveling in a way that allows one to be open-minded about new experiences and really explore one's surroundings requires time.  So, sitting in Buenos Aires about a month in I made one of the best decisions of my life--to forget about taking the bar exam for the time being and extend my trip.  This new 6 month plus adventure sounded quite long to my friends and family in the U.S.; but it was still on the shorter side for many of the new friends I met at hostels, who were often traveling for a year or more.

Now I have a partner and I look forward to being able to get some time of to explore the world together.

Day 11: Zion National Park (Mon, 7/11/16)

On Day 11 we were finally at Zion, considered by some to be the jewel of the national park system.  After sleeping mostly comfortably at the RV park, we were ready to explore.

Zion has buses that take you from parking facilities to several stops with different hikes and attractions.

Here's a closer look at the rock surface.

Here's a view from inside one of the buses, which had nice skylights.

We decided on a hike that would take us to the famous Angel's Landing, a pretty difficult hike that includes some genuinely dangerous parts--narrow ridges where one is clinging to metal chains to help pull you up and stay attached to the mountain (often while someone is coming down the other way).

Here's a "starting out" selfie.

Here's the switchback trail that began our journey in earnest.

And here's what that same trail looked like on the way down.

Then up some carved out switchbacks mercifully in the shade.

And to the Angel's Landing part.

There are some shots of those metal chains I mentioned.

We decided to hike up to the mid-point ridge and not to ascend to the top.  This was in part because of the advice we read on Ryan and Christina's blog (that the view from the very top actually wasn't worth the effort), and in greater part because it looked pretty freaking scary:

The views from the mid-point were plenty amazing for us.

Apparently this part of the trail ends here:

Here are shots of Missy and me at the mid-point.  If you look closely over our right shoulders you can actually see the chains that lead up to the top a bit more clearly than in the shots above.

We stopped for a break on the way down and I had some competition for use of my backpack.

On the switchback on the way down.

After our main hike and a break for lunch we took a short hike to a "weeping rock."

Here's the view from behind some of the dripping water.

Well-deserved beer selfie after a great day of hiking and exploring.  We put the beers in a cooler underneath the car and miraculously they were still cold at 3:19 pm when this photo was taken.  We tried to give some out to fellow hike-finishers, but had few takers.

Two tired and happy cousins.

In order to get from Zion to Berkeley, one must first drive south through Vegas.  Missy had never been to Vegas, so we drove the strip.  Here's the only pic I have from that little detour.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Day 10, Part 2: On to Zion (or its environs)

After heading out of Arches, we drove across Utah towards Zion National Park.  Campsites here are very hard to come by, so we arranged to camp outside of the park at "Zion West RV Park."  As the name implies this was actually mostly an RV park but there was a small grassy area where one can we pulled up the chariot and did some low level car camping.

While there, we made some friends.  Here's Missy pictured with Guy (on the left, Missy's right)  and Justin.  Guy is living in one of the RVs (behind him, out of view), and Justin is living in the tent behind Missy to save money for college.  We ended up hanging out with these guys all evening.  Justin was even going to come into the park with us the next day to show us around but after doing the night shift at the school for kids recovering from trauma or substance abuse he was a bit too tired in the am.

Perhaps most important, it is here that our traveling toaster finally found its rightful home.  As avid readers (I know you're out there) may recall, we were lugging a $20 toaster across the country because my brother Randy (who lives in Irvine, not the Bay Area where we were headed) mentioned offhand to my mother that he could use said toaster.  Missy and I found that somewhat ridiculous in a loving "Jewish mothers do the darndest things" kind of way, so we decided to treat the toaster like a travel companion, taking photos of it in various places throughout.  Well, our new friend Justin has a pretty sweet setup in his tent including a microwave, speakers, etc.--but no toaster.

In a flash of clarity we knew that we were actually carrying the toaster this whole time not to then lug it down to LA/Irvine for my brother but rather to satisfy all of Justin's outstanding cooking needs.  The toaster had found it's highest purpose in Zion West RV Park.

Here I am with Justin and his newest cooking implement.  See the joy that you enabled, mom?

And, our beloved toaster already comfortably nestled into its new home.

To her credit (and not at all to my surprise) my mother was both amused and happy when she learned the toaster wouldn't be making it to Randy's doorstep after all.

The next morning, we woke up and headed into Zion.  First, though, we stopped for breakfast.  Anyone remember when, way back in Denver, I argued that maroon was an especially popular color for SUVs?  Behold the parking lot at our breakfast joint.  Q.E.D.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Day 10 Part 1: Arches National Park (Sun, 7/11/16)

We woke early and headed into the park.  Here was our morning view from the motel.

When we arrived inside the park we discovered there was a flaw in our plan: there are no first-come-first-served campsites in Arches during the summer.  The website was not exactly crystal clear on that.

Oh, well.  We didn't have any shade structure and so were a bit concerned about hanging out in the 100 degree heat all day after our morning hike anyway, so we adjusted our plan: now we would hike in the am and then get on the road to Zion in the afternoon.

So, on to our morning hike in Arches.  We drove 18 miles into the park to the Devil's Garden trailhead.  Here are our "before" photo and video.

The entrance to the hike.

More images from our hike below.  We were going to do a shorter 4 mile round trip hike, but when we finished the first leg we felt good and it wasn’t too hot (we had a nice breeze) so we did the longer loop around Primitive Trail, which is listed as "most difficult."  The hike was actually just moderately hard (although that may have been due to the nice breeze); the part we found most difficult was spotting the smallish stones that mark the trail on some of the big expanses of red rock.

And here's Landscape Arch.

Here is our "after" video.

Here are some pics from the way out of Arches after our hike.

Here are a couple of shots of "Balanced Rock."

Day 9: Gunnison to Moab

On Saturday, July 9th we woke up early to get another round of tennis in.  After that I spent the morning working on my brief, first at the hotel and then at the Gunnison County Public Library.

While I enjoyed the air conditioning, free wifi, and clean bathrooms, Missy explored town.  She hit the local thrift stores, consignment shops, went to the Gunnison farmer’s market and generally contributed to local Gunnison economy.

Missy had one request today: beach.  So, after grabbing lunch at a combination of Mocha, a pizza place, and organic food store (all in the same shopping complex), we headed to the Blue Mesa where Missy hit the beach and I continued my work over fried ice cream at Paddy's restaurant.

At about 5pm we got on the road to Moab.

Some pretty nice scenery on the way.

Moab is the city right outside of Arches National Park.  The reserved campsites are taken months in advance for the summer, so our plan was to get into the park super early in the morning and grab one of the first-come-first-serve slots.  So, when we arrived in Moab we headed to the grocery store to load up on camping food.

Day 8: Denver to Gunnison...through Salida (Fri, 7/8/16)

Up and Out

We woke up Friday morning and hung out with Doug, Andrew, and their chickens for a bit before heading out on the road.

Oh, and we had to get another couple of toaster shots.  Here it is with its companion in the Park-Casler household.

And, running wild with the chickens.

Red Rocks

On our way out of town we were driving right past Red Rocks.  I have seen a number of shows there, but Missy had never been there so we stopped.  It's truly a gorgeous place and these pictures barely do it justice.


We headed west across Colorado towards Utah where our next national park destination awaited, Arches.

After a couple of hours on the road we stopped for lunch in Salida so I could reconnect with Shelley.  We worked together on the same 2008 campaign as Yana and then for a couple of more years after that.  We ate at Benson's where Shelley works sometimes, when she's not holding down the fort at the local Planned Parenthood.

Salida is a beautiful mountain town that is a significant outdoor tourism destination.  While Shelley and I caught up, Missy grabbed some pho and checked out the scene.  Here are some pics from around town.  


After lunch and some wandering we got back on the road west and made it to Gunnison, another cute mountain town which Missy loved and I appreciated for its comfortable and well-appointed public library (that damn brief again).

We checked into the Long Holiday Motel, which was totally charming and perfect for our needs.

From here I buckled down to work on my brief and Missy explored town and brought us back a tasty Indian dinner.  

We also used this as home base to plan the rest of our trip.  We had planned the trip out fairly carefully to minimize driving and maximize national park viewing and friend visiting; but due to my brief-writing needs we were a couple of days behind.  So, we had to make some tough decisions about what to cut, including canceling the only remaining camping reservation we had in a park.  We decided to cut Yosemite (where we had a reservation) because it was close enough to the Bay Area for me to get to easily again.

To her credit, Missy was a total trooper and didn't complain that my work responsibilities were cramping our style.  [She also never actually asked me what my brief/case was about...which probably reveals something about our different personalities.]

Day 7: A Full Day in Denver

Out on the Boat

We woke up Thursday morning and headed to Cherry Creek to go out on the water with my old friend Rex and his friend and business partner Stevie.  They bought a small boat together and invited us out to waterski.  As it turned out, it was a perfect morning, and this was a real highlight of the trip.

Here's Rex getting the inner tube ready.

It was great catching up with Rex, and Stevie couldn't have been nicer or more welcoming to us both.  And, I haven't been water skiing since I was nine or ten years old in camp.  Let me tell you, it's a LOT harder at 39--every single muscle in my body was sore for 2-3 days after.

Missy went first, and she was a natural.  She got up on the second or third try and stayed up seemingly forever.


I, on the other, struggled.  It took me nearly 10 times to get up...but I finally did, and it was a blast.

Here's some video of Missy.

Rex and Stevie were real pros, doing tricks and going in and out of the wake (whereas I was just trying to stay up and alive).

After a really great morning out on the water, I headed back to the PIRG office to work on my brief and Missy treated herself to a massage (oh, that's why she was less sore than me the next day...I thought it was because she is in better shape...oh, yeah, that too...).

Visiting the Old Neighborhood

I lived in Denver from August 2007 through March 2010, first in a couple of rentals and then in my own place on Knox Court.  I still own the three-unit building on Knox, so after working for a few hours we headed to my old neighborhood to show Missy my place and take in some of the changes.

First, a random shot from downtown Denver.  I became convinced that maroon (like my Subaru Forester) was the most popular color for SUVs, and took this pic in our Denver parking lot to prove my point.  [Missy thinks I'm crazy.]

For some reason, I didn't take any pictures of my Knox Court place; but here's an old photo I found.  My trusty property manager Jeff keeps it in top shape.

There have been a lot of changes to my neighborhood since I bought in 2008.  My place is right off of West Colfax, just past Mile High Stadium on the way out to Lakewood and the mountains.  Colfax is supposedly the longest commercial street in the U.S.  The east side goes through Capitol Hill, and has long been a hipster spot.  The west side has long been dominated by seedy motels and used car lots.  I bought my place in part because there were plans to spruce up the area, starting with a light rail stop going in a couple of blocks south of my property.

Well, that development is finally happening.  The light rail line went in, and an old abandoned hospital is finally being redeveloped.  There's even a Starbucks on W. Colfax a few blocks down from me--a once unthinkable sign of...well, gentrification I guess.  Denver is booming with thousands of people moving in each month, so property values are rising across the city.  As we all know this is a complex issue and no doubt many folks will be pushed out of the neighborhood as rents rise.

I am definitely excited about the new microbrewery that moved in just a block west on Colfax, though...and Missy and I met Yana (who also owns a house in the neighborhood) there to check it out.

They had a BBQ truck in the parking lot, so we enjoyed a feast with our beer.

Yana and I were the first two people assigned to our 2008 effort to elect President Obama and progressive candidates down the ballot, so we reminisced about those crazy first few weeks and the barely comprehensible mathematic equations we came up with to choose which states to target.  Clearly our equations are responsible for the past eight years of increasing prosperity--so we've got that going for us.