Ridiculously stunning, captivating

Myanmar: An introduction to Southeast Asia

Aug 04, 2016

Eastward I went. Far, far eastward. Across the Atlantic. Passing over the UK. Past Western Europe, my last great adventure. Past Eastern Europe, an adventure for another day. Eventually to the Middle East, an area that has been growing in appreciation in my heart. Into the desert. The rich sands and haze of Qatar.

Aug 05, 2016

It had taken me 12 hours to get here from New York City. I wish I had something poignant to say about such a travel. The flight was beautifully uneventful. In a world where everything is taken for granted, I have few words. I just flew on a $300 million dollar piece of magic. An engineering marvel that would shatter your brain if you could fathom the intricacies of it all.

I watched Big Hero 6 off of a recommendation. That movie will give kids a false sense of inventing in a way that any Disney princess movie gives kids a false sense of love and life.

I watched Casablanca. It’s still rated as one of the best moves of all time and I had to see why. Classics are classics for a reason. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would have. It’s a bit absurd, but it’s a bit beautiful.

I sat in the airport in Qatar for about three hours. The sun was setting when I left New York, and the sun was setting again here.

Onto another plane I went. Eastward still. Across India, until finally my destination approached. Myanmar. Or Burma as some people might still call it. Yes, they are the same place. No, Burma is not some island. For me, it’s the entry point and the introduction into Southeast Asia.

Aug 06, 2016

Beautifully complicated, Myanmar is a place that was pretty much off limits for travel only a few short years ago. It all started in 2007 with 100,000 monks. They weren’t happy. And when you manage to mobilize that many peaceful warriors, you are in for a fun time. Fighting in the streets. Revolution. The entire country was flipped upside down, just as I would be by visiting it.

Twenty-two hours. Somewhere around 9,000 miles of flying. Finally my adventure could begin.

The first stop was Yangon, the capital. I had arrived at about 6 AM in the morning. Saturday morning. I boarded my first flight in New York around 10 PM, on Thursday night. We all have Friday nights that we can’t remember, but in my case it feels like this day never existed.

Eventually I made it through customs, picked up some local currency and grabbed a taxi to my hotel. The city passes me by as the driver maneuvers through traffic, beeping at anyone he feels the right too. I think it’s a beautiful city with a lot of character. Some people would probably say it’s too gritty. I think it’s a very truthful place. Its presence would go on to charm me.

I check in early to the hotel. It’s the rainy season. Everyone seems to point this put to me. I want to go out and explore, as there seems to be a break in the weather. I decide to nap first which eventually leads to a long sleep. I wake up around 5 PM and decide to quickly get a move on to go check out what the town has to offer.

The weather ends up being fine for the night. There are some showers, but never anything more. I thought the rainy season would be a lot worse, but I think it really just makes you appreciate the fine weather. If you can’t enjoy life with bad weather, then feel free to be held back from a good time. Feel free to be miserable. Or move to San Diego or something.

The first stop is Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s a short walk from the hotel. I start walking on the sidewalks before I kind of realize they don’t exist and join the locals on the road. Cars have the right of way, but you kind of just use your brain and follow other people. You quickly get the feel for how to operate. In general when you’re in a new place, just follow along. It will get you to a point where you can start to think and make decisions for yourself.

The cloudiness of the night mixed with the fogging of my camera lens. My lens was sitting in an air-conditioned room. Out in the real world it gave me problems until it adapted to the temperature. I didn’t really notice it too much at the time of this picture. And I didn’t really mind. I was just absorbing everything on the walk. Even when I eventually go to the pagoda I didn’t really want to shoot pictures. The new sights had consumed me, and I gave into them.

The streets of Myanmar consumed me
The streets of Myanmar consumed me

There are lots of little stores and carts and setups of all different kinds. Many of the practices would be against many of the rules back home. Things are just different here. It seems to work well enough.

I passed about a dozen stray dogs on the walk over. They all look the same. Just a different color. They’re also really smart. They wait for cars and sprint across the road. They stay clear of people. They eat every single scrap of food that hasn’t been consumed. They kind of are like pigeons in New York or seagulls down the Jersey shore. They are just kind of there. Part of the scenery. They don’t really bother you. No one pays them any mind.

You can’t wear shoes to see this Shwedagon Pagoda. No socks either. You need long pants as well. Respect and whatnot. Walking the wet stone floor is another little indication that I am not home. This is how things are done out here.

The pagoda is breathtaking. Honestly. I went into this trip really wanting to shoot some good pictures. But the sights of the street have consumed me, and the beauty of the pagoda had rendered my photography skills useless. There are some incredible shots here, but I wasn’t able to capture them as I had wanted. I walked around in awe of the place. How different. How beautiful. As the cathedrals are to Western Europe, I feel so too will the temples of Southeast Asia be for me.

Ridiculously stunning, captivating
Ridiculously stunning, captivating

Even though it’s rainy season, there are a fair amount of people here, but its not overwhelming. There’s a mix of tourists and worshippers of all different levels. I thought this picture of these people lighting candles gave me an interesting perspective. Religion is kind of religion everywhere. In Myanmar you might be a Buddhist. Back in the states you might be Christian. So much of what vehemently believe in are truths or ideas that were given to us based on such unexplainable things like where we were born.

Worshippers at Shwedagon Pagoda
Worshippers at Shwedagon Pagoda

After walking about the pagoda I strolled off. I wanted to walk to the Chinatown area because there was supposed to be some good bbq on 19th street. I like walking when I’m in new places. It gives you a great perspective and time to look around and process the place. It let’s you discover new things about a place. It gives you some much needed exercise on the road. Unfortunately the walk was a bit uneventful. It was mostly along a wide road.

There are several streets and vendors all over the Chinatown area. 19th Street was alive with a mix of vendors, and places to sit down and grab some food and drink. It looks like this. It’s a reminder again that I’m so far away from home. This place has all of the essentials that you would want back home, but it just looks a bit different.

Streets of Yangon
Streets of Yangon

I settle for a location that is crowded. My plan for the trip is to sometimes reference reviews online, but often just find places that are crowded or look good and venture in. I don’t normally post pictures of menus or anything but I have to in this case. Both the drink menu and the food menu. Keep in mind when looking at these menus that $1 US dollar is equivalent to about 1200 Myanmar kyat. So yea, that gin and tonic or mojito you want is 75 cents.

Absurd prices
Absurd prices

Chicken wings are about $2.50. Beef kabobs for the same. Egg fried rice for a buck twenty. Stuff is pretty cheap here for sure.

Not bad at all
Not bad at all

I grab a Myanmar Black Shield stout. I wasn’t expected such a delicious stout to appear and certainly not for $1.75.

Pretty good stout
Pretty good stout

I ask for a table for 1 and was sat at a table of one Japanese guy who is living in Myanmar and three locals. Everyone at the table is very friendly. The Japanese gentleman strikes up conversation. He went to New York to try to make it in broadway several times. But he chose a life as a guitar instructor. The three guys from Myanmar were friendly. The one I spoke with the most gave me his card and told me to have the authorities call him if I got myself into trouble. I’m not sure how useful that will be, but he seems nice. He says I look like Jason Bourne and asks me if I’m on a secret mission. I laugh, I may be on a personal mission here for sure, but I doubt it will be as glamorous as Bourne’s. I hope parts of it can be as exciting though. He says Myanmar is a great place. I agree with what I’ve seen so far. He says everyone wants to talk to tourists but they are afraid their English isn’t good enough. I think that it’s a lot better than my understanding of the local language.

Dinner ends up going well. It gives me the obvious comfort that I will be able to find food and drink on this trip. Everyone has to eat and drink, so it should be obvious that it won’t be a problem to find such necessities. But I guess sometimes when you are planning a trip back in the comfort of your home you want to have that comfort that you will be able to both survive and enjoy it.

The walk back to the hotel is along a different road. It too mostly follows a major road. You pass some rats from time to time but they are nowhere near the size of the ones I once saw in New Orleans. At times I’m thinking it might be worth it to grab one of the many taxis that beeps at me or pulls up and asks me if I need a ride. But I’m happy to have the opportunity to explore.

I book the next night of the trip. A flight to and a hotel in Inle Lake. Sleep goes well but at about 5 in the morning I no longer can sleep. I flick the lights on to grab my computer to figure maybe I’ll go through some pictures. It’s at this point I’m tested for the first time with my accommodations. So far the hotel has been great. Everything is nice and clean and comfortable. So when I see a cockroach I have a decision. Be irrational and let it ruin my life, or accept that the world has bugs and carry on. How you approach bugs probably says a lot about who you are, and whether you would enjoy or hate a trip out here. I’m not entirely convinced these are worse than the silverfish we have at home, but they might be. As long as they’re not going to kill me with a slew of diseases like mosquiteos or be a nuisance like bed bugs (my luck will eventually run out with these), then I’m probably fine. I put a glass around it to let housekeeping handle it in the morning and snap a picture to present here so that you may find out what type of person you are lol.

Eww gross, haha not really
Eww gross, haha not really

Aug 07, 2016

Morning eventually comes and with it a stop for a breakfast dish I have heard is a must try it Yangon. Mohinga is a noodle soup made of fish stock. Add some cilantro, lemon, chili flakes, a slew of mystery spices and ingredients, and you have a bowl of magic. Couple that with chicken puff pastries that completely destroy anything I’ve ever gotten anywhere in my life. Imagine you’re eating a cloud. Add a cup of tea that has probably thousands of years of tinkering with the blend of ingredients. And a lychee soda because you may as well, and you have one of the most beautiful breakfasts of your life. Each bite a great experience in itself. An amazing meal in so many ways. And of course all for about $2 US dollar.

Breakfast and pillowy amazingness
Breakfast and pillowy amazingness

After breakfast I pack up my bag, then repack it because it doesn’t fit just right. I’m quickly figuring out the best way to pack this bag. I think I have it down. A quick taxi and I arrive back at the airport to catch an hour flight to Inle Lake. My journey includes a lot of these short flights. Apparently they are preferable to the disastrously long bus rides, which take you often uncomfortably the same distance in 8-12 hours. I’m sure I’ll figure out how to travel this area soon enough.

The flight to Inle Lake goes well. Again I have to check my bag. It seems like unless you go ultra light with something like a 22-liter pack, you will always have to check your bag, whether it’s on a flight or a bus ride.

Inle Lake is about an hour taxi from the airport. I try to find someone to split the cab with since everyone is going to the same direction. After a couple minutes I partner up with a girl from Madrid. We bounce back and forth between talking in broken English and Spanish. This is her seventh trip to Southeast Asia, and likely will be her last. There are new adventures ahead for her. She’s thinking Cuba to play and learn music. Seems like a reasonable play.

I show her my itinerary and she says it’s impossible. She says it’s too fast and I should slow down the pace. I’m not entirely convinced but she offers a lot of other valuable information about my trails that lie ahead. She gives me a list of places to check out, most of which I’m already going to, and others that just couldn’t make the cut.

The drive to Nyaung Shwe, the main city near Inle Lake, is a beautiful one. The flight has brought me into a region that has some mountains and also so flat open areas. If you’re not careful you may run into a water buffalo. They are some pretty cool looking creatures.

The road to Inle Lake
The road to Inle Lake

We get to a checkpoint, which the girl assures me she read is legitimate, and we have to fork over 12,500 kyats for a one-week pass for the Inle zone. It’s in addition to the 12,500 we each end up paying to split the cab.

We finally get into town and end up going to a hotel she’s trying to stay at. She doesn’t like it for some reason so she asks the driver to take her to another one. The taxi driver tells her the one she wants is dirty and instead drives her to a place that he recommends. She doesn’t want to see it and so the taxi driver, who is a bit upset at this point, takes her to the other hotel she wants. It does look pretty dirty but she says she’ll stay there and figure it out. We wish each other safe travels.

The taxi driver finally can take me to my hotel. Hotel Brilliant. What a name I’m thinking. The taxi driver says it is a very nice hotel. It ends up being one of the favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at. The service is really amazing. It has a resort vibe to it almost. I doubt I’ll ever stay at a better hotel for $32 US dollar. Even the rain has seemed to subside, and I’m greeted with a rainbow.

Views
Views

The only negative is that there is no wifi available. But it’s not a strike against the hotel. Rather the main internet connection to the town is broken. Apparently it has been for about four days. There’s only one working atm in the entire town.

Without internet access I have no idea where to head to for dinner. Or where and how I’m going to my next destination tomorrow. But I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out. The hotel recommends a place named One Owl Grill. It’s an eight-minute bike ride to the center of downtown. The hotel let’s you borrow bikes for free. I haven’t exactly ridden too many bikes lately, just occasionally in Asbury, but I get back on my way. It’s dark out. I’m trying my best to drive a straight line and stick to the traffic pattern, which is to mostly do whatever you think you can get away with. It’s not too busy but I’m being passed my mopeds and taxis. I may have ran a red light in front of a group of police officers. I don’t hear anyone call for me to stop so I guess I’m in the clear. It’s a great feeling riding this bike. I’m in the middle of darkness passing stray dogs in some country halfway around the world that I mostly knew nothing about only a few short days ago when I was planning for this trip. The wind whips past me and the darkness allows me to blend in with all the other people. I feel in that moment like I belong. I’ve tricked the city under my mask of darkness and I’m no longer a Westerner. I just am. Entirely free of everything. No connection to my life 9,000 miles away. No connection to anything but the present moment.

I see the restaurant approach and I park the bike and head inside. There seems to be only tourists here, a group of twenty and thirty year olds. It’s a mix of backpackers and hippies, couples and groups. People seem to know each other a bit. For food I get a chicken fried rice with egg and some chicken and garlic skewers and grab a Mandalay and a Myanmar beer.

I watch the world pass before me. The chaotic scenes of town. The interactions of the tourists. It’s a beautiful night. The pace here is much more relaxed than in Yangon. Even the country dogs differ from the city dogs in the same way people do. They’re a lot more relaxed. They’re not as nose down and deliberate like the city dogs, who are probably off to some meeting that their project manager called to discuss the productivity of acquiring scraps from the various locations around the city.

The meal is nice and relaxing. It gives me confidence that I will be able to not just get through the itinerary, but to have enough time to enjoy the travels and time to be in the moment and enjoy the trip. Let us die young or let us live forever plays in the background at some point.

It seems about time to head out. The town has quieted down a bit. I somewhat want to hop on the bike and keep exploring but I decide to head back to the hotel with since I want to be up early to check out the lake. It’s probably the right call. Those two beers gave me the confidence to crank the bike into the sixth gear. I’m now keeping a steady pace with the mopeds. The eight-minute ride turns into about a four-minute ride. I pull into the hotel and there’s about three staff there to take the bike from me.

I head to my room to sleep. It goes well but I can’t sleep the best. At a certain point in the night I just wake up. For the last two nights I’ve brewed up a cup of coffee and got to work on some of the pictures I’ve been taking. I give one last late push for some more sleep before the alarm clock will ring.

Aug 08, 2016

In the morning I grab breakfast at the hotel. Less than $3 for a plate of delicious fruit, unlimited tea, four pieces of toast, two eggs, then another two eggs because I looked hungry, a slice of frittata, an almond cookie, there may have been more. I was stuffed though.

The hotel books a tour of the lake for me for 18,000 kyat. It includes a ride to and from the boat. The ride also is the person who told me about that one working atm, and stops along the ride so I can withdraw money. It also is a tour that is only for me. I thought I would be put in a group but it’s just me and my own private captain. He takes me to the sights of the lake and let’s me come and go at my own pace.

I love these textures and colors
I love these textures and colors

The lake is beautiful. Mountains on both sides. Wide and open in the middle. There’s a lot of commerce going on here. Traditional fisherman. Harvesting of various sea plants. The transportation of goods such as fruits and bags of what could be rice. Of course the transportation of the newest commercial venture which is the tourists themselves.

Fisherman at Inle Lake
Fisherman at Inle Lake

The tour takes you to a bunch of traditional workshops where you can see how local goods are made and you can purchase them afterwards. They show you how to make silver jewelry or the actual boats you see being used on the lake. If this was another part of the world this might feel scammy, but a lady trying to sell you a local scarf that is actually made in that country is being pretty honest. The goods for sale at these places are actually a pretty good quality.

These little fishies
These little fishies

They also have the ladies who wear the neck rings.

Do it for the gram
Do it for the gram

There’s a Buddhist temple on the lake. After seeing Shwedagon Pagoda I’m not really impressed. I mean sure it’s in the middle of a lake. But Shwedagon was awe inspiring and captivating. Shwedagon also had really clean floors. This temple I have to take my shoes off again. But they throw food around to let pigeons shit all over the place. I’m not sure why animals get a pass to be disrespectful, but I don’t make any of these rules.

Every picture with a boat in it
Every picture with a boat in it

Eventually we had back. I’m pretty beat from the sun and lack of food and water and the amount of stores we went into. When we get back my friend who dropped me off is there to pick me up. I ask him about heading to Bagan. He says it should be a good time to go. It might be muddy, but not too much rain.

When we get back to the hotel he orders me up some chicken fried rice with egg. The hotel staff brings me a fruit plate and they also bring over a large bottle of water. As I’m eating the hotel staff figures out how to get to Bagan and how I can book a hotel with the internet down.

Apparently there are no flights tonight, but they book a bus for 7 PM. It’s 18,000 and should take five and a half hours. It will give me an idea for how I feel about these bus trips compared to flying.

I finish my lunch. The hotel gets some kind of arrangement to get me a tablet that’s connected to the internet. I’m able to book my hotel for the night in Bagan. It’s sad to know that it won’t be another night at this gem of a hotel I’m currently at.

At this point it’s after 2 PM. I checked out before I went on the tour but the hotel let me keep my bag there. I know have to stick around until 7. I somewhat don’t want to head into town as I’m a bit tired. I guess the staff can see. One of the girls escorts me up to the top floor that I didn’t even know existed. She says I need to rest.

The view up here is beautiful. As I’m sitting she brings over a pillow and a mat to lay on. Seems pretty good. She also brings over a tray of these snacks, another bottle of water, and a full pot of tea, all complimentary. I enjoy that and end up napping off and on, waking to watch the clouds pass.

Relaxation
Relaxation

This relaxation time was amazing. It felt good that faced with some questions about how the trip would go that this is what would end up happening. It seems that there will be a lot of these pauses in the trip where there is time that must be passed. I hope they are all as enjoyable and amazing as this.

Seriously getting it in
Seriously getting it in

Eventually the time comes for the bus ride. But not before a dinner of chicken fried rice and these fried vegetable fritters from a restaurant right across the street. Those fritters were gorgeous. Excellent use of delicious ingredients.

Fried deliciousness
Fried deliciousness

A quick stop back at the hotel and the bus arrives. I say goodbye to about ten people that made my time there amazing. I’m actually a bit sad to part ways. I just want to take that hotel and its people with me.

A five and a half hour bus ride should put me at my destination at half past midnight. That’s not too bad. It should give me enough time to get a decent night of sleep before venturing out. This is my first time taking a bus in the area. I’ve heard a lot about them.

This bus is supposed to be a pretty decent one. When the hotel booked it for me they offered me the choice between the normal bus and some upgraded bus meant for important people. They strongly recommended the better bus because it had more conveniences.

The bus ride kind of goes as you would expect it to go. It’s raining out. The trip is across mountainous areas. The roads are small. It’s dark out and I wonder if they run a lot of busses late at night so you can’t see just how close to the edge of a cliff you are getting. The drivers around here drive. They pass other vehicles aggressively. They barrel into blind turns. Some of them beep a lot. But they get you were you have to go.

I spend the trip between some combination of sleeping and typing up part of this write-up. There’s a half hour break stop for food, at which I get some weird version of a Red Bull. There seem to be other breaks on the trip but I am not sure what they are for. The supposed five and a half hour drive extends long into the night.

It’s about three in the morning by the time we finally get to our destination. We arrive in Nyaung U and so I need to take a taxi to my hotel in New Bagan. The taxi ride ends up going well. It’s a lot faster than the slow pace of the bus. The taxi driver drops me off. I ask him if this is the right place because it doesn’t look like it. He assures me it is.

I go to check in and they can’t find my booking. I’m not at the right hotel. They are able to point me in the right direction and my gps should take me the rest of the way. I walk about 8 minutes in the darkness to my hotel. When I get to the location there is a different hotel in its place. I talk to security and eventually he walks me about a block and points out into the darkness as to where my destination will be.

Finally I get there. It’s 4:30 in the morning. The hotel is pretty lame in comparison to my last one. It’s not as nice. There’s even a couple mosquitos in the room that I have to kill before I am able to slide off to bed. It’s about 6 before I head off to sleep.

Aug 09, 2016

Morning comes quickly. I wake up after about two hours of sleep. I have to plan my tour of Bagan for the day and I also have to plan where I’ll be for the next day. Neither really gets done in time and checkout time comes before I can book either. The long bus ride, the short sleep, the constant being on the move, the lame hotel, and the difficulty in booking some of this trip kind of gets to me. I’m a bit bummed and starting to reconsider my trip and how I am going about it.

I go to check out and ask the hotel if there is a tour of Bagan that I can take. The manager guy suggests an electric scooter bike. I don’t know the area at all and I was kind of hoping for a bus tour or something but I decide to go for it. These two German guys hear my hesitation and tell me to do it. They’ve been here riding these things for four days and have said it’s a really great time. Seems like I can’t go wrong for 5,000 kyat.

I also ask about a bus ride to Mandalay for later in the night. The original plan was to spend the following day in Chiang Mai. The options for swinging into Chiang Mai are pretty bad. It’s looking like I’ll need a bus to Mandalay airport and a flight out to Bangkok and then start doing a large loop of my itinerary in reverse. We’ll see how it all goes. The hotel manager books me a bus for 8 PM at night, so I have eight hours to explore around on this scooter. I’m pretty excited. The hotel just answered two big questions that I had. Going forward I’ll be using the hotels to book things and listening to the advice of the hotel staff and locals.

The scooter ride is amazing. It has to be the best way to explore Bagan. I doubted the manager’s choice to use a scooter initially, but of course his recommendation is going to be better than anything I can think of. This is what he does for a living. This is where he lives. He knows what to do and where to do it in this area a lot better than I ever will.

The freedom and access that the bike gives you is great. You can drive along from place to place. You can move from temple to temple with ease. I was able to get it up to 67 kph at one point so the thing really moves. My progression from bicycle to scooter has been rapid. I wonder if I’ll ride anything more serious on this trip.

Zipping around on this thing is such a joyful experience. You have to be careful of the other people on the road and stick to the strict policy of stay to the right unless you are passing (something only Americans can’t do), but the drive is generally just awesome. You pass temple after temple for miles and miles and miles. Eventually you stop in to a couple. They are all so different.

Temples everywhere
Temples everywhere

A lot of the times you have these temples completely to yourself. There are thousands of them. At one point there were as many as 10,000 temples built in this area. It’s the craziest thing. The temples rise like anthills out of the ground. I took this picture by entering into one of the temples and climbing up these small stairs on the second level. There is a third level to this temple that you could access if you are really feeling adventurous. But there is a no sock and no shoe policy here as well, and the view gained didn’t seem to be worth the risk of tumbling to the ground.

Temples rise like anthills
Temples rise like anthills

It’s weird that even though the earth is reclaiming this structure that you have to remove your socks and shoes to view them. The process of always removing your socks and shoes in the area has made me want to start wearing shoes less in general. And while I don’t think that will actually happen when I get back home, there is definitely a freedom and connection to the world gained that is not there by the sensory depriving layers of socks and shoes.

Thought this was alright
Thought this was alright

And here’s a selfie because I need a pic of myself in here.

Travel beard starting out strong
Travel beard starting out strong

I drove further and further. Into shady sections of town. Making wrong turns and driving far into the countryside. Every temple you go into offers a new surprise.

Feeling like a video game
Feeling like a video game

Eventually I swung back into town to grab some food. As I’m pulling into the restaurant I tragically forget to turn the bike off and it jerks forward and falls down. Luckily I avoid any serious injury. But yea I was that guy. At a restaurant that faces the entire town. I knocked over a candle in the process leaving my shorts, shirt and arms covered in flammable liquid. Seems like a bad play. Some guy picks my bike up. The restaurant worker brings me to a sink to wash up. I’m sure they see worse stuff all the time from tourists, but it’s still a bit embarrassing to have it happen to you.

No worries though. I’m starving and need food and drink. I order a soda called a Code Zero and an iced coffee. I figure it will be nice to try some local soda I’ve never heard of. It ends up being just a Coke Zero and the menu had a spelling mistake. Oh well. Food is pretty delicious. Shrimp tempura, spring rolls, and a chicken and rice dish. I end up hopping on a wifi network to book my flight and hotel for Bangkok for the following day. I sit and watch the town pass by. It’s a busy area. It’s also the same area that I first got to the night before. It was almost completely dead at 4 in the morning, but it is alive and well at dinner time.

I swing out to a store to grab another of those Red Bulls and a large water before heading back to the hotel. I repack my bags and need to grab a change of clothes to get out of this dirty gear I currently have on. I use a body bath wipe to freshen up and throw on all new clothes. It’s the first time since I’ve started traveling that I have on all new clothes. I’ve been testing how long I can get away with wearing the same clothes and surprisingly I think I can manage for a decent time.

The bus for Mandalay eventually arrives. The shuttle picks me up at 8:30 PM and takes me to Nyaung U where the bus is scheduled to leave at 9:30. This bus ride is also supposed to arrive after five hours. It ends up only taking about four. It’s a smaller bus but I have two seats to myself and can manage to be reasonably comfortable. The plan on this bus ride is to sleep. I end up getting a couple hours.

I could have spent a day in Mandalay and took a flight the following day but decided I’d rather just move on to another location. This meant that I wasn’t going to use a hotel for this night and was instead going to try to get enough hours of sleep on the bus and at the airport. This ends up working out well. There is no one at the airport but it is open. I get here around 2:15 AM after a taxi from the bus station. I sleep for a while and spend some time charging up my gear and working on this write-up.

I am going to be taking a flight in a bit to Bangkok. I will be leaving Myanmar behind. Myanmar was a tremendous introduction to Southeast Asia. It definitely provided many challenges, but also offered much to see and experience. I had a great time visiting the country. There are great people here and great times to be had. I guess its legacy with me will always be that it was my first in Southeast Asia. I am not sure I will ever make it back to Myanmar, but if I did I would be happy to explore some more.

Next up is Bangkok. But with these busses and flights and everything else I will have to see where the road will take me. For certain I am having a blast, but also I think I will be happy to return home when I have seen and experienced what I came for.

Backpacking: Southeast Asia Itinerary

The time has come to travel again. I was aiming for a trip towards the end of the summer but for some reason wasn’t feeling motivated to figure out where to head to or to make travel plans. Thankfully that has changed. Travel is and has been one of the best things in my life for a few years now. It’s opened up my view of the world. It’s allowed me to connect to and understand different people from both my country and from the world. It’s allowed me to see some of the most amazing things that both nature and humanity have been able to create. I need travel. I need to see the world. It’s something that I have to have in my life. So if there’s ever a time I don’t want to be making travel plans, it is worrisome for me. It’s an indication that some part of me is broken. I’m glad that the desire is back, and I can’t wait to get back on the road.

I have a somewhat rare chance to be able to do whatever I want to do with my life. For months now there have been no restrictions on what I’ve been able to do. I haven’t enforced any rules for myself and I’ve stepped into areas that I was not able to explore previously. I’ve been able to live exactly as I have wanted and have been able to openly feel and explore the world. It’s been great. Time like this is somewhat rare, but an effort should be made to obtain it if you can find a way to do so. With having so much time to myself I knew that I wanted to go through with some big travel plans.

My top five lists of travel destinations in no particular order are:

  • Southeast Asia
  • Eastern Europe
  • Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand
  • India
  • Southern Africa

When I travel I like to visit a lot of places in a short period of time. I like to road trip around and bounce from place to place. There are few better places in the world for me than being on the road, or the water, or in the air traveling to some new destination that I have always wanted to go to but have never been to before. These five destinations provide plenty of earth, water, and sky for me to explore. They are all places I have never been to but want to go to at some point in my life. I’m not really sure where the desires come to for some of them. I definitely want to see the entire world, but these five are preferences that I want to see first.

Initially when looking at this list, there was no place where I wanted to go to more than any other. So I needed to work through some sort of process to figure out where my adventure would be. One thing that I usually do when I travel is check up on current events. The first place I usually start is the U.S. Department of State’s International Travel’s list of alerts and warnings. The U.S. will “issue a Travel Alert for short-term events they think you should know about when planning travel to a country… and a Travel Warning when they want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.” I wouldn’t use this list exclusively to determine if a location is safe or not safe to travel to, but it’s a pretty good start.

There are currently some interesting alerts and warnings on this list. For example there is a Travel Alert for the entire continent of Europe. That’s something that to me seems insane. Specifically France is listed for the European Soccer Championship and the Tour de France cycling race. Poland is listed for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day event, which is expected to draw up to 2.5 million visitors to Krakow. There’s no other specific countries European countries listed under this travel alert but the U.S. had decided to group the rest of Europe in as a general alert.

The Philippines Travel Warning was another thing that I was not familiar with. It applies mostly to the Sulu Sea area and is there due to the high threat of attacks and kidnapping of international travelers.

The list of alerts and warnings and the state of the world is constantly changing, so this information will be out of date within a few days, but the point is that it would be somewhat irresponsible to head out to a location without knowing a bit of the risks associated with the journey. I wouldn’t let most of these alerts or warnings keep you from traveling but you should be smart about the environment to limit your risks.

I laid down the 42 alerts and warnings listed at this time on to a map. I used the online tool from Maploco if you have an interest in generating a similar map. It’s pretty remarkable what is listed here as either an alert or a warning. Again this map is not definitive. It includes areas that I don’t feel should be on here and it does not include other areas that it probably should. For example you are probably fine touring around the vineyards of Bordeaux or the Alps of Switzerland although there technically is an alert for these areas. You also might want to consider Rio if you will be in the area during the Olympics. Research the area you are going to for current events and be smart and keep an eye out when you head to new locations. Don’t be paranoid, but be safe.

Travel alerts and warnings
Travel alerts and warnings

Most of my top 5 came up as places that were safe to travel to. Eastern Europe I guess is technically under alert. Sure the eastern areas of Ukraine around Donetsk and Luhansk are certainly pretty dangerous. Violent clashes there have led to over 9,000 deaths. A portion of the Philippines is under warning. While eastern Ukraine and the southern part of the Philippines are likely to be off limits for me personally, most of my top 5 is still feasible.

Now that safety is confirmed, I need to look at some other aspect to cut down my list to an individual destination. One place I can remove from that list is Eastern Europe. I recently saw a large portion of Western Europe two years ago. Eastern Europe, while extremely different, is too similar of a destination for me. It’s not challenging enough to me at this point in my life. I want something more difficult. I want something that will change my worldview and push me as a person.

For the same reason I can get rid of the Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand trip. That also would be a tremendous trip. But the difficulty level associated with this trip is not much. It seems too easy and not rewarding enough. How challenging can it be for me to be relaxing on the beaches of Waikiki, spending time in Sydney, or bouncing about the Milford Sound? That’s all stuff I’d love to do someday, but it won’t be my first choice for this trip.

That leaves me three locations that I might want to travel to at this time. Southeast Asia, India, and Southern Africa. All three of these locations are going to shatter my worldview. They are going to challenge me. I am going to grow from the experience of traveling around these places.

At this point I’m going to read about other people’s trips to these areas. I’m going to try to assemble a list of things I want to see or do in each location. If this sounds like a lot of work to you, it’s probably because it is. It’s just the way I like to travel. I don’t mind the work and research because in doing so I am learning about the world and learning about myself. Any time spent on travel in any way, even these planning stages, has always paid dividends in my life.

The plan is to spend about a month and a half or two months traveling. I’m not sure why that number but it just feels right based on past travel, the time I have available, and the things that I want to see on this trip. Anything less probably wouldn’t gain me the experience I am looking for and anything more would probably conflict with things that I want to do after this travel is over.

After some time looking into my remaining locations I decide on Southeast Asia. I chose it mostly because it’s a popular traveler location. The path is fairly worn. The areas have been tested and tried. I’m not pioneering anything by going on this trip, but it allows me the right mix of seeing a totally new part of the world while still doing it in a safe and comfortable way. Sure every travel blogger and instagrammer has been here and taken all of the cliche shots way before me. But for me this trip is pretty much exactly what I want. It seems like a natural progression from my Western Europe trip.

I also really really want to eat the food that I’ve seen so much of on television from this area. Soups and noodles and mystery meat street food. And the sights. Epic historic buildings and locations that I haven’t even heard about yet. Cultures that I have no experience in. Beautiful beaches. Nature that I can’t find anywhere else. I suppose this would have been the same for the Southern African region or the entire country of India, but I just am a bit more interested in Southeast Asia at the moment. It’s been a thought on the backdrop of my subconscious for a long time.

So where am I even going? How do I get around from place to place? How long am I going for? Do I have time to squeeze in a bit of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia since it’s on the way? Will I be able to swing further up the coast into China, South Korea, and Japan? Time to plan out this itinerary.

The way I went about building an itinerary is to start with googling “best places to visit in Southeast Asia”. From there I took the first two pages and parsed through the results, assigning a ranking to each location and country based on how many times it showed up on a list and how high it scored on the list. This is a process I think I want to automate when I get back as it is very valuable. I basically have no clue about where to go in Southeast Asia outside of some general ideas. But by parsing through Google results I am able to assemble the knowledge of many professionals which gives me a good idea to start with. By using the average knowledge of various experts you quickly have access to very useful information even though you are clueless on a topic.

For example the countries that showed up the most are shown below. Note that results like China and Japan and India show up. Sure they are not part of Southeast Asia, but within the first two pages of Google results there were articles for “Best Destinations in Asia” and “10 Best Places to Visit in Asia” etc. Personally I don’t mind these results showing up. The ranking algorithm I used keeps them towards the bottom of the list. I think there is an advantage to keeping these false positives in the list of results. It gives me ideas for where the trip can extend to. The 11th and 12th results for best places to visit in Southeast Asia return China and Japan. Even without knowing the geographical location of these two countries, this list suggests I may want to look into them to see if they fit into my trip itinerary. These false positives provide suggestions to better my trip in ways I may not have initially considered. I am pretty happy with this list. It is hard to argue against Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia as three of the best countries to visit in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia country rankings
Southeast Asia country rankings

Likewise I went through and parsed out and ranked the specific locations. In order to do this I had to make some decisions as to how to cluster the data. I mostly tried to keep these location results at a city level although sometime it dips down into the individual attraction level. I am kind of more interested in the general city or province level of granularity because from there another Google search can easily return the top things to do in that location. I am pretty happy with these results using rough algorithms and clustering. But eventually I would want to improve on them if I do ever automate this process. Again these results are just ideas and suggestions for someone who is clueless on the area. I think they ended up being rather useful. It’s hard to argue against the beaches of Bali, the ruins of Angkor, and the city of Singapore as being some of the best things to see in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia location rankings
Southeast Asia location rankings

I previously used a similar process to this to come up with a list of books to read, without having any knowledge of these books. Obviously the power of being able to assemble such information automatically without having to have any knowledge of the subject is extremely powerful. It certainly is the way that search results are heading. Eventually you will be able to tell Google “give me an itinerary for a month and a half to Southeast Asia” and it will give it to you. Until then we have to struggle through with a lot of manual data collection, parsing, and interpreting.

After laying out these Southeast Asian locations on a map, I made an initial route and timeline. From there I saw that I might have some more time available in my travel. I decided to look into Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. I ended up googling “best places to visit in Australia” and parsed through results and made a potential route for this area. Same with New Zealand and Hawaii. At the moment I am leaving these destinations as audibles for the trip. The ease of these locations may provide a nice contrast to some of the more difficult travel that I will be on.

This entire itinerary is open to how I am feeling at that time. I booked a one-way ticket to Myanmar. I have nothing else booked. I looked into travel and it look like I’ll be taking a lot of flights. I hear the flights are the best option but there are overnight buses and buses that you can sleep on that I may try out as they provide a great look at the country scenery. My trip is definitely extremely aggressive, so I may remove some of these destinations. I may spend more or less time in certain areas. I will book flights, buses, hotels, and attractions as I go. And I will take a one-way flight back home when I am ready.

SOUTHEAST ASIA:
4-Aug NYC
5-Aug Flying
6-Aug Yangon, Myanmar
7-Aug Inle Lake, Myanmar
8-Aug Bagan, Myanmar
9-Aug Mandalay, Myanmar
10-Aug Chiang Mai, Thailand
11-Aug Chiang Rai, Thailand
12-Aug Luang Prabang, Laos
13-Aug Luang Prabang, Laos
14-Aug Hanoi, Vietnam
15-Aug Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
16-Aug Hoi An, Vietnam
17-Aug Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
18-Aug Phnom Penh, Cambodia
19-Aug Angkor, Cambodia
20-Aug Bangkok, Thailand
21-Aug Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
22-Aug Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
23-Aug Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
24-Aug Singapore, Singapore
25-Aug Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia
26-Aug Bali, Indonesia
27-Aug Komodo National Park, Indonesia

AUSTRALIA:
28-Aug Sydney, Australia
29-Aug Sydney, Australia
30-Aug Melbourne, Australia
31-Aug Great Ocean Road, Australia
1-Sep Adelaide, Australia
2-Sep Uluru, Australia
3-Sep Uluru, Australia
4-Sep Uluru, Australia
5-Sep Cairns, Australia
6-Sep Cairns, Australia
7-Sep Great Barrier Reef, Australia
8-Sep Gold Coast, Australia
9-Sep Gold Coast, Australia

NEW ZEALAND:
10-Sep Christchurch, New Zealand
11-Sep Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand
12-Sep Milford Sound, New Zealand
13-Sep Queenstown, New Zealand
14-Sep Punakaiki Coast, New Zealand
15-Sep Lake Taupo, New Zealand
16-Sep Lake Taupo, New Zealand
17-Sep Rotorua, New Zealand
18-Sep Waitomo, New Zealand
19-Sep Bay of Islands, New Zealand
20-Sep Auckland, New Zealand

HAWAII:
21-Sep Hawaii, Hawaii
22-Sep Hawaii, Hawaii
23-Sep Maui, Hawaii
24-Sep Oahu, Hawaii
25-Sep Kauai, Hawaii
26-Sep NYC

Where I might be
Where I might be

Once the itinerary was planned it was time to get vaccinations and visas. I would recommend getting these done as early as is possible. If you definitely know the countries and style of traveling you are doing then definitely get these vaccinations done first. Vaccinations can take months to get done. Visas may take weeks. Obviously these things are critically important. I would recommend the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for vaccinations needed for each country. Is Zika prevalent? Do I need the typhoid vaccination? Is the yellow fever vaccination required to enter the country? Etc. You’ll find the answers at that site.

Same with the visas. If you don’t take care of this stuff you may not be able to visit a country. Or worse, you may be arrested, deported, etc. during your travels. Make sure you research this from an official source as these requirements change. I would recommend the Department of State’s travel page. How many passport pages so I need? Is a visa a required? Can I get the visa in person in the country or do I have to get it before I leave the US? Are there any entry/exit requirements I should be aware or? Any events that I should be aware of when traveling there? You’ll find it all there.

As far as packing I’m going to be backpacking. I’m pretty excited about this. I’ll be using some of the gear that I picked up for hiking but also a lot of other stuff I have lying around the house. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to fit everything inside of my pack, but after watching some YouTube videos I became pretty confident that I would be able to. Some people travel for a really long amount of time with a really small pack (18L!) and only like two quick drying shirts, two underwear, and two socks and just wash them every day in a sink. I kind of want a bit more comfort than that so I’ll be going with about a dozen of each. The environment is pretty hot and casual and a complete downpour depending on the country so it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep the clothes light and compact. It’s also nice that I don’t have to pack my tent, sleeping bag, food, etc. like I would if I was hiking. There should be plenty of room in the pack for everything I need, and it should all fit as a carry-on.

So that’s about it. Can’t wait to get out there. If anyone is interested in joining up for any part of this trip feel free to reach out. I won’t be available on text or phone for the next two months but will have WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger, Google Hangouts, email, Snapchat, Twitter, and this site during times when I grab Wi-Fi. I don’t believe I’ll be rocking a phone plan because Verizon doesn’t offer service in some of those countries and I don’t feel like grabbing a new SIM card every time I cross borders. It will be nice to unplug and go see the world.

Portal

Hiking the Columbia Trail

My buddies told me they wanted to get some more hiking in to get ready for the Appalachian Trail. They wanted to do a 15-mile trail with packs on to see how the body would respond. I told them I was in. I later found out the trail was the Columbia Trail, which runs through a portion of New Jersey I never really imagined I would ever be back in. Oh what a stroll down memory lane this would be.

The Columbia Trail is a trail that runs through Northwest New Jersey from Chester to High Bridge. It’s an old rail trail that has been converted to a trail for the public to use for biking, running, walking. It’s well paved and since it’s on an old rail line is extremely flat and straight. The difficulty of the trail is very easy. We wanted to walk the whole thing so we dropped a car off at our destination of High Bridge and then drove out to Chester to get the hike started.

Back at it again
Back at it again

The trail offers some of the standard New Jersey forest scenery. Nothing epic, but there are some nice things to look at. The trail goes through many towns. After getting our first few miles in we stopped at the Old Stone Union Church to have a look. The church, from 1774, was the site of pastorate Henry Muhlenberg. He’s credited as being the father of Lutheranism in America, a religion that has 4,000,000 followers in the States. It’s kind of cool that you can drive past or walk past areas of such influence and significance without really knowing it.

There are a lot of gravestones at this location. I love old cemeteries. There’s something beautiful about them. Maybe it’s the closeness to death. The peaceful time that you have there to contemplate what it’s all about. The immediate reminder of where you are headed usually puts me in a good perspective to go forward from there and do great things. We all are headed there someday soon. We may as well be great and have fun with it until then.

I love cemeteries
I love cemeteries

Soon after we grabbed a bench and took a break. We were five miles in. It was time for beef jerky and trail mix and some water. My body was holding up fine. A little shoulder tightening but nothing major. I should probably throw some yoga back into the rotation. The first five miles brought a lot of cheerful people. People out on the trails seem to be some of the nicest people. They’re usually in good spirits and very friendly. I’m not sure what it is, but they seem to see the world in a different way than the general population.

Continuing on in the hike we saw another cemetery. This one of a different nature. Something about the death of an automobile is kind of beautiful. You can still make out the lines or the body. You can make out the beauty. The potential. Think about what if things happened differently. But the car has been covered in rust and wear. Usually there are weeds eating at it. The earth is trying to reclaim what we took from it.

I love all of the cemeteries
I love all of the cemeteries

Heading further down the trail we stopped over a bridge to look at the sights below. It seems the bridges on the trail come every mile or two and provide a good quick moment to stretch the legs and have a closer look at the world that has slowly been moving by.

Blah blah blah
Blah blah blah

One bridge provided very clear water so we could see the fish swimming about.

Clear water
Clear water

Further and further we went. We walked through this shrub and tree farm. I loved the ways these trees, bushes, and grasses looked in real life so I was hoping the picture would come out great, but the lines aren’t as straight as I wanted them to be. The pine trees at the top also looked a lot more purple in real life, but this was probably just the result of dehydration of hiking all these miles with 40 pounds on my back in this heat.

Wish this was better
Wish this was better

The road continued onwards. There was a pretty cool old building on the trail. There was a sign that said what it was and it’s importance but I didn’t read it. I wasn’t really in the mood to read signs that day I guess. I just wanted to hike and explore a bit.

These natural tones
These natural tones

Eventually we crossed 10 miles and with it we needed another place to break. The balls of my feet were starting to hurt for some time. We eventually took a break in Califon. One of my buddies decided we should eat at this place that had wraps, sweets, salads, coffees and cold sodas called BEX. It’s a place I have been before about two years earlier. They have weird hours, usually 8-3 but it varies and they are closed on random days. I passed on the brownies and iced coffees and instead opted for a chicken wrap and a soda. It was a good spot to wash my face off with some cold water.

Not bad for a bite
Not bad for a bite

After a nice lengthy break we got back on the trail. There was a little bit of wild life on the trail.

Mr rabbit
Mr rabbit

And there was some more further down the road.

A million deer
A million deer

This stretch of the trail has a lot of cool gnome homes and weird little decorations along the trail. I enjoyed all of the little things that people built or put out on the trail. Apparently in 2014 the Hunterdon County rangers had received enough complaints about all of the magical gnomes that they went out and collected almost everything up to throw out into the garbage. I understand that some of the stuff may have been unsightly but the magical fun feeling of this part of the trail was one of my favorite parts of the trail. I guess since the 2014 event there has been some sort of understanding amongst the people and the enforcement because there were once again things on the trail and everything I saw was pretty tasteful. If you’re visiting the Columbia Trail for it’s epic nature, you’re probably doing a lot of things wrong with your life. If you have a problem with Mr. T-rex and you want to ruin the lives of little children you probably are a horrible person.

Mr. T
Mr. T

Carrying on we got to yet another bridge. It’s a bit high up, but not outrageously high. I normally would hate the fence over this bridge as it’s so absurdly overprotective. We all know if you go over the edge of a bridge you probably will be hurt. You don’t need a fence to hold you back. In this case the lighting and the fence provided a nice shot. It almost looks like you are going into some unknown dark portal of the trail.

Portal
Portal

I remember seeing some flowers earlier in the trail and I was thinking how I wanted to photograph them as they were gorgeous. I only saw about three of them before I had the chance. I didn’t see them again for about ten miles until towards the end of the trail where we ran into another patch of them. I really should have used the macro lens here to get a nice shot but I was too lazy to switch lenses and didn’t want to keep the guys waiting while I messed around with the photography. So I like this wildflower but the picture really should be a lot better.

Wild flower
Wild flower

So overall we ended up hiking 16 miles. Including the two breaks we hiked for 7 hours. That put us around 26 minutes per mile or 2.3 mph with about 40 pounds packs on our back on a very easy trail without much elevation or difficult terrain. I burned over 4,000 calories and apparently lost 7 liters of water. It was definitely a good little workout.

Endomondo stats for the win
Endomondo stats for the win

The body held up reasonably well. A bit of soreness or pain and the beginning of some blisters but overall nothing to complain about. Sixteen miles has to be the longest I have ever moved in one day on foot. I can’t recall any other day in my life in which I walked for 7 hours.

Overall I’m happy to have gotten through these sixteen miles without too much pain. It was a good hike to get the body ready for the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail later on in September.

Iconic Delaware Water Gap

Backpacking at Delaware Water Gap

Since my last backpacking trip I decided to pick up some gear of my own. One reason is because a couple of the guys from my last trip want to hike the portion of the Appalachian Trail all the way across New Jersey in September over the period of about eleven days. Another reason is because backpacking opens up some options with travel. Being able to have four or five days of food, clothing and shelter in a bag that you can carry anywhere allows you to see a lot for a little. Another reason would be that hiking and backpacking allow you to get into some beautiful parts of the world that simply aren’t accessible via any other way than to physically walk to them.

In order to try to attempt this trip in September I need to put some miles on my new gear and on my body so that I’ll be ready for such an extensive trip. So when my buddy reached out to me for an overnight kayaking trip I decided I would spend the day before it by myself testing out my gear.

The location for the kayaking trip would be the Delaware Water Gap. It’s an area I’ve wanted to check out for some time as it has some of the nicest views in our area.

I was looking to get about eight miles of hiking with my pack and to find an overnight place to camp out. It was taking a little time to figure it out online so I figured I would just ask at the visitors center. My first stop was the Pennsylvania Welcome Center. I asked where I could hike eight miles and where I could stay overnight. The lady I talked to said she had no idea where I would be able to do that. She suggested I go 5 minutes to Kittatinny Point Visitor Center or 35 minutes to Dingmans Falls Visitor Center. I went over to Kittatinny.

The rangers there were much more useful. They showed me where I could hike, where I could camp, and where I could park my car for the overnight trip. The hike would be from the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center to the Red Dot (Tammany) Trail. After climbing the Red Dot I would move on to descend the Blue-blaze Trail. From there I would ascend up a leg of the Appalachian Trail up to Sunfish Pond. Finally I would set up camp about a mile back down the Appalachian Trail on the Douglas Trail at an area that is designated for overnight campers.

The Red Dot is a nice hike. It’s rated “difficult” on the park’s website, but that rating is relative. It’s 1.2 miles and the elevation rise is 1250 feet along some pretty rocky terrain. It’s a bit strenuous but plenty of different people with all sorts of different levels of experience seemed to be hiking it. The terrain can be rather rocky at times. Hiking up this with my full backpack was certainly a good workout.

Red dot gets a bit steep
Red dot gets a bit steep

The trail provides you with some iconic views of the Delaware Water Gap. I missed taking pictures of one of them because I had initially planned on descending back down the Red Dot and figured I would shoot it on my way back down. As always with pictures you should get the shot when you have a chance. The following shot is Mount Minsi of Pennsylvania along with the Delaware River as shot from the top of Mount Tammany of New Jersey. As a quick side note I never realized how big of a river this was. The 388-mile Delaware River forms borders between PA and NY, the entire border between NJ and PA, and most of the border between DE and NJ. Wilmington, Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton and Easton all touch the river at some point.

Iconic Delaware Water Gap
Iconic Delaware Water Gap

After enjoying the sights of the Red Dot Trail, it was time to descend back down the Blue-blaze Trail. The 1.7-mile descent has much more gradual than the Red Dot’s incline. The hike passed without any issues. The hike then switched onto the Appalachian Trail for another 1000 foot incline over 3.4 miles out to Sunfish Pond. The pond was alright. There is a sign out front of it declaring it as one of the seven natural wonders of New Jersey. I never knew NJ had a list of natural wonders but apparently they are the Delaware Water Gap, Great Falls of the Passaic River, High Point State Park, New Jersey Shoreline, Palisades, Pine Barrens, and Sunfish Pond. That’s not the best looking list, but certainly Sunfish Pond doesn’t belong on any top seven list. I dunno. Here’s a picture of it. It’s nice, but it’s a rather mild looking for a wonder.

Sunfish Pond
Sunfish Pond

After checking out the pond I hiked about a mile down the AT to the Douglas Trail where I would be setting up camp for the night. It was my first time setting this tent up. It setup without much of an issue. I cooked up some Thai curry vegetables and rice. It was pretty tasty for one of those dehydrated food packs. I added a couple bars, some pepperoni, and trail mix and tossed the rest of my food in a bear box that was a reasonable distance away.

My first overnight by myself
My first overnight by myself

Parking, trail access, and overnight parking is all free here. So technically I guess you can have this view for $0 per night. Especially since I have gear enough for two people and if I’m driving anyways then it would cost nothing to bring someone along. So if anyone is interested in jamming something like this, even if I don’t know you, feel free to hit me up.

Backyard for the night
Backyard for the night

A ranger came to visit me to explain where the water was and to use the bear boxes. She said there haven’t really been bears in the area much. I told her it was my first time overnighting by myself and I was a bit unsure whether I would be able to survive the night but she told me I would be fine. I ventured off to grab some water from the stream that she recommended. It was nice to crack out my water filter for the first time. The water seemed a bit sketchy but it was running and it is what she recommended so I used it. It ended up being alright but it’s a bit weird grabbing water from a stream in the middle of the woods and filtering it yourself. It’s a far cry from the luxury of the civilized world where unlimited drinkable water can be flicked on at any time or purchased at any store for a few cents.

I spent the rest of the night slowly getting ready for bed, as I was a bit tired from the long hike. The night was pretty uneventful. I woke up a couple times here or there. But for the most part the sound of crickets and nature had me in a deep sleep. I think I may have heard an animal breathing in the middle of the night but I’m not sure I did.

Eventually morning came. I woke up at 530 because I had to break everything down and then hike 3.8 miles back down to my car to meet up with the group that I would be going kayaking and canoeing with. As I was packing up another camper came over and told me that there were bears last night. He said he saw one about 20 yards from my tent. He says he thinks one followed him from the outhouse to his tent in the middle of the night. I’m not certain I believe the story but maybe there was a bear or two. He was a nice kid regardless and we had a good talk.

I hit the trail a couple minutes later than I wanted to but still early enough that I would be able to meet up on time if I hustled. The hike was downhill and the footing became easier and easier with each step. I was definitely the first person on that stretch of the AT that morning as I kept running into singular strands of spider webs that lay across the track. I got about halfway through the hike and the spider silk was becoming a bit annoying. I finally saw a girl walking up the trail. We said good morning. I added “I knocked down all of the spider webs for you.” She seemed a bit puzzled at what I had said until she realized what I meant. She thanked me and then said “oh, and I knocked down all of the spider webs for you too.” I thought that was a cute moment. People who are into all this nature stuff generally have seemed to be ultra chill so far.

Soon after I saw a deer poke its head out of the brush and onto the trail. It was maybe a hundred yards down. It paused. I paused as well. The way the lighting was and the serenity of that deer poking its head out onto the trail was for some reason a beautiful moment. I went to open my camera bag to grab my zoom lens but as soon as the velcro peeled the deer hopped back in the direction that it came from. I guess deer out here have very sensitive hearing.

The trail continued with a few more people here and there as the day grew older and the trail got closer to the parking lot. Eventually I made it to my car. I swung out to meet up with the group I’d be hanging with. There was one kid I used to work with and five other characters who all seemed like a fun time. I could not believe the amount of gear these guys had for a single overnight trip. Several coolers with all sorts of cold drinks and food that needed refrigeration, several ways to cook food including a spare grills, I think three six-man tents, luxury foldable lawn chairs. Basically everything that goes against keeping weight and space to a minimum ha. Eventually we got all of the gear on the shuttle. The shuttle ride over to the launch ramp was full of nonsense as I got to know the guys.

Eventually we loaded the canoes and kayaks with our gear and hopped in to get the trip started. Here’s a cliche kayak shot going down some body of water. I hate kayak shots like this. You see them on people’s instagrams and whatnot all the time. I also kind of hate how most people shoot and display a lot of travel/backpacking stuff in general. It just always seems so cliche and braggy and overly happy and shallow and simplistic. It often has some stupid quote from some famous traveler, author, or anonymous in some disgusting font. And the pictures are always overcontrasted and oversaturated. I dunno. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Gross
Gross

Travel/backpacking/life is never like this. It’s full of a lot of challenging moments. It’s full of a lot of difficulties and annoyances. It’s a lot of work and there are a lot of trials. Sometimes you wonder why you’re doing it or wondering whether you’ll be able to get through it. I think a lot of the times you will end up alright. But pictures likes this are infuriating. Don’t make stuff like this. Don’t double tap stuff this. I mean you’re not a bad person if you like this picture. Actually you are. You are a terrible person. There’s no need to involve Krakauer, Thoreau (or Theroux), or Muir in this. I’d much rather prefer reading a paragraph you wrote or talking about your trip over a beer. The following is the same picture done much more in a style I agree with that I think most people will tragically like a lot less. It’s still photoshopped. It’s still a lie. It’s still just another cheesy kayak picture.

Do it for the gram
Do it for the gram

Remember that Emerson quote I posted before? It was just a cheesy adventure quote I grabbed from online, and wasn’t supposed to have a meaning to this write-up. But I have to go back to it for just a quick moment. “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” My hatred of quotes like this is the lack of context, the overall worthlessness of practical application, and the immediate head nodding that happens when people hear it. Would you agree or disagree with this quote? I suppose I could divert into a long rambling here but I’ll leave this to only a couple pros and cons and a reference to the trip. I like that the quote says to be innovative. Try things that haven’t been done before. But I also hate that the quote says to not follow any roads or paths. Many of the great treasures of the world are accessible via large roads because they’re amazing. A lot of the world that doesn’t have paths is because it’s just not that spectacular or interesting.

I had two campsites on this trip. One was along the Appalachian Trail, pretty much one of the most famous hiking trails in the world. The other was our kayaking campsite that we had to row to because it had no path. It was on a tiny island that had no areas to explore. We literally had to use machetes to cut our own path and leave our own trail. The camping site on the Appalachian Trail was clearly a lot nicer. Gorgeous views, trails to explore, there was even running water and a primitive bathroom. The camping site along the Delaware River had only a small view of the river, no trails to explore, no water to drink or place to shit. I’m not saying either one was better or worse than the other. They were both great and the contrast was appreciated. But following Emerson’s quote too rigorously would lead you to missing out on many beautiful things that life has to offer. It’s ok to follow paths and it’s also ok to leave your own trail. Do both. But as always with this stuff there’s no proof Emerson ever said the quote in the first place. So good luck even trying to identify things like context, etc. that are critical to try to get anything useful out of it. Sigh.

Kayaking a little over eleven miles was great. We ran into a couple raindrops but ultimately avoided too many mishaps. None of the kayaks or canoes tipped over although we did have one man go overboard at one point. We tried to get this one campsite on the Pennsylvania side that the group had got the first year but it was occupied this year. So we drifted along to a nearby island to setup shop. Setting up camp went without much difficulty.

I guess I needed some filler in this story, and that was the purpose of that rambling, as I have no pictures from kayaking to breakfast the next morning. There was a lack of things to do on the secluded island. There was a lot of drug use and people got pretty chill. It’s not exactly my style but I’m not trying to fuck up rotation either. I at first didn’t mind sitting glued to my seat for several hours as I was a bit beat from the eight miles of hiking the day before, the four miles of hiking earlier this morning, and the eleven miles of kayaking in the day. But eventually it got a bit tiresome being a prisoner on an island and being incapable of moving on to something more exciting.

Eventually morning came, and with it some more delicious food. The day before brought chicken tacos and steaks. This morning it was time for pork roll, egg, and cheeses. Well we forgot the cheese, but the rest of it was there. It kind of blows my mind that these guys are eating this good on this trip. It makes sense with all the gear that they brought but I’m more used to a world of dehydrated eggs or just having some beef jerky and trail mix to start the day off. One luxury I do bring backpacking is coffee. It’s nice to have a cup and provides something to do when you’re done setting up camping or relaxing in the morning before you head out for a long day of hiking. Also I can’t believe this is such a bad picture of pork roll but so it goes sometimes when you’re sloppy behind the lens.

Different kind of camping
Different kind of camping

After we fueled up and broke down camp and loaded up the kayaks and canoes we hopped back in for another five-mile paddle back to the parking lot. The weather today was nicer. The clouds, which provided sun protection the day before, yielded to provide some gorgeous views. Here’s another shot with a kayak in it, since you know I am so fond of them. I really like how clear the water is at some points. Being able to look down at fish, grasses, and textures of the river floor is rather beautiful. We kept an eye to sky to try to see some bald eagles like we did the day before but we had to settle for watching some hawks hunt.

I hate shots like this
I hate shots like this

Kayaks and canoes are pretty cool because you can just paddle here or there and tie off and go exploring. It’s neat being on the Delaware River as you can bounce back and forth from NJ to PA quicker than a car would even be able to.

Getting around
Getting around

The guys wanted to do a jump off of a cliff that they have done in previous years. Apparently the first time they attempted the 35ish-foot jump they kind of looked down at the water and guessed it was deep enough. The casualty of risking serious injury is impressive. Depths in this area seem to vary between deep and shallow significantly and to dive without verifying the depth seems insane. You also need a good clean jump to be able to clear the base of the cliff here. We had three of the seven successfully complete the jump. Props to those guys for getting it done. I was happy to use the excuse that I was better suited to try to take some awesome pictures than performing the jump myself.

These boys are crazy
These boys are crazy

After the jump we hopped back in the canoes and caught a nice drift that swung us underneath the Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge and back to the Kittatinny Visitor Center where our adventure would end. We unpacked our gear, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways.

Here are the endomondo stats from the two days of kayaking. For whatever reason my phone wasn’t cooperating on all of the hikes so I won’t be posting the partial data from that. Unfortunately that’s the data I’m more interested in as I’d like to know how I’m doing so that I can get ready for this longer trip in September.

Kayaking 16 miles
Kayaking 16 miles

I don’t really know if there are many takeaways from this trip. I was happy with how carrying, setting up, and breaking down my gear went as it was my first time with a lot of that equipment. I used a lot of what I learned when I was out at Round Valley and everything went smoothly. I removed a couple pieces from my pack when I got back that I don’t think I’ll use in the future to save a little space and weight, but overall I was pretty happy with all of my gear and how everything worked out. You don’t really need all that much to survive and there are plenty of luxury items that I’m happy carrying in my pack to make life on the trail a bit more enjoyable.

I was a bit surprised by how chill I was with hiking and setting up camp and sleeping by myself. Pretty much at no point was I physically or mentally uncomfortable with the overnight backpacking trip by myself. It kind of just felt like life as usual.

I liked the group I hung with on the second day. It’s not a group I would seek out to hang out with but they taught me some important things. They’re all doing the best that they can and to hear some of their stories or to see some of their hidden skills was cool. Some of them definitely are living a great life compared to where they came from. You could see there are layers and layers of complexity in these people that just are completely invisible upon first glance. In many ways their progress as an individual has exceeded mine. I had a great time with you guys.

I guess finally coming home to my little place on the border of Asbury Park and Ocean Grove felt like home more than it ever has. I’m not sure why as I was really comfortable sleeping in the woods. But for some reason driving home and slowly being caressed by that ocean breeze and getting back into the beautiful mess that is summer at the shore were comforting.

Moon

Backpacking at Round Valley

Went on my first backpacking trip from Thursday to Friday at Round Valley Recreation Area in Lebanon, NJ. I didn’t have the gear that I needed so I borrowed enough from my buddy Dave to make it through the trip. We went with two of his buddies from his work.

I initially didn’t plan to cook, only having dry food on me. This included such delicacies as prosciutto, Genoa salami, and Parmigiano Reggiano cubes because they seemed to make sense when I was shopping at Wegmans the night before. But on the way up we stopped at a Walmart and I picked up a 24-oz Stainless steel cooking pot, which can be used to boil water in combination with a lightweight alcohol stove. The pot included two 10-oz plastic cups which were great for cups of coffee. I also picked up my first freeze-dried meal of sweet and sour pork and rice. I added a LED headlamp flashlight that allowed provided hands free light for the nighttime.

The rendezvous point was the Spinning Wheel Diner which is a few miles away from Round Valley. It’s a classic New Jersey diner that allowed for a final meal of eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, orange juice, and coffee before leaving the luxuries of the civilized world behind.

Here’s a shot of us at the start of the Cushetunk Trail, which is the red trail at Round Valley.

Backpacking squad
Backpacking squad

The hike was about 7.5 miles to get to the campground. It has a decent amount of up and down and comfortable terrain. On the hike in I spent a lot of time looking around and soaking up the view.

Hike had some nice scenery
Hike had some nice scenery

Don’t forget to look in every direction.

Views from the bottom
Views from the bottom

And don’t forget to take a couple selfies on the trail.

Trail selfie
Trail selfie

Here are the Endomondo stats of the trek. I started it a couple minutes late. The return trip was almost the same except a slight bit longer.

Endomondo stats
Endomondo stats

The campsite looked like it hadn’t been used in some time. We swept the leaves away from the campsite with homemade brooms. We build seats and benches as needed to provide for seating. At least us guys that didn’t have the fancy lightweight chairs that the experts had.

After a bit of preparation of the campsite we ventured down to the lake to get some water. This was accomplished via the SweetWater Microfilter water filtration system. Basically you stick the filter in pretty much any water and pump it into your container. Then you add a couple drops of the SweetWater purifier solution, which is pretty much 3.5% sodium hypochlorite and wait about ten minutes and you have drinkable water. It’s amazing. It’s especially amazing when you are in a place with no drinkable water and you just ran out of water.

Filtering water
Filtering water

There are a lot of cool things to explore and discover down by the lake. I though these shells were pretty cool.

Little details around the lake
Little details around the lake

And here’s a picture of a piece of broken glass I thought photographed decently.

Piece of glass
Piece of glass

Here’s another shot of the lake. The water level seemed a little low but I am not too familiar with Round Valley. The last time I was here I was out on a boat with my pops fishing on the lake many years ago. While I remember those times I don’t remember what the water level was at that time.

Round Valley
Round Valley

We went back to the campsite and hung out and cooked up a meal. Surprisingly that freeze-dried stuff is pretty decent. The rice has the taste and consistency of a reasonable risotto. I’ve definitely had risotto at several places which wasn’t as good as this stuff.

After some time we strolled down to the lake to catch a pretty glorious sunset.

Caught a nice sunset
Caught a nice sunset

It definitely was a pretty nice sunset.

It was pretty lit

Day turned to night. With it came the Ghost Radar app to try to hunt down some ghosts. I think we had a bit of success.

Moon
Moon

We were all a bit tired from the hike earlier in the day so we proceeded for a somewhat early night of sleep. Some people say the two-man tents are too tight for two people, but they are acceptable. I think it’s definitely good to get a two-man tent even for yourself because a two-man tent provides allows you to keep your gear covered from the rain. It also allows a newbie like me to tag a long and doesn’t add much more weight to your pack.

The night of sleep was mostly uneventful. I woke up at one point and heard a deer. I also heard something else that I am not sure what animal it was. There was a point in the night when I kind of realized I love the conveniences and modern luxuries that we have back home, but by the end of the trip I would be grateful for the challenge and the simplicity of the trip.

In the morning we woke up and brewed up some coffee and had some breakfast. We packed up and made the hike back to the entrance. We said goodbye to one camper who was stayed a second night. Another 7.5 miles. There was some rain on the return leg. It wasn’t so bad though because it was sparse enough and the trees often provided a comfortable amount of cover. The walk back was certainly more of a head-down hike, just trying to push my body back to the car. But there was great scenery to be had as well.

Return hike
Return hike

Overall my first backpacking experience was great. I kind of want to get back out there again. Burning off 3600 calories just on the two hikes and working the legs and shoulders was great. When you get into some space and are hiking alone in the woods and only have the sound of the woods and your footsteps you can drift off into some deep thought. It was also a good experience to learn what you have to do to survive and to reflect on how absurdly fortunate we are to live the lives of luxury that we live.

Shout out to my backpacking buddies for showing me the ropes and keeping me alive. I learned a lot and had a great time.

The city is in complete disrepair

Road trip: Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit

I’ve been wanting to travel lately. Well, I’m always wanting to travel. So when two of my buddies had a break in their schedule and ambitions of a short road trip I was excited. A couple days in Delaware and Maryland, or maybe north to Massachusetts would be a nice break away from Asbury.

The plan is to head out from Wednesday to Sunday. It’s Tuesday night and we’re out for a birthday party. We start discussing locations since we don’t have the trip planned yet. Kind of out of the blue Jesse throws out Chicago as a destination. As soon as he says it I agree. I’ve wanted to go to Chicago for some time now. Sure, it’s probably too far for a four night trip. But distance has never really been an issue. Scratch Delaware. Bring on Chicago.

The party wraps up and we swing over to Wal-Mart to grab supplies for the trip. There’s the usual suspects. Water, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Rockstar, Monster, beef jerky, Chobanis, hummus, crackers, deli meats, cheese, bread, mustard, tangerines, granola bars, and almonds to provide for fast meals and snacks on the road and save a couple bucks from paying twice the price at gas stations.

By the time we all pack up clothes and gear we’re left with about three hours of sleep since we have errands to run in the morning. Laundromat, bank, rental car. All stuff that probably could have been taken care of the night before. The plan is to drive straight out to Chicago and try to do a bit of hanging out for the night. Then recharge and spend the following night in Chicago. Then swing up to Milwaukee for a night. And out to Detroit for a night on the way home.

30-Mar Chicago, IL

Jesse wants to drive the first leg. I tell him I got it. I love driving. I could probably drive for the rest of my days. Twelve and a half hours on three hours of sleep is nothing. I think it’s the longest distance I’ve ever driven straight through. Regardless we grab a couple pork roll, egg, and cheeses and zip off for the midwest.

The ride out includes a ton of music. One of the favorite songs ends up being Subway Crush by Erin and Her Cello which somehow only has 150 spins on SoundCloud in the last 5 years. It’s a song I first heard on thesixtyone, a website that has a lot of pretty cool music.

Much of the drive is open space and farmland. There’s a lot of open space and farmland in this country. Hours and hours of open space. Eventually we get about an hour outside of Chicago. It’s still farmland. The sun is only just going down. Slowly there are signs of civilization. A bit of concrete. A couple buildings. Lights. With every minute passed, more and more of civilization. Eventually all of the grass and trees and open space are replaced with concrete and buildings. You can see the transition from what nature has made to what mankind has made.

We eventually arrive in Chicago. The plan is to grab some deep dish pizza. Yes, it’s cliche. It probably won’t even be all that great. And yes I’ve heard how people in Chicago don’t actually eat the stuff, just like people in Philadelphia don’t eat the cheese steak. But it’s what’s been decided upon for the night. Googling around reveals Pequod’s Pizza is probably the place to go. Either that or Lou Malnati’s. We decide on Pequod’s.

Jesse grabs a personal plain and Mikey and I split a medium with half pepperoni. I’m pretty pumped to see 3 Floyds on the menu. That’s a brewer that we don’t have back in New Jersey. The pizza eventually comes out and it is spectacular. The ingredients are all individually delicious. The ratios are all appropriate. The cheese melts into the side of the dish and crisps up to form a crispy cheesy crust. The pepperoni is quality and it adds a spiciness and pleasant fattiness that elevates it above the plain slice. This is a magical meal and I recommend it. There’s a lot of Chicago locals eating here, and throughout our time we find out that people from Chicago do in fact eat deep dish pizza. I’m glad we didn’t try to be too cool and pass up on this gem.

Deep dish pizza at Pequod's
Deep dish pizza at Pequod’s

We hear Wicker Park and Logan Square are good places to check out after pizza. We swing over to the Logan Square area. It seems pretty busy. Parking is a bit rough. We’re a bit tired. We’re between heading out and heading to sleep. We decide on sleep. I would have loved to sleep in the car because that’s one of my favorite things in the world, but we agree a night on a bed would probably be beneficial after the late night last night and the long drive today. We grab a Hotwire and it ends up being the Holiday Inn in Skokie.

It’s kind of a massive hotel with a Bar Louie inside. I’ve never heard of Bar Louie before but we notice them throughout our trip. Apparently there’s about 85 of them throughout the country. Bar Louie is a casual America dining bar thing. You can get such annoying things as Bavarian pretzel sticks, Thai chicken flatbread, or the voodoo sandwich and drink some generic beverage off of a list. I probably shouldn’t complain about having food and drink available at a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Chicago, but it’s frustrating that a concepts like Bar Louie can continue to be successful. It’s mediocre. I guess it gets the job done. A bucket of beers for $10 and everyone is happy but I can’t recommend these things to anyone.

31-Mar Chicago, IL

The plan for the morning is to check out Millennium Park and take it from there. But first we make a stop at Binny’s Beverage Depot on 3000 N Clark St to check out the beer selection. I like to pick up beers to throw in the fridge from when I travel as there is a lot of brewer’s that are not available in New Jersey. I grab the pair of 2014 Old Stock aged in rye and wheat whisky and the Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales.

On the way to Millennium Park we drive along Lake Michigan. Surprisingly we see water that is a gorgeous hue of blue. We decided to swing by the Navy Pier to get up close and personal with it and snap some pictures. I had no idea these lakes could look anything like this. The water here is nicer than some Caribbean islands. Apparently the color changes and it looks like this sometimes after the lake has unfrozen and the winds stir up sediment.

Water of Lake Michigan
Water of Lake Michigan

Here’s a view of it with a bit of Chicago in the background.

Chicago has nicer water than most islands
Chicago has nicer water than most islands

After a quick stop we swing over to Millennium Park. The area has a lot of cool things to check out. The most famous is the Cloud Gate structure, which goes by the nickname the bean amongst people because of it’s shape. I can definitely see people not liking the sculpture but I really think it’s a gorgeous piece. If I lived in the area I would try to make a visit to it late night or during a storm to try to get some alone time with it. Even with the mass of tourists I was impressed by it. The smart curvatures allow for some great scenes and the reflective material really makes it a living piece that changes its appearance based on the world around it.

Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate

Here’s a picture of the three of us with a reflected Chicago in the bean. I believe it’s the only picture of the three of us from the trip. We weren’t the best at taking pictures of ourselves, so please take time to enjoy our beautiful mugs before proceeding because there won’t be any more.

I think our only picture together
I think our only picture together

Walking under the bean transports you into a different dimension.

Reflection underneath Cloud Gate
Reflection underneath Cloud Gate

We walked around the park a bit more snapping pictures and checking out the sights. As you can see from this picture that Jesse took the park provides great views of the city.

Photographer never gets photographed
Photographer never gets photographed

We only have two total hours on the meter so by the time we explore the park we’re in search of a quick bite. We decide to grab a couple Chicago hot dogs from Max’s Take Out on 20 E Adams St. We ask for six dogs with everything which includes mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, and celery salt. There’s a lot of stuff on these dogs and we joked throughout the trip about taking ordinary food dishes like the hotdog and putting a garden salad on it, because that’s kind of what a Chicago dog is. Apparently it’s a crime to order ketchup on your dogs here but the guy in front of us did. He apologized to the owner but the owner seemed pretty easy going and let it slide.

Put a garden salad on it
Put a garden salad on it

The dogs were alright for a quick bite. They didn’t provide the same magical experience of the deep dish pizza.

Since we have to move the car we decide to head over to Bloomingdale Trail. Someone (Jesse) suggested it based on pictures that they saw. It was supposed to be a urban hiking trail along old railroad lines. We pull up to the trail and spot a shop called Donut Delight and so we fuel up on donuts and coffees. We walk up the ramp to the trail and pretty much for as far as the eye can see it’s a straight line with nothing but bikers and joggers. So yea, Bloomingdale Trail is great to exercise on if you’re a local but otherwise it doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

However it’s around this time that we discover one of the most ear bleeding songs on the radio. If you have a sense of humor feel free to check out 1Night by Lil Yachty but I would be totally fine with you passing on this one. It has about 19 million spins on SoundCloud. Apparently Lil Yachty played Webster Hall back in February. Guess we just missed him.

Oh well, we decided to figure out a place to hang out and book a hotel next to it. A buddy we plan on meeting suggests either Old Town or River North. We drive through both and decide on the Hubbard Street area of River North. We check in to the Hotel Chicago Downtown where the parking is almost as expensive as the room. They want $70 to valet. That’s the same price as direct flights from O’Hare to Denver for that day. We knew the price to fly out to Colorado because we’re always down for an adventure.

We meet up with our buddy at the hotel. He’s going to be our tour guide for the night since he lives in town. He ends up taking us to a several places, one of which was Three Dots and a Dash, an underground hidden tiki bar. There are a lot of speak easy type establishments in Chicago so if that is your style you should look into some of them.

1-Apr Milwaukee, WI

Morning comes and with it more pizza. We’re a couple minutes walk from Lou Malnati’s, which is the other pizza place we were considering. We sit down at the bar and strike up conversations with people around us and with the bar tender. We have a half hour talk while waiting for our pizza to be made from scratch (they have pre-made pizza available if you’re in a rush, gross). We’re thinking of where to head to next. The plan is either take a nice leisurely drive up to Milwaukee for the night and then spend the following night in Detroit or try to swing all the way around Lake Michigan. Supposedly there is some pretty beautiful parts up north. We decided to head into Milwaukee for the night as the recommendations for the town aren’t terrible. No one’s really recommending it and no one’s saying not to go.

Deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's
Deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s

It’s raining in Milwaukee. It’s been raining off and on during the trip. There’s not really too much to do in town but the Milwaukee Art Museum seems pretty highly rated. We decide to check it out.

We park in the underground deck and head to the museum. As we get out of the car a lady asks us if we can help her. She says they’ve been trying to get a baby seat out of the car so that they can fit all five people in the car. I guess the group of four at some point got tired of the baby and traded it for a full grown adult. This is a great trade as a baby is only going to slow down your travel plans. Of course the difficulty is that you still have a baby seat in your car that you have to get out. The lady asks if there’s an engineer in the group. Mikey says I’m an engineer. I deflect. I might be able to do some math and science but baby seats are designed to never be able to go in or out of the car. I’m an engineer. I’m not a wizard. I’m a mortal. I’m not a superhero. What this group needs is a hero. Mikey gives it an attempt to try to get the seat out. It’s a bit dark so I shine my flashlight on the area that he’s working. After about a minute he says I’m doing a useless job and grabs my phone. A couple seconds later and he’s got one of the straps unlocked. Another second and the other lock has been unloosened. The group breathes a sigh of relief. They will be able to carry on their adventure. And so will we. It’s nice when your friends are superheroes. It makes the whole journey a bit easier for everyone.

Apparently the first Fridays are free so we luck out with free admission and avoid having to pay the $17 a ticket. There are a lot of really great things to see in the museum. I really liked this infinite reflection piece.

Dark magic on exhibit
Dark magic on exhibit

The exhibits are all pretty diverse. There’s a lot of detail that can be missed. The woodwork on this piece was rather fantastic.

Loved this woodwork
Loved this woodwork

The art building itself is a piece of art. The architecture incorporates a lot of natural lighting, which leads to some tremendous views. This dandelion room is beautiful. If I had the money I could see myself building a room like this for the only practical purpose being to stir the soul and provide temporary seating. It sits on Lake Michigan and overlooks the Michigan Bay.

The dandelion room is clean
The dandelion room is clean

The diversity of paintings is rather large. There are the usual suspects, Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Claude Monet. One piece that stuck out to me was this 1883 painting of The Two Majesties by Jean-Leon Gerome. It doesn’t look that old. I can see this being painted much more recently. It’s easy to see how someone can look at this painting and get inspiration for something in their field of study. I don’t believe this was in any way inspiration for The Lion King, but it’s not a stretch to see how it could have been.

Les Deux Majestes by Jean-Leon Gerome
Les Deux Majestes by Jean-Leon Gerome

There are a couple exhibits that you can immerse yourself in. I didn’t have time to do the Walk-In Infinity Chamber because the line of high schoolers was on fleek. But right around the corner was an installation featuring a projector that was projecting a sine wave on a wall and a smoke machine in a dark room. This resulted in a beam of light and smoke that would take on different shapes. It was pretty neat. I was in the room for a few minutes watching different groups of people coming and going and seeing how they interacted with the piece. Some people put hand puppets on the wall. Some people put their hand over the projector to make the room go dark. A little boy was with his mom and he was putting his hands up and disrupting the beam of light. His mom told him to stop. If he was closer to me I would have told him not listen to his mom and carry on. Eventually I had the room to myself. I moved through it and snapped a couple pictures. Each picture individual and impossible to recreate. Here was my favorite.

Smoke and light
Smoke and light

It was getting late and the museum was slowly starting to clear out. I was able to grab a shot of one of the hallways without much disturbance. I love how the evening light makes this otherwise white room appear bluish gray.

Milwaukee Art Museum is a beautiful building
Milwaukee Art Museum is a beautiful building

The museum actually connects to the city via a bridge that was built by architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001. Here it is photographed by Jesse.

Reiman Bridge connects the museum to the town
Reiman Bridge connects the museum to the town

We needed a bite after spending a couple hours browsing the museum. But fist we swung over to liquor store to check out their beer selection. We stop in Discount Liquor on 5031 W Oklahoma Ave and grab a 4 pack of Toppling Goliath’s PsuedoSue. It’s an American Pale Ale that doesn’t show up back home.

As far as food and drink we’ve had some recommendations from some of the locals and from browsing online. Some 19 year old told us to check out Water Street. So we know that’s probably a terrible place to go. We make the drive down it just to see. It looks pretty touristy, so we could probably do better. A Bar Louie confirms we need to get out of the area.

We swing down into Walker’s Point. Since we’ve been eating the prototypical dishes of the places we’ve been, we decided we need cheese. Wisconsin is the known for its cheese and dairy. We hear Camino is a good place to go. We stop in. The bar tender recommends the cheese curds which is a good sign. I grab the kimcheese sandwich with bacon off of recommendation, which is kimchi and three cheeses. The boys grab some sort of spicy sausage with sauerkraut. There’s a lot of good beers on tap. I end up grabbing a Tyranena Brewing Wrath of Rocky. Everything ends up being delicious but those cheese curds were the star. Some of the best fried cheese I’ve ever had.

Doesn't look special, but it is
Doesn’t look special, but it is

The bar tender gives us some recommendations. He tells us to stay away from Water Street. He gives us a list of things to do. He mentions music venues. It’s clear to see he’s into the music scene. But he also gives us a list of places to dance if we’re into that. He’s not. But it’s nice that he’s smart enough to realize that other people may be into other things than he is.

We decide to swing over to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge based on his recommendation. It opened in 1938. A fire in 1971 led to a remodel. I don’t think a thing has changed since. In a good way. I think. The stereo system is approaching 50 years old. It’s playing cheesy tunes that have an overly pronounced baseline. The lighting may as well just be red. There’s velvet. Cramped table seating. There are no menus. You ask the server or the bartender for a drink or you give them an idea of what you’re into and they’ll mix something up. I’m in the mood for a dirty Hendrick’s. Mikey grabs a Ray Gun which is a mix of bourbon, Aperol, and lemon. That leaves Jesse to get the obligatory iced grape drink that’s brought to the table on fire. I snap a picture of a lit up plant in the corner that comes out better than I expected. While it is black and white just put a transparent blood red filter over top and you will have the look of the place.

An unexpected good shot
An unexpected good shot

We swing over to the Hyatt to check in for the night. It has an interesting layout. The middle of the hotel is open and a huge piece of art hangs down the middle of the eighteen floors. Everyone’s front door faces each other and you can see people on each of the eighteen balconies. We drop our bags off, catch the end of a Warriors loss, and head out for a walk to some of the late night bars.

We walk over the Milwaukee River along the Riverwalk Way. It’s a nice walk. We head to Dick’s Pizza & Pleasure because there’s supposed to be music but they are closing up shop. Flannery’s, Plum Lounge, Taylor’s all look like misses as well. The only thing I would probably recommend is My Office which is a dive. The nightlife in this area doesn’t seem to be too impressive. You honestly might be better off checking out Bronze Fonz, Milwaukee’s #21 thing to do. Nah, I’m kidding. Don’t go to see that. Also don’t go to see the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower, the #41 thing to do. We saw it back near Camino and we were not moved in the slightest by it. Apparently it’s called Milwaukee’s Big Ben, but they should call it Milwaukee’s Big Waste of Time. We grabbed a couple snaps and proceeded to the hotel for some sleep.

2-Apr Detroit, MI

The morning would bring a drive to Detroit. It would also bring Kangaroo Court by Capital Cities which is a fantastic song and video.

Before we ventured out we stopped at the Milwaukee Public Market because Mikey wanted to grab some cheese to go. The market isn’t the biggest or best in the world, but has a good mix of things that should provide something for everyone. I picked up some beef jerky for the road and a BLT for lunch because the bacon looked so good. There was an oyster place that looked pretty good but we didn’t grab any.

Milwaukee Public Market
Milwaukee Public Market

The drive from Milwaukee to Detroit was a wild one with the weather. It alternated between sunshine, heavy snow, dark clouds, rain, and wind. The weather forced us to drive a little slower than we wanted to but it provided for an interesting ride. About an hour from Detroit we stopped around the Waterloo State Recreation Area to poke around. There are a lot of small lakes in this area that provide for a nice break. The snow made for a nice backdrop.

Snowed a bit on the trip
Snowed a bit on the trip

The last bit of driving was a bit dangerous with the snow and wind. The dropping temperatures had adding some ice to the mix. We were about twenty or thirty cars behind a dozen car pile up.

Eventually we got to the city, stopping at Slows BarBq off of a recommendation we got back in Chicago. They have a rather large beer list, which is great. But the bbq isn’t the best I’ve had. It’s ok but I probably couldn’t recommend it. There’s probably a lot of interesting food being made in the city. Hipster stuff like pickled absurdo, obscurata treated with liquid nitrogen, and sauteed radicchio. One of those things is edible, one of them isn’t, and another is a completely made up thing. Hint, don’t eat the obscurata.

Anyways we check into the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. On the elevator up some lady asks what we’re doing in Detroit. She says we’re tall and asks if we’re on a sports team. She used to be a cheerleader. I’m thinking maybe she’s thinking we’re on some college basketball team. I could almost see that. She says she wants to know what team we’re on and she promises she won’t tell anyone. She asks if we’re on the Red Wings. Sigh, I mean we’ve been getting big out here but I think we all have to toss on a bit more muscle on if we’re going to be playing in the NHL.

After dropping off our bags we head out in search of a bar that’s supposed to have music on Saturday’s. It’s a recommendation from a friend. I can’t find the thing in Google and the address we have doesn’t show a bar or club in Google Map’s Street View. Regardless we head out to the address. The GPS tells us we have arrived and I’m not sure what’s up. There’s no bar here. But we see a building with some lights and can hear some music. There’s a bunch of cars parked down the next street. I guess this is the place. We decide to check it out.

We walk up to the two security guys at the door. The smell of marijuana is in the air. “We don’t need no IDs here. Just $10 cover.” Alright, seems questionable. Let’s do it. Pay the cover and get inside. There’s a DJ spinning some pretty cool dance and hip hop mixes. He’s accompanied by a drummer who proceeded to crush it on the drums.

Looking around you see a really chill group of people. There’s a kid with a wig on, another kid wearing bunny ears I think. There’s a bar with PBRs. People are smoking cigarettes and blunts. There’s ashtrays on tables. There’s a slew of random pieces of furniture, couches, chairs, skate ramps. It’s an interesting environment. I heard Detroit was the wild west, or the wild midwest, but I didn’t expect it to be like this. I’m not sure how many laws were being broken here but it was probably a lot.

I go to order three PBRs and while I’m waiting I notice a guy dressed in a police uniform walk up to the guy behind the counter. I don’t really think any of it. I think he’s just a regular guy until I see how close he gets to the bartender’s face. Ahh. This is definitely a cop. No one seems to really care but the guy behind the bar is freaking out. He tells me he’ll be right back and goes and runs off. Looks like he was ready to boogey out of there.

Eventually we get our brews and get a little dancing in. The DJ and drummer combo are killing it. After a bit of hanging out we decide to make a move to try to catch another place. This place was great but we can pretty much only get into trouble here.

As we head outside we see about ten police cars and about twenty policemen getting organized outside of the entrance. The place is about to get raided. We have nothing to hide so we walk past the police and they don’t bother with us. By the time we get to the car and sit down we see the lights go on in the place. Some people start quickly walking down the sidewalk. As we pull out of our spot and pass the entrance the entire club is out side walking one way or another

I’m not sure if this place will be shut down for good or if it will go on. Regardless I’m sure other venues will pop up around the city to take its place. All you have to do is go out and grab one of the many abandoned garages, warehouse or pieces of land for cheap and you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want with it, even if you’re doing some illegal things. The cities in too much of a disarray to care until you’ve made quite a bit of noise.

I didn’t really want to take any pictures in there. It kind of has the feel of a no picture zone but here’s one that Jesse grabbed.

Couple minutes before getting busted
Couple minutes before getting busted

Since it was getting late we decided to head back to the hotel. It’s amazing how few people are in this city. You drive on three lane roads and you’re the only car in sight. There are abandoned buildings, factories, warehouses, churches, hotels, and schools everywhere. Everything is crumbling, graffitied, or was set on fire. Occasionally you get to a house with a car parked out front where someone lives. Detroit is a wild place.

3-Apr Back to Asbury

Finally the day comes to drive back home, but not before we go strolling about the city. There’s a community garden right outside of the hotel. It’s faced by an old brick wall that is boarded up with some heavily contrasted boards. This picture is courtesy of Jesse.

Wall facing the Lafayette Greens community garden
Wall facing the Lafayette Greens community garden

We drive over to St. Agnes Church. It’s an abandoned church. It used to be opened for people to go in and view but it’s closed now. There’s fence around it that you may need to scale to get inside. It’s freezing cold so it’s unlikely we’ll run into any trouble in the church. But we do have our car with the Jersey plates parked out front on an otherwise empty street in a questionable area. We want to peak inside but we have to be quick. Between the police and the hood there’s a clock that’s counting down to bad news.

The place definitely has a creepy vibe to it. Luckily I haven’t been playing many zombie video games or I’d probably be a bit more terrified poking my head around some of these corners. Here’s a shot of the church facing the altar area.

The city is in complete disrepair
The city is in complete disrepair

And here’s the church facing the rear. There’s abandoned stuff like this all over the city. The scale of the abandonment is massive. Every type of building has been left in complete disrepair in many miles all around the city. Much of the community has picked up and left, and results like this are to be expected.

The earth will eventually consume everything
The earth will eventually consume everything

Here’s a picture of a window along the side that Jesse grabbed.

Window of St. Agnes Church
Window of St. Agnes Church

We decided to check out a bit more of the city. The plan is to drive by the Packard Automotive Plant. On the way we take back roads and end up stumbling upon this ghetto Louvre. There’s a lawn with a group of exhibits that look like they are made from recycled products. There’s a 40-foot dinosaur, murals, and other sculptures. It ends up being the Lincoln Street Art Park on 5926 Lincoln St, established in 2011. It was built as an effort to clean up the area and it’s meant to inspire and bring joy and creativity. I definitely recommend swinging through and checking it out.

Lincoln Street Art Park
Lincoln Street Art Park

We continue onward to the Packard Automotive Plant. As we get closer we pass the Chene-Ferry Market on the corner of Chene and E Ferry St. It looks like a cool shot so we pull into the parking lot. As we’re getting out we see an Escalade pull up. An Escalade in the hood is usually a questionable thing but we want to grab the shot. Almost immediately we see a second car pull up right behind the Escalade. Nope. We’re getting out of here. I do not want to be a white guy with a camera taking pictures with a drug deal going on. We hop back in the car and get the hell out of dodge.

We finally get to the area around the Packard Automotive Plant. It’s unbelievable seeing this completely falling apart. Everything is all tagged up. Here’s a shot at the intersection of East Palmer and Bellevue near the plant.

East Palmer and Bellevue
East Palmer and Bellevue

As we’re taking the picture a security car comes up to us. We explain we’re just taking pictures and she’s says not to go in. We’re only allowed on the sidewalks or the street and that they’re towing a lot of cars that day. She sees our New Jersey plates and asks us if we’re with a gang from New Jersey. She says there’s a lot of people from New Jersey out today in the area. Not really sure who she’s talking about as it’s just us three but apparently there’s a big group from Jersey out here getting into trouble.

We spin around the block a bit more and decided to make the trek home. We have about nine and a half hours to get home and work the next day.

The drive home is fast. Not much wind. The weather is clear and sunny. We zip it home pretty quickly.

We make it back in time to unpack, drop the rental car off and swing out to Asbury for a celebratory beverage. We meet up with some of people in town. We were talking about the trip and how we were just in Detroit earlier in the day. We find out a group of Instagram photographers from Jersey went out to Detroit. Some kid we’re talking to has a friend who went out to Detroit. He’s one of the people that security guard was talking about. There’s zero doubt in my mind. If any of you are reading this, you were making waves out there, ha. Hearing that story brought the whole trip full circle.

So that’s about it. A quick trip out to some great cities. There was a lot of cool stuff that we got into. I’ve wanted to go to Chicago for some time and it exceeded my expectations. There’s a lot to do in the city and there are many neighborhoods to hang out in. Milwaukee is a city that you can definitely spend a day in. The art museum was great. Detroit has more character than any place I may have ever been to. Driving around the hood and gawking doesn’t really solve any problems, but it doesn’t hurt to pump a couple bucks into an economy that has been obliterated. I recommend messing around Detroit. Your fears of the city are probably unfounded. Just keep a smart head about yourself and you should be alright.

I feel like if any community or person has a problem they think they can’t solve that they should go to Detroit. Drive around for a while. When you see that mass disarray and abandonment and see that destruction you can’t help but feel your problem is probably pretty simple in comparison. After driving through Detroit I felt like the hood of Asbury was like Disneyland. There are cars. There are people. There aren’t really any abandoned buildings. There’s businesses, schools, and churches open. There’s people fighting for themselves and for their community. They haven’t given up and left.

Joe

Half marathon summary

Finally ran my first half marathon

I set out to run my first half marathon the other day. It’s something I wanted to do since around April but didn’t try until just a couple days ago. I wanted to make sure I healed up to see how the recovery process was before posting this.

A little back story. In the summer months I get a pretty decent cardio workout in by playing ultimate frisbee two days a week. I would say I probably run somewhere around 4-5 miles per frisbee session. If I don’t make it to frisbee then I generally will try to get a run in the 2 to 3.1 mile range. When ultimate frisbee is not in session I generally will continue cardio with two or three of these runs per week when I’m being diligent.

I’ve tried to keep in shape over the years but I am far from a good runner. I’ve used the Endomondo app to track my running since August of 2011. I generally like the 5k distance and in the last four years my fastest 5k has been 24:15 in November of 2015, where I averaged 7:48 per mile. Using a calculator like this one from Runbayou says that time is right about in the middle of all male runner’s of my age. I’m better than 53.5% of runners. Although I typically don’t try to run the mile, my fastest mile was in December 2013 at 6:42. That mile time puts me in the top 55.7% of mile runners. My point here is that I’m a certified average runner.

In preparation I did some reading on what is necessary to run a half marathon and tried to follow the advice. Increase the mileage over time. Rest as appropriate. Eat well, etc. In June I ran 4 miles. In July I ran 8 miles. Five days after that I ran another 5 miles. I was doing alright at increasing my times and I was playing a bunch of frisbee when I wasn’t running.

Then things got pretty quiet. I didn’t track any running times on Endomondo for about four months. Frisbee games became less frequent as the night came earlier and weather became less optimal. The last day of the frisbee season ended in late October. I still didn’t track anything on Endomondo until November 16, a day when I somehow ran my personal best for the 5k. Over the next forty days I ran only three more 5k’s. My body wasn’t in an ideal shape to run a half marathon.

As the year started to wrap up I started asking people about New Year’s resolutions. I don’t usually make any grand resolutions or plans but I tend to use the New Year as a time to reset and refocus. All of the obvious things are realigned. I had made a comment about some of the good things that happened this year and some of the bad things, and how the half marathon was one of the few failures of the year for me.

Then December 26 came along. I woke up feeling a little down. I had had a couple beers the night before. I was not overly dehydrated but I certainly wasn’t hydrated. I didn’t eat the right meal the night before. I didn’t eat the right food that morning. I messaged someone on Tinder asking what her New Year’s resolution was. She said it was to run a half marathon. She ran six to eight miles before but couldn’t run the half marathon. So here’s the universe being weird, reintroducing the theme of the half marathon to me.

I’m not sure if it was this message but I decide that I’m going to run this half marathon this day. I am not stopping until I finish the 13.1. I drink some water. I have a Kind bar. I give myself time to digest it. I look up advice for running the half marathon. It seems like water is pretty important so I make sure I’ll take a 12-ounce bottle of water with me. I start to think about how this is kind of a serious run. I grab a Chobani. I grab a banana. I drink a little more water. I look up the weather. It’s windy and cold but I could care less. I’m starting to dial in focus. The problem is I don’t know what to wear. Short sleeve? Long sleeve? Shorts? Under armor pants under the shorts? I settle on shorts and a long sleeve under armor. I get to stretching. I take a little more time than usual because the distance is a little more than usual. I blow my nose. Rinse my mouth out. Use the bathroom. I’m as ready as I could possibly be.

I head out of the house and venture off to bridge over Wesley Lake, suspended between Ocean Grove and Asbury Park. The bridge where I start and end most of my runs. I get to it. Normally I like to run on the boardwalk, but the wind is way too strong. It’s fast. It’s cold. I decide to stick to a street about three blocks off of the boardwalk and head south. I want the option to head towards the water if I need to cool down and to head towards the land if I want to warm up. I run down streets close to people’s houses that I know. I think about times that we have had. I swing out to Main Street and notice stores that I have never noticed before. The world looks very different when you are on foot.

I keep running down Main Street, through all of the shore towns. The plan is to run at least 6.5 miles south, so that I have no choice but to finish the half marathon. But I know I’m finishing this run. I keep thinking over and over 13.1, 13.1, 13.1. Do not stop until you hit 13.1. While this half marathon was supposed to be a test of my physical self, it has become a test of my mental self. Can I run this half marathon that I have not been able to run? Is Tinder girl right? Can she really not run this thing? Or have we both chosen not to run it. Have we both chosen to failure?

Further south I run. I started on the border of Asbury Park. I’ve ran across Ocean Grove. I’ve ran across Bradley Beach. Through Avon by the Sea. I ran past Bar A and past Belmar. Bar A looks different and feels different from this perspective. Past Lake Como. Into Spring Lake. Over Spring Lake. I’m checking Endomondo to see if I should turn around. It’s dark and it’s getting colder. I’m only at 5.5 miles. I refuse to turn around. Stick to the plan. 13.1, 13.1, 13.1. I have to get to at least half of it before I spin around.

I cut inward towards land thinking I’ll make a loop to put another mile or two on the run. I swing over to Route 71 and run right up until the edge of Sea Girt. It’s been about 6.75. More than half but I know the return will be more of a straight shot home. It seems like a good point to spin around.

My body feels pretty good. My knee was bothering me on one of the 5k’s I was recently out on. That’s been fine. I’ve only just cracked open my water. Most of it was used to get spit out of my throat. I drank a little but I’m not trying to cramp. I’m not hungry. My muscles aren’t cramping. Everything seems pretty good. Now I just have to retrace my steps and I’ll be done.

This time I want to mostly stick to Main Street. There are more cars but there are also more lights. I’m wearing black on black. Almost nothing reflects. This all black outfit is really stupid, but I kind of forgot how long of a run this was supposed to be. It’s been completely dark out for about a half hour.

I start the run back. I try to retrace my step and mostly do a good job. I thought I took 5th Ave in Spring Lake on the way over, but really I took 3rd. I know I’m running in the general direction but I want to get to streetlights. I don’t want any cars to hit me. And surprisingly some of the worst sidewalks I saw running were in Spring Lake. I don’t want to roll an ankle. I bring up the GPS and throw a route in that will get me back to Main Street. Mile 8 passes. Each step I take now is uncharted land. This is the furthest I have ever run in my life. Kind of cool, but nothing to get too carried away with. Focus. 13.1.

Mile 9 comes around the Lake Como area. I’m back on Main. I’m only about two-thirds of the way done, but I’m still feeling alright. Muscles are starting to burn a little. Ligaments are tendons are starting to feel a little on fire. At this point various pains are starting to be felt and I’m hoping none of them develop into anything serious. This is all to be expected. Another rinsing of my mouth and another couple sips of water.

Mile 10 and I’m back in Belmar. Alright, now all I need to do is run a 5k. I certainly don’t want to but I certainly don’t care about what I think. I’m finishing this race. This isn’t a physical limitation. This is a mental limitation. I know I can do this. I will do this. I have to see 13.1 tonight. I have to.

Back in Avon. At this point I’m starting to notice how smells from restaurants are amplified. I guess I’m hungry. I pass some restaurant and it starts to smell delicious. I pass billboards with terrible looking Quick Chek sandwiches and I think how they look amazing right now. I pass a Chinese food place. It smells actually pretty terrible. I start to think about what I’ll eat for dinner. I didn’t eat anything today and I will have a huge calorie deficit. I can pretty much eat whatever I want. I run past a Pizza Hut billboard and see a special for two or three pies and think I might order that and eat the whole order myself.

Mile 11 is up and I’m back in Bradley. I feel the pace has slowed down more and more over the last several miles and I’m just trying to keep it moving and finish out. My legs are starting to feel pretty worn but I’m not giving up. About halfway through this mile and halfway through Bradley I smell one of the most amazing smells I have ever smelled in my life. Del Ponte’s Bakery. I don’t know if that place normally smells good, but it is insane how delicious the smell of baked goods and sugar smell in the air on this cold and windy night. My sense of smell is heightened to an extremely high level. I don’t even like eating baked goods, but for some reason this smell will probably stick with me for many years as one of the best things I have ever smelled before. I have to visit there one of these days just to try whatever it is that I smelled that night.

Bradley comes to an end and with it mile 12. At this point I know I should be able to finish. I’m back along Main in OG. Water has just finally run out but I’m close enough to finish. When it’s over I’ll drink all that I need. I was planning on finishing at least a half mile or a mile away from home and then walking to keep the legs moving and stretch but I change my plan. I’m thirsty. I’m hungry. My body is really started to tighten up. I want to be close to home in case of some random injury occurring. I make it to Main Ave in OG. I check Endomondo. 12.5. I’m close. I’m also close to home. It’s slightly tempting to just head home but at this point that just seems absurd.

I quickly refocus as I think of 13.1. Back over the Wesley bridge. Past Moonstruck. I turn around. I’m at 12.9. Back to the Wesley bridge. 13.0. I’m so close. I just have to finish this thing. Close it out. I feel fine. I pick up the pace just ever so slightly. 13.05. Yes. 13.07. I’m going to do it. 13.08. 13.09 13.10. 13.11. Just for good measure. I have just finished the first half marathon of my life. I finished what I thought I couldn’t do. And in time for the New Year’s too.

I slow down to a walk. I feel good enough. Nothing hurts too much. Everything is pretty tense and some things are on fire. But nothing out of the ordinary.

And then something happens. I get to the doorstep and I kind of start to feel weird. In addition to the physical cramping and burning and hunger and thirst and heightened senses and the desire to shower I feel a sense of tiredness come over me. My body seems to enter some sort of crisis mode. I feel like my body has had enough and it start prioritizing every individual action. I’ve never felt anything like this before. Everything is ultra focused and precise. There is a priority of actions that my body wants to complete but I can only focus on one at a time. Unlock the first lock. Unlock the second lock. Go inside. Drink a dozen gulps of water. Eat a banana. Eat a Kind bar. Eat a Chobani. Have a couple more sips of water. Send a Snapchat. Eat another banana. Shoes off. Stretch a little. Clothes off. Shower. Dry off. Another sip or two of water. Bottoms on. Hop into bed. Take a nap. Try to keep the legs stretching throughout the nap.

I’ve never felt anything like that before. Where your body goes into this miniature survival mode and it just prioritizes everything and you think about only one thing at a time. It was a pretty cool feeling.

After a couple hours nap I head out for a dinner of steak, potato, and Brussels sprouts with a couple beers to celebrate. It’s probably a good idea to stretch the legs again on the walk over. Sure I ate a little at the house but I’ve burned off about 1,930 calories. I need to fuel back up.

I ended up finishing the half marathon in 2:08:45. Although I wasn’t shooting for time on this day I was aiming for around the 2 hour mark. For not trying for time I’m happy enough with the results. My individual mile times for the run were as follows. I started too fast and faded at the end. Pretty predictable.

  1. 8:05
  2. 8:23
  3. 8:36
  4. 8:53
  5. 9:25
  6. 9:35
  7. 9:46
  8. 9:47
  9. 10:24
  10. 10:17
  11. 10:51
  12. 11:16
  13. 12:15

A map of the run is as follows.

Map of the half marathon run
Map of the half marathon run

The 27th and 28th I was predictably a little sore. However I was surprisingly much less sore than I thought I would be. By the 29th I felt pretty much back to normal. Today I feel completely fine as well. During the recovery I tried to get a little extra walking in and ate and drank smartly. But there wasn’t too much to it. There’s probably a million articles and stories and pieces of advice you could read that would be more helpful than what I’ve said here, so I’m not going to list any running advice. I’m far from an expert in this field.

Another surprising thing about completing this half marathon was how unsatisfying it was to complete it. I set out to run a half marathon one time. I had and still have no ambition to run it again or to run a longer distance like a marathon. At a certain point running distances is just detrimental to the health of your legs. It was a one-time challenge that I set out to do, and ended up completing it on a completely unexpected day. I had always planned to run this on my own but can see the argument for running a half marathon as part of an event. You probably want access to water stations and emergency personnel, but a 12-ounce bottle of water probably will be enough to last.

So that’s my experience running a half marathon. 2:08:45 puts me at 46.3%, close to but below the average for the distance. I’m still not a good runner. But on that day I was the best runner that I have ever been.

I set out to do something that I thought I could not do and focused solely on the outcome to achieve what I wanted. Was I really not able to run it? I never got close to running it before. I wasn’t in the shape to run it at all. And I did. I did because I mentally focused and got there. Can Tinder girl really not run it? She has not run it before either. She might be in a similar shape that I’m in. But I think she can. I think if she sets out today or tomorrow that she can certainly finish. I messaged her the next day saying I finished it and she never responded back to me. Fair enough. The half marathon is her New Year’s resolution and I hope she will finish it.

Whether you make resolutions or not, I hope you all have the best of New Year’s. I don’t really think there are many takeaways from this story but if I have to try to find some I’ll present these. You can wake up feeling like a bum and still do something really amazing that day. You can do something very average and still do something that you consider a success. Something may seem very physical, but it may be a lot more mental than you think. Sometimes when you complete something you don’t feel a satisfaction that you thought you would.

Cheers,
Joe