new to me in new york

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not the biggest fan of New York. So I don’t really ever go out of my way to visit this monstrous city. But I found myself here because our flight out of the country departs from New York. So without too much of a plan, we explored some of what New York has to offer, and it ended up that all of the stuff we visited was new to me.

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This was my first time visiting New York during the Christmas season. There were many Christmas decorations up, and many of the trees throughout the city had lights on them. And of course there’s the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, which we passed briefly, but for some reason I didn’t take a picture of the tree.

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The last time I came to New York the World Trade center area was still under construction. Now the construction is mostly complete, there’s a memorial for each of the twin towers that were destroyed on 9-11, and the Freedom tower is just about complete as well. There’s also a 9-11 museum, which we didn’t have time to visit.

nyc1Despite having been to New York City a few times, I never really visited the Theater District. We wanted to see “The Book of Mormon” seeing as how that would have been one of the few plays that wouldn’t be too bromantic to watch, but found that even the cheapest tickets were nearly $200. We decided to wait in line for standing room tickets, which ran concurrently with the ticket lottery. (There’s a limited number of standing room tickets that are first come first serve for $27, and there’s a lottery for an even more limited number of front row tickets for the same price.) We weren’t successful in the lottery, but we were able to get some of the last standing room tickets. They’re actually in a pretty good location, right behind the orchestra level seats, the only downside is you have to stand for the entire show, and by the end of it my legs were hurting pretty badly. It was totally worth the pain to save more than $150, and the show itself was hilarious.

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Another thing we had to wait in line for was the cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery. We waited about an hour for it, possibly one of the most famous baked (or is it fried?) goods in America. It’s also probably pound for pound the most expensive baked (so actually according to Wikipedia it’s fried) good I’ve ever had, costing $5 and an hour of my time. I’d say it’s worth it though. It’s hard to describe, it’s flaky like a croissant, but at the same time it’s sweet and doughy like a doughnut, which I guess is the point, seeing as it’s a cross between the two.

lower manhattan from a random pier

After polishing off our cronuts (and several other delights from the bakery) we decided we needed to walk off some calories. We walked towards the waterfront and found a pier from which we took some pictures of the skyline of lower Manhattan.

the high line

Then we walked on the High Line park. This is another New York attraction that’s new since the last time I’ve been to New York.

watching the traffic is fascinating

To be perfectly honest, I think the High Line park is a bit overrated. But there are some cool features built into it, like this little amphitheater where you can watch the traffic drive by underneath you. Why is that cool? I don’t know to be honest, but it felt cool just because I’ve never really seen anything like it before.

I enjoyed my time in New York city. It was cool seeing all the things that were new since my last visit. And I guess my attitude towards the city has improved. My main gripes with NYC were the dirtiness and crowdedness of the city, as well as the perceived danger of being in the wrong parts of the city. But after having traveled to some of the major cities in Europe, I’ve found that NYC isn’t all that bad, and it isn’t all that different from cities like London or Paris or Rome. Those cities are just as dirty and crowded. And after being in those cities, I’ve come to realize that NYC is pretty cool too, and I wouldn’t mind returning for another visit.

the maine lobster roll

After a whirlwind tour of Montreal, we headed back across the border to the US, crossing back into our homeland somewhere in Vermont. Vermont for the most part was forgettable to me, we had one meal in the state capital, Montpelier, which was a surprisingly tiny town where we ate a surprisingly terrible meal considering how much we paid. From there we headed east to the coast of Maine.

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Our first stop was in Kennebunkport, Maine to a place that, despite being called the Clam Shack, was famous for its lobster roll. A lobster roll is pretty simple– a pound of lobster sandwiched between two toasted buns, slathered with some mayo and butter. At about $15, it was one of the most expensive sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, but worth every penny.

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Right next door to the Clam Shack was a bar/restaurant that served steamed lobster. The place was packed, both with tourists and locals, probably because they served a steamed lobster combo for $15.

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We stopped at another somewhat famous clam place–it had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. This one was famous for its lobster stew.

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My favorite place ended up being a tiny roadside lobster shack. It was the complete opposite of all the places we had been to so far in that it was completely empty.

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Here they had live lobsters in various sizes. We picked four of the #2 size, which came to around $30 in total.

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They had a big steam pot outside which they tossed the live lobsters into. About ten minutes later they pulled them out and tossed them into a shopping bag. They gave us a couple of paper plates, then we chowed down on the lobsters on the picnic table outside.

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Our last stop in Maine was at the Chauncey Creek lobster pier. This was a more touristy sort of place, so the lobster was quite a bit more expensive here.

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Instead of lobster I ordered some steamed clams and raw oysters. They were super fresh too, simply prepared, but super tasty.IMG_20131010_164905I’m a huge fan of shellfish in general, but lobster actually has probably always been my least favorite. I’ve always enjoyed crab more. From eating lobster in Maine, I came to the realization that I wasn’t a huge fan of lobster mostly because I’ve never had access to any good fresh lobster. I’ve always had access to super fresh crab– one of my family’s traditions is to buy live fresh caught dungeness crab off the boats in Half Moon Bay. I’ve never had access to that same sort of fresh lobster– most of the lobster I’ve had up until now had been crappy frozen lobster at places like Red Lobster or random seafood buffets.

So yeah, eating fresh lobster in Maine was a revelation to me. Like many revelations, this one will probably end with semi annual pilgrimages to a holy land– in this case I’ll be rolling back to the holy land of lobster that is Maine.

waterfalls of upstate ny

Upstate New York has some amazing scenery, and I was fortunate to be landing in the area near the peak foliage season.

IMGP4069First stop on this road trip was to Ithaca, New York. I met my friend Bo at the airport in Newark, and from there we went to visit Caleb in Ithaca. He’s there finishing up his studies at Cornell. Ithaca is a nice little scenic college town, with a waterfall right in the middle of town.

IMGP4073Our next stop was to Rochester, to visit some friends there, but along the way Caleb led us to another waterfall called Taughannock Falls. This one was pretty amazing, with beautiful fall foliage surrounding the waterfall.

IMGP4090After visiting friends in Rochester, and after a quick stop in Buffalo at Anchor Bar for the original Buffalo wings, we arrived at Niagara Falls. Technically we were on the Canadian side, so technically the title of this post should be “Waterfalls of Upstate NY and Canada.” We arrived at night at our hotel. Our hotel room had an amazing view of the waterfall, which was lit up with colored lights.

IMGP4092Waking up to this view was pretty amazing.

IMGP4124The park on the Canadian side of the waterfalls is very developed– it’s almost like a theme park. It’s much different experience from when I visited the American side in winter, when everything was closed.

IMGP4104We wanted to ride the Maid of the Mist, but when we arrived at the ticket stand they were closed due to ‘high water.’ It had rained earlier in the day, so I’m guessing the river was running high, making it unsafe for the boat to go out.

PANO_20131007_132346I took a panoramic on my phone– it ended up being one of my favorite pictures from the trip. I found out that the panoramic mode actually uses the camera in lower resolution. So I’m actually better off using a wide angle lens on my SLR and cropping if I want an image that I can print.

seattle

Most people know this about me: I like to bike, I like to eat, and I like photography. Apparently Portland exists at the intersection of all three of those. Seriously I liked Portland so much, it was hard to leave.

The distance between Portland and Seattle is not very long. In fact, I biked it almost exactly one year ago, during the 2011 Seattle to Portland bike ride. The bike ride is 200 miles, but the drive is more direct and a bit shorter than that. As we approached Seattle, it started to rain very hard, then it started to hail. We decided to pull over for a bit, and then ended up booking a room in Tumwater, just outside of the Seattle-Tacoma area. The lady at the front desk was very nice, she gave us her own personal special room rate. Wow, first the snacks from the old ladies in Portland. Now the special room rate. I’m beginning to think I have some special charm– too bad it doesn’t seem to work on women closer to my age…

In the morning during breakfast I watched the news. Apparently the 2012 Seattle to Portland ride was going on this weekend. It brought back memories of my ride last year, and my subsequent 800 mile bike ride back home from Portland.

After breakfast we drove into Seattle. By then the weather had cleared and it was a gorgeous day by the waterfront. We parked somewhat midway between Pike’s Place and Safeco field, our plan was just to park and then walk everywhere, ending our day at a Seattle Mariner’s game at Safeco field.

Pike’s place market was exactly how I remembered it from last year. Extremely crowded.

I always like looking at the seafood at the market. If we were planning to camp that night, I probably would’ve bought some seafood and attempted to grill it.

The gluttony continued. At least this time around it’s a bit more healthy. I really only ate seafood and fruit at Pike’s Place– they have awesome fruit stands from which I purchased a pound of cherries. I came to realize that a pound of cherries is really, really filling.

One of the famous attractions near Pike’s Place is the bubble gum wall. I found it disgusting. Gid doesn’t seem to mind it though.

Afterwards we hit up Safeco Field for a Mariner’s game. One of Gid’s bucket list items is to visit every baseball stadium. This is number three for him, so he has a long way to go.

It was Ichiro night (and also single’s night). We got a free Ichiro t-shirt and sat in right field behind Ichiro. The lens I bought in Portland came in handy for the game– I’m amazed at how sharp this picture looks, even though I took it from our seat 32 rows up.

By the top of the 8th inning the Mariners were up by seven, so we decided to head out early to beat the rush. We got to the waterfront just in time to catch the sunset over the Puget Sound. The sunset was an amazing shade of orange that night.

The next morning we hit up this church that Ray’s friend goes to. The pastor’s message was on temptation– mostly he talked about Jesus’s forty day fast in the wilderness. Ironically when I return from this trip I’ll most likely need to fast for forty days to make up for all the gluttony in Portland and Seattle.

From the church we parted ways with Ray. He was going to stay with his friend for another day and fly back home from the Seattle airport. Gid and I are continuing east toward Glacier National Park in Montana.

Things I’m thankful for:

  • Seafood
  • Sunsets
  • Seattle, I guess, too… Although I clearly like Portland better…

portland gluttony

I ate so much in Portland that I decided to dedicate a post to all the food I had…

Spanish anchovies with lemon aioli. This food cart was named Euro Trash– they had all sorts of stuff including escargot and foie gras.

Kalua pork slider. Very tasty, but kinda pricey at $3 for such a small bit of food.

Bibimbap burrito. I’ve had a lot of bibimbap and a lot of burritos but this was my first bibimbap burrito.

Took a break for some beer and speed scrabble at some pub. If this is how hipsters chillax, I think I wouldn’t mind being a hipster.

Appetizer at dinner time was a house made pate. It went pretty well with the pickled vegetables it came with.

Leg of lamb over gnocchi with peas. Gnocchi was roasted which gave it a nice bite.

Bacon wrapped corn dog. Apparently this cart won some best bacon challenge in 2011. They pretty much wrap everything in bacon.

Ethiopian sambusa. Tasted almost like Indian samosa.

Pork belly bao. I don’t think I’ve ever had pork belly that I didn’t like…

My first experience with foie gras and it was from a food truck… Pretty tasty, but very pricey. Now that I’ve had it, I’m disappointed that California has banned it…

My small attempt at being healthy. This cart had a huge line, and all they served was this bowl. It was pretty tasty and I think the fiber helped my digestion.

Bacon maple beer. Best idea ever. This beer replaces the seasonal cherry blossom beer in Washington DC as my favorite beer of all time. I don’t think it will ever be unseated. It was that good, far and away the best beer I’ve ever had in my life.

The Voodoo maple bacon doughnut that inspired the beer. It was good, but not spectacular. I was expecting it to blow me away like the beer did, but it didn’t. Maybe I was just too full by then too…

Things I’m thankful for:

  • Portland food pods. They need to have these in Sacramento.
  • The biking and walking friendly city of Portland. Allowed us to burn off a bit of the gluttony…

portland

Please excuse the crappiness of the photos in this post. They’re all cellphone shots, I didn’t use my SLR a whole lot in Portland…

We arrived in Portland pretty late in the evening. We found a cheap motel in the outskirts of town. Our motel is next door to a Chinese dive bar (never knew those things existed.) Gid and I decided to unwind from our long drive by shooting some pool. It was a pretty cool place, free pool tables and cheap beer– sounds like a place where Asians would be at home at, so I was somewhat surprised that we were the only Asians in the place.

So apparently Portland is the hipster capital of the world. So we spent the day pretending to be hipsters (without the tattoos or tight pants, so I guess we didn’t really go so far as hipsters). We rented city bikes and then hit up Stumptown coffee, which my friend Jack recommended. I ended up spending $5 for an Ethiopian something something coffee (I forget the exact name) brewed in a Chemex. I guess I’m not much of a coffee connoisseur because I couldn’t tell how it was any better than the cheapo McDonald’s coffee I typically drink.

After Stumptown we decided to bike to the Rose Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. They were up a pretty big sized hill– it was not very fun climbing on these city bikes that were clearly not made for climbing. The Rose Garden was kind of a bust– should’ve realized that three guys would not really appreciate roses. But at least the Rose Garden was free. The Japanese Tea Garden was almost $10, so we decided not to go in. We sat around near the Rose Garden for a while, cooling off. A group of Korean grandmas were sitting near us, I thought they were from Korea, so I asked them where in Korea they were from. Apparently they were from the Portland area. They were really nice, they fed us some snacks.

Afterwards we biked into downtown for lunch. There’s this one block in Portland that’s just food pods all they way around. They served everything from pho to foie gras. Pure awesomeness.

Afterwards we attempted to burn off some of the calories from lunch by biking around the waterfront area. Portland is such an amazingly bike friendly town. Plus there’s amazing food. And no sales tax. I think I’m ready to move to Portland…

I like cities with nice riverside trails. Sacramento’s American River Parkway is nice, but it’s not as well developed as the waterfront in Portland. I think that’s also why I liked Boston– the Boston Esplanade is pretty nice.

In the evening we hit up a couple of bike shops, attempting to take advantage of Oregon’s lack of sales tax, but we didn’t find anything to buy. We then went up the hill to the Oregon Health & Science University campus. The view from the hospital there was amazing, with great views of Mount Saint Helens and Mount Hood and downtown Oregon.

It was so nice in Portland that we decided to spend another night there. In the morning we visited another coffee shop called Coffeehouse Northwest. I really liked this place. They make their own caramel, and their baked goods and breakfast sandwiches were awesome. I had a prosciutto butter baguette along with an iced coffee. I didn’t realize until then that butter could be a main ingredient. Seriously, I think there was like half a stick of butter in my sandwich. I could feel the blood in my veins start to thicken as I ate it.

Afterwards we hit up a camera shop, again trying to take advantage of the lack of sales tax. I found a telephoto lens that was a pretty good deal, cheaper than anything on eBay. But I decided not to get it. Later on we discovered that Ray forgot his camera charger in the motel room, so we returned to the area. I ended up buying the lens. So in just two days in Portland I spent almost a thousand dollars (although 80% of that was the lens.)

All in all though I really enjoyed Portland. The food in general was amazing. I ate so much of it that I’ll devote a separate post just to Portland food.

Things I’m thankful for:

  • Lack of sales tax in Oregon
  • Food pods. Why don’t we have these in Sacramento?!

the capital

One of the great things about my job is that it’s relatively flexible. It’s because of this flexibility that I can take advantage of great deals on flights. Back in June Southwest had an amazing sale on airfares throughout the country, so I ended up booking a trip to Washington D.C. I actually visited DC a little over a year ago and found it to be a pretty awesome place. That trip actually predates this blog by a couple of months. In fact it was that trip and my first cross country road trip that spurred me to start this blog. MT stands for a bunch of random things, among them is ‘Mike’s Travels’ and ‘Miscellaneous Thoughts.’

People sometimes ask me how I have enough money to travel. The truth is I tend to travel when I can somehow organize it so that either my lodging costs or travel costs are free. The last time I went to DC my friend Bo had an interview at John Hopkins University, so he had a hotel room in Baltimore. He graciously let me crash his hotel room, so I found a cheap flight and car rental and went to visit the monuments and museums in DC while he had his interview in Baltimore.

Since I didn’t have this blog back then, here’s a random story from that trip. Since Bo was in interviews with faculty all day, I spent the entire day in DC alone. It was my first experience traveling alone and I was having a blast. I actually really enjoyed visiting the museums on my own, spending as long or as short as I wanted at each exhibit. I got to do all the touristy stuff too, visiting the monuments and taking a bazillion pictures. Towards the end of the day I wanted to get a picture of the sunset over the Lincoln Monument, so I found myself walking quickly while looking through the viewfinder on my camera. I wasn’t watching where I was going so I stepped in the reflecting pool between the Lincoln and Washington monuments, almost falling in headfirst, but somehow managed to balance myself and continued walking, playing it off as if nothing happened. But apparently a bunch of people saw me and one guy joked, “Good job saving that camera…”

It’s amazing how much things can change in a year and a half. When I visited last time, Bo was still a grad student, looking for jobs all over the world. Now he is a patent officer in DC (who graciously allowed Jack and me to crash his pad again.) Last time I almost fell in the reflecting pool. This time around, it was physically impossible for me to fall into the reflecting pool, because it was completely torn up, just a humongous hole in the ground, under remodeling. Last time I visited the Martin Luther King Memorial was under construction. This time I landed in town just in time for the dedication ceremony. It was actually sheer stupid luck that we found ourselves in DC during the dedication ceremony, because it was originally scheduled for August, but was postponed by hurricane Irene.


Since it was a pretty historic once in a lifetime event, we thought about getting there early to get a good view. But all three of us overslept (Korean food being available at all hours of the night probably didn’t help) so we didn’t arrive until a little before 11:30. We got there a little before President Obama’s speech. As he stepped to the podium the crowd chanted, “Four more years! Four more years!” We were way too far back to see him in person, but seeing him live on the jumobtron screens mounted above him and hearing his actual voice blaring out over the loudspeakers was still a pretty incredible experience for me. I recorded his entire speech on my smartphone, but unfortunately the quality is pretty crappy.


Later on during the trip we returned to the MLK memorial. It’s actually a really cool monument, symbolizing a mountain of a man, with the inscription, “Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” carved into the side of the monument. In his speech Obama emphasized Martin Luther King’s small stature, but now he is immortalized as a huge figure, a towering symbol of civil rights. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

What also amazes me is that no matter how things change, things also stay the same. On my last trip to DC, after Bo had finished his interviews at John Hopkins, we found ourselves wandering around the monuments during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. We randomly found this microbrewery that served a seasonal cherry blossom beer, which to this day I remember as the best beer I’ve ever had. (We looked for that microbrewery on this trip, but couldn’t find it.) What hasn’t changed is that somehow for two straight guys, we end up in some really bromantic situations. Luckily this time Jack was around, so I was more a third wheel to Jack and Bo’s bromance. The three of us ended up watching Les Miserables at the Kennedy Center. The next day we drove out to Shenandoah National Park to see the autumn leaves.


I tried to take a picture of the colors flying by, but my lens wasn’t wide enough and the colors not pronounced enough to get the shot I wanted. Ahh well.


The other thing that hasn’t changed is the gluttony. We had way too much food, all sorts of food, from late night Korean food to Greek brunch to Native American inspired cuisine to Chinese/Mexican fusion to chili dogs (a local favorite that even Obama eats). It amazes me that Bo is still pretty skinny. If I lived out in DC I would be like 800 pounds for sure.

all aboard for seattle

I’d love to ride the trains across Europe or Asia someday but I’ve never understood the appeal of trains in the United States. The difference in the US is that less people ride the trains, so the schedules are terrible and the trains are always late. And on top of that, trains in the US are abysmally slow. I tried for a long time to figure out a way to get my bicycle up to Seattle without taking the train, but in the end it became my only option.

Originally I had planned to road trip up to Seattle with Gid, since he’s off work for the summer. It ended up not happening because his parents were concerned about him driving back from Seattle alone. That’s totally understandable. I was actually debating whether to tell my parents that I was going to bike from Portland to Davis alone but I ended up telling them before I left. I didn’t think they would be too concerned. I was right. My dad’s response was, “Hey aren’t you ever going to get married?” Which he said in Korean. I replied, “Don’t worry, this is my last crazy adventure.” That was probably a lie.

Anyways, the train ended up being a not bad option. Jiro was planning on riding the Seattle to Portland Classic as well, and his parents were going to pick him up at the train station in Seattle. They offered to let me stay at their place, so it worked out really well in the end.


But it started out kind of rough. When I arrived at the station, I found that the train was going to be delayed almost three hours. I had actually arrived at the station early, because I had to box my bicycle up. I had never done anything like that before, so I budgeted a lot of time for it, but it actually ended up being pretty easy. The main challenge was getting the handlebars and pedals off. After that the bicycle basically slides into the box. Jiro arrived about when I finished boxing up my bike. After we both finished boxing our bikes and checking my bags, we decided to roam around downtown for a bit.

Of course in Davis, there’s not much open late night in the middle of the week. Even the bars seems like they all closed at midnight. Interestingly I found that Thai places seem to be open latest in Davis. We ended up eating some porridge at Red 88 then grabbing a couple of beers at Sofia’s. But even Sofia’s closed at 1am. The train was originally scheduled for about 11:30pm, but with almost a 3 hour delay, it wouldn’t be arriving until after 2am. So I ended up taking a short nap at the station.

The train ride itself wasn’t too bad. The main thing that sucks is that the ride is sooooooo long. Once we hit the Oregon border the train car we were in mostly emptied out, so I grabbed my own pair of seats and sprawled out and slept for most of the 20+ hour ride.


I didn’t really see much of the scenery since I was sleeping most of the way, but what I saw was pretty nice. There’s a panoramic car up that is mostly glass where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. There were lots of river crossings and beautiful mountains. We passed a lot of the major mountains on the west coast, including Mt Shasta, Mt Hood, Mt St Helens, and Mt Rainier.


Luckily I was awake for the last few hours of the train ride. I caught a glimpse of the sunset breaking out over the Puget Sound. It was pretty amazing and of course the crappy cellphone shot doesn’t do it justice. I’ll definitely need to come back up here someday (hopefully by car or plane…)


On Friday Jiro and I picked up our packets for the STP ride and then made a quick tour around Pike Place market.


The seafood was awesome. If I weren’t biking back to Davis, I’d probably have bought an entire smoked salmon. We ended up eating crab and shrimp cocktails instead. They were pretty awesome.


I got to check out the original Starbucks store too. I’m not that much of a coffee drinker, but it was still cool to check it out. I guess it’s cool to be able to say that I drank coffee from the original Starbucks.

Things I am thankful for:

  • Modes of transportation: cars, planes, bicycles, (I guess even trains too…)
  • Concerned parents
  • Jiro’s family’s hospitality

the launch

T-Minus 17 hours. Approximately 10:30pm EST.
My buddy Tim and I arrive at Spaceview Park. We thought we were going to be among the first ones there. Oh how wrong we were. The entire front row along the water is already lined with camp chairs. Luckily we find an elevated planter box, from there I setup my tripod to shoot over the heads of the people in front of us. Compared to most of the people out here, we are ill prepared. Most people have camp chairs, a few people have tents, some have umbrellas, one person even has a full size TV. We have a few snacks, some crackers that we bought from K-Mart, some fruit that we sneaked out of our hotel’s continental breakfast, some bottles of water, and our camera gear.

T-Minus 16 hours. Approximately 11:30pm EST.
I’m finding the humongous 500mm lens I rented for this launch is not big enough. As you can see, even at maximum zoom the launch pad takes up a small amount of the frame. Some people have some crazy setups. I see a Canon 600mm f4L, the guy who owns it says he’s stacking it with a 2x teleconverter for a crazy 1200mm focal length. But even his crazy expensive setup pales in comparison to the guy who brought in a huge telescope hooked up to his laptop.


T-Minus 15 hours. Approximately 12:30am EST.
Nothing to do except try to catch some sleep. I lay down in the patch of dirt next to my tripod. The bricks on the left are my pillow. The ground is slightly damp, but not cold. Thank God for waterproof pants and Gore-Tex jackets. Nights in Orlando are warm. So I’m actually able to catch a few Zs. The only thing that really hinders my sleep is the swarm of mosquitoes buzzing around my ears.


T-Minus 10.5 hours. Approximately 5am EST.

I’m awakened by bright lights. News crews here to film the gathering crowds. I wonder if they caught a shot of me sleeping in the dirt. Good thing it’s Miami local news and not a national news outlet like CNN or Fox News.


T-Minus 8 hours. Approximately 7:30 am EST.
The sunrise over the water is quite beautiful. It rains a little bit and the winds pick up. It’s not looking too good, but it’s been forecasted that way. It’s supposed to clear up by the afternoon for the scheduled launch window at 3:47pm. As a side benefit, the winds blow away the mosquitoes, so I’m able to sleep better. It’s light out, so people can plainly see me sleeping in the dirt, but by now I’m so tired I just don’t care.


T-Minus 5 hours. Approximately 10:30 am EST.
Spaceview park is starting to fill up. All the empty spaces are now filled with chairs. Out near the parking lot lines are forming for the porta-potties. All sorts of food stands are going up. It’s almost like a mini carnival. Volunteers set up a speaker which provides a live broadcast of the countdown from Cape Canaveral.

T-Minus 3 hours. Approximately 12:30 pm EST.
Things are looking good. The weather has cleared a lot. The space shuttle’s liquid fuel tank has been filled. The crew has boarded the shuttle orbiter. Then all of a sudden some bad news. They have found a mechanical problem. A heater on one of the auxiliary power units has failed. Ten minutes later they announce that the launch has been scrubbed, delayed at least two days. Utter disappointment grips me. Tim and I pack up as quickly as we can, we decide to try to beat the traffic to the Orlando airport.

T-Plus 12 hours. I think. Approximately 12:30am PST.
Back in California already. Got to the airport early. I sprawled out on the floor at the gate and caught a bit of sleep. Flight is uneventful. Short layover in Phoenix then arrive at SFO a little past midnight PST. The math is confusing. Orlando is 3 hours ahead? So it’s 3:30 there, so approximately 12 hours after the scheduled launch I’m at home with my parents. They feed me before I leave to drive back to Davis. “Why not just rest here?” they ask. Well, I need to be up in about four hours for a bike ride.

T-Plus 18 hours. 6:30am PST.
The start of the Tour de Cure, a charity bike ride for diabetes. For me it’s a different kind of launch, the start of the 2011 biking season. To be honest, if it were just a normal century ride, I would’ve probably just stayed at home and slept. But this is a charity ride, people are sponsoring me, plus Dave and Jiro are counting on me to drive their bikes up to Roseville. So here I am, attempting to bike one hundred miles on only a couple of hours of sleep.

T-Plus 27.5 hours. 4pm PST.
I make it to the finish line, completely drained. On paper this is probably the easiest century ride I have ever ridden, but in actuality it’s been one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done. Somehow I make it to the end despite cramping up really early, at only the 40 mile mark.

Epilogue.
It’s been a crazy two days. Missing the launch was a big disappointment, for sure. It would seem like the entire trip was a big waste. I used an entire weeks worth of vacation time, burned through almost an entire week’s salary, flew thousands of miles, and for what? A night slept sleeping in the dirt and a few blurry pictures? If you look at it that way, then yes it sounds like a waste. But to me it’s not a waste. What I’ve been slowly learning over the years is that the stories and experiences in life are priceless. A big reason why I love to blog and I love to shoot pictures is that it helps me to remember those stories and experiences and share them with others. And so this whole experience wasn’t a waste. This particular story had an unexpected and anti-climactic ending, but I hope it was still worth reading. And I still had fun sharing it.

Pix here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/mikehong81/2011042729Florida

boyhood dreams

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an astronaut. I would spend hours playing with Legos building elaborate spaceships, then I would crash those spaceships into the walls. So perhaps it’s good that I didn’t actually become an astronaut.

This week I’m in Florida to watch a space shuttle launch. It’s the second to last shuttle launch in history. The shuttle first launched in 1981, the year of my birth, and it’s retiring this year, just before I turn 30. It’s kind of cool that I get to sort of live out my boyhood dream before I turn 30.

In high school most guys dream about cars. My three dream cars in high school were the Toyota Supra, the Mazda RX-7, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-X Spyder. Of those three cars, the only one that remains in production is the Eclipse Spyder.

When my buddy Tim and I arrived at the airport rental car counter, the lady at the desk asked us if we wanted to upgrade to a convertible for only $8 a day. Oh heck yea. It ended up being a pearly white almost brand new 2011 Eclipse Spyder. Best $8 bucks spent. BEST EVARRRRR…

I quickly fell in love with this car. It’s loaded with every option imaginable, it even had a subwoofer in the back seat. It also had the sequential shift package. That made the car incredibly fun to drive. Every time I pulled out of a toll both, I switched into the sequential shift mode, slammed on the gas, and upshifted near redline. The car is fast but the fact that it’s so low to the ground and the fact that you feel the air whizzing by above your head makes it feel so much more incredibly fast than it actually is.

Of course I could drive hard and upshift near redline on my Subaru too, being that it’s stick, but I never shift above 4k. My Subaru and I are in a long term committed relationship and I would like to keep it that way. But for this brief fling with the Eclipse, I can shift as aggressively as I want to, not having to worry about the long term maintenance issues.

The best thing about the car, obviously, is the fact that it’s a convertible. It’s perfect for Florida. You can drive top down pretty much any time, even at night it’s warm enough. The atmosphere is perfect for driving top down, there’s water and palm trees everywhere. (Sorry for the gratuitous shot of my hairy drumsticks…)

In the morning we went to scout out a location to watch the space shuttle launch. We found a pretty good spot at Spaceview Park in Titusville. Our plan is to get there at around midnight the morning before the launch and camp out on the docks, a whole T-15:47 before the scheduled launch window.

We spent the rest of the day at the Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle was actually already on the launch pad. Here is a shot from a little over three miles away of the shuttle on the pad. I rented a humongous lens to be able to view the launch up close, and I was quite impressed. The shot came out relatively sharp for a picture from over three miles away without a tripod. You can see the top of the liquid fuel tank and one of the solid fuel boosters peeking out of the top of the assembly. The shuttle is there too, it’s just shrouded behind the walls for protection.

The shuttle launch is scheduled for 3:47 on Friday. Since we’re flying back Friday night, we only have one shot at viewing the launch. Statistics, time and the weather are against us. I heard a news report this morning that NASA pegs the chances of a launch on Friday at 10% due to the storms moving through the area. Endeavor, the shuttle going up this time, has only a 50% launch rate on its first attempt. There are supposedly half a million people in town to see the launch, which means traffic is going to be a nightmare. We’re worried that we might not be able to make it to the airport in time for our flight. Ordinarily 4+ hours for 40 miles is no problem, but these are extraordinary circumstances.

I guess we’ll see what happens Friday. Even if the launch gets delayed, I’ll still be happy that I got to sort of live out these old boyhood dreams. The launch would just be the icing on a sweet dreamy cake.