reno, rest, relaxation & return

The drive from Seattle to Glacier National Park took almost ten hours. Originally our plan was to hit up Yellowstone after Glacier, and then Arches and Zion, and then hit Las Vegas before heading home. But looking at the map, we saw that each of those drives would be at least a good eight hours. We were getting kind of road weary, and we had spent more money than we had planned to, so we decided to head back home early. From Glacier we drove southwest through Idaho into Nevada, stopping in Reno. We drove through the night, taking turns, driving over one thousand miles in one straight shot.

We were able to get a free room at the Grand Sierra hotel. After the usual casino buffet dinner we hit up the wine tasting bar. They have this cool automatic wine tasting bar there. The only problem with it is that it gets pretty expensive pretty quickly– and in truth I’m not much of a wine connoisseur anyways, if I do drink wine it’s usually cheap stuff… I can’t really tell what’s a good wine anyways.

On our way back home we decided to hit up Grover Hot Springs state park. I have a lot of great memories of that place from when I was a kid. We decided to hike up to the waterfall I used to hike to with my family. The trail seems a bit overgrown nowadays.

It’s a nice hike along a stream. I remember having a ton of fun as a kid scrambling up the rocks. It’s still fun as an adult.

I remember the waterfall being a lot bigger when I was a kid… It’s only like 20 feet tall. We actually went right up underneath the waterfall. The cold water felt really refreshing on my back, and the stream of water hitting my back and shoulders felt like a great massage.

Then we hit up the hot spring. It’s still exactly the same as from when I was a kid. My family used to come here often to camp when my bro and I were young. Honestly I think the only reason why my parents were willing to camp is because they could relax in the hot spring. In fact, I know that to be true, because nowadays they still go to the hot spring, they just stay in a hotel in Reno instead of camping. I am thankful that I got to camp with my family as a kid because of this hot spring– my love for camping still continues to this day because of those great memories from my childhood.

The spring water has a bunch of minerals dissolved in it. I don’t know what any of these minerals are good for, all I know is that my skin feels smooth after sitting in the hot spring. My bro and I both had mild cases of eczema when we were kids. These waters always made our skin better.

While we were waiting for the coals to get hot and our dinner to cook, I took some more test shots with my new lens. There were a good number of squirrels and birds to take pictures of, and we made friends with them by feeding them croutons and nuts. This guy is pretty cool with his mohawk.

I’m pretty happy with the sharpness of my lens. It makes me want to get a new SLR body though, one with faster continuous auto focus. I got lucky with this shot, since this guy was stationary while eating this peanut…

But for the most part it was hard to take pictures of the squirrels, because the birds kept chasing them away. The slower autofocus on my five year old SLR can’t keep up.

After dinner we drove back to Davis. It was a somewhat anticlimactic ending to an amazing trip. I think this might be my last road trip though. My passport came in the mail right before I left for this trip, so I think my next trip is going to be overseas somewhere.

Things I’m thankful for:

  • childhood memories
  • camping with family and friends
  • mineral hot springs

glacier national park

Often when car camping for multiple days in a row there’s a bunch of leftovers. Those leftovers are great when thrown into a pot with some ramen noodles. In this case we had some leftover seafood soup from the Korean restaurant we ate at outside of Seattle. It made for a really tasty breakfast. It reminded me of the old fable ‘Stone Soup‘ which always reminds me of one of my past road trips.

After breakfast we explored Glacier National Park. If we had more time and if we hadn’t spent so much money on this trip already we probably would’ve rented one of these boats to go out on this incredible lake.

I thought Glacier National Park would be pretty empty because of its remote location, way up in the northern part of Montana, but it was actually filled with people.

The drive through the park is pretty epic. The road is called the Going-To-The-Sun Road. It’s an amazing drive cut into one side of a valley that was cut by glaciers.

The amazing valley view.

How often do you get to drive right over a waterfall?

We had to wait for a bit because the road was under construction. We sat here by the side of the road eating peanuts and admiring the view. It was as if we were sitting in a humongous stadium of God’s glory. It reminded me of one of my favorite verses, Romans 1:20.

They call Montana ‘Big Sky Country.’ I can see why. They have tons of mountains and lakes in California too, but the scale of the ones here in Montana feel huge in comparison. And even then they are dwarfed by the skies.

I was hoping to step foot on a Glacier– I mean it’s called Glacier National Park, right? But we only saw one Glacier, and that was way off in the distance. Apparently to get to a Glacier we’d need to hike in the backcountry pretty far. The glaciers are all set to disappear by 2020, so I think I want to return soon and do a backpacking trip so I can actually set foot on a Glacier. Anyone down to join me?

Things I’m thankful for:

  • Romans 1:20
  • Epic skies
  • Amazing valleys cut by glaciers


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…


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?!

crater lake

I think part of the reason why I like road trips is because my family used to go on them when I was a kid. I have good memories of road trips in our family minivan. My dad would be driving, my mom would be riding shotgun and my bro and I would each have our own minivan bench to lie down on. On one of those trips our family went to Crater Lake.

As a kid you don’t really appreciate the amazing scenery, so it’s good to visit Crater Lake again as an adult. Also, road trips are more fun with friends, although family road trips are still good too…

Also it’s more enjoyable for me nowadays since it’s an excuse to bring my SLR and lenses. Ray’s pretty into photography too, and I think by the end of this trip Gid would have been convinced to buy an SLR. I’m really glad that I brought a polarizing filter on this trip, it helps out a lot with the blue in the sky and the reflections on the water.

In some places there was still a lot of snow. In fact, the road over the eastern rim of the lake was still closed due to snow, so unfortunately we couldn’t drive the whole loop around the lake.

We missed the last boat for the day, so we just relaxed in camp. Dinner was hobo meals. We came up with a business plan for a hobo meal food cart– Hobo Hong’s hearty happy meals. It’s a pretty good business because I wouldn’t need a lot of working capital to start it– all I would need is a shopping cart, a metal trash can to build a fire in, and a whole bunch of foil. So if I lose my job with the state due to budget cuts, I guess I have this business to fall back on.

In the morning we hiked down to the lake to catch a boat ride. The trail down to lake level had tons of switchbacks.

The boat ride was pretty nice. I only wished it had some protection from the sun. The boat tour was pretty cool though, the lake’s geology and hydrology is actually pretty interesting.

The water is so clear– you can see over 100 feet down.

The boat ride allowed us to see scenery we wouldn’t be able to see from the rim of the crater, like this pair of waterfalls. The water is so blue, it just makes you want to go for a swim. Which I did, after the boat ride, we found a place where you could cliff dive from. I’ve always wanted to try cliff diving, and this seemed like just about the safest place I’ve ever seen to do it. It was only about a 20 foot drop into really deep water– just about the best conditions possible. So I jumped. Twice. It was really refreshing, and my wet pants kept me cool for the long hike back to the rim. I think Gid recorded my big fatty splash on video, so maybe I’ll upload the video later.

After our boat ride we continued driving North toward Portland. Along the way we stopped for dinner at a roadside diner in a tiny town. The prices were cheap, the portions were huge and the people were friendly. Plus there’s no sales tax in Oregon. It was a good prelude for our experience in Portland.

Things I’m thankful for:

  • Camera gear like ultra wide lenses and polarizing filters
  • The amazing geology and hydrology that makes Crater Lake possible. It reminds me of one of my favorite bible verses, Romans 1:20

lava beds

Tonight we’re staying at a campsite at Lava Beds National Monument. The drive from Burney Falls to Lava Beds was pretty ridiculous. The GPS kept wanting to take us on dirt roads, and for a long time I kept trying to force it to recalculate by continuing on paved roads. Finally I just gave up and started driving on the dirt.

The route ended up being pretty cool. It took us past an ice cave.

The floor of the cave was literally covered with ice. I didn’t know such caves existed. We didn’t have the gear to climb back up the icy slope, so we didn’t get very far. Now I kinda wanna do research on what sort of gear is needed for this sort of cave so I can return one day. It was still cool though, and a good prelude for Lava Beds.

Our route eventually took us up this volcanic dirt road. The sides of the road were literally just mounds of volcanic rock. The black stuff on the left is actually obsidian. I’m pretty sure Prius’s are not made for this kind of abuse. I’m actually surprised it’s held up so far.

There were huge chunks of obsidian. I took a large piece as a souvenir for my front yard.

We finally arrived at Lava Beds National Monument.

The main attraction at Lava Beds is the lava caves.

The one closest to the visitor center is a beginner cave which has lights installed. The rest of the caves (except for a couple with holes in the ceiling that sunlight filtered through) were pitch black inside and required flash lights.

Inside one of the caves. (Camera had trouble focusing in the darkness.)

I think this one was called Sunshine cave. It had holes in the ceiling that sunlight filtered through.

Skull cave, one of the biggest caves at Lava Beds. It’s an ice cave, but unfortunately the ice was fenced off.

Gid wanted a silhouette shot. So here it is. Haha the reflection off of Ray’s back makes him look like a metallic statue…

I hate these dry environments because you never know when you’ll see a snake. This one slithered right across our path.

Gid and Ray chillin and grillin in camp. I wasn’t expecting much from the campsite at Lava Beds. It actually turned out to be a pretty nice campsite, complete with running water and flush toilets. Plus it had an amphitheater from which we went stargazing and saw the Milky Way. We set up the tent without the rainfly, sleeping underneath the stars.

A desert sunset.

A hearty breakfast of super skillet scramble and french toast before heading to our next destination.

Things I’m thankful for:

  • Flashlights and batteries – can’t get very far in a cave without them
  • Sleeping underneath the stars on starry summer nights

burney falls

A long journey began today. Gid and I went to the Sacramento airport to pick up a rental car for a long road trip. We had reserved a compact car, but we ended up upgrading to a Prius V. My first impressions of the car are that it accelerates really slowly and the handling is sloppy compared to the tight handling of my Subaru. It almost feels like I’m driving a boat.

We drove into Sac to pick up Ray and then began the drive to our destination for the night, McArthur-Burney Falls state park. I’ve been to my fair share of waterfalls, so even though I had read Burney falls is a pretty amazing waterfall, I wasn’t expecting to be amazed. I was wrong. It was amazing, without a doubt the most beautiful waterfall I had ever seen, even compared to the amazing Vernal falls at Yosemite.

It’s been a while since I’ve gone car camping. Nowadays I usually go backpacking, and often when backpacking I won’t even bring a stove, so the food I eat is pretty crappy. Car camping allows for much better food…

I don’t think anything beats a steak cooked over real wood flame.

Especially if it comes with grilled onions and asparagus.

For breakfast we had eggs, along with bacon and skillet potatoes. Cast iron skillets are awesome– I like how you can sit them right on top of the coals if you need to.

On longer trips like this I blog the old fashioned way. At least until I get back home to a computer…

We did a short hike to the base of the falls. On our way back from the hike we heard a crash that startled us. A deer bounded across the trail just a few yards ahead of us. That was a pretty cool experience, unfortunately none of us had a long enough zoom to get a good picture of the deer staring back at us from up the hill.

Burney Falls is pretty amazing because you can hike right up to the edge of it. Well actually, you’re not really supposed to– we had to hop a fence to get to the edge.

But honestly I would break the rules and hop the fence every single time. The view from the edge is amazing, you hear and see the roar of the water over the edge, and you can look down below into the crystal blue lagoon below. The mist that the waterfall kicks up creates a rainbow over the lagoon. It’s simply amazing, and the picture really doesn’t do the scene any justice. It really has to be seen and experienced in person.

Things I’m thankful for:

  • road trips- even if it’s in a Prius– (actually the trunk space came in really handy, and I’m sure the good gas mileage will save us a lot of money by the end of the trip.)
  • amazing destinations like Burney Falls
  • cast iron skillets
  • good road trip buddies

socal sojourn

I’m not really a huge fan of socal. I think I’ve mentioned that before. I mean, there are some great things going for socal. There’s an abundance of awesome food down there, some stuff which is not really available up here. The beaches down there are great, not like the cold water beaches we have up in northern California. But man, the traffic makes going down there unbearable. Usually if I go down to socal, I try to fly, but this time around I was late booking a flight, so I made the long drive down instead.

1200 miles. That’s how many miles I ended up driving this weekend. 1200 miles in some pretty ridiculous traffic, because Interstate 5 has been under some major construction, being closed to one lane in many places. So the drive was pretty miserable, but in the end it was totally worth it.

What usually brings me down to socal nowadays is a wedding, which happens about once per year. This time the wedding I was going to happened to coincide with my friend Paul’s birthday. Plus James and Joseph were in town for a different wedding, so I had a good time just seeing old friends, both at the wedding and for Paul’s birthday bash.

Paul had a whole day of activities planned on Friday. First we went out to Newport beach and hung around the beach for a bit before renting stand up paddle boards. I fell in like three or four times before following the advice of the guy we rented the boards from. You’re supposed to look at the horizon instead of looking down at your feet. I started looking down at the board, which caused me to lose balance. When I started to look ahead at the horizon I was able to keep my balance better. (That’s probably a good bible study analogy, I think I’ll try to remember that for the future.) I’m not sure why they call these stand up paddle boards, obviously the most comfortable and coolest way to use them is lying down…

Afterwards we hit up Chuck-E-Cheeses for Paul’s birthday. It was actually pretty fun. Surprisingly they serve beer there. I ended up buying a round for everyone, and as I gave my credit card to the cashier I thought, “Man did I really just buy beer at Chuck-E-Cheeses?!!” It turns out it’s actually a great place to go to drink responsibly. They swipe everybody’s driver’s license and limit everyone to exactly one beer per hour. The night continued with laser tag. For the second game of laser tag the Davis peeps all played protect the VIP, allowing Paul to blow away the high score for the day.

On Saturday I kinda felt like a bum. I had a whole load of stuff in my trunk (since I was helping Sam move some stuff to his new place in San Diego), and I was basically living out of my car for the day. I had crashed at Paul’s place in Irvine on Thursday and Friday night and would be heading to Sam’s place on Saturday night, but the wedding I was going to was in Glendale. I had forgotten to bring gel and shaving stuff, so I ended up going to a Target in Glendale just before the wedding. After shaving and putting on gel in the Target bathroom, I really really felt like a bum…

I didn’t bring my SLR (my good lens was in the shop being repaired anyways) so I only took one picture with my cellphone. It was good seeing old Korean friends again. If anything I should head down to socal again to hang out with Korean peoples and eat Korean foods… It seems like most of my Korean friends are leaving Davis- even Bcho, who’s been here forever, will probably leave soon…

I spent Saturday and Sunday nights in San Diego at Sam’s place. We went to the shore and drove around La Jolla and chilled on the beach for a bit. We visited Sam’s church- the worship band there was incredible, apparently the lead singer sang at the Urbana conference the last couple of years.

I ate a lot of Mexican food, including these carne asada fries. Apparently they were more or less invented at the place we had them. It was a pretty huge platter, I could only finish about half of it.

On Monday I made the drive back up towards Davis along with Stanley. We decided to stop in downtown LA on our way back. We hit up the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art.) Then I realized I don’t like contemporary or modern art. I like landscapes- apparently this is a landscape in contemporary art.

The caption made me more confused. When I look at a beautiful landscape I get a certain feeling– I definitely don’t get that feeling when looking at a canvas that’s pretty much blank…

The MOCA had two branches. Since we were cheap Asians we needed to get our money’s worth and hit up both. The second branch was running an exhibition on dirt or something. There were a ton of random piles of dirt on the ground. The only thing I liked from this branch of the MOCA was this piece, which was like a crop circle suspended from the ceiling. No picture taking was allowed so I snuck in a cellphone shot while the guard’s back was turned.

We also did a quick tour of the Walt Disney Concert hall (since it was free… and since we were cheap Asians.) I actually enjoyed this a lot. In high school I wanted to be an architect, and actually took a few semesters of architecture. I was a big fan of Frank Gehry, so seeing one of his more famous creations was pretty cool. They had an audio tour in which he talked about some of his thought processes behind the design of the building. Very cool.

During our drive back up we stopped for dinner at Pea Soup Andersen’s. It was a good break from a miserable drive– There were many spots where construction brought highway 5 down to one lane, so it took forever to get back home. But in the end I guess I’d do it again, I had a pretty weekend sojourn in socal.

Things I’m thankful for:

  • good times with old friends
  • friends who let me crash on their couch and guide us around town

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.