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Goodbye, DC

After more than three and a half years in DC, it’s finally time to say goodbye.

As anyone who has lived here for more than a year would know, DC is an extremely transient city, with 20-30 somethings spending a few years here to kickstart their careers.  I’ve seen a number of friends come and go, and sometimes come back. It’s always sad to see yet another person leave, but after awhile you get used to it, and more than that, I always knew eventually I will be one of those people. Except, now after three years, I finally feel at home and more comfortable here than anywhere else. But it’s the same comfort that’s telling me it’s time to move on.

As soon as I finalized my plans to move and it became real, I started reflecting on the things I would miss most about DC. I’m definitely going to miss the incredible collection of museums, most of which don’t cost a penny to visit. I sure won’t miss the paucity of decent Asian food in DC, but I will miss the crabcakes benedict at Matchbox, the damn good Amsterdam falafels, happy hour cocktails and chocolate onyx at Cocosala, pupusas and unbeatably cheap meals at El Rinconcito, Satin Sheets at the Gibson, the beer menu at Birch and Barley, and Hot and Juicy anytime anyday. Oh and that new Laotian place in Columbia Heights, Thip Khao. So. good.

I’m going to miss not needing to travel thousands of miles to be part of Inauguration Day, or getting last minute invites to go see Obama at an event, or being in the nation’s capital during election years (it’s really quite exciting and the only time I’m really caught up on politics).

I’m especially going to really miss being surrounded by a group of genuinely kind people who haven’t lost faith in their abilities to affect change in the world, even if in tiny increments, as an individual or as a member of a larger community. As Frank Underwood said, people in DC are driven not by money, but by power, which I agree, but would argue that for many people, it is not the self-serving, ladder-climbing kind of power that they seek (though no doubt there are plenty of those too), but the power of influence, to be able to work on issues of importance to them and contribute to progress.

And finally and most of all, I’m going to miss all the wonderful friends I’ve made while in DC. I know I said friends always come and go when you’re living in this town, but you also know when a friend is one that you’ll keep for a long, long time. I have made a few of these and I’m extremely lucky to have them.

This weekend, I packed all my belongings into my car and headed out of DC. It still feels surreal that I won’t be walking Keiko around the same block and taking the same route to work and picking up coffee along the way and going to happy hour at the usual dingy Irish pub and cooking dinner in my lovely apartment and watching our usual shows with my lovely roommate, anymore. I’m now on a week-long cross-country road trip with two friends. It’ll probably sink in when it’s over and I get to my destination. But for now, DC still feels not too far away.

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Autumn adventures: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Almost the whole of autumn has passed since my last post, but for good reason: I’ve been pre-occupied with taking advantage of every minute of my favorite months of the year! With my last mini-trip for the year over, I can finally sit down and catch up.

Every year, we go on a fall hiking trip to see foliage at its peak, but we always either go too early or too late. It’s still beautiful in its own way, but this November, I was determined to see peak fall foliage. Our destination was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it was simply perfect. The fall foliage could not have been more beautiful in the valley. Up in the mountains though, the trees were already bare; quite the stark contrast, but we got to straddle the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines!

That wasn’t the only “two-in-one” deal we got this weekend. On the second day, instead of another day of foliage hiking, we were treated to our first snow of the season! And not just some sprinkles and light dust; this was serious overnight snowstorm that left behind a solid six inches of snow. That changed our plans a bit; the park was closed due to fallen branches, so we couldn’t do a hike. But the winter wonderland outside was so beautiful, we didn’t waste time begrudging the fickle weather and instead, threw on our layers and commenced a friendly (not) aerial swap of snowballs that ended in minimal (not) amounts of pain. We now also had time to explore the strange but charming town of Gatlinburg!

And that was my last trip of the year! It was a fun and crazy year of travels, perhaps a bit too much in fact (yes, there is such a thing!). But as always, no regrets.

Photos from a few other mini-trips:

Chicago in mid-October: Brrrr…

Shenanoah NP in late september

Awesome trip! Awesome friends! Awesome everything!
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Alaska (Post #2): Sea otters, puffins, and porpoises in Kenai Fjords

After two and a half days in beautiful Denali, it was time to move on. I was sad to say goodbye to the animals, the polychromatic and snow-capped mountains, and the aloneness of the vast wilderness, but I was not sad to say goodbye to the unpredictable wind and the mosquitos of alarming sizes (who would’ve thought in Alaska!). Next stop? Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park! On our way south, we stayed at an awesome cabin in Houston that we found on airbnb. It was built by the owner himself. We could tell he took pride in that (in not a boastful way), as he should! We really didn’t want to leave the comfort of the cabin, but alas, we had to keep moving.

The ride south was absolutely gorgeous. We drove along Turnagain Arm and saw more and more glaciers as we went. We stopped near Beluga Point and saw a huge pod of…something. At first, we (but mostly Luisa) were hoping they were Beluga whales, but they were not at all white. After reviewing video footage, I decided they were porpoises. Still very cool!

The next day, we hiked the Harding Icefield trail, the only established trail in Kenai Fjords National Park. The rest of the park can only be seen by boat, so it was mostly established for preservation purposes. The trail is not a terribly long hike nor a terribly strenuous one (4 miles one way, about 1000 feet elevation gain per mile), but the rewards were phenomenal. Along the way, you would see sign posts with a year on it, marking where the glacier used to end. It was pretty alarming to see the green and forested fields that once was covered in glacier not too long ago at all. Two miles into the hike, we already reached the point where we could see the tip of Exit glacier. If this was the end, I would’ve been very satisfied already, but as we kept being told, we were “in for a treat” if we went to the end.

The landscape kept changing as we climbed. The land became more and more barren, covered by rock debris that was left behind only recently as the glacier retreated. It looked like scenes coming straight out of Mordor, but less grim.

The end was quite a sight to behold. Along the second half, we were able to see more and more of the Exit glacier, but you have to reach the very end and go over the top of this hill to see what was feeding the glacier, a massive icefield that spans farther than our eyes can see. It was so incredibly beautiful and peaceful up there; I could’ve stayed there all day. To think that the view would change dramatically over the next 10 years makes me sad and want to take it all in while I can. It was a perfect day!

The next day, we went out on  Resurrection Bay for a 12-mile kayaking trip and a 4 mile hike in Caines Head State Park with Adventure Sixty North. Once again, we were informed how incredibly lucky we are to be going out on such a gorgeous day; they had constant rain for two weeks before we arrived. Rain or not, it was a beautiful day by any standard. We saw salmon flying out of the water and adorable sea otters feeding on something, sea urchins maybe!

Once we got to Seward, we were told that Aialik Bay Glacier in Kenai Fjords is un-missable because there aren’t many accessible places in the world you can see glaciers feeding into the ocean. We also really wanted to see all the animals Kenai is famous for (Joyce especially wanted to see puffins!). So while three out of five of us have serious sea-sickness issues, we decided to take a boat trip out to Aialik Bay anyway. We pulled out all the stops to fight the sickness: dramamine, bonine, ginger chews, ginger ale, accupressure bands, anything we could get, and it was worth every mini-moment of nausea and loopiness.

These are the animals we saw: puffins (so many!), sea otters (so c-uuuutee!), porpoises, whales (well, the top and tail at least), harbor seals, sea lions, a bald eagle, and a whole lot of other sea birds. I just can’t get enough of the sea otters and their adorable curious faces.

It was not at all a boring cruise, like most cruises I’ve been on. It was so beautiful the whole way and there was so much to see. The highlight was, of course, Aialik Glacier, a magnificent sight. You could hear faint crackling noises coming from the pieces of ice floating on the water, and once in a while, you could see and hear pieces of the glacier breaking off (“calving” they call it).  It was just as people described it, un-missable. And we’re glad we didn’t miss out on seeing it.

Along the way, we kept hearing stories from people of how they went to Alaska intending for a short trip and ended up staying for years. Everywhere you turn, there’s mesmerizing beauty staring you in the face. We were there for ten days, but we could’ve been there for longer. Much longer.