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Westbound: cross-country road trip from DC to SF

3,344 miles, 13 states, 7 days,  3 national parks, 1 snow storm, 1 broken headlight, and countless replays of Taylor Swift’s album later, Thuy, Haruka and I finally made it to San Francisco!

People warned me it would be crazy to do a cross-country road trip in the dead of winter. We took our chances and the trip went as smoothly as I possibly could have hoped (my car didn’t break down, what more could I have asked for!). We did hit a snow storm on the first day while approaching St. Louis. The final two-hour stretch turned into a five-hour nerve-wracking 30 mph drive. It was painful, but we made it through!

We slowed down on the third day and took our time for the rest of the trip to cruise through one of my favorite parts of the country, the Southwest! And then drove up the famously beautiful coast of California. By the end, we definitely felt like we could use a long deep-tissue massage and stay off the wheel for a week or more, but it was all worth it.

Thank you, friends, for all your suggestions of places we can hit up along the way!

Our route:

  • Day 1: St. Louis, Missouri
  • Day 2: Amarillo, Texas
  • Day 3: Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument; Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Day 4: Petrified Forest National Park; Flagstaff, AZ
  • Day 5: Grand Canyon National Park
  • Day 6: Joshua Tree National Park; Morro Bay, CA
  • Day 7: Pacific Coast Trail; San Francisco!

Some highlights:

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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