#SMER Road Trip (long overdue)
Even though it’s been over 2 months since the trip, I still think about it frequently and fondly. I’ve daydreamed about it more than once during work and have already started planning the next one mentally in my head (hopefully traveling eastward!)
Thanks to Elfrey, who wrote a pretty detailed, all-encompassing summary of the trip here, I can focus less on the details and more on the highlights/particularly memorable moments. What freedom.
And there it is. If I had to sum up the trip with one word, it would be freedom. It’s the feeling you get when you drive across miles and miles of open road on your own schedule and spontaneous whims. When bonds form between an unlikely group of people through great music and a shared appreciation for the way the world works.
Before the trip even started, it was marked by spontaneity. Literally the night before we left I was 80% sure it wasn’t happening. I was still recovering from a sudden fever I got the day before. And even the morning of, as I stared at my small suitcase of clothes, I wasn’t fully convinced it was happening. The act of getting into a car and driving off doesn’t feel as definitive as hopping onto a plane. We left a good 3 hours later than we had planned to. Who knew this would be a theme of our entire trip (to an extent).
1. The Texas Hill Country.
On day 1, driving out of Austin, I kept anticipating the mountainous terrain to slowly flatten out into the Great Plaaains of Texas (said with a Southern twaang). But to my pleasant surprise, the hills rolled on for hours and hours.. the ride was beautiful for a good majority of the drive.
2. Seeing my first tumbleweed.
Eventually, we hit some pretty lonely, dusty roads. At one point, we needed gas. I remember being half-asleep and seeing this station in the far distance. We went for it. It turned out to be eerily abandoned. The sun had already set. It was then that I saw my first tumbleweed. Someone mentioned how this would be a really good scene for a scary movie. It was so true… there were no cars in sight for miles and miles. I panicked and ran back into the car. You don’t joke about things like that.
3. White Sands National Park.
We blasted the glorious sounds of Sigur Ros while driving into the park. And at one point while we were walking amongst endless hills of warm, coarse white sand, I put in my headphones and listened to Olafur Arnald’s Old Skin. It was a really beautiful moment. The white hills just extended on and on and on toward the horizon. I led the group in some calming yoga. Michael and I rolled down a hill. I’m not very good at rolling down hills. It kind of hurt. We laid, jumped, ran, slid, and strolled. Two hours later, we scrambled back into the car feeling energized and exhilarated.
We could’ve driven back after White Sands and I would’ve been satisfied. It was that good.
4. Eating at Habaneros in Las Cruces.
It was here that I had the BEST fish tacos of my life. You’re probably thinking “she was just really hungry…” Well, I was. I was starving, actually. But that doesn’t change the fact that they were the best fish tacos I’ve ever had. The fish was the perfect amount of crispy, ingredients were fresh, and the sauce well-proportioned. Right when I finished them, I longed for more. And still do to this day.
5. Running along the beach.
It was in San Diego that I fulfilled a small dream of mine: running along the beach. It was fun! I kept thinking “yeah, I’m doing it!” while trying to ignore the aching pain in my left calf. It’s honestly not really that awesome, the movies are all a lie. But it was worth doing to check off the old bucket list.
Later, I led yoga on the beach and started off by saying “Close your eyes and breathe deeply, concentrating on each breath. Picture yourselves on the beach with the sound of the waves crashing against the shore… oh wait..” Sadly, no one really laughed. It was one of those jokes you think up the night before. Those never really go as planned.
6. Flying off a rock and not dying.
May 27th was the day I flew off a rock and survived. It all started when we decided to go snorkeling at La Jolla Cove. After bobbing up and down in the water for a few minutes, we decided to swim to a cluster of rocks to take a break. We clumsily got ourselves situated on the rock, fins and all, and caught our breath. After a few waves crashed against the rocks, I slowly started to realize that they were getting bigger and bigger. One in particular caused me to lose my footing, and before I had time to think “Hey, maybe this isn’t such a good place to sit…” the next wave loomed in the distance. I thought “Oh n-” and flew off. The wave carried me pretty darn far. I helplessly tried to swim back before realizing that the current was too strong. I saw Michael come swimming after me. I was in a pretty shallow/rocky area. We both talked about how it was a miracle I didn’t hit anything.
7. Rock climbing for the first time.
May 27th was also the day I also discovered my love for rock climbing. Similar with biking, I found out that rock climbing is in my blood. It’s not only a great total body workout that builds lean muscle, but it’s also thrilling and gives me an adrenaline rush just thinking about it. There’s also an intense feeling of accomplishment in reaching the top of a wall. I would come to find out later that the rock climbing community is also pretty great. People help each other out with strategy and often offer advice to someone who’s struggling with a route.
8. Bacchanal Buffet in Las Vegas.
I was sad to leave San Diego. I’m not a big fan of Vegas but our time there was excellent. We ate at the Bacchanal Buffet for 3 hours. I marveled at how much Elfrey and Rosanna could consume. What a power couple. It was the best buffet I’d ever been to. I ate plates of salmon sashimi until I felt sick. Then when it was impossible for me to eat anymore, finished off the meal with two scoops of coffee-flavored gelato.
9. Earl of Sandwich.
To tack on to the theme of great food on this trip, I daresay that Earl of Sandwich might possibly be the best sandwich I’ve ever had. The bread was just perfection.
10. Hoover Dam.
We saw a lot of windmills and power lines along the way. One of my favorite things about the group is that we all shared an appreciation for infrastructure and great feats of engineering, albeit in very different ways. Mine was a more, “wow, that windmill is so big” or “it must’ve taken a long time to lay down this road and those power lines” kind of childish fascination. Elfrey and Rosanna had a much more educated appreciation, actually having conversations about the history of the windmill and its viability as a sustainable source of energy, etc. Same went for the Hoover Dam.
My reaction: “Dam.. what a dam! Heh heh” (looking smug)
Elfrey and Rosanna’s reactions: “Look at those power lines! Do you know how difficult it is to get them slanted like that? You have to be so precise with your calculations and……”
I always like hanging out with engineers.
11. Hiking The Grand Canyon.
I’ve never felt more proud to be an American than when I overlooked The Grand Canyon. It was magnificent and awe-inspiring. And seeing as how half of the people we met while hiking barely spoke english shows that I’m not the only one who thinks so.
12. Stargazing on Route 66.
On the road to Albuquerque, we marveled at the night sky. We could see tons of twinkling stars. I kept sticking my head out of the car window to get a 360 view. Elfrey really wanted to play Yellow by Coldplay. We were already running a good 2 hours behind schedule. So what other choice did we have but to pull over, lie on the roof of our car, and listen to really contemplative music. And so, Sigur Ros, we meet again.
13. Spelling Albuquerque with confidence.
I’m really proud about this one. Also, nothing beats homemade dumplings and sleeping in a house. So thankful for Becca and her family for letting us stay with them.
14. Hugging a windmill.
Somewhere on the road between Albuquerque and Austin, I told the group in passing it was sort of a dream of mine to hug a windmill. We had passed by hundreds on our trip, and I was really curious what they looked like up close. I also just wanted to be able to say I’ve hugged a windmill. To my surprise, all three of them said “OKAY.” and within minutes we were pulled over on a dirt shoulder trespassing in the middle of nowhere, Texas.
We marveled even harder at how big these things are up close. Big, powerful, and kind of scary. I sort of daydreamed in the car about holding onto a blade of a windmill and riding it like a ferris wheel. It became clear to me, standing at the base of one, that that would be a terrible, terrible idea. And a really dumb, crazy way to die.
15. Snyder, Texas.
Our last pit stop before making it back to Austin. We munched on delicious sandwiches and drew out a map of our trip to post on the wall of Big Apple Deli. All while listening to Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel. It was the perfect ending to the trip.
16. The music along the way.
So here’s what I learned about road trips - they can be extremely hit or miss. One major factor that influences which it is: the music you listen to. This was my first legit road trip, but the rest of the group told horror stories about family road trips with younger siblings insisting on playing Jonas Brothers for hours and hours. Thankfully, that didn’t happen from us.
We had a good range of music going. We also discovered an indie station on Sirius Radio called “Alt Nation” that was pretty darn good (until some songs got overplayed).
Now, when I listen to some of the albums and songs we jammed to on the trip, they really bring me back. And I feel free all over again.
17. The crew.
I really have to say, there is no other group I would have rather gone on this road trip with than with Rosanna, Elfrey, and Michael. From music to spontaneity to adventure to a propensity for being late, we meshed pretty darn well.
Bottom line is, it’s not every day you find a group of people to hug windmills with.
Until next time,
12:45 am • 26 August 2013 • 7 notes
Contrary to my last post.. it’s official. I’m really excited about work.
Yesterday felt like the first day of school - lots of sitting while information was hurled at me as I tried my best not to doze off.. (although I definitely perked up when they talked about vacation hours :P), and it was pretty hard getting up this morning. But lunch today changed everything! Aleta (my manager) welcomed me with a hug rather than a handshake, and Chris (Mary Beth’s manager) and her were the liveliest two at the table. I love them already. The conversation felt real, not stiff and constrained like most business-lunch conversations feel. Like when everyone has to be happy and agreeable and all nods, smiles, and good manners. Our side of the table laughed loudly and enjoyed each other’s company in a way that I felt like I could’ve spent the entire day with them.
Equally exciting is what I’ll be doing in light of what TI is already doing in terms of education. TI’s philanthropic focus is in education and arts. Specifically with education, TI’s focus is on promoting STEM courses as well as give back to the communities that the company has a presence in. Most exciting for me personally is that TI is currently building a school in a rural province near Chengdu, where they opened up a factory back in 2010, because there’s a good chance I’ll actually get to visit the school with Aleta and the team sometime in the very foreseeable future. Brings me back to PESI. I just.. can’t believe it. It’s too perfect.
Lastly, perks. TI is really involved in the community. And the thing with giving back to the community is that the community almost always returns the favor. For TI, this comes in the form of free/discounted admission to museums, concerts, parks, and events. And for me specifically, as someone who will already be directly involved in the community through volunteerism and NP partnerships, there’s potential for more. Being at TI reminds me a lot of UT. Overwhelming, easy to get lost; maps don’t always help. And resources- lots of resources. More than I’ll ever be able to take advantage of, I’m sure.
I feel really lucky. Things really fell into place today. I can see why I’m here. And I can see myself really liking it.
12:19 am • 17 July 2013 • 9 notes
Currently: behind on two posts, relaxed thanks to a day at the museum and some yoga (thanks, Ruth!), and should seriously be asleep.
"Are you excited about work?" I told a friend that I was and she said that my face didn’t match my words. It’s a terrible question, really. Excited just isn’t the right word. Will I ever be "excited" about work? Are people ever "excited"? I mean, I’m excited about different aspects of work, like the freedom that comes with earning a steady income and the specific job I have (building education programs from the ground up). However, there will always be something I’d rather be doing other than work.
I’m most at ease drinking from my Polar Bottle and carrying a Timbuk 2. Biking or driving out on the open road toward the unknown, climbing rocks, jumping into lakes, gathering firewood, that sort of thing.
I’m also terrible at dressing up for things. Whenever I see the words “business casual” or “business professional” (business anything, really), I legitimately wish I were a guy. They have it easy - one nice pair of loafers, a suit, and some nice collared shirts is all they need. For girls, though, the pants have to be a certain style/length, some jewelry is too flashy, others too cheap, shoes can be too pointy, too flat, too tall, too shiny, not the right color, and an ill-fitted suit can make you look like a man, or worse, a mother of four children. I hate dressing up. Everyone who has lived with me knows it - I’m scrubbed down into a t-shirt and spandex within a record three minutes of entering the apartment.
But regardless of whatever is going through my head, I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning at an ungodly 6AM and become a working woman. And in the end, working or not, decked out in a suit or sportin’ a t-shirt, I’m still the same me. 22, a little lost and confused, always on the lookout for adventure, a kid at heart. Work will just become another thread in my story. So let the good times roll.
11:46 pm • 14 July 2013 • 15 notes
Size: 103,000 km2
Cities Visited: Reykjavik, Skógar, Vik
Claims to Fame: Volcanoes, lava fields, massive waterfalls, Björk, Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and Men, the Icelandic horse, elves, and trolls
Notable Indie Artists: I was already fairly familiar with Icelandic music, so I had a head start on this one. I have long dreamed of the day I could visit the place that inspired the music of my favorite band Sigur Ros. Needless to say, I nearly cried.. multiple times. Very rarely does music move me like that. This was my favorite playlist, filled with a good number of bands I love, as well as a few others to add to the list. Eliza Newman, Hafdis Huld, and maybe Seabear I’d say are the odd ones out with their more simple, poppy tunes. And unfortunately, Björk’s not on here.. (god forbid, I know). She’s just really.. eccentric, out there, and just not my style. She’s so idolized that I feel like I’m missing something… but the rest are solid in my opinion :)
Svefn-G-Englar - Sigur Ros
Kertiõ* - Pascal Pinon (*no video.. but I highly recommend it)
Ljósiõ - Ólafur Arnalds
King And Lionheart - Of Monsters and Men
Heimförin - Ásgeir Trausti
Dansi Dans - For a Minor Reflection
Eyjafjallajokull - Eliza Newman
Green Grass of Tunnel - Múm
I Sing I Swim - Seabear
Young Boys - Sin Fang
Ski Jumper - Hafdis Huld
Impressions: Reykjavik has a hip, small town feel with a few statement buildings like Harpa Concert Hall and Hallgrímskirka Church that remind you oh yeah, it is in fact a hopping Capital. It’s easily walkable, and every street is filled with quaint shops, local restaurants, and bars. I’ve definitely only seen one side of the city though. I hear weekends are just one huge pub crawl starting Friday night and lasting through until Monday morning. There is definitely a wilder, edgier side to the city I have yet to experience.
Iceland itself is one big island of adventure and discovery. It’s indescribably beautiful, awe-inspiring, and mysterious at the same time (with a major emphasis on the indescribable part). The island feels magically pristine and untouched. It is also constantly changing. There is a really great blog post about Iceland here, in which the author says of Iceland: “There is no continuity to the landscape here; it is all drama, all punctuation marks.” One moment, it’s lush green farmland with horses and sheep dotting the meadows. Then, it’s otherworldly with barren and rugged stretches of mossy lava fields. Then, endless fields of colorful lupines. Then, glaciers and snowy mountains.
I also really like the way this one travel magazine described it, as “pockets of misty solitude” and “vast expanses of dramatic nothingness.” There is something really grand about the country. For it being such a small piece of land, less than a third the size of Finland, Norway, or Sweden, it makes one feel surprisingly tiny and inconsequential. There is also a hidden darkness behind it all. The lava fields and geothermal steam emitting from the ground are constant reminders that Iceland is volcanically and geologically active, and very much alive.
I could go on with adjectives and descriptions. But honestly (and I know I’m biased), I feel like Sigur Ros’s music captures and describes Iceland’s complex beauty better than any words can. Maybe the best you can do (other than visit) is give them a listen.
Fun Facts: 1. A good percentage of the population legitimately believe in elves and trolls. Legend has it that back when the world was created, God gave Adam and Eve a number of children. One day, He told Eve that He was coming into the garden to visit, so Eve took each of her children to prepare them one by one for God’s arrival. However, God came before she could pretty up all of them, so she hid the ones she hadn’t gotten to and presented the rest to God. God asked her, “Is this all of the children I gave you?” Eve said, “Yes.” God responded, “Because you have hidden those children from me, they will be hidden from the world,” and He cast them away to dwell in the mountains of Iceland. Icelanders believe these “hidden people” (elves) live really beautiful lives and that some people have seen and communicated with them. However, not everyone possesses this ability, and in fact, less and less people are able to because the people’s connection with nature and Icelandic tradition is dwindling.
2. The prisons in Iceland are so small that there’s actually a waiting list for it, and the longest sentence for anything is 16 years. Even still, Icelanders are not very criminally-minded people. 75% of prisoners in Iceland are from Eastern Europe, and there are only 4 or 5 women in the women’s prison.
Go Back?: Not even a question. Iceland stole my heart. I’m committed to creating a Facebook event titled “Let’s Go to Iceland!” and leaving it open invite. I’ll just set a time and a rough schedule and see what happens. I appreciate bringing random groups of people together, and what better way to do so than with the promise of a grand adventure?
3:06 am • 29 June 2013 • 10 notes