I Could Totally Be a Marine Biologist

Being here in Bodega Bay with Matt and Sarah is an exercise in questioning my life choices.
I could have an apartment with the view of the harbor shrouded in the ever present fog, a couple minutes drive from the Sonoma County vineyards and breweries and redwood forests. Granted, it’s unlikely that I would spend my Thursdays doing all of the above, and I suppose the picturesque roads would no longer hold their appeal and I’d probably stop hearing the fog horn in the distance.

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What the hell am I doing in major cities though, seriously?
Yesterday we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast at home with the leftover salmon and some cream cheese, before we went to Matt’s lab for an informal tour. Matt is a PhD student who, as Molly puts it “studies marine creatures” (insert a Molly hand gesture here at creatures) at UC Davis’ Bodega Bay lab. It’s a pretty cool gig (I could have totally studied marine biology, right?) I hadn’t even heard of some of the creatures in his lab, as my marine life knowledge, while better than many, is pretty limited to New England.
After handling penis worms (there is definitely a different, official name of that creature), we headed out to Fort Ross Vineyards with a detour for lunch in a little cafe where we watched an epic battle between a spider and a wasp (we were kind of rooting for the spider) over our chowder before heading up a large hill that the vineyard is on – just above the ever present

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fog cover, which is apparently good for Pinots.
The setting was lovely, if expensive for what it was. Maybe I’m biased because of my days lazing about in Virginia’s vineyards, but while it was good, it was not $45-$50 a bottle good. Or maybe I just have no taste. Who knows.
We meandered our way to the Armstrong Redwoods Preserve, which is where part of one of the Star Wars movies was filmed.

It’s so humbling to walk through Redwoods and realize just how insignificant you are in its presence. It’s like looking up at the stars and realizing just how long the light traveled to reach you. And it’s heartbreaking to see graffiti carved into the dead trees – thankfully I didn’t see any in the live ones – as if some obnoxious teenager is spitting on the grave of a great being.
We continued our drinking at Korbel vineyards, where they offered a free tasting of four of their many, many wines. The building is geared towards a specific demographic, but the champagne was decent and free and I am not one to turn my nose down at either.
Our dinner was a plate of cheese fries and a stop at their favorite ice cream joint, which is pretty much how adulthood should work, right?
This area of the country is very lovely and part of me is regretting not looking at UC Davis more closely for their law program – but that likely would have ended in me taking the California bar and I’m not sure if any amount of pretty is worth that.
Today, we hit up the beach right up the way and the Port Reyes lighthouse on our way back to San Francisco.

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The Second Half of the Long Day

July 29, 2015
We were standing on the curb, getting situated after our six hour flight.  Molly’s phone was totally dead due to an earlier toilet mishap and we were sorting out how the driver of Flightcar would find us with my phone.
FlightCar is a service where people who would otherwise park in long term parking instead park at their warehouse and the start up rents out their car to tourists like us. From our end, we got a car rental plus the additional insurance for $48 for a two day trip.
But the car service had to find us first, and we spent about twenty minutes waiting on the curb of SFO wondering what a Ford Expedition even looked like while waiting for a random dude to drive us to a warehouse in a city we’ve never been to.
Yes, sometimes we put a lot of trust in the universe.

So we picked up “our” hybrid with its nifty check engine light (apparently the oil needs to be changed) and followed google’s bizarre directions towards route one.
(Via a pitstop at a taco truck right before our exit. Oh my god those tacos were good. I am so excited for tacos in LA and Mexico if they are half as good as those.)

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Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

Early on in our drive, Molly was like “is that smoke?” It pretty quickly asserted itself as Epic Fog. It was so think we could barely see the Golden Gate bridge as we crossed it to take Route One up to Point Reyes and it followed us throughout our two hour drive North, limiting our access to the famous views. The landscape is gorgeous though – it reminds me a bit of Scotland, and I’m so glad we took a detour from our San Francisco trip for this.
Molly’s college friend Sarah is a park ranger at Point Reyes, and we met her at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. At this point (5:30pm Pacific), our bodies felt like it was well past dinner and we were pretty single minded in our need for food. (A shrimp avocado sandwich is as good as you could imagine.)
Our second dinner was an hour’s drive North on One in Bodega Bay, where Sarah lives with her husband, Matt. He had family in town, and the group of us ate salmon fillet that was purchased from the docks you can see from their house. We rallied for wine, quite tasty home-brewed beer, and conversation before I passed out on their couch next to a large bin of fermenting porter.
A totally worthwhile result from our investment of eight hours of travel.

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Fussing Over Packing

Eventually, in the cycle of unpacking and repacking, one resigns oneself to the fact that you forgot something and will just have to buy it at your destination.

My first packing effort was Sunday.  Molly and Sam came out to my folk’s house and we spent two hours with our stuff in piles on the lawn, going over what we were bringing and what the state of our shared equipment was.

We opened each of the gallon ziplock bags of food I had prepared for the trip. Each day has two – one for breakfast, snacks, and lunch for everyone and one less full one for dinners. Turns out three people’s worth of food for a whole day does not easily fit into a single gallon bag. Each bag is labeled by its day (Day One, Day Two, etc) and some thought went into what days need more carb loading and calories. Technically all of them, of course, but it means things like a side of instant mashed potatoes on the night before our final slog up Mt. Whitney.

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I made all of our dinners using the recipes from this blog but in retrospect, just buying the freeze dried meals would have been worth the extra dollar or two I saved us. Way less stress and finagling. You should have seen the assembly line spread out on the dining room table. A row of freezer ziplocks, pre-labeled with directions – time needed, amount of water, etc. Four scoops of freeze dried vegetables. Four scoops of instant rice. Four of each of the spices required. Etc. Four, not three, because Sam eats most of his food at dinner and gets a double serving. Molly and I both tend to eat more in the snack department throughout the day. And all the bags have freeze dried chicken that we need to add Sunday night before our bus ride down to Sequoia. (The freeze dried chicken from our post-apocalypse sized canister only keeps about a week after opening it.)

I worried about not having enough food. Or more specifically, enough calories, to feed three people for six days. I worried bout having too much – too much weight to carry. At some point you just need to hope you struck a balance somewhere.

After we squeezed as much into the bear canister as possible (there are bear boxes for the first part of our trail, but we need a canister for the last night), which went into Sam’s pack for now, Molly and I divided up the rest into our packs. Food, even food chosen for being light yet sense in calories, adds up in weight.

My pack is the heaviest, at about 36-38 lbs before water. This was frustrating to learn as, aside from the food, I wasn’t carrying much in the way of shared gear, and I am not carrying more than Molly in the way of clothes/gear. I do have my camera and my kindle – but it was inferred that I would be much more pleasant to deal with if I get my reading in and the camera is the group’s “nice one” for this trip. We figured that my pack itself – an old 70L REI Venus – was likely the culprit (Sam’s is actually 75L, but he also considers things like underwear a luxury item, and Molly’s is 55L).

So. Nearly 40lb pack it is. Still less than 25% of my body weight, but heavier than I would prefer.

Currently said pack is in a large duffel bag with my once-black-now-permanently-muddy hiking boots in the luggage room of the plane I am sitting in. Theoretically, anyway.

After our two hours of packing, Molly’s parents came over for a BBQ, followed shortly by my boyfriend, Brady. My parents were totally awesome aout the whole “Hey, parents, it’d be great to have a BBQ this day after our packing. Oh, and I’m going to be completely absent from the hosting process as I run around like a crazy person tying up the loose ends of my life.”

So many loose ends. Posts to edit for The Migrationist. A post on Angel Island (which I am visiting Saturday) to do background research and preliminary writing for. Meetings on ImmPro. Packing. Helping my boyfriend get settled into his new place. Making sure I wasn’t forgetting anything in the pre-lawschool department. Finishing up projects at work.

Yesterday was my last day of full time employment for the next three years.

There’s a head spinner for a nearly thirty year old with aspirations of a more robust retirement fund. Eventually.

Speaking of money. I suspect I will stay within budget for this trip, but it’s the pre-trip expenses I always under prepare for. Or over spend on things that are nice but I don’t actually need. A new sleeping pad because the one I thought I’d borrow was miserable to sleep on and the one I owned already is geared towards car camping. A new belt because my pack tugs on my trousers and I’ll be pulling them up the whole trail without them. A new camera because my old one was bulky, heavy, and dated back to about 2007 – ancient in the digital camera world. (I got a little Sony mirrorless that is about the size of a phone with an interchangeable lens on it.) The bluetooth keyboard that pairs with my phone that I’m writing this post on (no, that is not coming on the trail with me) and will save me from having to hunt down internet cafes.

So here I am, on a flight to SFO. Somewhere just before the Rockies I think, based on the scene out my window. Molly is here somewhere, another sardine in this flying sardine can.

I’m four hours in, two hours to landing, then a two hour car ride up Route One to Port Reyes, our destination for today.

I suspect that this is going to feel like a very long day.

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Logistics: Getting to/from the High Sierra Trail Without a Car

Full disclosure: We haven’t done this yet. But paying for a car rental when a week of that will be spent in a parking lot is dumb and expensive, so this is the plan and I’m sharing because most of the information I found on this when I was researching it involved a car. Because Molly and I are spending time in San Francisco before and LA after our trip, we’re also mailing some non-trail items (bathing suit! purse! etc.) to ourselves in LA before we get on the bus. We are flying into San Francisco, but flying into LA would work too.* Mostly we just wanted to see SF and the flight was marginally cheaper. Then we’re taking a Greyhound bus from San Francisco to Visalia, CA – the town near the entrance to Sequoia National Park. In the way of bus travel, it turns a 4 hour car ride into a 6 hour bus ride, but we’ll deal. We get in that evening, but the Sequoia Shuttle into the park doesn’t run until the morning, so we’re spending the night.** First thing the following morning (6:15am), we’re taking the Sequoia Shuttle into the park to pick up our permit for our hike. Then, at Whitney Portal my googlefu tells me that hitchhiking is total the thing from the trailhead into Lone Pine. So here’s hoping that works. We’re spending the night in Lone Pine, then taking the Eastern Sierra Transit shuttle (395 Mammoth Lakes-Lancaster route) from Lone Pine to the Lancaster Metrolink station. This should take just over 3 hours and the route is cash-only and runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays so plan accordingly. Then we take the Lancaster Metrolink into LA Union Station, which takes a little over two hours. Voila. No car required. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Cost Breakdown Money Time
Greyhound bus $28 per adult 6 hours
Sequoia shuttle $7.50 per adult one way Unknown
Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Free Unknown
Eastern Sierra Transit  $25 per person (cash only) 3 hrs
Lancaster Metrolink $15 (current promotional $11.50) 2 hrs
Total ~$75.50/person 11+ hours

* The bus from LA to Visalia, CA is 4 hours and $17 dollars.
** This does not really add to the cost as we’d have to somehow be there at a really early hour anyway – either way we’d have to spend the night in/around Sequoia before we got started.

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The Transitions Blog

Getting ready for a trial run with our High Sierra gear, in West Virginia, July 4th weekend 2015

Getting ready for a trial run with our High Sierra gear, in West Virginia, July 4th weekend 2015. (Amy and Sam, photo courtesy of Molly.)

I’ve been slowly rebooting this blog as my planning for my up-in-coming trip winds down and the reality of the trip looms. I updated the about page and the information about the people I mention. I even have a pending logistics section that I’ll share with y’all shortly. Edit: Here.

Re-reading old posts is weird. It is akin to reading those journals from freshman year of high school that are still in my parent’s basement. Something I avoid whenever possible. Bits of myself are in each post, familiar and not at the same time. Sometimes cringe worthy, but there for any old person to dig around my history if they wish to. Don’t judge present me too harshly by them.

It’s even more stark when you only write in a blog/journal during times of significant transition. A study abroad program in college. Nearly a year of living and traveling abroad between work and graduate school, then also attending graduate school in another country. Then nothing. The transitions stop, the chaos of change shifts to the minutia of change. Day by day I become someone different, but the change isn’t as sudden or noticeable as when I travel.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park, August 2014

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park, August 2014

In short, I am not the same woman I was when I wrote about India and Europe three years ago. Since then I’ve found a job in my desired field, became a runner – ran a marathon last fall and a lot of half marathons in between things. I studied for and took the LSAT. Twice. Applied for law school. Got into law school. Hiked in Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon with my sister. I dated and broke up, dated and broke up, dated. Brady and I have been together for over a year now and it’s already slipped into the rhythm of forgetting you ever didn’t have that person in your life. He… balances me in a very good way. I am more relaxed around him, and for the first time I really understand the sentiment of wanting to be a better person for someone else.

A lot has happened.

A lot has changed.

My orientation for law school is on August 31st. I somehow managed to not only settle on going to law school, but acquire a full tuition scholarship in the form of Northeastern’s public interest scholar program. I never really saw myself as someone smart enough to get a full ride anything (Cardozo also offered me a full ride). Reconciling the skeptical side of things (I think we hit bottom as far as the law school admissions market goes, and schools were desperate) and the no, actually, you’re pretty awesome self confidence side of things has been rough/awesome/conflicting. There’s a constant state of disbelief that is a form of insecurity that I must battle to be the person I want to be.

I leave my job of two plus years on Tuesday, July 28th.

A Tuesday because I need every penny I can squeeze out of employment before I go and Wednesday flights are cheaper.

On July 29th, I fly with my friend Molly to San Francisco. We’re going to spend some time in SF and Bodega Bay, then our friend Sam joins us for a six day backpacking trip of the High Sierra trail in California. A couple of days in Santa Monica, then almost a week in Mexico City (with Molly), and a week in the Yucatan (by myself).

The amount of logistics that go into planning a backpacking trip for three people – getting them there without a car, feeding them for three days, altitude concerns, bear/food storage concerns, training for it, preparing for the worst possible scenario – is insane. I’m not sure how people less organized than me ever get out onto the trail. I’m not sure if I’m even up to the task.

So. I’m re-booting this blog for probably not the last time. Here’s to transitions, to travel, to adventure, to snickers bars, and to making crazy things happen just because they are possible.

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Favorite Books of 2012

The fact that I read about 132 books in 2012 is a lot less impressive when you factor in that I read a lot of trashy romance and urban fantasy novels with no shame.  These books take me only a few hours (maybe even just round trip commuting plus lunch hour) worth of reading, and they all get factored into that count.

But the good ones stand out and are worth noting.  The first one of 2012 was the memoir of Jeanette Winterson, who is one of my favorite authors.  However, she is also one of those authors whose fiction you have to be in the right mood to commit to, as it sometimes reads like someone fictionalized academic theory.  Surprisingly, her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (amazon) is more accessible than her fiction works and a lot more heartbreaking knowing that it is real.  If you have any interest in Winterson, or simply the experience of an adopted lesbian growing up in a conservative working class household, this book is worth a look.

Two other memoirs were particularly notable for me in 2012.  One is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (amazon) by Cheryl Strayed – I cried when the book ended, because I felt for sure that my own adventuring days were over and I would never do something like the PCT.  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I stood on the metro during morning rush hour silently having a complete laughing breakdown at a scene in Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (amazon), which is more memoir and social commentary than guide, though her comments are truthful and notable.

My favorite fantasy authors, hands down, are Guy Gavriel Kay and Jacqueline Carey.  I caught up on Kay’s previously published works this year with his Sarantine Mosaic duology, Sailing to Sarantium (amazon) and Lord of Emperors (amazon).  Both of these maintain Kay’s high standard for his breed of “alternative history” fantasy, with well developed characters and incredibly complex political intrigue.  Jacqueline Carey’s new book, a foray into a new urban fantasy world, Dark Currents (amazon), lives up to her established world-building skills.  As a result, it blows most urban fantasies out of the water and I look forward to the next installment in the series. (Which will hopefully be in 2013.  Right?  Please?)

In other fantasy(ish) works, I discovered Ann Aguire this year.  She wrote one of the most enjoyable sci-fi series I’ve ever read (horray for sci-fi that cares as much for characters as world building and fancy science!) that begins with Grimmspace (amazon).  Grimmspace has a strong female lead, wrongly accused of terror, trying to prove her name.  The strongest part of the series, though, is that the lead actually grows as a person throughout the series.  It is rare that such personal growth is done as well as Aguire accomplished it over six books.
Maria V. Snyder’s Scent of Magic (amazon) is the second in a series that begins with Touch of Power (amazon) and it completely charmed me when it came out a few days ago.  Snyder writes in that grey space of appropriate for YA but not quite YA rather successfully.  Her first book, Poison Study (amazon), begins a trilogy that is also worth reading (though I was less thrilled with the trilogy written between that one and her more recent “Healer” series that begins with Touch of Power).

Of the straight up literary works that I read this year, Prodigal Summer (amazon) by Barbara Kingsolver and Tell the Wolves I’m Home (amazon) by Carol Rifka Brunt outshine them all.  I can’t believe it took me quite so long to read Prodigal Summer, but as always Kingsolver did not disappoint.  Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home is on possibly every 2012 Bestseller/Must Read List, and it deserves it.  I think I cried or wanted to cry during the entire book.

On a somewhat unrelated note: every one of these books, with the exception of Prodigal Summer and Dark Currents, was read on my kindle.  Considering the four bookshelves squashed with my books at home and my devoted library habits, this is somewhat surprising.

Related Posts:
Favo(u)rite Books of 2011, Part 1 and Part 2

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So You Want to Get a Tattoo

I’ve been assisting Cyn over at Cirque du Rouge for almost a year and a half now.  She’s an amazing tattoo artist and local business owner here in DC.
What does it mean, that I assist her?  It means I manage her email.  Primarily, I read all her incoming email and handle her new clients.  I started a wait list for her so she can actually keep track of people who want tattoos from her and I make sure these people eventually get scheduled.  She is so in demand that we are turning people away.  No new clients to the wait list at this time, until we are no longer scheduling people who got on the wait list seven months ago.  Because that is how long her wait list is.  And she’s worth the wait.
I also prod her with a hot iron when she doesn’t respond to emails that she needs to respond to, but mostly I’m a gatekeeper.  I funnel down the emails so she can prioritize other things until I schedule the next batch of consults.  After doing this for about a year, I have a few Dos and Don’ts about getting a tattoo, interacting with a tattoo artist or studio, and perhaps just a general approach to life.  This is largely me venting my spleen and does not in anyway represent the views of Cyn or the artists at Cirque du Rouge.

1. Your tattoo artist is not a Xerox Machine.  He or she is an artist.  They might be a bad or good artist (see #2), but bringing in a picture and saying “I want this exact thing” is setting yourself up for disappointment.  ESPECIALLY if this is an artist who does custom work and you signed up for a consult, etc.  If that is the case, you need to think of this as commissioning a work of art.  You chose this artist because you like their work/style/etc., (see #2) so come to them with ideas and concepts and let them do their job.  IF this is a walk-in appointment that is different, but you still need to understand that it is not going to translate exactly to your skin.

2. Look at their portfolios before making an appointment.  Do you like their style?  Are there several pieces that make you gasp and say ooh that is beautiful? If you want a flower, do they do flowers well?  If you want a person, do they do people well?  If you want a portrait, do you see other portrait pieces in their portfolio?  Artists tend to specialize, especially if they’ve been around for awhile.  There’s things they’re really good at, and things they’re less good at.  And think about their style:  If you commission a tree and the tree they design is more in the woodblock style than the whispy water color style you had in mind and all of the rest of the work in their portfolio is woodblock, it is really your own fault for any dissatisfaction (see #1).

3. Treat your tattoo artist with the same respect you would treat any other professional.  That means coherent, concise email messages and communications.  That means prompt responses to inquiries about scheduling.  That means showing up to appointments or giving notice if you can’t make them.  That means treating them like a person and not a xerox machine.
Oh, and hey, this respect-the-artist-as-a-professional thing includes tipping.  They make only a percentage of what you paid, but not all of it – and this is their livelihood.   If you liked the work, don’t forget about that tip.

4. Listen to the tattoo artist.  If he or she says things like “That piece is too small and will not age well” or “This concept is too detailed and won’t age well,” I promise you they know tattoos and the changing canvas of skin more than you.  Again, see #1 and #3.

5. Be flexible.  There are two kinds of flexibility – one is artistically, one is practically.  Artistically, reference #1 and #4.  Be open to any ideas or comments the artist has and open to their design not being a xeroxed copy of what you wanted.
Practically, be flexible when it comes to scheduling.  Everyone wants a Saturday and there are only 52 of them in a year, so don’t be cranky if the only Saturday I can give you is four months from now.  You could come in next Tuesday if only it was worth taking an hour off early from your 9-5 like you would for a hair/doctor appointment, so I don’t have any sympathy for you when you’re upset about the wait yet insist on a Saturday.  The more flexible you can be, the sooner we can get you in.

6. Do Not Bring Other People With You To Your Appointment.  Most tattoo parlors are small and the space the artist has is just big enough for the person being tattooed and the artist itself.  Maybe bring one person, especially if you’re driving (long tattoo sessions can result in a woozy person afterward).  I want to hit my head against the desk every time someone tries to bring six people with them for a three hour appointment.  First off, if I was one of these six people I’d be bored as hell watching someone get inked for three hours.  Secondly, there’s probably no space, either logistically or under fire code.  They are going to be in the way.  Thirdly, this is a great time to chat with your artist.  They’re generally cool people.  Get to know them!
As a sub category to this one, Do Not Bring Your Kids.  Seriously?  This is a tattoo parlor.  It is pretty solidly in the realm of “adults only.”  Hire a damn baby sitter.

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