Hike Your Heart Out, California

I’ve always been drawn to the west. We ended up there on most summer vacations, booking it around the national parks of Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Arizona, California. Hiking, biking, more hiking, looking at giant cracks in the earth and giants mounds of dirt rising high into the sky. The mountain air – I dream about it often. So when we found ourselves with the choice between spending a few days in LA or lost in the Southern California hills somewhere, well, it wasn’t even a decision. Sorry Nick. After the weekend in San Diego we drove north to Big Bear Lake (with an afternoon pit stop in Joshua Tree National Park) where we got ourselves a little cabin (#5). We took in our fair share of hiking the past few days. You can have the pleasure of reaping the rewards of our efforts with the pictures and notes below.

Joshua Tree National Park

Hidden Valley
Barker Dam
Keys View

This is the desert. It’s hot. It’s so quiet. Turns out, not a lot lives here. But the things that do are beautiful & weird & beautiful. Extremophiles abound!

Seeing as it’s mid September there was really no one else there. We maybe saw five or so other people hiking in any one of these places, but most of the time it was just us. That alone really allows you to get lost in a place.

We started at Hidden Valley. It was very desert-y. Crazy rock formations and lots of Joshua Trees. If you were wondering (thanks Wikipedia!):

The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.

Barker Dam was recommended to us by the lady at the Park Rock Cafe which is connected to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. Great sandwiches if you’re in the market for one. It was a really nice walk that ends at the dam. Supposedly all the wildlife comes to the dam to feed/drink but only the dragonflies kept us company. We climbed up a lot of rocks and enjoyed the breeze.

From there we took a little drive up to Keys View. This is just a lookout point and provides a nice rest after a lot of hot hiking. Offers a pretty awesome view. The smog is very noticeable but I like the blue-ness it gives off out into the distance.

The two hikes we went on were only a mile or two, but still, drink lots of water. Also, I was really hoping to see a roadrunner. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards. I’m comin’ for ya next time (said the coyote).

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Big Bear Lake & Forest Falls

Castle Rock
Cougar Crest
Big Falls

Castle Rock is only about 2.4 miles round trip but it’s REALLY steep. Your tush may or may not thank you tomorrow. If you’re feeling well-balanced, then there are lots of opportunities at the top to scramble up some big rocks for better views of the lake below.

Cougar Crest was the longest hike we took, still only about 4.5 miles round trip. At the top it connects to the Pacific Crest Trail so if you’re really feeling ambitious . . . Anyway. This was a nice hike. I don’t think we saw a single soul on this trail. Very peaceful. A good number of stop off benches to sit and admire the view. If I lived in Big Bear I’d visit those benches again and again.

Located about 40 miles away from Big Bear Lake is the Big Falls trail. This was definitely my favorite hike. About .1 miles into the journey the trail ends and it’s all up to you and your fancy footwork from there. We decided to ignore the giant caution sign at the beginning of the hike saying the rocks have claimed a lot of lives, yadda yadda. I guess you should be careful, but proceed with gusto! It was worth it. It’s also an adventure to go off the path, get your little piggies wet, and end up at the bottom of a waterfall. Who needs the beach?

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Best part of it all – didn’t see one bear.

Old Friends and New Places (in SoCal)

I was nervous when we left our apartment. Kris and I waited at the bus stop and looked at each other anxiously trying to figure out exactly what we were doing. But we’re prepared and we’ll figure things out. And in reality we haven’t left for the international portion of the trip just yet. Nope. We’ve got a slow transition in and are spending the week in Southern California.

It was wedding weekend in San Diego and the days were spent in a house with old college friends with beer flowing freely along with stories from the past and present. Of course we’re growing up (slightly) with some now married, and some with kids; some starting new jobs, and some taking in what life brings them.

As I was reminded once again about how life is and how life was nearly a decade ago when college started, I of course had to think about what the hell I’m doing with my life. Why after five and a half years I’m already bored of climbing the corporate ladder. Why I thought it was a good idea to pack my bags and try to wander the world. And what’s waiting for me when I return.

I have no answers. I have no plans. All I know is that I’m glad we chose the perfect jumping off point for our travels. To say hello and goodbye to close friends, to celebrate a new life for Christine and Jesse, and to kick off a new adventure for Kristin and I.

To Jake, Lisa, Justin, Brigid, Adam, Kate, Jesse, Christine, Kurt, Al, and Katie: It was great to see you guys. Stay tuned.

Going Full Circle at The Plant

There’s something about living in the urban playground that is Chicago that makes you forget about all the wonderful things that bring tourists each week. Too busy with work, too busy with life, and often just overcome with a sense of laziness. The only time I’ve ever been to the top of the Sears Tower, or took pictures under the Bean, or roamed the grand halls of the Art Institute was when I’ve had out of town visitors. Being a tourist in my own town is not something I’ve often done.

But now that we’re officially unemployed, we’ve really got nothing else to do besides wander the streets of Chicago.

First stop: A 93,000 square foot vertical farm and food business incubator located on the city’s south side. Along the sidewalks of the Gallagher family, John Edel and his staff are converting an old meatpacking plant into a no waste, fully sustainable center for food in a food desert. This guy’s got big plans. An aquaponic farm, an outdoor farm, a mushroom farm, and even some worms. A brewery, a kombucha brewery, a shared kitchen, event space, and permanent tenant space for local food businesses. And the coolest thing about the Plant? It’s completely closed loop. The outputs and waste of one project are the inputs of another. Check out the master plan:

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Waste, Energy, and Food Flow at The Plant

This place is still very much in the works, but they’re making good progress. The main cog in the wheel (an Anaerobic Digester) is targeted to be installed by the end of the year; the brewery is coming soon, the aquaponic farm is up and running, and construction is underway in the kitchen space.

We took a tour on a Friday afternoon and left excited for what the Plant will soon bring to the city. Check out a few pictures from our visit:

Aquaponic Garden - The Plant Chicago
Future Homes for Herbs and Greens in the Aquaponic Garden
Aquaponic Fish Tanks - The Plant Chicago
Fish Tanks Part of the Aquaponic Garden
Brewery Space - The Plant Chicago
View into the Outdoor Garden From the Future Brewery Space

Brewery Space View to Outdoor Garden - The Plant Chicago

The Plant Chicago

The Plant Chicago

Leftover from the Meatpacking Operations: A Ham Dryer or Smoker Maybe?
Leftover from the Meatpacking Operations: A Ham Dryer or Smoker Maybe?
Reuseable Materials - The Plant Chicago
Reusable Materials Found in the Future Kitchen Space

Ohio City

Growing up on the east side of Cleveland, the city has always been there; but my want for exploring it has been lacking. I have always assumed Cleveland as a gray, dismal, and deserted city. Well, upon my most recent visit downtown it seems that not all the windows have been boarded up just yet. In fact, they may have only been boarded up in my mind. Several sweet spots in the city are alive and well and Cleveland is about to find itself again.

During an impromptu visit to the West Side Market we accidentally stumbled upon Ohio City. Even though I didn’t know about its existence until about a week ago, Ohio City is one of Cleveland’s oldest neighborhoods and has been boppin’ around since the 1830s. Built around the West Side Market, this little hub of happening is, well, happening. Welcome to Ohio City.

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The West Side Market
I only have one memory of the West Side Market as a child- a giant, dead pig’s head. Well, pig’s heads are still there but I have definitely grown to appreciate the atmosphere, history, and family run operations that populate this European-style market. You can get your hands on all kinds of goodies including: meat- lots of meat, coffee, pastries, cookies, pork buns, even bones for your doggie. Nick picked up some spicy jerky. It’s already gone. Click here to to get your west side wonder on.

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The Cleveland Hostel
A hostel in Cleveland? Wait. Really? Yes, really. Opened in 2012 by Ohioan Mark Raymond, this is the first hostel of its kind in the city. And what a great location it’s in. With the West Side Market just down the street for grocery shopping and a good number of restaurants for the nightlife thing, I’d say he nailed it. Maybe we’ll stay here next time we’re in town. See for yourself.

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Ohio City Farm
Head down Bridge St. and you’ll find an old shipping container box at the corner of W. 24th. Painted purple- you can’t miss it. There’s an awning propped up so you can its insides boasting deliciously ripe produce. That’s just the beginning. Those vegetables are grown on a six-acre plot transformed in 2010 from some dormant land to a booming garden that overlooks the city. Many restaurants in the area are taking advantage of the fresh produce and the farmers from Ohio City Farm now have a stand in the West Side Market. Check it out!

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The next time you find yourself traveling between NY and Chicago (or the other way around), consider stopping at the little hub of Ohio City. You may just find something you didn’t know you were looking for. What treasure did you find in Ohio City?

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Rolla Coastin’

I’m not a person that needs any excuses to sit down and reflect on my life and my experience at Cedar Point was no different. It’s been 7+ years since I’ve visited America’s Roller Coast and many things have changed, most notably my childlike perception of invincibility. Whether there were just no consequences when you were little or you just didn’t think about them, they exist, everywhere, now.

I’m a lot higher off the ground now. Falling has a whole nother depth of meaning to it. When I wake up in the morning I can feel what I did yesterday, not just remember it. My mind has been building up a whole arsenal of war stories that it can use against me anytime I try to make a stupid decision. And I’ve become much more cautious. There is a certain level of trust you must have to live your life more or less normally. For instance, you have to trust that when you sit down in a chair it’s not going to buckle beneath you. Trust that the craftsman that put it together knew what he was doing or the manufacturer who assembled it was paying attention or that stupid little wrench from IKEA allowed you to put your own chair together correctly. You have to trust that whoever made your food at whatever restaurant you choose to eat in made it so you don’t get some wild stomach bug. But there are other bigger things in life that maybe you throw into question. Most often when I’m facing a decision, a bigger decision than normal, to act or not act or go this way or that it comes down to one question: Am I going to survive this?

That question turned out to be quite prevalent in our five or so hours at Cedar Point after we willingly threw down a few bucks to be thrown around like sacks of flour on crazy steel alien like machines that rise and tower hundreds of stores above you. Yea, that sounds like fun. I mean, are humans supposed to do this? When you reach a certain age you begin noticing things you probably didn’t notice as a kid, or if you did, didn’t process in the same way. You notice all the little nuts and bolts in the track of the Top Thrill that you’re standing in line to ride. You notice all the little compressors that cool down the crazy launch pad that shoots you off at 120MPH. Then you think about all the people that built all those little parts. You think about the engineer who put all those little parts together and said, yes, yes this is safe and it’s going to be fun. God I hope so.

But at an amusement park, as the name suggests, there are many things going on to reinforce that engineers sound stamp of approval, namely that there are people on the ride before you, (most) all of them smiling and laughing and screaming with joy when they return from their journey over that monstrosity of a ride. And that tells me (over and over again- because the lines for these rides are so ridiculous) that this is fun and it shouldn’t be scary and best of all- that I’m not going to die. And so it turns out, that although my anxiety made it’s best effort to get the best of me, all the people- all the smiling and happy people- allowed me to feel that way too. And so maybe I just need more external cues these days to help me answer the question- yes, I am going to survive this. But it still turns out I can enjoy the thrill of a good old-fashioned coaster (and the new ones too). Please enjoy our little day of fun and amusement.

A Guide to Sleep No More: Lost in the McKittrick Hotel

Sleep No More is a choose your own adventure type theater piece that we attended while in New York City. It is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but this is not your ordinary show. An old warehouse was turned into the McKittrick Hotel, which you are free to explore throughout the night. It’s what some would call an immersive theater experience.

As you enter, you’ll start at the coat check. You’ll need to drop your coat (and bags) as you cannot take anything into the performance with you. Bring a few bucks with you because you’ll need cash to check anything ($3). This is the last point of the night where you’ll see anybody out of character.

As you approach the ‘hotel check-in’, you’ll give your name and the attendants will give you a playing card in exchange. This card is your ticket into the performance and what card you get will determine when you are allowed in. You’ll go through a few dark and narrow hallways and eventually it will open up to a lounge where the rest of the guests are awaiting entry and grabbing a drink. I heard there were cheap punch cocktails available, but instead we stumbled upon the $13 St. German cocktails instead. Whoops.

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So we stood at a table, sipping on our overpriced cocktails and awaited our chance to enter. Kris was handed a 2 card and me a 3, but she was too afraid to go at it alone. It was pretty creepy, so I can’t blame her.

Once we entered, everyone gathered in a small room where we were explained the rules – keep your mask on; no talking.

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And into the cramped elevator. I’ve heard that they will separate people on the elevator, allowing a few to exit on each floor with a stern arm dropping between the group. Knowing this, I figured Kris and I would pretend not to be together and casually walk out. It worked.

We exited to begin our journey.

The floors of the hotel are broken out as follows:

5 – Hospital Ward, including doctor’s offices, a padded room, a room full of beds, a room full of bathtubs, and a surgery observation room. A forest that really feels like you are outdoors.
4 – Street of shops, the speakeasy/pool hall, Hecate’s duplicate of the Manderly bar.
3 – Macbeth’s bedroom, Macduff’s suite, crumbled courtyard, cemetery.
2 – Hotel lobby, Manderly Bar, bank of phone booths, hotel dining room.
1 – Duncan’s quarters, several small chapels, balcony overlooking the forest/ballroom
Lower Level – forest/ballroom/balcony.

It was quiet as we began to roam around, room to room. But soon we heard church bells going off and people started to scramble downstairs. Obviously, something was happening so we ran, following the crowd, and ended up in a scene in Macbeth’s bedroom. This is where we first found out what this show was all about. The characters do not speak and use interpretive dance to act out a scene. If I were sitting in a theater watching this it would not really be my thing, but when you are getting pushed out of the way by actors, watching them jump off walls, and taking in the creepiness of 20 other people surrounding you with white masks on, this is pretty awesome.

So we continued to wander for the next three hours, rummaging through drawers, checking every door knob and following characters as we encounter them. It was a surreal and I’m glad we did it.

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A few tips:

  • Stay close to the characters and follow them as you encounter them.
  • Wear good shoes. The performers move fast and chances are you’ll be running down dark hallways or up and down stairs trying to keep up with them.
  • Find the bathrooms. If you had too many cocktails in the lounge beforehand you might need them. They are on the hospital floor close to the elevator.
  • Explore anything and everything. If you’re going somewhere you shouldn’t, staff wearing black masks will lead you in the right direction.
  • Make sure you see the last banquet scene.
  • Find the lady in the red dress at the end of the night and grab a drink in the upstairs lounge or on the rooftop deck.