Tahoe

After a few great weeks in Hawaii, it was time to head back to our car and trailer in San Francisco. So, for the third time this year we found ourselves spending the night in an airport parking lot. And, since we’re pretty sure spending the night in an airport parking lot is frowned upon, we found ourselves again trying to inconspicuously disembark the shuttle and sneak into the trailer. 100% success so far (knock on wood).

Hawaiian Airlines has the best in-flight meal (free wine!)

The next day we headed northeast to Lake Tahoe – starting our long journey back toward Ohio for the holidays. While we were too late for swimming in the lake, and too early for skiing, we were still able to find plenty to do. Wednesday, we went on a short hike, passing the hordes of salmon that had made their way up the stream to lay eggs. Then, tried out a new disk golf set at Bijou Park. Thursday, we went on another hike, climbing Maggies Peak and finally spotting a bear at a reasonable distance for the first time this trip.

Question, which kind of bear is best?

After rounding out the work week, it was back on the road, driving East into Nevada. On our way to Great Basin National Park, we stopped in Ely, a small town along “Americas Loneliest Road” to watch Ohio State come back to beat Penn State while playing video poker and drinking a beer or two.

Liz won $20 playing Keno!

While we didn’t spend long in Great Basin, we made time to hike through a bristlecone pine grove, seeing some of the oldest living organisms on the planet. The trees can live thousands of years and stand strong hundreds of years after dying due to the fact that their wood grows slowly and tightly enough to prevent rot. Beyond the bristlecone pine grove, we hiked to a glacier before turning around and hitting the road again, destination Salt Lake City.

This tree is older than the city of Rome

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Maui

Growing up, I was always taught that the United States lies within the continent of North America. While this may be true most of the time, it isn’t true of Hawaii – technically located in Oceania. The Aloha State is also the most recent state to be admitted into the union and the only state to be composed entirely of islands. Although less obvious to a reader of the Wikipedia article on Hawaii, and most shocking to me when driving around Maui, is the state’s climate diversity. In a single day, we passed through both dessert and tropical rainforest, swam in the ocean and stood on top of a mountain, basked in sweltering heat and shivered in the cold high-altitude wind.

Happy to be in Hawaii!

We arrived in Maui late Wednesday night, leaving both our car and trailer behind in a pricy San Francisco parking lot ($17 a day adds up quick when you leave it for 19 days – I just hope they don’t charge us for two spots!) Since the airline skipped on a meal or even a snack, we swung through McDonalds for a taste of the island before heading to our Kihei AirBnB.

The first of many great rainbows

The next day, we made great use of one of the seven vacation days we took to drive The Road to Hana – a world-famous trek around the island’s east coast. Taking advantage of the time zone shift and our already early morning habits, we started before the sun rose, beating the crowds to the first few stops. While I don’t want to bore recalling all the incredible individual locations, I think a few deserve mention.

No idea what kind of tree this is

In one of our first stops, at the Garden of Eden, we were greeted by a flock of crazy ducks and peacocks before strolling through a botanical garden that showcased some of the wildest plants I’ve seen, like the rainbow eucalyptus.

Liz wants to attempt to grow these in Ohio

After a few more stops at waterfalls and swimming holes, we made it to Liz’s favorite pull-out, Wai’anapanapa State Park. Here, the Pacific meets ancient lava rocks with tremendous force, creating captivating collisions shooting water high into the air.

Initially stood too close and got soaked

While our last stop was in Halealaka National Park, where we hiked the Pipiwai trail up to a 400+ foot waterfall, it certainly wasn’t the end of the road.  Against rental car recommendation (or mandate?) we opted to complete the full loop rather than retrace our steps. It was perhaps our best decision of the day. The drive back was incredible! A sunset from the ocean-side, cliff-side, narrow, one lane road. A wind-torn lava field with cows roaming the gravel road. A breathtaking mountain-side bay, complete with an overturned SUV a hundred feet below that served as a not-so-subtle reminder to look at the road ahead every now and then.

Waimoku Falls

Friday, we headed up toward Halealaka National Park. First, though, we stopped half way up the mountain to zipline. It was both Liz and my first time ziplining and I figured there’s not too many places better to do it than down a mountain in a tropical rainforest. While I think we both enjoyed the experience, there isn’t a need to do it again. We spent a lot of the remaining day in the National Park, picking up some great litter and hiking a way down into the eroded volcano top.

Halealaka Crater

Saturday was our last full day on Maui and we had yet to snorkel, despite flying out with the snorkel straws (that what they’re called right?) we’ve been driving around the country with since we went in Florida. So, we headed to a store, purchased some masks, and drove to Black Rock – a popular public beach in the resort part of the island. There we encountered a few sea turtles and countless tropical fish while floating around. And, since swimming quickly works up an appetite, we headed to the Paia Fishmarket where I was able to chow down on one of those tasty fish.

Snorkel Time!

Sunday was our last day in Maui, although not our last in Hawaii. From there we were off to the Big Island to meet up with Liz’s family and watch her brother compete in the Ironman World Championship. I don’t know if I’ll make it back to Hawaii, but I know that if I do I’ll put Maui back on the agenda.

Ohio / Rainier

It’s interesting how our perception of time is always changing. Sometimes the last half mile of a difficult hike can seem to last forever. Yet, the whole weekend seems over as soon as it starts. I have been very fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) in the past nine months. Nearly everything has flown by. To help keep things in perspective and not lose sight of the amazing adventures we’ve had while experiencing new ones, Liz and I often ask each other “What were we doing a month ago today?” and “Where will we be in a month from now?”. Perhaps the most interesting part of the time change phenomenon is that while the days seem to speed by, I’m always shocked at how long ago the things we did just a few weeks before seem.

It’s already been 3 weeks since Rainer!

Perhaps the fastest time yet this trip was the whirlwind week we spent in Ohio. We had planned on spending two weeks in the Seattle area, but CoverMyMeds offered to fly us in for the work week, so we jumped on the opportunity to catch up with friends and family (and work).

Cymanski Family Reunion 

On Sunday night, Liz and I took a red-eye from Seattle to Columbus and headed straight into work. After work, Liz picked up her sister, Megan, and drove up to Ashland to get dinner with her parents and grandparents. Meanwhile, I took a series of Ubers from work to our AirBnB and back to work again to find a charger for my dying phone before seeing Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats at the LC. Tuesday, we caught up with a group of friends from work for volleyball and trivia. Then, on Wednesday, I managed to stay upright on my first Segway tour. And in the evening Liz and I headed our separate way to grab a few drinks with coworkers. Thursday, we drove up to Canton to see my family and hiked the beautiful new Fry Family park with baby Zion in tow. Then, Friday morning we drove back to C-bus, put in a day’s work, and flew back to Seattle. By the end of the week Liz and I were exhausted. Although, we still had a full weekend ahead of us.

Uncle Zach and Baby Zion

Due to our late arrival in Seattle, we opted to sleep in the airport parking lot (which I’m sure is against some sort of rule). Then, the next morning, we met up with Mark and Ben, my friends from college,  and headed to Mount Rainier. While Ben has twice summited the 14er, it was the first time in the park for the rest of us. Even though we didn’t attempt the technical summit, we did make it up to the Muir basecamp – one of my new favorite hikes. To get to the basecamp, we hiked up about 5,000 feet and across the Muir snowfield. Although going up rewarded us with some spectacular views, it was going down that made the hike.

Camp Muir

The heavily packed snowfield not only allowed us to hike to Muir basecamp without sinking in knee-deep every-other step (like we would the next weekend hiking the South Sister near Bend) it also allowed us to glacade down. For those who don’t know, glacading is just a fancy word for sledding without a sled. Enough hikers had gone before us that nice slick chutes ran down the snowfield, adding a new dynamic to hiking I had never considered. Pro tip: bring a heavy-duty trash bag to act as your sled.

Glasading!

The next morning, before driving Ben and Mark back to Seattle, we hiked up to the nearby Eagle Point to get a panoramic view of Mt Rainier. I hope that someday I can head back to make it all the way up to the summit, although going it to the basecamp is a worthwhile hike in of itself.

Drinking our summit beers!

Canada Part 2 (Banff)

We spent nearly a year planning our trip prior to hitting the road – marking points of interest on a map, researching car and lodging options, and reading about the national parks. In all that time, I don’t remember ever discussing taking our trip beyond the US. Yet, for the second week this summer, we found ourselves in Canada. This time, instead of a remote island on the French River, we stayed in a campground within the city limits of Calgary.

Oh Canada!

While visiting a brewery in Calgary, Liz and I met a few locals who made a point to remind us that Canadians tend to know a lot more about the US than we know about their affairs. So, for those unaware, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city with about 1.3 million residents. The city lies about an hour east of Banff, Canada’s first national park. And it played host to the 1986 Olympics, a fact the city continues to heavily lean on more than 30 years later.

Looking back, nothing in particular stands out about our time in Calgary. We drove past several old ski facilities used during the Olympic games, spent a limited amount of time downtown, and got the cars oil changed. In short – I don’t feel a strong desire to head back any time soon.

The one picture we took in Calgary

On Friday, after work, we made the short drive west to Banff National Park. After setting up the camper at Tunnel Mountain campground (an enormous campground with over 500 sites!) we headed into the town of Banff. The town sits within the national park and has the vibe of a large ski community, even in the heat summer. While in town, we decided to swing into the park visitor center to plan our weekend. There, we were ‘greeted’ by a warden (what they call their park rangers in Canada) who informed us that “you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” in the park and that there’s “nothing that you need to see”. Thanks for the guidance Sophia.

Beautiful Banff!

Like most weekends, our time was primarily spent hiking. Saturday, we climbed the Cory Pass Loop – a strenuous hike that follows a seemingly endless set of switchbacks before leading up a picturesque mountain ridgeline. The trail then crosses through a mile of rocks and boulders before entering a densely-forested ravine that follows a creek down the mountain. The trek was tiring but a great way to start our weekend!

One of many breaks on the way up

On Sunday, we got up early and drove to Lake Louise. Perhaps the most popular destination in the park, the lake was already crawling with tourists early in the morning. We were able to escape most of the crowd by hiking around the lake and up to a remote tea house. The tea house is staffed by seasonal workers who hike in on several day rotations and cook all the food on site with supplies air dropped in by helicopter. After munching down a heavy piece of chocolate cake, we continued up the trail to check out the glaciers.

Great cake and great views!

While I don’t know if Banff is a good representation of all of Canada’s national parks, I felt like their park system is managed very differently. While the US national parks often contain guest lodges, a small handful of gift shops, and restaurants to service visitors, Banff plays host to a far larger commercial enterprise. From the town of Banff, located in the park, to the railroad track, the ski slopes, and the trans-Canadian highway, Banff seems to specialize in accessibility, not conservation. That’s not a slight to the park though – I think both Liz and I really enjoyed our weekend and I’d love to make it back again someday to see the park from its ski slopes.

Better glaciers than Glacier

Michigan’s UP and Minnesota

Saying goodbye to the Powers Island, a place Liz has always loved and I grew to love over the week, we hit the road again. Back to the United States. We entered the US through Michigan’s upper peninsula, stopping to pick up two cases of Alexander Keith at the duty-free shop in Sault Saint Marie.

One last Canadian sunset

The next morning, we drove across the UP on our way to my Aunt Susan and Ed’s house, where we would be spending a few days. I always forget how big the peninsula is; the drive from Sault Saint Marie, on the far east side, to Hancock, in the northwest, took a solid five hours.

Beautiful drive across the UP

The days spent in Houghton/Hancock were jam packed with exciting activities. The first day, after setting up our trailer in my aunt’s yard, we headed up to Ed’s cabin on Lake Superior for grilled steaks and a hike overlooking the lake. The next day, Ed, Susan, and I went mountain biking in the morning. Getting back on a trail after such a long time was a little intimidating at first, but I eventually found my groove. As we got back from biking, we noticed a swarm of bee’s leaving one of their hives. After tracking down their landing spot, Ed got out the chainsaw and cut a few small trees down to get to the swarm and move it into a new hive box. That night, we went on a hike up Mount Baldy and picked a few handfuls of wild blueberries before dinner at the picturesque, lakeside Fitzgerald’s Hotel & Restaurant. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to our already wonderful vacation.

So many bees!

Monday, it was back to work. Hancock had a nice local coffee shop, Cyberia, where we camped out in their loft during the day. Tuesday was our last full day in the UP and we spent that night in Houghton with Susan and Ed. We had a great time during our short visit and are glad we’ll have another opportunity to see more of the area when we return to backpack in Isle Royale.

Wednesday afternoon, Liz and I packed up and drove to Duluth, MN. Our campground was situated on top of a ski resort, and, while it was closed for the summer, we rode an alpine coaster they built down the hillside.

Duluth Harbor

Early Saturday morning, we headed north to Voyageurs National Park. Our primary source of Nation Park research comes from “Your Guide to the National Parks” by Michael Joseph Oswald. For the most part it’s an excellent resource, with maps, recommended hikes, activities, and campground information. The book also offers “best and worst of” lists that offer guidance on the best parks for backpacking, beaches, biking, ect. One list, titled “Do Not Detour For”, should be revised though. The parks that make the cut (or don’t really) include Hot Springs, Biscayne, Cuyahoga Valley (sorry Ohio), Saguaro, Channel Islands, Lassen Volcanic, and, yes, Voyageurs.  While I can see an argument for Cuyahoga Valley and certainly Biscayne – I don’t for Voyageurs. Liz and I had a great time!

This view is worth detouring for

Saturday morning, we picked up a canoe from a local rustic resort and paddled 5 miles across the lake to Kabetogama Peninsula. From there, we backpacked back about a mile and setup our tent at another, smaller, lake on the peninsula. While canoeing we only saw a small handful of other boaters and, on the peninsula, we were only accompanied by wildlife – including a fawn and doe that wandering by our tent a few times. I’d highly recommend the park for anyone looking for nature and solitude. My only advice would be to come prepared for bugs while not on the lake – lots and lots of bugs. We were able to keep them at bay with a campfire we kept going throughout the day though.

Sunday morning, we paddled back to the parks visitor center, ready for the next leg of our journey – the first state I hadn’t been to before our trip – North Dakota.

Utah To Ohio

Moab, the self-proclaimed mountain biking mecca, located in the Utah desert, is not a hotbed of wireless hotspots. The small desert town that hosts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year may be known for its outdoor recreation but finding a decent place to put in an eight-hour work day proved to be its greatest challenge. For starters, the town is distinctly deficient of a Starbucks – our go-to office on the go. Instead we resorted to hoping between laundry mat, crowded local coffee shops, and the campground provided Wi-Fi, which, while quick enough to work for, had a nasty habit of disconnecting every 8 minutes, leaving us to reconnect to the company VPN. While connecting to the VPN is generally trivial – doing so every few minutes quickly becomes cumbersome.

Looking for wifi

Besides seeking out the town’s Wi-Fi options, we visited the Moab Brewing Company and one of the two local national parks – Arches. Arches is home to the iconic Delicate Arch along with over 2000 other natural stone arches. Unfortunately, most of the parks roadways were under construction, so we were limited to the parks front half. Still, I think I was able to get a good sense for the whole park with the small handful of short hikes we did after work.

Delicate Arch

We will most likely make it back to Moab again during our trip to hit up Canyonlands National Park. We just felt as though there simply wasn’t enough time to do the park justice since we were on a mission to get back to Ohio by Memorial Day. Hopefully they’ll build a Starbucks in the meantime.

Driving through the Utah desert

After spending the work-week in Moab, we headed toward Golden, Colorado – home of Coors Light – to visit my college roommate Mark “Wildcard” Ferris. On the way, we had to cross the Rocky Mountains just after a late-May snowstorm had shut down much of I-70 the day before. Seeing Veil covered in snow while the lodges and slopes remained empty (closed for the season) made me want to stay and find a way to ski the mountains alone. But we drove on. While in Golden for the weekend, we made time for a jazz festival, a board game parlor with more old college friends, and a snow-covered hike at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Blizzard in the Rockies

Our next planned stop was nearly a thousand miles away, in Des Moines, Iowa to visit Liz’s brother Matt. On the way, we slept in Walmart parking lots on both sides of Nebraska – working in the morning and driving in the evenings. In Des Moines, Matt treated us to the local cuisine – some of the best on our trip up to this point. We also got a tour of the Dimond bike shop where he works as the head engineer designing and manufacturing high-end bicycles.

At a Des Moines Cubs game

On Saturday came the final leg of our first lap of the states – an eleven-hour drive from Des Moines to Canton Ohio. In under 5 months we drove 15,000 miles, visited 22 states and 12 National Parks, bought our new home on wheels, spent 2 nights in the hospital, and crossed countless items off our bucket list. Here’s to many more adventures to come!

Phoenix

After wrapping up our two-week stint in Tucson, it was off to Phoenix. And, to be honest, I was looking forward to this stop least of our first months on the road. “What is there to do in Phoenix?” I prodded Liz. “Tons” she replied. And, as it turned out, we found enough to keep entertained. In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised, having grown up on Ohio entertainment for years.

A Phoenix sunset

It helped that our stay was broken into two pieces – a sandwich – with Phoenix serving as the sourdough bread around a hearty helping of Las Vegas roast beef and old commune mustard. The bottom slice was thin – a Tuesday thru Thursday in which we played bar trivia and recouped from our past weekend in the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns.

Eating an actual sandwich

On Thursday, my 26th birthday, Liz and I headed up to Las Vegas to catch Bon Iver at the Hard Rock Café and Casino. It was Liz’s first time in Nevada, and, by extension, Las Vegas. In a city known for its entertainment – I didn’t expect we would be part of the show. However, leaving the casino hotel the next morning, we gave a man, self-proclaimed to have “traveled millions of miles” a good laugh. I guess I didn’t think anything of lugging our milk crate clothes cartons through the casino floor – but he claimed it was a first and insisted on a picture.

Cartons of clothes and this is what he wears

Friday night, we moved up The Strip to the iconic Mirage. After indulging in the unlimited beer and wine buffet, we took part in the cities most well know tradition – throwing our money at the casino fat cats. The next morning, not feeling I had done my part, I laid down two hundred clams on the Toronto Raptors to win the finals.

The Mirage

On the way out of town, we swung by the best dam site of our trip yet – the Hoover Dam. We didn’t have time to dilly-dally though as we had strict reservations that night at a run-down commune, Arcosanti. The ‘village’ didn’t disappoint. I booked the night because, after all, the goal of the trip was to not only see as much of the good ol’ US of A as possible, but to also experience its cultural breadth. The experimental town has about 60 permanent residents who live in and around a small complex of buildings designed by architect Paolo Soleri. The night we stayed, a surprisingly enjoyable drum show – a combination of both Japanese and Native American performers – pounded through the towns amphitheater.

Arcosanti

The next morning, Easter Sunday, we headed back to Phoenix, driving directly to the Musical Instrument Museum. I think both Liz and I were thoroughly impressed with the museum’s collection – over 16,000 different instruments from around the world. Accompanying the instruments was a unique audio tour which played clips of music, native to the country’s exhibit you were standing near, into your headset.

An Octobass

Later that week we saw the XX, one of Liz’s favorite bands, perform is Mesa. The next day we met up with Matt and Will – who had just flown into town to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim that weekend. And, after grabbing dinner with the two, met up with Liz’s parents who had just arrived in town.

~musical interlude~

 

The Sunday we got back to Phoenix, our laundry had been piling up and it was time to finally break down and run a few loads through the wash. While this had never been an issue in past accommodations – and the listing indicated a washer/dryer were available – we were in for a rude surprise when later that evening our ‘host’ lectured us for several minutes, repeating that we were to ‘not touch his stuff.’ It’s kind of hard not to touch someone’s stuff when you’re living in their house.

After that incident, we circled back on a conversation we had discussed for weeks prior to setting off on our journey, and ultimately decided it was time to buy a travel trailer. The past few spare bedroom’s we stayed in were off-putting. And, while we enjoyed the full-units we had occupied, we couldn’t afford to stay in one all the time.

So, most of our second week in Phoenix was spent discussing, planning and eventually purchasing a camper trailer. Up to this point we had been living in Airbnb’s. For those unfamiliar with the concept – Airbnb is a platform that allows folks with spare rooms, or even houses, to rent them out on a nightly basis to others. While the cost of renting an entire house or even hotel room can be very high – we had been able to afford the much lower rate usually charged by renting a spare bedroom (often around $50 a night.)

Once we made up our mind to buy a trailer, we hit the gas, checking out a few used trailers the first night, and buying a new one the next day. This sudden change of plans flipped the table on our months of planning. We had Airbnb’s reserved through the better part of the next three months. Luckily, most Airbnb’s have a pretty lax cancelation policy and we received almost all our deposits back.

Our new home!

Time will tell, but up to this point I haven’t regretted the purchase yet. That is, barring a few fleeting moments after I managed to shave its side on a gas station pump barrier the day we got it.

Austin

We drove into the Austin city limits Friday morning with a mixed sense of excitement and tension. For months now, Liz and I had poured over the schedule, searching and researching for the best bands, the most captivating talks, and the markedly interesting films. In the months leading up to SXSW (South By Southwest) new events were added nearly daily – making combing through a single day’s schedule take well over an hour. With so many events going on, spread across dozens of venues downtown, I knew I would have a constant fear of missing out on the best event at any one time.

SXSW

The fear of missing out probably peaked Friday morning, as we waited, first in the badge pickup line, and then in the Express pass line to get guaranteed seats for an upcoming film starring Sam Eliot and Nick Offerman. It was in this time I also planned on attending my first session – a talk on machine learning and how artificial intelligence would change the world. Luckily –  as I would learn over the next week – discussions on artificial intelligence were not in short supply.

Ron Swanson!

Both Liz and I were afforded the opportunity to attend SXSW thanks to the generosity of our employer, CoverMyMeds, who footed the bill for our registration. And, thanks to their contribution and the fact that the rest of our co-workers were carrying on with their daily tasks, we felt obligated to attend industry-relevant talks during work hours. However, as I quickly learned, not a whole lot can be gained from an hour long talk. If you’re able to give a several sentence descriptions on the matter beforehand – it’s likely you won’t be getting much out of the talk. Instead, I found, by attending sessions only very loosely related to my daily work routine I was able to expand my horizons and get surface exposure to new topics like legal discourse when growing a technology company.

Lots of free food if you knew where to look

SXSW had more to offer than countless talks on artificial intelligence and healthcare meetups though. Over 1200 bands flocked to the city in the course of the festival – meaning every bar on 6th street had a full lineup. In the months leading up to SXSW, both Liz and I listened to countless new bands – trying to figure out what shows to attend. Unfortunately, many of the acts we already knew like Langhorn Slim, Spoon, and Sylvan Esso seemed to play at midnight or later. However, we were able to find plenty of new favorites that played at reasonable times – my favorite being Temples. We did make it to one big name – Garth Brooks. While I wouldn’t classify myself as a boot scootin’ cowboy, Garth playing nothing but his hits for nearly two hours was undoubtedly my favorite part of SXSW. Who knew I had the words to so many of his songs memorized?

Front row for Lewis Del Mar

After the conclusion of SXSW, we still had nearly a week to check out the area beyond the few square miles the conference covered. While we spent some of the time recouping, we still kept busy. Sunday, for example, we took a tour of Lyndon B Johnson’s family ranch, hiked Pedernales State Park, and met up with my cousin, Michael, who treated us to mucho Mexican food at Chuys.

River crossing in Pedernales State Park

To anyone thinking about visiting Austin, I’d highly recommend it! Be sure to hit up Zilker, a picturesque park next to downtown that boasts hiking trails, running paths, and a unique swimming pool built into the nearby creek. After you’ve built up an appetite, fill up with the bar-b-que Austin is known for or Chilatro – a mouth water Korean bar-b-que option.

Barton Springs

My only regret is not being in town for Austin City Limits. I guess we’ll just have to make our way back to Austin again sometime (on our way back to Big Bend).

Mardi Gras

Well it’s been nearly three weeks since we’ve left New Orleans. I’ve found it a lot harder to keep pace with these updates than I thought it would be. Even though I’m writing half or less of em’, there’s just always so many other things to do. When you’re in a city for a week, sometimes less, every night not out absorbing as much as possible feels wasted. Yet, at the same time, without taking the time to stop and reflect it can easily become a blur. What were we doing a month ago? Heck, what did we do last night? Be warned – the rest of this post has been written almost three weeks and three cities ago, so its contents may be altered, misremembered, or flat out made up.

To say I didn’t plan part of the first few months of our trip around being in New Orleans over Mardi Gras would be a lie. After all, the goal of this trip, at least for myself, is to absorb the culture, beauty, and diversity of the United States from every angle and there aren’t many cultural events more iconic than Mardi Gras.

However, an unexpected pit-stop for an appendectomy in Mississippi left me ill equipped to handle the Bourbon Street crowds. Luckily, there’s more to the festival than the late night stupor. For weeks, parades close down streets and command throngs of tailgaters, much like an OSU game day in Columbus. Liz and I attended one of the parades, a several hour long stream of floats, each dedicated to a pop culture celebrity of the past, including Marilyn Monroe, Abe Lincoln, and Elvis. All faux celebrities threw beaded plastic necklaces in lieu of candy. Half way through, I had enough necklaces to cause a slight pain in the shoulders under their weight.

Beyond the parades, walking the French Quarter offered an unmatched opportunity for people watching. Coffee and beignets at Café Du Monde gave us a great vantage point to observe the hordes. Being new to town, Liz and I went plain-clothed, unaware most attend dressed head to toe in colorful and unique costumes (although given Liz’s aversions to Halloween, I doubt knowing would have made a difference in her dress.)

We tried to spend as much time as possible outside the confines of our rented room. Not only because we wanted to absorb as much of NOLA as possible, but also because the house made us a little uneasy. From the wheezing, homely, lap dog that stared us down while we ate, to the disheveled counters, it was hard to feel settled.

Looking back, I’m glad we included New Orleans in our itinerary, although I don’t feel a need to head back any time soon. To those looking to make the trip themselves, I’d recommend hitting up the NOLA classics; grabbing a coffee at Café Du Monde and strolling down Bourbon Street.

Miami – An Intervention

Alright Miami, it’s time we had a talk. Your masked insecurities are coming off as pretentious elitism.

I get it. You were built on a swamp. Now you are worried your Mar-A-Lago POTUS is failing to acknowledge climate change, and that might put you back under water. However, that’s no excuse to charge over ten bucks in tolls to drive from one side of town to the other. And, while we’re on the topic of traffic, do you really need massive light up signs to remind drivers that running over the plastic dividers in the road is illegal? Perhaps, by solving your constant congestion, the issue would work itself out.

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South Beach around sunset

I don’t mean to berate you Miami. There are redeeming qualities! Lo De Lea Argentinian Grill, for example, makes a mean skirt steak with generous wine portions at a reasonable rate. Also, Concrete Beach Brewery created a great atmosphere by placing their service bar in the middle of open-space indoor/outdoor seating that offers a full view into the production facility. However, I’m a little concerned its Wyndham neighborhood drank a little too much of the Stiltsville Pilsner and is having trouble walking the fine line between hip and sketchy.

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Skirt Steak at Lo De Lea

C’mon Miami. Your income disparity is the largest of all major US cities. Do you really need an endless stream of Lamborghini’s parading by the man sleeping in the bus stop? Should iced coffee really be served in a martini glass? No. No, it shouldn’t.

Those who have taken their talents to South Beach have packed up and left. It’s time to take a long hard look inward and ask yourself ‘Is this the best me, Miami?’